Traditional Astrology of Death | A History of Length of Life Special Techniques

Now I will explain to you the length of life and the number of years as I attempt [to compute it], because sometimes you will want to consider it in a horoscopic diagram as I will show you. […] I wanted to know the places of the haylaj among which he was born because they are five places, and none of the planets was in them except in the ascendent in which the Sun was; and it is the best of the places.

But I calculated for this nativity from the degrees of the ascendent[…]

(Dorotheus, Book III, Ch. 1, Pingree trans., 2005, p. 237-238)

Note on Updates 6/28/15: Dear Reader, the history of this blog post would itself be an interesting matter for astrological analysis. This article was first published on the morning of 5/19/15, within 24 hours of Mercury stationing retrograde. Over a period of about 40 days, the post underwent 38 revisions (inclusive of this one). Many of the revisions were minor, but around 6/9/15, 6/21/15, and at this time, there were some major revisions. First, by obtaining the 2nd book of Hephaistio’s Apotelesmatics, at the recommendation of Chris Brennan, I realized that the entire first chapter of Book III of the Carmen of Dorotheus was almost certainly an addition, so I edited my treatment of that section to reflect that. Secondly, I felt that the omission of the planetary years approaches of Firmicus Maternus and Paulus Alexandrinus made it seem like there was more of a chasm between the medieval approaches and any Hellenistic approaches than there were, as the Medieval approaches are actually strongly based in the late Hellenistic approach of Paulus, so material was added to reflect this.

Today’s edit, which is hopefully the last one, is much more major and is a result of my own hubris for which I offer sincere apology. My readings of the first few chapters of the Reilly translation of Book III of Valens had led me to believe that Valens used the “ruler” (alcocoden) much like the apheta (hyleg), by judging ascensional times of its square. There are  references in the book of Mercury giving a portion of its complete years of 76, and of Venus giving her complete years of 84. I supposed (incorrectly) that these referred to ascensional time indications as: 1. Valens did not explicate the years of the planets at any point prior to these passages; 2. the complete years of Venus are (typically given as) 82 years, not 84 years; 3. Valens subtracts a portion of the 76 years of Mercury based on separation distance of Mercury from an angle, which seemed like subtraction of a portion of arc of ascensions based on portion already traveled. With a thorough reading of the Robert Schmidt translation of the same passages, with their extensive footnotes by Schmidt and Hand, I do now believe that the technique involved the complete (i.e. greater) years of the “ruler” (alcocoden). The technique still differs from the approaches of Maternus and Paulus which formed the backdrop of the Medieval technique, in that Valens only allows the bound lord to be “ruler”, does allow for no “ruler” where you just don’t use planetary years at all, only uses the complete years (at least in the context of this technique; he does do some more ad hoc stuff with minor years added to single sign ascensional times in the last chapter of the book), and does subtractions from complete years based on amount of zodiacal separation from an angle rather than by aspecting planets.

Given these revelations and the drastic evolution of the article, I thought it necessary to rename the article to reflect its nature as a historical overview. I do believe that the criticism of the Medieval approach is still relevant, as the Medieval approach tends to be a modification of a late Hellenistic approach and with it we lose both the great diversity in approach that existed in the Medieval era, and some of the greater insights of those approaches.


As I’ve been restoring some articles dealing with death and timing techniques, I think I should say a little about the old hyleg/alcocoden technique for longevity.  This is a technique that was controversially popularized by Rob Zoller a couple decades ago.  Zoller sold a couple publications on it that included heavily obfuscated translations of Bonatti’s writings on it. Notably, even promoters of this technique have a hard time finding a few good celebrity examples in which it predicts death, or even simply a very major health crisis. I remember that in Zoller’s own writings, he quickly came to the conclusion that it didn’t predict death but may predict critical periods, as it predicted a very short life for him and he did indeed have a health crisis as a child. Though when it came to examples, he was forced to make spurious alterations to the technique in order to force it to work, such as suggesting that one person may have died at the time he did because of it being midpoint or half the indicated time span.

There are intimations of the technique in early Hellenistic astrology in  Dorotheus (Book III, Ch. 2; note that Ch. 1 is likely a later addition; also see Hephaistio’s Apotelesmatics, Book II, Ch. 26 for a summary of Dorotheus which is free of the medieval corruptions), Valens (Book III), and Ptolemy (Book III, Ch. 10; Note: there’s a hyleg but nothing truly analogous to an alcocoden in Ptolemy’s technique).  It changed its flavor quite sharply in the Middle Ages with the introduction of numerical weighted dignity and particular reliance on a modified version of the approach of Paulus Alexandrinus.  My problem with this technique is threefold:

1. The medieval form of the technique (often as given by Bonatti; though the exposition in Masha’allah’s “On Nativities” is clearer) is typically presented as the authoritative version, despite it being a modification of a version probably created over 400 years after the origination of the technique and quite at odds with the original sources. It is additionally reinterpreted for modern audiences in ways inconsistent with its original use both in the Hellenistic period and the Middle Ages.

2. The alcocoden’s indications by planetary years do not consistently indicate the minimum life span of a given individual, so the Medieval technique is a misleading distraction. Valens is apparently the first astrologer to have used the planetary years of the alcocoden as a possible indication, but he himself used it as one possible indicator of maximum lifespan (provided a malefic direction to the hyleg did not cut the life much shorter), with rules as to when it should be used (and when the alcocoden simply doesn’t exist in the chart). He also took only the bound lord of the hyleg as possible alcocoden, only used the greater years of the planet (or some portion thereof; at least in the context of this particular technique), and instructed as to when the life can be judged to be much shorter than that indicated by the planetary years. The Medieval technique lacks all of these features of the early technique.

3. Traditional primary directions to the hyleg do not consistently indicate the time of death, so the Medieval form of the technique with a stress on aspectual primary direction is also a misleading distraction in this sense, or at least perpetuates a myth about the necessity of an aspectual primary direction to the hyleg. Valens himself explicitly noted that many die without such an aspectual direction and that such can happen when the alcocoden is very well-placed or there is no alcocoden and there are no planets that aspect by directions without the intervention of a benefic.

1. A History of Alteration

a. Hellenistic

The technique differs significantly from author to author in the Hellenistic period. Valens alone presents more than 3 different distinct approaches to the subject, and comments on the diversity of opinion.  One of the earliest surviving accounts is in Dorotheus (1st century CE), but that particular book of Carmen Astrologicum is the most corrupt book of the five, with one of the two chapters likely to be an addition. Our best indications of the original Dorothean text come to us from Hephaistio’s summary in Book II, Ch. 26 of Apotelesmatics, and indicate that Ch. 2 of Book III of Carmen is most likely the original Dorothean technique.  Another, possibly earlier instance of the use of length of life technique from the early 1st century CE is found in fragments attributed to the Roman court astrologer Balbilus, but the account is incomplete so I won’t consider it further here (for more on the fragment of Balbilus concerning length of life, see the article by Martin Gansten by clicking this link).  Both Ptolemy and Valens also gave their versions of the technique in the 2nd century CE. All three Hellenistic authors vary in significant ways from each other, but all stress some type of timing through primary directions, a key planet as indicator (apheta, hyleg, or haylaj), and little or no use of another planet that rules the apheta (kadhkhudah or alcocoden). The two major early approaches of Dorotheus and Ptolemy, lack any use of planetary years, while the approach of Valens appears to use planetary years as one component, but in a very different manner than their later use by Firmicus Maternus, Paulus Alexandrinus, and the Medieval astrologers.

Manilius wrote the oldest complete surviving astrological text, the Astronomica (early 1st century CE). In Book III, he discusses some means of assessing length of life by assigning years to signs (his values relate roughly to the ascensional times of the signs with Virgo and Libra assigned values roughly twice that of Pisces and Aries), though he didn’t provide directions on how to use them. He also assigned length of life based on the whole sign house that the Moon is in at birth, from the most advantageous places assigning very long lives and the so-called bad or dark places assigning very short ones (e.g. 78 years in 1st house and 77 years in the 10th house; 12 years in the 6th house, 23 years in the 12th house, and 33 years in the 8th house). Perhaps the value of the sign the Moon is placed in is to be added to the value of the house, as the years assigned to the individual signs are much less (about 10-20 years), but Manilius didn’t explain the use of the signs values. Manilius does not use the primary directions approach, so his approach is at a variance from the typical Hellenistic approach.

Maternus (early 4th century CE) also does not use a a hyleg with directions and instead bases his indications on the planetary years of the planet that rules the sign following that of the Moon, which he takes to be the ruler of the life in general, and a primary indicator for character. The technique of Maternus has much more in common with the technique of Manilius than those of Dorotheus, Ptolemy, and Valens. I discuss him further below, as his technique appears to have been synthesized with the primary directions technique by Paulus Alexandrinus (and possibly his contemporaries) to form the  basis of the Medieval approach.


Dorotheus appears to differ a bit in terms of manner of discovery of the hyleg and alcocoden between the two different chapters of Book III, which is certainly due to later insertions. This particular book of Dorotheus has significant evidence of corruption. Our translation is an English one, of a medieval Arabic translation, of an early medieval Pahlavi translation, of a 1st century Hellenistic text. Both example charts in Book III were dated to later centuries (4th century for the chart in Ch. 1; 3rd century for that in Ch. 2).

Chapter 1 of Book III of Dorotheus appears to be almost wholly a medieval insertion. In that chapter, the hyleg is referred to as the governor and the alcocoden is referred to as the indicator of length of life, with an example chart given (chart dated to 4th century CE by Pingree) in which the Sun is hyleg but the directions are taken from the Ascendant (see opening quote of this article). Chapter 2 is subject to minor corruptions, but most of the passage on finding the hyleg and alcocoden is original, as it also appears in the summary by the Hellenistic astrologer Hephaistio who was working from the Greek.  Interestingly, in this chapter, the hyleg is the indicator of length of life, and the alcocoden is the governor. The alcocoden does not appear to serve any purpose other than helping to indicate the hyleg, as a potential hyleg must have a governor/alcocoden to be selected.

Dorotheus looks to the hyleg as being the most significant planet in terms of signifying health and life in general. In his timing technique, the planets that become time lords show significant events and developments in the general course of life.

Dorotheus does not use the alcocoden at all to indicate the length of life.  In fact, the length is indicated from primary directions to the Ascendant (which is hyleg), but this time he puts particular stress on the lord of the directions through the bounds (i.e. jarbakhtar) in delineating ups and downs in health, and indicates the time of death when Saturn’s aspect directs to the Ascendant (see block quote below).  Mars is the alcocoden, but Mars does not indicate the length of life, and the interest in Mars has more to do with it as a threat, simply due to the fact that it’s a malefic planet. Dorotheus suggests that death happens when the either the bound lord of the directed Ascendant is malefic, or a malefic makes an exact aspect to a degree inside the bound of the directed Ascendant, while no benefic makes an exact aspect to a degree inside that bound (note: he directs by ascensional times rather than true primary directions- click here for an article on directing by ascensions and the use of the bounds).

There was nothing obvious from which the haylaj might be found except the ascendent. The lord of the term of the ascendent, Mars, was above the earth and near the East and the four parts which have been mentioned and [in] the place of good fortune aspecting the ascendent and casting [its] rays to that term in which the ascendent is, from above is[…]

[…] Because Saturn is in the twelfth degree, it indicates the last day of his life, and he will live after the twelfth degree forty-eight nights because Saturn is in the beginning of the degree (at 12;8º].

(Dorotheus, Book III, Ch. 2, Pingree trans., 2005, p. 243-244)

While in the example from Chapter II of Book III, the death is shown by an aspectual direction, Dorotheus makes it clear that it can also come about by the ruler of the bound being malefic if no benefic casts a ray into that same bound. For example, in my analysis of Whitney Houston’s death with primary directions, the Ascendant is hyleg according to the rules given by Dorotheus for its selection. She died while the directed Ascendant was in the Saturn bound of Taurus, which spans from 22 Taurus to 27 Taurus. There are no planets at all in her chart from 22-27 of any sign that aspects Taurus, so no planet casts its ray into the bound. This means that Saturn took over the prorogation (i.e. was the time lord), without the influence of the ray of any benefic, an indication of serious threat to health. Interestingly, these threats related to Saturn are shown also in the natal chart and reflected in a number of other timing techniques around the time of her death. Her death was by accidental drug overdose rather than natural causes.

So, to clarify, Dorotheus did not take the alcocoden to signify the length of life, and he looked at directions to the hyleg, both in terms of bounds and aspectually, as indicating the time of death. Therefore, in the Dorothean technique the hyleg describes the health and life, the alcocoden (which is the bound lord or some other ruler of the hyleg which regards it) helps indicate the hyleg, and timing is done by directions to the hyleg, both by bounds and aspectually.


Valens presents his own methods for finding the hyleg (“the control” or “apheta”) and the alcocoden (“the houseruler” or simply “ruler”) which are largely consistent with the methods of Dorotheus, though Valens puts particular stress on the bound lord as being the only lord eligible under this method, and that there simply is no alcocoden if the bound lord doesn’t qualify. The Valens material on length of life is the most complex out of all of the Hellenistic treatments, and he actually presents multiple techniques in Book III of his Anthology (as well as many more techniques in various books of the Anthology, many involving various combinations of ascensional times with minor years of plaents). I will be touching on a couple of the techniques only briefly here, as they relate to the hyleg/alcocoden type of approach. I advise careful study of Book III of The Anthology (as well as the other books) for more information. The best translation of Book III is available for purchase from Project Hindsight in ebook form for $30 (email and tell her Anthony from Seven Stars sent you). There is also a complete English translation of the entire Anthology which is available free online at this link.

As with Dorotheus, Valens appears to take the hyleg as the main indicator for length of life, with ascensional times to its square (or from one angle to the next) indicating maximum lifespan, and malefic directions to it that lack influence from a benefic, indicating a life cut short before its time.

He does uniquely use the greater years of the alcocoden as a possible stand-in for the hyleg, which is to be preferred as the indication of maximum length of life to the indication by the asensional times of the square of the hyleg, provided that there is an alcocoden and that its greater years indicate a shorter life than that indicated by the hyleg technique. However, Valens only uses the greater years of the alcocoden in this context, and only subtracts from them if the alcocoden is badly placed (such as in the 12th), then subtracting a portion of years from the greater based on the amount of separation of the planet from an angle.

Valens advocated taking the distance in terms of ascensional times from the hyleg to the point square to it (i.e. add 90 degrees to its zodiacal position and then convert that to ascensional times). However, if the hyleg is an angle, then he advises instead taking the distance from the angle to the next angle, and converting that to years by using ascensional times.  That number of years is considered the maximum length of life according to Valens and the native will live that long, provided that there is no alcocoden indicating fewer years, and that no malefic direction cuts things shorter.

Valens noted that certain aspects (those from Saturn, Mars, the Sun, and the Moon coming to a phase) to a point in the vital sector or to the hyleg (within 3 degrees on either side of the degree containing the hyleg itself such that a 7 degree areas is looked at, as explicitly specified by Valens) can cut the life short compared with the lesser of the indications by hyleg’s square and by the alcocoden’s complete years (or the portion of such).  He also notes the importance of the terms of malefics, which may imply use of distributors/jarbakhtars as in Dorotheus, but he never puts such into practice in his examples.  The technique is very complex, so see Book III of the Anthology for more details.

Medieval astrologers, like Umar al-Tabari, used quadrant house position (angular, succedent, or cadent by quadrant houses) to determine if an alcocoden gave its greater, middle, or lesser planetary years, in their planetary years-based  approaches to the alcocoden. This is often thought to originate with Valens’ Book III, Ch. 3, in which he advises to set up porphyry-style houses (i.e. tri-sect each angle zodiacally) and consider the first 1/3 after the angle to be the operative degrees, the next 1/3 to be middling, and the last to be inoperative. This chapter is in the context of his hyleg/alcocoden discussion, but does not reference planetary years at all. Instead, he introduces this manner of division just after referring to operative degrees in the previous paragraph, as way of clarifying what he was referring to. The passage is below and is not in relation to planetary years at all but is in relation to finding a suitably strong planet that can be hyleg (“control” or “controller”) and alcocoden (“houseruler”).

It is necessary to consider the control to be certain if the sun or the moon is in aspect with the ruler of the terms, and if it is at an angle or in operative degrees. If it is found to be turned away, the nativity judged to lack a houseruler.

(Valens, Book III, Ch. 1, Riley trans., 2010, p. 58-59)

Again, Valens, who is the single astrologer who used planetary years more than any other in predictive techniques, did not appear to use planetary years of the alcocoden to indicate minimum life span, but rather to indicate one possible “maximum lifespan” which only comes into play under specific circumstances and always involves the greater years of the bound lord of the hyleg.

 Valens provides some explicit examples of this. In the below passages “aphetic place” refers to the hyleg, and the technique involves allotting the entire ascensional time, unless a malefic intervenes without some sort of amelioration by a benefic, in which case you deduct the portion of the arc following the malefic’s aspect degree (i.e. the length of life is the arc in right ascension from hyleg to malefic aspect). In the example below, he suggests deducting a portion of the greater years of the alcocoden based on its separation from an angle if it is badly placed (see the Project Hindsight translation of this book for more details on how that is done).

If the sun or moon are in the aphetic place, then it will be necessary to figure the total rising times (in the klima of the nativity) from the position of the apheta to the point square with it. Having found the total time, you can forecast that the native will live as many years. This forecast will be accurate if the houseruler is in its own terms or is configured appropriately, has contact or is in aspect with the apheta, and if no anaereta applies its rays and deducts from the number of years. If the houseruler is not in aspect with the controller, but is otherwise found to be favorably configured (i.e. in the Ascendant, at MC while rising), it will allot the full span of years. If it is <not at> one of the other angles, it will deduct a portion of the arc proportional to its relationship <with the rest of the horoscope>, but will allot the remainder <as the length of life>.

(Valens, Book III, Ch. 1, Riley trans., 2010, p. 59)

The technique of using the square of the hyleg, or going from one angle to the next, becomes clearer in the many examples that Valens provides.  As noted, he goes from one angle to the next if the hyleg is an angle.

An example: let a nativity in the second klima have Gemini 8º as the Ascendant, Aquarius 22º as MC. Even though the vital sector starts at the Ascendant, its ending point is by no means at the point square with it, Virgo 8º, but at IC, Leo 22º. I can forecast this total of years, unless some anaereta casts its rays. If an anaereta is in Gemini 20º, or in any degree of Cancer, or projects its rays to such a point, the native will live as many years as the number of degrees <=rising times> from the aphetic point to the anaeretic point.

(Valens, Book III, Ch. 1, Riley trans., 2010, p. 60)

Additionally, Valens presents many more methods for finding critical threats to life, including a method in which a “vital sector” is found based on a type of lot involving the distance from the New Moon closest to birth (either before or after) to the Moon’s position at birth, projected from the Ascendant (see Book III, Ch. 7).  The Medeival “pars hyleg” (prenatal syzygy to natal Moon, projected from Ascendant) appears to be a corruption of this lot, as for this lot Valens instructs that the lot is constructed from the nearest New Moon rather than from the prenatal syzygy (i.e. postnatal New Moon if the birth is after the Full Moon).  Confusingly, Valens advises to take it from birth Moon to postnatal New Moon if birth is preventional, but then to project it in the opposite direction from the Ascendant toward the MC, which is exactly the same as a lot taken from the postnatal New Moon to the Moon, projected in the usual manner. This lot is used as an exact stand-in for the hyleg, in which we look to the square from it as a maximum life span (by ascensional times), compare that with the indication from its bound lord if its properly situated, and then compare that with possible malefic directions (by ascensional times) in which the malefic is strong enough to kill and there is not intervention from a benefic aspect. Again, we take the shorter indication of length of life among the three. What is common among most of the longevity techniques of Valens is that there is some sort of “vital sector” of the chart which indicates lifespan by ascensional times, either by the length of the vital sector itself or by the length from its beginning to a particularly difficult malefic aspect.

Valens also provides a technique involving the lunar nodes, and a much later technique at the end of Book III, in which ascensional times of individual signs are added to minor years of individual planets to create sums that indicate lifespan (without clear directions as to how this technique is to be used; though it is also explored in Book II and possibly in some later books). The great diversity of techniques in Valens is in stark contrast to the homogenization of the length of life approach in the Medieval period and provides many interesting avenues for further research. While Valens does appear to make use of the greater planetary years of the bound lord of the hyleg, at least in some circumstances, he does so in a way that is not consistent with the later Medieval approach, in terms of selection of the alcocoden, the number of years to assign, and what these years indicate.


Finally, Ptolemy also writes on the length of life in Chapter 10 of Book III of the Tetrabiblos (click here for a link to a translation online). However, he really has only 2 parts, a hyleg and killing point, with no alcocoden in his technique. His instructions for finding the hyleg were considered by almost all astrologers commenting on the technique in the Middle Ages, as it notably differed in some ways with the instructions given by Dorotheus. Aside from a lack of alcocoden, some components of Ptolemy’s approach to the hyleg that differ strongly from others is that he appears to have used an idiosyncratic equal house division to identify operative places and he appears to only want to accept the Sun or Moon as hyleg if they are in the 1st, 11th, 10th, 9th, or 7th place of that division. This differs from Dorotheus, as Dorotheus seems to have only taken the hyleg if in the 1st, 10th, or 11th whole sign house (he only names those in Ch. 2 and in the summary by Hephaistio, and he definitely did not permit possible hylegs if they were in the 9th whole sign house).  If they are not in those places then he advises to take the planet with the most forms of testimony (domicile, exaltation, triplicity, bound, or whole sign aspect) over 3 key spots in the chart, as long as that planet has at least 3 total testimonies among the places and is in a position of greater authority than the lights. Only if this also fails does he consider using the Ascendant if the birth was by day. If the birth was by night, he takes the Ascendant if the birth was after a New Moon, but the Lot of Fortune if birth was after a Full Moon.

From there, Ptolemy determines length of life by means of primary directions involving the hyleg. He appears to direct planets and points to the hyleg as is usual in primary directions, but also suggests directing the hyleg itself if the planet or point of the hyleg already passed the MC in the daily rotation, because then you want to see when it directs to the Descendant. The Descendant is symbolic of death, being the point where planets disappear (i.e. western horizon).  In any case, Ptolemy recommends the usual technique of looking for a malefic direction to the hyleg, and insists upon more accurate calculation of the direction, rather than reliance on ascensional times. Most of Ptolemy’s discussion of length of life actually involves his attempts to explain how to accurately use primary directions and why ascensional times don’t work well for points other than the Ascendant. What is conspicuously absent from Ptolemy’s technique for determining  the length of life is an alcocoden and any use of planetary years. In Book IV of the Tetrabiblos, Ptolemy advises to look at directions to the Ascendant for matters concerning the body.

Conclusion Regarding the 3 Main Approaches

What is common among the three early Hellenistic authors using hyleg and alcocoden significators is that there is very little use of indication of length of life by planetary years of the alcocoden, and that the indication of time of death is not necessarily by an aspectual primary direction to the hyleg (though many Hellenistic authors do indicate as such if benefics don’t intervene). These are important points, as these become the cornerstones of the later Medieval technique (i.e. that the alcocoden indicates length of life by planetary years and that the timing of death is by aspectual primary direction to the hyleg).  In the early Hellenistic era, when it comes to timing it is by primary directions, but may be those to the square of the hyleg (or a hylegical lot), from one angle to another,  or to the Ascendant, and may also be shown by the bound lord of the directed hyleg (i.e. the distributor or jarbakhtar). Also, ascensional times are typically preferred to actual primary directions. When it comes to use of planetary years, it is only the bound lord of the hyleg, in certain circumstances, that can indicate a maximum lifespan related to its greater years, and the actual lifespan may be much shorter than that indicated by the bound lord (due to a malefic direction to hyleg).

Late Hellenistic: from Maternus and the Years of the Chart Ruler to the Synthesis of Paulus Alexandrinus

As far as I’m aware, the earliest appearance of an exceptional Hellenistic technique for length of life relying heavily on different levels of planetary years (greater, middle, and lesser) is found in Book II, Ch. 26 of the Mathesis of Firmicus Maternus. This technique is only found in this 4th century Roman text and does not involve the typical hyleg/alcocoden type of features in its approach, nor does it involve primary directions. However, the technique was awkwardly combined with the techniques of Dorotheus and Ptolemy by Paulus Alexandrinus to form the foundation of the Medieval approach to the length of life technique.

The technique of Maternus is more closely aligned to that of Manilius in which some planet indicates some number of years based on its placement, but in the approach of Manilus the number of years are given by the sign and/or house of the planet (apparently the Moon for the house signification; see Manilius, Book III, #560-617), while in the Maternus technique the ruler of the nativity signifies the length of life based on its own planetary years and the strength of its position. The ruler of the nativity is the giver of life and signifies the number of years. Maternus provides instructions for finding the ruler of the nativity in Book IV, Ch. 6, and in his instructions he does appear to relate some methods that are discussed in Dorotheus and Valens in relation to the alcocoden (the likely reason why this method came to be used with the alcocoden in the Middle Ages), such as noting that some use the bound lord of the sect light as the ruler of the nativity.

Maternus advises that the best technique for finding the ruler of the nativity (and thus the giver of years) is to use the ruler of the sign following the Moon’s sign.  However, the Sun and Moon cannot be the ruler of the nativity, so you must take Virgo (Mercury) if the Moon is in Gemini or Cancer at birth (i.e. you skip the signs of the Sun and Moon because they can’t be the ruler of the nativity).  For example, if the Moon were in Scorpio at birth, then the ruler of the nativity would be Jupiter, as it rules Sagittarius, which is the next sign the Moon will occupy after birth. Another example is that if the Moon were in Cancer at birth, then the ruler of the nativity would be Mercury, as it rules Virgo, which is the next eligible sign that the Moon transits after birth (a sign ruled by the Sun or Moon is not eligible). The ruler of the nativity is both the single most important planet for describing the person and also is indicative of the years someone will live. For instance, a well-placed Jupiter as ruler of life will signify a lifespan of 79 years, and will make for a magnanimous character; a well-placed Mercury as ruler of life will signify a lifespan of 108 years and a learned character.

The approaches of most other Hellenistic astrologers relied upon various methods of timing through primary directions rather than upon significations by planetary years. When the approach of Maternus was taken up and combined with the other approaches to the hyleg by Paulus Alexandrinus, the preferred approach to finding the giver of life that is suggested by Maternus was dropped and instead the special ruler of the hyleg (typically the bound lord) was used instead. As with the seemingly simplistic technique of Manilius, one may question the value of the simple technique used by Maternus of putting such important significations as the length of life and main character traits into one planet that rules the sign after the sign in which the Moon is placed.

Roman astrologer Paulus Alexandrinus, in Book II, Ch. 36, of his Introductory Matters (late 4th century CE), presents his approach which combines features of the hyleg/alcocoden technique with the planetary years technique of Maternus. It is not as much of a synthesis as found in the Medieval Persian texts because while Paulus does deal with primary directions, it is in another chapter on times of crises (Ch. 34) and he advises there to look at directions to the Sun, Moon, and Ascendant, rather than specifically to a hylegical significator. In Chapter 36, he is instead interested in the chart ruler, as was Maternus, but his method of finding the chart ruler is something of a variation on the Dorothean approach to finding the governor or alcocoden rather than the preferred approach of Maternus.

When Paulus finds the planet with the “rulership”, he assesses the length of life by planetary years in a similar manner as Maternus. There are some key differences in the approach of Paulus to that of  Maternus in how years are assigned (I refer to the “rulership” planet as the governor here):

1. Paulus allows the Sun and Moon to be governor (i.e. to assign years as length of life).

2. Paulus insists that any of the 5 planets (i.e. excluding the light) that regard the governor add their minor years, including malefics as long as they are well placed and in a place they rule, though the malefics (Saturn or Mars) subtract their years instead if they are not in such place. Benefics cannot subtract years, but fail to add any years if they are in hard aspect to the governor (i.e. whole sign square or opposition) and are retrograde, under the beams of the Sun, or cadent (in the whole sign 12th, 6th, 9th, or 3rd).

Therefore, in Paulus we find the synthesis of the method for finding a governor or alcocoden that is based in the approach of Dorotheus, with an assigning of planetary years to the governor that appears to be a variation on the approach of Firmicus Maternus, with the Lights now also permitted to be governor and with the 5 planets possibly adding or subtracting years from the significations of the governor. Paulus doesn’t seem to put as much stock into judging the length of life by primary directions, but does advise looking at primary directions to the Sun, Moon, and Ascendant by malefics (and the lights) for assessing points of crisis, though calculated using ascensional times (as was done by Dorotheus and Valens).  The Medieval techniques can be seen as extensions of the technique of Paulus which seek to further synthesize the two approaches (such as by looking at the planetary years of the alcocoden, then also trying to direct the alcocoden) and fine-tune the rules for when planets assign their greater, middle, or lesser years and how other planets add or subtract years.

b. Medieval

Masha’allah (8th century CE) in his work, The Book of Aristotle, makes some minor changes to the technique, but there does not appear to be a stress on planetary years in his treatment in The Book of Aristotle. Masha’allah is relatively consistent with approaches in the Hellenistic tradition when it comes to choosing the hyleg and alcocoden, stressing that the alcocoden should be the bound lord of the hyleg.  However, he does stress that a planet be preferred that has more than one type of dignity (notably he states that 2 minor forms of dignity would trump having domicile only) at the position of the hyleg. There are also some differences when it comes to indicating length of life. He names four methods for calculating length of life and 3 of them involve aspectual primary directions, while the fourth is a more obscure technique involving the lot of fortune.  The stress on primary directions is consistent with the Hellenistic tradition, but the stress on them being aspectual and to the hyleg or alcocoden, presages a leaning toward Ptolemy in the technique in which an exact primary direction to the hyleg came to be believed necessary as an indication of death, rather than the Dorothean approach of a malefic ruling the bound or exactly aspecting the bound with no benefic casting a ray into the same bound. To be fair, Masha’allah does acknowledge later in the section that the threat can be shown by the jarbakhtar (directions through the bounds).

A minor remark in Masha’allah’s Book of Aristotle regarding those with an afflicted hyleg and how the Sun would only grant 19 years, months, or days to such people, and similar with the rest of the planets, suggests the introduction of planetary years into the Medieval technique. Though Masha’allah in the other passages continues to stress the primary directions and does not explicitly advise the use of planetary years of the alcocoden or any planet as signifying a minimum or maximum length of life.

The Medieval technique that we know today, in which the alcocoden is used to determine the length of life based on planetary years becomes prominent in Persian astrology with Masha’allah’s On Nativities (in Works of Sahl & Masha’allah, translated by Ben Dykes), as well as in Umar al-Tabari’s work on nativities (see his treatment in Ben Dykes’ compilation, Persian Nativities II). In On Nativities, Masha’allah specifically advises that the alcocoden (or “kadukhudhah”) signifies the length of life and that it is taken by planetary years, and you judge whether to give the greater, middle, or lesser years of the planet according to  the condition of the alcocoden.  It appears to be around this point in time that the planetary years approach of Firmicus Maternus and Paulus Alexandrinus gets shuttled into the Medieval technique and comes to be one of its key features. Additionally, in this text Masha’allah advises that benefics and malefics in aspect to the alcocoden add or subtract years or months from its significations in accordance with the lesser planetary years of the aspecting planet and the condition of the aspecting planet. Therefore, we see the use of the addition/subtraction technique of Paulus, but already with variation from the way that he used it. When it comes to timing, Masha’allah takes the direction to the alcocoden of a malefic that impedes the alcocoden to be the indicator of timing of death.  The use of the alcocoden instead of the hyleg as the directed point indicating death is at a variance from the typical Hellenistic approach.

As this is only a blog article, I won’t go more in depth into the Medieval permutations of the technique, as it is clear that it was around the 8th century CE, with Masha’allah and Umar al-Tabari, that the key features of the technique were established involving planetary years of an alcocoden added to and subtracted from  by aspecting planets (variations on the method of Paulus) combined with an emphasis on an aspectual primary direction to the hyleg or alcocoden as the indication of death (variations on the method of Ptolemy). Later authors writing in Arabic echoed the stress on planetary years of the alcocoden, and this remained the mainstay of the technique in the later Middle Ages, such as in Bonatti’s Book of Astronomy.

c. Modern

As this technique has been taken up by modern astrologers, the later permutation involving a length of life shown by planetary years and a death shown by an aspectual primary direction to the hyleg has become the popular presentation.  There is precedent in Hellenistic astrology for the latter stress on primary direction to the hyleg (or at least some significant point), but the strong reliance on planetary years of the alcocoden is much more suspect.  This permutation has its roots in the late Hellenistic period but does not appear to be consistent with the approaches in the early Hellenistic period.

Additionally, certain key changes have been made in terms of the philosophical underpinning.  In ancient astrology, the type of death indicated could be of a multitude of types, as internal and external factors were both indicated in the natal chart, such that the cause of death could be as varied as death by disease, death in a fire, death by execution, death by accident, etc. In modern forms, this technique is often taken to be one concerned with internal “health”. In modern times, it is often presented as one in which the alcocoden by planetary years signifies the allotted length of life before the onset of serious health crises.  The original technique was couched in terms of danger and critical periods, with the possibility that afflictions may not lead to death if a benefic intervenes.  They did not refer specifically and exclusively to internal health concerns, so such a reading may be inaccurate, failing to take into account other types of dangers. While modern medical advances may help to avert or remediate some internal natural health difficulties, there are also numerous additional ways that one can die by accident in the modern world; types of accidents that didn’t exist in the ancient world. In his chapter on crises, Paulus Alexandrinus even goes out of his way to specify that the crises indicated by malefic primary directions to the lights or Ascendant might not always involve disease but could be as varied as a lawsuit, a shipwreck, or being stuck in a foreign country. There is no reason to think that indications from a length of life technique need involve disease and not one of the many other possible causes of death.
This technique is not traditionally one concerned only with physical internal health, but with threats to life and limb of all varieties, with separate techniques existing for trying to ascertain the nature of such threats.

Additionally, at least for Valens, the indications of longevity pertained to “maximum lifespan” rather than to minimum.  For him, all sorts of threats could end the life before this time, rather than the timing technique guaranteeing a certain number of years. It is inconsistent with the original approach to interpret the length of life indication as providing a guaranteed time frame in which one is free of serious health crises. I am reminded of Orson Welles whose life was plagued by serious health crises, particularly related to spinal problems, from a young age, yet lived to age 70 (about the time for the Moon to direct to the Descendant).  Similarly, if such an early death were indicated for Robert Zoller, and this was a minimum after which he would be plagued with significant health difficulties pushing toward death, then it seems doubtful that he would have gone on to have as long a life as he has.

2. Alcocoden’s Planetary Years Don’t Reliably Indicate Lifespan

When I first learned the technique as given by Bonatti, I applied it to dozens of charts, only to find out that his Medieval form of the technique didn’t work. The truth is that the planetary years of the alcocoden with the additions and subtractions by aspecting planets, does not indicate either a minimum or maximum lifespan in a reliable fashion. There are those that live much shorter lives than indicated by the alcocoden in planetary years, and those that live much longer lives.  Nor do the planetary years of the alcocoden necessarily indicate a period of threat to health. There is simply no reliable correlation there. Given the complexity of computing the alcocoden and its planetary modifications, and the poor results that it yields, it is simply a poor technique to use when assessing threats to a person’s well being, and it distracts from more important techniques, such as the use of the directions to the Ascendant and/or the hyleg and/or the lights (by your preferred approach), both by bounds and aspectually, and both to their squares (or the next angle) as well as to malefics.

There are many different permutations of the technique of using the alcocoden with planetary years. For instance, the technique of Valens witll give a totally different indication from that of Firmicus Maternus, and both from that of Paulus Alexandrinus, and all three from that of Guido Bonatti.  The Medieval versions of the technique are particularly confusing and convoluted as the rules for assigning which set of years to the alcocoden and for adding or subtracting years of the planets are both somewhat vague and differ from author to author (they are actually clearer and more concise in the version given by Paulus).  Due to the numerous variables, many astrologers simply manipulate the technique to assign years slightly differently depending on what chart they are using to match the facts in hindsight. I’ll have to advise that the reader provide me with their preferred source for the Medieval technique and I will provide them with some notable examples of its inefficacy when used consistently over a few example charts. For more on this, one may see the comments section of the post on the death of Whitney Houston, where there was a discussion of the technique relative to her chart.

Perhaps if we are to consider the planetary years technique then we should use it in one of the ways suggested by Valens, Maternus, or Paulus, rather than those of later Medieval astrologers providing variations on the Paulus technique 300-400 years after it.

3. Exact Primary Directions to the Hyleg Don’t Reliably Occur at Death

As the Middle Ages progressed into the Renaissance, the belief that some exact primary direction to the hyleg would always signify death became more entrenched. In Hellenistic astrology, we find a great stress placed on directions involving the Ascendant, and on the Ascendant’s direction through the bounds. In Ptolemy (Book IV, Ch. 10) and Dorotheus it is often the primary directions pertaining to the Ascendant (including directions through the bounds) that are most significant for timing bodily injury. It is my experience that primary directions are significant for the timing of death, but that they can be indicated even by the activation of a significant malefic in the chart as distributor of the Ascendant, or other hyleg, by primary directions. There is simply not always an important aspectual primary direction from one of the designated anaeretic planets within a degree at the time of death, and the belief that there must be can distract from accurately reading threat in timing techniques. I believe I’ve already provided some examples of this in some of the prior posts in this series, which you are welcome to review. If the hyleg is typically the sect light, and directions of the Ascendant are often significant to health, then we may even question the value of finding the hyleg, since we may cover more ground simply by paying attention to the directions, and directions through the bounds, of the Ascendant and sect light (as I did in my previous posts on the traditional astrology of death).

Overall, more research on the Hellenistic hyleg techniques are needed. There may be use of the hyleg yet, such as in the Dorothean approach, in which the voyage of the hyleg through bounds provides us with one of the most significant time lords of the period (the bound lord) and the planets that aspect the same bound participate with that time lord in sequence, or in one of the approaches of Valens in which the ascensional times of the square of the hyleg and the planetary years of the bound lord of the hyleg may provide a maximum life span when no malefic directions are particularly threatening. In this sense, a properly applied technique may help us to highlight the most significant factors and separate the wheat from the chaff.


The hyleg/alcocoden technique re-emerged in our contemporary world as a controversial selling point for the study of medieval astrology. Occasionally, it rears its head again in that guise, despite the availability of clearer translations of source texts and abundant natal data with which to test such techniques. I advise the reader to experiment with and compare the various longevity techniques proposed by Dorotheus, Valens, Ptolemy, Masha’allah, Bonatti, and others, but beware of the puffery of Medieval astrologers.  There may be some great utility to the hyleg and alcocoden as significators that are being overlooked, but I suspect that some permutation of the style of their usage by Dorotheus and Valens has more potential than any later synthesis found in authors of the Middle Ages which relies heavily on planetary years. It is also worth mentioning that there are a variety of disparate approaches in the Anthology of Vettius Valens that have yet to be tested, most of which approach the length of life calculation in ways quite different from these techniques.


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.

Dorotheus of Sidon. (2005). Carmen Astrologicum. (D. Pingree, Trans.). Abingdon, MD: Astrology Center of America.

Manilius, M. (1977). Astronomica. (G. P. Goold, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library.

Masha’allah, & al-Khayyat, A. ’Ali. (2009). Persian Nativities I: Masha’allah and Abu ’Ali. (B. N. Dykes, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press

Maternus, J. F. (2011). Mathesis. (J. H. Holden, Trans.). American Federation of Astrologers.

Paulus Alexandrinus & Olympiodorus. (2001). Late Classical Astrology: Paulus Alexandrinus and Olypiodorus. (D. G. Greenbaum, Trans.). Reston, VA: Arhat.

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

Valens, V. (2010). Anthologies. (M. Riley, Trans.) (Online PDF.). World Wide Web: Mark Riley. Retrieved from