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