Many modern astrologers may not realize that each of the planets has certain numbers of years assigned to it. Even in today’s traditional astrological circles the years of the planets are underutilized in predictive techniques, as most of the ways of using them disappeared in the middle ages. However, in Hellenistic astrology, especially in the techniques of Vettius Valens (2nd Century CE) and Julius Firmicus Maternus (4th Century CE), planetary years are the basis of a large number of predictive techniques. In this post I introduce the most commonly used figures for the planetary years, which are also known as the Minor Years of the planets. I discuss how they can be used as indicators of when a certain configurations in the chart will “ripen”, and I also discuss their mathematical relationship to the length of the year and how they can be used to divide the year into rulership by different planets in the natal chart.
The Minor Years of the Planets
Let’s start by simply noting what the minor years of the planets are. They are given in many different texts, with consistent values, and one such source is at the end of Book III of Valens’ Anthology. Here I give the planet, the number of years. The rationale for these numbers concerns times when the planets return to the same positions in the sky with the Sun, based on synodic cycles, except that the Sun’s number, 19, is based on the metonic cycle which is when the Sun and Moon meet at the same position every 19 years, and the Moon’s number, 25, is based on a relationship between the lunation cycle and the Egyptian calendar that repeats every 25 years.
- Saturn – 30
- Jupiter – 12
- Mars – 15
- Sun – 19
- Venus – 8
- Mercury – 20
- Moon – 25
Minor Years as Ripening Planets
In various areas of The Anthology by Valens, especially in Book VII, Valens uses the years of the planets as signalling ripe times for their effects to manifest. He actually combines minor years of planets in configurations with each other, combines minor years of planets with the minor years of their sign ruler, combines rising times of signs with planetary years, he mixes and sums planetary years, planetary months (i.e. 1/12 of the planetary years), and rising times of signs for various configurations, and gives instructions relating to using fractions of planetary years and rising times.
For our purposes let’s focus first on just using planetary years and their combinations. The basic idea is that a planet’s effects are likely to manifest or ripen near to the number of years of the planet, as well as multiples of that, and combinations of the planet and its ruler. Additionally, to time out the ripening of configurations we combine the years of the planets involved.
Example number 1 is the death of Whitney Houston. In a prior post on the death of Whitney Houston, I noted that she died in her 49th year, and discussed how Sun-Saturn configurations ripen near age 49. Whitney had a Sun-Saturn opposition across the 6th and 12th houses of her natal chart, which are considered the most difficult houses of the chart, and have relevance for health crises and other difficult events. Given Saturn as natural signficator of death and the Sun as natural significator of life, the activation of this configuration at approximately 49 years, the sum of the years of the Sun (19) and Saturn (30) is very significant.
Example number 2 is Hitler’s rise to power. In summer of 1934, Hitler became leader of Germany after the passing of President von Hindenburg. This saw the realization of his scrutinizing (i.e. within 3 degrees) Mars-Saturn square from Taurus to Leo, from the 8th pertaining to death to the 11th pertaining to organizations, where Saturn in Leo advancing toward the MC promised leadership and Mars in the 8th pertained to death. Hitler was 45 years old, the sum of the years of Saturn (30) and Mars (15). Hitler was able to eliminate all that stood in his way and seize supreme unimpeded power over Germany’s direction by early 1938. At the time, Hitler was in his 49th year, nearing his 49th birthday. This is the realization of his role as a culminating Saturn in Leo, at the combination of the years of Saturn (30) and its ruler the Sun (19) the Sun also dominates Saturn from the 8th, so it also is the activation of the Sun-Saturn square.
Example Three is the 1st edition of Alfred Witte’s Rules of Planetary-Pictures, the definitive pronouncement of the basic planetary combinations and rules of Uranian astrology. Alfred Witte turned 50 in 1928, the year of the first publication, which would have coincided with the ripening of Mercury-Saturn configurations (20+30) and those of the Moon itself (25+25). Witte was born with Mercury in Aquarius (ruled by Saturn), and that Mercury was also conjunct the Moon, so both Mercury in Aquarius and Witte’s Moon ripen at the time of the publication. Mercury in Aquarius is in the 5th house of Witte’s chart, that of creative output, children, and entertainment – Mercury there being significant of teachings and publications, and Saturn of structure and foundations. An interesting tidbit about Witte’s Mercury at 27 Aquarius (and Moon at 28 Aquarius for that matter as they are conjunct within a degree and a half) is that it closely opposes the modern planet Uranus (father sky) at 26 Leo and the asteroid Urania (muse of astrology) at 25 Leo.
I’d like to leave it to the reader to find some additional interesting examples, either from their own charts or those of celebrities. Feel free to share interesting cases that you find in the comments section.
Planetary Days and Their Eerie Sum
One of the most fascinating things about the minor years is that if you take the sum of each’s double, half, and third, they all add up 365.5, almost exactly the number of days in a year. These sums of double, half, and third may be referred to as the days of each planet. They are given in Book II, Chapter 29 of the Mathesis by Firmicus Maternus (“The Division of the Year”) with a couple minor errors, and a more precise list is given by Vettius Valens at the beginning of Book IV of his Anthology. The list of the planetary days is given below:
- Saturn – 85 = 60+15+10
- Jupiter – 34 = 24+6+4
- Mars – 42 1/2 = 30+7 1/2+5
- Sun – 53 5/6 = 38+9 1/2+6 1/3
- Venus – 22 2/3 = 16+4+2 2/3
- Mercury – 56 2/3 = 40+10+6 2/3
- Moon – 70 5/6 = 50+12 1/2+8 1/3
Sum of all the planetary years = (85 + 34 + 42 1/2) + (53 5/6 + 70 5/6) + (22 2/3 + 56 2/3) = 161 1/2 + (124 2/3 + 79 1/3) = 161 1/2 + 204 = 365 1/2 days. Spooky, isn’t it?
Dividing the Year
These planetary days are used in a few different time lord techniques in Hellenistic astrology. Probably the simplest and most intuitive use is given by Firmicus Maternus in Chapter 29 of Book II of the Mathesis, and divides the native’s year following one’s birthday. As Firmicus explained it, it seems that we start with the ruler of the annual profection (explanation of profections can be found here), also called the lord of the year, and proceed from one planet to the next based on their order in the natal chart from that planet.
I will only use one example of this technique, as it can be time consuming to lay out. However, once you’ve laid out the days the planetary rulership switches over the course of year it is done and can be referred to throughout the year, giving a nice understanding of the timing for the manifestation of different planets and their indications for that year.
My one example is that of Bernie Madoff. He was arrested at age 70, on December 11, 2008. Mars, the out of sect malefic in his chart is in Gemini, ruled by Mercury, planet of commerce, in the 11th which pertains to groups and networking. This Mars is particularly relevant to his capture, as he was arrested in an 11th house, Gemini, annual profection, which came to that Mars, and was ruled by his Mercury. Interestingly, the year 70 is also a year of the ripening of Mercury-Mars relationships (20+20+15+15), activating his Mars in Gemini, as well as his Mercury in Aries, and their sextile relationship. Additionally, on the morning of his arrest, December 11, 2008, the transiting Moon was in early Gemini, conjoining his natal Mars.
The breakdown of the days of the year is also interesting. It starts on or around his birthday April 29th. His arrest is December 11th. To calculate the number of days between them we can use a duration calculator (click to go to calculation site). Using the calculator we find about 226 days between Madoff’s birthday and his arrest. We begin the year with Mercury, and then proceed in the order of the planets in the natal chart as follows:
Mercury 56.666+ Moon 70.666+ Sun 53.8333+ Venus 22.666 = 203.83, so approximately 204 days after his birthday, the rulership went from Venus to Mars. The period of Mars is 42.5 days, so it went from about 204 to about 246 days after his birthday. Therefore, at the time of Madoff’s arrest it was Mars that was the active planet pertaining to those days.
I leave you with a quote from Firmicus Maternus on the interpretation of the day activations from Mathesis, Book II, Ch. 29, #2 (Holden trans., 2011):
“when illnesses, when debilities, when gains, when losses happen, when joys, when sorrows. For when the benefic stars receive the days, we are freed from all evil; when malefics, the sudden blows of misfortune strike us.”
Have fun experimenting with the basic use of the minor years of the planets and the planetary days! Feel free to share experiences in the comments.