As helpless as baby kittens are, when a stranger approaches they hiss and spit and kick up a fuss, and make a fine show of bravery. Human beings are rather frail creatures too, with great pretensions. Behind all their hissing and spitting they possess a sheer gumption which is peculiarly human and is most noticeable in moments of stress and harassment. In the horoscope it is shown by the critical degrees.
The critical degrees are points spaced 12°51’ apart, beginning at 0° Q (See table of critical degrees). This is a division of the zodiac by 28, which is symbolically the moon’s orbital period: the critical degrees are “lunar” in the sense that this area of life is never stable – there is always some question or problem about it. Any natal planet or horoscope angle that lies within an orb of one degree of any of these points is considered to be critical. Where you find a critical planet or angle in the chart, you find a good deal of hissing and spitting in the life.
Critical degrees show a cosmic restraint: natives will experience obstruction and frustration here (depending on the planet involved) until they learn to surrender their own will in this particular area of life. By denying satisfaction in external circumstances, natives are forced back upon their own resources: they have to find satisfaction within themselves. These degrees are neither benefic nor malefic: they deny external satisfaction, but increase self-reliance. There is an obstinate struggle here against hampering and isolating circumstances – usually self-created – and also a great reserve of fortitude and strength.
This strength is especially apparent when a planet or angle comes to conjunction with a critical degree by secondary (day-for-a-year) progression. Except for the progressed moon, whose effect is much weaker, there is usually a preceding month or so of personal limitation and frustration. Then, within a few weeks of the time that the progression is exact, a crisis occurs. The situation calls for a transcendence – moving up to a new level of grasp and control. The real significance of these critical moments in life is often properly understood only in retrospect over a period of months after the event.
Generally, your critical planets and angles reveal not only where you fume, but also where your greatest potentials lie. They are your true points of touch with the depths of your own humanity.
When there is a Preponderance of planets conjunct critical degrees (four or more) in your horoscope, then you possess a deep sense of accountability to the world at large; yet life keeps you on a very short leash. You soon learn that even slight deviations from the straight and narrow path can have catastrophic consequences. You feel compelled to do more than is necessary because you have an acute need to justify to yourself the fact of your existence on this earth. You tend to distrust being too happy – or at least feel vaguely guilty about the idea – which gives you an air of world-weariness. You bear life’s burdens with downright doggedness, which on the negative side reveals itself in a singular pigheadedness. At your best, you possess dignity and a real sense of self-worth which in time can lead you to true wisdom.
If there is an absence of planets conjunct critical degrees in your horoscope, then you possess great flexibility and adaptability, together with an uninhibited opportunism. You tend to be rather happy-go-lucky; you get to do pretty much as you please in life because you let nothing interfere with what you really want to do. At times you may use other people for your own ends and discard them when you have no further need of them. You have a gift for transplanting yourself body and soul whenever your involvements have reached a point of frustration. You have little sense of remorse or guilt, and can get away with things that most people can’t because life doesn’t hold you accountable. An absence of critical degrees provides a relative freedom from compulsion, which can be a great opportunity to practice self-limitation on a voluntary basis. At your best you are honorable, dispassionate, and just. At your worst you tend to leave your messes for other people to clean up.
When your natal Sun is critical you have a strong will and determination, but very little fulfillment in life. You feel misunderstood and unappreciated, out of step with the world around you. You have high ideals and a good heart, combined with a fierce pride and unwillingness to compromise. You are out-of-step with the world around you, but have an unwavering faith in your own worth. This is not so much a pride before people (though there can be a touchy, snobbish, or overweening tendency) as it is a pride before God. It’s difficult for you to reconcile the demands that the world makes upon you with what your own inner voice is telling you to do. You tend to find real life too real, too harsh, which lends a softness and sweetness to your nature and gives you a grumpy or brooding air. At your worst you are given to self-righteousness of self-pity. Your independent disposition and unwavering faith in your own worth is trimmed by a long period of servitude in which you must bend yourself to the demands of other people or the press of circumstances until the nascent humility, which is your most endearing virtue, truly flowers.
When your Progressed Sun arrives at a critical degree your life comes to some dead end or point of futility. There may be arguments or disagreements with associates, or just an awareness of nonfulfillment with where your life seems to be taking you. Abruptly some new door opens. You make the decision to change direction in life. Filled with inspiration and a new sense of purpose, you leave the uncongenial environment to go off on your own. It's as if you can feel the hand of God guiding and directing you. In the succeeding months you may reflect upon your own limitations; you come to appreciate what it is that is really of importance to you in the working out of your destiny.
When your natal Moon is critical you possess good instincts and great tenacity; yet life is never a settled issue for you. You’re never quite sure what it is you want out of life, so you’re never quite satisfied with things as they are. You tend to hold yourself back because you have an emotional sensibility which is very easily moved or disturbed. You take everything that happens very much to heart, which on its negative side can become a tendency to sulk or pout. At your worst you are completely dominated by your moods, and the less rational they are, the more adamant you become. Your best quality is your willingness to follow your intuition all the way to the end, which endows you with a great capacity for loyalty and dedication.
The Progressed Moon’s conjunctions with critical degrees are by no means as important or far-reaching as those of the other planets. Occurring about once a year, they are usually in effect for a day or so prior to the exact date they are due. Something comes up that is a bit out of the ordinary or involves you with other people in a novel way. The experience is quite engaging emotionally. It often has an oblique or indirect bearing upon your present situation in life, and thus serves as a focus for your current feelings and aspirations. The event helps you to realize consciously some of the things you may have been taking for granted heretofore. The upshot is a change of attitude as regards your current involvements and a real sense of emotional encouragement.
When your natal Mercury is critical you are sociable and eager to please; but you never quite seem to fit in no matter how hard you try. You are self-conscious and constantly aware of the impression you are making on other people. At times you may become too dependent on their approval or acceptance. You can be overly self-justifying in your efforts to dodge blame and reproach. There can be a sense of cheerful indifference or helplessness about you; you can be a little too pleased with yourself; as a reaction against others’ judgments. On the other hand, you tend to be nonjudgmental yourself, and are eager to learn and communicate. Typically your friendships cut across all lines of social class and educational background. There is a freshness, an openness, about you, which heralds a nascent innocence.
Progressed Mercury usually arrives at a critical degree on the heels of a period of inner turmoil and confusion about who you are and where you belong. Then you conceive some new idea or project with which you can identify yourself. You enter a period of great energy and activity. The situation hinges upon clear communication with other people, and you have the aplomb and self-possession to bring it off. Your fondest images of yourself seem to come true; you feel like Super-You. In the succeeding months you come to see yourself in a new light, with a new-found sense of personal prowess.
When your natal Venus is critical you possess an unflagging optimism and hopefulness; yet life seems to continually disappoint your expectations. You are endowed with a somewhat abashed playfulness and the eager anticipation of a child, but you are extremely vulnerable emotionally and susceptible to being imposed upon or taken advantage of. Actually you victimize yourself with a childish impatience and refusal to allow things to run their course – such as waiting for Mr. or Ms. “Right” to come along, and pouncing on any likely prospects. You may not be looking for give-and-take in an intimate relationship so much as for security and a sense of stability. On your positive side you have a nurturing impulse towards your fellows. You are a delight to know because you are spontaneous, full of adventure, and possessed of a wide-eyed curiosity about the world.
Progressed Venus usually conjoins a critical degree after a chaotic or unsettling period in which your life and relationships have seemed unsubstantial or unfruitful. Then a new possibility presents itself and your realize that you have it within you to change matters. It is a very creative, artistic, inspired period. A new beginning – sometimes an actual removal – is made. You break old alliances and make new ones. Your situation in life stabilizes and loose ends come together. In the months that follow you come to understand better the contribution which you have to make of yourself in order to find your own happiness and peace of mind.
When your natal Mars is critical you possess great perseverance and endurance; but you usually find yourself in a rut, stuck in the same old dead-end situations. You don’t like being under pressure but often find yourself in that position because you put off decision-making or just let things slide until you’re absolutely forced to make a stand. You may harbor secret ambitions or dreams of grandeur, together with a secret fear of successfully realizing them; so you tend to carry an air of frustrated intentions around with you. On the other hand, you mix your caution with bravado and panache and an exceptional amount of personal charm. You have a sense of fair play and a determination to shield and protect other people, which is the hallmark of an incipient heroism.
Progressed Mars often reaches a critical degree after a period of battering your head against a wall. Sometimes there has been illness, or disapproval and rejection by other people. Then the wall falls away. Some sort of renunciation, conversion, or self-sacrifice is required; a new commitment must be made. You may get to do something you’ve wanted to do for a long time, and you receive the support of other people. Succeeding months show you the futility of passive acceptance: you become more willing to stand up for yourself.
When your natal Jupiter is critical you possess a rather sheepish desire to be looked up to and a gift for taking charge, together with a disinclination to play at all unless you can make the rules. You are the proverbial “leader without followers”: enthusiastic and eager to share, but overly set in your ways and fixed in your views so that there is a certain point beyond which you just cannot be reached. You take great delight in sheer contrariness, and there may be a vaguely patronizing or condescending air about you – or the sense that you are humoring or indulging other people. If life at times makes you feel that nothing you say or do counts, it’s because you’re often unwilling to give anyone else any credit. When you have learned the virtues of adaptability, the steadfastness of purpose and complete sincerity which are your outstanding qualities win you the firm allegiance of all who know you.
Since the planets beyond Mars move very slowly by secondary progression and rarely conjoin critical degrees, delineations for the progressed outer planets will not be given.
When your natal Saturn is critical you are gentle, sensitive, and aware; yet you tend to find life rather unresponsive and indifferent to you. You are ever the objective observer, even of yourself; this aloofness endows you with an ironic, even self-mocking, sense of humor. You tend to insulate yourself in your objectivity and resist committing yourself fully to what is going on around you. You are always conscious of yourself as an actor in the drama of life, which on the negative side inclines you to pose. If life at times makes you feel that your ideas and feelings are not being respected, it’s because you tend to play at life, refusing to take it – or other people – seriously in its own right. Your best quality is your conscious determination to keep your own participation in life as clean and free of ulterior motive as possible, which is the herald of a true personal integrity.
If your natal Uranus is critical you are extraordinarily exacting, especially of yourself, and determined to carve out some special niche in the world wherein you are the undisputed master. You are a scrapper, with clearly defined goals in life; and you will not tolerate being crossed in your efforts to realize them. You are endowed with ingenuity and a marked originality in point of view, and you know it, which may make for unendurable smugness or complacency in your temperament. Your dogmatism and bluntness in speaking your mind often antagonize and repel others, even when you’re basically right. You possess a true moral courage, ever present but particularly noticeable in the face of adversity. You are characterized by a readiness to sacrifice yourself for other people or for an ideal.
If your natal Neptune is critical you are easy-going and free-spirited; yet life is constantly bogging you down with entangling obligations. You sometimes give the impression that the world is faintly a nuisance – a brief and bothersome sojourn en route to some more interesting place. You are a dreamer with your own private world: some area of life in which you feel centered and at ease and in which you have everything down pat. There is often an outstanding talent or competency, even a touch of genius. But, outside your specialty, you keep relations with other people and the world generally as superficial and perfunctory as possible. It can be hard to pull you down off your cloud when an emotional commitment is called for. When you have learned to accept responsibility for the world beyond yourself, your inspiration and vision influence all who know you.
When your natal Pluto is critical you possess great intensity and ardor, but life is always trying to dominate you or grind you down. You are endowed with a penetrating intellect and can see very clearly through the prevailing cultural mores. You may toy with fanaticism or extremism in one form or another, but you are more of a malcontent than a revolutionary: you can get hipped on something and lose all sense of objectivity. You chafe at the normal expectations that your social milieu seeks to impose upon you, but you may be at a loss as to how to strike out on your own. You tend to meekly accept some socially approved role in life rather than seize the responsibility for your own destiny. As a result there is a seething or disgruntled air about you, a tendency to crab and complain. At your best you are endowed with great personal stake in the fate of humankind as a whole, which heralds a nascent modesty.
If your natal Ascendant – Descendant is critical then you alternate between great self-possession on the one hand, and a sureness of self or snobbishness of unsociable proportions on the other. Although you can be self-assertive to the point of brusqueness, the private you is often plagued with self-doubts. You both openly disdain and desperately need the support and encouragement of other people. You tend to feel misunderstood; and usually you are misunderstood, because you are always marching to the beat of a different drum. You constantly try to live up to some idealized image you have of yourself. You are animated by a sense of mission in life, and you resent being judged on any basis other than the terms of your own ideals; but you are apt to discount your own ulterior motives, which are quite visible to everyone else. Your best qualities are your idealism and conscientiousness, which endow you with a true nobility.
The Progressed Ascendant – Descendant often reaches a critical degree at the end of a long period of low self-esteem. Some situation crops up in your relations with other people which puts you in an unaccustomed and unusual position. It presents a challenge to your normal image of who you are. You must rise to the situation and get on top of it; and to do so requires that you surpass your normal expectations of yourself. A feeling of great power wells up inside you; or you simply know within your heart that you can master the situation. You assert yourself and put yourself in complete control of both the situation and your own doubts. Succeeding months give you a better estimation of where you must draw your lines, and you gain a new confidence in the power of your own personality.
If your natal Midheaven – Lower Meridian is critical, you possess great resolution but also a tendency towards vehemence or absolutism. Although you can be positive to the point of peremptoriness, the private you is somewhat defensive. You have a desperate need to feel that you are standing on solid ground, invulnerable to challenge. You may embrace some sort of philosophy or religion as a standard for all that is desirable and good and as an assurance of divine benediction upon your efforts. You have lofty goals and ambitions, and are inclined to regard the accomplishment of your work in life as being of much greater importance than yourself personally. The unvarnished self-aggrandizement that colors all of your actions is liable to escape your notice. On your positive side you are dependable and thorough, with a great capacity for self-discipline and a true spirit of dedication.
The Progressed Midheaven – Lower Meridian often comes to a critical degree at the finish of a period of hard work or intense effort, usually under the direction or for the benefit of other people. Then a new freedom of action opens up. You find yourself able to make your own choices, and you decide to change the course of your career or life’s work. You accept some new responsibilities. Frequently there is some sort of travelling or moving about, but in pursuit of opportunity rather than for mere convenience. In the succeeding months you understand better how you can secure your position in life and guarantee your own independence.
Bob Makransky’s Astrology Corner © 2001