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Astrological Sign Classifications | 3. Sign Symmetry | Commanding, Obeying, Hearing, Antiscia, etc.

Perhaps antiscia are like reflections and contra-antiscia like echoes.  In any case they illuminate an early and fascinating connection between symmetry and sympathy in ancient astrological doctrine.

In this post I’d like to address some unique symmetry-based sign relationships in ancient astrology.  Today, these relationships are best known through the concepts of antiscia and contra-antiscia.  Antiscia are degrees symmetrical about the solstitial points, i.e. equidistant from 0 Cancer and 0 Capricorn, for instance 10 Sagittarius and 20 Capricorn, or 13 Scorpio and 17 Aquarius.  This type of degree-based concept of antiscia dates back at least to Julius Firmicus Maternus (4th century CE), who used it extensively (c.f. Book II, Ch. 30 of Mathesis).  I’m not aware of other degree-based usage of antiscia, or any usage of contra-antiscia in the Hellenistic period, but in the Persian period, al-Qabisi appears to have considered degrees of either antiscia or contra-antiscia as degrees of similar power in his Introduction to the Science of Astrology (10th century CE), and sign relationships related to antiscia and contra-antiscia are found in early Hellenistic astrology, including Ptolemy (1st century CE).  Today, contra-antiscia is used to denote degrees symmetrical about the equinoctial points, i.e. equidistant from 0 Aries and 0 Libra, for instance 10 Pisces and 20 Aries, or 18 Cancer and 12 Sagittarius (both are 72 degrees from 0 Libra).  The origins of antiscia and contra-antiscia reveal a consideration for symmetry about axes, possibly dating back to pre-Hellenistic sources, and this consideration of “power in symmetry” was drawn on heavily in the modern Uranian astrological school of thought.

While many astrologers today are aware of antiscia and contra-antiscia, they are often unfamiliar with the whole sign relationships that preceded and formed the foundation for those concepts.  Mention of these sign relationships is prevalent in Hellenistic and Persian material, and they have uses which we will discuss.

Regard, Affinity, and Synastry

In ancient Hellenistic and Persian horoscopic astrology, certain relationships between signs could show affinities and relationships between the occupants of the signs.  The best known type of relationship is referred to as “regard”, using a visual metaphor of planets being configured with each other in such a way that they “see” each other.   Regard occurs by what we would call “whole sign aspects”, which are signs situated such that one sign starts 60 degrees (sextile), 90 degrees (square), 120 degrees (trine), or 180 degrees (opposition) away from another.  Additionally, planets in the same sign (i.e in the same house, the same place), are said to be co-present in that house, as if cohabitating in the same abode – even if they are in opposite ends of the sign, they tend to strongly influence each other’s significations (note: according to Serapio the planets in earlier degrees in the same sign yield more influence (“superiority”) over those in later degrees).

Certain regards are more harmonious and others less so, while planets that don’t regard each other are said to be in “aversion”.  Regard therefore helps to define which planets interact with which, which are more influential upon which others (based on which are on the right side or rising first, called superior), and the nature of the relationship (squares being forceful like Mars, oppositions obstructing like Saturn, co-presence being powerful like the Lights, trines being generous and friendly like Jupiter, and sextiles being cooperative and sympathetic like Venus).

These relationships help one to understand a planet’s effects and nature, but also to understand interaction between planets across people’s charts, in what is called synastry.  For instance, for Ptolemy and Masha’allah it was important that the Sun and Moon in the charts of marriage partners regard each other harmoniously, and that a malefic in one person’s chart not be co-present with the Lights or Venus in another’s chart, in order for there to be harmony and firmness in the relationship.

I’ll address regards and other configurations to a greater extent in a later post.  The interested reader looking to acquire a thorough understanding of the basics of the original aspect and configuration doctrines of horoscopic astrology can gain a thorough understanding of such topics in Chris Brennan’s Hellenistic course or by checking out just the module on the Aspect Doctrine, which is part of the larger course but also available separately (personally, I recommend that anyone interested in Hellenistic astrology take the full course).

Affinity Beyond Regard

There are other sign relationships in Hellenistic astrology that also show affinity.  These are of two basic types, 1. Domiciles of the same planet, 2. Signs symmetrical about the equinoctial and solstitial points (called the “cardinal points” in modern terminology).  In terms of signs symmetrical about the cardinal points, they are of two types, with different senses.  There is a lot of confusion about these different sign relationships because often the same terminology is used for different relationships.  For instance, signs ruled by the same planet are sometimes called those “agreeing in the journey” and also sometimes called those “agreeing in the belt”, while those symmetrical about the equinoctial axis are sometimes also called “agreeing in the journey” and also sometimes called “commanding and obeying”.

I’ll prefer “agreeing in the belt” (of the zodiac) or “like-engirding” as the proper terms for signs with the same domicile ruler, which we might conceptualize as having an affinity with each other because the same planet manages the affairs of both, with both working together through that planet.  For instance, Aries and Scorpio don’t regard each other but Mars has responsibility for both places and thus planets in both places become affiliated through the working of Mars.

In the rest of this post I address the sign relationships based upon symmetry about the cardinal points, attempting to clarify the terminology, the origins, and a sense of practical application.

Cardinal Axis or Cardinal Signs

One of the more confusing things about the symmetrical sign relationships in early Hellenistic literature is that there can be 4 different, rather than 2 different relationships, which are discussed.

For instance, Paulus Alexandrinus (4th Century CE) noted that it is the like-engirding signs and those that are of equal ascension which can be sympathetic with each other even when in aversion (c.f. Paulus Alexandrinus, Introductory Matters, Ch. 12).  I already discussed the like-engirding signs above.  The signs of equal ascension are those that are symmetrical about the equinoxes (i.e. signs that are contra-antiscia: Aries-Pisces, Taurus-Aquarius, Gemini-Capricorn, Cancer-Sagittarius, Leo-Scorpio, Virgo-Libra).  It is this relationship about the equinoxes which Paulus suggests is the important one for sympathy between signs, which makes sense given that such signs take equal periods of time to rise (this is contrary to the notion in more modern traditional circles that contra-antiscia is somehow difficult like an opposition in contrast to antiscia which is claimed to be conjunction-like – like Paulus I find contra-antiscia signs to show a type of affinity both in a chart and in synastry).  Many other authors also discuss signs of equal ascension or “equipollent” (i.e. these are contra-antiscia), and some talk of those of equal power (e.g. Rhetorius, Ch.17) as sympathetic also or as highly significant (c.f. Maternus on antiscia in Book II, Ch. 30).

Paulus, Porphyry, Rhetorius, and others also discusses signs that are equidistant from the entire cardinal signs, Cancer and Capricorn, such as Leo-Gemini and Aries-Libra, and signs equidistant from the entire signs, Aries and Libra, such as Taurus-Pisces and Cancer-Capricorn.  These additional relationships are sometimes labeled with the terminology “signs that command and obey”, “signs that hear each other”, “signs that see each other”, and other such attributions, which are sometimes mixed up.

The relationships about the entire cardinal signs appear to be based on the same symmetry about the cardinal axes, but based in an earlier age when the sidereal zodiac was used.  For instance, in his footnote on Porphyry, Ch.31, James Holden remarked that the pairs of obeying signs (those equidistant from the signs Cancer and Capricorn, with those of decreasing light obeying those of increasing light, i.e. Pisces obeying Taurus, Aquarius obeying Gemini, etc.) “are based on the scheme of the early Alexandrian astrologers, which in effect puts the equinoxes and solstices at 15 degrees of the cardinal signs” (Holden, 2009, p. 25, Footnote 2).  His notes regarding the signs equidistant from Aries-Libra also echo this sentiment that these relationships were originally based upon symmetry across the equinoctial and solstitial points, at a time when those points fell near the middle of the sidereal cardinal signs.

If Holden was correct in this observation then this would imply that the symmetry has always been based on the equinoctial and solstitial points and was never meant to be based on the tropical cardinal signs themselves.  In other words, that these two additional relationships are actually earlier Alexandrian remnants of the later equipollent and equal power signs of the Hellenistic period, with both being in essence the exact same relationships.  For this matter, I dismiss the pairings of signs across entire cardinal signs, as irrelevant and any continued use of those particular sign relationships with the tropical zodiac as being in error, as it makes the signs themselves the basis of the relationship, missing that the true basis was the symmetry about the cardinal points.

The two symmetrical sign relationships that we are left with are those signs which are symmetrical about the solstitial points, which we might call antiscia signs, and those symmetrical about the equinoctial points which we might call contra-antiscia signs.  Additionally, and uncontroversially, the contra-antiscia signs are those of equal ascensional times, or equipollent, while the antiscia signs may be called those of “equal power”, because these are signs marking points in the year with equal relative proportions of daylight and darkness (e.g. when the Sun is at 15 degrees Sagittarius at some locale, the length of the day is the same as when the Sun is at 15 degrees Capricorn at that locale).

Here is a chart that samples some of the labels used by Hellenistic authors for these sign relationships.  I separate out references to the earlier sign-based axis from those based on the actual cardinal point, but as noted above, both actually appear to have been based on the cardinal points, so the first two columns go together as a group, as do the last two.

Hearing and Contra-Antiscia

Looking at the above table, one gets the clear sense that hearing and commanding/obeying are the same thing, and pertain to what we might call the contra-antiscia or equal rising time signs.  This echoes the language of Valens about listening and that of Manilius about how one signs hears the other.  As this was originally conceptualized as pertaining to the equinoctial points, I think that astrologers should equate this with signs of equal ascension, also known as the contra-antiscia.  Just as regard pertains to planets seeing each other across signs, with the one on the right-side (superior) being more influential, we may consider the contra-antiscia as pertaining to planets hearing each other sympathetically with the planet in the “summer sign” (Aries thru Virgo, at least in the northern hemisphere) being the more influential one in the relationship.

It is important to note that by the Persian early medieval period, the concepts of hearing and command/obey were being separated, with command/obey becoming associated with the antiscia signs instead (for instance, see the introductory texts by Abu Ma’shar and al-Qabisi, and even earlier with Masha’allah in the Book of Aristotle equating obeying signs with those decreasing in days (i.e. from Cancer to Sagittarius)).  These labels appear to have been in error, given the more consistent overlap between the concepts of command/obey and hearing in the earlier Hellenistic material.

The sign pairs are as follows with the first sign in the pair often said to “hear” or “obey” the other: Pisces-Aries, Aquarius-Taurus, Capricorn-Gemini, Sagittarius-Cancer, Scorpio-Leo, Libra-Virgo.

In terms of the interpretation of the contra-antiscia signs, there area a few different perspectives.

Paulus noted that the when signs are in aversion, then there are two ways that they can achieve sympathy, either by being ruled by the same planet (i.e. the like-engirding signs) or being in signs of equal ascension (i.e. contra-antiscia).  This sympathy is important because without it planets in aversion tend to signify disconnect from each other such as in banishments, separations, and other such hostile conditions.  This sympathy can presumably indicate otherwise.  Rhetorius noted that squares between signs in this relationship (Scorpio and Leo or Aquarius and Taurus) have sympathy with each other.  Both Paulus and Rhetorius also noted that the commanding and obeying signs hear one another and are suitable for signifying matters of hearing news, rumors, or announcements from each other.  While Masha’allah appears to have gotten the commanding/obeying signs wrong, the fact that he is drawing from an older source and uses commanding/obeying relationships between planets (especially the Moon) as important to friendship is suggestive, together with the sense of sympathy even when there is aversion, suggests that hearing sign configurations play a beneficial role in relationship synastry.

Equal Power and Antiscia

The table above provides a picture in which the antiscia signs may be conceptualized as “seeing” signs.  This is rather confusing given the visual metaphors behind regard.  However, there is certainly a visual metaphor being used again here.  In the metaphor there is again a sense of a more active or dominant influence as well.  In this case the more dominant influence actually seems to come from the signs that are increasing in light (Capricorn thru Gemini).  Paulus noted that those signs see the ones decreasing in light (Cancer thru Sagittarius) which perceive the ones decreasing in light (Capricorn thru Gemini), for instance that Taurus see Virgo while Virgo perceives or is aware of Taurus.  Therefore, I suggest that we may conceptualize this relationship as one of awareness of each other, or mutual interest, with stronger or more active influence coming from the signs increasing in light (Capricorn thru Gemini).

While Paulus did not mention these signs as ones that can alleviate aversion, he did mention that they create sympathy, harmony, and friendship, between partners, family members, and in many other type of association.  This is suggestive of a use of these also in synastry as contributing harmony to the relationship. As with the contra-antiscia signs (and like-engirding ones), Rhetorius noted that squares between signs in this relationship (Leo and Taurus or Scorpio and Aquarius) are sympathetic.

The signs that see each other, agree in power, or are antiscia each other are as follows, with the seeing sign first and perceiving one second: Capricorn-Sagittarius, Aquarius-Scorpio, Pisces-Libra, Aries-Virgo, Taurus-Leo, Gemini-Cancer.

This sense of equal power between antiscia is taken to the extreme in Book II, Ch. 30 of the Mathesis of Julius Firmicus Maternus (click here for a downloadable full English translation of the work in pdf).  Maternus maintained that each planet and point in the chart sent an antiscion into the degree symmetrical across the solstitial axis.  For instance, Gemini and Cancer are antiscia, and the specific antiscion of 5 Cancer is 25 Gemini.  Maternus seems to treat this antiscion as nearly a secondary body double of the planet, delineating it by sign, house, and the regards it makes to other planets as well as to the antiscia of other planets.  In this sense, he viewed the antiscion of a planet or point as being another degree in which that planet or point has power, reinforcing the notion of “equal power” across antiscia.

As an aside, in many passages throughout his work, Maternus also admonishes us to find the placement of the planet in a sign by 12th part or dodekatomoria (i.e. first 2 1/2 degrees of the sign encompass thirty degrees of that same sign, while the next 2 1/2 degrees encompass the thirty degrees of the following sign, etc. – such that a planet at 8°02′ Libra would be in Capricorn by dodekatamoria (up to 2 1/2 for Libra, up to 5 for Scorpio, up to 7 1/2 for Sagittarius, and thus in Capricorn) and to find the degree we would multiply the overage, in this case 32′ by 12 = 6°24′ Capricorn.  Thus, in a sense Maternus advocates the use of two main shadow charts in addition to the natal chart and compared/related to the natal chart, looking at the Antiscia and Twelfth-Part charts for deeper insight.

Conclusion

It is therefore easy to see how the hearing signs and these seeing signs got mixed up in later traditional astrology.  Both involve an additional sense of sympathetic sign relations, both seem to make difficult regards or averse configurations somewhat more harmonious.  However, the hearing signs also uniquely relate to these reporting significations while the seeing signs connect uniquely to a sense of equal power which was extended out to the use of antiscia “body-doubles” in the work of Julius Firmicus Maternus. Perhaps antiscia are like reflections and contra-antiscia like echoes.  In any case they illuminate an early and fascinating connection between symmetry and sympathy in ancient astrological doctrine.

While the use of degree-based antiscia appears to have originated with Maternus, I am curious as to the origins of degree-based use of contra-antiscia.  If you the reader are aware of this origin, please share it in the comments section.

References

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

5 thoughts on “Astrological Sign Classifications | 3. Sign Symmetry | Commanding, Obeying, Hearing, Antiscia, etc.”

  1. This post, remember me to suggest you to build some kind of glossary (maybe like an hypertext, above some keywords here), since I have forgotten the exact meaning of “Regarding”, the way it is explained here (I was reading the articles about profession, and was in doubt about it)

    Best wishes,

    Livio

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