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The Astropsychology Of Defences In The Horoscope

By Greg Mathieson, Diploma of AstroPsychology


Discussion of psychological defences and their astrological significators as expressed through the basic components of the horoscope, i.e. elements, qualities, signs, planets and aspect configurations. Support will be provided by natal charts that will clearly indicate the nature of these defences as they are constellated in each horoscope.


Defences, in the psychological sense, are our way of protecting and preserving ourselves against life’s hurts, pain, suffering and discomfort. In the ultimate sense we defend against anything that is a threat to the survival of our most important needs whether they be emotional, physical, mental or spiritual.

Defences are a necessary and vital part of our make up. They have always been there and always will be there to ensure our survival. We vigorously defend what we care about and what matters most to us in our lives and this varies enormously between individuals and is what makes people’s lives interesting. It is natural, normal and healthy to have defences guarding us and our well being at all levels. Without defences we are vulnerable and would be at the mercy of all manner of threats and would not be able to continue to exist at all. Understanding the nature of defences allows us to gain an understanding of the motivations and behaviour of ourselves and others.

Interestingly, our strongest defence mechanisms are implanted at birth, because they form part of our instinctual nature for survival. Although we can develop various ways of protecting ourselves during life, it is these initial basic qualities of character set at birth which endure as life-long tools to defend ourselves throughout the ongoing stages of personality development and soul evolution. The understanding and realization of this important point is crucial for self-acceptance. Why fight and reject what we inherently are? And why be so intolerant of other people’s defences because they are different to ours or because we do not understand them? The ability to accept other’s ways may be challenging at times but may lead to a compassionate understanding as we come to realize that their defences are there for a good reason. They are protecting something in their psyche that is valuable to them, that is special, important and precious and vital for their continuing survival on the planet. When we start probing around at people’s defences we are touching parts that are highly charged, highly vulnerable and we need to respect that and be careful, thoughtful and gentle.

As implied already, defences can be a normal, healthy, creative and intelligent way to deal with life and its trials and challenges. However, it is possible for defences to become problematic and turn into psychopathological defences. Here, the defence gets out of balance and takes over and assumes a compulsiveness that dominates the personality of the individual. This pathological situation eventually manifests in the person’s life as negative consequences of all possible descriptions including relationship difficulties, health issues, psychological and emotional disturbances, addictions, and all the attendant dramas of life that we are all prone and witness to. We see these psychological states colourfully portrayed in soap operas, plays, movies, books, celebrity and personality magazines, in our local shopping centres, and in our own homes and families.

Psychological Defences and their Astrological Significators

The first defences that will be considered are the astrological elemental divisions. But just before that we need to give credit where it is due and acknowledge the life and work of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Freud was instrumental in developing the theory and practice of psycho-analysis and coined the phrase ‘psycho-analyse’ in 1896. “His school of psychology and psychotherapy was influential in the twentieth century and, in 1909, along with Carl Jung, formed the International Psychoanalytical Society.(1)” Freud extensively researched defences in childhood and it is this early prepatory work that forms the basis of the literature available on astropsychological defences. Although, possibly not entirely accurate or complete, Freud’s work was a major contribution to this subject. The connection between astrology, psychology and four elements largely reflect Freud’s psychosexual stages of personality development.

It was not until the 1970’s, just a generation or so ago, that the connection between astrology and psychology became more intimate. In a book entitled “Astrology, Psychology and the Four Elements” published in 1975, the author Stephen Arroyo, Psychologist and Astrologer, became widely recognized as a pioneer in the field with his celebrated and award winning contributions and publications.

In the past quarter of a century, the outstanding works represented by writings, books, seminars and courses by a number of talented individuals who have made exceptional and brilliant contributions to the field of psychological astrology have propelled this profession to the brink of a new dimension of discovery. Notably, Liz Greene Ph.D., (Psychology) is a Jungian analyst and professional astrologer, along with Howard Sasportas, a gifted astrologer, started the Centre for Psychological Astrology in London in the early 1980’s. In America, Glenn Perry Ph.D., licensed psychotherapist and professional astrologer has also made a major contribution with his own unique approach to writing and teaching in the field of Astropsychology, as well as forming the Association for Astrological Psychology.

The combination of psychology and astrology is now poised on the threshold of becoming a major new force in mainstream therapy. Modern day researchers like Noel Eastwood of Australia, psychologist and professional astrologer are working towards moving the field to its next step forward.

For now however, we must return to our theme and commence the discussion with the most basic and also the most important aspect of astropsychological influences, that of our elemental defences.

The first stage in the development of our personality defences starts in early infancy and is known as the oral defence and corresponds to the astrological element of WATER. Here the new born baby instinctively seeks the warmth, closeness, nurturing, love and affection of the mother as well as the need for nourishment and food in the form of breast milk. This bonding period is vitally important for the healthy physical and emotional development of the infant. This is baby’s first relationship and all others that follow will be affected by this first love union and experience. Physical and emotional needs not met in this period can have negative effects on the individual when they are older, as they will still be searching for what they did not feel they received or needed.

Water’s great fear and dread is being apart from what it needs most….it’s source of nourishment and fulfilment and the company with which it bonds. It needs relationship. Fear of emotional rejection, abandonment and separation and the pain and loneliness associated with it is to be avoided at all costs. That is why when stress and anxiety-producing changes occur, water natives tend to panic and cling to and clutch at relationships, food, alcohol, cigarettes and other addictions, unconsciously trying to recreate the safety and security and oneness of the early environment or replaying the once insecure and threatening early life situation.

Our first native (Mr. H Chart 1 in appendix sections), is a quiet and unassuming older gentleman who exhibits a strong water chart and defence system. When life loses much of its meaning one falls back on their firmest defence. This person has slipped largely into (psychological) unconsciousness. Metaphorically, the bottle, can or glass has become the breast; the alcohol has become the milk. The inebriation has potentiated the fusion he seeks. The anaesthetic effect of the alcohol numbs the pain of existence and is an effective antidote to life’s perplexities and the disappointment of one’s unrealised creative potential and unexpressed otherwise rich emotional life.

In a general sense water longs to return to the ideal world symbolic of the womb and thereby has a tendency to live in sentimental memories of the past.

Water charts usually have emphasis on planets in water signs, especially the sun and particularly the moon; planets in water (psychic) houses (4, 8, 12); Water MC and Ascendant; luminaries aspecting Nepture and Pluto.

The next line of defence following the oral stage is what Freud called the anal stage. He studied this phase extensively and linked it to ‘potty training’ where the infant begins to exert his or her own will by controlling their sphincter muscles, which initiate bowel and bladder function. This is a major turning point for a previously helpless infant. By exercising control, the young child starts to realize that they have independent power. However, this inevitably leads to battles with parents. Mum gives baby the potty and demands to see a healthy nugget produced instantly. Baby may withhold producing the desired result until he or she is ready. Here arises the beginnings of conflict. Baby may be praised or criticised depending on their performance. When baby takes control and defecates at will and empties a full rectum of contents into the pot, they feel good and have a achieved satisfying autonomous act.

The anal phase corresponds to the astrological element of EARTH. In the horoscope this emphasis is characterised by planets in the earth signs and houses (2, 6, 10); planets, especially the Sun and Moon in earth signs; luminaries in aspect to Saturn, usually the conjunction, square, or opposition; angular Saturn, especially MC and ascendant: earth signature. Generally earth signs are associated with doing; and being present in the here and now. They generally resist change, controlling their pace of change through order and structure.

Earth defences are issues largely to do with dominance, control and the exertion of will. They invariably and reliably defend against criticism, being vulnerable and controlled by others, and being humiliated. They excel at power struggles, problems with authority figures, and contests of will. They like being in control of their environment and surroundings as well as the people in them. When the defence is prominent the natives often exhibit some of the following characteristics: they become hoarders, seemingly unable and unwilling to eliminate those items they have collected and stored over the years, they become materialistic and miserly and emotionally mean and petty; they get negative, nagging, nit-picking and critical; at worst they can become violent, vindictive and vengeful.

Our earth native (Mr R. Chart 2) is a good example of an anal defence system. A triple Virgo, with the chart ruler (Mercury) in Virgo, Mr R displays the anal qualities when the defences are triggered and mobilised. He can become manipulative, controlling and vindictive. On the positive side, he is skilful at mobilising his talents at making money and providing a materially secure environment for his family.

Freud’s Oedipal phase/complex is up next and is essentially a FIRE defence. Astrologically it is represented in the horoscope by an emphasis on fire signs and houses (1, 5, 9); a prominently placed Jupiter, Mars or Sun (eg on an angle); Jupiter and Mars aspecting the luminaries (usually conjunction, square, or opposition); fire signature and fire on the ascendent or midheaven.

Whenever there is a fire defence activated there is usually competition afoot. Winning is an important measure of self-worth. Competition most often, but not always, involves other people. So, in this sense, fire is about relationship. If you are trying to win, there has got to be others or another to beat.

The Oedipal phase usually starts in infancy between about 3 and 6 years of age, where the young child competes for the love, attention and affection of one of the parents (usually opposite sex). In this case, the child tries to beat the same sex parent. Later the arena for the contest becomes the rivalry between siblings.

Essentially, fire defends against the feelings of worthlessness, insignificance and a meaningless existence. It loves to be special, unique and noticed. They dislike being ignored, downtrodden, and losing. Potency is all important as it is the means to attain victory. They can become jealous and envious of anyone who is smarter, better, richer, prettier or wiser. Fire mostly lives for the future where lies its next aspiration to be pursued, and dream to be realized, and of course, next victory to be had. Fire defences can be enormously creative as they motivate us to achieve and be something unique.

Our native, Jenny, (Chart 3), displays a prominent Oedipal defence with a first house stellium in Leo which includes the Sun and Mars, as well as a sunny Leo ascendant. Try and tell this native she’s not worthwhile and special, and you will see fire!

The final elemental defence, and one, curiously that Freud did not consider, is the dissociation defence. It is called this due to the propensity of the individual to detach, disconnect, split or otherwise ignore the feelings and emotions that are associated with hurt, pain and suffering. AIR is the astrological element associated with this defence and it has ingeniously devised a clever and sophisticated method of preserving and protecting self.

The core of the air defence is about using the mind and knowledge to protect the emotional sensitivity from damage and threats. The mind can perform incredible feats and air is expert at utilising this faculty. Strongly emphasized air charts and their owners are adept at putting forward very logical, rational and reasonable arguments for their cases and points of view. Air defences can be very convincing in their efforts to justify themselves and make any emotional issues turn into intellectual ones. Anything to avoid confronting and feeling their feelings and the hurt and pain that might go with them. Air has a low threshold to emotional pain. This is why they seek to avoid potential painful and uncomfortable emotional situations such as arguments and conflicts. Air has difficulty with the expression of feelings and as such tend to appear cool and unfeeling to others.

The dissociation defence is also associated with the theme of denial. Denial is a stronghold in itself. If we deny the existence of problems, conflicts, painful feelings and hurt, then they do not exist for us. Simple! Of course the fragments of the split-off bits of consciousness have to be put somewhere and are often buried in the sub-conscious until we are ready and able to deal with the issues and feelings. Until this time comes they remain unintegrated. Healing and restoration can only occur when these so-called split-off pieces are acknowledged, accepted and integrated back into waking consciousness. This can be a difficult and painful process but also liberating and rewarding.

What air really wants and needs is independence and freedom of thoughts, ideas and speech. They need breathing space and air circulating around them. Air can talk and communicate about life, ideas, ideals, and everything and anything that is interesting, just as long as it does not involve getting emotionally close. Cloying and clinging behaviour on the part of others and trying to become overly personal or endeavouring to pin our airy native down will result in them being off like a shot. Air loves conversation, mental stimulation and exchange of ideas without being threatened by the presence of a quick-sand pit close by. Air depends on relationship to objectify its thoughts and ideas. This process occurs through the feedback it obtains through the communication with others. It is essentially mental in nature, not emotional or physical. Air is a social element.

We all use the air defence to a more or less degree and it is an intelligently designed system of preservation.

It is when it becomes out of balance and compulsive that it causes a whole host of mental, emotional, relationship and behavioural problems. Quite dramatic psychopathological states can develop out of exaggerated air defences. Escaping into fantasy land can be useful at times, so long as you know the way back.

Air charts are those who have an emphasis on air signs, especially the luminaries, air houses (3, 7, 11); prominent Mercury and Uranus; Air signs on the ascendant and midheaven; and air signature. Our air native, Miss T (chart 4), is a very lively and bright young woman, who loves communicating, relating, sharing ideas and exhibits Sun and Moon in air signs.

Special mention should be made of the fact that sometimes there is a lack of emphasis in a particular element. This can have the potential to create a defence in that particular element and thereby complicate the situation. However, often there are more than one elemental defences in a natal chart to consider anyway.

Astropsychological Defences as Expressed Through Signs, Qualities, Planets and Aspect Configurations

It is now time to investigate the defences of each individual part of the zodiac, sign by sign and discover the specific and innate mechanisms that are mobilised to protect that which is imperative and relevant for each constellation.

Aries possesses an uncomplicated, innocent and straightforward approach to defending what it needs. Aries is cardinal fire and is therefore a generator of vast amounts of physical energy. Ruled by Mars, Aries the warrior, battles aggressively against standstill and impotency. Aries is like the young infant; naïve, fearless and runs around banging its head into things. It has no patience to sit around. It is action oriented and likes doing. Aries loves competition and adores winning, thereby displaying its outer potency to the world. Aries is self-cen