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What Are Transits? 

(And Why Do They Matter?)

By Jim Trader

Many major newspapers in the U.S. now carry “daily horoscopes” for their readers. These light-hearted descriptions have acquainted the mainstream of American culture with the Signs of the Zodiac and which Sun Sign someone is born under. 

There are also many easy-to-find books describing the influences of various Signs, Planets and Positions in-depth for the interested reader, and a number of websites that offer generalized and personalized readings and other astrological information for public consumption. 

There is no censorship—and very little ridicule—in today’s United States regarding the study of astrology. All of this is a wonderful popularization of astrology, and is a source of great comfort and inspiration for many people.

But astrology can be used for so much more, as it has been in previous times. Expanding one’s understanding and use of transits is a good way to get more out of astrology.

A “transit” is what astrologers call a specific, time-limited celestial event with a noticeable effect here on Earth. For example, Mercury always affects communication, thought, and short-range travel; it’s always influencing these things, and so this cannot be called a transit. 

However, Mercury forming a ninety degree angle in the sky with the Moon is a specific, time-limited celestial event that produces a specific effect. Many people have a hard time figuring out what they’re feeling while this is happening, let alone expressing their real feelings, and being specific and time-limited, is considered a “transit.” 

Mercury going retrograde—appearing to move backwards in its orbit—is also a specific, time-limited celestial event with a relatively well-known effect (it makes communication and travel more difficult), and so is also considered to be a “transit.” 

Finally, Mercury forming a one-hundred-and-twenty degree angle with where the Sun was when a person was born would also be called a “transit,” although it is often given the distinction of being a “personal transit” since it is a transit that only applies to a person with a particular chart element in a particular place in the birth chart.

Transits are what tell an astrologer—and through the astrologer, the rest of us—what is going on in an individual and in the world during a particular period of time. They are the reason astrologers are able to “forecast” events, and are a key part of the service astrology and astrologers provide.

The most common way to interpret transits today, is to use one or another variation of “personal transits,”. This is done by taking an individual’s birth chart and comparing where the Planets were when the person was born to where the Planets are now. 

This is the basis of the “horoscopes” offered by most newspapers, although newspaper “horoscopes” are extremely generalized, since newspapers have to generate a “generic” reading for the largest number of readers possible. 

When done properly by an astrologer with an individual person’s natal chart, this technique can be a very useful tool for personal insight and advantage. However, looking at only personal transits can also be very limiting. Reading transits this way only tells what’s happening for a specific person (or in the case of generalized “horoscopes,” a relatively small group of people) for a given period of time. 

Although it is always good to know how to take best advantage of an immediate situation, we all live in a world much larger than ourselves. We are part of events and movements so large and so pervasive that we are unaware of them (because we take them for granted) or they are beyond our control. 

These events and movements affect not only ourselves but the vast majority of those around us, and often cannot be conveniently encapsulated on a particular day, week or even month. Focusing on the transits to one’s natal chart can be useful, but can also overlook the effects of these larger movements—these general transits--on our individual lives. 

For those of us who want to know about the long-term and the Big Picture, and how we relate to that picture individually, general transits are important.

The following charts will provide some examples of personalized and general transits, and the different kind of information contained in each. 

The first chart is a Bi-Wheel; it shows the author’s birth-chart on the inner wheel, and where the Planets are now (the transits) on the outer wheel.

Bi-Wheel Chart

Comparing the outer wheel to the inner, an astrologer will quickly see that the chart element most powerfully affected in this natal chart by the day’s transits is Chiron, with Saturn. The Moon and Jupiter are also affected but not as strongly.

Without going into the specifics of which transiting chart elements affect which natal chart elements, the quick summary is that today will probably be a good day for Jim to work (especially if that involves healing or teaching) and be creative, although he should totally avoid spending money.

It is unlikely Jim will experience any particularly dramatic events on this day.

This is good information to have, of course, but it gives very little insight as to what is happening in the wide world around Jim, or what’s happening for Jim from yesterday that will carry into today and tomorrow. 

If we look instead at just the chart for the day’s transits, a very different set of information becomes available.

Todays Transit chart

Although there are eleven transits shown on the chart above which will affect most people on this day, there are nine that are particularly significant. 

A transit is particularly significant when it involves more than two Planets, or when it lasts multiple days, or both. The two transits that are less significant in this chart—Mercury conjunct Saturn and the Moon conjunct Venus—will both last for less than a day, and involve only two Planets each. The nine transits that are particularly significant are:

  1. Mars sextile the Sun
  2. Mars trine Neptune
  3. Mars square Uranus
  4. the Sun opposite Neptune
  5. Jupiter retrograde
  6. Chiron retrograde
  7. Uranus retrograde
  8. Neptune retrograde
  9. Pluto retrograde

Three aspects lasting multiple days (about three days each) involve Mars, making Martian energy particularly important during these transits. Starting August 16th (when Mars began to sextile the Sun and trine Neptune) putting ideas into action became a top priority for many of us. There is a general feeling that this is the time to stop daydreaming and put our money where our mouths are. 

However, with Mars just beginning its square to Uranus, others’ unexpected needs may often get in our way starting today, (August 17th) and continuing through the 19th. Just as many of us acquire a much better understanding of what we want out of life, at the same time many of us will find ourselves unexpectedly dealing with other people’s drama. We will have to temper our drive for accomplishment--especially involving communication--with patience for others’ shortcomings. 

The Mars-Uranus square in Gemini-Pisces indicates many of us may not know as much as we think we do. Other people “getting in our way” will teach us how we need to modify our methods to accomplish what we are really after, if we are willing to slow down enough to listen. 

The Sun-Neptune opposition reinforces this lesson of the Mars-Uranus square. Many of us will be confronted with new information about the people around us, and in order to deepen our relationships (or redefine them in a constructive way) we may need to listen and process this new information before responding. 

The Sun-Neptune opposition also lasts three days, (starting August 16th) and so new information may appear on any one of these days in many of our lives but is particularly likely today (August 17th) and tomorrow (August 18th) due to the reinforcement of the Mars-Uranus square.

A retrograde is what occurs when a Planet appears to move backwards in its orbit. Retrogrades are important astrologically because they indicate an extended period of time (weeks or months) when humanity in general is forced to look at “old business” in a retrograde Planet’s sphere of influence, before we can move successfully into “new business” in that Planet’s sphere of influence. 

Because of the time element, (and their very visible effects, such as with a Mercury retrograde) I consider retrogrades important transits despite the fact each retrograde involves only a single Planet. 

On August 17th there are five Planets (or, four Planets and one Planetoid) that are retrograde: Jupiter, Chiron, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. The Planet to go retrograde most recently was Uranus, on July 1st. The Planet that has been retrograde longest is Pluto, which began its retrograde April 4th

None are ending their retrograde periods soon. The soonest is Pluto, which is going direct (moving forward in its orbit) starting September 12th. This means many of us are in the midst of re-evaluating our good fortune, what it is we are teaching/learning/healing, our relationship with the future, our ideals, and our relationship with power and money. 

Since Uranus and Neptune are being aspected by other Planets during the day we are looking at here, many of us will find the need particularly acute, to re-evaluate our relationship with both the future and our ideals on this day.     

There are other useful techniques regarding generalized transits. One is to look at Lunar transits specifically; not only where the Moon is in the Zodiac, but when it waxes, wanes, comes to Full and rests at New. 

This can help us develop a world-centered rhythm of when to be active and when to rest, and what kind of activity(s) is favored over a given period of time.  Another is to cast a chart for each Solstice and Equinox. These charts can often be used to see what general trends people living in a particular area will experience over a three month period.

Clearly, the information provided by both personalized and general transits is useful. In an astrologically savvy world, we should want plenty of access to both. Many of the astrology readings out there, however, focus primarily on personalized transits in one form or another. Of those resources that do talk about general transits, it may often seem that almost any transit is as important as any other, which isn’t necessarily the case. 

Transits are a very important part of astrology, and can be very helpful in making decisions or simply reviewing what’s up (or what’s coming up) for us in our daily lives.  Astrology is a tool that has been used by many, many people over thousands of years, and has repeatedly proven its worth. 

We’ve been shortchanging ourselves in the 20th Century by demanding everything—including astrology—tell us “what’s in it for ME right now.” It’s time to start demanding full value from astrology again, by listening to it tell us not only “how” and “where” we are going, but also “why” and “as part of what.”

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