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

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Symmetry and Sympathy

In this article, we’ll look at some unique symmetry-based relationships between the signs of the zodiac.  These relationships pertain to antiscia, as well as the related concept of contra-antiscia.  Antiscia are degrees symmetrical about the solstitial points. In other words, they are degrees that are equidistant from 0 Cancer and 0 Capricorn, such as 10 Sagittarius and 20 Capricorn or 13 Scorpio and 17 Aquarius. Contra-antiscia are degrees symmetrical about the equinoctial points, 0 Aries and 0 Libra, such as 5 Taurus and 25 Aquarius.

Perhaps antiscia are like reflections or shadows and contra-antiscia are like echoes. We’ll see these types of metaphors arise in some of the sign relationships based on them. Antiscia and contra-antiscia illuminate an early and fascinating connection between symmetry and sympathy in ancient astrology.

Ancient Antiscia

The degree-based concept of antiscia was used extensively by Julius Firmicus Maternus (4th century CE; see Book II, Ch. 30 of Mathesis).  Other Hellenistic astrologers didn’t use antiscia by degree, except perhaps Valens. Valens mentioned degrees antiskios (shadow or antiscia) in Book III, Ch. 5 (7K) and Book VI, Ch. 8 as making aspects more powerful. However, he did not define them.

Hellenistic astrologers didn’t use contra-antiscia by degree. However, sign relationships related to antiscia and contra-antiscia are found in many Hellenistic texts, including Manilius (1st century CE) and Ptolemy (2nd century CE). Furthermore, later, in the Persian period, al-Qabisi (10th century) considered degrees of either antiscia or contra-antiscia as degrees of similar power (see his Introduction to the Science of Astrology).

The origins of antiscia and contra-antiscia reveal a consideration for symmetry about axes, possibly dating back to pre-Hellenistic sources. This consideration of “power in symmetry” was drawn on heavily in the modern Uranian and Cosmobiology approaches to astrology.

While many astrologers today are aware of antiscia and contra-antiscia, they are often unfamiliar with the whole sign relationships that formed the foundation for those concepts.  Mention of these sign relationships is prevalent in Hellenistic and Persian material. We will explore these sign-based relationships and their uses. First, we will explore the other more common ways in which affinity between planets arises.

Regard

In Hellenistic astrology signs could be connected by various types of affinities. The best known of these is referred to as “regard”, using a visual metaphor. Planets that regard each other “see” each other. Regard occurs by what we call “whole sign aspects”. Signs in whole sign aspects are those which are situated such that one sign starts 60 degrees (sextile), 90 degrees (square), 120 degrees (trine), or 180 degrees (opposition) away from another.  Planets in such signs regard each other. Planets that don’t regard each other are said to be in aversion or disjunct.

Copresence

Similarly, planets in the same sign (i.e. the same house) are said to be co-present in that house, as if cohabitating in the same abode. The planets are co-present even if they are in opposite ends of the sign. Planets that are co-present strongly influence each other’s significations. According to Serapio, the planets in earlier degrees are more influential (i.e. have “superiority”) upon those in later degrees of the same sign.

Meaning of Regard

Certain regards are more harmonious and others less so. Planets that don’t regard each other are said to be in “aversion” as they lack a direct line of sight influence. Therefore, regard helps to define which planets interact with which and the nature of the relationship. The planet regarding from the right side (i.e. earlier to rise and set) is more influential in the relationship, called superior. The square relationship is forceful, oppositions are obstructing, co-presence is powerful, trines are generously friendly, and sextiles are cooperative.  See the lesson on configurations for the basis of the meanings of these aspects.

Regard in Synastry

Regards show how planets modulate the nature of other planets and connect with matters associated with other planets. However, they can also show interaction between planets across people’s charts, in what is called synastry.  For instance, for Ptolemy and Masha’allah it was important that the Sun and Moon in the charts of marriage partners regard each other harmoniously. They also advised that a malefic in one person’s chart should not be co-present with the Lights or Venus in another’s chart for a strong harmonious relationship. See the article on the basics of relationship synastry for more on this use of regard.

Other Affinities

Signs that are disjunct but having sympathy for each other are all the equal-rising signs, and those having equal power, and those of like zone. For example, equal-rising are Aries and Pisces, Gemini and Capricorn, Cancer and Sagittarius, Virgo and Libra; of equal power are Gemini and Cancer, Virgo and Aries, Libra and Pisces, Sagittarius and Capricorn; of like zone are Taurus with Libra, Aries with Scorpio.  (Rhetorius, Ch. 16, Holden trans., 2009, p. 16-17)

There are other sign relationships in Hellenistic astrology that also show affinity.  The most important of these are of two types: 1. Signs ruled by the same planet, 2. Signs symmetrical about the cardinal points. The first type is the signs that are the domicile of one planet, such as Aries and Scorpio as they are ruled by Mars or Taurus and Libra ruled by Venus. The second type is related to the antiscia and contra-antiscia notions previously discussed.

These sign relationships can be confusing because the same terminology is sometimes used for different relationships.  For instance, signs ruled by the same planet are sometimes called those “agreeing in the journey” or “agreeing in the belt”. However, signs symmetrical about the equinoctial axis are also sometimes called “agreeing in the journey”.

Like-Engirding Signs

I’ll prefer “agreeing in the belt” (referring to the zodiac) and “like-engirding” as the terms for signs with the same domicile ruler. “Like zone” is another term sometimes used. These signs have an affinity with each other because the same planet manages the affairs of both houses. Both houses work together through that planet. For instance, Aries and Scorpio don’t regard each other but Mars has responsibility for both places. Therefore, planets in those places are affiliated through the working of Mars.

Relationships from Cardinal Points

The other type of affinity is based on symmetry about the cardinal axes or cardinal signs. The cardinal signs are defined as starting with an equinox or a solstice. These are important points in the Sun-Earth relationship. The rising times of the signs and the length of day are functions of this relationship.

There are two axes, that of the solstitial points (0° Cancer and 0° Capricorn) and that of the equinoctial points (0° Aries and 0° Libra). Degrees of the zodiac equidistant relative to the solstitial axis represent days of equal length. Signs of the zodiac equidistant relative to the equinoctial axis are those which rise at the same rate (i.e. have the same ascensional time).

Four Symmetries?

One of the more confusing things about the Hellenistic symmetrical sign relationships is that four, rather than two, sign relationships are discussed. Many authors discuss signs of equal ascension (contra-antiscia) as sympathetic (Paulus Alexandrinus, Rhetorius) and some talk of those of equal power  (antiscia) as sympathetic also or at least highly significant (Rhetorius, Maternus on antiscia in Book II, Ch. 30). However, Paulus, Porphyry, Rhetorius, and others also discusses signs that are equidistant from entire cardinal signs. Let’s look briefly at these relationships about whole signs before turning to the more interesting matter of relationships about the cardinal axes.

Signs equidistant from the solstitial signs (Cancer/Capricorn) are Gemini-Leo, Taurus-Virgo, Aries-Libra, Pisces-Scorpio, and Aquarius-Sagittarius. Similarly, signs equidistant from the equinoctial signs (Aries/Libra) are Pisces-Taurus, Aquarius-Gemini, Capricorn-Cancer, Sagittarius-Leo, and Scorpio-Virgo.  These additional relationships are sometimes labeled with the terminology “signs that command and obey”, “signs that hear each other”, “signs that see each other”, and other such attributions. Additionally, these attributions are sometimes mixed up being assigned to one set of signs in one author and another in a different one.

Outdated Remnants

These relationships about the entire cardinal signs appear to originate in an earlier age when the sidereal zodiac was used. For instance, in his footnote on Porphyry, Ch.31, James Holden remarked that the pairs of obeying signs (equidistant from the solstitial signs) “are based on the scheme of the early Alexandrian astrologers, which in effect puts the equinoxes and solstices at 15 degrees of the cardinal signs” (Holden, 2009, p. 25, Footnote 2).

In ancient times the sidereal zodiac was defined with reference to the vernal equinox but it indicated the middle of Aries (15°) for at least some astrologers. The two competing Babylonian standards were for the equinox/solstice to mark out 8° or 10° of the cardinal sign. However, Hipparchus (3rd century BCE) noted that some astronomers (he cited Eudoxus) put the spring equinox at 15° Aries. With the equinoxes and solstices at the 15th degree of each cardinal sign,the signs on either side of that cardinal sign would be those equally rising (from equinox) or of equal daylight (from solstice). Therefore, the symmetry has always been based on the equinoctial and solstitial points. It was never meant to be based on the cardinal signs themselves.

In other words, these two additional relationships are remnants from when the sidereal zodiac was used for this tropical relationship. Making the full cardinal signs themselves the basis of the relationship misses the original symmetry about the cardinal points. For this matter, I dismiss the pairings of signs across entire cardinal signs as erroneous.

1st Century BCE Criticism of Use of Whole Cardinal Sign

Geminos (1st century BCE) mentioned the connected signs in his material on aspects. He noted that astrologers of his day tended to use the whole solstitial sign as the axis of symmetry. Interestingly, he strongly and thoroughly criticized the approach as being in error. Geminos noted that the Chaldeans (Babylonians) held that the spring equinox was at 8° Aries. However, Geminos was one of the first of the Greek astronomers to insist on a fully tropical zodiac, in which the spring equinox marks out 0° Aries. Given a tropical zodiac, the symmetrical sign relationships which had always been tropical in nature, would begin from the signs adjacent to the points of the equinox/solstice.

But it happens that such an account is completely erroneous. For solstices do not occur in the whole of Cancer; rather, there is one certain point, perceivable through reason, at which the Sun makes its turning; for the solstices take place in a moment’s time. The whole twelfth-part of Cancer is situated in the same way as Gemini, and each of them is equally far from the summer solstitial point. For this reason, the lengths of the days are equal in Gemini and Cancer, and on the sundials, the curves desribed by the gnomons [when the Sun is] in Cancer and in Gemini are equally distant from the tropic {…} There are, then, in truth, 6 syzygies {antiscia signs}: Gemini with Cancer, Taurus with Leo, Aries with Virgo, Pisces with Libra, Aquarius with Scorpio, Capricorn with Sagittarius. {…}” (Geminos, Ch. II, #33-44, Evans & Berggren trans., 2006, p. 134-136 – curly bracketed text is mine)

Equal Ascensions vs. Equal Power

The two symmetrical sign relationships that we are left with are those signs which are symmetrical about the solstitial points, which we might call antiscia signs, and those symmetrical about the equinoctial points which we might call contra-antiscia signs. Hellenistic astrologers typically gave these relationships different labels, though Firmicus Maternus used the label “antiscion”. Contra-antiscia signs are those of equal ascensional times, sometimes call “equipollent”. The antiscia signs may be called those of “equal power” as the Sun’s position in them marks times of similar length of day.

Hearing and Contra-Antiscia

Hearing signs and commanding/obeying signs are the same thing. They pertain to what we might call the contra-antiscia signs or signs of equal ascension.  This echoes the language of Valens about listening signs and that of Manilius about how one sign hears the other.  As this was originally conceptualized as pertaining to the equinoctial points, I think that astrologers should equate these notions with the signs of equal ascension (contra-antiscia).

Just as with regard there is a sense in which one of the signs is more influential. In this case, the sign of greater light (the spring or summer sign) is the more influential on in the relationship. The pairs are noted below, with the first one of each pair being commanding or more influential (at least in the northern hemisphere).

Commanding-Obeying

Aries-Pisces

Taurus-Aquarius

Gemini-Capricorn

Cancer-Sagittarius

Leo-Scorpio

Virgo-Libra

“[…] because they ascend in equal periods of time and are on equal parallels. Of these the ones in the summer hemisphere are called “commanding” and those in the winter hemisphere “obedient”, because the sun makes the day longer than the night when he is in the summer hemisphere, and shorter in the winter. (Ptolemy, Book II, Ch. 14, Robbins trans., 1940, p. 76-77)

Medieval Developments

It is important to note that by the Persian early medieval period, the concepts of hearing and command/obey were being separated. Command/obey became associated with the antiscia signs instead (see the introductory texts by Abu Ma’shar and al-Qabisi),  These labels appear to have been in error as the concepts of command/obey and hearing signs overlap in the earlier Hellenistic material.

Interpretation

Paulus noted that the when signs are in aversion, then they can still be in sympathy if they are in signs of equal ascension or they are in like-engirding signs (signs with the same ruler).  This sympathy is important because without it planets in aversion tend to signify disconnect from each other. In synastry, connections between planets is crucial. Sympathy by contra-antiscia (i.e. signs of equal ascension) is one type of connection.

Rhetorius noted that squares between signs equal ascension (e.g. Scorpio and Leo or Aquarius and Taurus) have more sympathy with each other.  Both Paulus and Rhetorius also noted that the commanding and obeying signs “hear” one another. In this they are suitable for signifying matters of hearing news, rumors, or announcements from each other.

Masha’allah used commanding/obeying signs in judging friendship through synastry. He appears to have associated commanding/obeying signs with antiscia rather than contra-antiscia. However, the fact that he is drawing from an older source and uses commanding/obeying between planets (especially the Moon) is suggestive. It is yet another suggestion that hearing sign configurations play a beneficial role in relationship synastry.

Equal Power and Antiscia

The antiscia signs are those equidistant from the solstitial points. They were often conceptualized as “seeing” or “beholding” signs.  They are also signs of equal power. This can be confusing given the visual metaphor behind regard. However, there is certainly a visual metaphor being used again here.

This relationship also has a sense of one sign being more influential.  In this case, the more dominant influence comes from the signs that are increasing in light (Capricorn thru Gemini). Paulus noted that those signs see the ones decreasing in light (Cancer thru Sagittarius) which in turn perceive the other. For instance, Taurus sees Virgo while Virgo perceives or is aware of Taurus. Therefore, I suggest that we may conceptualize this relationship as one of awareness of each other, or mutual interest.

Seeing-Perceiving with Equal Power

Capricorn-Sagittarius

Aquarius-Scorpio

Pisces-Libra

Aries-Virgo

Taurus-Leo

Gemini-Cancer

Again they say that the parts which are equally removed from the same tropical sign, whichever it may be, are of equal power, because when the sun comes into either of them the days are equal to the days, the nights to the nights, and the lengths of their own hours are the same. These also are said to “behold” one another both for the reasons stated and because each of the pair rises from the same part of the horizon and sets in the same part. (Ptolemy, Book II, Ch. 14, Robbins trans., 1940, p. 77)

Interpretation

Paulus did not mention these signs as ones that can alleviate aversion. However, Paulus did mention that these signs create sympathy, harmony, and friendship, between partners, family members, and others. This suggests that these were used in synastry as contributing harmony to the relationship. As with the contra-antiscia signs (and like-engirding ones), Rhetorius noted that squares between signs in this relationship (Leo and Taurus or Scorpio and Aquarius) are sympathetic.

Tracking the Terminological History

In the tables below, I summarize the terms used in different centuries by different astrologers for these symmetrical relationships. I also address whether the entire cardinal sign or the point of the equinox/solstice was used.

For solstitial symmetry, Geminos referred to connected signs (translated as syzygy). The most common terms were signs that see each other, have equal power, or shadow each other (Greek “antiskios” from which we get antiscia).

Antiscia Table
Terminological Variation for Solstitial Symmetry

The most common terms for equinoctial symmetry are hearing signs and equally rising signs.

ContraAntiscia Table
Terminological Variation for Equinoctial Symmetry

Antiscia by Degree

This sense of equal power between antiscia is taken to the extreme in Book II, Ch. 30 of the Mathesis of Julius Firmicus Maternus.  Maternus maintained that each planet and point in the chart sent an antiscion into the degree symmetrical across the solstitial axis.  For instance, Gemini and Cancer are antiscia, and the specific antiscion of 5 Cancer is 25 Gemini. Maternus may have gotten the idea for antiscia from Valens who noted degrees antiskios (shadow) each other (Book III, Ch. 5P/7K).

Maternus treats the antiscion of each planet as a body double of the planet. One is to delineate it by sign, house, and regards to other planets as well as to other planetary antiscia. In this sense, he viewed the antiscion of a planet or point as being another degree in which that planet or point has power. This is consistent with the notion of “equal power” across antiscia. Keeping with the visual metaphor of antiscia, we can call this antiscion of a planet its reflection or shadow.

Maternus actually advocated the use of two main hidden charts in addition to the natal chart. For more information on the other hidden chart, see the series of articles on twelfth-parts.

Conclusion

It is easy to understand how the hearing and seeing signs got mixed up in later traditional astrology. Both involve sympathetic sign relations that make aversions and squares more sympathetic.  However, the hearing signs uniquely relate to an auditory sense while the seeing signs connect to a visual one and a sense of equal power.

It is unclear whether the use of degree-based antiscia originated with Maternus, or earlier (Valens or his sources). Additionally, I am curious as to the origins of degree-based use of contra-antiscia.  If you the reader are aware of this origin, please share it in the comments section.

References

Geminos (2006). Introduction to the Phenomena. (J. Evans & J. L. Berggren, Trans.). Princeton, NJ. Princeton University Press.

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

Ptolemy, C. (1940). Ptolemy: Tetrabiblos. (F. E. Robbins, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library. Retrieved from http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Ptolemy/Tetrabiblos/home.html

Rhetorius of Egypt, & Teucer of Babylon. (2009). Rhetorius the Egyptian. (J. H. Holden, Trans.). Tempe, AZ: American Federation of Astrologers.

Featured image is Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse (1903) which is in the public domain.

Update

Note that this article was significantly updated in November, 2018 with the addition of new tables as well as material from Geminos.

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Anthony

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

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