At any given time, certain positions around the zodiac are particularly emphasized or powerful, hence they can affect us humans in a marked fashion. Some of these points of emphasis are temporary, retaining their power for weeks, months or years (depending upon the kind of astrological event that energized the point). Other points are more or less permanent, based on the cyclic nature of the zodiac or the positions of powerful bodies outside our solar system. These points can be collectively refered to as "critical degrees". When these critical degrees match up with planets or important points (such as the Ascendent) of your own birthchart, which act as "receivers" of astrological influences, it's possible to really "feel" these critical energies in your life. In fact, it's probably impossible to ignore these influences.
The following topics discuss the various kinds of critical degrees and how they affect you. Other astrology pages will discuss individual points, especially the temporary ones. In general, whenever I mention a specific zodiacal position anywhere on an astrology page, that position is an emphasized point for a time.
A contact between a critical degree and your birthchart doesn't have to be exact to be effective. Astrological influences have a built-in fudge-factor or margin of error known as an orb. Any time two planets or points get close enough to be "within orbs", the influence starts to kick in, reaching a climax as the contact becomes more exact. As a rule of thumb, a 2 or 3 degree orb should be used for any of the critical degrees discussed here.
Points Emphasized by Transits
Permanent Critical Degrees
Semi-Permanent Critical Degrees
Emphasized Points in the A5 Spectrum
Important Points within your Birthchart
How Critical Degrees Affect your Birthchart
The motions of planets and other bodies around the zodiac produce many temporary critical degrees.
The most obvious reason for an emphasized point in the zodiac is the presence of a planet or other body at that position. These are generically called transits (as in "transitory", because the planets move). Because the various planets move at widely different speeds -- from 2 hours per degree for the Moon to many weeks for the slower moving bodies -- this kind of emphasis can be long or short-lived. Contacts between two planets or between a transiting planet and an important point in your birthchart are also known as aspects. You can find the current positions of the planets by refering to the ephemeris pages.
The positions of new moons and full moons are critical points for the entire lunar month (the period of time from one new moon to the next), roughly a 29.5 day period. A lunation that "hits your chart" can indicate a month of great changes. These lunations are discussed in the Current Transits pages.
A solar eclipse is a special kind of new moon where the Moon blocks out the light of the Sun. A lunar eclipse is a special full moon where the Moon hides in the Earth's shadow for a time. Both kinds of eclipses are like "super lunations" in effect, triggering extremely transformative energies where they impact you. Eclipse points are usually "critical" for longer periods as well, normally 6 to 12 months, though eclipse points can sometimes lie dormant for years and suddenly be kicked back into action by a passing planet. It's as though the zodiac has a "memory" and can keep track of important events like this. Eclipse points are discussed in the Current Transits and Eclipse pages.
Just as the Sun and Moon combine to create the lunation cycles, any pair of planets will determine a cycle of aspects (or angular connections) that stretch from one conjunction to the next. Each of these aspects will create new critical points based on where the planets are when the aspect is exact. The points remain critical during the time the aspect is still in orb, which can be anywhere from hours to years. Fast moving planets rarely create aspects that are important enough to have more than a brief influence. The slow moving planets (from Jupiter on out) create aspects that often take months or years to build to a climax and dissipate, making these critical points much stronger and long-lasting. Further, due to these planets' frequent retrograde (reverse) motions, these aspects often repeat 3 or more times, which "drags out" the influence and intensifies its effects over a long period of time. That's why I call these contacts "big aspects", because their slow rise and fall has such an effect on us, compared to the fast moving planets.
Pretty much any aspect between the slow planets should be considered "critical", but the conjunction, opposition and square are especially important. Of these, the conjunction is highly crucial, since it's the beginning of the entire cycle between the two planets. Hence, the conjunction seems to be a critical degree for the entire length of the cycle, which for slower planets can last decades or even centuries.
These big aspects and planetary cycles are discussed in the Big Aspects pages.
All planets except the Sun and Moon occasionally stop their normal forward (direct) motion around the zodiac and go into reverse (retrograde) motion for a time. When the planet is shifting from forward to reverse (or vice versa), it stands still for a time at one zodiacal position. This standing still time (called a station) seems to "burn in" the planet's energy into that zodiacal position, creating a new critical degree. Both the retrograde station (when the planet goes into reverse) and the direct station (when it resumes forward motion) are critical until the next retrograde cycle begins.
Any zodiac position between the two stations will be visited by the planet repeatedly (3 or even 5 times), so all these in between degrees are emphasized (though not to the same level as the stations themselves). This is why I place so much importance on Retrograde Zones in my work.
The Earth is also a planet and has an astrological influence on us. In fact, since the zodiac itself is determined by the Earth's motions, certain important points of the zodiac are crucial power sources of Earth energy, regardless of whether other transiting planets are occupying these degrees or not. These critical degrees are fixed in the zodiac and always present.
The zodiac can be viewed as the grandaddy of all cycles and cyclic phenomena. In particular, many of the notions related to aspects and planetary cycles apply to the zodiac as well. The critical degrees of the zodiac are all familiar "aspect angles", that is, multiples of 30 or 45 degrees.
Foremost among these permanent critical degrees are 0 degrees of the signs Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn. The Sun crosses these points on the first days of spring, summer, fall and winter, respectively. Since life on planet Earth is tied to the seasons and our yearly cycles, these points are intimately connected with our lives at a basic biological level. Any planet that crosses 0Ar00, 0Cn00, 0Li00 or 0Cp00 will also unleash powerful Earth energies. These 4 points are sometimes called cardinal points or quarter points.
Halfway between the equinox and solstice points are another group of critical degrees in the signs of Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius. The points 15Ta00, 15Le00, 15Sc00 and 15Aq00 are collectively known as Avatar Points. They are considered to be degrees where important spiritual influences enter the Earth plane and our lives. Planets moving across these Avatar Points will trigger the release of these influences.
Just as the zodiac as a whole is a cycle, each zodiac sign by itself is also a cycle. The beginnings and endings of cycles are always important, so 0 degrees and 29 degrees of each sign are critical degrees. 0 degrees represents new beginnings or unfoldings of the energy and effects related to that sign. 29 degrees represents our efforts to complete or perfect our handling of that sign's energies. The themes relating to each zodiac sign are described on the Signs page.
Astrologers are becoming increasingly curious about the influences of bodies outside our own solar system. These bodies do not orbit around the Sun like planets do, so they pretty much stay put in the zodiac. However, due to a slow wobble of the Earth's north and south poles (known technically as "precession of the equinoxes"), all these bodies move at a snail's pace around the zodiac (in the direct/forward direction). It takes about 72 years for one of these bodies to move from one degree to the next, about 26000 years for a complete rotation, so the critical position shifts slowly around the zodiac. That's why I refer to them as "semi-permanent" points.
The most commonly used of these points is the Galactic Center (GC), the central point of our own Milky Way galaxy. Just as the planets all revolve in orbit around the Sun, the Sun and our entire solar system revolve around the Galactic Center (about 200 to 250 million years per orbit) in the company of the billions of other stars in our galaxy. Just as the Sun is the "center" of a birthchart, representing the person himself, the GC is a symbol of a kind of "super-self" level -- very high spiritual energies indeed! The GC is currently (2009) at 26Sa59.
Also commonly used is a point called the Super Galactic Center (SGC), currently (2009) at 2Li11. Our Milky Way galaxy belongs to a small group of galaxies (called the Local Group) that all orbit around a common center of gravity, the SGC. This is also considered a highly spiritual center, although the details of its influence are rather sketchy.
Numerous of the brighter stars in the sky have been used by astrologers for centuries as secondary energy sources behind the major planets, especially the stars that lie near the zodiac itself. There are too many of these stars to discuss fully here -- entire books have been written on the subject.
Lately, some astrologers have been studying even weirder astronomical objects in the sky, such as black holes and quasars. While some of these objects are undoubtedly important, the sheer number of them (in the billions, probably) precludes using too many of them in routine astrological work.
My planetary waveform graphs have a very natural way of pointing out certain points of emphasis. These points are created by many planets all focusing their energies (via aspects) on a single zodiac position. These critical degrees show up as peaks in the graph.
For instance, in this graph, the tallest peaks are all about 2 or 3 degrees of each zodiac sign. In addition, there are smaller peaks at around 16 degrees. Hence 2 and 16 degrees of each zodiac sign is a temporary critical degree.
While a given degree can sometimes remain an important peak in the A5 Spectrum for a lengthy time (perhaps a month), the waveform typically changes every 3 to 7 days, bringing new zodiac positions into prominence. These peaks are listed in the "Degrees" section as each waveform is discussed in the Energy Patterns pages. This is an easy way to keep track of where in the zodiac the energy is concentrated.
Your own birthchart indicates how you receive astrological energies from the planets and other power sources in the universe, and how you express these collected energies in your daily living. For now, let's look at the reception part of the picture. You have your own private group of critical degrees in your birthchart -- everybody's pattern of sensitive points is totally unique. These degrees indicate where in the zodiac you are most sensitive to influences affecting the Earth. They are like a radio antenna that brings in the planetary broadcasts all about us.
The most important degrees are simply the positions of the planets and asteroids in your birthchart. Every time one of your natal planets is emphasized, the energy of that planet within you is activated and expressed in some way. The descriptions of each of these planetary energies are contained on the Planets page.
Because you were born at a specific time and place on the Earth, you have a personal way of relating to the zodiacal energies based on the houses of your chart. In particular, the Ascendent, Descendent, MidHeaven and IC of your chart are all personal critical degrees. These 4 points are known as the "angles" of a chart. I would also include the Moon's Nodes and the East and West Points (also known as the Antivertex and Vertex) in this category. These points are discussed more fully on the Houses page.
It's important to get to know these personal critical points in your chart. By comparing the critical degrees active in the sky (where the sources of energy are) with your personal critical points (where you can receive the energy), you can understand your individual response to the current astrological scene. This is how you "personalize" a general astrological forecast to fit your own circumstances.
Each critical degree that I mention in these pages is a source of energy with the potential to create changes in your life. Whether you "pick up" that energy or not depends on whether your "antenna" is tuned to that broadcast, much as a radio receiver must be tuned to a particular station before you can hear any music. That antenna is your group of personal critical points in your birthchart.
A powerful astrological influence (like an eclipse or big aspect) will probably affect everyone somehow. But some people will be closely tuned to that energy, receiving it with the strength of a flooding river, and will have their lives turned completely upside down for months at a time. Yet another person may be tuned to some other station and will feel this influence only slightly. The impact on their life will be minimal and they may be wondering what all the commotion is about.
In general, if the critical degrees of the current energies are close to your birthchart degrees, you are tuned in. "Close" means within an orb of 2 or 3 degrees. The closer together these degrees are, the more you are tuned in. Don't underestimate these influences on your life!
When talking about the waveform graphs in the Energy Patterns pages, I mention degrees without specifying which zodiac sign it is. That's because if a degree in one sign is critical, that same degree is active in every sign (usually). If 4 degrees of Virgo is active, then 4 degrees of every other sign is also active. This seems to be the case for critical degrees of all types, because of the way aspects connect up these corresponding degrees (they are all 30 degrees apart). You can ignore the zodiac sign most of the time.