Signs a half year apart are said to be in opposition to one another. They may relate conflictually or they may complement one another, or both. The study of oppositions is one of the most fascinating in astrology. (Considering opposite signs together with “mirror” signs should prove intriguing indeed, for the mirroring effect suggests differences in exactly how two signs are opposite.)
The six pairs of opposite signs form six axes of the zodiac.
- Aries ——————— Libra
- Taurus ——————— Scorpio
- Gemini ——————— Sagittarius
- Cancer ——————— Capricorn
- Leo ——————— Aquarius
- Virgo ——————— Pisces
In these terms, one sign in a pair resides at one extreme of the axis or spectrum, while the other sign resides at the other extreme. An Aries friend and I (Libra) have often mused during our long association that we seem, always, to orbit the same issue and see it from precisely opposite points of view.
It’s difficult to maintain a polarized point of view for a lifetime. What typically happens is that some event undermines our assumptions and fractures our native outlook. When that occurs, we tend to over-react and leap to the opposite set of assumptions, those native to the sign opposite our own. Eventually, that outlook, too, proves faulty, and we leap back again, but with less vigor. Ultimately, if we do our life-work well, we achieve a balance point somewhere near the center of our axial teeter-totter.
An irony is present with oppositions. Our initial polarized outlook seems to others as if we consciously intend to be the way we are–assertive or passive, overtly demanding or covertly manipulative, sure of our facts or uncertain of our opinions, etc. We tend not to give one another feedback about what’s blazingly obvious, lest we feed an already overfed ego or put down an already diminished self-confidence.
For example, we do not typically affirm aloud that the obviously assertive person affects us or that the obviously timid person has little effect. Because feedback about our most obvious traits is rarely forthcoming, we maintain our native assumptions, unexamined, for a very long time. Lacking feedback, the assertive person, believing himself to be ineffectual, may become even more assertive. The passive person, who is indeed noticed when he dares assert himself, becomes even more cautious.
The initial jolt in awareness occurs when the natively assertive person discovers he indeed has an impact (a BIG impact) or the natively passive person learns he’s not as powerful as he believes (in truth, is rarely even noticed). The jolt often comes all of a sudden, as if by internal combustion, and the experience causes us to recoil in shock at discovering how we’re perceived by others. This can be shattering, but it begins our journey of self-discovery; we may seek someone born under a sign opposite our own to accompany us in this journey.
Until the process begins, we seem little able to apprehend ourselves or others with any kind of equanimity or compassion. In examining our relations with ourselves and others, we can learn much from sun signs, and we can learn even more by observing how completely the extremes of our axis have been integrated and balanced. A line from Rodney Crowell’s song, “Shame on the Moon,” is apt here:
“Some many go crazy.
Some men go slow.
Some men go just where they want,
and some men never go.”
My own observations of people led me long ago to the axial observations offered below. These have stood the test of time and have served me well indeed. (Genders used are those conventionally associated with the signs.)
Aries & Libra
Aries is assertive. He introjects himself into the world oblivious to his own impact and effect. Natively, he sees himself making very little difference to anyone anywhere, and he may exaggerate behavior simply to achieve notice.
Libra, on the other hand, natively believes himself to be a cause of whatever happens around him. Because of this implicit and unexamined belief, he becomes extremely cautious in word and deed.
The Libra-Aries axis has to do with power and responsibility. From the outside looking in, Aries seems to have much power but take little responsibility for his effect. With Libra, the opposite is true.
Once Aries learns he has tremendous impact, he may become extremely passive, until he discovers no one pays any attention to him. Similarly Libra, upon discovering he makes little difference anywhere, may cease to modulate his words and actions; another jolt is inevitable.
Eventually both Aries and Libra can learn to be very potent in the world while being remarkably sensitive to whom they affect and how.
Taurus & Scorpio
Taurus is focused on her own comfort and well-being. The assumption is that the world simply should be a place in which her thriving should be nurtured and fostered, by default. When necessary warmth, shelter, nutrient, or affection is not readily available, Taurus makes his displeasure known with an overt display of ill-temper.
Scorpio, the opposite sign, assumes little except that life is tough. Scorpio prepares for hardship and can be fairly ruthless in doing so because danger seems so imminent. She believes, implicitly, that the way to secure life’s necessities is to go underground and cleverly manipulate.
The Taurus-Scorpio axis has to do with physical survival, with pleasure and pain. Control is the real issue: How does one control circumstance to achieve survival? Taurus’s shock occurs when ill-temper fails to achieve the desired response, when both it and charm receive no response at all or the response opposite the one intended. She may well conclude that the world is a hostile place, not a place where one should overtly reveal desire or fear.
What unsettles Scorpio are experiences of pleasure; she doesn’t trust them and certainly doesn’t want to get used to them, but if they are durable or consistent enough, they can be as shattering to her certainty as deprivation is to Taurus. When Scorpio allows comfort and pleasure, she may come to expect or even demand them.
When Taurus and Scorpio learn to accept the co-existence of pleasure and pain, comfort and distress in human experience, they can navigate the river of life with great control, for what’s been acquired is temperence and modesty.
Gemini & Sagittarius
For Gemini the world is full of facts waiting to be discovered. About himself, Gemini knows little; his attention is completely outward focused. Because the world is knowable and factual, Gemini himself can be free as the wind, completely inconsistent, utterly changeable. Consistency is something he expects (even requires) of others, but not himself.
Sagittarius, by contrast, lives in an ever-changing world. He learns to ride the current, drawing few reliable conclusions about the landscape. Because the world is inconsistent and largely inscrutable, Sag’s trust is focused on himself, and of himself he requires consistency. He rides a river through the unknown, but he can, at least, know how to handle the boat.
Gemini-Sagittarius is about truth and trust. Truth in this context refers to reliability. Gemini trusts the world to be reliable and himself little if at all. Sagittarius has little or no faith in the world but has plenty of confidence in his own ability to navigate.
What jolts Gemini is discovering that he has a reputation; in essence, he is a fact in the world of others. He may not like the attributes assigned him by others (typical are flaky, irresponsible, untrustworthy). Others’ opinions, which are by Gemini’s definition, factual, now reflect back on himself. They’re inescapable. They must be wrong; the world out there must have erred. This is Gemini’s leap. The world itself proves untrustworthy, but by golly, Gemini’s going to be reliable.
Sag’s shock occurs when he recognizes that he’s made a mistake, that his tried and true principles have failed him. The rocks are there in the river, plainly visible, and he failed to navigate around them because he was paying more attention to doing things correctly and according to well-thought plan than noticing what’s right in front of him.
Eventually, both Gemini and Sagittarius can learn appropriate trust of both self and others. This lesson entails mastery of forgiveness.
Cancer & Capricorn
For Cancer, the equation of right and “us” is an unexamined assumption. If Cancer adopts and conforms to collectively agreed upon standards, then approval is automatic, or so it seems. (The United States is Cancerian by birth.)
Cancer’s outlook fractures and breaks when right and us are clearly misaligned, when behaving according to standard garners loud disapproval. (In America, for example, this occurred during the Viet Nam war.) Following such a crisis, Cancer may believe that something about her very nature is wrong, though she doesn’t quite know what, and begin striving to earn her way back into the world’s good graces by a demonstration of hard work and good deeds.
Capricorn, on the other hand, whose season is the bottom of winter, feels disenfranchised from the benefits of the collective and is far from confident in her own goodness. For her, approval must be earned, rightness proved by earnest effort, and friendship achieved by liberal expenditure of humor (cheering up of others). Of all the signs Capricorn may have an implicit and unexamined belief in her own original sin and the necessity of atonement.
Capricorn’s shock comes when she discovers that it is actually her obsession with earning that disenfranchises her from the approval and respect she so ardently desires. Her fellows, it turns out, would rather have the pleasure of her timely and relaxed company than hear her litany of task in progress, reports of labors accomplishments achieved, and jokes about anything slightly unpleasant. In other words, the preoccupation Capricorn believes will win her respect is what’s most faulted in her by others.
The Cancer-Capricorn axis is about judgment and integrity. Cancer and Capricorn learn, ultimately, is that approval automatically results neither from conforming to cultural standards nor from working hard to achieve greatness. We may deny ourselves in order to conform; we may suffer at our labor in order to prove ourselves “good”; and respect may still mostly elude us.
Evolution for Cancer and Capricorn is a process of letting go the need for approval and discovering, instead, personal integrity. Real integrity arises out of revealing the truth of our spontaneous and capricious preferences without justifying them in ethical terms (that is, absolute good-bad or right-wrong). When we tell the real truth of what we authentically believe and desire and feel, in the moment, our words and our deeds become aligned. This alignment is the basis of integrity. Integrity does not always win us approval, but it always wins us respect.
Leo & Aquarius
Leo implicitly believes in his own ordinariness. He assumes he’s cut from homespun cloth. At the same time he senses distinctions and character differences among people. He wonders what unique identity lies dormant inside himself waiting to be expressed. Because he assumes he stands on common ground with lots of other folks, while being somewhat more lackluster than they, he gives himself much permission to experiment. “How does this look on me?” he seems to be asking, and, others, who tend to find affirmation easier than its opposite, tend to affirm everything.
Leo’s crisis comes when he discovers that he is indeed quite a character, not much like other people at all. Embarrassed, he may want to camouflage himself now as just one of the guys. There is safety in number, after all, a safety to which his native outlook accustomed him. In “History of the World,” when the Christ figure said, “you are all unique,” and the audience chanted back, “we are all unique, we are all unique,” it was surely Leo (or Aquarius in a Leo phase) who raised his hand and hollered, “but I’m not.”
Aquarius comes believing he’s inherently different from others, not like anyone else, certainly unique, maybe odd. He ardently wants to fit in, or at least appear as if he does, but with the right crowd, not mere riff-raff. He’d like the easy understanding, communication, and rapport others seem to enjoy. His fantasies and most intense longings are of the one-with-the-all variety.
One day Aquarius wakes up to discover that he’s perceived by most of the world as pretty ordinary, not really special at all. Lost in the crowd, he finds himself in Leo’s dilemma.
Ultimately, Leo learns that striving forward does not gain him identity or distinction. Leaning back and relaxing into his very ordinariness automatically takes him to inhabit his own authentic character. Aquarius learns that his exaggerated efforts to fit in are what most set him apart.
There’s something terribly freeing about discovering the ordinariness of our oddities; there’s not one of us who doesn’t fret over this or that quirk in ourselves. The ways in which we are most truly ordinary are actually our most exceptional qualities. Some years ago, I saw a magazine article reporting an experiment. Hundreds of pictures of men and hundreds of pictures of women were computerized to create a single composite face for each gender. The faces, then, were actually an average of all the collected images. What emerged was shocking; pictures of a covergirl and an anchorman, pictures of our collective ideals of pretty and handsome.
My friend Mary Lynn likes to say that when we go deep into our selves, into our most personal space (which we assume no one could possibly understand), we become most like others, for we tap into collective archetype, into the dimension of dreams and myths. Here is where we can communicate with the least effort.
Leo and Aquarius, then, have the opportunity for the deepest kind of identification with and empathy for others.
Virgo & Pisces
For Virgo, human accomplishments are evidence of great mastery and discipline. There’s beauty in order for Virgo. Landscapes, by themselves are mere background, but in painting they can be glorious. Flowers by the roadside can provide lovely context for a picnic, but how much more magnificent the carefully planted garden. Virgo shatters when her own mastery has been achieved but matter refuses to submit to her skill, or when her discipline fails to reap the expected reward, which is recognition.
For Pisces, struggling to waken from winter’s oppression and birth the spring, order is odious. It reminds Pisces of the crystalline structure of ice. What’s valued is stirring, wildness, quickening of new life, riotous humming in the roots, refusal to obey or conform to circumstance. Pisces values change, surprise, randomness and discards what’s static. For Pisces, what’s at first impossible to reckon is that even amidst the apparent freedom of chaos, an order pervades. There’s a timing and a rhythm in nature which cannot be much hurried, no matter how ardent the dream.
The Virgo-Pisces axis has to do with value and beauty and with order and chaos. Virgo values and cultivates order, seeks and delights in self-discipline, believes in the inevitable reward it will bring. Unrewarded, Virgo becomes feral. When Pisces feels hemmed in, she becomes dutiful and obedient servant to whomever might tell her what to do. It’s not long before feral Virgo learns Pisces’ lesson and domesticated Pisces learns Virgo’s lesson. Eventually, with enough of these wobblings, each can integrate chaos and order.
Computers respond to specific instructions. They cannot handle maybe’s. They make no spontaneous choices. They guess not at all. Really interesting computer programs–games and oracles, for example, which have the capacity to surprise–require randomness. Because of this, programmers have available to them a “random-number generator,” which is not truly random but seems so. Order, by itself, is static and repetitive and tedious. Chaos by itself, like the freak tornado in Kansas, is terrifying. But it takes both to create something alive, something beautiful. This is of the Virgo-Pisces axis.