Astrological Predictive Techniques | Primary Directions | 1. Ascensions and Bounds

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This article was significantly updated in April of 2018.

Primary Directions Buzz

Few techniques are accompanied by more hype than primary directions.  Late traditional astrology was a time when the complexity of an astrologer’s mathematical abilities were more important than the veracity of one’s predictions. It is little wonder that primary directions were the key predictive technique of the era and that they grew increasingly complex.

I often hear it said that primary directions are the key to predicting the time of death. Also, that a type of primary directions can time out all of the major events in a person’s life to the very day that they occur. Additionally, because of the last belief, I’ve heard that birth times need to be rectified (even if recorded with a stopwatch at birth) so that important life events line up with primary directions to the exact day.

Primary Directions in Ancient Astrology

While primary directions are over-hyped, they are an important addition to the astrologer’s predictive toolbox.  They also have their origins in Hellenistic astrology and were popular in Persian medieval astrology. Directions through the bounds and directions to angles, especially the Ascendant, were the earliest types of directions used. They are also among the most important types of directions.

I feel that it is best to start from the beginning, with the way primary directions were used in early Hellenistic astrology. We will progress gradually from there.  I will not explore the increasingly diverse approaches to primary directions that arise during and after the Renaissance. I’m of the rather cynical opinion that the reader will be better off for that.

According to Martin Gansten who wrote the definitive text on the subject, prior to the 15th century, directions were always in the zodiac (i.e. in zodiaco as opposed to in mundo), without latitude, used semi-arc proportions, and without any relationship to particular system of quadrant house division (Gansten, 2009, p. 61). That dispenses with about 90% of possible software settings for primary directions. Let’s keep it simple and stick with primary directions as they were done for about the first 1500 years of horoscopic astrology.

What are Primary Directions?

As you’ve probably heard, the Earth spins once around over a 24 hour period.  The planets rise, culminate, and set with this spin. The apparent motion of the planets as they rise, culminate, and set with this spin is called their primary motion.

Primary Motion
The Primary Motion of the Planets and Signs

Now imagine we were to freeze copies of the positions of the planets in the sky relative to the Earth at the moment of birth. Then we were to let everything spin as usual and watch the planetary conjunctions and aspects that occur in the sky relative to those copies as the day goes on, with the planets continuing to rise, culminate, and set. If we did this we would see planets arrive at (i.e. be directed to) our birth planets and our birth angles by the primary motion. These are the primary directions of the planets.

The clock time that it would take for these conjunctions and aspects to occur is the timing of these directions. For instance, we may say that 4 minutes of elapsed clock time is symbolic of 1 year of life.

Right Ascension

The 24 hours of spin is given a constant measure called Right Ascension (RA), such that 30 degrees of RA pass over the Meridian of the location in exactly 2 hours of clock time. Therefore, 360 degrees of right ascension passes over the meridian in 24 hours. Since 24 hours equals 1,440 minutes, each of the 360 degrees corresponds to about 4 minutes of clock time (i.e. 1,440/360=4).  In other words, if a planet were to culminate (i.e. reach the MC) 8 minutes of clock time after birth, then we’d convert this to degrees of RA as being a direction to the MC 2 degrees (of RA) after birth.

The Annual Key

To convert these degrees of RA into years of life, we use an annual key. The original key is 1 degree of RA equals 1 year of life.  This key is sometimes called the Ptolemaic key. However, it was not Ptolemy that originally used it. This is the annual key used for primary directions until about the Renaissance, and thus it’s the only one we’ll use.  Remember, 1 degree of RA = 1 year of life = 4 minutes of clock time. 

Smaller Units of Time

We now know that 1 degree of RA is symbolic of 1 year of life, but there are 365.25 days in a year, so how much RA is a day?  1 degree is equivalent to 60 minutes of a degree which is equivalent to 3,600 seconds of a degree.  By dividing 3,600 by 365.25 we get that a day is about 9.86 seconds of a degree of right ascension.

We really don’t need that sort of precision, as primary directions are not the appropriate technique for timing to the day anyway.  When we do want greater precision we can let a good software program do the calculation for us.  It was common practice in the ancient world to approximate with a 360 day year. This would give an even approximation of 10 seconds of a degree for one day (i.e. 3,600/360=10) and 5 minutes of a degree for one month (i.e. 10 seconds * 30 = 300 seconds = 5 minutes).

Estimating Primary Directions to Angles with Astro-Clocks

Because about 4 minutes of clock time is equal to a year of life by primary directions, one can actually use an astro-clock to find key years quickly. Look at the time in minutes that it takes from birth to when a planet conjoins or aspects an angle of the chart. Take that time, divide by 4, and you will get a rough approximation of the year (and quarter) when an event is likely to occur.  Out of all of the primary directions that are aspect-based (as opposed to the time lords discussed below), these directions to the angles are the most pivotal, especially the direct hits. It is handy to be able to approximate these with an astro-clock or by manually time adjusting a chart.

Example: Kurt Cobain

The divorce of Kurt Cobain’s parents when he was seven years old is often cited as a very influential event in his life.  Looking at his natal chart we see that Jupiter is the ruler of his 4th of family, and that Venus (a significator of the mother by day) is conjunct Saturn in his natal chart. This Venus-Saturn conjunction was a particularly significant combination in his musical career, his marriage to Courtney Love, and his suicide.

Kurt Cobain's Natal Chart
Kurt Cobain’s Natal Chart
30 Minutes After Birth = 7.5 Years

Sure enough, about a half hour (about 30 / 4 = about 7.5) after Kurt’s birth Jupiter, ruler of the 4th, exactly aspects the Descendant, and Venus conjoins the Descendant.  The setting of Venus is more significant here because it is a direction to the horizon itself, rather than a direction of an aspect of a planet to the horizon (the Jupiter direction is from the trine of Jupiter to the horizon). While a traumatic parental separation may not strike one as a particularly Venus and Jupiter type of event, Jupiter, in Cancer and ruling the 4th shows the emphasis on parents, and Venus, being conjunct Saturn, shows the effect on his sense of relationships, and the loss and burden associated with that.

30 Minutes after Cobain's Birth
30 Minutes after Cobain’s Birth
48 Minutes After Birth = 12 Years

At age 12, his mother granted full custody to his father. Age 12 would correspond to about 48 minutes after birth (4*12=48), and sure enough Saturn sets in the chart about 48 minutes after birth. The setting of Saturn rounds out the impact of this very powerful Jupiter-Venus-Saturn configuration coming due by direction to the Descendant.

Cobain 48 minutes after birth

Play with Astro-Clocking

I invite the reader to take a few minutes to play around with this on one’s own chart and other working charts. I want you to get a rough idea of when directions to angles occur in the life, especially those that are complex configurations involving a series of hits over a few years.  Think in terms of natal significations that could be unlocked by the prominence that lining up with angles can bring.

Early Primary Directions

According to Gansten (2009, p. 11), there is evidence of the use of primary directions as far back as the 1st century CE. They appear in the Carmen Astrologicum of Dorotheus and possibly also in a paraphrase of the early 1st century CE astrologer Balbillus.

There are three things that you should know about the earliest primary directions:

  1. There is an exclusive focus on the Ascendant. 
  2. The rising of the bounds of a sign give rise to a time lord of the period and this bound lord sets the tone of the period.
  3. Directions of planets to the Ascendant and planetary aspects to the Ascendant mark transitory events.

As noted in the series of lessons, the Ascendant is symbolic of the self, so this focus on the Ascendant makes sense. As with the metaphorical journey of the self through the houses by profection of the Ascendant, the directed Ascendant shows a journey of the self through the bounds of the planets. Directed aspects to the Ascendant show the self encountering significant sets of circumstances.

Directing through the Bounds

This second point about directing the Ascendant through the bounds was lost to later traditional astrology. Today, primary directions are used as a suped-up set of transits rather than as a time lord system. However, this was a critical facet of this technique from the beginning right on through the Persian period. During the Persian medieval period, the bound lord of the directed Ascendant is known as the jarbakhtar (distributor of time, much like the Greek chronocrator). In Hellenistic and Persian astrology, this use of directions appears to have been given more stress than the aspectual type.

The bounds used were the Egyptian bounds. Note that the “Egyptian” bounds were the only set which were widespread and independently attested in multiple Hellenistic sources, and are rooted farther back in Mesopotamian astrology.  You can find a table of Egyptian bounds online at Altair Astrology’s blog here, or download a free pdf of the bounds and more from Project Hindsight here.

Astro-clocking can be used to roughly estimate the distributor as well. Simply note the time it takes for the Ascendant to change bounds.

Dorotheus on Directing through the Bounds

When Dorotheus directed the Ascendant through the bounds in Book III, Ch. 2 of Carmen, he emphasized both the bound lord and planets aspecting the bound. For instance, when the Ascendant reaches 24-30 degrees of Scorpio, the bound of Saturn, he gives the distribution to Saturn and Venus. Venus in the chart is at 27 degrees Leo, aspecting the bound, so Venusian events occur. Overall, the period is marked by difficult Saturnian events though.

I would interpret the bound lord as the overall distributor characterizing many key events which take place over the period, The aspecting planet then comes to the forefront and characterizes important during the year when the aspect is close. Study the following excerpt of Dorotheus (Book III, Ch. 2, 2017, Dykes trans., p. 193; note that information in {} brackets is mine):

Then the distribution reached Saturn, and Venus cast rays to 27° of Scorpio from the square: so Saturn and Venus governed this distribution together. {…} And because of the place of Saturn his mother died in that time, and he acquired goods because Saturn indicated these {Saturn was in the 2nd}, and he will marry a woman with a dowry, and a child will be born to him ([and]live a little bit, and die) in the third year; so his joy will be from women and children due to Venus, and his weeping and the death of his children due to Saturn.

Distributor Sets the Tone

In this case, the native has many difficult events occur as the main distributor is Saturn. This is due to the natural significations of Saturn as well as his indications in the chart. In the chart, Saturn is in the 2nd, rules the 3rd and 4th, dominates the 5th, and is closely dominated by an out of sect Mars who squares him within a degree. However, around the 3rd year, when the aspect of Venus is effective, he marries and has children. Venus naturally signifies marriage, she rules the 7th and is the exalted ruler of the 5th, and she is in the 10th house where she confers children. Thereafter, misery strikes again with the death of the child due to the fact that Saturn is still the distributor.

Estimating Ascendant Directions with Ascensional Times

The ecliptic is at an angle to the horizon, so signs rise somewhat diagonally. For this reason, they take more or less than 2 hours to rise, rather than a steady 2 hours per sign. The length of time it takes for a given sign to rise depends on the latitude of the location, and this length of time is measured in Right Ascension (RA).  You will recall that 1 degree of RA is basically 4 minutes of clock time.  Therefore, if a sign rose uniformly, then all 30 degrees of the sign would rise in 30 degrees of RA or 2 hours (30 degrees RA * 4 minutes clock time = 120 minutes clock time).

What are Ascensional Times?

When a sign takes longer than 2 hours to rise, it is called a sign of long ascension. Let’s say it rose in 3 hours, then we’d call this 3 hours its “ascensional time” for that latitude. However, we want to express the ascensional time in RA.  2 hours of clock time is 30 degrees RA, so 3 hours of clock time would be 45 degrees RA. Therefore, the ascensional time for that sign which took 3 hours at that latitude would be 45 degrees of RA.

Ascensional Times as the Years of the Signs

The ascensional times of the signs for the latitude of birth are important to know. They are used in various Hellenistic predictive methods.  The ancient key of 1 year for each degree of RA was used in multiple ways in Hellenistic astrology.  For instance, an activation of the sign in the chart was thought to occur around the same number of years as the ascensional time of the sign.  In our 45 degree sign example, we might expect some special activation of that sign in the birth chart at 45 years of age.

Ascensional Times in Valens

For instance, in Book II, Ch. 2 of Anthology, Valens advised to look at the sect light and its triplicity lords to assess if one has an overall fortunate life or not. The position of the sect light itself is important, but the triplicity lords, which typically indicate supportive influences, preside over certain periods of life. The first triplicity lord assists in the first period of life, with the second taking over after that, and then the third after that. Valens instructs that the time that the first triplicity lord rules is either its minor years or the ascensional time of the sign it occupies.

For nativities which are badly situated (whether day or night births), if the predominant houseruler is unfavorably located, but its successor is at an angle or otherwise configured well, the native will experience ups and downs during his early years or until the rising time of the sign or until the cyclical return of the chronocrator, but will afterwards be vigorous and effective–except for being unsteady and anxious. (Valens, Book II. Ch. 2, 2010, Riley trans., p. 25)

There are many other areas in the Anthology in which Valens uses the ascensional times of the signs. See for instance Book II, Ch. 28, Book III, Ch. 14-15, Book IV, Ch. 29, and throughout much of Book 7. The examples in Book VII are particularly revealing as he considered the age corresponding to the ascensional time of the sign to activate events symbolized by planets in and aspecting the sign. He also does quite a bit of adding the ascensional times of the signs to the minor years of the planets in or aspecting the sign to show combined activation.

Ascensional Times in Primary Directions

Additionally, the ascensional times were used to estimate primary directions pertaining to the Ascendant. They were also sometimes used as a sort of rough symbolic direction of other points, even though it is not astronomically correct to use them for directing other points.  Gansten (2009, p. 14) mentioned that at least Valens and Paulus Alexandrinus employed this short cut method. The method is as follows: take the ascensional time of the sign, divide it by 30, and use that as a conversion unit for the RA of one zodiacal degree of the sign.

To better understand how this is done, the reader will have to first obtain a table of sign ascensional times for the latitudes.  One such table is available from Project Hindsight for free as the last pdf link on this page.  Please download that table at this time and refer to it for the discussion in the next few paragraphs.

Calculate Kurt Cobain’s Directions by Ascensional Times

Let’s return to Kurt Cobain.  He was born at about 47 North, for latitude, and his Ascendant is Virgo.  At the intersection of latitude 47 and the sign Virgo, you will find the ascensional time of 40°29′.  Dividing by 30 we get 1°21′ or 1.35°, which is our conversion factor.  In other words, while the Ascendant is in Virgo, we pretend that 1° of zodiacal longitude is equivalent to 1.35 years of life (about 1 year, 4 months, and 1 week).

Kurt Cobain's Natal Chart

Bounds of Virgo

Kurt’s Ascendant is at 20 Virgo in the bound of Jupiter but the bound switches to that of Mars in a degree, and thus at about age 1 year, 4 months.  Mars rules that time in the life until the Ascendant enters the bound of Saturn which starts at 28 Virgo, 8 degrees past the Ascendant. We calculate the entry into the Saturn bound as 8*1.35=10.8 years, or about 10 years and 9 1/2 months of age.  In other words, from about age 1 1/2 until almost age 11, Mars is the lord of the time, and will set the tone for events. The Saturn bound lasts for 2 degrees, or 2.7 years (1.35*2=2.7), until he is about 13 1/2.  After that point the Ascendant enters the first bound of Libra, which is another Saturn bound.

Bounds of Libra

When entering a new sign we have to find the conversion factor for the new sign.  However, in this case it is easy, because Virgo and Libra have the same ascensional times, and thus the same conversion factor. That Mars and Saturn as time lords set the tone during Kurt’s childhood for the other directions is significant, particularly in relation to our speculations about the meaning of the Jupiter and Venus directions above.

Aspects

We can do the same thing for aspects to the Ascendant.  The Ascendant is at 20 Virgo and Saturn is at 28°44′ (about 28.75) Pisces.  When 28°44′ Virgo rises this direction of Saturn opposite the Ascendant (same direction we mentioned as occurring around age 12 above on astro-clocking) will be complete.  Therefore, we are interested in the age that corresponds to about 8.75 degrees of zodiacal longitude.  Multiplying by our Virgo conversion factor for this latitude of 1.35, we get 11.8 years of age for the setting of Saturn, which is pretty close to the estimate we got by astro-clocking.

Quick Pen and Paper Primary Directions

Hopefully, you now have a good grasp of how the sign conversion factors can be used to convert zodiacal distance into years of life.  This is simply a rough estimate because each sign does not rise at a constant rate. It is not precisely accurate to equate any arbitrary zodiacal degree of Virgo with the same particular unit of time. However, it is useful when you don’t have access to a program that can calculate primary directions or even an astro-clock.

Directing through the Bounds with Free Software

In a future article, I’ll give more details about finding primary directions with free software.  However, I want to leave the reader with at least the chance to create and print off tables for the Ascendant jarbakhtar periods of any chart.  This is done with the free open-source traditional astrology program Traditional Morinus.

I won’t get into the details of installing the program and entering basic chart data here because I’ve addressed it in this prior post, and further in this one.  If you are new to Morinus, please check out those posts. Please download, install, and get a chart in there, before continuing on.

OK, now that you have a birth chart up, you should have a screen that somewhat resembles the following:

Houston Natal

Settings

First, let’s set the Key.  Click Options, then Primary Keys (or press SHIFT-K).  Select “Static” and select “Ptolemy” from the list, then click OK.

Second, let’s set the other Primary Directions options for some traditional Ascendant through the bounds type of directions.  Click Options, then Primary Directions (or press SHIFT-D).  Make sure your selections look as follows. You can do this by deselecting everything (by clicking “reset”) and then selecting the options shown (Terms as the only promissor; Conjunction as the only aspect; Asc as the only significator). Recall that semiarc and zodiacal without latitude are the standard approaches prior to the Renaissance.

PD Options

Pulling Up the Distributors

Now we are ready to calculate the tables.  Go to Tables in the top menu, then Primary Directions.  You might as well check 0-100.  Make sure only Direct is checked.  Converse here are actually not traditional converse primary directions at all, but a sort of reverse primary direction where we imagine that the signs are moving across the sky in reverse (i.e. moving opposite the primary motion), so they are a very weird modern experimental thing which we we’ll ignore, always choosing Direct.

When you hit OK, you should end up with a Table of primary directions of the Ascendant through bounds.

Example: Whitney Houston’s Death

For the example below, I pulled up the jarbakhtars for Whitney Houston from Age 25-50.

Houston - Ascendant Jarbakhtars - 25-50 years

One thing that we notice is that for the period from April 18, 2009 until March 3, 2013, the Ascendant directs through the Saturn bound of Taurus (22 to 27 Taurus).  This tells us that Saturn is jarbakhtar for the period and sets the tone as a time lord. Saturn characterizes very significant events as it is located in her 12th House, opposite her natal Sun.  Houston died during the period on Feb. 11, 2012. For some more on the importance of Saturn in the timing of her death, please see the article on her death.

Houston Natal
Whitney Houston’s Natal Chart

Pulling Up Distributors and Aspects

As mentioned above, the distributor (bound lord) and the aspectual directions to the Ascendant were typically looked at together. These primary directions are the most important ones due to the symbolic nature of the Ascendant, so I highly recommend that you save a table which includes just these directions for your own chart and all the charts you analyze.

Let’s pull up the table. Go back into primary directions options (press SHIFT-D). Now you will need to check some additional promissors and aspects, but everything else will remain the same. For promissors, check all of the 7 classical planets (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury Moon). Also, check that the secondary motion of the Moon is accounted for (i.e. check Sec. Motion). For aspects, check Conjunction, Sextile, Square, Trine, and Opposition.

Primary Directions Options Asc Terms Aspects

Example: Trump’s Political Rise

Let’s pull up the table of directions for the Ascendant for ages 50-75 for Donald Trump (birth data AA rated).

Trump Ascendant Directions Ages 50-75

We find that the Ascendant is in Libra, going through the bounds of Jupiter, Venus, and Mars during the final 20 years of the period (ages 55-75).  Libra is ruled by Venus (ruler of the MC) and occupied by Jupiter (ruler of the 5th house of children) in the natal chart. Interestingly, Jupiter is located in the bound of Jupiter, and Venus strongly aspects her own Venus bound in the sign, so both planets make eventful aspects during their distributorships.

Trump with Twelfth-Parts
Trump’s Natal Chart with Twelfth-Parts (outer wheel) – CTRL-Click to enlarge
Jupiter Distribution

The Jupiter distribution from 2002-2010 saw a number of important Jupiterian events in his life, especially as it relates to Jupiter’s position in the 3rd house and rulership of the 5th house. Also, there is the presence of twelfth-part of Mercury in the Jupiter bound.

Trump became a television star with the start of the Apprentice in 2004. He married his third wife in 2005. However, the most important period is when the aspect of Jupiter aspects his bound, which is in 2006 and sees the birth of his fifth child. 

Venus Distribution

By 2011, Trump is in his Venus distribution. Venus rules the 10th house of rank and authority and she has her twelfth-part in the 10th house. There is a strong orientation toward political leadership during the period.

This is a particularly important bound. It is aspected by 5 planets, including its ruler (Venus), both lights (Sun and Moon), and both malefic (Saturn and Mars). The fact that the lights aspect the bound highlights themes of leadership and authority shown by the fact that the ruler of the MC (Venus) also rules and aspects the bound. Saturn and Mars highlight that this is also going to be one of the most difficult periods.

Trump has had a political aspirations as various points in his life, but his real political career within the Republic party kicks off in 2011 during this period. It kicks of with a 2011 CPAC speaking engagement. After that engagement, his political contributions, which had been mixed but mainly to Democrats, decidedly shifted to Republican candidates.

In 2013, with aspects from the Sun and Moon within a degree, the political direction intensifies. We see our first intimations of candidate Trump. While Trump does not announce his candidacy until 2015, Trump spends a million dollars in 2013 to research a possible presidential run and is a popular featured speaker at CPAC. His popularity with the conservative base takes off.

However, the most important period is when Venus aspects her bound. The aspect is exact in January of 2017 and sees Trump sworn in as the President of the USA.

Conclusion

If you’ve found primary directions to be confusing or overly intimidating in the past, I hope I’ve helped to make them clear. In the next article, we’ll delve a little deeper into the use of primary directions.

References

Dorotheus of Sidon, & al-Tabari, U. (2017). Carmen Astrologicum: The ’Umar al-Tabari Translation. (B. N. Dykes, Trans.). Minneapolis, Minn.,: The Cazimi Press.

Gansten, M. (2009). Primary Directions: Astrology’s Old Master Technique. Bournemouth, England: The Wessex Astrologer Ltd.

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

Image Attributions

Featured image of Japanese top by Juni from Kyoto, Japan (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Anthony

Blogger interested in all things astrological, especially Hellenistic, medieval, Uranian, and asteroid astrology.

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