Astrology Answers

by Terri Smallwood


This past month, our family at suffered a great loss in the passing of our dear friend and webmaster, Gregory Ellison. Losing anybody close to you opens up a whole realm of questions and emotions, and losing someone as young and vital as Gregory makes satisfying the questions even harder. In preparing this edition of Astrology Answers, I was struck by the grief in an e-mail from a reader named Joyce, who has also suffered the pain of losing someone she loves. Moving forward after enduring any kind of difficult time is one of our biggest challenges, but moving forward after the death of a loved one stands out as the very hardest. Not only do we have to learn to live with the loss, we have to resolve the inevitable questions about our own mortality and purpose. Astrologically speaking, there is a treasure trove of information in a natal chart about living your best life, which can help you lay a path for moving through grief.

Hello Terri,

I saw your column in Metamorphosis and decided to give you a try.

In 1993 my father passed away. I felt like a part of me died with him. Due to cancer, I recently lost Kalvin, the love of my life. After Kalvin passed away in June of this year, I could feel myself just shut down. My life has felt completely empty since. It was like my soul closing back up. I feel absolutely no sense of purpose anymore. Often I wonder what am I still doing here? I have several different ailments and conditions that can be life-threatening if not monitored and treated, of which I do both.

Would you please make me a chart about love, career and finances, so I can see what direction my life is going?


Joyce is a truth-seeking Sagittarian with a motherly and strong Cancer ascendant and an energetic and communicative Moon in Gemini. The planets in her chart are fairly well spread out amongst the signs and houses, as well as the modalities and elements. This indicates a well-rounded person with diverse interests and the ability to fit into most situations. If there is a difficulty with this type of chart it stems from an inability to take a strong stand or position, and to feel self-doubt because of this.

Joyce has a number of aspects between her planets that stand out. The very tight conjunction of Mercury and the Sun, with the Moon opposing both, is a tricky one. Generally speaking, the farther away from the Sun that Mercury is, the better. Distance from the Sun gives Mercury the ability to think more rationally. Closer to the Sun and the thoughts can be generally quite self-absorbed. Joyce needs to remember, when things feel overwhelming, to try to step back and view the bigger picture. She will need to make a conscious effort to learn this — and should look to her well-placed Mars for help.

Joyce’s Aquarian Mars, located in her 8th house, is one of her biggest assets. Mars in Aquarius can be an unpredictable placement, but it is also highly inventive with inimitable insight into science and technology. There is also the ability to develop unique spiritual views, especially since this planet is residing in Joyce’s 8th house. Mars aspects a number of other planets in Joyce’s chart, including a harmonious sextile to Joyce’s Sun and Mercury conjunction, and a sympathetic trine to her Gemini Moon. This Martian interference balances out the difficulty sometimes evident when the Sun and Moon are in opposition. In a strange way, Mars acts as an intermediary between the two luminaries. I say “strange” because Mars isn’t too often caught wearing the hat of a diplomat. It must be the Aquarian influence! But by positively boosting both Sun and Moon, Mars reduces the possibility for self-doubt and emotional instability that often comes with this opposition.

In her letter, Joyce mentions serious health problems. Medical astrology is a complicated and vast subject and one that I don’t feel qualified to address. However, the Sun in the 6th house does indicate a general preoccupation with health, and the Moon’s opposition to the Sun can create very emotional reactions, which may be deeply psychological, owing to the Moon’s placement in the watery and mysterious 12th house. The 6th house in Joyce’s chart is ruled by Jupiter, and this will hopefully act as a protection against the worst of any possible complications, as Jupiter’s influence is both powerful and beneficial.

Joyce’s Natal Chart, with the T-square marked

Joyce also mentions the powerful sadness she felt at the passing of her father in 1993 and more recently of Kalvin, whom she describes as the “love of her life.” Her chart doesn’t indicate a lifetime that would be especially challenged by facing death, but sadly, the death of a loved one is something that all of us will face, regardless of our astrological influences.

When Joyce lost Kalvin in June of this year, she was under the influence of powerfully karmic transits. I consider many of the outer planet transits to hold a karmic vibration. In Joyce’s case, this combination of transits triggered events that were very likely planned as part of the life path she chose for this incarnation.

There is a metaphysical school of thought that suggests that each of us come into life with a series of events that we have chosen to experience. The experience becomes part of the Soul’s learning and is part of what creates Karma — the action/reaction chain of events that propels us on the wheel of Samsara. In my opinion, our astrological charts give numerous clues to the type of lifetime we have chosen and the tools needed to navigate our paths. The transiting planets cycle through our houses, making aspects as they go, and it’s often in the timing of these aspects that we can see the periods in our life that will be marked by challenges and opportunities for change.

Saturn, sometimes referred to as “The Lord of Karma,” has been very active in Joyce’s chart of late. Saturn’s vibrations can feel heavy and oppressive and are often felt as a period of depression. Saturn brings us situations and emotions that are deeply rooted in the origins of our personal life path, and as such can mark times of our lives that are particularly challenging and even painful. And because Saturn is a slower moving planet, whose path through the stars is marked by a predictable cycle of retrogrades, his transits can take a long time to pass, anywhere from weeks to even months.

Joyce tells us that Kalvin passed in June. Without an exact date I can’t tell about Joyce’s immediate reaction to her loved ones passing, but looking at Joyce’s chart for June 30th and reading her letter where she describes her feelings since his death as being “completely empty” and “with no sense of purpose,” it is obvious that she is deeply grieving her loss.

Joyce’s Natal Chart with Transiting Planets in the Outer Circle: June 30, 2004

Saturn entered Cancer in April 2001, at which time he conjoined Joyce’s Ascendant and began a four-year journey through her 1st house. The 1st house is strongly connected to our sense of self and identity. When Saturn transits this house, people often feel slightly depressed and overwhelmed by difficulties and burdensome responsibilities. This is the nature of Saturn — to remind us of our commitments here on the Earth plane. This four-year period can be a time of great personal insight as well. Saturn’s vibrations may be heavy, but he is generous with his rewards. If Joyce can use the remainder of the time that Saturn is in her 1st house to think on her path in life and to use tools such as journaling, meditation or professional counseling to learn more about her inner nature, she will reap the rewards of greater self-knowledge and inner strength when Saturn moves on to her 2nd house next June.

This past July, Saturn made two significant transits to important planets in Joyce’s chart: a conjunction to Uranus, followed directly by an opposition to Venus. As with most Saturn connections to the outer planets, the transit to Uranus is especially karmic in nature. Saturn represents stability and responsibility, while Uranus stands for rebelliousness and freedom. When these planets collide, the outcome is often fireworks. Robert Hand describes this transit as “powerful internal forces for change colliding with powerful resistance from the outside world.” This conflict is even more pronounced in Joyce’s case because it occurred in her 1st house. The build-up of tensions and resentments under this transit can be so overwhelming as to trigger the sudden onset of illness. Combined with the opposition to Venus — a transit that is often linked to problems with relationships — it’s no wonder that Joyce, already beset by grief, would have felt so deeply overwhelmed.

As the impact of the transit to Uranus finally dissipated, with barely time to catch her breath, Joyce found herself face-to-face with another powerful transit from Saturn. In August Saturn squared Joyce’s natal Saturn and Neptune, both of which are conjunct at 23-degrees of Libra.

Squares from Saturn are notably difficult and the square from transiting Saturn to the natal Saturn ranks very high on the list of potentially life-altering transits. Saturn takes approximately 28 years to make one full circuit of the zodiac, and every seven years it makes a hard angle (conjunction, square or opposition) to the natal Saturn. This “Saturn Seven” cycle is one of life’s most predictable and karmic patterns. The reoccurring themes that come up in this time are the themes that are central to your life path. Difficulties arise when issues from previous Saturn transits are not fully addressed. Eventually, Saturn demands a full reckoning of accounts, and for Joyce this square is of particular importance owing to the fact that soulful and psychic Neptune is so tightly woven into the fabric.

Life during a Saturn transit can be rough. For Joyce, dealing with bereavement, there is a particularly heart-wrenching aspect to this time. Just as her world was shaken by the loss of Kalvin, the transits have seemingly conspired against her to make the road back to inner peace doubly elusive. Her mental and physical strength will have felt as if they were at an all-time low. Emotions, possibly buried since childhood, will overwhelm her and haunt her waking hours and her dream time. There is a deep inner conflict about where she is in her life at the present, and where she would like to be. The future seems uncertain, possibly even grim. However, there is a method to this planetary madness.

Most transits of Saturn occur in three parts. Joyce has already experienced what is called “the first pass” of her particular Saturn transit. It is likely that the worst of her emotional angst occurred in late August or early September. After that period of time, Saturn had moved on and would have no longer been directly square to her natal Saturn and Neptune. That was the calm before the storm.

On November 8th, Saturn changed pace from its normally forward motion to a phase called a “retrograde.” When a planet is retrograde, its movement across the heavens appears to be backwards from our perspective here on Earth. Technically, the planets are always moving forward in their orbits, but from our position looking up at the skies, a retrograde planet is moving from west-to-east, instead of the normal east-to-west.

Astrologically this retrograde period can be significant for a number of reasons. In the case of Joyce and Saturn, this retrograde allows her to revisit the themes of her Saturn-square-natal-Saturn and Neptune again in January when the “Lord of Karma” once again reaches 23-degrees Cancer. This second pass of the transit will occur under the retrograde influence of Saturn, meaning that Joyce will likely re-visit many of the dark feelings and depressing thoughts she had during the first pass in August. It’s never very nice for me to have to tell people to worry about a rotten time coming, but in Joyce’s case, a fair warning gives her time to prepare.

During this next phase of the Saturn square, it will be important for Joyce to consciously be aware that her moods and feelings are being influenced by an astrological heavy-hitter. She should surround herself with the support of soothing friends and loved ones, but also devote time to being on her own. During this alone time, Joyce needs to do some work. Of all planets, Saturn most respects an individual who demonstrates a willingness to embrace his lessons. Personally, I find journaling to be most helpful during these times, which is a task that Joyce should enjoy, given her communicative and articulate Gemini Moon.

Joyce needs to look back and examine the events that have been shaping her adult life, especially things that happened in 1982, 1990, and 1998. These were the years that made up Joyce’s personal Saturn Seven cycle, and unresolved themes and feelings from those times contribute to the turmoil Joyce feels in the present. If Joyce can find a way to use the strong energy of this second pass of Saturn to learn from her past, she will undoubtedly fuel her own recovery and find a way back from the pain she is holding.

The rewards will become apparent in May, when Saturn will pay Joyce one last visit, this time in a forward motion. It will be close to the anniversary of Kalvin’s death, and there will likely still be some difficulties in handling Saturn’s strong energy. But if Joyce has been diligent in doing her homework and learning to embrace the responsibilities of Saturn, then this final pass can be a very liberating time for her. In addition to journaling and meditation through this time, I would also recommend reading Liz Greene’s Saturn for additional insights into the workings of this karmic and vital planet. Joyce can expect next summer to be a time of new energy and revitalized purpose, as she actively embraces her Saturn-bestowed responsibilities and finds a renewed purpose in her journey down the path of life.

Being an astrologer is a wonderful gift. Helping people navigate through the ups and downs of life on the Earth plane is the most rewarding vocation I can imagine. It’s also challenging. There’s an unspoken pressure to look at a client’s chart and be able to offer them not only what they need to hear, but what they want to hear as well. I suppose it’s fortunate that the Universe is not so swayed by sentiment. Recently, in a conversation on the discussion forums, the topic turned to the pain of these so-called “dark nights of the soul.” Each of us struggles through life weaving joyous experiences with the bitter pangs of defeat, and suffering through times of utter loss and aloneness. It’s hard to fathom that good can come from pain, but if it couldn’t, then why would we incarnate at all? The joy punctuates our lives and keeps us renewed in faith and spirit, but the dark nights of the soul are where we grow; they’re how we temper our wills and increase the power of our flame. I wish Joyce much love and light for her healing, and I wish the same for everyone who is suffering the pangs of loss and the pains of loneliness.


Questions, which need to include one’s date, time and location of birth, may be sent to Terri at