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Traditional Approaches to Astrology

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Minderwiz  Minderwiz is offline
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Traditional Approaches to Astrology

I've been wanting to do a thread on traditional Astrology for some time, both to explain some of it's ideas and approaches and to answer any questions about them. Over the last 20 years or so, and especially over the last 10 there has been an upsurge in interest, perhaps because of dissatisfaction with the current state of Astrology and it's heavy (indeed almost exclusive) Sun sign approach.

I'm not going to use this as a basis for attacking the current situation but more as a means of showing what went on before. One problem is that 'before' encompasses a period back to the dawn of recorded history, and there is no such thing as a 'traditional method' which covers such a time span. Astrology changed and developed over this period and by 'developed' I'm not implying any modern conception of 'progress'.

If the modern return to traditional roots is because of a feeling that Astrology has gone 'wrong', it certainly isn't the first time that such feelings have been expressed. Jean Baptiste Morin, in the Seventeenth Century thought much the same and tried to re-draw Astrology. Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Astrologers blamed the Arabs (who did much to save Astrology) for it 'going wrong' and indeed Dave has blamed the Greeks. I have no doubt that someone somewhere sometime blamed the Babylonians or the Egyptians. So I'm not claiming that Astrology was fine and in pristine condition before Alan Leo got his hands on it. Indeed in the Western world Astrology has had to be resuscitated more than once and there is no unbroken western tradition (unlike India). Each of those 'near death' experiences produced some losses. Whilst much of the material since medieval times has been recovered, we are not in such a happy situation when it comes to Hellenistic Astrology. The loss there is literally immeasurable, so we are by no means sure that the Hellenistic material we have today is representative of the diversity of what actually existed in those times.The good thing is that more is being discovered and translated and so our understanding is growing, even if it will never be perfect.

With those riders in mind, I will start to consider some of the beliefs, methods and structures. I may well dart between periods, but I want to get across some of the ideas, not write a history.

The usual starting point for any treatise, was to look at planets, signs and houses. By way of introducing those the next post will look at the types of planetary motion.

Please feel free to ask questions or post your own observations. Even if you are a beginner, the thread may stimulate you to think about what you are learning or simply provide some passing interest.
Top   #1
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ANA  ANA is offline
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what i want to say is THANK YOU

i have alwasy felt there is something missing in the books you can buy these days, i do know and understand the hermetic concept of "as above so below" and belive that astrology is only one small part of that belief system

the concept of "as above so below" is exactely what science is trying to prove in string theory, so we are at a point were we are finaly turning to the concept that links astrology to all of us

we ARE made of STAR STUFF and astrology is a method of bringing to life and into our understanding of this concept

again thank you
Top   #2
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Planetary Motion

Despite some injunctions from modern Astrologers to go out and look at the sky, most modern views of planetary motion revolve around two ideas. Firstly the motion of the planets, and especially the Sun through the zodiac, from Aries to Pisces and back again. Indeed our modern tropical zodiac (which was also used traditionally over the last thousand years or so) emphasises the link between Astrology and the seasons of the year. The other motion that a modern Astrologer would think of would be retrograde motion.

For the traditional Astrologer, motion through the zodiac was 'secondary' motion (and the retrograde cycles of planets are associated with it).

Primary motion was the daily cycle of night and day. The rising of the Sun (and other planets) in the East, their culmination due South (North in the Southern Hemisphere) and their setting in the West. The cycle of Earth's revolution about it's axis was more important than the cycle of the planets through the zodiac. Indeed it was literally of primary importance. The qualities of night and day were different. Days were generally hotter than nights and days were generally drier than nights - daytime (when the Sun is above the horizon) is hot and dry, compared to nights which are cold and moist.

Days are clearly ruled by the Sun. Indeed apart from the Moon, only Venus can occasionally be seen in daylight. During the night, the Sun is (by definition) absent, so rulership is assigned to the Moon (though it is quite possible to have moonless nights but impossible to have sunless days). The Moon is Queen of Heaven, and rather like the Queen in Chess, is the most important 'piece' in ANY chart (more of that later).

Not only does the cycle of night and day change the quality of the chart, it also can effect the quality of the other planets. Perhaps the two most notable cases are Mercury and Venus, the inferior planets. I'll just use Venus here because it is the most noticeable and had the most profound effect.

There are times during the year when Venus can be seen in the sky before Sun rise - the Morning Star. Watching it we can see it is the brightest star in the sky but that the period ends with it appearing to fall into the Sun. The Greeks called this Venus 'phosphoros' and the Romans 'Lucifer' - the myth of the fallen Angel can be seen being acted out in the sky.

Venus can also be seen as the Evening Star, appearing in the West after Sun set, The Greeks called this Evening Star, Hesperos.

Venus (and Mercury which has a similar but not so obvious cycle) was seen to have a dual nature, depending on where she was in this cycle, rather than the single nature that much of modern Astrology attributes.

Mercury is far more changeable in this sense than Venus and that changeability is still recognised (though not the reason why) but Venus' duality is often neglected. For those looking for a Modern view here, Erin Sullivan has a good chapter in her book on Retrograde Planets.

Primary motion has two other very important influences. Firstly it gives rise to a method of predictions - primary directions - that were the most important and most used methods over the last two thousand years. Transits, Solar Returns, Lunar Returns and other methods were very much supportive to primary directions when making forecasts. I'll deal with that as a separate post later.

The move to primary directions led to another development that is still with us - the quadrant house system, based on the four cardinal points of Ascendant, MC, Descendant and IC. Whilst there is clearly no need to use quadrant house systems solely with primary directions, it's worth remembering that it was the need to make primary directions more 'accurate' that led to the development of alternative quadrant house systems. These days there are Astrologers who rubbish Equal House systems and suggest that only quadrant systems are 'serious' Astrology but seem to be unaware of why such systems were developed in the first place. Again I'll look at traditional House systems in more detail later.

The next three posts will look at planets, signs and houses in that order, though there will be some cross references, especially relating to Planetary rulerships and dignities.
Top   #3
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The Planets

The first point to be made is that it is the planets that are the key to Astrology. The planets are the actors, signs and houses are passive indeed Astrology could be performed without signs, and with only the Ascendant, MC and Descendant as reference points. Indeed that is probably how Astrology began, with the stellar background becoming used as a means of measuring the passage of time at night.

The second point is that for the traditional Astrologer, Astrology worked through transmission and reflection of light. The Sun radiates light that is reflected by the others. Any body or point that cannot reflect light cannot be Astrologically active (though it can have a passive role). Given that Astrologers/Astronomers did not have telescopes before the Seventeenth Century the reflected light of Uranus and Neptune plus the asteroids, Kuiper Belt objects, Chiron, etc could not be seen and was not incorporated into the systems. Moreover, even after the use of telescopes began, the general feeling both of traditional Astrologers and Vedic Astrologers was that if you couldn't see it with the naked eye it didn't count.

That leaves just seven planets. There are of course numerous points, such as the Ascendant and MC, house cusps, lots/parts, etc which can receive light but not reflect it.

Planets can be categorised in many ways - one way is day and night planets. Nocturnal planets are The Moon and Venus (the feminine ones) and Mars. Mars is nocturnal because he is naturally excessively hot and dry. Mars during the day will therefore be even hotter and even drier. It's best to cool him down (which is why Mars is stronger in Scorpio than in Aries).

Diurnal (day) planets are the Sun, Jupiter and Saturn. The Sun is moderately Hot and Moderately Dry - it creates the conditions for life. Jupiter is also moderately hot but also moderately moist and moisture is also needed for life. Saturn is the odd one being naturally excessively Cold and Dry. Saturn during the day is warmed which is better and in the early morning gathers moisture. Indeed Saturn is said to joy in the twelfth House).

Mercury is neutral and takes on the characteristics of any planet that he is with.

As well as the day/night variation, Planets would also vary according to their relationship to the Sun. We have seen that Mercury and Venus vary according to whether they are Morning Stars (Oriental or seen in the East) and Evening Stars (Occidental or seen in the West). For these two being Occidental was seen as best, for Mars, Jupiter and Saturn the situation is reversed, they are better when Oriental. The reason for this is that the Sun is further on in the zodiac than them in such circumstances and as the Sun is faster, they are moving out and away from combustion. Seen in the West, they are further on in the zodiac than the Sun but as it's faster they are moving into combustion - it will catch them up and their visibility (and hence power) will be lost in the light of the Sun. In the case of the Moon, it is it's phase position that was considered important.

Planets not only act but they also rule both things and signs. The two types of rulership are different, they rule things by analogy or similarity - thus Mars the hunter rules birds of prey and Saturn as a large heavy planet rules lead. Sign rulership is nothing to do with analogy or similarity. Imagine the zodiac as a round table. The King (Sun) sits in Leo (high Summer in the Northern hemisphere). At his right hand sits the Queen of Heaven (the Moon) in Cancer. The two signs adjacent are Virgo, next to Leo and Gemini next to Cancer - these are the rulerships of Mercury. The next two signs to either side are Libra and Taurus Libra makes a sextile aspect to Leo and Taurus a sextile aspect to Cancer - these are the signs of Venus, the lesser benefic. Moving round one sign in either direction we come to Scorpio (which squares Leo) and Aries (which squares Cancer) these are the signs of Mars the lesser malefic.

Moving round by a sign in either direction we come to Sagittarius which trines Leo and Pisces which trines Cancer. These two are the signs of Jupiter the greater benefic and lastly we have Aquarius which opposes Leo and Capricorn which opposes Cancer - these are the signs of Saturn, the greater malefic. Note that the malefics cast oppositions and square from their signs, the benefics cast trines and sextiles. The system gives symmetry to a planets signs in terms of aspects to the signs of the Sun and Moon respectively.

A final thought which came to me when preparing this section, is that Uranus, Neptune, asteroids, etc are capable of receiving light, even if they can't reflect it, so there might still be a role for them (though a passive one LOL)
Top   #4
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The Signs

The planets have very similar meanings in Traditional Astrology to their modern meanings, the main difference being that they are less 'psychological' and more 'physical'. However Lilly, Morin or Bonatti would have no difficulty understanding modern usage.

However if you went up to Lilly, or the others and said 'what sign are you?' they would not understand the question. The nearest they might get is to think that you are talking about the Ascendant but without further information, they would not know what response you were looking for.

That is because the turn of the (twentieth) century Astrologer, Alan Leo completely rewrote sign meanings - mainly to shift Astrology to a 'character' assessment art and to avoid prosecution under the Witchcraft Acts. In the latter case he was not successful but almost single handedly he turned Astrology away from it's traditional method and scope and left Natal Astrology as virtually the only widely practised branch.

Modern Astrology sees the 12 signs as character profiles, and often in this forum we have people saying they are 'typical Cancers' or alternatively are 'Gemini' but don't fit the profile. It is so ingrained into modern Astrology that even those of us following a traditional route find it difficult to avoid.

In the tradition signs provide the modifying descriptions to the planets. I won't go through all twelve, which would be excessively boring but to give you a flavour here is Lilly's description of Scorpio:

'A cold, watery, nocturnal, phlegmatic, feminine sign, of the watery triplicity, fixed and north, the house and joy of Mars. feminine it doth represent subtle, deceitful men.'

He then goes on to consider the diseases related to Scorpio, mainly relating to the 'private' parts. Then he looks at the places represented such as 'places where all sorts of creeping beasts use, such as be without wings and are poisonous' gardens, orchards, vineyards, ruinous houses, muddy moorish grounds and stinking lakes.

He then turns his attention to physical description of people, - 'a corpulent, strong, able body, somewhat broad or square face, a dusky, muddy complexion and sad, dark hair. a hairy body somewhat bow legged, short neck.

Finally he turns his attention to countries and cities, such as the 'woody part of Norway', 'Catalonia in Spain' Valencia and Vienna.

These descriptions would be used selectively depending on what Mars was signifying in a chart. If Mars were the Ascendant ruler in a nativity then the physical description would be used (with some modification depending on Mars zodiacal state and placement). If Mars is the significator of land in a horary where Scorpio is on the IC, then the description of the land would be taken from the above description of places.

Note the reference to diseases - up till the eighteenth Century, Astrology was also a 'medical' art and doctors were trained in Astrology. The signs would also be used to identify body parts relating to a signficator - for once there's no difficulty for modern Astrologers in guessing the main parts of the body described by Scorpio.

Just as now, signs were grouped in Triplicities (three signs each for Fire, Air, Earth and Water) but much more weight was given to Triplicity than in Modern Astrology and Triplicity rulers were used in much of Astrology. Indeed in Hellenistic times it appears that for some Astrologers Triplicity rulers were the main rulers in a chart. There is not complete agreement on the Triplicity rulerships and several systems can be found. Some use three planets, a day ruler, a night ruler and a 'comon ruler' who supports the others. Ptlolemy only used two rulers and Lilly follows that approach. In the case of the Watery Triplicity, Mars rules both by Day and Night for Lilly but the Fire Triplicity is ruled by the Sun during the Day and Jupiter at Night. For Air it is Saturn during the Day and Mercury by Night and for Earth it is Venus during the Day and the Moon by Night.

The other feature which sharply differentiates Traditional Astrology is the sub division of Signs. Modern Astrologers have some recognition of the decantes or faces but make little use of them. For the Traditional Astrologer these were more important but even more important still were the bounds or terms. These are unequal divisions of signs into 5-7 degree portions and there are 5 to each sign. It's not certain how they originated but Term rulers had a status just below Triplicity rulers. According to the Ptolemaic tradition, as used by Lilly, either Saturn or Mars ruled the last term of each sign - which adds an 'unfortunate' overtone to being born in the last degrees of a sign (as I was).

The final characteristic of Signs, which I will mention at this stage is the Exaltations of the planets. It's not clear where these originated, especially as there are precise degrees of signs attached to the exaltation (though by Lilly's time these seem to have fallen into disuse). Some theories relate exaltation to the helical rising of the planets (their first appearance in the sky after combustion) but it's worth noting that the exaltations of the outer planets relate to the Cardinal points - Indeed if we use the Chaldean or Babylonian order from Saturn as the furthest, through Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury and Moon (nearest) - the exaltations of the first four are in the cardinal signs - Saturn in Libra, Jupiter in Cancer, Mars in Capricorn and Sun in Aries. Of the remaining three planets, Venus is exalted in Pisces, Mercury in Virgo and the Moon in Taurus.

Exaltations are given much more importance in traditional Astrology than in Modern. It seems that the exaltations are from an older part of the tradition than Sign rulerships and may well have been considered as the most important form of dignity for quite some time.

The signs were also often referred to as the Houses of the planets, thus Scorpio is Mars' Domicile by Night. We often stress that Houses and Signs are not the same thing and that is certainly true of the practise of Astrology for much of the last two thousand years but there is a link and I'll talk about that in the next post.

The main concept to grasp here is that Signs for the traditional Astrologer are nothing like the modern signs - they are not 12 personality descriptions and should not be treated as such.
Top   #5
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I've tried reading more about traditional / classical approaches in astrology but it's an area where few books are available and the ones that exist are often written in a style that is a little "hard to digest". I have the book "Classical Astrology for Modern Living" by Lee Lehman but found it difficult to apply the methods to my own chart and / or if I applied them I didn't really see any "results". The arabic parts (are they part of traditional astrology?) are something I found interesting and have noticed their effects in my own chart.
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Minderwiz  Minderwiz is offline
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I agree with you on much of that. What is missing is a good introductory textbook that is understandable and readable by beginners (both to traditional methods and indeed to Astrology as a whole).

There are a lot of good books but I don't know of a really comprehensive one, apart from those traditional texts themselves, (which are difficult because of the arcane language) which does the job well. For the first part of this thread I've used Lilly's Christian Astrology and one or two other traditional texts but I wouldn't suggest starting with them.

For a reasonable introduction to the flavour of Traditional Astrology, you might try John Frawley's 'The Real Astrology' A textbook on horary Astrology is also a reasonable starter - John Frawley has one, so has Lee Lehman and there's a very good introductory one by Antony Louis. Avoid the one by Barbara Dunn, which is the most recent but is badly written and has a number of proof reading errors. It is a useful reference book IF you've read Frawley or Lehman or Louis or indeed all three.
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The last part of the traditional introduction to Astrology is to look at Houses. After this we can get down to some real Astrology LOL

When I first took up Astrology in the late 1960s, using a free supplement from a monthly magazine, I learned the standard newbie approach of equal houses. In those days there were no PCs or even pocket calculators so casting the chart was a fairly wearisome procedure just to get to calculating an Ascendant. The standard message, then and indeed now, was that the Equal House system was fine for 'baby' Astrologers but that 'grown up' Astrologers used a 'proper' system such as Placidus.

The invention of the PC and Astrological software presents the user with a bewildering array of House systems including the 'kindergarten' Equal House System. So which should you use?

The most common House system in current use is Placidus, which takes it's name from the Seventeenth Century monk and scholar, Placidus de Titis. Indeed the large majority of House Systems date back far enough to be classified as 'traditional'.

Now for some heresy. There is absolutely no reason why Equal Houses won't work for virtually all Astrology and no reason to suppose that any of the other systems are any better UNLESS you use Primary Directions (or something very similar) as part of your methods.

Early Astrology as practised by the Babylonians and Egyptians did not use House systems and didn't suffer too much for it. One thing that they did do was establish a focus on the rising and setting of planets and this presumably led to the establishing of the Ascendant as an important place. An Astrological chart requires two things, a reference point for measurement and a measuring scale to plot planetary (and other) positions relative to the reference point. The Ascendant provided a reference point and the joined up 12 sign zodiac provided the measuring scale.

Such a chart doesn't really require anything else to function for Astrological analysis. For example if the Ascendant is 15 degrees of Gemini and Mercury is at 12 degrees of Aquarius, then Mercury not only rules the Ascendant but aspects it and is thus very strong.

The creation of houses or places measured from the Ascendant appears to be a Greek invention. Indeed the word 'horoscope' comes from the Greek horoskopos and originally meant the Ascendant itself and then by extension to the first place or house. The Greeks developed a system of whole sign houses, so in the above example the WHOLE of Gemini would be the first place (or house), the whole of Cancer the second and so on. Such a system is said to have the disadvantage that the MC could be anywhere from the eighth to the eleventh house but as the properties of the tenth House are not necessarily properties of the MC, does it really matter?

The Greeks also used other House systems which operated in a similar way but had different reference points - House systems could be and were based on the Lot of Fortune and other lots. Again these were whole sign houses. The point is that a House system does not have to have the Ascendant as the marker for it's first House.

Sometime before Ptolemy a method of forecasting began to be developed which eventually became Primary Directions (it was actually known as simply Directions till well after the Seventeenth Century, when Placidus created the system we now call Secondary Progressions). Primary Directions are based on the Primary motion of the Earth - the cycle of Day and Night. The prediction was based on the time it took a natal planet to move from it's natal position to the natal position of another planet, house cusp or point. For example I was born with Mars at 12 degrees Leo with an Ascendant of 23 degrees Leo (so Mars is above the horizon). I have the North Node at 24 degrees of Taurus. The North Node is fortunate so something good should be associated with Mars reaching that position, taken from it's natal position forward in diurnal motion (against the order of signs). Primary Directions are based on the idea that one degree of arc = one year of life. Simple arithmetic would suggest that Mars has to travel 78 degrees to reach the equivalent place in the sky that the North Node occupied at my time of birth. That would be therefore in my 78th year.

However things are not that simple - some degrees of the zodiac move faster than others (Cancer through to Sagittarius inclusive are signs of 'long ascension, often taking well over 2 hours to ascend. Capricorn through to Gemini inclusive can ascend very quickly, sometimes in less than an hour) To add to the complexity the ecliptic is not parallel with the equator, it is inclinded to it. Add to that the issue of the latitude of birth and the maths become very complex. As primaries make use of house cusps and the MC, a house system for primaries requires the MC to be the cusp of the tenth and that the other house cusps 'fit' to the observed movement of the planets at the relevant latitude. This gave rise to various quadrant house systems, from Porphyry through to Placidus. For the Greeks the original purpose of this approach was to determine the length of life but increasingly it became used for forecasting other things. The various systems also began to be used for basic natal and other work, even if forecasts were not needed.

The meanings of the Houses has change little since Hellenistic times, despite some modern attempts to make the twelfth House a nice place by claiming that it is of the nature of Pisces and ruled by that nice spiritual planet Neptune (oddly the proponents of this are unwilling to see the twelfth as a drug den for exactly the same reason of rulership.)

For those wanting a good run down of the Houses, Deb Houlding's book is available on line at

We'll look at the house meanings in more detail when I do some charts but I think we have enough of the ideas to actually put them into practice.
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Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and knowledge. It isn't falling on deaf ears.
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Minderwiz  Minderwiz is offline
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Originally Posted by AJ
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and knowledge. It isn't falling on deaf ears.
Thanks - it's good to know that there are people following the thread!
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