Subpersonalities: The Planetary Shadow
Just as the galaxies in the heavens are spiral-shaped masses of celestial bodies and stars, so too are our own psyches a spiral of energetic patterns and psychic components. Much like the planets that orbit around the Sun, the different parts of our personality orbit around the divine core of our being – the eternal Self. Current psychological theory accepts the idea of the personality as a system of psychic patterns composed of diverse elements.
These parts of us are often referred to as subpersonalities, or subselves. If you’ve ever felt a childlike vulnerability or experienced a critical voice inside of you, dominating your consciousness, you’ve been dealing with a subpersonality. At times, you might even have felt as though two inner parts of you were fighting for control over a particular life issue.
Astrologers know that the various celestial bodies represent certain essential elements of our consciousness. Correspondingly, natal planetary patterns are linked with these energies, known as subpersonalities, in the human psyche. In this article, I’ll explain subpersonality dynamics and their development in the psyche and discuss how these subconscious forces operate as an expression of natal planetary patterns. I’ll also illustrate several ways to identify subpersonality issues in the natal chart and demonstrate how to utilize these elements in an astrological counseling session to help individuals work more consciously with their planetary energies.
Subpersonalities and the Shadow
Subpersonalities are the semi-autonomous parts of our personality that give expression to the emotionally charged ideas, memories, feelings, and experiences in the psyche known as complexes. Each psyche contains many subpersonalities, such as the Child and Critic mentioned above. Psychologist Carl Jung used the term “shadow” to describe this emotionally charged content in the psyche. He used this word because these elements are the parts of ourselves that we deny and keep hidden in the darkness of the subconscious. The shadow contains subconscious forces that we believe must be repressed or avoided because they are considered undesirable; it is composed of the distorted, unexpressed, or rejected parts of the self.
This process of disowning parts of the self often starts early in childhood as individuals internalize parental messages that are in opposition to their natural responses. A child can come to feel shame about innate parts of the self or develop a belief that certain character traits are unacceptable. Society’s messages may also be in opposition to the essential expression emerging from a person’s core. For example, Billy’s natural tearful response to falling down may be unacceptable to his macho father. Billy thus learns that his vulnerability is something best hidden. Jane may be told that getting angry isn’t nice or polite, so she suppresses it.
Unfortunately, along with disowning characteristics that we perceive as unacceptable, we may also deny qualities that are actually our greatest gifts. A Sun-in-Capricorn woman who internalized a belief that females should be passive homemakers without career ambitions, will have a hard time asserting herself in an authoritative role as a corporate executive, even though this is how her finest innate talents can be expressed. Subconsciously, then, these disowned internal elements exert a strong influence on our external lives as long as we remain unaware of their presence. Only by bringing these unexpressed emotions and unresolved inner conflicts to the light of consciousness can the shadow be understood and healed. Astrological consultation assists this process.
Before going any further, I would like to define a few terms to help you better understand subpersonalities and the various components of the psyche. At our essential core lies our divine being – the God Presence within or the eternal Self. This shining light is who we are as pure spirit substance. The immortal soul surrounds the raw purity of the eternal Self, acting as a protective veil or sheath. Aspects of our soul nature, for example, qualities such as love, courage, or wisdom emerge from here. This includes archetypal patterns of consciousness that are part of our soul’s expression such as that of the Healer, Leader, or Mystic. One facet of the soul is that it records experiences and learning as we evolve through each lifetime. The soul contains the memory of all these experiences within our subconscious mind.
When we come into physical existence here on Earth, we also develop an ego as part of being an embodied soul on this plane. The ego is the conscious thinking, feeling, willing, and acting part of the psyche that develops through contact with the external world. It provides the basic framework of self-identity by which we experience and interact with the world around us. The ego serves an important function by retrieving and processing information that enables us to maintain our physical existence here. It mediates between instinctual, subconscious forces and our outer world and represents the executive, decision making function of the psyche. Strengthening of the ego is a fundamental goal of many psychological systems, because a positive sense of self is necessary for a healthy psyche. A sound, aware ego is also an important part of interacting with subpersonalities in a conscious way. This is because a consciously aware ego makes better choices, especially when it is receptive to guidance from the higher self (soul).
However, the ego gives us information based on what it has learned from the world in the past. Its interpretations of life are therefore limited and often contaminated. As we grow from infancy and the ego develops through contact with the external world, its perspective can become distorted because the information it receives is often based on painful life experiences, fears, or false ideas learned from society and the particular dynamics present within our own families. The ego may then retrieve information processed from painful memories and form inaccurate assumptions about life. A false concept of self or false persona is created that dominates the soul’s true expression, rather than allowing the higher self to guide one’s life. I use the term false persona or false self to distinguish these contaminated dynamics from the positive executive function of the ego.
Subpersonalities are part of the false persona and they can have anywhere from a moderate to a strongly dominant influence. When several subpersonalities control the psyche, each has its own feelings, needs, opinions, and agenda that hijack the conscious decision-making process of the central ego. A person will then have emotional knee-jerk reactions based on subconscious complexes and past events, rather than making conscious choices in the present. The true soul expression is diminished, denied, or eventually forgotten.
Subpersonalities and the Planets
According to Jung, psychological complexes and shadow elements are focused around a central archetypal theme. An archetype is a universal principle of life or a pattern of consciousness that all humans share in common such as Mother, Hero, or Community. A rigidly compulsive need for rules and order, for instance, may be one element of a person’s shadow material emotionally linked with that individual’s relationship with father (father complex) and focused around the Father archetype. Stanislav Grof also determined that such experiences in the psyche constellate around a central theme or prototypical pattern. He found that the nucleus of this organizing factor, which he called a coex system, was a core experience usually related to the circumstances surrounding biological birth. Thus, the planets, which astrologically represent these archetypal patterns of consciousness imprinted at birth, are the core focus around which shadow aspects and subpersonalities operate.
The Critic subpersonality, for example, is an embodiment of all internalized negative messages such as, “You’re so stupid. You can’t do anything right.” This subpersonality is associated with the rigid restrictions of Saturn/Capricorn. The Child within contains the memories and feelings of all our childhood experiences. This part of us is creative and playful, yet can have a vulnerable lack of self-confidence and be immature or self-centered. It is linked with the Sun/Leo. The Perfectionist or Pusher subpersonality pushes one to achieve more and do it either bigger, faster, or more perfectly. We see the Perfectionist in many Mercury/Virgo types. The Protector or Controller subpersonality is an inner big boss that exerts control to make sure that the mask of the false persona stays in place. It acts as a defensive protection for more vulnerable or negatively perceived parts of the self. This subpersonality is often the ringleader of the bunch and its influence can be strongly felt. You see it more dominantly expressed in those with Moon-Pluto, Mars-Pluto, and Saturn-Pluto aspects.
Subpersonalities develop when the essential positive expression of an archetypal planetary energy has been denied or distorted. As mentioned previously, this often happens as part of a childhood experience that wounds an individual’s sense of self. We come into this world as beautiful beings ready to express or develop the soul qualities of the Lover (Venus) the Teacher (Jupiter) the Warrior (Mars), or the Elder (Saturn)-but along the way things happen. We meet challenges and encounter the harshness of the material world. In the process, we may get the idea that certain parts of ourselves are not okay to express. We feel shame about these elements or perceive that these aspects are undesirable and need to be suppressed or avoided. The distorted shadow side of the planetary energy will then express itself in the form of one or more subpersonalities. This is especially true in traumatic or emotionally shattering situations. If certain characteristics are unacceptable to a child’s abusive caretaker, then that part of the person will emotionally shut down or split off, in an energetic sense. A type of fragmentation takes place in the psyche, creating several subpersonalities. In such cases, the positive expression of the planetary energy may be denied in order to avoid the pain associated with it.
Let’s look at the chart of John (Chart #1) as an example. (See Chart Data at the end of this article.) This man incarnated with the archetype of the Artist (Venus in the 1st house) and developed an interest in painting and design, but his artistic endeavors were ridiculed by his physically abusive father who wanted his child to be a star athlete instead. John’s Artist aspect had to recede as he tried to please his father, avoid embarrassment, and get the love he needed. As a result of this experience, the creative expression of his developing self was shattered and a fragmented Child subpersonality emerged (Sun in detriment in Aquarius) along with a dominating inner Critic like the father (12th-house Saturn in Scorpio) and a Protector/Controller (Pluto opposite the Moon). A Rebel subpersonality fighting against the controlling criticism was also evident (Sun and Moon in Aquarius- the energy and need to rebel). Chiron in Capricorn conjunct the Sun and in opposition to Uranus suggests the core wound inflicted by his critical father affecting his sense of self. It shows the Fragmented Child and Rebel (Uranus) feeling insecure, alienated, and in need of healing. As an adult, this individual was uncontrollably self-critical and acted inappropriately argumentative and rebellious at times. He had long ago put aside any creative interests.
When John came to see me, he hadn’t had a job in more than a year. His archetypal Artist had become a bit of a Lazy Bum (Venus). All he did was hunt, fish, and work outside in the yard (Venus and Ascendant in Sagittarius). His wife was in total desperation when she asked me to help him. He was driving her nuts, not to mention causing a financial drain on the household. This man was unconsciously rebelling against getting a job and very childishly ignoring his responsibilities. By understanding this and becoming conscious of his behavior, he could begin to let healing take place.
After discussing the Artist archetype with him and gathering more information, I explained the subpersonality dynamics in his chart involving his Fragmented Child, Critic, Rebel, and Protector/Controller. The Moon-Pluto opposition, signifying his Protector/Controller subpersonality, is part of both the t-square with Saturn and the yod involving the Midheaven and Jupiter. (A yod is composed of two frustration-filled 150° quincunx aspects to a common shared point, the foot or apex, which lies directly opposite the activating or reaction point, midway between the two “hands” of the yod, located a 60° sextile angle apart.) The awareness inducing opposition between the planet at the foot and any planet at the activating point illustrates the polarized dynamic of the issue involved and often indicates subpersonality dynamics. The foot (Moon) shows the negative aspects where things are stuck. This man was stuck in subconscious emotional rebellion affecting his ability to find a satisfying career. The activating point shows the way to eliminate those blocks and evoke the soul gift that the yod represents. Pluto in Leo at this activating point indicates he needed to transform the subconscious patterns from childhood affecting his creative self-expression.
Mercury in Aquarius, which is conjunct the Moon, is also involved here showing his rebellious thoughts and words as well as his mental criticism (square Saturn). Opposite Pluto, Mercury can produce constant rumination and inner mental commentary revealing yet another subpersonality here, the Inner Commentator.
The Saturn-Moon-Pluto t-square represents the subconscious forces controlling the childhood abuse issues linked with his subpersonalities. The Critic (Saturn) and Protector/ Controller (Moon opposing Pluto) were working together in a rather twisted way to avoid the childhood pain. Subconsciously this man continued to criticize himself internally just as he learned in childhood, before anybody else showed up externally to hurt him in the same way his father did. It was the Protector/Controller’s job to hide the Child’s vulnerable feelings and sensitivity in order to make sure that he never felt that much pain again. Besides trying to be the tough guy his father wanted, this is the core reason why this man’s experience of his feelings (Moon opposing Pluto) was blocked (Saturn). His Fragmented Child within felt that if he could just be good enough and live up to the ideal image (Sun square Neptune) of what his father wanted, he could prevent all the pain of that original situation. His Critic was in effect helping him to achieve this by pointing out the errors. So, in a distorted way, the critical self-talk had a purpose.
The subpersonality often loses power when the client can understand the erroneous logic of this type of unconscious dynamic. In this case, the purpose of the Critic and Protector/Controller was to prevent pain, yet the constant critical inner evaluation was hurtfully eroding this man’s self-esteem. Thus, this internal strategy learned in childhood was not working anymore. Helping the client to realize this will generally create openness to a new and better way of doing things. John had to face these unresolved issues of the past to restore his personal power and express his artistic nature once again.
I proposed that perhaps John’s Rebel and Critic might begin to cooperate in regards to his chronic unemployment. The Rebel had been sabotaging him because he was instantly rejecting any opportunities that had any hint of a traditional 9-to-5 job, something that reminded him of his father’s attitude toward life. However, he lacked the discipline to develop his own business. When utilized consciously, the Rebel (which many times originates in a teenage stage of development) is great for saying, “No, that’s not okay.” It is especially useful for rejecting things that feel restrictive or limiting. The Saturnian Critic, on the other hand, can be discerning, provide structure, and discipline. I suggested that perhaps if this man put his Rebel in charge of saying “No” to any critical self-talk, maybe the rebel aspect would agree to a little structure and discipline. Perhaps he could set aside three days a week to go to job interviews. Through this win-win compromise, which his Venus in the 1st house loved, he no longer needed to rebel against getting a job because of what his father had done when he was a kid. The internal negotiation worked. He took a short training course (Sagittarius) and ended up getting a job as a real estate appraiser (Venus). This job provided the structure of working for an established company, but had some flexibility in hours. He also took some design courses and continued his artistic pursuits. As he returned to the creative joy of painting and drawing, it strengthened his authentic sense of self (Venus semisquare Sun), which in turn facilitated his healing process (Sun conjunct Chiron).
How Do You Find Subpersonalities in the Chart?
The Planetary Guide to Subpersonalities (found at the end of the article) lists the luminaries and planets, the archetypal energies they represent, and the subpersonalities that are associated with each one. You will recognize many of the subpersonalities as embodiments of the shadow characteristics that you already associate with the planets. This is just a different way of viewing the same dynamics. This list includes the major subpersonalities that can emerge for individuals as part of an astrological session. However, the potential is there for others to surface under various names depending on each person’s experience. You may have different names for the subpersonalities I mention here. Let this list be a guide from which to begin your own exploration of the planetary subpersonalities.
There are a few instances where a particular subpersonality is linked with more than one planet. This happens for the same reason that several planets can be attributed to the same quality. For example, creativity may be associated with the creative expression of the Sun, the creative artistry of Venus or the creative imagination of Neptune. Similarly, there are controlling aspects associated with the dominating power of Saturn, the manipulation of Pluto, or even the overprotective characteristics of the Moon.
Potentially, the energy of any planet can be expressed in a distorted way, providing the opportunity for a subpersonality to present itself. This is especially true if the planet is in detriment – in the sign opposite the one it rules, in fall – opposite the sign of its exaltation, or unfavorably aspected. However, I’ve found certain specific factors that are particularly significant indicators of subpersonality dynamics. These chart elements increase the likelihood that subpersonalities are or have been operating in the client’s life. Of course, you may discover others that work for you and each chart must be evaluated individually, but these factors are certainly foundational.
Chart Indicators of Subpersonalities
I’ve found the following chart elements to be strong indicators of potential subpersonality dynamics, especially if more than one of them is present involving the same planet.
1. The planetary chart ruler or a repeating chart dynamic. The planetary chart ruler represents a dominant archetypal theme that is seeking expression in the native’s life. Generally, the planetary chart ruler is either the planet ruling the Ascendant sign or one that is in both a prominent position (Ascendant or Midheaven) and ruler of the sign of the Sun or Moon. However, there is more to consider in evaluating this. I was taught a point system to determine the Lord of the Nativity, as it is sometimes called. Of greatest significance and given one point is the planet that rules the Ascendant sign, any planet conjunct the Sun or Moon (within 8° orb), the planet ruling the sign the Sun or Moon is in, and a planet conjunct the Ascendant (8° orb). Second in importance but also given one point are planets located at the other angles (Midheaven, Descendant, or IC – 6° orb), and any planet in the angular houses 10,1, 7, and 4. A 1/2 point is given to a planet in its own house or sign; a planet involved in a stellium (a group of three or more planets in the same house or sign), or ruling the sign or house a stellium is in; a planet in its sign of ancient rulership such as Mars in Scorpio or Saturn in Aquarius; or a planet involved in a mutual reception. Add up the points each planet has accrued to determine the dominant planet. The planet with the most points is considered the planetary chart ruler. If there is a tie, two planets can be equal co-rulers. However, first consider the order of importance listed above. Although I’ve used the word planet here, the Sun or Moon can also be a chart ruler particularly when in its sign of rulership or exaltation. If you don’t like to be tied down to this type of system, simply look at the repeating chart dynamics. A repeating dynamic is a reoccurring theme that seems to shout at you because it appears several times in various ways throughout the chart.
2. 12th-house planets show unconscious scripts and elements of the past that the native has kept hidden or secret. Thus, they are thus strong indicators of subpersonality dynamics.
3. Planets at the angles, particularly the IC, or in the Gauquelin Sectors, those areas approximately10° either side of the Ascendant, Midheaven, Descendant and IC. Michel Gauquelin found that individuals in various professions tend to be born at times when certain planets are in these sectors. They are strong indicators of archetypal patterns seeking expression with a potential for subpersonalities to manifest. The 4th-house which represents the area of the chart below the horizon and outside of one’s field of view, contains elements below the level of conscious awareness. Thus, planets located here, particularly near the IC, can be very significant of shadow aspects and subpersonalities operating in the chart. Planets located within these sectors in the 4th and 10th houses – the parental axis – are often indicative of subpersonalities that formed from primary characteristics imprinted from the mother or father.
4. Planets ruling the signs of the nodal axis are another indicator of habitual unconscious patterns from the past (South Node) and the current intention of soul development (North Node). The Planets ruling intercepting signs, contained wholly within the house and not appearing on either cusp, are also significant because they can indicate early childhood conditioning or stressors from which subpersonalities form.
5. A planet ruling the sign a stellium of planets is in or a house containing all (or at least three) of the stellium planets. The 12th house (hidden elements), 8th (transformation), 6th (healing), and 4th (subconscious emotional framework) are particularly important.
6. Planets involved in challenging aspects such as the square and its formations, the quincunx, quindecile, and the opposition especially in configurations like the yod, which I’ve previously discussed, or the kite. A kite is composed of a grand trine (three connected 120° aspects) that have an opposition from one apex of the trine to a point directly opposite, which forms two sextile aspects to the remaining two angles of the grand trine. The opposition within the kite is important because it represents the inner tension that is repressed or unseen, locked inside the easy self-confidence and facade of the exterior trines. For squares and oppositions, I like to use aspects within 7° orb. However, the closer to exact any aspect is, the greater the potential for subpersonalities to occur.
The quincunx (150°) aspect represents two elements that have nothing in common, a relationship of misfits with the potential for immense frustration and a need to reconcile the incongruities involved. I generally use a 2° orb for the quincunx, but will allow a 3 – 4° orb if it occurs as part of a yod. The quindecile aspect (165°) represents a disruption or compulsion, an obsessive influence that can draw one away from the main thrust of life development. It provides fertile ground for subpersonality dynamics to occur. I use a 2° orb for quindeciles.
When these aspects involve the Sun, Moon, Nodes, Pluto, Chiron, Uranus, Neptune, or the planetary chart ruler, they are particularly significant. I also pay attention to close conjunctions to Chiron (within 5° orb) since it signifies the challenge of a particular healing issue as well as a key life quest.
Searching for the Shadow
Let’s look at another example to illustrate some of these indicators. In Richard’s chart (Chart #2), there are actually two significant themes that repeat themselves. The most obvious one, of course, is the Sun, Moon, and Ascendant in Sagittarius. This makes Jupiter the planetary chart ruler because it rules the sign of the Ascendant and luminaries. However, if you look a little deeper you see that the Moon is in the 1st house and that there’s a mutual reception between it and Jupiter. These planets are in each other’s signs and have a special communication going. There is a link here between the Moon and Jupiter that can show us a subconscious undercurrent operating, perhaps in regard to feeling secure enough to express the truth.
Chiron is opposite Uranus and Jupiter in Cancer, indicating a wound that could create subpersonality dynamics. It suggests a detachment from feelings or nurturing. We see the possibility that trust (Cancer) and faith (Jupiter) were shattered (Uranus). The Moon is out of bounds: It has a declination of 24°S28′, which is beyond the plane of the ecliptic (23°27′). The out-of-bounds Moon often indicates someone who is seeking material security or career prominence as a substitute for the love and attention that was not received from the mother in childhood. The Capricorn-Cancer nodal axis also relates to the dynamics involved in achieving success and feeling secure or nurtured. We are beginning to see a reoccurring theme here.
One of the first things Richard said to me was, “I’ve always discounted the Moon’s energy as not important. After all, the Sun is the spiritual Self, the dynamic part.” This was a very revealing statement and expressive of someone with a Sagittarius Sun on the Ascendant. Besides all the other indicators in the chart, Richard himself revealed the underlying issue. He denies his Moon’s expression, so its energy is blocked.
This man was very intelligent –a writer with a highly successful book on the bestseller list. His mother was an alcoholic and he learned to take care of her needs emotionally as a child. He continued this codependent pattern as an adult, becoming a Caretaker (Moon) in relationships, denying his own needs and feelings. Jupiter, the chart ruler, is the archetypal Truth Seeker, but Mercury, the Communicator, is hidden in the 12th-house conjunct Saturn. His words were restricted. However, as an articulate speaker and writer, only a certain type of communication was difficult for him. The Moon dynamics and 12th-house Saturn, Venus, and Mercury in Scorpio give us the answer. He couldn’t speak out about his feelings, needs, and desires to a woman with whom he was intimate. In order to transform his Caretaker (Moon) and Codependent (Venus) subpersonalities, he needed to heal his feminine. He had to learn to nurture himself by expressing the truth of his own feelings in relationship with women.
In the case of Joan (Chart # 3), we find another example of a 12th-house planet, Pluto, which is square Mars and opposite Venus as part of a challenging t-square with the Moon. These indicators and the other challenging aspects involving Pluto make it likely that this planet will have a subpersonality expression. With Pluto in the 12th house, Joan seemed addicted to crisis (Crisis Junkie). She always had some drama going on. These crises were real, not imagined. There were, in fact, terrible things happening in her life. Her brother was murdered, she had a medically unnecessary total hysterectomy with complications; and her mother was involved in a malpractice suit as a result of being given too much radiation during a treatment. Joan had a gloomy depression that she refused to address, which indicated deeper subconscious feelings stemming from emotional abuse from her alcoholic father and sexual molestation (Pluto opposite Venus) by a childhood doctor (Pluto quindecile Mercury). The misdiagnosis that led to her hysterectomy was just another replay of this abuse scenario. She was also in a codependent marriage (Venus) with an emotionally abusive alcoholic (12th-house Pluto). As a child she needed love (Sun conjunct Venus) ― but she received abuse instead (Pluto in Leo opposite Sun-Venus). She would likely remain stuck in this abuse cycle until she surrendered to Pluto’s transformative journey by confronting and healing her past.
There are other subpersonalities operating here. They are indicated by the Pluto-Mercury quendecile and the one between Jupiter in Gemini at the Midheaven and Mars in Sagittarius. Joan was compulsively focused on spreading gossip, and it always had a negative and self-righteous tone to it. She has both a Gossip subpersonality (Mercury) and a Judge (Jupiter) who holds the one and only truth. Her gossip was witty and funny, showing a bit of a Clown subpersonality (Mercury) as well. Mars in Sagittarius can be very exuberant.
See also: Subpersonalities and Planets