Marc Edmund Jones describes 7 different chart formations in his book “The Essentials of Astrological Analysis.” The information given here follows his basic plan with modifications, especially when it comes to detailing exactly what the limits of a specific formation are. Jones was somewhat more vague on this than I am.
Chart formations are a good way of getting an overall idea of a chart before looking at any other specifics. Formation has to do with the general pattern of planets as a whole as they are situated in the wheel. Sometimes it is quite easy to take a glance at a chart and see immediately what the chart formation is. At other times when has to do some more exact measuring to determine what the formation is.
Chart formation is determined by the gaps that exist between planets, with a gap of 60 degrees or more being significant. Any space in a chart that is less than 60 degrees and contains no planets is not considered to be a gap. Of course it IS a gap – just not one big enough to be considered a MAJOR GAP. From here on in this essay when I say GAP I mean a space of AT LEAST 60 DEGREES of space in where there are no planets.
Also, in chart formation we are only considering the seven traditional planets plus Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. We are NOT taking into consideration Chiron, any of the asteroids, the Moon’s nodes, Part of fortune, or any other point in the chart.
The first formation I shall speak of is called the SPLASH type. This is a type that is actually rarely found. The SPLASH formation occurs when there are no gaps whatsoever. If we follow this definition to the letter we will indeed encounter a SPLASH chart very infrequently. Here I do hedge a little and say that there might be one gap, but if there is, it should not be over 90 degrees. If it is, then the chart actually falls into a different type of formation, as we shall see later.
The SPLASH formation is into a lot of different things, and tends to live a variegated life. This person is the opposite of a specialist. I always symbolically think of this type as a movie director, for a movie director needs to think of actors, plot, lighting, costumes. Makeup, camera angle, etc. In other words, since movies are about life, anything and everything might be involved with the making of a movie. The SPLASH type scatters energies.
Before going any farther I would like to say that one of the most important points I want to make in my work as an astrologer is that to be a good astrologer one must cleanse one’s perceptions of taken-for-granted biases. For instance, we tend to think of scattering energies as a bad thing – and it is not – at least not in every context. A SPLASH type of person might make a very good administrator, because they could be into every aspect of, say the manufacturing, marketing, and sales of an item, together with personal relations, hiring workers, and maybe fixing the toilet when it get stopped up. In some contexts, scattered energies can be just what is needed. If a person with a SPLASH chart tries to focus or limit their energies and involvements too much, they will not be happy. Of course, for the sake of survival, they need to be encouraged to focus on something enough be gain enough skill and expertise to make money at it, but whenever possible, they need to be allow to spread themselves as broadly as the planets are spread in their chart.
Another great occupation for a SPLASH type might be a writer, for obviously a SPLASH type is a gatherer of experience, and as a writer would probably range very widely in this process of gathering things to write about.
The next formation is the SPLAY type. The SPLAY chart pattern is formed when there are THREE GAPS. What these gaps do is divide the chart into three different groups of planets.
One thing we can say about the splay chart is that they tend to have their own unique way of doing things, are will not feel happy or fulfilled until they place themselves in a situation where they are free to discover how they want to go about performing their work. The SPLAY type is also a natural artist who is trying, in whatever they do to engineer something unique and which has on it their personal stamp. This type tends to be more attuned to subjective experience – their inner life and their emotions, than to the outer world. Almost always the SPLAY type will be an INTERESTING person, due to their unique approach to life.
The next formation is known as the SEE-SAW type. This is actually the chart formation you will encounter the most frequently as you look at chart. It is formed when there are just two gaps in the chart, dividing the planets into two distinct groups. It does not matter what the size of these groups are – they could be divided evenly, five and five, or they might be divided two and eight. If they are divided with nine planets on one side and one on the other, then you do not have a SEE-SAW type – you have a bucket, which we will talk of later.
Also, you need to know that it doesn’t matter whether or not these two groups of planets are across the chart from each other — just so long as there are two gaps. One of these gaps could potentially be as much as 210 or more degrees, with the other gap being say only about 60. This is just a hypothetical example to show you that the SEE-SAW could be very skewed. The point of the formation is that it has these two groups, and NOT whether or not they’re directly across the chart from each other.
The SEE-SAW type is a person who has two basic areas of interest in their life, and who is trying to balance these two areas with each other to produce harmony. The SEE-SAW individual can have a hard time making up their mind, for they tend to often be pulled in two different directions at once. If you want to know more about what these two areas of life have to do with, you can look at the houses occupied by the two different groups of planets. Sometimes these two different groups will be divided from each other by the horizon line (1st house/7th house axis) or by the Midheaven/Nadir line (10th house 4th house axis). If this is the case it actually makes the interpretation of the chart somewhat easier, for then the divisions within the person’s life are between purely self-oriented involvements on the one hand and more interactive, relational involvements on the other (in the case of the dividing line being the 1st house/7th house axis), or between their strictly private life and their life out in the world (in the case of the dividing line being the 10th house/4th house axis).
The fourth chart formation we’re going to look at is the BUNDLE. In this formation there is only one gap, but it has to be no less than 210 degrees to create the formation. Of course it can be more than 210 degrees, but anything less and the chart becomes classed as a different formation.
The BUNDLE chart is the opposite of the splash. This person is a natural specialist. Whatever they are involved with they like to go into in depth. Ray Merriman once said at a class of his I attended that the bundle type can make mountains out of molehills. It is definitely in their nature to put all their eggs in one basket.
Let us say, for example, that a woman brings me a chart of her son, and tells me that he is obsessed with collecting all types of seashells as well as books and information on them, and that she is worried about the intensity of his focus. If I were to look at his chart and see that it was a bundle formation I would tell her to allow him to obsess on sea shells to his heart’s content – for this is his natural way of being. Who knows – maybe he will one day become the world’s leading authority on sea shells.
Of course it could be that this same boy isn’t doing well in school because he’s not giving enough time to his studies, due to his sea-shell efforts. In this case I will tell her to explain to her son that if he gives enough time to learning those things that the world expects him to know, that this will free him, ultimately, to follow what he is most interested in. Compelling a child of this sort to be “balanced,” is something which disturbs me a great deal. Every person has their own balance, which is different from every other persons’. Balance for this individual might just be a life devoted to sea shells.
Do not think that a BUNDLE type always sticks with the same things – for they can shift interests, but whatever their interests are, we will always tend to find this depth plumbing going on. It is most likely, though, that if a bundle does shift focus it will be thought out beforehand – there will most likely be a build-up to it – it won’t be just a whim of the moment.
And yes, I hear a student asking, is the narrowness of focus connected to the tightness of the BUNDLE? Yes, it is – a gap of 210 degrees being the loosest bundle would tend to have a looser focus then a bundle contained within 90 degrees.
The BUNDLE person probably needs less encouragement from the outside world than the other chart formations do. The BUNDLE tends to go on its own steam, take care of itself, and be self-contained.
In these last four chart formations which I’m talking about in this particular essay, we also have the phenomenon of one of the planets in the formation taking precedence over the others. In the bundle, bowl, and locomotive formations this planet is known as the cutting planet, and the way to find it is to place your finger anywhere in the bundle and slowly rotate your finger CLOCKWISE until you come to the last planet before the gap.
The cutting planet is the most important one in the whole chart, and so when one has a bundle, bowl or locomotive formation it makes it easier for the astrologer to determine the chart’s focus. The cutting planet is said to be in “high focus,” as is also the single isolated planet in the bucket formation. And so in these four chart types, BUNDLE, BUCKET, BOWL, and LOCOMOTIVE there is always a high-focus planet.
Marc Jones gave special keywords to the ten planets when they are in high focus. When the Sun is in high focus the word is “masterly,” meaning the person attempts to be so thoroughly versed in whatever he or she is doing that he/she comes to master the subject or discipline he/she is involved in. the keyword for the Moon in high focus is “intense.” The person with this indication wishes to live a lot that is not bland or humdrum but which is vivid and intense. Frederick Chopin had a high focus moon — and he wrote nocturnes night pieces.
The keyword for Mercury in high focus is “inquisitive.” The person is curious and will dig into and uncover information, going as deep as possible to uncover the truth and find out how things work. Louis Pasteur’s chart has a high focus Mercury.
The keyword for Venus in high focus is “intimate,” meaning that life is never approached in a cold or distant or impersonal way. Quite the contrary, the person thinks of every experience encountered as special, as having its own unique personality and needs, and as being something they want to get as close as possible to and interact with in a very personal INTIMATE way.
The keyword for Mars in high focus is “indomitable,” meaning that the person will never let anything ultimately get the best of him/her. They refuse to be under anyone’s finger. If defeated, they will simply put their mind to figuring out a way of being successful in the next skirmish. Abraham Lincoln had a high focus Mars.
The keyword for Jupiter in high focus is “paternalistic.” I have a bucket with Jupiter as the handle planet, so Jupiter in my chart is in high focus. At first I had a hard time wrapping my mind around this word — but it truly is me. I’m being paternalistic right now, in that I’m trying to protect and support the tradition of astrology so that I can hand it down like a FATHER (pater is Latin for father). Isadora Duncan had Jupiter in high focus. It might be strange on first thinking about it to envision such a feminine individual as a father. But she was extremely intent on fostering a revival of the dance of the ancients, and of passing down this tradition to her students.
The keyword for Saturn in high focus is “shrewd.” This is a person who is extremely sensitive to the limitations of any situations, and of what is required in a practical sense to get done what one wants to do. Emily Dickenson has a high focus Saturn in her chart, and what makes her such a wonderful poet is her extreme sensitivity to the limitations of WORDS, and of what one must do with them to make them say what one wants them to say. Saturn, also, is the exact opposite of superficiality, and in her lightest verse there is always a sense of depth.
The keyword for Uranus in high focus is “experimentative.” This person is very open and willing to try new things. Even after they have found a way of doing something that works they will not settle down to a routine way of being, but must always be exploring new territory be it out in the world or inside the self.
The keyword for Neptune in high focus is “authoritative.” This comes from holding on strongly to the high ideal that Neptune always signifies. Eleanor Roosevelt had a high focus Neptune.
The keyword for Pluto in high focus is “Transcendent,” for the transformative nature of Pluto is always looking to transcend problems — to rise above the realm of limitation.
The BUCKET formation is actually a see-saw with the two groups of planets divided by having nine in the one group and just one in the other. The BUCKET is very zealous about whatever it is doing. It may feel like it has a mission in life, and the mission is usually shown by the one planet that stands alone. The bucket can have the intensity and narrowness of focus of the BUNDLE type, but unlike the bundle type it tends to approach whatever it is focused on from multiple angles. It may be into many different things, but somehow these things are collected together, unified through the singleton planet. This singleton planet becomes the most important one in the chart. It is often a singleton in hemisphere, which will, of course, then give that particular hemisphere strong emphasis and cause it to take precedence in the life over the other hemisphere.
The BOWL formation occurs when there is one gap, and that gap is between 150 degrees and 210 degrees. A gap smaller than 150 degrees causes the chart to be classes (at least in my system) as a BUNDLE chart, and a gap of more than 210 degrees causes the chart to be classes as a LOCOMOTIVE pattern. The bowl is looking to enter experience with the whole of the self, that is, they tend to be an “all-or-nothing” type of person. They need something they can immerse themselves in, something they can be completely devoted to. This chart type also has a cutting planet – found just as you did with the BUNDLE type.
The LOCOMOTIVE formation occurs when there is one gap that is between 90 and 210 degrees. (A gap less then 90 degrees is a SPLASH type). The LOCOMOTIVE type is, just as you might expect a driving and driven person. The have a lot of energy and at their most intense can be like a steam roller. They can be very motivated and will get to where they are desiring to go one way or the other, whether slowly and patiently, or through relentless pushing.
These are the seven types of chart formation that Marc Jones describes, but I want to add another one – one that is rarely found, though I do see it occasionally. It’s referred to as the CLOSE PAIRS type. This chart is formed when all of the planets (ideally) are in a conjunction with another planet – ideally forming “close pairs” of planets in the chart. A chart can still be considered a CLOSE PAIRS chart even if two planets are not involved in the conjunctions. It can also be a close pairs chart if, say, you have three planets in conjunction together in one or several places, rather than just two.
The CLOSE PAIRS individual has special gifts to offer the world, and what it takes to manifest these special gifts is a coordination of their energies directed toward a specific purpose. No one can tell them how to do this coordination – their nature is too original, too different, to be able to assimilate easily the advice of others. It is their instinct that brings about this coordination. When it happens they can be extremely successful, because they have found their own way to reach their goals, and they have marshaled their energies in the way that felt right to them – and turned out to be right.
I know a woman with a CLOSE PAIRS chart who, when she got out of college went to work for a store. The store owner said the business was failing and he couldn’t give her a salary or hourly income but only commissions on what she sold. She want ahead and took over the store, he let her run it the way she wanted to, and within a year her commissions were averaging $10,000 a month. She related to the product she was selling and found her own unique way of selling it, and by doing this was fantastically successful.