This seminar was given on 27 April 1997 at Regents College, London as part of the Summer Term of the seminar programme of the "Centre for Psychological Astrology".
The concept behind the composite chart - or, as Erin Sullivan sometimes calls it, the compost chart - is that it represents the relationship itself as a third factor. Two people create a third thing between them. The composite chart is like an energy field, which affects both people and draws certain things out of each individual as well as imposing its own dynamics on both.
The composite doesn't seem to describe what either person feels about the other. In this way it is very different from synastry, which describes the chemistry between two people in terms of how they affect each other. When we are exploring the synastry in a relationship, we say, "Your Venus is on my Mars. You are activating my Mars and bringing a Mars response out of me, and I am activating your Venus and invoking a Venus response in you. Consequently we feel a certain way about each other." When we are looking at a composite chart, we are not exploring what two people activate in each other or feel about each other. We are interpreting the energy field they generate between them. The composite chart is like a child, a third entity which carries the genetic imprints of both parents but combines these imprints in an entirely new way and exists independently of either of them.
Because the composite has all the same features as a birth chart, we need to approach its interpretation in more or less the same way. The composite chart has a core identity which signifies its "purpose" (the Sun) and a characteristic set of emotional responses and needs (the Moon). It has a mode of communication (Mercury) and a distinctive set of values and ideals (Venus). It has a mode of expressing energy and will (Mars). It has its own way of growing and expanding (Jupiter) and it has innate limitations and defence mechanisms (Saturn). It has a specific vulnerability to the collective due to patterns from the collective background of the relationship (Chiron). It reflects certain collective ideals which strive for change and progress (Uranus). It has innate aspirations which reflect certain collective fantasies (Neptune). It has a bottom-line survival instinct which can prove supportive to the relationship's continuity but can also be destructive if the relationship is under threat (Pluto). It has an image or role to play in the eyes of society (MC), and it has a "personality" which will express itself in certain characteristic ways to the world outside (Ascendant). The signs in a composite chart describe the basic stuff or "temperament" of which the relationship is made; the planets describe the motivating energies; and the houses describe the spheres of life through which the planets express themselves. All this is basic astrology, and it is no less applicable to the composite than it is to the individual birth chart.
We do not usually think of our relationships as independent entities. More often, we think in terms of our own feelings and attitudes, or the feelings and attitudes of the other person. Yet every relationship creates its own ambience. None of us behaves in the same way when we are half of a couple as we do when we are operating solo. We might have characteristic behaviour patterns when we are alone, but the moment we are with our partner, a certain kind of energy dynamic is set in motion and we behave in particular ways which are sometimes very noticeable in the company of other people.
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Two people in relationship create an atmosphere around them, not by conscious choice, but because that is simply what happens. Other people will often reflect this back to us. "The two of you seem such a lively, attractive couple," a friend might say, or, "What an exciting life the two of you must have!" Meanwhile, one is thinking to oneself, "What on earth are they talking about? That isn't how I feel." We might see something like composite Jupiter rising in Sagittarius and Libra at the composite MC, and other people perceive the relationship as an exciting and glamorous Jupiter-Venus entity. But one's partner's Saturn might be conjunct one's Moon and opposition one's Sun, and the synastry between the birth charts might make one feel more like Sisyphus and his rock than Mick Jagger and Jerri Hall. The opposite can also occur. The composite may have Saturn rising and Chiron culminating, and the world sees something quite heavy when one is with one's partner. But the synastry may involve lots of Venus-Jupiter-Uranus contacts, reflecting an excitement within the relationship which both people personally feel but which does not express itself to others.
We can learn a lot about the angles of the composite chart for an important relationship by asking other people how they see the relationship. Often we might be in for quite a shock, because the answer may not reflect how we actually feel about the other person. The composite, like a natal chart, presents itself to the world according to its Ascendant and MC. It has a ruling planet which will focus the expression of the relationship in a certain house or sphere of life. The houses of the composite work in the same way they do in a birth chart, reflecting spheres of emphasis through which the dynamics of the relationship are manifested. When composite planets highlight a composite house, that area of life will be extremely important to the relationship, and both people will be impelled to focus on it, even if the same house is empty in both birth charts. A relationship can push us into having to confront certain areas of life, even if natally we are neither predisposed nor well equipped to cope in that area.
Composites have their own laws and energies, and these have nothing to do with whether we are "well matched" with someone. A composite in itself will not tell us about compatibility. That is what synastry is for. The composite won't reveal whether the relationship is "good" or "bad" in terms of the chemistry between two people. The composite says to us, "If you choose to enter this relationship, here is its meaning and pattern of destiny. This is what it is made of and what it is for." If we want to get a sense of whether or not that meaning and destiny are going to make us feel good, we have to compare the composite with our own chart.
If we examine the synastry between the
composite and the chart of each individual in the relationship,
we can learn a lot about how the relationship makes each person
feel. We can also take a third party and compare that person's
chart to the composite. This is a fascinating exercise. Let's
say that I am in a long-term relationship, but also have a
lover. I can take that third party's chart and look at how
it affects the composite chart between me and my partner,
and I can get a very clear picture of how my lover affects
the relationship. We can also look at the chart of a child
in relation to the composite between the parents. This is
very useful in terms of understanding family dynamics. Some
children have a way of really disrupting the parental relationship,
while others help to glue it together. We can see this by
looking at the child's chart in relation to the parents' composite.
We might not see this dynamic by merely exploring the synastry
between the child and each individual parent.
Working with composites makes us think in terms of something larger than ourselves as individuals. Wherever we go, we create interfaces with other people, and we may not have the same amount of choice in dealing with those interfaces as we might when we deal with our own personal issues. If one has a Sun-Saturn square in the birth chart, one can actively do something with it. One doesn't have to be its victim, or live solely from the darker side of it. It may be a difficult aspect in early life, and it may reflect deep feelings of insecurity or inadequacy. But one can say, "I know that a lot of my self-doubt is connected with my father and my childhood. I sabotage myself because I am sometimes afraid to aim high. I am often too hard on myself, and expect too much. But I'm going to try to work on these issues. I'll make an effort to understand what they are about. I may need some psychotherapy to help me to learn to trust myself more. And I'll try to develop my Saturn sign so that I have more confidence." Gradually one can shape that Sun-Saturn square into something very strong and creative, if one is willing to put the necessary effort into it.
But when a Sun-Saturn square appears in the composite chart, the relationship cannot go into psychotherapy. The relationship cannot say, of its own volition, "I'm going to work on these feelings of limitation and self-doubt." The relationship does not "feel" self-doubt. Both individuals can work on their own Saturns. But neither may have a Sun-Saturn square, and neither may really understand why, when they are together, something in the relationship thwarts and frustrates their joint goals. The external limitations which often accompany a composite Sun-Saturn may seem strangely impersonal and beyond one's control.
The impersonal feeling of the composite may be very uncomfortable for us if we are psychologically inclined, because psychological astrology implies individual responsibility and a belief that we can change many things in our lives if we are prepared to do the inner work. Because we view the birth chart as an inner picture, we can take responsibility for how we express it, and consciousness can make a huge difference. A psychological approach to astrology allows us to transform many things if we make sufficient effort. But one can be deluded by the fantasy that one can change anything, and some things lie beyond the individual's scope of influence. I am not suggesting that composites are not psychological, or that we should abandon this approach when interpreting them. But "psychological" does not always mean free, and change may mean a change in the attitudes of both people toward the relationship, rather than a change in the endemic pattern of the relationship itself.
We can do nothing to change the fundamental
patterns in the composite chart. Of course the same may be
said of an individual chart. But we seem to have more room
to affect the levels on which we express our natal patterns.
This gives us the inner sense - valid or not - that we have
the power to participate actively in, or even create, our
own future. Maybe we do, at least in some areas of life. But
a composite presents us with a different experience, if not
a different reality at core. We can change how we react to
the patterns in the composite, and we can make the effort
to provide creative outlets for its energies. But even with
the maximum cooperation with a partner, the patterns of a
composite still feel "outside" our sphere of personal
influence. A composite will not say, "This is a bad relationship
- get out of it." But it may say, "This relationship
has got an inherent restriction which neither person is going
to be able to alter. If you want this relationship, accept
this issue." If the composite chart has a Sun-Saturn
square or a Sun-Chiron conjunction, it contains built-in limits,
often of a very concrete kind. These limits may prove to be
creative and positive for either or both individuals. But
they feel as though they have been imposed on us. A Sun-Saturn
square or a Sun-Chiron conjunction in the natal chart also
contains built-in limits, but we experience them differently.
Let's take composite Sun-Chiron aspects. I have seen these many times when a relationship involves the unavoidable inclusion of limits from the past. The past may be an ex-partner who wants big maintenance payments, or it may be children from a former marriage. These situations can cause a lot of pain, especially where children are involved, because no matter how mature and conscious the two people are, there will be conflicts, divided loyalties, hurt feelings, and perhaps also financial restrictions. It is not a question of altering attitudes; a priori families, for any couple, are a built-in fact which will always impose limits. If a couple do not experience limits in such circumstances, then we probably won't see Sun-Chiron in the composite chart.
We know that Chiron is connected with experiences of wounding, particularly those which seem unfair and unmerited, and which are a product of the state of the collective at the time rather than some particular person's fault or act of malice. Sun-Chiron contacts in a composite suggest that the relationship itself carries an unhealable wound, usually from the past of both parties, or from the nature of the world in which the two people are living. At the same time, the relationship may provide deep healing for both people, or for others who come in contact with the couple, because the inherent limits invoke suffering and consequent understanding and compassion.
I have sometimes seen Sun-Chiron in a composite when two people want very badly to have children but are unable to do so. This is a wound which can make people think much more deeply about who they are and what purpose their lives serve, because they do not have the collectively sanctioned "purpose" of a family to give them a direction in life. Another example might be a partnership where there is a great age difference, and the younger partner must watch the other grow old and frail. No amount of love and commitment can turn the clock back. Or there might be a physical handicap in one partner which may be genuinely and deeply accepted, but which limits the mobility of both people. Yet another example might be a racially mixed marriage, or a homosexual relationship, both of which may provoke animosity among neighbours who are xenophobic or too rigid in their definitions of normality. Xenophobia and rigid opinions are characteristic of many, many people, and no amount of agonising or raging will alter this unfortunate flaw in human nature. Both people may be hurt through the relationship, not because it is "bad", but because there is something about the way the relationship "sits" in the collective which limits its possibilities.
I am not saying that it is a static picture. As far as healing is concerned, it depends on what you mean by the word. Chiron's wounds do not heal in the sense of going away. Something has been permanently twisted out of shape, even if the poison has been released and cleansed. One cannot regain innocence once it has been destroyed by the kind of wounding this planet reflects. But one's attitude toward the wound can change, and greater tolerance, compassion, and wisdom can result. That is a kind of healing; but it cannot undo the past. One cannot, for example, make one's children by a former partner vanish in a puff of smoke. One can try to numb the wound by cutting off from the children emotionally, and never seeing them again; and then there is another sort of wound that must be dealt with. Or one can work very hard to face all the emotional complications, and eventually establish rewarding relationships with everyone concerned. But there will always be compromise and sadness and a sense of loss. Such aspects in the composite chart do not mean that the effects of the difficulty remain static and unchanging. Both people may be deeply and permanently transformed. But the past cannot be remade.
The composite chart progresses like a
birth chart, and this reflects changes within the relationship
just as it does within the individual. But the composite chart
as an entity doesn't have the same capacity as an individual
for deciding of its own volition to change or fight against
something. It is not a conscious individual. Both people may
work to become more conscious, and the ways in which they
experience the relationship may change accordingly. But the
basic patterns of the relationship unfold like a seed growing
into a plant, with a natural inevitability that may feel alien
to our ego-centred consciousness.
Relationships and how to survive them.
Part One: The Composite Chart, Part Two: The Eternal Triangle
CPA Press, London.
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