Category Archives: Beginners

Twelve Easy Lessons for Beginners | 5. Regards (Whole Sign Aspects) and Planetary Combination

But since the variety of the impulses of the soul is great, it stands to reason that we would make such an inquiry in no simple or offhand manner, but by means of many complicated observations. For indeed the differences between the signs which contain Mercury and the moon, or the planets that dominate them, can contribute much to the character of the soul [,,,]

Ptolemy from the Tetrabiblos (Robbins trans., 1940, III.13, cam. p. 154)


This post is part of a series of lessons on the basics of horoscopic astrology as practiced on this site and by astrologers in about its first 1,000 years.  As such, it is highly recommended that the reader review the previous posts in the series before proceeding. This post presupposes knowledge of the information in the other posts, as well as familiarity with matters one was instructed to study in the previous posts (such as zodiac and planetary glyphs).  The first post introduced the history of astrology and the significance of the planets.  The second post introduced free astrology charting software, as well as the horizon and meridian and the role that they play in planetary prominence.  The third post introduced various other important planetary prominence considerations. The fourth post is most critical to this discussion as it introduced the signs of the zodiac, their rulers, some features of the signs, and the strong relationship that signs of the same quadruplicity have with each other (i.e. “stakes”).  In this post we look at the most basic types of planetary relationships, which are those which pertain according to sign relationships, including the main forms of planetary rulership, as well as regards (also known as whole sign aspects).

Planets Influencing Other Planets

In the first three posts of the series we focused on planets and their significations, looking for ways in which their significations can become more or less prominent in characterizing life circumstances. In the last post, we considered that signs also further characterize matters.  Signs do this through their own features as well as the nature of their rulers.   Now we consider that planets are themselves in signs, and those signs are ruled by other planets, and may also be occupied by other planets. Therefore, in astrology the significations of any planet are further characterized by its relationship with other planets.  In life, different areas of life are not neatly separate, but interact in interesting ways that differ from person to person, as well as over the course of life. The way that planets influence the significations of other planets (and “places”, the topic of the next post), helps to characterize the nuances and variety of experience.  Different planets will play more prominent roles in influencing the significations of any planet in any particular chart, and while many planets may influence the significations, timing techniques help us determine when different planets more dominantly characterize what is being signified. Therefore, both the breadth and depth of particular influences on the signification of a planet are important. Considering all of the influences alerts us to the broad possibilities of signification that are possible, allowing us to see what can get highlighted when different points become activated by timing techniques. Considering the deepest or strongest influences helps us to understand the “status quo” or the more commonly recurring themes that crop up in relation to whatever is being symbolized.

The two primary ways that planets influence the symbolism of other planets is through rulership and aspect. We dealt with some of the important types of rulership in the last post on signs, and here will flesh out the other important types of rulership.  The aspectual system of ancient astrology has some more advanced features, but the foundation of the aspectual system is whole sign aspects, called regards.  These regards are crucially based on planetary rulership relationships and a sight metaphor. After discussing the forms of planetary rulership, we will delve into the basis of the regards and how the system works.

Ptolemy’s Predominator

The main types of rulership (house or domicile, exaltation, triplicity, and bound), as well as planetary regards, are fundamental parts of astrological theory, used by all the major ancient astrologers.  Even Ptolemy (2nd century CE), who made almost no use of places or houses for analyzing topics (houses/places will be addressed in the next post), and who sought physics-based ways to explain astrology, relied heavily upon rulership and regard. Ptolemy was known to analyze areas of life based on the planet or planets which were most relevant given their natural significations.  For instance, as in the opening quote of this post, if we wanted to analyze someone’s psychology then we’d look at Mercury for the rationale mind, and the Moon for the irrational (what we might term the unconscious today).  In order to look at planets that “dominate” the rational mind, we would look at 5 key relationships other planets have with Mercury:

1. House/domicile lord (i.e. sign ruler of the sign the Moon is in).

2. Exaltation lord (i.e. planet exalted in the sign it is in).

3. Main triplicity lord (i.e. ruler of the element of the sign it is in).

4. Bound/term lord (i.e. ruler of the part of the sign it is in; addressed next).

5. Planetary regards (i.e. planets in signs that make whole sign aspects to the Moon).

As Ptolemy puts it (note that in this passage a word was translated as “trine” in this 1940 translation but is more accurately “triplicity”, as in triplicity lord):
In general the mode of domination is considered as falling under these five forms: when it is trine, house, exaltation, term, and phase or aspect; that is, whenever the place in question is related in one or several or all of these ways to the star that is to be the ruler. (Ptolemy, Robbins trans., 1940, II.2, p. 109)

The house lord, exaltation lord, and triplicity lord were introduced in the last post.

Bounds or Terms

The bounds or terms are divisions of each sign into 5 segments, each ruled by a different one of the non-luminary planets.  In other words, each sign is a house of one planet, and each house is broken into 5 rooms which are ruled by each planet excepting the Sun and Moon.  These “bounds” are unequal divisions of the signs and the rationale behind the way the signs are divided into them has been lost to history.  Some authors (including Ptolemy) proposed multiple systems of dividing the signs into bounds, but by far the most wide-spread and the oldest (see this article on pre-Hellenistic evidence for bounds), are the Egyptian bounds.

Project Hindsight provides a convenient rulership tables PDF which includes the Egyptian bounds and other types of rulers.  If I’m online and need to look up bounds quickly, I typically prefer to check the Altair Astrology page for his article on bounds, as it has a very easy-to-read table of the Egyptian bounds. Additionally, the bounds are displayed in almost all charts on this site, as I use the Valens software which allows one to view the bounds within the chart.

Let’s look at an example chart (Whitney Houston, AA-rated) and determine the rulers of a few planets.

Whitney Houston's Natal Chart

Whitney Houston’s Natal Chart

The Sun and Venus: 

The Sun and Venus are in the same bound of the same sign, so they have all of the same rulers.

House: The Sun.  The Sun and Venus are in Leo, which is the house of the Sun.  A planet being in one of its own places of rulership is re-inforcing to the significations of the planet, so is a type of planetary prominence or strength (in this case for the Sun).

Exaltation: None. There is no exaltation lord for Leo.

Triplicity: Jupiter.  She was born at night, and the triplicity lord of fire signs (of which Leo is one) at night is Jupiter.

Bound: Saturn. Both the Sun and Venus are in the bound ruled by Saturn.

The Moon and Jupiter:

These two planets also have the same rulers as they are found in the same bound of the same sign.

House: Mars. Mars is the house lord of Aries.

Exaltation: The Sun. The Sun is the exaltation lord of Aries.

Triplicity: Jupiter. Jupiter is the triplicity lord of fire signs by night.

Bound: Mercury. Mercury is the bound lord of both planets.


For now, this is just an exercise in identifying the rulers.  I will discuss how they can be used later in the post.

Regards and How They Relate to the House Rulers

Planets that are in the same sign together are particularly influential upon each other and they are said to be “with” each other, or sometimes said to be “conjunct”.  This is the most powerful type of regard or aspect, but it is often not specifically called a “regard” or “aspect” because the planets are literally in the same place, rather than “seeing” each other.  In the ancient texts, it is more commonly referred to as two planets “with” each other than “conjunct” each other, as the term conjunction is often used for close aspects by degree (to be dealt with in a future post), whether they are between two planets in the same place (bodily conjunction/joining) or between two planets aspecting each other (aspectual conjunction/joining).  I will continue this trend here, referring to planets in the same sign as “with” each other.  For instance, the Sun and Venus are with each other in Whitney Houston’s chart, as both are in Leo. In this way their significations are very strongly tied together.

There are 4 additional aspects between planets, and these are based on a visual metaphor.  Examine the diagram of planetary domiciles/houses below (image attribution: Meredith Garstin commons).  Also, see the diagram on The Astrology Dictionary’s entry on “aspect”.

Domicile Rulers

Opposition: Note that the domiciles of Saturn (Capricorn and Aquarius) are opposite those of the Sun and Moon (Leo and Cancer).  Signs that are opposite each other are said to be in opposition and the relationship can be one of challenge, limitation, or obstruction, much akin to the nature of Saturn. The 7th sign from any sign is opposed to that sign.

Square: Note that each of the domiciles of Mars (Aries and Scorpio) are at a 90 degree angle from the domiciles of one of the lights (Sun or Moon).  This relationship is called a “square”  as the shape of a square is composed of right angles (or “quartile” as the signs are 90 degrees apart which is a quarter of the zodiac), and it is a relationship which be one of intensity, competition, and clash, much akin to the nature of Mars. The 4th and 10th (i.e. 4th backwards) sign from any sign is square to that sign.

Trine: Note that each of the domiciles of Jupiter (Sagittarius and Pisces) are at a 120 degree angle from the domiciles of one of the lights (Sun or Moon).  This relationship is called a “trine” as there are always three signs which trine each other (i.e. those of the same triplicity) and together their trines form a triangle. The relationship is one of friendship, strong harmony, and opportunity, much akin to the nature of Jupiter. The 5th and 9th (i.e. 5th backwards) sign from any sign is trine to that sign.

Sextile: Note that each of the domiciles of Venus (Taurus and Libra) are at a 60 degree angle from the domiciles of one of the lights (Sun or Moon).  This relationship is called a sextile as it is composed of two signs 60 degrees apart (60 degrees is a 1/6th of the zodiac).  The relationship is one of complement, much akin to the nature of Venus. The 3rd and 11th  (i.e. 3rd backwards) sign from any sign is sextile to that sign.

Read how Ptolemy describes the 4 aspects in Ch. 13 of Book I “Of the Aspects of the Signs” by clicking into this link, though note that Ptolemy partially sought a physical explanation for astrological phenomena, that the nature of the aspects are derived from musical harmony rather than planetary rulership relationships.  He partially sought an explanation based on sign features also, but he erroneously stated that signs in opposition and square/quartile are less harmonious due to being of opposite sex, when in fact only the square involves signs of opposite sex.

Signs that are not in one of the above 4 relationships with each other are said to be “not in concord”, “disjunct”, “inconjunct”, or “alien”.  As Serapio of Alexandra put it, “Not in concord are those that are in no way aspecting each other” (Holden trans., 2009, p. 61).  Though some astrologers, including Ptolemy and Porphyry, considered planets not to be disjunct if they have some other type of sign sympathy (see my post on sign symmetry for some of these types of sympathy). In any case, planets may be said to regard (as in see) those signs that they aspect, while those that are not aspected are not as directly influential as they are akin to being out of sight.  The signs that are not in aspect are the 2nd, 6th, 8th, and 12th from any sign. This concept of areas out of sight is important, as we’ll see, in the next post on places, that ancient astrologers associated those signs that the rising sign can’t see with topics in life that tend to be the most problematic for people (and often called them the “dark” or “bad” places/houses).  This is because the rising sign symbolized the individual person and the signs that they can’t see are akin to more “alien” influences.

Overcoming and Domination

When looking at combinations of planetary symbolism through regards, we should also take into account which planet has the upper hand in characterizing the relationship.  Sometimes astrologers do this by seeing which planet is more re-inforced in the sense that it is in a spot where it has some rulership of its own position (such as the Sun when the Sun and Venus are together in Leo, as Leo is the house of the Sun).  However, in Hellenistic astrology this was often done by looking at which planet was to the right (or clockwise from the other planet) in the relationship.  Planets normally progress forward through the zodiac, so the planet in an earlier position zodiacally (i.e. to the right or clockwise) is figuratively behind the other planet, putting the other planet in a more vulnerable position.  I refer to the planet on the right as “overcoming” the planet on the left.  This concept was used with greatest prevalence for the “square” aspect, in which the planet on the right was said to “overpower” (Dorotheus) or “predominate”/”dominate” (Porphyry).

And the [star] that is in the tenth sign is said to be predominant and to prevail over the one in the fourth [sign from it], e.g. the star that chances to be in Libra is dominant over the one in Capricorn, and the one in Capricorn is dominant over the one in Aries.

(Porphyry, Holden trans., 2009, Ch. 20, p. 17)

The concept is used less for the trine and sextile but is still important and is mentioned by some astrologers as “overcoming” or “prevailing”.  See the Porphyry quote below regard prevailing as applying to the trine, square, and sextile, whereas in the quote above he defines predominating as a special type of prevailing involving the square.  It may be that the distinction is most relevant for the square because of the Mars-like nature of the aspect, as it is helpful to know what is dominant when planets are in a relationship of conflict.

Every star prevails when it is posited in a dexter trine or square or sextile to one on its left, for that one goes toward it. For example, one that is in Capricorn prevails over one in trine aspect in Taurus […]  They say that prevailing is more powerful when [the planets] are in trine or square. For the prevailing star is thus stronger […].

(Porphyry, Holden trans., 2009, Ch. 21, p. 17)

So far, we see that planets on the right side are more influential in the aspect relationship, and that this is most important for the square, where the planet “dominates”, and then next most important for the trine, and even less important for the sextile.  The concept is not used at all for the opposition.  At least for one Hellenistic astrologer, Serapio of Alexander, the concept was important for planets with each other in the same sign as well (see quote below).  Therefore, I will generally refer to the planet on the right as “overcoming” whether they are “with”, square, trine, or sextile, and may occasionally use the term “dominates” for the one on the right in a square aspect to signify the increased importance.

whenever two stars are present in the same sign, and the one having fewer degrees prevails over the one having more degrees, e.g., the star of Mercury in Aries around the 10th degree, that of Saturn in the same sign around the 25th degree–it is evident that the [star] of Mercury prevails over that of Saturn by degrees.

(Serapio, Holden trans., 2009, p. 63)

Putting Things Together

Let’s combine a number of things covered in this post and the last in analyzing the “irrational mind” through the Moon in the chart of Jeffrey Dahmer (AA-rated), using some of the pointer given to us by Ptolemy pertaining to planets that bear the greatest significance in terms of the Moon’s symbolism, due to their influence by rulership and regard.

Jeffrey Dahmer's Natal Chart
Jeffrey Dahmer’s Natal Chart

The Moon is at 19 degrees Aries, which is the bound of Mercury, the house of Mars, the exaltation of the Sun, and the triplicity of the Sun.  From looking at aspects we find that Mars is the most influential of all these rulers as Mars is “with” the Moon in the same sign, and is also of an earlier degree (“overcoming”) and reinforced by being in its own house.  Jupiter and Saturn regard the Moon by square from the right side, so they “dominate” the Moon.  The Sun and Mercury regard the Moon by sextile, but they are in the weaker position (the Moon overcomes them). Of the two planets that dominate the Moon, neither has any form of rulership, but Saturn dominates most closely, being at 17 Capricorn while the Moon is at 19 Aries, and Saturn is in its own house, so Saturn is more influential of the two (between Jupiter and Saturn).  In fact, Saturn is the last planet the Moon aspected, so it is the planet that the Moon separates from, which is a very significant planet in Hellenistic astrology (the separation and application of the Moon are important planets for assessing psychology in Hellenistic astrology and are also noted by Ptolemy in that section as something to investigate).

Therefore, by close examination of the Moon we find that Mars as the most direct and strong influence over its symbolism (irrational mind subject to violence, turmoil, or anxiety) as it both has rulership and is tied together with it in a strong way, then Saturn and the Sun, with Saturn dominating the Moon closely and representing its separation (think of the symbolism of Saturn pertaining to death, as well as darkness).  The Sun has multiple forms of rulership as well as a weak sextile aspect.  The Sun and its symbolism of fame, accomplishment, exposure, father, truth, recognition, authorities, and so forth may also then relate strongly to the Moon’s symbolism in multiple ways, though the Moon may be said to prevail over the Sun.

Note that in the modern period, those rediscovering the techniques of Ptolemy often apply the predomination technique using rulership and regard in a mechanical fashion that fails to take into account the varying influence of different types of regards and the way that multiple planets can be relevant in different ways.  Typically, a point is given to each planet for each type of rulership and regard that it has over the planet (or point) being considered.  For example, if we were looking at just the Moon, as we have, then we’d give the Sun 3 points (exaltation, triplicity, regard by sextile), Mars 2 points (house, with in the same sign), and Saturn, Jupiter, and Mercury one point (regard).  Ptolemy advised to look at the planet or planets that predominate over Mercury and the Moon, so we combine the points for both to get one planet (or more in the case of a tie) that we assess as being the predominator over the mind or soul in general (i.e. a significator for the person’s soul).  This reflects the later medieval approach, as the Ptolemaic predomination technique came to be one of finding a predominator (almuten, al-mubtazz, “winner”) according to what type of rulership or combination of rulerships a planet had over a position, with different types of rulership given different amounts of points.  Both approaches fail to account for the fact that a planet “with” another planet or closely dominating another planet may have a much strong influence over a planet than one that it is just its triplicity and exaltation ruler. I’ve provided some critiques of this approach in the past.

Understanding both the breadth and depth of planetary influence over the symbolism of the Moon, will provide much more important information about the irrational mind of someone than finding a single planet that you can say represents the person’s soul due to it having the most points over Mercury and the Moon in some mechanical operation of adding rulership and regards, giving them all equal standing.  For instance, Mars has the strongest and most constant influence on the Moon in Dahmer’s chart, serving to strongly characterize the nature of what the Moon signifies due to their being so strongly tied together, with modifications from the features of Aries (fire sign; cardinal). Saturn represents a conflicting and challenging influence on the irrational mind, with Saturn able to “dominate” it with its significations, again emphasizing the cardinal feature as Saturn is in a cardinal sign (see the last post on sign features).  The Sun’s symbolism then relates to the irrational mind in a way that is less directly impacting the nature of the irrational mind itself, but important nonetheless.


In this post we we looked at ways in which planetary influences combine to yield more complicated symbolism.  The interpretation of planetary and sign combinations is very difficult and is one reason why astrological prediction of fine particulars is probably impossible.  Ancient astrologers would devote large portions of texts to giving some examples of possible indications from each combination of planets in the same sign, combinations of planets in each type of aspect, rulership scenarios, and so forth, often with extreme examples, so that one would stay open-minded to the range of possibilities.  I advise the reader to study some of these (some texts are available free, including translations of Ptolemy, Valens, and Maternus; see the first post of the series for some sources of these), and to look at one’s own chart and think about what sorts of possibilities could be symbolized as well as which possibilities appear more dominant.

In the next post, we tie some of these significations to certain specific areas of life, as we explore the main strategy of assigning life topics to signs, called the “places” (they are called “houses” in modern astrology).

The fact that Ptolemy used the Moon to symbolize the irrational mind was brought up strategically in this post.  Modern astrologers often assume that ancient astrology had nothing to say about one’s psychology and that instead it was just about trying to predict things that would happen to a person.  Ptolemy’s treatment of the Moon and Mercury as relating to rational and irrational aspects of the mind or soul, written in the 2nd century CE, shows that not only did ancient astrologers concern themselves with psychology (despite it not being called psychology at that time) but probably had a more sophisticated tool set at their disposal for symbolizing the nature of influences and disturbances upon the mind than found in modern psychological astrology.



Porphyry, & Serapio. (2009). Porphyry the Philosopher. (J. H. Holden, Trans.). Tempe, AZ: American Federation of Astrologers.

Ptolemy, C. (1940). Ptolemy: Tetrabiblos. (F. E. Robbins, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library. Retrieved from

Image Attributions

Source for Featured Image of Eye: By derivative work: Laitr Keiows (talk) Iris_-_left_eye_of_a_girl.jpg: Laitr Keiows (Iris_-_left_eye_of_a_girl.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Source for Planetary Domiciles Image: “Fig.3 Planetary Domiciles” by Meredith Garstin commons – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Biopic Shorts | Karl Marx

I recently read a couple books on Karl Marx and found that his chart very vividly reflected his life.  In my own personal opinion Marx was a great economist who is too often overlooked and helped to inspire many important positive changes in labor conditions and the regulation of business.  Drawing on Hegelian dialectics, while critiquing its spiritual aspects, his “dialectical materialism” helped to expose inherent contradictions in competitive enterprise that could lead to its necessary dissolution or transcendence, such as competition itself fostering economies of scale and mechanisms of cohersion that result in anti-competitive monopolies.

While the importance of his analyses is often overlooked, being buried under propagandistic hype and his being scape-goated for the abuse of his ideas by those in power (with a focus on Stalin without a similar critique of the mass genocide in the U.S. and other such atrocities committed to help pave the way for liberal enterprise), he also seemed to be a bit unsure of his own theoretical and pragmatic stances, very frequently reversing positions, often pardoxically, but then perhaps in a way that may be expected of someone whose philosophy was so strongly based in dialectics.  He was adamant about philosophy being used to transform the world rather than just to think about, but in that there is something propagandistic, as if the need to transform to what one feels is just or right is a priori and then the philosophy can work to justify that.  For all his urgings for transformation, he was known to advocate revolution and then do an about-face and oppose revolutionary action, and was an ardent critic of revolutionaries and “Marxists” in his own day.  He exhibited a rebellious zeal against capitalist powers but was from a wealthy bourgeois background, recklessly spent his ample allowance given to him from his friend Engels (from Engel’s family industry) even speculating in stocks for a time with his wife retaining her baroness title and them both keeping on a housekeeper, and while advocating ardently for the working class he refused to stoop down to labor work himself and seems to have been a somewhat irresponsible, with 4 of his 7 children dying in childhood in part from very poor living conditions despite his receiving more than a typical clerk’s salary in regular money from Engels, and with him possibly fathering a child with his housekeeper, and constantly avoiding paying his bills/rent. All in all, I found him to be a good-humored somewhat selfish, impulsive, and irresponsible person, though one with a strong sense of social justice and a keen mind for abstract economic analysis.  His most mature work, taken up late in life, is the three volume Capital, which is also known to be terse and somewhat prone to ambiguity.

I’d like to take a look at his chart, with an eye toward teaching the basics of chart interpretation in the ancient, original (as in first horoscopic astrology), manner of Hellenistic astrology, which differs greatly from that of modern astrology.

A Little Background in Chart Reading

The horoscope, or astrological chart, is named for the horoskopos, the point where the Sun rises on the horizon (i.e. intersection of local horizon and ecliptic plane), which is the most important point of the chart as it localizes the arrangement of the heavens to a specific time and place (with a change of about 1 degree of the 360 degrees of ecliptic space about every 4 minutes of regular clock time, i.e. 360 degrees in 24 hours).  This rising point is sometimes conceptualized as like the helm of a ship.  I often conceptualize it as being the point where sky, which is distant, evocative, abstract ratio-oriented (rational), seemingly infinite, and full of lights, being akin to the soul or mind-stuff of our reality, is seen to reveal itself, to stream out or peer out from the Earth, which is close, finite, solid, and manifest, being akin to the body of our reality.  While in modern astrology the Sun particularly, and to a lesser extent the Moon and other planets, are seen to be representative of the self, it is this point that represents the self in ancient astrology, and with much clearer analogical reasoning.  Likewise, in ancient astrology the Sun represents power, vibrancy, rule, egoism, and stuff of that sort, rather than “the ego” of an individual, allowing for the possibility that someone is more or less solar in temprement and life situation, and for the Sun to take on greater or lesser significance in relation to the individual depending on its relationship with those things that signify the self in the chart.  This allows for a much greater ability to capture life’s complexities in the chart and move further away from the over-generalization and stereotyping so commonplace in the popular astrology of today.

The chart as a whole is oriented to the horoskopos or Ascendant, representative of the self, with the rest of the circle signifying its circumstances.  The Ascendant lies in a specific degree of a specific sign of the tropical zodiac, and each sign is the “house” of a planet in the sense that some planet is in a sense evoked in connection with matters of the house and has some responsibility for them.  In addition, the signs are divided into “room-like” divisions called bounds which are also under the dominion of specific planets, and there are additional rulerships related to specific signs and houses, and the planets themselves have certain affinities for specific matters directly, called their natural rulerships.  Finally, there are certain derivative points which are used to gather further indications of various matters.  In this way, there is in any natal chart a number of planets and other factors that are relevant to any specific matter, and each has its own relations to other topics and tendencies toward pleasant/unpleasant and prominent/backgrounded effects.  Reading a natal chart helps to clarify the most prominent indications and gives you a very rich and complex jumble of possibilities, while timing techniques help to focus things by showing which planets are more active at a given time in relation to different things and to modify their indications in important ways.

To learn more about the basics of Hellenistic astrology, check out my (unfinished) series on basics and consider taking the Hellenistic astrology course offered by Chris Brennan which is affordable and is a great springboard into direct readings of translated texts from the first thousand years of horoscopic astrology (roughly the first millennium CE).  The rest of this post will illustrate some chart reading with Marx’s chart.

The Natal Chart of Karl Marx

The Ascendant is the point most symbolic of the individual in the chart and it shifts by an entire zodiacal degree about every 4 minutes of regular clock time, so horoscopic astrology is missing the most important symbolic ingredient when the birth time is unknown or inaccurate.  Thankfully, the birth time of Karl Marx is from his official birth record, so we have good reason to believe that it is very accurate (given a Rodden Rating of AA for accuracy on AstroDatabank).  He was born at night with 23 Aquarius rising.  Aquarius is the day house of Saturn, and is a fixed air sign, fixed signs being known for tenacity/focus/steadfastness, and air signs associated with the humanities and movement, and having Mercury, planet of movement, rationality, and commerce, as its primary triplicity ruler by night.  The Ascendant is in the bound of Mars, planet of aggression and inflammation.  The twelfth-part of the Ascendant (not shown) is at 6 Scorpio, the night house of Mars, a fixed water sign, with water signs being ruled by Mars at night (principle triplicity ruler), and in the bound of Mars, while in the 10th house of the chart, which is that of heights, achievement, authority, and rule.

Natal Chart of Karl Marx (CTRL+Click to enlarge)

The rulers of the Ascendant and 1st House inform us of the particular importance of Saturn, Mercury, and Mars in relation to studying Marx, but rulers of the 1st House are not the only factors of relevance to the self in ancient astrology.  Planets in the 1st, and those aspecting or “regarding” the 1st, particularly in more influential ways are very relevant, as is Mercury because of its special significations of rationality, and prominent planets for being influential, including the Sun and Moon which are naturally prominent.  There are also certain lots (derived points) which many astrologers (e.g. Vettius Valens) considered very important for particular matters of personality and character, but here I will try to stick just to the seven planets.  One important distinction often made is that the 1st house has more relevance to the body/temperament, as does the Moon, while the ruler of the 1st house has more relevance to the mind/direction, as does Mercury (and the Sun).

With an air sign rising, Saturn and Mercury will be important by default, but they are made even more important here by the fact that Saturn rules the house itself and Mercury is the primary triplicity ruler while also in his own house and bound (Mercury is in Gemini in its Mercury bound, in an air sign by night, so there is a sense of great reinforcement to Mercury which makes it more prominent).  There are no planets in the 1st house, and while the Sun, Moon, Venus, and Mercury all regard the 1st house, they do so from an inferior position so I don’t consider their influence to be particularly pronounced.  The Sun and Moon, while prominent, are in the house of family and origins (the 4th), being particularly relevant in relation to the parents, and are in the bound of Mercury further signifying Mercury’s importance in the life.  Mercury is also in phasis (crossing under the beams of the Sun within 7 days of birth, another mark of planetary prominence).  Mars provides noteworthy indications for the self but these are more covert.  Therefore, an astrological analysis of Karl Marx’s life and character should focus upon Saturn and Mercury in the chart, rather than on his Sun and Moon in Taurus as might be done in a modern analysis.  This makes good sense as Saturn is the planet of doubt, loss, fear, constriction, critique, poverty, and imprisonment, while Mercury is the planet of commerce, movement, theory, writing, and all forms of rational analysis.  Also, as was noted in my series on the charts of atheists, an identification with air, Saturn, and Mercury is rather characteristic of a rational worldview tending towards physicalism and materialism with a particular doubtful disdain for spiritual and mystical elements (Marx was irreligious and critical by sympathetic to religion, seeing it as serving a function for the oppressed but also as deluded).  We see many of the typical marks of an atheist chart, with Jupiter even being in the 12th house, in fall, stationing retrograde, and opposed by the malefic Mars (with Mars in “domination” over the 9th).

Saturn, besides being a key point of identification for Marx, is also one of the “loudest” planets in the chart, as it is the planet most advancing, being about 20 degrees from rising.  In this sense, Saturn has a sort of general prominence and persistence in the life, shedding something like a dark cloud over it with Saturn’s natural significations of doubt, negativity, death, loss, poverty, and stern cold authoritativeness.  Saturn is a complex planet in the chart.  Most noteworthy, Saturn is in the 2nd house of the chart which is that of money matters, directing Marx persistently into this sphere of life.  The 2nd house is directly impacted by its occupant Saturn, some indications of which can be poverty, loss of capital, obstructed capital, money worries, and criticism or challenges to wealth and possessions.  Here it is Marx who identifies in some ways with being the Saturn in the house of money, and coincidentally feeling a need to consistently challenge and critique those with the means of production was one of the most persistent and certain things he identified with in his life, even before his philosophical thought and analysis was well-developed.  The 2nd house itself is buried deep in paradox, akin to his own monetary paradoxes in his life, being from a wealthy background, choosing to live in poverty, while at the same time constantly begging for money from his friend, receiving money in generous amounts, and eschewing his responsibilities with money.

The 2nd house is Pisces, a water sign, which can connect it with emotional and familial ties, while a mutable sign which tends to signify fluctuations between two poles and possibly multiple sources of income (for much of Marx’s life he was receiving income from writing articles and from Engels, the bulk from Engels).  That both Saturn and Mercury are in mutable, or double-bodied, signs, would also signify a certain back-and-forth quality to his manner of thinking which would make him prone to reversals/flip-flops, and would likely be related to the great appeal that dialectical theories held for him.  The 2nd house, while mainly and most directly impacted by Saturn, is then ruled by Jupiter (and Saturn is in the bound of Jupiter), with Jupiter overcoming and actually connected with Saturn (aspecting within 3 degrees), while Jupiter is in a bad place (that of the “bad spirit” pertaining to negative social and mental afflictions, such as poverty and imprisonment) and is itself ruled by Saturn, creating a bit of a bounce back between Saturn and Jupiter, the planet of constriction, poverty, and doubt (Saturn), with that of expansion, wealth, and belief (Jupiter), with Saturn holding this upper-hand in this strong association and being the planet Marx identifies with more strongly.  In any case, Jupiter’s role there does add some indication of aid and luck connected with money matters (and Jupiter rules the 11th of friends, in addition to the 2nd of money, connecting the two), but overall there is the sense of such wealth going sour. Saturn is additionally out of sect, which tends to increase Saturn’s tendency toward malice, such that we are to expect Saturn to have much more vitriol in the darkness of its many significations, including those in relation to money, such that the doubt is deeper, the negative associations more intense, the difficult events connected with Saturn more painful (though again, Saturn is very mixed, so we see a difference depending on the timing of activations, with Jupiter’s activations providing more beneficent connections with Saturn abating the general difficulty signified). Finally, the twelfth-part of Saturn (not pictured), is in the 8th house of death, together with the twelfth-part of the Moon, a significator of physicality and mothering, emphasizing Saturn’s association with actual deaths, which no doubt had a big impact on Marx.

Mercury in Marx’s chart is in the 5th house which is that associated with pleasures, performance, and children.  I have personally found that a strong association of Mercury with the 5th connects with someone and the person in the chart shows someone who is involved with writing/oration/analysis as a pleasurable pursuit or “art”/”sport”.  Mercury in the sign, bound, and triplicity of Mercury, in an air sign, with Marx having an identification with Mercury, also shows an identification cleverness, intellectuality, and a bit of the trickster or even con man (enjoyment in deceiving people by mental means), as Mercury’s quick and elusive nature is very much ramped up, such that you would expect a Mercury that will do anything to avoid being to narrowly defined or pinpointed (though Mercury in Gemini was not considered good for the intellect in ancient astrology, as it is a wandering mind and prone to unpredictability and anger – while he was a middling student, unpredictable, provocative, frequently in trouble, flip-flopping, and prone to misinterpretation, there were also some additional significations in the chart for depth of thought).  The identification with Mercury shows an overall preoccupation with the world of thought, ideas, and communications.  In addition to the connections with wordy or commerce-oriented art, the 5th house is showing something of the close connection with his children too, and that such is likely to be playful and to inspire intellectualism in them.  Mercury is a duplicitous planet, and is here in a duplicitous sign, which can signify many children, and may also pertain to the possible fathering of a child with his housekeeper (two women).  Although the relationship indications in his chart show steadfast focus on one partner, with Venus, the 7th, the Moon, and all their rulers in fixed signs.  While Mercury is rather neutral (here, in sect and in a good place so tending to associate with more pleasant occurrences in the life), the 5th house is also dominated by the out of sect Saturn, which is one of the important connections between children and death that is in the chart.

Mars is very important too, and when identified with shows a certain domineering competitiveness and desire to get rowdy and stir up trouble.  Marx was an avid drinker and smoker from his teenage years and was very frequently in trouble with the law, to a notorious degree.  Additionally, the twelfth-part of his Mars is in the 2nd house, possibly showing a desire to irk those with money and to damage others’ property, all things he was known to do.  Mars is in sect in the chart, so some of its inflammatory tendencies are tempered and can be channeled productively, but its location in the 6th house of illness and maintenance (and labor?), ruled by the Moon (who pertains to physicality among other things) can indicate bothersome difficulties with accidents and disease, particularly of an inflammatory nature.  Its position in the 6th and his identification with it may also have had something to do with his identification with workers, as the 6th is traditionally a house of servants, and workers are the servants of the industrial infrastructure.  Its location in the bound of Jupiter and dominating the 9th house connect it in an incendiary way with spiritual belief, one of many indications of his ardent atheism.

I hope you enjoyed this brief look at the natal chart of Karl Marx and I hope it leads you into further fruitful explorations of ancient astrology.  – ant

Planets | Venus in Picnic at Hanging Rock

I recently had the pleasure of seeing two of Peter Weir’s beautiful early films.  Weir is an Australian director who is probably best known today for “Dead Poet’s Society” and “The Truman Show”.  His film “The Last Wave” is an apocalyptic thriller involving aboriginal lore which I caught on the solstice.  That film didn’t grab my interest until halfway through but was much loved by its finale.  “The Last Wave” prompted me to watch “Picnic at Hanging Garden”, an earlier film of Weir’s.  The visually stunning images from the cover and booklet art particularly lured me in.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the film more and more to be an exploration of the Venusian mysteries.

The main events of the film take place on Valentine’s day, starting with beautiful girls in white flowing and lacy outfits preparing at the college, with valentines, poetry, romantic intrigue between two of the girls, and numerous object of beauty.  Most of them go on a trip to a million year old volcanic formation called Hanging Rock with their mannerisms and speech brimming with feminine mystery, intriguing two boys picnicking nearby.  The rock causes the watch to stop of one of their head mistresses, who believes it is due to magnetic disturbance.  Another lady, glancing at a book of Botticelli paintings (opened to Venus) says something strange about the main figure of intrigue, Miranda, calling her a “Botticelli angel”, while the three girls follow Miranda up and up the rock, until 3 of them are barefoot climbing higher and unresponsive to the heavy unattractive one of them who freaks out and screams running down from the rock.

That is where the mystery truly begins, as the girls in some sort of sexual excitement  trot up the rock and truly disappear.  I would rather not give away all the plot points, but needless to say there are other points of contact with Venus and much to be appreciated in this film.  The beauty, sensuality, romanticism, mystery, and incommensurability showcased in the film all lead me to conclude that it is one of the most Venusian pieces of cinema to have ever been made.  Those looking for a taste of the essence of Venus, look no further than “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and its Venusian savior, Miranda.

Twelve Easy Lessons for Absolute Beginners | 4. Signs and Stakes

So far in this series I’ve discussed a bit about the origins of astrology and the significations of the planets in the first installment, and then elaborated upon the material on planets by introducing some of the most important methods for evaluating planetary prominence in the second and third installments.  A discussion of the signs of the zodiac, which figure so prominently in modern astrology, has been put off until this point in order to stress the more focused significations of the planets.  In this post I introduce the signs, in part by discussing their features and how they relate to the stars (sidereal) and the seasons (tropical).  I boldly assert that the most commonly used features of the signs in ancient astrology stem directly from the tropical cycle, while the sidereal features play a much more minor part.  After the discussion of the signs, I point out that there are 4 signs in a given chart that refer to the most important personal matters. Notable astrology scholar and translator, Benjamin Dykes, Ph.D., has translated these as the “stakes”.

Signs in Modern Astrology

It is often claimed by scientists and skeptics that astrology has been discredited or even disproven.  However, nearly every test of astrology by the scientific community has been a test of Sun sign astrology and the related newspaper horoscopes (not to be confused with the original sense of “horoscope”, from “horoskopos” meaning “hour marker”, to refer to the Ascendant, and later to refer to chart drawings).

It is perhaps ironic that the newspaper Sun sign blurbs are called “horoscopes”, as the term “horoscope” initially referred to the Ascendant, or hour-marker, which changed about every two hours and was regarded in ancient astrology as symbolic of the individual person.  In other words, in ancient astrology the most significant sign in the chart for the person was the Ascendant which is a factor of location, time of day, and time of year, rather than the sign of the Sun which changes monthly.  You can have a completely different Ascendant sign from someone born in the same hospital, sometimes just 5 minutes later (if you were born near the end of the sign), or totally different from someone born at the same time as you in a different part of the country, or totally different from someone born at the same time of day at a different point in the year.  Additionally, ancient astrologers also utilized the twelfth-parts, which are twelfths of the sign that project into other signs, with the twelfth-part Ascendant changing about every 10 minutes of clock time.  It is amazing that ancient astrologers used the sign of the Ascendant, which changes very rapidly, to symbolize the person in the chart, while modern Sun sign astrologers attribute so much of the personality to a sign that one shares with anyone else born in the same twelfth of the year.

The Sun was not symbolic of the personal ego or personality center in ancient astrology.  In fact, in many ancient astrologers’ techniques for personality delineation, the Sun plays a minor role or is absent altogether.  The faster moving Ascendant, Moon, and Mercury played a greater role (for instance click here to see what Ptolemy advised looking at for examining “the quality of the soul”).  Even then signs were used a bit differently and the signs were not always as significant as other facets of the planetary condition.  In the chart, we can examine the Ascendant, symbolic of the person in the chart, interacting with the Sun, symbolic of power, exposure, leadership, and brilliance, without forcing the Sun to symbolize the person or their ego in some mechanical and generic fashion.

Signs are Not Constellations

You may recall a sensational news story all over the internet in the last year about a 13th sign of the zodiac, suggesting that you may have a “new Sun sign”.  This was the work of an astronomer who was trying to draw some criticism of astrology for its supposed lack of logic.  The idea was that the today there are 13 constellations that fall on the ecliptic (path of the Earth around the Sun, or from the vantage point of the Earth it is the path of the Sun around the Earth).  By this astronomer’s logic, since the Sun passes through 13 constellations, not 12 as in ancient times, there are 13 signs.  However, he made the mistake of confusing constellations for signs.  His mistake has fostered such widespread ignorance regarding the difference between sign and constellation that even the Wikipedia entry for the constellation that was the so-called 13th sign has had to address this difference.

Constellations are special groupings of stars.  They have been used in astrology for many thousands of years.  For instance, the twelve zodiacal constellations have varying dates of origin, with Taurus likely having the earliest origins in Mesopotamia.  The twelve constellations on the ecliptic were then regularized into “signs” sometime before 600 BCE by the Babylonians.  Signs, unlike constellations, were all equal in size, at exactly 30 degrees each, while constellations dramatically varied in size.  The signs were mathematical divisions of the sky into a coordinate system to precisely measure the travel of the planets along the path of the ecliptic.  Not long after the signs were introduced, the concept of divisions of each sign into twelve micro-signs was also introduced, making the twelfth-parts of the signs nearly as old as the signs themselves.  Both signs and twelfth-parts are mathematical in nature and not to be confused with the constellations with which they share names.  Stars and constellations were also used in ancient astrology, and some astrologers, such as Manilius and Ptolemy,  used the constellations and the stars within them, even extra-zodiacal constellations (such as the so-called thirteenth “sign”, Ophiucus) to provide additional significations.

Signs as Feature Bundles

In my discussion of Advancement, I noted the nearly universal importance of planetary alignments with the local horizon (Ascendant/Descendant) and local meridian / culmination point (MC) among ancient cultures, as well as how the most important of such alignments were those on the days of the equinoxes and solstices.  The equinoxes and solstices are important points in the Sun-Earth cycle that cause important seasonal transitions in the year.  The equinoxes are the days when the day and the night are of equal length, while the solstices are the days of the longest day or longest night, and these days take on these features by virtue of the extent to which the northern hemisphere of the Earth is inclined toward or away from the Sun (i.e. the points where the Sun appears to travel farthest north in the tropic of Cancer as summer solstice, farthest south in the tropic of Capricorn as winter solstice, crossing the equator toward the north at spring equinox, and crossing the equator toward the south at autumnal equinox).   At the advent of Hellenistic astrology in the last couple centuries before the start of the first millennium, the signs of the zodiac overlaid the constellations but the zodiac also started with the sign Aries, as the beginning of that sign was marked by the spring equinox.

The zodiac is essentially a circle with no beginning or end, but the sign of Aries was considered to sort of kick things off as it signaled the transition to spring in the northern hemisphere.  Horoscopic astrology has a bias for understanding the signs in terms of the northern hemisphere due to originating in that hemisphere.  While some find this bias disquieting, it is indeed the case that the northern hemisphere is the dominant hemisphere when it comes to human affairs, accounting as it does for more than two-thirds of the habitable land on earth, and upon which about 90% of the human population lives.

The signs of the zodiac take on astrological significance by way of a conglomeration of various features.  Some of these features, in fact the most important ones used in Hellenistic and Persian astrology, are based upon the seasonal cycles.  Others were based upon associations with the images of the constellations and the significations of the stars.  In the centuries that followed the advent of Hellenistic astrology it also migrated to India, where it completely transformed the astral lore of the subcontinent (see Yavanajataka).  As centuries go by, something interesting happens to the relationship between the seasons and the stars.  Due to what’s called the precession of the equinoxes, the equinoxes slowly shift backwards across the backdrop of the constellations at the rate of about 1 degree every 72 years.  Therefore, in astrology it becomes necessary to choose whether the features of the constellations or the features of the seasons as marked by the equinoxes/solstices are more essential to the astrological nature of the signs.  The famous natural philosopher and Hellenistic astrologer, Claudius Ptolemy, of the second century CE, asserted that the signs of the zodiac should be defined by the equinoxes and solstices, so that they always overlaid the same seasonal and light/dark relationships, and this is now known as the Tropical Zodiac.  In India, the trend of defining the zodiac by way of a reference star prevailed (today it is usually Spica marking the beginning of Libra), which ensured that the signs always overlaid the same constellations, known as the Sidereal Zodiac.

Today the choice of two zodiacs has caused quite a stir, with astrologers in the west often choosing the Tropical Zodiac simply because they are western and those in Indian choosing the Sidereal Zodiac simply because they are Indian.  Arguments made for the Tropical Zodiac typically include the readily apparent affect that the Sun’s passage through that zodiac has on life on earth as exemplified in the seasons.  Arguments made for the Sidereal Zodiac typically include the fact that its signs still overlay the constellations for which the signs are named, so locations in it more accurately correspond to actual positions relative to stars in the sky than those of the tropical zodiac.

My opinion is that the debate is wrongly framed.  In ancient astrology the signs are defined by bundles of various features.  One of the most important features is that of the planetary rulers assigned to the signs.  This feature is almost certainly tropical in origin, as the Lights (Sun and Moon) are assigned the signs of summer in the northern hemisphere (Cancer for the Moon and Leo for the Sun, corresponding to the period of time from about June 21st to August 21st) while Saturn, the lord of darkness and cold, is assigned to the signs opposite, which are those of coldest winter in the northern hemisphere (Capricorn and Aquarius, corresponding to the period of time from about December 21st to February 20th).  These rulerships originated with the signs, not the constellations, and are clearly related to the seasons, therefore tied intimately to the tropical zodiac.  Hellenistic authors like Porphyry explicitly note that the rulerships of the Lights were related to the northern-ness of those signs.  These rulerships don’t make as much sense by a sidereal understanding, as the sidereal zodiac is not tied to the seasons.

It is possible that the sidereal zodiac is more appropriate for some purposes in astrology than the tropical zodiac.  Since the signs signify in terms of their features in ancient astrology it will be very instructive for us to divide the most important of such features into two types, those which are derived from the tropical cycle and those which are derived from the constellational and sidereal cycle.  As you’ll see, the tropical zodiac is the appropriate zodiac for the most commonly used types of significations in ancient Hellenistic and Persian astrology, but there are many significations which appear to be sidereal in origin begging the question as to whether we perhaps should use two zodiacs, one for signifying the tropical features and another for signifying the sidereal ones.

Tropical Sign Features

Domicile and Exaltation Rulerships

By far, the most important sign feature that appears to be tropical in origin is that of sign rulership. These are rather systematic, with the signs of the Sun and Moon adjacent to each other and marking the peak of summer, while each of the other 5 planets get two signs each straddling those of the Sun and Moon based on planetary speed, such that those of Saturn are opposite those of the Lights. Note: if you are unfamiliar with the glyphs of the signs and the planets, you should take a couple days to familiarize yourself with them before continuing (you can find flashcards for planetary glyphs, helpful mnemonics for signs, and there’s more help here with a video).  In the image below (image attribution: Meredith Garstin commons), you can see that the Moon rules Cancer, the Sun rules Leo, then Mercury which is the fastest of the 5 other planets, rules Gemini and Virgo, which are the signs on either side of those of the Sun and Moon, while Venus, the next fastest, rules Taurus and Libra, the signs on either side of those of Mercury, Mars rules Aries and Scorpio which are on either side of those of Venus, Jupiter rules Pisces and Sagittarius which are on either side of those of Mars, and Saturn rules Aquarius and Capricorn which are on either side of those of Jupiter as well as opposite the signs of the Lights.

Domicile Rulers

These signs are known as the houses or domiciles of their rulers.  For instance, if the sign rising when someone was born was Cancer, then Cancer would be considered the 1st House, and the Moon, ruler of Cancer, would be the ruler of this 1st House. The ruler is viewed as a sort of owner and major player in affairs pertaining to the 1st House.  Similarly, the next sign to rise, Leo, would be the 2nd House, with its ruler, the Sun, as the ruler or lord of the 2nd House, and so on in the order of the rising of the signs in a chart.

Each of the planets also has a sign that is said to be its exaltation or kingdom. The motivation for that form of rulership is not as clear, but also appears to be based on tropical considerations.  The Sun and Moon come to be associated with the signs of spring in the northern hemisphere in that assignment, and the exaltations seem to center upon the signs of the equinoxes and solstices (the Sun is exalted in the sign of the spring equinox while the exaltations of the Moon and Venus straddle that sign; Saturn is exalted in the sign of the autumnal equinox while Mercury is exalted in a sign that straddles that sign; Jupiter is exalted in the sign of the summer solstice; Mars is exalted in the sign of the winter solstice).  I will enumerate the exaltations here: Aries is the exaltation of the Sun, Taurus is the exaltation of the Moon, Virgo is the exaltation of Mercury, Pisces is the exaltation of Venus, Capricorn is the exaltation of Mars, Cancer is the exaltation of Jupiter, and Libra is the exaltation of Saturn.  The exaltation would be a house where the planet is given more power and freedom to act.  The sign opposite a planet’s exaltation was called its fall or descension and was considered a place where a planet is more encumbered or downtrodden in its significations.  Some astrologers use a similar concept for the signs opposite a planet’s domicile, calling them the “detriment” of the planet, but this concept of detriment does not figure into Hellenistic astrology and its methods as a distinct concept.  Some astrologers also assign point values to the different forms of rulership, a practice started by a medieval Persian astrologer, but I find this to be more misleading than useful and strongly advise against the practice.

Quadruplicity and Stakes

Quadruplicity is a fancy word for a grouping of four signs.  These are signs related in a cross pattern in the chart and such signs are said to be each other’s “stakes” as well (more on “stakes” below).  This very important concept creates three types of features, each one assigned to signs that form a cross pattern.  These features are tropical in nature, as they divide each season into 3 parts, a beginning, middle, and end, with distinct features.

The cardinal signs, which are also called the changeable, moveable, or tropical/equinoctial signs, are those which start with an equinox or solstice.  They mark a turning in the direction of the season, and thus a bold step in a new direction.  As such cardinal signs are associated with frequent change (and repetition), bold and fast initiation, but not necessarily depth nor staying power.  For instance, Mercury in a cardinal sign was considered good for oratory ability, as cardinal signs signify quickness and bold projection.  The cardinal signs are Aries (0 Aries is the point of the spring or vernal equinox), Cancer (0 Cancer is the point of the summer solstice), Libra (0 Libra is the point of the autumnal equinox), and Capricorn (0 Capricorn is the point of the winter solstice).

Each cardinal sign is followed by a fixed sign, which are also called the solid signs.  These are the signs in which the heart or depth of the season occurs and things are most stabilized.  The fixed signs are associated with steadiness, staying power, slowness, thoroughness, and depth.  They are the signs which Dorotheus (1st century CE) recommended emphasizing in choosing times for general important endeavors because they signified carrying things to completion and making them last.  Mercury in these signs was thought to signify depth in thought and possible writing ability. The fixed signs are Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius.

Each fixed sign is then followed by a mutable sign, which are also called the common or twin signs.  These signs are said to participate in two seasons, mixing some of the season that is drawing to a close with intimations of the coming season.  For this reason they are dualistic and signify complication, confusion, exchange, and mediation.  In electional astrology they were believed to signify a need for additional conditions to be met (i.e. things getting more complected).  Mercury in these signs was thought to be a bad indication for intellect as they are unstable, providing little confidence and direction, while making one prone to confusion and frustration.  The mutable signs are Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces.

The signs of the same quadruplicity as the rising sign are known as the stakes, angles, or pivots of the chart.  These are the most important houses of the chart, and their topics are the cornerstones to the life.  Ben Dykes, Ph.D. explained his preference for “stakes” as a translation of “kentra”, the Greek term of these places, as they operate to fix the sky (signs) to a location, in the same manner that stakes are used to fasten a tent.  The stakes of a birth chart include the rising sign, which is the 1st House, pertaining to the self, body, and skill, as well as the 10th House, pertaining to mastery, bosses, and recognition, the 7th House, pertaining to partners and marriage, and the 4th House, pertaining to family, land, and origins.  Planets in the stakes of a birth chart have a type of prominence, in that they have a strong influence upon the person, as they are in the house of an important area of life and strongly regard the Ascendant, either by co-presence, square, or opposition.  Similarly, a planet can be in the stake of another planet, point, or place simply by being in a sign of the same quadruplicity as that planet, point, or place.

Let’s examine the stakes of a birth chart, and the stakes of important planets in the chart:


Barack Obama has the sign of Aquarius rising, which is a fixed sign.  The fixed signs are Aquarius, Scorpio, Leo, and Taurus.  Barack has Jupiter in Aquarius, the 1st House.  He also has the Sun and Mercury in Leo.  Therefore, Jupiter, the Sun, and Mercury are in the stakes of the chart and are directly operative in particularly important areas of life.  He has Aquarius rising, which is ruled by Saturn.  Saturn is in Capricorn which is a cardinal sign.  Other cardinal signs include Cancer, Libra, and Aries.  Only Venus is also in a cardinal sign, Cancer, so she is in one of the stakes of Saturn’s position.

Triplicity and Elemental Lords

Triplicity (the triangles), is similar to quadruplicity, but signifies groupings of three signs.  There are 4 groups of signs that are in triangular relationships to each other (i.e. that are trine each other).  Today these 4 groups are identified by the elements: Fire, Earth, Air, and Water.  However, originally the triplicities were not associated with the elements in early Hellenistic astrology, but with the winds and directions.  However, here I will label them by element as is commonly done. As there are three signs in each triplicity, it so happens that each one has one cardinal sign, one fixed sign, and one mutable sign in the group.

The triangles are also associated with another system of rulership, called the triplicity rulers. Each triangular set of signs is associated with one planetary ruler by day, another by night, and a third which is a lesser participant.

The Fire triplicity has Aries as its cardinal sign, Leo as its fixed sign, and Sagittarius as its mutable sign, and it is a Masculine and Diurnal (day) triplicity, ruled by the Sun by day, and by Jupiter by night, with Saturn participating. The Fire triplicity is particularly associated with power and leadership.  The Persians associated these signs with the east because their cardinal sign is Aries which is to the right of the northernmost sign, Cancer.

The Earth triplicity has Capricorn as its cardinal sign, Taurus as its fixed sign, and Virgo as its mutable sign, and it is a Feminine and Nocturnal (night) triplicity, ruled by the Moon by night, and by Venus by day, with Mars participating.  The Earth triplicity is particularly associated with the working of the land.  The Persians associated these signs with the south because Capricorn marked the winter solstice which was the point when the Sun reached its farthest southern point (i.e. the Sun was overhead at Noon at the farthest point of the tropic of Capricorn).

The Air triplicity has Libra as its cardinal sign, Aquarius as its fixed sign, and Gemini as its mutable sign, and it is a Masculine and Diurnal (day) triplicity, ruled by Saturn by day, by Mercury by night, with Jupiter participating. The Air triplicity is particularly associated with culture and movement. The Persians associated these signs with the west because their cardinal sign, Libra, is right of the southernmost sign, Capricorn.

The Water triplicity has Cancer as its cardinal sign, Scorpio as its fixed sign, and Pisces as its mutable sign, and it is a Feminine and Nocturnal (night) triplicity, ruled by Mars by night, by Venus by day, with the Moon participating.  The Water triplicity is particularly associated with all things water.  The Persians associated these signs with the south because Cancer marks the summer solstice which is the point when the Sun is at its southernmost declination.

Let’s look at an example of rulership, quadruplicity, stakes, and triplicity in a chart:


Bill Clinton has the sign of Libra rising, so Libra is the 1st House, which is that of the self.  The stakes of the chart are cardinal, and they are Libra (1st House), Cancer (10th House), Aries (7th House), and Capricorn (4th House), but only Libra is occupied. You’ll notice that he has Mars, Venus, and Jupiter all advancing in the 1st House, with Mars particularly prominent right on the Ascendant.  Therefore, we expect him to have a very Mars-y life, one that is in a sense quite combative, competitive, and requiring a lot of toughness.  Also, we generally expect Mars, Venus, and Jupiter to directly signify in relation to more important matters in the life, as they are in one of the stakes of the chart.  The Ascendant, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter are all in a sign ruled by Venus, so we expect the self to be strongly influenced by aesthetics and sexuality, especially with Venus in the actual 1st House.  Venus and Mars are out of sect and Mars, as a malefic, could potential create some trouble in relation to Venusian matters in a combative sense.  His initial aspirations to be a professional musician are also very clearly shown by the prominence of Venus and her rulership of the 1st.  Libra is a cardinal sign, so we expect a bolder and more expressive character and for the actions of the planets in the 1st House to make their more important expressions in terms of bold, quick, dramatically sweeping changes in circumstances.  The 1st House is an air sign, so we might expect the self and the planets in the1st to have a strong connection with thought and movement.  Finally, Clinton was born during the day and Libra is both the exaltation of Saturn and the triplicity of Saturn by day, so we expect Saturn to have some influence over 1st House matters as well.  Saturn is in Leo, a fixed, fire sign, signifying steadfastness (fixed) and leadership (fire), and Saturn is with the Sun, which rules the sign Leo and rules the fire triplicity by day, so the solar influence (which is of power, exposure, prominence) is very strong.  Saturn is also with Mercury, planet of intellect.

As you can see, some of the most important significations of signs come down to domicile, exaltation, triplicity, and quadruplicity, all of which are concepts related particularly to the tropical cycle.

Other Tropical Features

There are a great many additional features of signs that are tropical in origin but of less importance.  For instance, signs of short and long ascension which was an important consideration in choosing times for actions according to Dorotheus.  Also, there were many sign relationships which pertained to mirror relationships between signs and degrees across the points of the equinoxes and solstices, which I’ve addressed in a past post.  Additionally, the Persians spoke of the southern signs (Libra thru Pisces) as being cold while the northern signs (Aries thru Virgo) were hot, with both the directions and the temperatures being a reference to the tropical cycle. Further the signs were divided up into season quarters, the spring signs (Aries, Taurus, Gemini) being hot, moist, infant-like, and sanguine; the summer signs (Cancer, Leo, Virgo) were hot, dry, young, and choleric; the fall signs (Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius) were cold, dry, middle-aged, and melancholic; the winter signs (Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces) were cold, moist, elderly, and phlegmatic.  These features of the signs are more minor and are not used as commonly as those cited in the previous section.

Main Sidereal Features

Image Associations

The Greek word for sign, zoidion, meant image or species, and some of the features of the signs are in fact direct associations with the species of thing that is imaged by the corresponding constellation.  For instance, Dorotheus noted that an eclipse in Aries would likely affect sheep, one in Sagittarius would affect horses, and so forth. Additionally, there are some sign classifications that pertain to these imaged species of things, such as calling some signs four-footed, others lacking a voice (because they image animals lacking a voice), and some rational (because they include an image of a person).  While these sign associations are used less often than rulership, quadruplicity, and triplicity, they are important to some techniques and can provide a very fruitful source for gathering further significations.  I believe it is an open question as to whether the sidereal zodiac (or even the constellations themselves) would be a more appropriate zodiac to use for ascertaining such associations.

Star Cluster Delineations

There is much material in Hellenistic astrology where certain segments and degrees of signs are given distinct significations.  Often in these delineations, stars, and segments of constellations are explicitly named.  Such delineations are prominent in many Hellenistic authors, including Valens, Ptolemy, and Maternus.  However, very little has been done to revive the use of such material.  It would seem that this material is truly sidereal in origin and that the sidereal zodiac is probably the more appropriate zodiac to use for these delineations of special groups of degrees.  An important division of each zodiacal sign into 5 unequal divisions ruled by each of the non-Light planets, called bounds, has its origins with the Babylonians (the so-called Egyptian bounds) and no clear link with star clusters has been proposed, so while the origins and motivation for the bounds is not entirely clear, they don’t appear to be a sidereal concept. However, the decans, which are divisions of the signs into thirds, actually originated with the Egyptians and was based on the rising of 36 star clusters, so they also appear to be predominantly sidereal in origin.  Similarly, the mansions of the Moon, which are commonly used in India but have been largely neglected in the west in practice, are clearly associated with star clusters and are probably not appropriate for use with the tropical zodiac.


In conclusion, both the tropical and the sidereal zodiacs have their own motivations.  While we are primarily concerned with significations that are tropical in nature, the western astrologer may be missing out on the correct source of a big chunk of significations in Hellenistic astrology by refusal to also use the sidereal zodiac where it is best suited, for image associations and delineations of degrees and clusters based on the stars and constellations.  Perhaps one day we will come to find some happy synthesis in the use of both zodiacs but in those domains where they are most appropriate.

This has been a long lesson, and may need to be re-read a couple times before fully grasped.  In this lesson we gained a few new tools which can be applied right away to charts.  You now know how to find the ruler of a sign.  The Ascendant, or rising sign, is particularly symbolic of the person, so you may want to take a look at the sign of the Ascendant, and that of the Moon, in various charts, and to pick apart the possible significations based on the features of the signs, as well as to look at which planets are in the Ascendant and those that are with the Moon.  Also, take a look at the ruler of the Ascendant.  The ruler was typically considered to pertain more to the spirit and direction of the person while the Ascendant itself pertained more to the body and its temperament.  Examine the nature of the ruler and how that is affected by the significations of the sign.  Now you have an additional planetary prominence consideration, that of a planet being in the stakes.  Think about how a planet in a stake may impact a person. Even a planet that is not prominent in a general way may have a very strong influence over important matters in the person’s life by virtue of being in a stake.  In such cases you’ll find the influence of the planet more focused in those areas of life, and less pervasive and broad in its significations.

Have fun!

Twelve Easy Lessons for Absolute Beginners | 3. General Prominence

And the changing of the planets must be understood, which has five parts: the first, if [a planet] were in the second or first station.  The second, while it is being hidden from the Sun or goes out from being hidden […]    (Abu Ma’shar, The Abbreviation of the Introduction to Astrology, Book IV, 34-36, Dykes trans., 2010, p. 233)

In the last two posts I introduced a little bit about the history of astrology, the basic significations of the planets, how to pull up charts for free on the internet, and how to judge planetary prominence by “advancement”. Please read the first two posts in this series and familiarize yourself with a few charts and the techniques before proceeding.  The first post can be accessed by clicking here, and the second by clicking here.

In this post, the main objective is to gain an understanding of some planetary prominence considerations that are powerful, immediate, and don’t depend on theoretical concepts of sign, house, or aspect.  Along the way, there will be a little bit of review.


Astrologers of the Perso-Arabic period, such as Abu Ma’shar and al-Qabisi, explicitly distinguished matters that would make a planet signify more or less prominently (i.e. strength) from matters that would make a planet signify pleasant or unpleasant things (i.e. beneficence), and these from the nature and quality of that being signified (i.e. types).  These are very important distinctions and it is too often the case that one or more of these distinctions is missing in an astrological system or that they are mixed together such that the sign a planet is in plays too much of a role determining all three.

In modern astrology there tends to be a strong focus on the type or quality of the signification, and the factor that tends to be stressed is the zodiacal sign in which a planet is located.  For instance, one might assert that Venus, signifying the love nature, when in Scorpio makes for an intense, passionate, reactive/jealous, and/or secretive sexuality.  On the other hand, in many, if not most, traditional astrological circles today there is a strong emphasis on use of the zodiacal sign for strength considerations, and often beneficence too.  For instance, Venus, signifying young women, the arts, sexuality, and marriage, when in Scorpio might be considered in her detriment, and thus her ability to bring about successful relationships might be hampered (poor strength), or her ability to bring about the matters signified by the houses she rules or topics she is given responsibility for in the chart (poor strength), and some astrologers would even say that because of the so-called detriment she tends to signify bad quality women or relationships, such as malicious women, sexual problems, or misfortune through the arts (negative beneficence). All in all, most people with exposure to either modern psychological astrology or late traditional astrology tend to get in the habit of thinking in terms of planets in signs.

The signs are rather abstract divisions of the sky and I believe that too much emphasis has been placed on the signs especially when it comes to strength and beneficence considerations.  I will introduce the signs of the zodiac in the next lesson, while in this lesson I would like to focus on some additional significations of planetary prominence in a chart.  As with advancement, discussed in the previous lesson, these factors don’t depend on a zodiac, a house system, or a system of planetary aspects.  They have a greater sense of immediacy than such concepts, and are in my opinion the three most important factors for what I call “general prominence”.

General Prominence

Ancient authors tend to lump together many factors for prominence and follow-thru, simply noting that they pertain to strength.  In my own experience I’ve had to separate out some of these strength factors as pertaining at least to general prominence (loud or noteworthy in signification in the life), personal prominence (influential over key areas of the life such as the character), and follow-thru (stability or instability of what is signified).  In this way, it becomes possible for a planet to be strong in one sense but not in another, such as having a person who is constantly surrounded by artists and artistic events (Venus generally prominent), who is an intellectual (Mercury personally prominent), whose relationships tend to start out strong and significant but to lack staying power (Venus or relationship significators with weak follow-thru).  Additionally, for predictive purposes I’ve found it to be very important that the range or variance of a planet’s indications are looked at, in addition to the central tendency.  For instance, a planet might be generally strong in one sense, such as strongly advancing, and generally weak in another, such as stationing retrograde.  In such a case I would likely judge the planet to be centrally prominent due to having a major prominence indication but for the fall from prominence to be triggered by times when a retrograde station of the planet was highlighted. There will be more on this in future lessons, but the main idea is that a life is lengthy and complex, so reading a natal chart is about taking inventory of central tendency and the degree of variance, not making absolutist proclamations.

The three most basic indications of general prominence that I look at are:

  1. Advancement – Covered in the last lesson.  These are the approaching alignments of a planet with a location as they happen 4 times each day.
  2. Stations – This is when a planet appears to stop and reverse its direction of travel relative to the stars as observed from Earth.  They mark out days when a planet is particularly prominent with the frequency varying according to which planet is being looked at.
  3. Phasis or Appearance, also Combust and Cazimi – This is when a planet appears for the last time in the sky before traveling too close to the Sun (“under the beams”) to observe or appears for the first time after emerging from the beams.  This also marks out days of planetary prominence which vary in frequency depending on the planet.


Spend a little time reading astrological chit-chat on the internet and you will surely encounter the term “retrograde” and a whole lot of commotion whenever Mercury is retrograde.  In the last lesson we looked at planets moving clockwise around the chart, where they rise on the left side of the chart, culminate at top, set on the right side, and anti-culminate at the bottom.  This is the “primary motion” of the planets and stars caused by the Earth’s daily 24-hour rotation cycle.  However, the planets move in the opposite direction through the sky against the backdrop of the stars (through the signs of the zodiac) very near to the same path followed by the Sun (at least as we see it from Earth).  The path is called the ecliptic (think “eclipse”), and the motion of each planet going slowly counter-clockwise around the chart, from west to east, each at its own pace, is called the “secondary motion” of the planets.

The secondary motion of the planets the same motion that you would study in high school astronomy class when you observed the Earth and other planets traveling around the Sun, but we study it in astrology from the position of the observer, on Earth, as astrology is oriented to the observer and the Earth as the center of the frame (a Geo System), rather than taking as its focus maximum theoretical elegance as is the case in astronomy where an external abstract point is the center of reference with regard to the system, the barycenter or center of mass of the solar system, which tends to reside within the Sun but up to about a solar radii outside of its surface at times (due to the massive gravitational pull of Jupiter), yielding a Solar System.  Using the Sun as a frame of reference the planets run their circuits around it, never reversing direction.  However, from the vantage point of the Earth, planets farther out from the Sun appear to stop and move backwards while being overtaken by the Earth as seen in the video below.

Similarly, planets closer to the Sun (i.e. Mercury and Venus) appear to move backwards when on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth, as seen in the video below.  The retrogradation is the backwards loop that appears to be traced in the sky when Venus is opposite the Sun from Earth.

Here is one more video in which you can see a real time-lapsed video of Saturn moving retrograde against the stars and then a good look at the way that the 2nd century astrologer Ptolemy modeled these motions using the Earth as a static frame of reference and adding a second cycle called the epicycle that would account for the retrogradation and allow astrologers to better predict its occurrence and planetary position.

You can read more about the mechanics of apparent retrograde motion and the frequency with which the planets are retrograde in the Wikipedia article on “Apparent retrograde motion“.

Ancient astrologers attached a lot of importance to the points where a planet appears to stop and change directions, which were called the “stations” of the planets.  The “first station”, or “retrograde” station, was when the planet appeared to move backwards, and in Hellenistic and Perso-Arabic astrology was considered to signify a weakening of that planet’s own significations.  The “second station”, or “direct” station, was when the planet appeared to move forward again after a period of retrogradation, and was considered to signify a strengthening of the planet’s own significations.

In the introductory works by Abu Ma’shar and al-Qabisi they discuss strengthening and weakening conditions.  Both astrologers first point to the retrograde station as a major weakening condition.  Some authors, such as Sahl quoted below, have also given helpful metaphors for understanding the stations.

If a planet were to stand toward retrogradation (that is, if it were in its first station), it signifies the dissolution of a purpose, and disobedience; and if it were to stand toward direction (that is, if it were in its second station), it signifies forward direction after the slowness or duress of the matter.  And every planet which is a significator and wished to go direct (that is, if it were in its second station) signifies the renewal of the actions of matters, and their action and strength or forward movement.  And if it were in the first station, wishing to go retrograde, it signifies their destruction and slowness and dissolution.   (Sahl Bin Bishr, The Fifty Judgments, #48, Dykes trans., 2010, p. 107)

While retrogradation is given a lot of hype in modern astrology and in late traditional astrology, its importance is typically overblown.  In my experience a retrograde planet is not much weakened, and retrogradation is extremely common.  For instance, Saturn is retrograde about a third of the time and Mercury goes retrograde three-to-four times per year for about three-to-four weeks at a go.  While retrogradation itself is only a little bit weakening (a tendency toward contradiction and antagonism were often associated with the action of retrograde planets in ancient literature), but the actual stations are very significant in terms of strengthening and weakening.  Typically within about a week within the station the planet may be considered to be made more or less prominent depending on the nature of the station, and to an extent that depends on how close to the station in time.  For instance, someone born within a day of Mercury stationing direct would be considered to have a very prominent Mercury in their chart.  Someone born within a day of Mercury stationing retrograde would have a very weakened Mercury.  One born 6 days from a Mercury station would also have Mercury strengthened or weakened but to a lesser extent.

Finding Planetary Stations

Let’s pull up some charts looking for stations, and also looking again at advancement.

Install Morinus

We are going to pull up charts in the free, open source, traditional astrology program called Traditional Morinus.  I’ve previously discussed installation and pulling up charts in Morinus on this blog, so I highly recommend that the reader stop at this point to read those article and install the software.  My article discussing installation of Morinus is here.  Since that article the program has undergone many updates.  The newer versions are easier to use because they now have a location lookup, which I discussed here.  Not only is Morinus a free program, but it is also one of the programs with the best traditional capabilities, including accurate primary directions, and is very frequently updated and improved upon.  It is open source, meaning that programmers are free to examine the code and improve upon it, making it truly THE astrological program of the astrological community.  I recommend it above all other astrological programs for the beginning to the advanced student.  Nearly all charts and charting examples on this site come from the program.  Please take the time to download the program and familiarize yourself with it by pulling up a few charts and saving them before proceeding.

Once you have the program installed and have a chart up, you should modify the following settings. Hold “Shift” and press “u”, or go to “Options” and make sure there is a check next to “Automatic save”, so that changes that you make to settings will be saved for the next time you open the program.  Hold “Shift” and press “F6”, or go to “Options” then “Housesystems” and select “Whole Sign”.  For charts that look like mine, you will want your appearance options (Shift+a or Options>Appearance I) to be as in the picture below, where Terms is selected and the chart is black and white.

Here and Now

Week Before, Week After

The surest way to determine if a planet stationed within a week of someone’s birth is to compare the birth chart with the chart 1 week before the birth and that 1 week after the birth.  Retrogradation is symbolized by a little symbol of an “R” with a line through part of it, which is next to the planetary glyph in the chart.  Also, if one presses the F11 key, then a table of the planetary speeds appears in which negative speeds by longitude indicate retrograde motion. The Sun and Moon never have apparent retrograde motion, so they are not examined in this respect.

Let’s look at Steve Jobs’ chart (click here for chart data).  First, you’ll notice that the Moon, followed by Jupiter and Venus, are the most advancing planets in the chart.  You’ll also notice that the Sun and Saturn are retreating and that Mercury isn’t advancing much.  In the chart below I’ve highlighted that Mercury and Jupiter are retrograde.  It is important with any chart that you make an initial mental note of which of the planets are retrograde.

Steve Jobs' Natal Chart
Steve Jobs’ Natal Chart

In order to check if any planets stationed within a week of Steve Jobs’ birth, we change the day of birth to one week earlier, pulling up the chart to see which planets are retrograde, then we do the same for one week after the birth.  If there are no stations then Mercury and Jupiter would be the only retrograde planets one week prior and one week after birth.  If this is not the case then there has been some type of station and we’ll have to do some deeper digging.

To start hold CTRL and press “d” or go to “Horoscope” and then “Data”.  Jobs was born on the 24th so we’ll switch it to the 17th, which will show the chart below.

Steve Jobs - One Week Before Birth

One week before birth, Mercury and Jupiter were retrograde while Venus, Mars, and Saturn were not.  This is just as in the natal chart, so there were no stations in the week prior to birth.

Seven days after his Feb. 24th birth would be March 3rd.  So we put that date into the Data area and pull up another chart, again checking for some difference in retrogrades. This time we do find some differences.  Jupiter was still retrograde a week after birth, but Mercury was no longer retrograde.  Therefore, Mercury stationed direct at some point within the week following his birth.  Additionally, Saturn is now retrograde, while it was not in the birth chart, so it stationed retrograde at some point in the week following his birth.

Steve Jobs - One Week After Birth

Now, we know that Mercury is stationing direct in Steve’s birth chart and that Saturn is stationing retrograde, but we don’t know to what extent. How close were the stations to Steve’s birth?  I like to start with one day increments from the birthday, so I look first at February 25th, then the 26th, and so on.  Doing this I find that already by February 25th, within 24 hours of the birth of Steve Jobs, Mercury had stationed direct.  Therefore, this is a very prominent Mercury direct station.  We initially noted that Mercury wasn’t really advancing much, so by advancement, Mercury didn’t seem prominent at all.  However, we now know that Mercury is very prominent in the chart because it was stationing direct very strongly when Jobs was born.  This means that the natural significations of Mercury have a prominent influence over his life.  This is quite significant as Mercury is the planet of intellect, business, technology, and computing.

On the other hand, when we progress day by day, we don’t find Saturn retrograde until we get to March 1st, which is five days out, so Saturn stationed retrograde between four and five days after his birth.  Saturn was weak by retreating, and here we see Saturn a little bit more weakened by the fact that it was gradually stationing retrograde at the time of birth. Therefore, we expect the significations of Saturn to be in the background in his life rather than prominent.

Applying to Charts

What about in your chart?  Were any planets stationing at your birth?  If so, how do the indications of the stations compare with the indications from advancement?

One of the interesting things about this technique is that a planet that seems like it may be retrograde and thus could be said to be slightly weakened often is revealed to be extremely prominent, as in the case of Mercury in the chart of Steve Jobs.  Unfortunately, little attention is paid to planetary stations near one’s birth in astrology today, even in most traditional circles.  Additionally, too much stress is placed on retrogradation, so it comes to pass that weak planets (direct ones stationing retrograde just after birth) are thought to be prominent and prominent planets (retrograde ones stationing direct just after birth) are thought to be weak.  Get in the habit of checking the week before and the week after a chart, with every chart, and you won’t make this mistake.

In terms of meaning, the retrograde station has the feeling of significations drifting out of reach, being involved in delays and so forth.  The direct station has the feeling of significations starting out in a prominent and pioneering way, such as with forceful resolve.  It’s like with the retrograde station the planet gets to the party and says, “oh wait, I’m sorry, I forgot something, and I need to go home and get it”, while the direct station planet has been tied up for some time and now has some free time to move forward with some established plans its excited about.

Appearances or Phasis

Just as famous celebrities and politicians make important appearances, so do the planets.  The most important appearances pertain to the relationship of the planets to the Sun.  The Sun is like the king in astrology, signifying powerful authority and leadership.  When a planets is close to the Sun by zodiacal longitude, then it starts to become obscured by the light of the Sun.  In ancient astrology, the standard distance is typically 15 degrees from the Sun.  When a planets is within 15 degrees from the Sun it is “under the beams” or “combust”.  Planets under the beams are weakened in the sense of being more hidden or covert.  You could think of this as akin to a person who is employed in some special government operation.  The agenda (Sun) outshines their own personal expression (their overt expression of their nature), forcing them to come under a more restricted code of conduct and more limited communication.

An exception to this rule of planets under the beams being “hidden” is when planets are within about 1 degree from the Sun, which is called “cazimi” or “in the heart of the Sun”.  This is like being able to rule in the king’s stead or taking on the authority of the throne.  A planet in such a position becomes much more prominent, but planets which are cazimi are rather rare. A particularly forceful cazimi would be an occultation of the Sun, such as the recent “Transit of Venus“.

Many astrologers are aware of combustion and cazimi, but another very important solar-related doctrine, that of “appearance”, has been forgotten.  A planet makes its appearance (or is “in phasis”) just before it goes into the beams of the Sun or right after it comes out from them.  This phenomena is also known as the heliacal risings and settings of the planets.  Therefore, appearance is when a planet is exactly 15 degrees from the Sun, moving closer or further away from it.  Think of it like the planet having an important visit with the media either right before its going to have to encounter the authorities or immediately after it has.  In both cases the planet is more prominent, but in one case of the importance ending up going covert and in the other case of exposure.

A planet making an appearance is called “in phasis”.  A consideration of phasis tends to be included in ancient techniques for finding professional significators.  It seems that its link with the Sun ties it to a sense of what someone becomes known for, much like the reporting to the media metaphor that I’ve used.

We, then, looking out for the topic of injury, entered into the type of action in this way: the givers, then, of actions are Mercury, Venus, and Mars; the effective houses are the ascendant, the midheaven, the IC, and the [houses] succedent to these, but also indeed the sixth houses, and the Lot of Fortune, and the application of the Moon, and the [star] making its morning appearance or its evening rising seven days before or seven days after.   (Rhetorius, Astrological Compendium, #82, Holden trans., 2009, p. 134)

Paulus Alexandrinus (4th century CE) discussed the phases of the stars and the terminology associated with phasis, and this was elaborated upon by his commentator Olympiodorus of the 6th century.  A planet in phasis which is coming out from the beams is also called rising or arising, as it is in its heliacal rising (think of rising out from the beams).  A planet in phasis which is going into the beam is also called setting (occasionally called disappearance), as it is in its heliacal setting (think of setting into the beams).  Be cognizant of these other uses of the terms “rising” and “setting” because there are times when rising and setting planets are discussed in the literature where an unknowing reader might assume it is relative to the horizon but it is actually relative to the beams of the Sun.

The heliacal setting is sometimes viewed as weakening while the heliacal rising is viewed as strengthening and more important for professional matters.  In practice I’ve found consistently that both are strengthening and both can be relevant for professional significator.  For instance, in the example of Hitler given in this post, the planets in phasis are Venus then Mars, both setting into the beams, but both very significant for his professional development and aspirations in his life, first to be an artist, then to be a warring conqueror.  However, planets setting into the beams do seem to take on many of the significations associated with being under the beams, so it is something of a mixed bag.  Valens associated a planet going under the beams with troubles, interruptions, and possible secret difficulties.

I personally associate being under the beams with the sense of something or someone powerful putting causing things to go underground so-to-speak, whether in hiding, covert, deceptive, repressed, and so forth, but not necessarily good or bad in a blanket sense.  For instance, do you feel that you can fully and entirely be yourself around your parents or grandparents or boss?  I think that this helps to explain why planets in a place where they held some authority or power (a house or bound they had some rulership over) were not thought to be weakened at all by being under the beams – they were under the influence of a power but also had a sort of powerful independence, like a person visited by a king but without a need to subjugate oneself to that king.

Morning and Evening Stars

Another common distinction is between morning stars and evening stars.  Those rising (above the horizon) before the Sun are said to be “right” of the Sun, oriental the Sun, or morning stars (because they can be seen in the morning before the Sun rises).  Those rising (above the horizon) after the Sun are said to be “left” of the Sun, occidental the Sun, or evening stars (because they can be seen in the evening after the Sun has set).  Morning stars were thought to have quicker and more outgoing significations, such as bringing about their significations quickly when activated by time period and pertaining to events earlier in life.  Evening stars were thought to have slower and more progressive significations, such as something developing as time goes by or coming about later in life.

Checking for Appearances

We are interested in this occurring within about a week from birth.  Therefore, our habit of checking one week before and one week after birth has a dual purpose, of looking at stations and appearances both.

When looking for appearances, we are concerned with the degree position of the Sun and that of the planets near the Sun.  Mercury and Venus always stay pretty close to the Sun, so they are most often in phasis.  The degrees of the Sun and planets are shown right in the chart (as well as the minutes in smaller type).  Each sign has 30 degrees, so if the Sun is at exactly 25 degrees of one sign, and Mercury is at 10 degrees of the next sign, then Mercury is 15 degrees from the Sun and is in phasis. As with stations, we are not concerned with the Moon when it comes to phasis.  The combustion of the Moon is significant though, lending a sense of covertness to the Moon’s significations.

Look again at Steve Jobs chart above.  Scroll up if you need to.  Better yet, hold CTRL and click on the chart so that it opens up in a new browser tab.  Do the same for the charts of one week prior to his birth and one week after.

You’ll notice that Steve’s Sun is at 5 degrees of some sign, the one that is number 7, (in this case Pisces, but you don’t need to know that yet).  Besides the Moon, the planets tend to move about a degree per day or less so, sometimes, in the case of Mercury up to about 2 degrees per day.  Therefore, if a planet is more than about 30 degrees from the Sun we don’t concern ourselves with it at all when checking for phasis.  The only planet within about 30 degrees from the Sun is Mercury which is at 14 degrees of the sign before, the number 6 sign, which in this case is Aquarius.  The Sun and Mercury are a little bit over 21 degrees from each other.  Mercury is moving backwards and is in a sign before, so they are moving away from each other, so we know they won’t become within 15 degrees of each other at any point after birth.  The question is whether Mercury and the Sun were ever within 15 degrees of each other at some point within a week before birth.  To answer this question, we’ll look at the chart from a week before birth.

Looking at the chart from a week before birth we find the Sun at 28 Aquarius and Mercury at 17 Aquarius.  This is a distance of about 11 degrees, which is less than 15 degrees, so Mercury was under the beams less than a week prior and made an appearance coming out from the beams at some point.  Now we need to find out when.  So starting with the 23rd, we move back one day in the birth data, pulling up charts until we get to the point that Mercury ends up being less than 15 degrees from the Sun.  Doing this you’ll find that it is on February 19th, 5 days before Steve’s birth, that Mercury is under the beams (i.e. within 15 degrees from the Sun).  Therefore, Mercury made its appearance four-to-five days prior to Steve’s birth.

With that our look at the three basic general prominence factors in Steve Jobs’ chart is finished.  We found that the Moon was strongly advancing but that Mercury, while not advancing much, was very strongly stationing direct and was in phasis coming out from the beams.  Therefore, Mercury is a very prominent planet in the life of Steve Jobs.


I’m going to run through a number of examples very quickly, noting the important information obtained from the three basic general prominence factors. The data for all examples is from  If you have any questions as to anything I discuss here or are obtaining different results, please comment and I will do what I can to assist.

Adolf Hitler's Natal Chart
Adolf Hitler’s Natal Chart

Hitler has a very complicated chart.  Mercury, the Sun, and Saturn are most prominent by advancement while Jupiter and the Moon are weakened due to retreating.  Looking at stations, we find that Saturn is made even more prominent by a direct station about 6 days before birth and that Jupiter is even more weakened by a retrograde station about 4 days after birth.  Mercury is somewhat weakened (or at least hidden/covert) due to being deeply under the beams and not in phasis, about 5 degrees from the Sun.  Mars and Venus are both between 15 and 16 degrees from the Sun, so I would consider them both quite strongly in phasis, going into the beams, with Venus going into the beams within 24 hours and Mars within 3 days.

We conclude that Hitler’s chart has many prominent planets, but with Saturn, the planet of lack, hardship, loss, darkness, discipline, and control as particularly prominent.  The Sun, planet of leadership, authority, and influence is also very prominent.  Saturn and the Sun pertain very strongly to Hitler’s ability to rise to power and the dictatorial style of his rule.  Venus and Mars are prominent in their own ways as both are advancing and very strongly in phasis, with Venus going very quickly and deeply under the beams while Mars slowly descends into them.  These appear to pertain most to his career aspirations, from trying to be an artist (Venus) to trying to be a conqueror (Mars).  Mercury is very important in the life, but covert, which may indicate a lot of secretive activity of an intellectual nature.  Jupiter, the planet of opportunity, abundance, generosity, goodwill, friendship, kindness, spirituality, and expanded or elevated mindset is very weak as it is retreating and stationing retrograde.

Kurt Cobain's Natal Chart
Kurt Cobain’s Natal Chart

In Kurt Cobain’s chart Mercury is conjunct the Descendant, and with it Venus and Saturn are also strongly advancing, while the Sun is retreating.  Therefore we expect Mercury (voice, writing, intellect, cleverness, business), Venus (the arts, love, women, sensuality), and Saturn (hardship, darkness, loss, obligation) to all be quite prominent in the life, while we expect the Sun (leadership, authority, honors, power, confidence) to be backgrounded in the life, at least in a general sense.  Mercury is in phasis, though setting into the beams, within 2 days after birth, so very strongly.  However, Mercury also stations retrograde within 3 days after birth, which is strongly weakening.  Therefore, Mercury’s significations in the life are fairly complex with both a great significance as well as a potential for dramatic reversal or antagonism against a former path, and the capacity to signify covert complicated or intellectual activity as it is setting under the beams.

Alfred Witte's Natal Chart
Alfred Witte’s Natal Chart

Alfred Witte was an early 20th century astrologer, and possibly psychic, who pioneered a new system of astrology, very different from both traditional and typical modern forms of astrology, which was called Uranian astrology.  His astrology was based strongly in symmetrical relationships of planets to each other. Witte ended up committing suicide after being targeted by the Nazis.

Notice that Jupiter, the planet of wisdom, spirituality, abundance, generosity, and elevation is strongly advancing, conjunct the IC.  Mars, Mercury, and Venus are also advancing with moderate strength, while Saturn is both retreating and under the beams pretty deeply.  There are no stations in his chart.  Saturn is barely in phasis, setting under the beams about 7 days before birth.  Mercury and Venus are very close to each other, in the same degree actually, and are both almost exactly 15 degrees from the Sun, so both are extremely strongly in phasis.  Venus is morning rising, rising out from the beams, while Mercury is morning setting, falling under the beams.  Therefore, it is Venus, Mercury, and Jupiter which are the most prominent planets in Witte’s life by these basic methods.  It is interesting that Mercury and Venus are so strongly joined to one another, as Witte’s astrology, dependent upon symmetry, has a sense of mathematical harmony to it and visual elegance which shows a nice fusion of the intellectualism and symbol manipulation of Mercury combined with the aesthetics of Venus.

Frida Kahlo's Natal Chart
Frida Kahlo’s Natal Chart

Frida Kahlo was born with the Moon very strongly advancing toward the midheaven.  Venus is the next most advancing planet, while Mercury was retreating.  Jupiter was under the beams.  Mars was retrograde but not stationing.  Saturn was stationing retrograde within about 4 days of birth and Mercury was stationing retrograde within about 5 days of birth.  Overall we would judge Mercury to be weakened and placed in the background, both from retreating and the retrograde station.  We’d also judge Saturn to be somewhat weakened.  The Moon, the power of irrationality, subjectivity, nurture, ubiquity, mothers, instincts, the wild, and vivid depth, is extremely prominent. Venus is also quite prominent due to her advancement toward the midheaven (as well as her rulership of the mideheaven, though rulership will be addressed in a future post).


It’s my hope that you’ve found in this post some new and valuable techniques for evaluating planetary prominence.  If you are a beginner and are having any trouble with this material please comment below.  In future lessons we will start to explore the signs, houses, and aspects or configurations which are the core theoretical elements of the Hellenistic system of astrology.  However, it is good to get in the habit of first looking at each chart in terms of these basic indications of general prominence.  This will tell you which planets are loudest and which have something very important to say about the life as a whole.

Unfortunately, it is very easy to identify which sign each planet is in while it’s a bit more difficult to check and see which planets were advancing, which retreating, and particularly to check out whether there were any stations or appearances.  There is also a sense in which we are looking at something much more concrete when examining advancement, stations, and appearances in this way though.  Most considerations in ancient astrology are based in abstract mathematical divisions of the ecliptic, into signs, those signs ordered into houses, and the sign relationships and angular relationships of the planets producing configurations.  Here we are for the most part dealing with the more raw and basic observations of wandering stars rising, culminating, setting, changing direction against the stars, appearing from the rays of the Sun and disappearing into them.

Practice with these three basic techniques on your own chart, those of people you know, and those of celebrities (from Astro-Databank).  Feel free to expand upon them with what you know of combustion, cazimi, arisings vs. settings, and morning vs. evening stars as well.  If you’d like to discuss your findings please do so in the comments.  Critical objections are also very important.  For instance, if phasis is important for professional indications, then why was it the case that Kahlo’s Venus was under the beams rather than in phasis?  It is vital that you start thinking critical in these ways because ancient astrology is very vast and we are still just dealing with general prominence.  Prominence relative to the self and specific topics such as profession brings in additional considerations and concepts.  This complexity and vastness of ancient astrology is a good thing because human life is even more complex and vast.

Of course no astrological system could ever predict the full complexity of any human experience, for the very same reason that no communication of human experience could ever full convey such experience – the map is not the territory.  Nevertheless, by continually learning and honing our skills in ancient astrology we may start to say intelligent and true things about past, present, and future circumstances that are thought to be impossible.  Also, in receiving this information through a language derived from the heavens themselves arranged by intelligences so far beyond our own, we come to appreciate the humble place of our little minds within a brilliantly cognizant existence.



Ma’shar, A., & Al-Qabisi. (2010). Introductions to Traditional Astrology. (B. N. Dykes, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press.
Rhetorius of Egypt, & Teucer of Babylon. (2009). Rhetorius the Egyptian. (J. H. Holden, Trans.). Tempe, AZ: American Federation of Astrologers.

Twelve Easy Lessons for Absolute Beginners | 2. Charting, Angles, Advancement

This is a series of posts for those wishing to learn the basics of applied Hellenistic astrology.  In the last post, we looked at the basic significations of the planets, as well as some history and preliminaries.  If you haven’t already done so, please read that post, and spend a little time thinking in terms of the planets, before proceeding.

Those looking for an easy way to explore the significations of the planets in more depth should download the PDF of the full English translation of the Anthology of Vettius Valens (click here to open the PDF or right click and choose “save as” to download).  Not only is it an indispensable and enormous text of Hellenistic astrology, but it begins immediately with Valens on the significations of the planets.


Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to obtain really good software for traditional astrology.  As we proceed to learn about how to read a chart in this lesson, I’m going to walk you through pulling up charts using the free online Astrodienst ( charting service.  In a future lesson I’ll show how to pull up charts and work predictively in the advanced open-source traditional astrology program, Morinus.


I recommend first pulling up and downloading a copy of your chart using Astrodienst, which is at  It is free to register with the site and the process is rather self-explanatory (click Login in the upper right corner, then “Create a free registered user profile” and follow the instructions) .  After registered, you will find that you are faced with many free and paid computer-generated reading options.  I personally don’t recommend any of the computer-generated readings on the site.  There is also a chart-drawing service though, and it is quite good for pulling up birth charts.  The section of the site called “My Astro” allows you to store many people’s birth information for easy access to your charts from anywhere with internet access.

It is easy to chart in Astrodienst, but first you will want to have your birth information handy.  The information that you’ll need is the date, location (city), and time of birth.  Typically a birth certificate is the more accurate source for this information.  Obtain this information before proceeding, either of your own birth or that of someone of interest.

With birth info in hand, log in to Astrodienst and (if necessary) click the “Add new Astro data” link.  Fill out the Birth Data Entry and click “Continue”.  Make sure the correct town is selected and click “Continue” again.  If this is your first time using the program you might be taken directly to the Free Horoscopes page, but if not then click the “Free Horoscopes” link from the top bar.  Scroll down and choose “Chart Drawing Ascendant”.  This is the option that will do for now, even though it uses a modern house system and includes outer modern astronomical planets, as well as Chiron and a lot of information beside the chart, some of which is insignificant.  Once the chart is up, you can use the drop down menu above the chart to choose to pull up the chart for other people whose birth information you’ve entered.  Click on the chart to pull it up in a window of it’s own, where you can right-click and choose “Save Image As” to save the chart to your computer, or press CTRL+p to print the chart.  The chart should look something like what is below, which is the chart of Angelina Jolie (press CTRL+Click on the chart to expand in a new tab).

Angelina Jolie


In your astrological studies, a time will come when you’ll want to check out the charts of celebrities.  There is a database of celebrity charts that is now maintained by Astrodienst and integrates with its My Astro chart collection.  This database is called Astro-Databank (click to go there).

Let’s say that you wanted to add Angelina Jolie’s chart to your own chart collection.  You would type “Angelina Jolie” in the Search box and then click her name from the list of results.  This will pull up her biography and chart information, with a small chart that you can click to see larger (click here to go there).  Make special note of the “Rodden Rating” which is an evaluation of how accurate the birth time information is likely to be (AA is best, while anything C or below shouldn’t be trusted).  To add birth information to your collection click the link “add Angelina Jolie to ‘my astro'” which appears below the grey box.

The Angles

There is much on this chart drawing that you should ignore for now, including all the red and blue lines jutting around the chart.  For now imagine that the small center circle inside the chart, around which the numbers appear, is like the sphere of the Earth.  Look at the four bold lines that jut out from that sphere.  These 4 lines are much like the “cross-hairs” of the location.  It is as if planets on them have arrived at the location, those moving toward them are arriving, and after passing a planet is leaving the location. These 4 points are called the “Angles” or “Pivots” of the chart.  Planets on them are extremely prominent or important in their significations over the life.


The horizontal lines are the horizon at the place you were born. Notice on the left that it is marked with an AC, for Ascendant.  On the opposite side there is a DC, for Descendant.  The Ascendant is where planets rise or “ascend”, while the Descendant is where they set or “descend”.  The Ascendant is in a general eastern direction and the Descendant in a western one, as “the Sun rises in the east, and sets in the west”.  A planet above the line was above the horizon, i.e. in the sky, at the person’s birth, while one below the line was below the horizon, i.e. under the earth.

You will notice that there is a planetary symbol at Angelina Jolie’s Ascendant.  The symbol is that of Venus. Venus is therefore very prominent over Jolie’s life, and her significations of beauty, love, creativity, the arts, and general physical benefit are very “loud” in her life.

Sect of the Chart

For astrological purposes, a chart is a day chart or diurnal if the Sun is above the horizon, while a night chart or nocturnal if the Sun is below the horizon.  This is known as the sect of the chart.  The symbol for the Sun is above the horizon in Jolie’s chart, so she was a day birth, and in a sense we may think of her, herself, as of the diurnal sect.


The vertical, nearly perpendicular lines, are the meridians, like the vertical lines you see on a globe.  The top one is where the Sun reaches its highest point or “culminates” up in the sky, which is the natural “Noon” position.  The bottom one is the meridian on the other side of the earth, where the Sun anti-culminates under one’s feet at the natural “Midnight”.  The top angle is that of the sky and is called the medium coeli (“middle of the sky”) or midheaven, abbreviated MC.  The bottom angle is the angle of the earth, called the imum coeli (“bottom of the sky”), abbreviated IC.

If one is in the northern hemisphere, the top angle is exactly due south, because we are looking toward the equator to the south when we see a culminating planet.  The other angle is due north.  Thus the astrological chart is like an upside-down map as far as directions go.  The top is south, the left is easterly, the bottom is north, and the right is westerly.

Looking at these additional two “Angles” we see that Angelina Jolie has one planet on the MC.  That planet is Jupiter, planet of fortune, opportunity, gifts, generosity, and general social and mental benefit.

Angelina Jolie

The numbers next to Jupiter’s symbol are the degrees and minutes of the sign where Jupiter is located.  These are coordinates of its location.  Notice Jupiter is at degree 17, as is the MC.  They are in the same degree out of the 360 degree circle.  Similarly, Venus was in the same degree as the Ascendant.  Because the degrees on the angles shift about every 4 minutes (of regular clock time), it is rare to find a planet in the same degree as an angle.  Typically, we will consider a planet on an angle when within about 3 degrees, or a little more than that when dealing with the Sun and Moon.  Notice that Mars is at degree 10, which is about 7 degrees from the MC, so we wouldn’t consider it on the angle.  The Moon is at 13, which is about 4 to 5 degrees from the MC, so we would judge the Moon to be of increased prominence as well in this chart by this method.


This idea of a planet becoming more prominent when it reaches the horizon or meridian of the location (i.e. one of the Angles) vastly predates the advent of horoscopic astrology and is a feature of geographically disparate astrological traditions.  This is why I feel it necessary to present it first.

A quick survey of archaeoastronomy reveals attention to the moments when important planetary phenomena reach the angles in the construction of temples, monuments, and sacred sites the world over.  For example, El Castillo, a step-pyramid at the center of the Mayan Chichen Itza, has a western face that points to sunset on the traditional date of the start of the rainy season.  Similarly, Stonehenge has important alignments to risings and settings marking the annual transitions of midsummer and midwinter.  Karnak (in Egypt) and many other such sites reveal similar attention to risings, settings, and culminations on key days of the year.  Again, the basic idea is to draw attention at the time of the planet’s “arrival” to one of the distinguishing coordinates of the location.

Advancing and Retreating as Metaphors

You’ll notice that very few people have planets actually conjunct (i.e. on or at) an Angle.  However, while this is the most powerful position, Hellenistic astrologers did attach increased importance to a planet approaching an angle, and decreased importance to one receding from an angle.  The exact definition of when a planet is considered approaching or “advancing” and when it is considered receding or “retreating” varies slightly with different authors but the idea is the same.  The idea is that a planet’s significations become increasingly strong as it moves closer and closer to the angle, becoming strongest when it is conjoined to the angle, and then quickly dropping off until it has traveled sufficiently toward the next angle.

You may recall that a planet rises at the Ascendant, culminates at the MC, sets at the Descendant, anti-culminates at the IC, and then rises again at the Ascendant.  This clockwise motion is called the Primary Motion and is shown below.

Primary Motion

Convenient for our purposes, the concept of advancement and retreat was confused for a method of assigning topics to the signs, called the division of the houses.  Thus in modern charts, including this one provided by Astrodienst, the space between any two angles is divided up into three segments, which are numbered for houses, but actually are to be used for evaluating strength by way of this concept of advancement and retreat.  Planets in one of the segments that is right after an angle by primary motion (marked 3, 6, 9, and 12 on the chart) are “retreating” from the Angle or “inoperative”.  Those that in other segments are advancing.  Those that are in the segment just before and up to the Angle are even more advancing or “operative”.

Therefore, looking at Angelina Jolie’s chart, we judge Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon to be especially prominent or “loud” because they are conjunct Angles.  By contrast, we judge that the significations of Saturn and Mars are overall much quieter in the life because they are retreating.  The Sun and Mercury are advancing but not very strongly, so they are middling in terms of the volume or “loudness” of their significations in the life.


Rather than viewing advancement and retreat in a discrete way, where we chop things up into strong, middle, and weak, I tend to view it as a continuous matter of a planet being of very low volume after separating from an Angle and then volume gradually being turned up on it as it nears it.  Planets approaching an angle within about 15 degrees or actually conjunct an Angle I take to be especially loud, and tend to call “strongly advancing”.

It may take a beginner some time to get used to the significance of this technique because it doesn’t necessarily apply to the person’s specific personality or what they’re known for.  It is very possible for a retreating planet to have great significance over a person’s character or profession and likewise possible for a strongly advancing planet to have little relevance for these things.  The basic idea is simply one of general strength, where I think the metaphor of “volume” as on a stereo, comes in handy.  Because the volume of Venus and Jupiter are at full crank in Angelina Jolie’s chart, we imagine that the things those planets stand for are pervasive through the life, including the people, events, and things encountered in it.  It’s as if the life is being pumped full of Venus and Jupiter energy or those gods have taken a keen interest in it and are very actively at play there.

In Angelina’s case, Venus and the Moon are also very significant for the character and personality, but this is not because of the advancement, but due to other factors we’ll cover later.  The only thing that advancement tells us is that the significations are loud and likely to be quite broad.  The person is nearly constantly encountering things signified by that planet for better or worse.

Hellenistic Astrologers on Advancement

Advancement is a concept that tends to be ill-understood today but was discussed by many Hellenistic astrologers and explicitly addressed by many Persian ones.  Most of the Hellenistic astrologers bring up advancement in connection with the robustness of a significator of the native’s health in instructions for examining longevity and health threats.


Dorotheus does not discuss advancement much, but does have a few instances where he brings up a 15 degree rule, in which he attributes a planet approaching the Ascendant within 15 degrees as having equal power as a planet in the rising sign, even if the planet is not in the rising sign.  This rule is found Book I, Chapter 7, #7, as well as book III, Chapter 1, #23, of Carmen Astrologicum.  The rule also appeared in Porphyry in a section attributed to Antiochus.


Valens gives a good thorough exposition of advancement in Book III, Chapter 2 of the Anthology.  The chapter is dedicated to explaining the concept which for Valens defines the “operative”, “average”, and “inoperative” degrees (as opposed to operative and inoperative places which is another matter).  Valens finds the operative and inoperative degrees by dividing the distance into thirds by zodiacal degrees.  For instance, if there were 120 degrees between two angles, then each third would be 40 degrees in length.

Then it is necessary to take the distance in degrees from the Ascendant to the IC (moving in the order of the signs), to consider one-third of that total distance to be the “operative” degrees in the configuration of the angles, and to consider the stars in these degrees, whether benefics or malefics, to be powerful.  (Valens, Anthologies, Book III, Ch. 2, Riley trans., 2010, p. 59)

He instructs to make the same type of division between each of the angles. He describes the power of the thirds as follows.

So then, the first third from the Ascendant will be operative and powerful, the second third will be average, the third third will be crisis-producing and bad. The stars <in these regions> will act in the same way.  (Valens, Anthologies, Book III, Ch. 2, Riley trans., 2010, p. 59)

In the above quote he seems to imply that a planet becomes more malefic (i.e. “bad”) when retreating.  However, I think Valens is referring to it being bad when a major health significator is in such a position because it is weakened.  My experience is that retreating planets do not signify as prominently, but do not signify more malefic things, i.e. that it is a general strength consideration but not a goodness one.


Ptolemy also defined certain regions of power where a planet relevant to longevity matters was to be found.  In his discussion (Book III, Ch. 10) one of his regions is from 5 degrees above the Ascendant to the 25 degrees below it.  Thus the region of strength here appears to be the 25 degrees up to the angle, and the conjunction seems to extend 5 degrees.


Now let’s look at some example charts using a fluid sense of Advancement in which we are most interested in the one or two planets that are most prominent and least prominent in the life by the method.  The chart drawings I post will be from the Morinus program, but all the charts I will use are also available on Astro-Databank and I’ve provided the link. The charts from the Morinus program properly number the houses, so rather than using the numbered divisions as your guide, think visually in terms of proximity to the angle the planet is approaching.

Remember that here we are looking at one factor of general prominence in the life, which may be compared with “volume”.  Later we will look at other factors of general prominence and factors that signify personal prominence and even self-identification.


In Hitler’s chart Saturn (darkness, death, challenge), Mercury (rationality, writing, voice), and the Sun (leadership, power, confidence) are all very strongly advancing, while the Moon (deep significance, nurture, the irrational) and Jupiter (generosity, spirituality, loftiness) are retreating.

Adolf Hitler's Natal Chart
Adolf Hitler’s Natal Chart (Ctrl click to enlarge)

Kurt Cobain

In Kurt Cobain’s chart Mercury (rationality, writing, voice), Venus (beauty, creativity, love), and Saturn (darkness, death, challenge) are strongly advancing.  The Sun (leadership, power, confidence) is retreating.

Kurt Cobain's Natal Chart (Ctrl click to enlarge)
Kurt Cobain’s Natal Chart (Ctrl click to enlarge)

Billy Graham

In Billy Graham’s chart Jupiter (generosity, spirituality, loftiness) and possibly the Moon are advancing.  Mars (violence, physical work, aggression) is retreating.

Billy Graham's Natal Chart (Ctrl click to enlarge)
Billy Graham’s Natal Chart (Ctrl click to enlarge)


You’re probably wondering why I haven’t used the examples of Einstein, Bjork, James Randi, and Barack Obama after having focused on them in the last post.  There are two reasons.  First, I want you to look up their charts on Astro-Databank and evaluate advancing and retreating in their charts for yourself as an exercise.  Secondly, you will find that some planets that you thought would be strongly advancing are not so, and the same with ones that you thought might be retreating.  Advancement is just one piece of the puzzle.  Even just general strength involves additional factors which we’ll get to in subsequent lessons.  Additionally, a planet can be particularly prominent for a certain topic, such as the self or the professional development, without being prominent in a general sense.

Think of advancing planets as loud and tending to manifest their significations in broad ways that touch upon many areas of life.  Think of retreating ones as quieter, and more directed toward topics that they are particularly connected with in the chart.

Look at your own chart, and those of your friends, family, and favorite celebrities.  Perhaps make note of the planets you would expect to be advancing or retreating and then compare those notes with what you find.  As we proceed you’ll come to better understand the exceptions, where you met the unexpected.

Twelve Easy Lessons for Absolute Beginners | 1. Introduction, Historical Background and The Planets

There is still a need for a quick and dirty introduction to pre-Medieval ancient astrology.  In this series of posts, I hope to present things in such a way that even someone with no prior experience with astrology will be able to very quickly start reading charts from a Hellenistic perspective, understand future articles on this site, and start exploring primary source material. For those itching to go further, I highly recommend buying Ben Dykes’ Introductions to Traditional Astrology to keep as a reference work, and Chris Brennan’s affordable Introduction to Hellenistic Astrology Course for gaining a solid foundation.

A Little History

You can skip this section and come back to it later, but it is important to have some understanding of the historical context of ancient astrology, and here I present only the barest-bones look at the history of astrology.

By ancient astrology I mean that type of astrology which arose around the last couple centuries BCE, in the Mediterranean region, particularly around Egypt.  Prior to the advent of this new system, astrologers had read omens in the sky for thousands of years, with particular intensity in Mesopotamia (i.e. Babylonian astrology). However, this new system, reflecting a meeting of Babylonian, Egyptian, and Greek knowledge, used a chart of the planets in signs which was interpreted for all manner of inquiries.

One of the key innovations to come out of this revolutionary system was that it fixed the sky to a specific place and time according to the sign of the zodiac that was rising in the east, called the horoskopos or horoscope.  Maps of the positions of the signs and planets relative to this sign were drawn, allotting certain life topics to each sign, and applying a handful of new principles of interpretation.  This astrology became very popular and widespread through Egypt, Europe, Persia, and even India, transforming each culture’s omen lore tradition into a “horoscopic” tradition; an Astrology 2.0 if you will.

We refer to the original strata of horoscopic astrology as Hellenistic astrology because it originated with peoples who wrote in Ancient Greek (the scholarly language of the time around Alexandria, Egypt and the Mediterranean).  Texts quickly also appearing in Latin, Pahlavi, and Sanskrit, but even in these other languages the “system” as it was practiced prior to the Early Middle Ages may be called Hellenistic astrology.  The systems spread to India (see Yavanajataka) transformed the astrology of the region, giving birth to the Indian horoscopic tradition of Jyotish, though sophisticated non-horoscopic astrology existed in India for thousands of years prior.

There is a great deal of material in Hellenistic astrology, and it is very diverse. There is a common foundation, but different authors stressed different techniques and provided varying insights from even the earliest surviving sources.  Most of the material has seen its first translations into modern languages like English in just the past couple decades.  One of the most important works, the nine volume Anthology of Egyptian astrologer Vettius Valens, just saw release of the first complete English translation of the text in 2010 (by Mark Riley).  The oldest surviving complete works date back to the 1st century CE, but are already quite large, refined, and referring back to earlier source material.  In fact, both large surviving complete works from the 1st century, those of Manilius and Dorotheus, were written in verse, an indication of thorough prior familiarity with the material.

Crucial Texts

While there are over a dozen notable surviving texts from the Hellenistic period, there are five texts that are particularly pivotal:

        1. Dorotheus wrote the large and influential Carmen Astrologicum in the 1st century, which had 4 books on interpreting charts for birth time (i.e. natal astrology) and 1 book on choosing auspicious times to undertake activities (i.e. electional astrology).
        2. Ptolemy, a notable “scientist” (natural philosopher) of the day, wrote the large Tetrabiblos (2nd century), notable mainly for its birth chart material, but also containing material on interpreting charts for weather and political events (i.e. mundane astrology).
        3. Valens wrote what is probably the most information-packed text of the era, a voluminous text citing numerous ancient authors and techniques (especially predictive ones) which would otherwise be unknown, in his Anthology (2nd century), which deals in depth with natal astrology (birth chart interpretation), especially with methods on predicting timing of important life events.
        4. Maternus wrote a text equally as voluminous as that of Valens but more focused on reading the natal chart than on the time of the things it indicates, called Mathesis (4th century).
        5. A great reference text of definitions by an author named Antiochus (2nd century or earlier) is now lost but its important definitions were copied into the Introduction to the Tetrabiblos of Porphyry (3rd century) and the Compendium of Rhetorius (7th century), making these two definitive texts for accessing the early “rules” of the game.

From Hellenistic to Persian Medieval

After the decline of the western empire, intellectual work in the region strongly shifted from the Greeks to their neighbors, the Persians.  After the Persians were conquered by Muslim Arabs in the 7th century CE, they translated Greek and Pahlavi material on astrology, natural science, and philosophy into Arabic.  Very concentrated work in astrology was taken up by some of the greatest Persian and Arabic minds of the age.  They worked on developing Hellenistic astrology but there were sufficient changes and additions to transform the way a chart is interpreted, thus I typically refer to astrology for that region from the Middle Ages as Persian astrology or Perso-Arabic astrology, to distinguish it from the Hellenistic astrology that came before it and the European Medieval astrology that followed.  The Carmen Astrologicum of Dorotheus was a major influence upon the astrology of the Persian period, particularly in the development of a sophisticated body of work on choosing auspicious times (election astrology) and answering an importat question based on indications from the chart of the time the question was asked (horary astrology).

From Persian/Arabic to European/Latin Medieval and Renaissance

During the High Middle Ages, Arabic material became translated into Latin, particularly around Spain.  This translation wave saw the reemergence of Hellenistic scientific and philosophical thought into Europe, leading eventually to the Renaissance.  While some of the greatest minds of the European Middle Ages and Renaissance worked on this astrology, it came to resemble a somewhat watered down version of late Perso-Arabic astrology, rather than a return to Hellenistic astrology. This was due to a combination of factors, including selection, quality, and availability of translated texts, as well as varying degrees of social pressure against astrology from the church and some in the intellectual community.

Some of the distinct features of the late European tradition include assigning topics/houses by numbering spacial divisions (i.e. quadrant houses) rather than by assigning such topics to the signs themselves based on their order around the chart starting with the sign on the eastern horizon. There was also very little use of the “lots” (special derived points in the chart based on distances between certain planets being projected from the point of the eastern horizon).  Other features included strong reliance upon the angular quadrant houses for assessing a planet’s strength or prominence (the angular quadrant houses are the spaces a planet is in relative to the earth at the times of day when it is approaching the local horizon or meridian), emphasis upon aspects between planets by degrees rather than by sign relationship (with use of “orbs” of influence to assess when planets were in aspect), the use of signs of “detriment” (detriment being when a planet is the in the sign opposite to one of its home signs) to indicate a weakened planet which was not a basic distinction in Hellenistic astrology, and strong reliance upon a pointing system that had been invented in the Perso-Arabic period, both for analyzing quality and for assessing planetary relevance over a topic or special signification.  There was a gradual eroding of the astrology throughout this period, as some key concepts like sect (sect is the idea that planets experience some changes in signification based on whether it is day or night) became less important while some marginal distinctions like whether a planet is in “detriment” became very important.  In any case, there were a handful of very notable astrologers in the latter part of this period, such as in the 17th century, when reformers such as Johannes Kepler, sought to reformulate astrology according to their own ideological preconceptions. Today’s traditional astrology groups, and most traditional astrology popular texts, tend to revolve around the late European tradition, though this is changing as more people discover the earlier Hellenistic and Persian works.  Hellenistic and Persian material has been largely neglected until recently, as most of it was not available in modern languages until the last two decades, and still tends to be under-read and ill-understood.

From Renaissance to New Age Babble

In the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century, astrology basically became reformulated under the influence of theosophy, modern psychology (especially Jungianism), and a number of self-styled gurus.  The mainstream of modern astrology, comprising almost all of the astrology books in popular bookstores, may be termed “psychological astrology”.  Unfortunately, very little pre-modern astrology is available from popular outlets, with nearly all popular astrology being modern reformulations that I’ve come to see as distortions and oversimplifications of a select few traditional interpretive principles.

Ancient Astrology vs. Modern Astrology

You are probably familiar with newspaper horoscopes, Sun sign books, and maybe even more detailed modern astrological works (those looking at Moon sign, Rising sign, planets in signs, planets in houses, planets in aspect, etc.), all of which claim to provide information about personal traits like character and compatibility.   Clearly the stress in modern astrology is on exploring the character, preferences, and “psyche”.  The process for doing this in modern astrology tends to involve what may be termed as modularity of psychic function, i.e. different planets or other factors represent distinct functions or modules operating within some type of psycho-spiritual realm (note: this is a rather prevailing view but there is a variety of particular perspectives).  The cosmos is viewed as the movements of the individual and collective psyches, with such movements sometimes externalized in actual events, sometimes not, but always at least “real” in some psycho-spiritual realm.

As all factors are parts of the psyche in such a system, the most powerful factors, i.e. the Sun and Moon, come to represent the central components of the person’s psychological makeup and character.  Thus the Sun in modern astrology is the popular go-to factor for analyzing character based on the sign it occupied at birth (the Sun sign). Horoscope columnists even attempt large scale prediction for all those born with the same Sun signs.  Books providing very elaborate personality delineations based just on the Sun sign (such as Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs) and/or compatibility between Sun signs (“love signs”) continue to be very popular with the public. However, both the over-emphasis on the sign that Sun occupied at birth and the interpretation that this sign signifies primarily about the person and their personality core or ego are inconsistent with ancient astrological principles of chart interpretation.

This preoccupation with personal and even unconscious realities in modern astrology should be contrasted with the focus in ancient astrology on reading in the chart indications about any and all facets of life, not just about the person themselves and their personality.  The chart in ancient astrology speaks to life, in total, internal and external, personal and impersonal, subjective and objective.  In short, in one person’s chart the Sun may connect very strongly and specifically with indications regarding the personality but in another person’s chart it may pertain more to the person’s career, spouse, boss, father, or leader. Not everything in the chart provides indications about the internal functioning of the person’s personality. For this reason, there is the misconception that ancient astrology is about “external” reality and says little about personality, belief, spirituality, and fulfillment.  Actually, many ancient astrological authors address the topics of personality, spirituality, morality, and so forth, both at great length and with the type of subtlety and complexity that better captures the diversity of human experience than the 12 Sun Sign personalities approach and other over-simplistic modern astrological character delineations. In ancient astrological interpretation, there may be 3 planets with strong ties to the mind and personality, each with very different significations, and they may even be in tense conflict with each other, with indications provided for when one becomes more prominent than the others and when conflicting or harmonious relationships between them will tend to manifest. The wider vocabulary of ancient astrology is a welcome move away from the type of astrology that insists that Walt Disney, Josef Stalin, Jimi Hendrix, Brad Pitt, Ted Bundy, and Miley Cyrus all have the same core personality (or main ego drives, etc.) because all were born with the Sun in Sagittarius.

While the signs of the Sun and the Moon are the primary factors for character in modern astrology, planets rather than signs are the key focus for character in ancient astrology.  The Sun and Moon are powerful in ancient astrology as well, but in a general way, signifying power and prominence and being influential over the life as a whole.  If the Sun and/or Moon had a strong influence over character then they’d symbolize bolder and more vibrant character, but the Sun and Moon are not typically the central factors for determining the nature of character.  Rather it is the eastern horizon, called the horoskopos, Ascendant, or Rising point, that is most symbolic of self in ancient astrology.  This is the point where the vast sky, symbolic of the infinite universal soul, rises up out of the ground of the earth, symbolic of the finite personal body, like a soul peering through a body.  Planets ruling or otherwise influencing this point (i.e. planets ruling or in the rising sign) take on particular relevance for interpretation pertaining to the specific individual.

The degree of the Ascendant is based on the earth’s rotation, so the degree of the Ascendant changes about every 4 minutes, compared with the Sun sign which changes once a month.  In this way, ancient astrology links the self with the most individual part of the chart which is dependent upon the particular moment and location of birth, rather than a factor which is the same for everyone born in the same 1/12th of any year anywhere.  The rest of the chart may be seen as symbolic of the circumstances around that individual throughout life.  Predictive techniques animate the symbols to symbolize the individual put into contact with various circumstances, including even the possibility for some development and change in the personality itself.

The Planets – Terminology

The terminology of ancient astrology is sometimes confusing because ancient astrologers were also the first astronomers, thus with the advent of modern astronomy over the last few centuries the terminology of ancient astrology has been appropriated often with a change in technical meaning and application, but one that is slight enough to evoke confusion. It helps to think of the ancient astrological terms as being based more on visual considerations while their modern astronomical equivalents are based on physical considerations.  For instance, in ancient astrology a ‘star’ is basically a glowing heavenly body, and thus included not only the stars in the modern astronomical sense which are defined by their composition, but also the planets and the Moon. Therefore, ancient astrology distinguishes the “fixed” stars from the “wandering” stars.

The term “planet” causes more confusion than any other because not only does it have a different meaning but also modern astrologers have tended to use the term in the astronomical rather than the astrological sense.  For instance, in ancient astrology the “planets” are the seven wandering stars, seen to wander in a regular path along the ecliptic moving from west to east.  They include the Sun and the Moon, though the Sun and Moon were given special status among them as the Lights or Luminaries.  However, they don’t include the modern astronomical outer planets Uranus and Neptune and the dwarf planets like Pluto and Eris.  These so-called planets are not even stars in the ancient sense, let alone wandering stars (i.e. planets), because they are not visibly apparent glowing heavenly bodies.  For this reason, some modern-day traditionalist astrologers who like to use the so-called outer planets have taken to calling them “the invisibles”, or simply “the moderns”, to distinguish them from astrological planets.

The Planets – Order and Symbols

The 7 planets of ancient astrology are typically ordered in terms of apparent speed.  This order was conceived of as spheres around the Earth which were the domains of each planet.  At birth the soul would descend from the fixed stars to Earth through each planetary sphere, from Saturn, thru to the Moon, and then Earth, taking on different physical and spiritual qualities along the way in parallel to fetal development.  At death the soul would ascend from the Earth upwards through the spheres of the Moon, Mercury, and so forth, tested at each sphere and shedding some worldly attribute (possibly influencing the Christian conception of the seven deadly sins according to some scholars). This order is sometimes called the Chaldean order of the planets.  Typically the order starts with the slowest planet, Saturn, marking the farthest sphere.  Here I list the planetary spheres from fastest/closest to slowest/furthest:

        1. The Moon
        2. Mercury
        3. Venus
        4. The Sun
        5. Mars
        6. Jupiter
        7. Saturn

There are a couple things to notice about this order that will help you to remember it.  First, The Sun is in the center of the list, dividing the rest of the planets into “inferiors” (Venus, Mercury, The Moon) and “superiors” (Mars, Jupiter, Saturn).  The extreme closest to the Earth is the Moon, while that furthest is Saturn, which can be remembered by thinking of the crescent of the Moon and rings of Saturn, as both being wispy circles on either end of the list.  You may have heard the expression that men are from Mars and women from Venus, Mars pertaining to masculinity and Venus to femininity, and here they flank the Sun on either side, Venus being the organ in the direction of Earth while Mars the organ pushing out to the stars.  The giant Jupiter is out toward Saturn and the tiny Mercury in toward the Moon.

The glyphs for the planets can be seen here.  The glyphs for the Sun and Moon are pretty easy to grasp.  Many are also familiar with the glyphs for Venus (like stick person, think “female”) and Mars (a circle with an arrow, think “erection”).  The glyph for Mercury is pretty easy to grasp, as it looks like a stick person with a winged hat – Mercury is the messenger.  The symbols for Jupiter and Saturn are most confusing for beginners, and they are derived from the Greek Z for Zeus and K for Kronos respectively.  Jupiter looks like a 4: think 4 corners and peace of mind; Saturn looks like a cross with a tail: think cross to bear and a little devilish.

The Planets – Core Significance

The seven planets are the most important symbols in the astrological language.  Your ability to read a chart will depend upon being able to get a sense for their core significations and associations, as well as their quality on an energetic level.  It is very easy to be mislead when reading a chart if you do not have a clear idea of the meaning and distinctness of each planet.  These are your 7 notes to play in astrology.

As I explain the significance of each planet our first practical application of astrology will be in trying to describe people, their personalities, and general things in life using the planets as adjectives.

Saturn – Ancient, dead, land, raw resources, dark, fear-inducing, lack, obligation, duty, macabre, cold, doubting, restrictive.

Jupiter -Lofty, opportune, joyous, generous, open, fertile, popular, teaching, warm, trusting, expansive.

Mars – Fiery, intense, aggressive, dangerous, bold, pack-animals/swarm/march, very hot, disagreeable, explosive.

The Sun – Vibrant, powerful, prominent, rational, leading, pioneering, hot, influential, attention-getting.

Venus – Beautiful, pleasurable, friendly, sensual, sexual, mysterious, intoxicating, wet, agreeable, soothing.

Mercury – Clever, skilled, complex, cunning, numbers, language, business, transporting, dry, knowledgeable, informative.

The Moon – Primal, powerful, idiosyncratic, irrational, natural, familial, nurturing, journeying, wet and changeable, personal, intimate.

Thinking in Planets

Let’s think of a few well-known figures and what planets we’d associate with their lives and personalities. There are no right or wrong answers in this exercise, as long as one is able to keep the planets distinct and think of why they feel some signification applies to a certain aspect of the life or personality.

Einstein – He doesn’t strike us as very dark and foreboding (Saturn).  His personality seemed a bit Jupiterian, i.e. lofty, joyful and expansive.  He doesn’t strike us as hot-tempered at all (Mars), but he did deal with themes in his professional life of intense energy.  The genius, pioneering, and attention-getting significations of the Sun seem to pertain very strongly to his life’s work as a whole.  He doesn’t strike one as particularly sensual or artistic (Venus) but he has more of a mysterious friendliness than a gregarious Jupiterian friendliness.  Mercury seems to have had a major impact on his life’s work as a whole as it very much was concerned with numbers, knowledge, complexity, and information, though his personality doesn’t strike us as a dry informative Mercurial type.  As far as scientists go he seems more lunar than typical in his personality, in that he seems more natural, idiosyncratic, intimate, and embracing of the irrational.  Overall, it would seem that his legacy is particularly well-described by Mercury and the Sun, while his personality seems more lunar, Jupiterian, and possibly Venusian.

Bjork – Bjork strikes me as very lunar in many ways as her art seems to stress a certain natural, primal, intimate, and irrational side of things.  She is an artist which automatically brings to mind Venus but in her style and approach she seems to stress attention-getting vibrant creative genius (Sun) and intimate personal expression (Moon).

James Randi – It’s hard to imagine the guy as anything but a dark, duty-bound, doubtful figure aiming to strike fear into con artist New Age gurus, which is Saturn all the way.  As a magician, he’s clever, an entertainer, and an attention-getting rationalist, so Mercury and the Sun also come to mind.

Barack Obama – As a leader, the Sun definitely comes to mind as having a prominent role to play in the life.  Personality-wise he seems somewhere between Jupiter and Saturn, between open and gregarious Jupiter and the cool formal sternness of Saturn. His general tendency to be attended by luck and popularity is consistent with Jupiter.

A Couple Useful Planetary Groupings

There are some ways of grouping or organizing the planets that are particularly useful and meaningful.


One of the most important groupings is by tendency to signify pleasant or unpleasant things.  Two of the planets (Jupiter and Venus) tend toward signifying the most enjoyable types of things while another two of the planets (Saturn and Mars) tend toward signifying the most unpleasant and challenging things.

The Benefics tend toward fortuitous balance.

        • Jupiter – Temperate, fertile, joyous, high, opportune, sweet.
        • Venus -Temperate, fertile, pleasurable, beautiful, satiated, fatty.

The Malefics tend toward unpleasant extremes.

        • Saturn -Cold, depressed, slow, extremes of lack of life and activity.
        • Mars – Hot, angered, overloaded, extremes of violent energy.

The Lights tend toward prominence and influence, which is neutral but often desired.

        • The Sun – Attainment, honors, leadership.
        • The Moon – Depth, naturalness, subjective significance.

Mercury is amoral, complex, combining. It is the most neutral but also tends toward argument, contention, and dryness, so was considered by some to tend toward slight displeasure.


Another very useful and important division is called “sect”.  Three planets are more associated with the day and the sky (i.e. above the horizon), and three with the night and the ground/underworld (i.e. below the horizon), while Mercury is neutral, affiliating with sects based on specific circumstances. Each sect is led by a Light and has one benefic and one malefic.

The Day or Diurnal sect is led by The Sun, with the benefic Jupiter and the malefic Saturn.  These planets are also more associated with the realm above the horizon, which is more sky-like, soul-oriented, or abstract, so they tend to signify along more social, mental, and spiritual lines.

The Night or Nocturnal sect is led by The Moon, with the benefic Venus and the malefic Mars.  These planets are also more associated with the realm below the horizon, which is more earth-like, body-oriented, or tangible, so they tend to signify along more familial, physical, and resourceful lines.

All of the planets can signify along either abstract or tangible lines, but generally Saturn would be more likely to signify something like imprisonment and Mars something like assault.  Similarly, Jupiter tends toward things like getting a job or receiving wisdom, while Venus would tend to signify a delicious dinner or great sexual experience.

Sect will be dealt with at much greater length in future lessons, as it is an extremely important factor in astrological interpretation.


Think about the significations of the planets that I’ve provided.  Which planet or planets play the greatest role in your life?  Which ones best describe your personality?  Ask yourself these questions about loved ones as well.

The planets can span nearly any topic in life, so also think about people, place, things, and events in general in terms of the planets.  If someone goes on vacation think “Moon”, as she journeys.  If someone is frequently commuting, think “Mercury”.  Seeing a major CEO, think “Sun”.  A homeless person should make you think “Saturn”, and a lottery winner should make you think “Jupiter”.  An attractive musician should have you thinking “Venus”, while muscles and tattoos should have you thinking “Mars”.  A computer database is “Mercury”, an explosion is “Mars”.  Practice thinking like this and in the next lesson I’ll address one way to find the general prominence or “volume” (as in loudness) of a planet’s significations in someone’s life.

Astrological Sign Classifications | 4. Lustful Signs

Scorpio often gets a bad rap in modern astrology for being particularly lustful.  To be fair, connections between Venus and Mars in ancient astrology were associated with abundant lust, so from Venus in a sign of Mars, such as Scorpio, a case might be made for an augmented sex drive.  However, it is worth noting that in Hellenistic astrology there was a particular set of signs identified as being more lustful than others, and Scorpio was not one of them.  In this post, I’ll be briefly discussing which signs these were and how they were used to indicate “wanton” or “deviant” sexual behavior.

The Lustful Signs

Aries, Taurus, and Capricorn appear consistently in the lists of such signs, and together with Pisces in the early list of Dorotheus (1st Century CE).  Leo pops up in the list of Rhetorius (6th-7th Century CE), as well as Libra noted to a lesser extent, due to its strong relationship with Capricorn. This is summarized in the table below, which also includes the list of al-Qabisi (the Persians appear to have been heavily influenced by Dorotheus and Rhetorius).



First, it should be noted that many ancient authors delineate sexuality and discuss wanton sexuality without any reference to this set of signs.  Even in those authors that use these signs, they are discussed among many other indicators.  In short, you cannot delineate the extent of a person’s lust or how wanton their sexual behavior is from placements in these signs alone.  However, these would be the signs that are traditionally more intense or at variance from the norm in their sexual expression.

The placement of Venus in one of these signs is particularly important.  Dorotheus looked specifically at the placement of Venus in one of these signs (as it would indicate scandal if she were also under the beams and with or dominated by malefics, i.e. a more lustful Venus + hidden + strongly influenced toward difficulties = sexual scandal).

Rhetorius gave two different lists of such signs but did not delineate their use at that place in his work.  In preceding chapters pertaining to lechery he seemed most interested in placements of the Ascendant and Venus though (in certain degrees and decans respectively).  In Chapter 116 on “Lechery”, Rhetorius did use the lecherous signs explicitly though.  He directed us to look at placement in such signs of the ruler of the Ascendant, ruler of the Lot of Fortune (Lot of the Moon), and ruler of the Lot of Daemon/Spirit (Lot of the Sun) – apparently all three in lecherous signs indicates a lecherous person.  In a sense this pertains to the rulers of the most personal point (the Ascendant) and the most personal Lots (those of the Lights), so we get the sense that Rhetorius finds it important when the person (personal points) is directed (ruler) toward signs indicative of lustful behavior.

Umar al-Tabari (8th Century CE) also used the signs abounding in lust in his discussion of sexuality (Three Books on Nativities, II, Ch. 5).  He seems to think Venus is important, personal significators are important, and points pertaining to relationships are all important in this.  For instance, he directed that if signs abounding in lust hold many of the following: Venus, the Sun, Lot of Marriage (Saturn to Venus from Asc for men, Venus to Saturn from Asc for women), many personal significators, and Lord of the 7th, then the person will be very sexually active and along particularly unsavory dimensions.

The Bounds | Tables and Origins

The bounds are a system of dividing each zodiacal sign into 5 unequal regions called bounds or terms, each typically ruled by one of the five “non-Light” planets, i.e. the five planets beside the Sun and Moon.

The only system of the bounds to be independently attested in more than one ancient source and to be employed in early archaeologically recovered horoscopes is the system which Ptolemy called “Egyptian”, a label that has stuck through the ages.

The Egyptian bounds are also the system that I use in my own practice. The bound ruler of a planet or point, such as the Ascendant, has an influence over the nature of that planet or point, and the bound serves as a link between the two.  The bounds become particularly important in some types of longevity and predictive techniques in Hellenistic and Persian astrology.

You can find a great set of charts of the various systems of bounds on the Altair Astrology site.  When I’m online and want to look up the Egyptian bounds that’s where I go, because it’s clean and clear.

A recent paper discussing the possible Babylonian origin of the so-called “Egyptian” bounds has recently been published based on the discovery of two (of three) cuneiform tablets in which the bounds of the signs were recorded.  These tablets may date back to the 4th or 5th Century BCE.  The paper provides some great technical and historic background on the bounds and their variation in ancient literature.


Mercury in Gemini, Mercury in Virgo | Not Strong for the Intellect

The main idea here is that Mercury in its own signs is a counter-indication of intellectual strength, rather than the exact opposite as might be assumed by an over-reliance on the concept of dignity for general strength of natural signification. 

If you believe that Mercury, planet of intellect, must bode well for the intellect in its own domiciles, Gemini and Virgo, then you are mistaken.

For those who don’t know, I use “dignity” for rulership, pertinence, and various qualitative considerations in my own astrological work, but I abhor the typical over-reliance on dignity in traditional circles for matters of strength and goodness of a planet, especially when it comes to the latter.  I have made it a point to speak out against such usage of dignity whenever possible, to completely avoid use of dignity in that manner in my own work on the blog, and to frequently engage in polemics about the idiocy of heavy reliance on dignity in such a way.  For instance, I’ve discussed the dignity problem in “The Curious Case of Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Turner” (and its sequel) and “Dignity: The Biggest Problem with Late Traditional Astrology“.  Here I look at one particularly cogent error of the dignity approach, the belief that Mercury, natural significator of the rationalizing mind, bodes well for the intellect in the signs where it is most dignified, its domiciles Virgo and Gemini.

Mercury in Virgo or Gemini Can Be An Indication of a Small Intellect

Both Masha’allah (On Nativities, c.f. Dykes trans., 2008, Section 5) and Abu’ali al-Khayyat (The Judgment of Nativities, c.f. Dykes trans., 2009, Ch. 5) discussed the signification of Mercury in terms of manner of thinking and speaking through different sorts of signs, with a particular emphasis on quadruplicity (whether in a Cardinal/Moveable/Changeable sign, a Fixed sign, or a Common/Mutable sign).  Their comments take place in their discussion of delineating character, mind, and will in the chart, using the lord of the Ascendant, and Mercury, with Mercury indicating the manner of speaking (and also of intellect, to at least Abu’ali).

They seem to agree that Mercury in a Cardinal sign indicates an enthusiasm, fast grasp of things, and even skill in speech, while in a Fixed sign a deeper more serious search for truth and good advice is indicated, both in contrast to Mercury in a Common sign, which includes Virgo and Gemini as well as Sagittarius and Pisces, and is indicative of a small intellect which is quick to anger and slow to understand.  Additionally, Abu Bakr, in a passage pertaining to indications of quickness to rage, noted Mercury in one of his own domiciles as an indication of instability.  These passages are summarized below.

Mercury through the Quadruplicities

  1. Cardinal/Moveable/Changeable Signs (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn): On Mercury in a cardinal sign, Masha’allah said, “…strong and in a moveable sign, it indicates he has a good way of speaking, and an honored one, and one fearing God” (Dykes, 2008, Section 5, p. 398).  On Mercury in a cardinal sign, Abu’ali said, “…it signifies the intellect’s loftiness, easy grasp [of things], and [its] beauty, and love of the sciences, and religion” (Dykes, 2009, Ch. 5, p. 236).
  2. Fixed/Solid Signs (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius): On Mercury in a fixed sign, Masha’allah said, “…it indicates he is going to be honored, and by means of truth and goodness and counsel in his life, and his advice will be most truthful in every way, and will free hindered advice from hindrances” (Dykes, 2008, Section 5, p. 398).  On Mercury in a fixed sign, Abu’ali said, “…it signifies prudence, constancy, mercy [or pity], and the fulfillment of things undertaken” (Dykes, 2009, Ch. 5, p. 236).
  3. Mutable/Common Signs (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces): On Mercury in a mutable sign, Masha’allah said, “…it indicates he has little wisdom, and is liable to anger, and as a rule he does not believe the advice of another” (Dykes, 2008, Section 5, p. 398). On Mercury in a mutable sign, Abu’ali said, “…it signifies a small intellect with great speediness, and quickness to anger, and a scarce and small stability or perseverance in something undertaken, or advice, or business” (Dykes, 2009, Ch. 5, p. 236).  Additionally, Abu Bakr noted, “If Mercury were in his own domicile, the native will be fearful and unsound” (Dykes, 2010, On Nativities, Book II, Ch. 1.2, p. 143).


The delineation of intellectual strength is not something to be taken lightly.  Intellect cannot be delineated based on the quadruplicity of Mercury’s sign placement alone.  What is significant is that Mercury in a mutable sign, especially Mercury in its own domicile, is one indication of a weaker, more superficial and unstable, intellect.  It is in contrast to both immediate competency or directness (cardinal) and probing steadiness (fixed).  Mercury, as a significator of intellect and speech, moves from place to place and constantly connects things, much like the syntactic force of natural language, training complex ideas together.  Similarly, mutable signs are associated with back-and-forth between two things or parties, and are all domiciles of Mercury and Jupiter.  It would seem that a mutable sign accentuates the instability of Mercury, rather than directing it and stabilizing it.  When he’s just working for himself, so to speak, Mercury is even more unstable.  This seems to be particularly so in Gemini, which is additionally an Air sign, accentuating the flitting quality of Mercury.

In my own experience, I find the sign quadruplicity of Mercury to be one of the weaker indications of intellectual strength.  However, in that matter, it seems many more noteworthy intellectuals had Mercury in a sign of Jupiter, Sagittarius or Pisces,  where it is said to be in detriment or fall, than in Virgo or (particularly) Gemini.  For instance, Copernicus, Schopenhauer, and Noam Chomsky, all have Mercury in a sign of Jupiter.  Rulership by Jupiter at least links Mercury with wisdom, philosophy and/or religion, and the search for greater truth. Rulership by Jupiter also links Mercury with gain and fortune. Noam Chomsky and Christopher Hirata (child prodigy with a very high IQ who started work with NASA when 16), both have Mercury in Sagittarius, combust the Sun in Sagittarius, not regarded by its ruler Jupiter, but conjunct an angle and in a stake, with strong identification with Mercury as it is either in the first or ruling the first house in both charts.  Copernicus too has Mercury with the Sun in a stake in a Jupiter-ruled sign (Pisces), with Mercury ruling the first house (Virgo), though he has Jupiter regarding Mercury. In these cases, we see that the link of Mercury with Jupiter by rulership, the prominence of Mercury by advancement, and the identification with Mercury shown through some important rulership of the Ascendant and/or position in the stakes, may be more important indicators of someone known for their intellectual prowess than factors like dignity, quadruplicity, combustion (though the converse of Mercury with the Sun showing additional public importance attached to a planet may be the case), and reception.

On a personal note, I’ve always been quite blown away by my own daughter’s very early and articulate usage of language.  She has Mercury in Pisces and combust, within 3 degrees of the Sun, though strongly advancing and in the 5th. 4 of her 7 planets are in Air signs, including a Gemini Moon.  The ruler of Mercury, Jupiter, is cadent and retreating in the 12th, so does not aspect Mercury. She was fluid and articulate in her speech from when she first began to speak, and has always been ahead of the curve both linguistically and mathematically.  At every parent-teacher conference, the teacher has been most impressed with the depth of her story-telling and social abilities, noting that for a 6-year-old, she tells her stories with an unusual amount of detail and is not afraid to attempt to write larger words [update: I find this still to be the case now that she’s 10].

I may address the delineation of intellect at greater depth in another post.  The main idea here is that Mercury in its own signs is a counter-indication of intellectual strength, rather than the exact opposite as might be assumed by an over-reliance on the concept of dignity for general strength of natural signification. 



al-Tabari, U., & al-Hasib, A. B. (2010). Persian Nativities II:  ’Umar al-Tabari and Abu Bakr. (B. N. Dykes, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press.
Bishr, S. ibn, & Masha’allah. (2008). Works of Sahl & Masha’allah. (B. N. Dykes, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press.
Masha’allah, & al-Khayyat, A.  ’Ali. (2009). Persian Nativities I: Masha’allah and Abu  ’Ali. (B. N. Dykes, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press.