What Is Declination, and Why It Is Important

In the 19th century, astrologers wrote that the aspects of declination are the most important of all the aspects. Zadkiel, for example, stated that the effect of a parallel is exactly the same as that of a precise conjunction, but stronger, while according to Bishop-Culpeper, conjunction and opposition are "almost equal to parallel but not quite". However, in the 20th century astrology these aspects, as well as the dimension of declination they are based upon, became pretty much forgotten. I believe this is one of the results of the psychologisation of astrology: when an astrologer is studying some invisible movements of the soul, precision and attention to detail become unimportant.

Nowadays, even some of the most experienced and knowledgeable astrologers either completely unaware of the existence of declination, or know about it only theoretically but do not use it in practice, thinking of declination as of some unnecessary technical sophistication. This kind of attitude is supported by the fact that even the most sophisticated and complete software packages do not provide an adequate support for declination. I will show you what I mean by that in a moment.

In reality, there is nothing complicated about declination and its aspects. You just need to understand once what those are. Unfortunately, there are very few books on the subject, and those that do exist can bring even more misunderstanding. For example, I wouldn't recommend 'Declination. The Other Dimension' by KT Boehrer to anyone. If you do not already know what declination is and how to work with it, this book can be utterly misleading. On the other hand, 'Parallels: Their Hidden Meaning' by Charles Jayne, although technically and methodologically precise, is quite terse, and serves to amplify the impression that the subject of declination is not for everyone but only for those with a technical/astronomical penchant. In fact, the little Kindle book 'The Powerful Declinations' by John Willner could be more helpful, even though it doesn't provide any good examples. Willner wrote:

My experience has been that no horoscope is complete without declinations, and an astrologer would miss better than half of all aspects in natal and progressed charts if they were not included. They provide an enormous amount of information.

Willner, John. The Powerful Declinations . American Federation of Astrologers. Kindle Edition.

I can confirm the conclusions of John Willner, just with a caveat that there are cases where we are completely missing the essence of the astrological picture without the aspects of declination, but there are also other cases where the aspects of longitude are quite sufficient. So the amount of information we are missing by ignoring parallels and contraparallels can differ from case to case.

So what exactly they are — the declination and the aspects of declination?

A Simple Definition

We don't need many words to define precisely what declination is: it's an angular distance from the planet to the celestial equator. That's it. Done. However, for an astrologer who is not well familiar with astronomy — and there are very many of them — this definition makes not more sense than a quote from Lao Tzu written in Chinese. In three decades of teaching astrology to all kinds of audiences I came to a conclusion that in many cases people don't really need precise definitions, with all their technical details. Most of the time, all they need is a general idea of the concept, and how to use it in practice. So let's start from the general idea of what declination is.

You most probably know that the location of any town on the Earth can be defined using its longitude and latitude. The longitude is measured along the equator, starting from the Greenwich meridian. The longitude of New York, for example, is 74 degrees to the West of Greenwich. However, in geography to only know the longitude of the place is insufficient. In that case, we could decide that New York and Bogota, Colombia, are located next to each other, as the longitude of these two places is almost the same. So we need the second dimension, the latitude, to avoid confusion.

In contrast, in contemporary astrology most people only use one dimension, the longitude. When we say, for example, that Venus is located at 15° 34' of Taurus, we define its location in the sky using the planet's ecliptic longitude, only expressed in the signs of the zodiac, degrees and minutes, as it is convenient for astrologers. Astronomers don't use the signs of the zodiac, they measure the ecliptic longitude in just degrees and minutes, starting from the vernal equinox (equal to 0 Aries in the astrological format). So an astronomer would say about the same Venus that its ecliptic longitude is 45° 34'. But it's only one dimension.

So when in astrology we say that two celestial objects are in conjunction, and we presume they are close to each other, in reality they can be as far from each other as New York and Bogota, despite having almost the same longitude.

Another example showing why we need a second dimension is the comparison of a solar eclipse with a New Moon. They look the same in a conventional astrological chart, they look as a conjunction between the Sun and the Moon. But in the case of a solar eclipse the body of the Moon blocks out the light of the Sun from us, whereas in the case of an ordinary New Moon it doesn't. Why? Because there is a second dimension, and in the latter case, although the longitude of the Moon is the same as the longitude of the Sun, so they are in conjunction, their second dimension coordinates are different, so they are not in the same spot in the sky. Similar to New York and Bogota case.

So here is a working definition of what a declination is, which, in practice, will be sufficient in 99.9% cases.

Declination of a planet is a second dimension that allows to unambiguously define the location of that planet in the sky. It is similar to the geographic latitude, which complements the geographic longitude to define the location of a city.

Next thing you'll need to know is how to find out the declination of a planet in practice, and what are the aspects of declination.

How to Find Out the Declination of a Planet

There are several ways to find out a planet's position in the second dimension, in declination. To start with, you need to know that declination is measured in degrees and minutes, like the geographic latitude, and, similar to the geographic latitude, it can be north or south. The difference between the two is that geographic latitude can reach up to 90°, for a pole of the Earth, but planets' declinations never go that far. In fact, they are always less than 30°.

Current Declination

One very simple way to find out the current declination of a planet is to visit the home page of Lunarium. There, you'll see a few tables. One of them is titled "Planets", and the other one is "Declinations". This illustration shows how these two tables looked on June 10, 2021.

The longitudes and the declinations of planets, as displayed at the home page of Lunarium

The Planets table displays the current ecliptic longitudes, in the familiar zodiacal format. You can see that the Sun and the Moon are in a close conjunction, so you could guess that there was either a New Moon, or a solar eclipse a couple of hours ago. If you check the Declinations table, you'll see that the declination of the Sun (23° 03' North) is also quite close to the declination of the Moon (24° 00' North). So the Sun and the Moon are in more or less the same spot both in longitude and in declination, which means they are indeed close to each other in the sky. And you can guess that it was not just a New Moon but an eclipse of the Sun a couple of hours ago. Which indeed it was.

The Aspects of Declination

In longitude, there are many different aspects that differ by degree value: conjunction, opposition, trine, square, and so on. There are also systems of orbs that help to define whether the aspect is close enough to precise, to be considered existing, or not, and different astrologers prefer different orbs, sometimes depending on which planets are in aspect. Some astrologers use various minor aspects, like 40°, or 72°. So when it comes to the aspects of longitude, things can quickly become complex.

Fortunately, the aspects of declination are much-much simpler. If declinations of two planets are close to each other by value and are both either North or South, it's a parallel. The usual practical orb is , and it's always the same, no matter which planets are making the aspect. Some astrological schools (like Magi Society) increase the orb in declination to 1° 12'. In the picture above you can see that the Sun and the Moon are in a parallel to each other.

If declinations of two planets are close to each other by value but one of them is North while the other is South, it's a contraparallel. In the picture above, the Sun is in a contraparallel to Pluto.

What's the Difference Between a Parallel and a Contraparallel?

In the traditional astrology books, we can find an indication that a parallel of declination is similar, in the sense of the kind of interaction it creates between planets, to a conjunction, whereas a contraparallel is similar to an opposition. Some contemporary astrologers share this opinion, for example Jeff Mayo, Barbara Watters, Charles Jayne, and N.P. Davis.

Yet other well-known astrologers believe that parallel and contraparallel are in fact the same aspect, there is no difference between them. Charles Carter, Ronald Davison, Roger Hutcheon, Sepharial and the Magi Society belong to this group (although Magi Society started to recognise some difference between a parallel and a contraparallel relatively recently).

My personal opinion is that there is a difference between these two aspects, but it is not as substantial as the difference between a conjunction and an opposition. I'd say a contraparallel is somewhat more stressful compared to a parallel.

Declination in the Ephemeris

What if you want to find out the declinations of planets at your birth? Well, you can use the ephemeris in a book form, they are available in many book stores, for example Amazon. Just bear in mind that not every kind of ephemeris has an information about declinations in it. The American Ephemeris do not offer this information. On the other hand, Raphael's Ephemeris do have it, both in a yearly format and the 51-year ones.

You can also use the free ephemeris in PDF format offered by the Astro.com website. Just go to their 9000 Years Ephemeris page and open the section for the century you are interested in. Then find the year you are interested in under with declination and latitude subheader. This image shows where you'd find the ephemeris with declinations for the year 2021:

Where to find free ephemeris in PDF format with declinations of planets

Once you've downloaded those ephemeris, you'll find that they have one page for each month, and on that page there are two tables. The upper one offers the usual ecliptic longitudes while the lower one has in it the declinations and the latitudes (we haven't discussed those latitudes yet, and we won't be using them most of the time). This image shows the table for June 2021, and the arrows are pointing out the columns we are interested in, they are titled decl:

Declinations in the ephemeris

Declination in Astrological Software

You can find at least some information about declination in all popular astrological software packages — at least in those I am familiar with, they include Solar Fire, Astro Gold, Sirius, WinStar, Janus and a few others. As my main computer is a Mac, I am using Astro Gold for Mac most actively, and in it, you can find information about declinations either by going to Listings and viewing 'Basic Details', or by displaying the Grid — you'll then see all the aspects of declination in the top right part of it.

Here is a listing for Walt Disney:

Declinations for Walt Disney displayed as a listing in Astro Gold

And here is a grid for him:

Declinations for Walt Disney displayed in a grid in Astro Gold

One of my favourite tools when working with declination is the scale of declinations displayed in Solar Fire. To view it, you would need, after displaying a chart, to go to Pages, General, and then pick the declin design. You will find the scale on the lefthand side. Here is how it looks:

A scale of declinations, as displayed by Solar Fire, for Walt Disney

In case of Disney, there are so many planets in a parallel to each other that their symbols overlap and are impossible to read. Still, this little tool is the best I know when it comes to clearly displaying the aspects of declination. Those planets that have a southern declination are shown on the right hand side, whereas planets with northern declinations are on the left hand side, so you can easily see that Disney's Neptune makes contraparallels to a whole bunch of other planets.

You might have also noticed a dashed line labeled 'Ob'. It shows the obliquity of the ecliptic, or, in other words, how far can the Sun reach in declination. Anything above this line, like Mars in Walt Disney's case, gets and 'out-of-bounds' status. You can read about it in my article discussing the out-of-bounds planets.

Many of us appreciate the free charting services at Astro.com website. You can find the declinations of planets there as well, just follow the 'Additional tables' link.

To summarise so far, information about planets' declinations, and sometimes even about their parallels and contraparallels, is widely available. So why am I telling you that support for declinations isn't adequate in most software packages? One reason is that the aspects of declination are not displayed in the chart anymore. In a much older version of Solar Fire you could choose to show parallels and contraparallels in a chart, they looked like grey arcs then. Now that option isn't available anymore. Another reason will become clearer when we'll come to a practical example in the end of the article.

A More Detailed Definition (for Connoisseurs)

Although in most cases it is sufficient to only know that declination is simply the second dimension, to complement the ecliptic longitude in order to know where exactly the planet is situated in the sky, sometimes you do need to know more about it, and in this section I'm going to define it properly.

First of all, you need to understand that there are a few different coordinate systems we could use to define the location of a planet, or some other body, in the sky. We can use any of them, depending on the task at hand. And they are all similar to the system of coordinates used in geography: there is a dimension similar to the geographic longitude, and another one, similar to the geographic latitude.

In astrology, most of the time we use only one of these systems, called the ecliptic coordinate system. In it, the coordinate similar to geographic longitude is called the ecliptic longitude, and it is measured along the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun against the background of stars. You already know that the positions of planets in the sky, as used everywhere in astrology, are basically those planets' ecliptic longitudes.

There is also a second dimension in the ecliptic system, similar to the geographic latitude, and quite naturally it is called the ecliptic latitude. It is basically the distance of the planet from the ecliptic, and it can be north or south. If two planets have the same ecliptic latitude, they are in a parallel of latitude to each other. If their latitudes are close by value but one of them north while the other is south, that is a contraparallel of latitude. Have you noticed my emphasis: all of this is in latitude, whereas this whole article is about something different, it's about declination?

Ecliptic latitude can also be used (and sometimes is used) by astrologers, but not often. One of the problems with its use is that its value is usually quite small: planets do not stray far from the ecliptic. You can verify this by looking at the screenshot of the ephemeris above. There is a column titled lat there, and that's exactly the ecliptic latitude. If we ever consider parallels of latitude, we use a very narrow orb, not more than 20'.

Okay, but where is declination?

There is another coordinate system called equatorial. It is actually most similar to the system used in geography as one of its coordinates is measured along the equator — but this time the celestial equator. The name of this coordinate however is a bit unusual, right ascension. You can safely forget that name right now as we aren't going to use it anywhere. What we are going to use is the second coordinate of the equatorial system, which is similar to the geographic latitude, and it is called... You've probably already guessed, it is called declination.

So the approach used by astrologers is a bit unusual: we employ one coordinate from the ecliptic system (the ecliptic longitude, measured along the ecliptic), and the second coordinate from the equatorial system (the declination, the distance from the celestial equator). It is unusual, yes, but it works for us quite well.

Here is an illustration that will help you to understand the relationship between the ecliptic and the equator:

The mutual orientation of the ecliptic and the equator

The Sun always travels strictly along the ecliptic, it never has any ecliptic latitude. Other celestial objects do have some latitude, but generally they also travel along the ecliptic. At the equinoxes, the Sun crosses the celestial equator, so its declination is close to zero then. At the solstices, the Sun's declination is at its maximum. Since planets have some ecliptic latitude, they might have a higher declination than that of the Sun, in which case they gain the out-of-bounds status. And any two planets make a parallel of declination when they are equidistant from the equator, and in the same direction. If the distance is the same but the north/south polarity is different, it's a contraparallel. This is pretty much everything there is to know about declination and the aspects of declination.

How Those Parallels Can Be Useful?

But now that I've spent so many words telling you what declination is and how to find it out, you might be wondering: do you really need it? How can it be useful?

Basically, on many occasions parallels and contraparallels of declination allow us to get an information that wouldn't be accessible otherwise, and this additional information can make a huge difference in our understanding of the case. If we are studying a natal chart, the aspects of declination can help us to discover gifts and talents (but also problems) invisible in longitude. When working on a forecast, we might miss a very important event or a change in life without taking into account parallels and contraparallels. However, the best and the most convincing way to demonstrate the importance and the power of the aspects of declination, in my opinion, is by studying a non-trivial relationship.

By non-trivial I understand a relationship in which one or both of the partners do something extraordinary in order to keep the relationship, or to make it possible. They go against important people's opinions, they do something that nobody ever does in their situation. They just don't care. All they want is to be together with each other. There are quite a few such examples in recent history: the King of England Edward VIII who abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, Prince Harry who married a divorced foreigner three years older than him.

But the classic example is Prince Charles and his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles. He had a young and beautiful wife with two kids, but he pretty much abandoned them to keep the old relationship going. Logically, there should be something special about the relationship between Charles and Camilla. And being astrologers, we would hope that astrology would show us some unusually strong symbolism for this relationship.

There are a number of different approaches that could be used in synastry, but at the core is always an analysis of mutual aspects formed between the charts of the partners. Here is a grid of mutual aspects between Charles and Camilla created by Astro Gold (I used a 3° orb, to stay focused, and only the major aspects, and I didn't use the angular cusps as their location can't be certain without a thorough verification):

Mutual aspects in longitude between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles

If we concentrate on the aspects formed by the luminaries and the personal planets, what do we see here? A trine between the partners' Suns. This is good, they probably express their individualities in a harmonious way. A trine between her Mercury and his Sun. Not bad either, a good intellectual understanding. There's also a square between his Mercury and her Saturn, so communication can be a bit one-sided after all. And an opposition between his Mars and her Uranus, while her Mars is in a trine with his Neptune. A mixed message. And that's it. That is all the aspects of longitude can tell us. Would you be able to say that this is a lifetime relationship that moved the partners to abandon their families? I wouldn't. Just notice that the partners' Venuses do not make any mutual aspects. That is strange. They are lovers, after all.

What I would like to do next is to compare the mutual aspects in declination between these partners. Unfortunately, none of the popular software packages will allow me to do such a simple thing. When I have to use one of them, I can do nothing else but go manually through the listings of declinations, figuring out which planets are making a parallel or a contraparallel. Fortunately, there is an advanced astrological software named Astroprocessor ZEUS that is being developed in Russia by Dmitry Potapov, and it can do exactly what I need (that's because I am able to communicate with the developer and ask him to add various features). Here is what a complete table of mutual aspects between Charles and Camilla looks like:

Mutual aspects between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles

Here we can see four aspects between Camilla's Venus and Charles' Mars, Jupiter, Uranus, and Pluto. In addition, they have mutual Mars-Pluto aspects: his Mars makes a contraparallel to her Pluto while her Mars makes a parallel to his Pluto. That's quite a lot of passion.

Still, it might be useful to simply compare the declinations of the partners' planets:

Comparing the declinations of planets: Charles and Camilla

This way, we can notice that Camilla's Venus, which in longitude makes a precise conjunction with her out-of-bounds Moon (both planets are the symbols of femininity — an out-of-bounds lady?), in declination also makes parallels to her natal Uranus and Pluto. A kind of nuclear love cocktail: Moon-Venus-Uranus-Pluto. Now look how many aspects this Venus Makes to Charles' planets. Definitely, he is the one able to appreciate the power of this cocktail. As a side note, we can mention that Charles' Mars is out-of-bounds, so he is not an average man indeed.

Try yourself to analyse this way the relationships of the other two couples I've mentioned earlier. Look at them from the standard longitude viewpoint and see if that gives you enough understanding. Then add declination and maybe that will give you a better idea of the true nature of the relationship. You might notice, for example, that the Suns of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson are in a very precise parallel to each other — like their hearts became one — and in addition Edward's Jupiter and Wallis' Venus also make parallels to their Suns. And Harry and Meghan demonstrate a mutual Sun-Moon parallel. They were simply born for each other.

A Conclusion

I strongly suggest you to incorporate declination — and the aspects of declination — into your astrological practice, in particular in those cases where you are not sure if the common approach to astrology (i.e. ignoring the declination) gives you enough understanding.

© 2022 Alexander Kolesnikov