Tag Archives: sect

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 (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).

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.

Astrological Predictive Techniques | Returns | 1. Hellenistic Basics

Returns: What Are They? 

A return, also called a revolution, is the arrival of a transiting planet to the same position it held at the time of one’s birth.  The solar return, or return of the Sun, which occurs approximately at a person’s birthday, was regarded as important even in the first strains of horoscopic astrology, in the Hellenistic world.  The basic idea is that the transits occurring at the time of the return give signs of the major events for the year.  The transits at the time of the Moon’s return, or lunar return, were later also considered important for giving signs of the important events for the month.

I have personally come to regard solar and lunar returns as among the most important and informative predictive tools at the astrologer’s disposal. In this thread, we will start with some Hellenistic basics of return interpretation , and from there add additional ways of interpreting returns from later authors.

For the most part, it appears that in early Hellenistic astrology returns were not regarded as a separate chart in their own right, but rather those transits occurring around the time of the birthday, when the Sun returns to the position it held at birth. Therefore, in this post, I address Dorotheus-style returns, in which we examine the rules for interpreting returns as a series of transits about the natal chart.  As the rules for interpreting returns in Dorotheus do not heavily rely upon exact timing of the return and do not seem to use a return chart in its own right, questions of precession and relocation of the return chart are largely irrelevant.  To find the transits of the return, we look to “…when the Sun enters the beginning of the minute in which it was on the day of the native’s nativity” (Dorotheus, Book IV, Ch. 1, #4, Pingree trans., 2005, p. 245).

Dorotheus on Returns

The 1st Century Hellenistic astrologer Dorotheus of Sidon gave some guidelines and aphorisms for the interpretation of the transits “on the day on which that native was born” or “in the turning of the years” in Chapter 1 of Book IV of his Carmen Astrologicum.  His entire exposition of this matter focuses on the occurrence of transiting planets into signs occupied by natal planets, and certain places or houses of the natal horoscope.  For a complete understanding of the guidelines given by Dorotheus, I urge the reader to pick up a copy of his work (click here to purchase on Amazon), which is essential reading in Hellenistic astrology, and one of the most influential works on later Persian and European medieval astrology.  For the reader’s convenience, I summarize some of his guidelines below:

  1. Being in whole sign opposition to natal position shows difficulty.  For instance, if Mars were in Capricorn in natal but in Cancer when the Sun returns to its natal position near the birthday.
  2. Out of sect malefic in natal chart reaching the place of the natal sect light or sect benefic shows great difficulty.  For instance, if a person was born by day with Sun or Jupiter in Sagittarius, and at the time of the return Mars is in Sagittarius.  From Dorotheus (Book IV, Ch. 1, #188, Pingree trans., 2005): “It is worse for this [native] and more difficult in its maleficence if Mars is reaching the place in which Jupiter or the Sun was by day, or [if] Saturn is reaching the place in which the Moon was by night.”  Generally, there are many guidelines that relate to the bad indicated when a return malefic is with, dominating (superior or right-hand square), opposed, or in inferior square to itself or an important natal position and the good indicated when a return benefic is with or trine to itself or an important natal position (and even good when dominating a malefic, see below).
  3. Overall, it is good when a malefic (i.e. Saturn or Mars) is in a whole sign trine to its natal position, and bad if it is in a whole sign opposition or square to its natal position, particularly if dominating (right-hand whole sign square) the natal position.  It is also good if a return benefic (i.e. Jupiter or Venus) is in a dominating position to a natal malefic (or even a return malefic?).    Similarly, it is good when the benefics are trine their natal positions.  However, it is difficult when the malefics are trine the natal positions of the benefics.  For instance, if one was born with Mars in Gemini, then it would be good for Mars to be in Libra or Aquarius at the return, and especially so if Venus were in Pisces because that sign is in a dominating position to Gemini.
  4. It is difficult when a return planet is in a place (i.e. house) of the nativity which is bad, especially if it possesses such a place natally as well.  According to Dorotheus (Book I, Ch. 5), the best places are the 1st, 10th, 11th, 5th, 7th, 4th, and 9th, in that order.  The worst places are the 6th and 12th, and after these the 8th, 2nd, and 3rd, in order from the worst of them.  For instance, if one were born with Aquarius rising and Mars in Capricorn, then it will be particularly bad if Mars is in Capricorn (natal 12th) or Cancer (natal 6th) in the return (Cancer would be particularly difficult as it would also evoke rule 1 above), and also could be difficult if Mars is in Virgo (natal 8th), Pisces (natal 2nd), or Aries (natal 3rd).
  5. Whole sign place occupied by the return Moon is particularly important, as are return planets reaching the place of the natal Moon.  Overall, the idea is that the return Moon with benefic natal planets shows good things,while with malefic natal planets shows bad things (particularly to health, and it is also so when return malefics reach the place of the natal Moon).  Some other notes include that the return Moon with natal Mercury shows work pertaining to the signification of natal Mercury, return Moon in natal 1st can show health danger, return Moon in natal 10th shows public events which are good or bad in accordance with influence of benefics and malefics, return Moon in natal 7th shows success over enemies, while return Moon in natal 4th shows  secret matters and/or success with writing a will.  Overall, these four whole sign places, also called the angles or stakes of the chart (the 1st, 10th, 7th, and 4th), give indications regarding more important matters in the native’s life.  For instance, if one were born with Pisces rising and Saturn was the out of sect malefic in the natal 10th, Sagittarius, then the Moon transiting in Sagittarius in the return could be indicative of some difficult public event, and even of cold or depleting health conditions.
  6. Planets in or transiting to the sign of the natal annual profection of the Ascendant, as well as the ruler of the profected Ascendant, are particularly important.  That is, solar returns tended to be used together with profections as part of a suite of annual predictive techniques.  The fourth book of Dorotheus thus explains both profections and solar returns.  For example, Dorotheus noted, “If the year reaches the sign in which Saturn was and Saturn is in it or aspects if from trine or quartile [i.e. square] or the seventh [i.e. opposition], then the native will have a bad reputation, and there will reach him folly and injury and hostility from men …”  (Book IV, Ch. 1, #23, Pingree trans., 2005).

A Few Examples

For these examples, I’ll be using the free open-source astrological software, Morinus.  You can download the traditional version of Morinus here.

I will examine the return by look first at the annual profection and indications related to it from the natal and return, then the impact concerning the angles of the chart and the lights, especially the Moon.  For each example, ignore the numbers on the outside of the chart, as those are for the house positions in the return chart itself, which we will for now ignore.

Example 1
Example 1 (CTRL+Click to enlarge)

Example 1 (above) is the 1958 return of someone born in 1935, and thus is that of someone who has turned 23, signalling an annual profection of the Ascendant to the 12th place, Gemini, ruled by and natally occupied by Mercury (see here if you don’t know how to figure out profections).  Mercury in the return is transiting in the natal 2nd, which is considered one of the bad places.  Natally, Mercury is in the 12th, which is considered one of the worst places, so by rule #4 above, we are getting the sense that the year could be difficult for this native, relating to Mercurial themes of movement and communication. Furthermore, the out of sect malefic Saturn, is transiting through the 6th of the natal, opposing Mercury, which is difficult in itself given Mercury’s status as lord of the year, but also emphasizes the natal configuration of Saturn dominating Mercury.  Natally, Saturn dominates Mercury, with Saturn in the 9th, concerning religion and foreign influence.  Saturn transiting in the 6th in the return dominates natal Saturn (see rule #3 above), exacerbating the maleficence of Saturn.  The transit of Venus through the sign of the profection, Gemini, is mixed, as she is a benefic with influence upon the lord of the year, but Venus is transiting through one of the worst places (the 12th), and occupies a bad place natally (the 2nd) – she rules the 4th of land and origins and the 11th of friends and aid, so she connects the native with those themes.

Both Jupiter and Mars are transiting in natal angles.  Jupiter in the 4th, where natal Mars is, signifies some degree of fortune as concerns land, origins, and workings in secret, but Mars is opposed to it and opposed to its natal position (see rule #1 above), setting off the difficulty pertaining to Mars in the 4th and with Mars in the rather public and status-oriented 10th, it is bringing violence to the fore.  Additionally, return Mars is in a dominating position to the natal Sun, signifying the threat of violence to the native.  The return Moon is in the 9th of foreign influence and religion, with Saturn, the out of sect malefic – this is both a sign of great difficulty and both the Moon and the 9th naturally signify journeys, so it connects that difficulty with journeys.

Example 1 is the chart of the 14th Dalai Lama (chart rated A for accuracy) and the return is that which preceded his fleeing the country he ruled in fear of his life to his exile in India, amid the spring 1959 Tibetan uprising.



Example 2 (CTRL+Click to enlarge)
Example 2 (CTRL+Click to enlarge)

Example 2 is the chart of someone turning 72, and as 72 is a multiple of 12, the annual profection was to the 1st place, Pisces, occupied by natal Saturn and ruled by Jupiter.  Jupiter, the lord of the profection is returning to its natal position in the 11th, which is a great place and significant for popularity, friends, aid, and so forth.  This person is a movie star and did in fact have a dozen films in the works in the year under consideration.

Deeper inspection reveals that not only is natal Saturn highlighted by the profection to the 1st, but Saturn is also transiting in an angle, the natal 7th, which is opposed to its natal position (see rule #1 above).  Looking at other angular factors, we also find that Mars is not only in the 10th, but actually conjunct the Sun within a degree.  The Sun is additionally dominated by that angular Saturn.  Given the affliction of the 1st, profection, and the Sun by both malefics, we are seeing some major indications of danger to the health, and public violence (Mars in the 10th).  Examining the Moon we find that it is in the 2nd, ruled by Mars, which is both opposed to its natal position (see rule #1) and also a bad place while in the natal it occupies the 8th, similarly a bad place pertaining to death, where she is with Mars, the out of sect malefic.  Therefore, we have strong indications of threat to health in the chart.

Example 2 is the chart of David Carradine (chart AA rated for accuracy) and his 2008 return which preceded his death of autoerotic asphyxiation, which had particularly damning effects upon the public image he left behind.


Example 3 (CTRL+Click to enlarge)
Example 3 (CTRL+Click to enlarge)

I will briefly touch on one more chart to emphasize something that came up with Example 2.  Example 3 is the 1994 return of someone born in 1967, thus 27 years of age, in a 4th place profection.  From the profection alone, the indications appear to be largely positive.  Jupiter, lord of the profection, may be transiting in one of the bad places (the 3rd) but it is the least bad of the bad, and natally Jupiter is in its joy in the 11th.  However, what is striking about the return is the occurrence of a conjunction of transiting Saturn to the Sun within a degree in an angle of the chart (and Saturn is returning to its natal place).  This theme of a close conjunction between a malefic and a light occurs with some frequency in returns that precede death, as it strongly signifies threat to health.  For instance, Ilya Zhitomirskiy, one of the founders of Diaspora, had a similar tight Sun-Saturn conjunction in the return preceding his own suicide (I blogged about this briefly here).  The 4th itself, place of the profection, also can signify death.

Example 3 is the chart of Kurt Cobain (rated A for accuracy) with the transits from his 1994 solar return, which preceded his suicide.


So far, I’ve only looked at a few solar return examples, and very briefly.  I will be examining more solar return examples and further techniques for interpreting returns and integrating them with other techniques in the future.  Overall, from Dorotheus we learn that returns can be significant as a set of transits to the natal chart itself, with the natal angles, lights, and the annual profection helping to guide us to which significations are most important.  Dorotheus looked at the overall influence of the benefics and malefics in this sense, and paid particular attention to the role of natal sect, natal and transiting place (i.e. whole sign house), and type of whole sign regard in modifying indications for better or worse.



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

Astrological Sign Classifications | 2. Sect and Sex of the Signs

Manilius and the Three Opinions on Sign Sect

In this installment of this series, I want to just briefly touch on an indication that there was diversity in opinion regarding the classifications of signs into diurnal or day signs and nocturnal or night signs, also known as the classification of the signs by sect.  Interestingly, Marcus Manilius, one of the earliest astrologers of the tradition who composed his Astronomica in the 1st Century CE, noted (in Book II, lines 203-222) a diversity of opinion regarding the sect of the signs and he himself favored a sect classification that is no longer used by traditional astrologers.

Fail not to perceive and from true rule deduce what signs are nocturnal, and what diurnal: they are not those that perform their function in darkness or daylight (the name would apply to all alike, since at regular intervals they shine at every house, and now the nocturnal ones accompany the day, and now the nocturnal ones accompany the night), but those one which nature, mighty parent of the universe, bestowed sacred portions of time in a permanent location.  The signs of the Archer and the fierce Lion, he who looks round on the golden fleece of his back [Aries], then the Fishes and the Crab and the Scorpion of stinging lash, signs either adjacent or spaced at equal intervals, are all under like estate termed diurnal.  The others, identical in number and in the pattern of their spacing, for they are inserted into as many places, are called nocturnal [i.e. there is six of them opposite the six diurnal signs and with the same pattern].  Some have also asserted that the diurnal stations [signs] belong to the six consecutive stars [signs] which begin with the Ram and that the six from the Balance [Libra] count as nocturnal.  There are those that fancy that the masculine signs are diurnal and that the feminine class rejoices in the safe cover of darkness.  (Goold trans., 1977, p. 99-101; bracketed notes added by me)

We find that by the first century CE, already there were three different means of classifying the signs as diurnal or nocturnal, and Manilius appeared to favor the one that didn’t survive at all.  His favored classification is by triplicity, with two triplicities as diurnal (those we associate with Fire and Water, though Manilius does not associate elements with triplicities), and the other two as nocturnal (those we  associate Earth and Air).  The pattern for this scheme which Manilius favors is two adjacent diurnal signs, then two adjacent nocturnal signs, and so forth; an alternation in pairs, from a Pisces-Aries diurnal pair, to a Taurus-Gemini nocturnal pair, and so on.

Marcus Manilius
The Sphere

Sex of the Signs

The sect classification of the signs that came to dominate in Hellenistic astrology and through later strands of the tradition, is that which Manilius mentioned last, in which the masculine signs are diurnal and the feminine signs are nocturnal. All ancient astrologers appear to agree that the masculine and feminine signs alternate through the zodiac; Aries masculine, Taurus feminine, Gemini masculine, and so forth.  A convenient way to remember which signs are masculine and which are feminine, is to know that the Fire and Air triplicities are masculine, as fire and air have a propensity to stir and rise, while the Water and Earth triplicities are feminine, as water and earth have a propensity to fall and settle.

It is most common for ancient astrologers to simply conflate sect and sex.  However, this does create some odd conflicts.  For instance, it was considered beneficial for a planet to be in a sign of the same sex or sect as itself, but Mars being a masculine planet of the nocturnal sect would not have one of its domicile of both its same sex and sect as the other planets do.  However, in the sect arrangement favored by Manilius, the same situation holds for Mars, as both Aries and Scorpio become diurnal signs, but Mars is a nocturnal planet (Corrected 11/21/2011: previously the sentence said that Mars was in sect and sex in Aries, which is not the case, as Aries is diurnal in this arrangement).

Still, I favor the third sect arrangement given by Manilius, in which sect and sex are conflated.  Perhaps Mars is so agitated all the time because he simply cannot achieve full comfort in either of his houses. :-)  My own approach to astrology is not strongly influenced by Manilius, being more influenced by other Hellenistic astrologers and the Persians.  Manilius put a particular emphasis on the signs and actual fixed stars and constellations in his methods, making extensive use of extra-zodiacal constellations, parans, and so forth.  Stargazing traditionalists may want to explore his methods in more depth, as there is much material not found elsewhere.

Northern and Southern Signs

The second classification which Manilius gives has the signs from Aries through Virgo as diurnal and those from Libra through Pisces as nocturnal.  This is logical from the perspective of the tropical zodiac in the northern hemisphere as Aries begins with the Spring Equinox, a moment where the quantity of day increases over the quantity of night, while Libra begins with the Autumnal Equinox, a moment where the quantity of night increases over the quantity of day.  In other words, in this classification, the Sun is in diurnal signs when the length of the day exceeds that of the night, while the opposite is true when the Sun is in nocturnal signs (at least in the northern hemisphere, with the opposite holding in the southern hemisphere).

Equinox Solstice
Equinoxes and Solstices

In Persian medieval astrology this classification is noted, but is referred to as the classification of the signs as Northern or Southern (c.f. al-Qabisi, Dykes trans., 2010, p. 59).  This is because the passing of the Sun into Aries, is also the point when the Sun passes north of the equator of the Earth (i.e. the north pole is inclined toward the Sun), while when the Sun passes into Libra, the Sun goes south of the equator (i.e. the north pole is incline away from the Sun).  Some may not realize that this apparent passing of the Sun north and south of the equator, due to the tilt of the poles relative to the Sun, is what creates the seasons, not an orbital closeness to the Sun.  The Earth is actually closest to the Sun (i.e. at perihelion) around January of each year, during winter in the northern hemisphere.


In conclusion, there were 3 methods of classifying the sect of a sign, and while the method favored by Manilius has all but disappeared, the common method of conflating sign and sex was at least present in some of the earliest strains of the tradition.



Ma’shar, A., & Al-Qabisi. (2010). Introductions to Traditional Astrology. (B. N. Dykes, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press.
Manilius, M. (1977). Astronomica. (G. P. Goold, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library.

Vampires, Werewolves, and Shapeshifters: Understanding Maleficence

Saturn with a Snack

As a viewer of True Blood and similar shows and movies depicting supernatural beings (Cronos is high on that list, as is Interview with the Vampire ), something occurred to me about that powerful trinity of vampires, werewolves, and shapeshifters.  It’s a wonderful way for beginners to grasp the essential nature of the malefic planets; what is meant by the term “malefic”.  In this post, I indulge the beginner and ask for you to imagine Saturn as a vampire, Mars as a werewolf, and Mercury as a shapeshifter.

What does it mean for a planet to be malefic?

In ancient astrology, certain planets were noted as being “malefic”, because they tended to signify more difficult or extreme types of things.  We can relate to this from a subjective perspective in terms of two main types of unpleasant emotions: a state of fear or a state of agitation and anger.  Also, few matters in life are more unpleasant than those of death, the macabre, and darkness (Saturn), or violence, explosiveness, and invasiveness (Mars).

Here we are getting at the heart of the malefics, Saturn and Mars.  Saturn is dark, and slow, but arriving certainly, like death. Saturn signifies matters of death, cold, fear, isolation, depression, rot, doubt, rigidity, poverty, imprisonment, breaking things down to basics, and energy loss.  In comparison with the certainty of Saturn’s looming threat, Mars is erratic, wild, and unpredictable. Mars signifies matters of violence, burn, inflammation, violation, anger, competition, sport, conflict, and an overload of energy.

Ptolemy, a prominent second century Hellenistic astrologer best known for his highly developed geocentric model, differed from the other ancient astrologers in that he described the basic nature of the planets not so much in terms of the topics they signified, but rather seemed to view these topics as derivative of the basic Aristotelian qualities of hot/cold and wet/dry.  To him Saturn and Mars were malefic because they represented extreme states, Saturn bringing extreme cold, Mars bringing extreme dryness.  Jupiter and Venus were most benefic, being more temperate and moist, and thus fertile.


The Sun and Moon also tend to be viewed as more benefic, signifying fortunate or desirable matters, in ancient astrology.

Mercury is the most neutral planet, being strongly influenced by that which connects with it.  In other words, Mercury has a broad range and can change forms quite readily.  However, the Lot (or “Arabic Part”) associated with Mercury in Hellenistic astrology is one that has overwhelmingly negative significations, so aside from Saturn and Mars, Mercury is viewed as next most capable of bringing unpleasantness.  Mercury signifies cleverness, intellectualism, commerce, symbols, language, and so forth.  All of these things involve a fair amount of complication and ambiguity, a ready basis for deceit, manipulation, misunderstanding, and trivial contention.

What does it mean for a malefic to be accidentally benefic?

The identification of Saturn and Mars as malefics, and of Mercury as ambiguous, in no way entails that they are just “bad” and have no value.  It is recognized that these signify important and powerful facets of life, and that they serve a productive purpose.  Additionally, it is recognized in ancient texts that the circumstances of the chart can make Saturn, Mars, and/or Mercury signify very positive and fortunate things in the person’s life, despite their natural signification of more difficult matters.

Below is Julius Firmicus Maternus (4th Century C.E.), excerpts from Book II, Chapter VII, “The Conditions of the Planets” (p. 38, Mathesis, Bram translation), illustrating an emphasis on sect and place. On diurnal planets:

Therefore, in diurnal charts, if they are in favorable positions, they indicate good fortune.

On nocturnal planets:

Favorably located in a nocturnal chart they indicated good fortune, unfavorably in a diurnal chart, the greatest evils.

Vettius Valens (2nd Century C.E.), excerpt from Book I, Chapter I, “The Nature of the Stars” (5P, Riley translation).

The benefic stars which are appropriately and favorably situated bring about their effects according to their own nature and the nature of their sign, with the aspects and conjunctions of each star being blended.  If however they are unfavorably situated, they are indicative of reversals.  In the same way even the malefic stars, when they are operative in appropriate places in their own sect, are bestowers of good and indicative of the greatest positions and success; when they are inoperative, they bring about disasters and accusations.

Different ancient astrologers had their preferred factors that they thought made a planet more benefic or malefic.  In the Hellenistic period sect, place, and regard by other planets were commonly at the forefront of such considerations, while later astrologers of the ancient, medieval, and later periods tended to put more emphasis on sign-based rejoicing conditions, such as whether the planet was in the sign that was its domicile or exaltation or its place of fall (or detriment, a concept that appears be absent in Hellenistic astrology).  These sign-based considerations became a system of “dignity”, and a weighted system of dignity pointing, which I am highly critical of on empirical grounds.  For instance, I briefly discuss some of the history and problems associated with dignity here and I give a poignant empirical show of how misleading the approach is here.

Benefic or Malefic?

The factors that make a planet more benefic or malefic in a chart (i.e. accidentally – specific to the chart circumstances) are often referred to as “qualitative” considerations, as opposed to factors that make a planet stronger or weaker in power and pervasiveness of effect, which are more “quantitative”.  Qualitative may be a bit misleading though, as all kinds of factors may change the quality of the planet’s significations, without being very relevant to signifying more fortunate or unfortunate matters.  I prefer to refer to them as factors that make the planet more fortunate/unfortunate, or even associated more strongly with “good” or “bad”, as subjective and judgmental such an outlook may seem.

A planet is never wholly good or bad though, and everyone’s chart will show a unique range of pleasant and unpleasant possibilities associated with any planet, ready to manifest at various times, with varying degrees of inevitability, and perhaps affected by the person’s own will and consciousness.  All the same, when Saturn, Mars, or Mercury signify positive things, they will still do so with a sense of their own nature, such as Saturn showing success through control, discipline, fear, and difficulty, and Mars showing it through atheleticism, competitiveness, and sheer drive.  Saturn can show a certainty fortified against negative possibilities and Mars a courage that can surmount the most difficult of obstacles.

The public image of the malefics

The malefics have been ostracized, and sometimes we may even try to ignore them out of existence.  Ancient astrology has a language that encompasses the full good/bad, pleasantness and unpleasantness of this world.  Try as we may, we can’t ignore the fact that murder, violence, war, death, disease, oppression, poverty, and deception exist in the world; that they are natural elements of existential reality.  We also can’t ignore the human tendency to ostracize these things, to hate them, to view them as abominations, as existential errors, caused by an original sin, or a flaw in the system, or an indication that God doesn’t exist.  In other words, on a fundamental level we view certain categories of things as naturally malefic, evil, devilish, and at the very least unpleasant and undesirable.

The supernatural creatures of vampires and werewolves, as well as shapeshifters, strike a chord when it comes to understanding the malefics.  I particularly like their representation in True Blood, in which they are all of nature, but nature fashioned to feared and dangerous extremes. As they are extreme, they are ostracized and largely of the hidden world, pushed into a sub-conscious realm.  In addition to malefics showing things objectively harmful to the individual, they can also signify things that the individual may be comfortable with but which society doesn’t accept or approve of.    The depiction of the vampires, werewolves, and shapeshifters in True Blood really resonates with the spirit of Saturn, Mars, and Mercury in traditional astrology.  Such a mythological personification helps flesh out these forces (or perhaps the forces help flesh themselves out in our mythologies?) and gives us insight into these more extreme and super-natural aspects of being human.

Saturn the Vampire

Vampires are dark, cold, and dead, like Saturn.  Vampires and Saturn are about the dark side of things, about fear and the macabre, and an exploitation of the limitations, vibrancy, and uncertainty of life.  The key concept with both vampires and Saturn is the idea of sucking the life out of something, the need to control out of fear of the unknown, and an identification with the dark.  Ironically, Saturn is of the diurnal sect, fitting in with the more respectable and principled order of day time, and Saturn is made tamer and more beneficent by day.  However, like a vampire, Saturn becomes most dangerous by night. Saturn is in touch with the past, with history and tradition, the soil, real estate, things less alive, but more certain, and more tangible.  There is a dark humor, a cynicism, and deep knowing that there is nothing new under the Sun, and that eventually everything dies and is lost.


Mars the Werewolf

I particularly like the portrayal of the werewolf in True Blood.  The werewolf is presented as rough, naive, instinctual, aggressive, and lacking manners, unlike the refined vampire that is desensitized and matured to such an extreme of control and refinement.  Saturn’s temperament, like that of the vampire, has been characterized as melancholic, while that of Mars, like the werewolves of True Blood, is choleric.  Mars is of the nocturnal sect, led by the Moon. Mars seems more animal-like, connected with the hunt and predation.  We all know Mars types who like machismo, sharp objects, dangerous things, getting their hands dirty, and hanging out with their “pack”.  Mars rules over the gangs and bikers of the world.  Werewolves hunt in their packs, where violent initiation is the norm.  They are not particularly “bright” but they have strong instincts and reflexes.  They tend to be involved in work with sharp or dangerous things, enjoying working with tools and affecting material things whether by building them or blowing them up.

Mercury the Shapeshifter

Less ostracized than the more malefic vampire and werewolf, the shapeshifter is still viewed with suspicion.  Mercury’s involvement with intellectualism and commerce is not uncontroversial.  Stereotypes ostracizing those involved with business and even with language or intellectualism as deceptive tricksters abounds (for instance, in racist views of Jewish people).  Mercury is also associated with theft and con artistry in ancient astrology.  We see these themes play out in True Blood with Sam, who is the major local business owner, previously was a thief, and has a brother who is a thief and a liar.  Mercury, like the shapeshifter, can be a bit too clever for his own good.  Mercury is both the magician, as well as the trickster.  The portrayal of the shapeshifters in True Blood really seems to bring out these qualities of the planet.

Your Opinion

What mythological creatures, gods, or spirits do you most readily associate with Saturn, Mars, and Mercury?  I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments.



Maternus, J. F. (1972). Mathesis: A fourth-century astrological treatise. (J. R. Bram, Trans.). NY, NY: New York University.

Valens, V. (2010). Anthologies. (M. Riley, Trans.) (Online PDF.). World Wide Web: Mark Riley. Retrieved from http://www.csus.edu/indiv/r/rileymt/Vettius%20Valens%20entire.pdf

Astrology of Religion, Atheism, and Belief | 1. Introduction and James Randi


I’m not starting a series of posts on skeptics and atheists to in any way belittle them or marginalize them.  This is simply an important and interesting area of traditional astrological inquiry.  I’m not an atheist myself, but I may be a skeptic, as I’m certainly a critical thinker with a high regard for rationalism, empiricism, and falsifiability.  I have great relationships with many atheists, and, while I’m not an atheist, I think theirs is a perfectly acceptable point of view. Does astrology entail theism?  I’m not completely sure.  There may be means of explaining astrology non-theistically.

James Randi

I have some measure of respect for James Randi, as I don’t like con artists, especially new age ones, and he works to expose such people.

Randi was also kind enough to give astrologers his birth time (though many have met it with skepticism, giving it a C Rodden Rating on that basis alone, even though other first-hand reports from birth certificates would get an A rating).  I’ll take his birth information at face value.

James Randi's Natal Chart
James Randi’s Natal Chart (Outer Edge Position are Twelfth-Parts)

The Rules of the Game: Ingredients

In this post I just want to highlight a few features of the chart very quickly that would pertain to skepticism and dislike or or bad experience with religion.  I’ll delve into traditional special techniques for such things in more depth in subsequent posts, but here I just want to look at a few major factors.

The factors I’ll look at are:

  1. Jupiter, natural significator of religion.
  2. 9th Place, house of God and religion.
  3. Mercury, natural significator of rationality and critical thought.
  4. Saturn, natural significator of doubt, fear, challenge, and rot.

These will be analyzed in terms of strength/weakness and benefic/malefic tendencies.

For strength/weakness I will consider the following as major considerations showing strength of a planet:

  1. Strongly Advancing (approaching the angles of the chart, i.e the Asc, MC, Dsc, or IC of the chart, within 15*) and to a lesser extent Advancing (more than 1/3 zodiacal travel from one angle to the next).
  2. Stationing Direct (the planet turns from retrograde motion to direct within 7 days of the birth).
  3. Being In Phasis (the planet moves into or out from the beams of the Sun, standardized to 15* from the center of the Sun, within 7 days of birth).
  4. Being in a Stake of the Chart (the planet is in the 1st, 10th, 7th, or 4th place, i.e. the Ascendant or the signs 4, 7, or 10 signs from the Ascendant counted inclusively, e.g. a chart with Scorpio rising has Scorpio, Leo, Taurus, and Aquarius as “stakes”).

I will consider the following as major considerations showing weakness of a planet:

  1. Retreating (planet has passed an angle by more than 5* but is not yet 1/3 of the way to the next angle).
  2. Stationing Retrograde (the planet turns from direct motion to retrograde within 7 days of the birth).
  3. Combust (planet is within about 8* of the Sun at birth and is not in phasis).
  4. Being in a Cadent Place (the planet is in the 6th, 12th, 3rd, or 9th place counted inclusively from the 1st place/rising sign).

For quality I will consider the following major considerations show beneficence:

  1. Planet is of a benefic nature naturally (Jupiter, Venus, and to a lesser extent the Moon and Sun).
  2. Planet is In Sect (if the Sun is above the horizon, i.e. a diurnal chart, then the Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn are in sect; if the chart is nocturnal, then the Moon, Venus, and Mars are in sect; Mercury is of the diurnal sect when rising before the Sun, or nocturnal if rising after the Sun).
  3. Planet is in a Good Place (in order from best to not as good, 1st, 11th, 5th, 10th, 9th, 7th, 4th).
  4. Planet is with Jupiter or Venus (in the same sign) or regarded by Jupiter or Venus from the right side (i.e. a benefic is in a sign sextile, square, or trine from behind the sign containing the planet under consideration).

I will consider the following major considerations to show maleficence:

  1. Planet is of a malefic nature naturally (Saturn and Mars).
  2. Planet is Out of Sect (i.e. if diurnal, then Moon, Venus, Mars out of sect; if nocturnal, then Sun, Jupiter, Saturn out of sect; Mercury as determined by rule above).
  3. Planet is in a Bad Place (in order from worst, 6th, 12th, 8th).
  4. Planet is with Mars or Saturn (in the same sign) or regarded by Mars or Saturn from the right side, or by opposition, or within 3* (i.e. scrutinizing).

Additionally, the 1st place and its ruler pertain more to the person themselves.  Planets in the 1st or ruling the first will be more representative of the person in the chart.  Likewise, planets in the 9th or ruling the 9th will tend to say a bit about the role of religion in the person’s life.

The Rules of the Game: Recipes

Our initial, very rough technique for determining dislike of religion and a strong skeptical rationality, follow from basic principles of ancient astrology, and are as follows:

  1. Jupiter and the 9th are significant for religious matters, so if they are weak then religion/theism is likely to be weakened in the person’s life and if they are made malefic then religion/theism is likely to be seen as “bad” in the person’s life.  For Jupiter, this is as illustrated above, but for the 9th, this means a planet made malefic in the 9th or to a lesser extent a malefic that regards the place by square or opposition), as well as the condition of the ruler of the 9th.
  2. Mercury and Saturn signify rationality and doubt/fear respectively, so the stronger they are, the more pervasive their effect in the life.  The more malefic they are, the more they are geared to destruction, attack, and controversy, and the more malefic they make the things they attach to in the person’s life.

Randi’s Chart Analyzed in Brief

James Randi's Natal Chart

  • Jupiter:
  • Extremely weak – Jupiter has none of the major strength considerations, and in fact is extremely weak, by retreating and cadent (in the 12th place, Taurus).
  • Made malefic – While Jupiter is naturally benefic, that is its only signification of beneficence, and it is in fact made malefic by being out of sect, in a bad place, and assembled with the malefic, Mars.
  • Our initial expectation from Jupiter is that expansive spirituality and positivism is weak in his life and that it is also associated with bad things, particularly aggression and victimization (Mars), as well as loss, betrayal, and deception (12th place).
  • 9th Place:  
  • Fairly strong and Saturnine – The 9th, Aquarius, is not occupied by any planets but its ruler, Saturn, is Strongly Advancing in a stake of the chart, which makes the place more prominent in this person’s life.  The 9th signifies religion but also the seeking of higher wisdom in general. When strong a person tends to be a truth seeker. When Saturnine they tend away from spirituality due to a strong dose of doubt and fear associated with spirituality and religion, and their doubt or various obstructions may hold them back from achievement in higher ed.  In any case, this shows more prominence for matters of belief in this person’s life than Jupiter did, and it is showing particularly that a strong doubt and obstruction of belief is prominent and pervasive in this person’s life.
  • Somewhat malefic – Saturn rules the 9th place and Saturn is malefic as will be discussed in the Saturn analysis.  Additionally, Mars is square to the 9th place from the 12th.  In terms of religion and belief, this signifies a hatred, challenging tendencies, contrariness, and overly critical attitudes.  In other words, the tendency in the life is towards destruction of 9th place matters and towards their association with bad or difficult things.
  • Saturn:
  • Very strong – Saturn is Strongly Advancing, and in fact is within 3* of the Descendant, i.e. setting right when the person was born.  Saturn is in the 7th place which is a “stake” of the Ascendant.
  • Somewhat malefic – Overall, Saturn is malefic.  This is because it is naturally malefic, and in the chart it is also out of sect.  Saturn is not extremely malefic though, because it is in a good place and Venus trines it from the right side.  Therefore, Saturn is somewhat mixed in terms of malefic/benefic tendencies, bring both fortunate and difficult circumstances in the life, at different times and in relation to different matters.  Saturn is also trined by Mercury, the ruler of the 1st place of the self, on the right-hand side, so in any sense, Saturn integrates harmoniously into this person’s sense of self and personality.
  • We expect doubt and/or fear to be a powerful and pervasive influence in this person’s life, integrated with the conception of self, and mixed in terms of pleasant and unpleasant associations.
  • Mercury:  
  • Rather neutral – Mercury is not very strong, nor very weak in the chart.  Mercury is in phasis, but also retreating and cadent.  We say Mercury is more weak than strong, except that it also rules the 1st place of the self, so if not pervasive in the person’s life, then at least it is pervasive in terms of their sense of self, personality, and skill set (also, there are many more minor strength considerations, such as being with the Sun, ruled by the Sun, trine the Moon, and with a very strong ruler).
  •  Somewhat malefic– Mercury is a rather neutral planet, but is here out of sect, assembled with Venus, and square by both Jupiter and Mars from the right side.  It’s complex, with a broad range of expressions.  Given that it is a strong reflector of the person’s own moral range, we see quite a broad range from good to bad intentions and everything in between, always with a showy trickster type of expression due to Mercury’s nature and the strong public emphasis of the Sun.
  • In short, he’s Mercurial, sometimes for good, sometimes for bad, but he is not a genius when it comes to intellectual and verbal matters.  In other words, Randi is a skeptic (Saturn), not a scientist or intellectual (Mercury) for profession, though he was a magician (dash of Mercury, Venus, and Sun; trickster, art, and publicity; in the house of communications, the 3rd).

That’s all the time I have for today.  I hope to explore this chart and those of other prominent skeptics and atheists in the future.

New Firmicus Maternus Translation

Introducing the Mathesis

The Mathesis of Julius Firmicus Maternus is a very large and influential astrological work written in Latin in the early 4th century.  It is one of the longest and most prominent works in the Hellenistic tradition.  The four most notable texts of the Hellenistic tradition that were written prior to 400 CE, are, in my opinion, this Mathesis, the extremely lengthy Anthology of Vettius Valens (2nd century), the Tetrabiblos of Ptolemy (2nd century), and the shorter Introduction by Paulus Alexandrinus (4th century).

Mathesis and Sect

One of the great things about the Mathesis is that there are countless examples of sect in action.  Numerous interpretations of planets in houses are given, and we see the sect principle illustrated in nearly all of them, as even a malefic planet in sect in a house is judged able to produce some good there, while even a benefic planet out of sect is accompanied by some problems or instability.

For example, this from Book 3, p. 77 of Bram’s 1975 translation:

18. Saturn in  the ninth house will make famous magicians, renowned philosophers,  or  temple  priests  noted  for  their  reputation  for  magic. According  to  the nature of the signs  he also makes seers, diviners,  and astrologers. These are always outstanding  in their responses. Some carry on the rites of tempIes or are in charge of rituals. Sometimes they become long-haired  philosophers or  interpreters of dreams.

19. Saturn  in  this  house  by  night  indicates  wrath  of  the  gods  and hatred of emperors, especially if the waning Moon is moving toward him in any way.  But greater evils are  predicted  from  gods and emperors if Mars  from  any direction  is  in  aspect  to Saturn and  the Moon.

Eight Books of the Mathesis

The Mathesis is a book of natal delineation with a few timing techniques thrown in for good measure. This means that you get a cookbook approach at times, which probably shouldn’t be taken literally as some sort of pronouncement of the gods, but rather used to gather illustrations of broad principles that will allow you to make more accurate judgments in your chart work (and Maternus himself says as much near the end of the fifth book).

The 8 books are topically written as follows:

  1. Introduction: Reasons why astrology is important and useful.
  2. Fundamentals: Signs, houses, aspects/regards, and other basics.
  3. Planets in Places: A few more advanced fundamentals and then a cookbook-style delineations given for each planet in each place by day and night, as well as Mercury with each other planet in each place, and the Moon in the sign of the Lot of Fortune applying to each planet.
  4. The Moon and some special topics: In depth delineation of possibilities with the Moon, including its regards, applications, and separations in a natal chart, then disparate sections on the Lots of Fortune and Spirit, the chart ruler, length-of-life, profession, different degree types (full and empty, masculine and feminine), and then additional Moon considerations.
  5. The Zodiac and Divisions: Delineation of the different signs in each place, the delineation of the planets in the terms of each planet by day and night, concluding with some advice as to consider the whole picture and not just make pronouncements based on single factors such as a single planet in a sign.
  6. Aspects: Some additional material on places, some delineation of fixed stars, but primarily a lengthy set of delineations on planetary aspects or regards, including complex aspect situations, plus some of predictive material on each planet as chronocrator (lord of the time).
  7. Special Delineation: This is a book on delineating special topics, such as birth condition, deformation, slavery, illness, family, marriage, sexuality, children, power/fame, occupation, and so forth.  At the end of Book 6, Maternus notes that this Book 7 will present the more complete picture of astrological practice.
  8. Errata and Fixed Stars: Much of this is commentary on various special degrees, constellations, and other things of note to Firmicus.

Check out the New Translation

Many have hoped for a new translation of the Mathesis by someone well-versed in ancient astrology, because the earlier 1975 translation by Jean Rhys Bram had some confusing passages and possible mistranslations.  James Holden, an astrologer specializing in ancient astrology and translation, produced this new, sought-after, 620 page translation.