Beyond the �Trigger Effect�:
A Personal Note on the �Numinous Consciousness�


Rob Couteau has been a regular contributor to Starcats for many years and remains a close personal friend. Couteau, who spent 12 years living, writing and painting in Paris, is back in the USA doing all these same good things in upstate New York. Excerpts from his book, The Role of the Least-aspected Planet in Astrocartography, have appeared in the Celtic Astrologer, Astro-Talk magazine (Matrix Software), Aspects magazine, and Astrology Panplanet. Recipient of awards such as the Astro-pro, The Canopus Award for Excellence, and the Golden Ratio, he has also received on-line praise from numerous readers and astrologers, including Linda Reid; Noel Tyl; and Donna Van Toen. Couteau's essays, fiction, interviews and reviews have appeared in publications such as The Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy; Bloomsbury Review; The European; Netsurf; and James Hillman's Jungian annual, Spring. His current research explores the statistically-high occurrence of least-aspected Saturn in the charts of American presidents and in the 'birth' of nations. The full text of Rob's book is available at: Couteau

Beyond the �Trigger Effect�: A Personal Note on the �Numinous Consciousness�

The Question of �Triggers�

As interest in underaspected planets continues to grow, many people have been asking me: �Do you really think that astrocartographic relocation is the only manner in which underaspected planets may be triggered? And if not, what other trigger mechanisms seem to be involved?� In fact, I have come to the conclusion that underaspected planets are by and large rarely if ever completely untriggered. On the contrary, more often than not they seem to serve as a guiding principle, a real raison d�etre, a spiritual guide-post, in most people�s lives: both in the case of �known� celebrities, as well as with ordinary people; with the renowned and with �just plain folks.�

Points of Inner Focus

Even prior to conducting the research for my book, it had become evident to me that underaspected planets somehow served as primary motivational points of focus, that they symbolized core ideals, yearnings, and identity issues. Both historical biographies as well as birth charts of personal acquaintances indicated that there was something rather questionable regarding the traditional notion of �unintegrated psychological centers� as depicted by unaspected planets. And with both groups, the subsequent scrutiny of biographical data also revealed a synchronistic parallel between astrocartography locales and birth charts, vis a vis underaspected planets.

Other triggers

The answer regarding �other triggers� for underaspected planets, may, in fact, be fairly simple. Transits and progressions, all the classic astrological factors, are touching these underaspected planets and affecting them. As I have attempted to demonstrate, what makes such energies special is that when underaspected, the energy is unfettered. It is pure, so to speak; it is its own master. It can express itself without being tied down, through aspect, to other planetary considerations: through other planetary mergings, effects, and influences, energetically speaking.1 That seems to be the key. Why didn�t we see this before? It may simply be a case of believing things without testing them; of allowing ideas to be passed along without asking the fundamental question, �Why?� Or �Why not?� Yet it may be something else, besides:

Traditional Definitions, Traditional Assumptions

If it is indeed the case that LAPS (Least-Aspected Planets) are rarely, if ever, completely untriggered, and if, in fact, the reverse is true � that LAPS signify something that is at the very forefront of our being, of our existential purpose and yearning in life; if they represent our essential spirit and the drive behind our entire purpose and being � how then did we arrive at this point, of adapting the false assumption that underaspected planets are somehow indicators of unconsciousness?

From the first moment that I encountered the traditional definition of an unaspected planet -- "representing an energy that can�t be integrated with the other planets; a sort of free-floating, untied energy" (for example) -- I became intrigued. My approach to astrology had always been somewhat influenced by Jung�s philosophic / scientific approach, so this naturally raised the question: If it�s not operating consciously, then which aspect of the unconscious does it symbolically point to or portray? From a psychologic or even astrologic / psychological point of view, we usually think, even in Jungian terms, of a conscious and an unconscious level, or perspective. It was an almost natural assumption then, to conclude that underaspected planets must represent some unconscious complex or archetypal-complex or pattern of being.

However, a deeper understanding of Jung and of the work of several other thinkers might lead to a more complex view regarding such matters.

Beyond the Duality of Triggered / Untriggered; Conscious / Unconscious

There are two problems here. One is that we have begun to think in a completely dualistic fashion, as regards what is *conscious* and what is *unconscious*. In short, we have forgotten by and large that there exists, too, what the religious scholar Rudolf Otto called the "numinous consciousness": the experience, awareness, and central focus in life of the holy, the sense of grace, of the sacred. Otto took Kant�s term, and Kant's dual division between the noumenon (the thing itself) and the phenomenon (the way we perceive the thing) and coined the adjective, numinous. It was from Otto that Jung took this term: Jung was later to say that the difference between his psychology and Freud's was that Freud's concern and central focus was on the neurotic, while his own was on the numinous within mankind. This difference is crucial. It may even be said to be at the root experience of the profane versus the sacred -- the knowledge and lived experience of life as graced moments, as opposed to life as merely null and void.

�Numinous consciousness�

With that in mind, we see that all is not merely conscious or unconscious. There is, too, this experience, which Otto coins, with historical support, as a "numinous consciousness", i,e., the direct experience of the numinosum, the mystery. (Otto, ever aware of the elegant power of Latin, refers to the latter as the mysterium.) And this experience forever alters us. It shifts consciousness, permanently. We can no longer be the same after such a revelation / revaluation (again, the mysterium tremendum (= revelation [Yang]) / mysterium fascinans (= revaluation [Yin]). In short, we have, in the moment of this experience, transcended ordinary consciousness. The ego has been graced, it has been ordained to touch for a moment the Self -- the eternal, the god within, and without, Man. This experience is not one reflecting the dualistic notion of ego vs unconscious. At least, not the unconscious with a small 'u'. This is a case of ego-consciousness which has suddenly and inexplicably, or non-rationally, been "opened" -- and what it reveals, what this experience delivers us unto, is not something within the personal unconscious; rather, we touch here upon the Sacred Absolute: the Absolute Knowledge (and I would add, Absolute Feeling) of the Unconscious, of the Unconscious Self: the archetype, and archetypal realm, of complete wholeness, of all that is and can be, in short -- we are here delivered unto a realm about which we cannot speak, because, as the old Hebrew scholars have it, the name of god cannot be uttered by one who has been touched by Him.

Otto's quite reverent and feeling-toned (rather than overly-intellectual) approach to the sacred absolute is to speak in hushed tones of two rather symbolic sounding dimensions: the mysterium fascinans, and the mysterium tremendum. Here is what he says:

�Mysterium tremendum�

�We are dealing with something for which there is only one appropriate expression, �mysterium tremendum�. The feeling of it may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide, pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship. It may pass over into a more set and lasting attitude of the soul, continuing, as it were, thrillingly vibrant and resonant, until at last it dies away and the soul resumes its �profane�, non-religious mood of everyday experience. It may burst in sudden eruption up from the depths of the soul with spasms and convulsions, or lead to the strangest excitements, to intoxicated frenzy, to transport, and to ecstasy. It has its wild and demonic forms and can sink to an almost gristly horror and shuddering. It has its crude, barbaric antecedents and early manifestations, and again it may be developed into something beautiful and pure and glorious. It may become the hushed, trembling, and speechless humility of the creature in the presence of � whom or what? In the presence of that which is a mystery inexpressible and above all creatures.� (Rudolf Otto, �The Analysis of Tremendum," Chapter Four, Das Heilige [�The Idea of the Holy�].)

For any astrologer worth his salt, that is quite clearly synonymous with the symbolic complex that we often refer to as "Pluto� � which I posit as the extreme point in the 'tremendum� planetary spectrum. [Sun-Mars-Saturn-Pluto.]

But that is only one half, or one aspect, of this dualistically perceived realm we call �the numinous�.

�Mysterium fascinans�

"These two qualities, the daunting and the fascinating, now combine in a strange harmony of contrasts, and the resultant dual character of the numinous consciousness, to which the entire religious development bears witness, at any rate from the level of the 'daemonic dread' onwards, is at once the strangest and most noteworthy phenomenon in the whole history of religion. The daemonic-divine object may appear to the mind an object of horror and dread, but at the same time it is no less something that allures with a potent charm, and the creature, who trembles before it, utterly cowed and cast down, has always at the same time the impulse to turn to it, nay even to make it somehow his own. The �mystery� is for him not merely something to be wondered at but something that entrances him; and beside that in it which bewilders and confounds, he feels a something that captivates and transports him with a strange ravishment, rising often enough to the pitch of dizzy intoxication; it is the Dionysiac-element in the numen.� (This is also from Das Heilige: Chapter VI, �The Elements of Fascination.� )

Now that is clearly a marvelous, really wonderfully succinct definition and portrait of the realm and lived experience of Neptune! Something which �captivates and transports�; a �strange ravishment�; a �pitch of dizzy intoxication�! Thus we have here, in the fascinans, a veritable spectrum (and a great list!) of the Yin, or Moon through Neptune, qualities; qualities which reach their extreme in the transpersonal, purely archetypal foundation of this outer-most Yin, or classically feminine, planet (Neptune) � one which may allure with as great a promise and enticement of other-worldly power and delight as Pluto, yet one which may destroy one through �bliss�2 as surely as Pluto may rend us asunder in explosive pain and agony. Indeed, that is the mysterium fascinans. It is my contention (see below) that all our astrologic planets, in partaking of the numinosum, of the holy and sacred dimension in life, partake in what is a primarily 'fascinans' or 'tremendum' fashion � or rather, that is primarily how we experience them.

Lines of development

As I have tried to illustrate in my essays, �Transcendental Planets,� I see all the planets as partaking in this division in some way. There is a definite Yin line of development, beginning with the Moon and developing from Venus into Jupiter and through Neptune;3 and another line extending from Sun into Mars, Saturn and Pluto.4 I see Mercury (hermaphroditic, and classically described as possessing a 'dual nature') as extending, assisting, mirroring and acting as a liaison within this overall process;5 just as I see Uranus (asexual) as somehow transcending such dualistic energetic approaches, and instead acting as a sort of cosmic switch and circuit breaker, especially for the outer planets and their so-called integration within us;6 that is, Uranus serves as the enantiodromian function of the solar system, reversing conditions -- like the moving Yang or Yin lines in the I Ching -- whenever an extreme point has been reached; i.e, then such an extreme changes into its opposite. As such, I have posited that Uranus rules the principle of "reversals�; in particular, what we might refer to as �dynamic reversals.�7

Where does the LAP fit into all this?

The LAP as a Point of Numinosity in the Psyche

We are all of us moving in some teleological fashion towards ourselves; towards our own futurity; towards our undefined, undiscovered Self. As such, we may only move in one or two directions: further along the lines of either the fascinans (Yin) or tremendum (Yang) scale of values. As Jung has shown, there is, ultimately, no dualism, no duality, yet when the archetype -- when the mystery within life -- approaches -- we must split it into two pieces: we cannot digest it in its enormity, else we will either dissolve (fascinans) or be crushed (tremendum) by it. We can only, with the inherent limits of our ego-bound perceptual processes, chip off a tiny piece of the godhead, and that piece serves as a guiding stone, a magnetized compass, which points into the unknown and beckons us to follow, no matter what the fear, trepidation and horror; and no matter what the joy we are bound to be cast against. That is the numinous: that is the underaspected planet: It is the stone that the builders have rejected upon which we will find our own inner foundation. That is, the direction of mystery, the telic needle that always points north. And the builders who have rejected this stone: that is the status quo, the rear guard, habitual manner of thought; in this case, the traditional astrological assumption that least aspected merely means, unconscious, unintegrated. Sure, it is unintegrated: It is the Future Self. Sure, it is unconscious: It is the voice of the unconscious Will. It is leading us in some very meaningful direction. But it is not the unconsciousness of neurosis; neither is it the unintegrated nature of the personal "complex." It is far more than that. It is the numinous, not the neurosis, within man.8

Additional Considerations: Planets that �Don�t Work�

I mentioned two problems; the second is that there is undeniably within our experience as astrologers the rare, yet still rather strange phenomenon of planets -- and not necessarily underaspected ones -- which �don�t seem to work� within a given individual; especially, but not only, outer planets; which indeed seem unintegrated, not lived �above ground,� within the ego-complex nature.9 What can we say about these, especially when they seem, by all traditional methods of chart analysis, to be "tied-in" (well aspected) in the natal horoscope?

Without venturing an answer to all the above for the time being, I raise this issue here because I believe it provides in fact the solution, at least in part, to the dilemma: Why have astrologers in the past assigned an "unintegrated" definition, almost across the board, to underaspected planets?

Whatever principle is at work here -- a principle or mechanism which seems to affect various people and various planets no matter what the aspect "strength" -- if and when it has fallen on planets that are underaspected, the tendency has been to point to the underaspected nature as the "culprit," the "scapegoat" -- for lack of a better explanation, i.e., one that "explains" this overall mechanism, and which may affect, as I mentioned, any planet, regardless of aspect strength, or value.

Numinology and the Transcendent Function

Lastly, returning to the notion of numinous consciousness and least aspected planets, we have noted the following:

Numinous consciousness, as Jung has shown through his empiric studies, may especially dawn upon consciousness through the mechanism that is at work with regards to what he calls the "transcendent function" � a notion that I assume he borrows from Hegel, and which he defines as �a uniting function that transcends� �the tension of opposites� (e.g., the conscious vs unconscious viewpoints or stance). In other words, the transcendent function is a �psychic function that arises from the tension between consciousness and the unconscious and supports their union.�10 As a planet which remains relatively isolated from aspect interaction and involvement � and is thus less reflective of such conflicts of opposites, of synthesis and antithesis � the LAP seems to serve the same role; and in that sense, the numinous quality of the least-aspected planet is not merely coincidental. And the LAP serves, too, as a likely bridge upon which several seemingly antithetical views or energetic tensions may come into parity � since it, in fact, stands not only aside from them but even above them, so to speak: the LAP transcends the dualism. As such, it is, too, the �third,� the �tertium non datur� or �reconciling third�: �she [nature] acts symbolically in the truest sense of the word, doing something that expresses both sides, just as a waterfall visibly mediates between above and below.�11 (Perhaps it is also not completely coincidental that Jung penned such thoughts in a chapter entitled, �The Conjunction� -- bearing witness, as he often did, to the power of astrological thought and its influence upon him.) It was partially with this notion in mind as well that I coined the term "Transcendental" Planet.

This �transcendent function,� I believe Jung would allow, is akin to the function of "grace." (If �grace� would allow us to speak of her as a �function�!) For it stands there, in between two worlds, a kind of twilight guidepost, and it is through its presence that we � wittingly or otherwise � finally find a telic drive or direction forward. Another metaphoric image that comes to mind is that of an electrical circuit (a bit akin to Uranus, come to think of it!): a point of contact between two highly charged and highly different energetic realms; so, too, this function always carries with it a definite charge and edge: like electricity itself, something difficult or impossible to describe or explain in any definitive manner, yet completely and unquestionably capable of "enlightenment.� And this function seems to serve a similar role to that of the LAP. It is a "pont," a bridge that links two worlds and simultaneously makes them one, or rather, creates a third, transcendent possibility. Here I believe Otto would insist: That is the numinous consciousness of man: "a mystery inexpressible and above all creatures." (Otto).12


1. Dr Victor Mansfield has kindly given me permission to use this insightful remark, which is quoted from an e-mail I received from him on 14 Oct., 1998: "I had a guru with an unaspected Sun. He always thought that it allowed him the maximum freedom of expressing the Sun's meaning and function. Perhaps aspects not only help manifest or express a planet's meaning and function they also limit its scope of action." (See his ground-breaking work, Synchronicity, Science and Soul-Making, Chicago, Open Court Publications, 1995.)

2. A classic tale of such developmental dangers, Homer�s Odyssey poetically addresses such delightful � and harrowing � dimensions of what might be termed various levels of such �Yin-insanity�: �The Lotus Eaters� (Neptune); the imprisonment of Odysseus on Circe's island (Moon); and the classic tale of allure and enchantment, the anima-ridden verse of Odysseus � his ears plugged with wax and his torso fastened tightly to the mast of his ship � listening to the sweet nothings of the Sirens and their song (Venus). Indeed, Yin bliss � and the so-called benefic planets which reflect and symbolize it (i.e., Venus and Jupiter) � is not always all it is made out to be; i,e., it is occasionally advisable to proceed here with caution.

It is perhaps worth noting that this classic �Yin adventure story� follows in the footsteps, thematically, of the Iliad � a tale rather focused upon the opposite side of our theoretic spectrum: the blood and guts of the tremendum, with all its less nuanced, and rather obvious, pitfalls and dangers.

3. "Together, the Moon, Venus, and Jupiter represent successive stages in the evolution of consciousness ..."; "Neptune completes the sequence of the Moon, Venus, and Jupiter ..." Marcia Moore; Mark Douglas, Astrology, The Divine Science, pp. 40-43. Traditionally speaking, however, Jupiter is often considered a "male" or Yang planet, although here we have taken a different point-of-view.

4. "It is possible to trace a line of development linking the Sun, Mars, and Saturn, which parallels the line linking the Moon, Venus, and Jupiter." Marcia Moore; Mark Douglas, Astrology, The Divine Science, p. 41. "Neptune is the higher octave of Venus"; "Pluto is the higher octave of Mars." Alan Oken, As Above, So Below, pp. 317, 324.

5. Just as in alchemy, which speaks of the principal, �Mercurius,� in astrologic tradition, too, we see that Mercury both effects and personifies the union of opposites on the microcosmic human level (i.e., he partakes equally � and, at various times, alternates between �. the Yang (actively communicating and promulgating) and Yin (passively absorbing and comprehending) energy spectrum. He is the microcosm within which opposing planetary forces are brought together and their oppositional tensions integrated and resolved through the mediation of rational comprehension and reflective consciousness. In alchemical studies, Mercurius was envisioned as standing between Sol and Luna -- the primary elemental forms of spirit [Yang] and soul [Yin] -- and providing, through receptive awareness and active transmission of thought, a mediating function providing on-going psychic evolution and stabilization. (See my essay, �Transcendental Mercury.�)

6. As Linda Reid has pointed out in a recent �Webfest� post, trying to �integrate� an outer-planet energy is in fact a misnomer; an energetic complex such as that symbolized by Uranus is not so much integrated as it is held, for a brief moment, like a sparkling bundle of electricity in the palm of one�s hand. (Unfortunately, this is a mere paraphrase of her unpublished � and unrecorded � comments!)

7. Although certain astrologers believe that Uranus corresponds to the Yang energy force, our point-of-view is that Uranus transcends the dualistic expression of Yin and Yang energy; that while Mercury is considered hermaphroditic (embodying elements and principles of the two), Uranus should be viewed as neither male nor female. Instead, Uranus symbolizes the cosmic function which reverses Yin or Yang energy into its opposite when either achieves an extreme form of expression. This dynamic reversal of conditions is expressed in the I Ching through the unfolding patterns (or "hexagrams") of shifting energy-forms that comprise the "chapters" of this book. In the West this notion is best expressed by the ancient Greek philosophical idea of enantiodromia, a "running opposite or counter to," promulgated by the philosopher Heraclitus. "Fate is the logical product of enantiodromia, creator of all things." [See �Strobaeus,� below.] In modern psychological literature, Jung notes that enantiodromia is synonymous with "the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time. This characteristic phenomenon practically always occurs when an extreme, one-sided tendency dominates conscious life; in time an equally powerful counterposition is built up, which first inhibits the conscious performance and subsequently breaks through the conscious control." And he adds: "Sooner or later everything runs into its opposite." Such reversals include the sudden shift from one extreme form of behavior, perception or ideation into a (seemingly) opposite form or way of being. Through the enantiodromian or dynamic reversal of Uranus, the form of Mercury's ideation and organization is transformed in the higher octave of Uranus's reformation. Ultimately, beyond this seesaw-like action of energetic reversal, the purpose of Uranus is to alternate currents of life-energy until a non-dualistic form is found: one which, ideally, is not as extreme as either opposite but which incorporates the better elements of each to create a more manageable (more consciously operating) organization or reformation.

The above note excerpted from my essay, �Transcendental Uranus.� See also Stobaeus, Eclogae physicae, cited by Jung in Psychological Types, p. 425. Jung adds: "I use the term enantiodromia for the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time. This characteristic phenomenon practically always occurs when an extreme, one-sided tendency dominates conscious life; in time an equally powerful counterposition is built up, which first inhibits the conscious performance and subsequently breaks through the conscious control." In Psychology and Alchemy (p. 245), discussing the "transformative principle at work in nature and the harmony of opposing forces," he notes: "Chinese philosophy formulated this process as the enantiodromian interplay of Yin and Yang," adding in a footnote: "The classical example being The I Ching or Book of Changes.

One of the earliest references to enantiodromia in Jung's work occurs in the unpublished series of lectures he gave in Swanage, England, in 1925: "When something has been accomplished, an opposition must be established before anything else can occur. You may hold a Christian ideal, but this is also impossible, for though a mind may be spirit, you cannot go endlessly into spirit, as you constellate the materialism of the unconscious. A living system is a self-regulating system and must be balanced. Neither spirit not matter is good in themselves, for, in excess, both destroy life." "Lectures at Swanage" (unpublished typescript), Lecture VII, pp. 51-52; August 1, 1925.

8. "The main interest of my work is not concerned with the treatment of neurosis but rather with the approach to the numinous ... [which] is the real therapy." C. G. Jung. Special thanks to my friend Douglas Boyd of �Galaxy: Archetypal Astrology,� for reminding me of this fine quote.

9. Special thanks to my friend and colleague Andrew Smith, editor of the Dublin Astrologer, for sharing his insightful ideas and observations on this phenomenon.

10. Daryl Sharp, C.G. Jung Lexicon, A Primer of Terms and Concepts (Toronto: Inner City Books, 1991), p. 135.

(As an incidental note: in mathematics, the term �Transcendental Function� refers to a function involving real and imaginary numbers; �Transcendental Numbers� refers to �the theory of irrationality, transcendence, and algebraic independence of various numbers� (Number Theory IV: Transcendental Numbers, Yu.V. Nesterenko, N.I. Feldman, Springer, Encyclopaedia of Mathematical Sciences Vol 44 ). See also Cliff Pickover, �The 15 Most Famous Transcendental Numbers� � a site worth a visit: []. The relationship between numerals and archetypes was one of Professor Jung�s long-term interests, especially during the final decades of his life.)

11. C.G. Jung, Collected Works, vol.14, par. 705, cited in Sharp, p. 134.

12. All Otto citations are from The Idea of the Holy, translated by John W. Harvey (London: Oxford University Press, 1958).

Earlier notes on the �Triggering� Phenomenon:

(Excerpted from the Dublin Astrologer, December, 1998)

An underaspected planet needs to be triggered, or turned on, before it can become a Transcendental Planet. The phrase �triggering� does not necessarily imply activation by transit, progression or direction, although triggering can coincide with transiting activity. Essentially, �triggering� occurs in one of three ways:

Firstly, one of the most reliable trigger-effects seems to be birth directly under or near the line of Primary Transcendental Planet or the Secondary Transcendental - the planet that receives the second least number of aspects.

Secondly, relocation or temporary travel in the vicinity or the Primary/ Secondary Transcendental Planet. In the latter case, a temporary relocation may result in a �Transcendental experience�: a meaningful or momentous event that marks the life forever.

Thirdly, and most curiously, is the fact that truly remarkable people may neither travel nor relocate, yet their personality, character and biography is indelibly marked by the symbolic nature of the least or second least-aspected Transcendentals. Somehow, the transcendental function is triggered 'internally'. A truly sensitive nature feels the internal yearning for wholeness, and acts upon it. The numinous center of the psyche, symbolized by the least-aspected planet, asserts itself, most likely through compensatory symbols, such as found in projection, dream symbolism, synchronistic phenomena, as well as intuitions and feelings (the �non-rational� functions). Remarkable natures are marked by their ability to move in parallel with this teleological function - to unite the ego-will with the unconscious will. What the unconscious has in store, in the deepest sense, is often symbolized by this least-aspected planetary energy.

Copyright © 1998 by Robert Couteau. All rights reserved.

All text by Robert Couteau in connection with Starcats' Astro Academics is Copyright © 1998-2000 by R. Couteau and cannot be used without the written and expressed consent of the author.