Elections and the Art of Choosing Times | 1. Dorothean Foundations


The 4 Branches of Astrology

Electional astrology is one of four major branches of astrology.  Electional astrology is the art of choosing the right time to start something important; a time that will facilitate success.  It is distinct from the other three branches of astrology, though all branches use the same basic elements and principles. Natal astrology uses birth charts to indicate things about people’s lives. Mundane astrology uses important cycles and astronomical events, such as equinoxes, solstices, and lunations, to indicate things about worldly affairs. Horary astrology uses the chart of the asking of a question to indicate the situation and the answer as a form of divination.

The Ascendancy of the Individual

The earliest horoscopic astrological literature comes from the Hellenistic world of the first few centuries CE. This literature tended to emphasize natal astrology.  This is in contrast to the greater preoccupation of its predecessor, Babylonian astrology, with mundane astrology. Hellenistic astrology saw major developments in the astrology of the individual.  Large tomes of material on natal astrology were written at that time. All of the major figures of Hellenistic astrology devoted the bulk of their texts to natal matter. This includes early astrologers like Dorotheus and Manilius of the 1st Century CE, Ptolemy and Valens of the 2nd Century, and Maternus of the 4th Century.

Interestingly, mundane astrology waned in importance during this era. Also, horary astrology did not yet exist as such. It was to be developed and refined by the Perso-Arabic and the Indian astrologers from electional astrology and the use of consultation charts.

Perhaps the emphasis on the individual during the period also helped spark the ascendancy of electional astrology. Electional astrology is strongly linked to the will. Its prominence alongside natal astrology is certainly a testimony to shifting philosophical attitudes during the period about fate and individuality.

Dorothean Foundations

The text of Dorotheus is one of the oldest surviving Hellenistic works, composed in the 1st Century CE. It is called the Carmen Astrologicum or “Song of Astrology”, as it was written in verse). It is also called the Pentateuch or “Five Books”, as it contained five books. Its first four books pertain to natal astrology. However, its final book focused on electional astrology.

Sometimes, the final book uses the charts for when things happen or when the astrologer is consulted to predict an outcome. This type of use is closer to horary astrology than to choosing lucky times, so the term “inceptional astrology” (astrology of beginnings) is sometimes used to encompass the astrology of Book V.

This fifth book of Dorotheus laid the foundation for the horoscopic approach to electional astrology. Its influence is felt from the Hellenistic era thru the Middle Ages and all the way to the present.  As the roots of horoscopic electional astrology are Dorothean, I feel that a study of electional astrology should begin with a study of Book V of Dorotheus.

Textual Issues

This sounds good in principle but there is a confounding factor at play.  The version of Dorotheus that has survived is an early medieval (about the 8th century) Arabic translation of a Pahlavi translation of the original Greek. Furthermore, it is notoriously corrupted. The works of Julius Firmicus Maternus and Hephaistio of Thebes were influenced by it and so can provide some guidance for reconstruction. However, it differs at times from even those works.

The third book of The Apotlesmatics by Hephaistio helps with the electional material. Hephaistion is the only Hellenistic astrologer who appears to have explored that Dorothean material in depth.  Aside from Hephaistio, we are left with a medieval, semi-corrupted, translation as our best representative of Hellenistic electional astrology.

Early Medieval Electional Astrology

There are additional Persian medieval works which further develop the Dorothean material. However, they often significantly vary from the Hellenistic approach. “Choices & Inceptions” is a collection of important medieval electional texts translated and compiled by Ben Dykes. It is the best source for the study of the Dorothean elections as developed and elaborated upon by the Persians. However, serious students of electional astrology should first understand the foundations of the art as laid out in Dorotheus and Hephaistio.

There is much in Dorotheus to suggest that electional technique was broader in his day. His approach often differs from the later emphasis on the lord of the 1st, the application of the Moon, and the lord of the house signifying the topic. There is more than one way to skin a cat, as the saying goes. Similarly, there is more than one way to bolster an election. Many aspects of the Dorothean approach to elections were gradually lost in the later tradition. Therefore, a thorough understanding of Book V of Carmen is necessary for contextualizing electional astrology.

Carmen’s Contents

Book V can be divided into two main sections.  First off, Chapters 1 thru 5, and Chapter 30, deal with the general principles of elections. These principles can  be applied to facilitate a diverse range of elections, from when to start a journey to when to carry out a secret theft.  By contrast, Chapters 6 thru 27, Chapter 29, Chapter 31, and Chapters 33 thru 43 pertain to special considerations. These sections deal with specific topics, from construction to sales, marriage to sickness. Chapter 32 is some misplaced natal astrology.

Book V by Topic

Topically the book can be examined as follows:

  • Rising Sign: Its fundamental importance in elections – Chapters 1-4.
  • The Moon: Its fundamental importance in elections – Chapters 4-5 and 28.
  • Natural Significators: The importance of each planet as a natural significator in elections – Chapters 3, 5, 30.
  • Asking Favors: Making requests to different types of people – Chapter 14.
  • Real Estate: Important things to examine for construction, demolition, leasing, buying land, and loans – Chapters 6-8, 10, and 20.
  • Sales: General buying and selling – Chapters 9, 43.
  • Servitude and Animals: Slaves, animals, imprisonment – Chapters 11-13, 27.
  • Teaching, Letters, and Wills: When to write or teach some topic – Chapters 15, 26 (Ch. 26 is really inceptional, i.e. an event chart, rather than electional), 42.
  • Partnership: Courtship, marriage, and the like – Chapters 16-19.
  • Journeys: When to leave and ship or vehicular matters – Chapters 21-25, 34.
  • Illness: Event chart indications and elections for medicine and dispelling spirits – Ch. 29, 31, 37-41.
  • Legal Contests: Mainly event chart indications – Ch. 33.
  • Thieves and Fugitives: Mainly event chart indications of theft, lost items, and runaways – Ch. 35-36.

We will be exploring the general principles. The sections pertaining to those principles focus on the Ascendant, the Moon, and the natural signification of the planets.

The Rising Sign

Surprisingly, Dorotheus begins his book on elections with four chapters on choosing a rising sign that will facilitate success. By contrast, traditional electional astrology usually puts the emphasis on the lord of the Ascendant and the application of the Moon, not the type of sign rising. However, the rising sign type is the first thing noted by Dorotheus.  The first chapter introduces the book and stresses the importance of the rising sign for every action. Whether the sign is straight or crooked in rising is paramount, as it is indicative of whether “its end will be good or bad” (Dorotheus, Book V, Ch. 1, Pingree, 2005, p. 262).  The next three chapters further explore the importance of rising sign type.

Crooked and Straight Signs (Ch. 2)

Crooked signs (Capricorn thru Gemini) rise fast so they facilitate quick and easy completion. Straight signs (Cancer thru Sagittarius) rise slowly so they tend to slow things down and cause trouble. Therefore, try to elect when a crooked sign is rising.

Sign Quadruplicity (Ch. 3-4)

Tropical (i.e. cardinal or moveable) signs (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn) indicate only brief activity. Therefore, action may break off before completion and need to be repeated.  Twin (i.e. mutable or common) signs (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces) indicate complexity. Therfore, an additional condition may arise that needs to be addressed before the action completes. Since both of these signs encourage additional demands, one should elect when a fixed sign is rising (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius).

Sign Sect/Sex (Ch. 4; Ch. 5 of Dykes trans.)

It is stronger and more fortunate to elect when the sign rising is of the same sect as the time of the election. In other words, for an election in the day time, one should have a diurnal sign rising. Diurnal signs are the masculine signs, and are all of the fire and air signs. By night, one should have a nocturnal sign rising. The nocturnal signs are the feminine signs, and they are all of the water and earth signs.

Rising Sign Conclusions

When one combines these sentiments one should conclude that in general terms it is Aquarius (the crooked, fixed, diurnal sign) that is the most fortunate rising sign to elect with by day. Similarly, Taurus (the crooked, fixed, nocturnal sign) is the most fortunate rising sign to elect with by night. This holds for those electing from the northern hemisphere. The straight signs become crooked and vice-versa when in the southern hemisphere.

Aries, Taurus, Gemini, and Leo by day, or Scorpio, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces by night, can give you two out of three.  Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, and Pisces by day or Aries, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo by night give only one of the three indications.  By this logic it is unwise to elect with Cancer or Virgo by day and Libra or Sagittarius by night. They give none of the three indications, and would greatly encourage instability.  For the most part, this doctrine seems to have been lost, especially the part most emphasized by Dorotheus, that of the straight and crooked signs.

The Moon

The bulk of material on the Moon is in Chapter 5 (Ch. 6 of Dykes trans.).  Interestingly, a passage at the end of Chapter 5 provides a different perspective than typical.  I quote Pingree’s (2005) English translation:

Look concerning the commencement of every matter at the ascendent and the Moon.  The Moon is the strongest of what is [possible] if it is above the earth, especially if this is at night; the ascendent is the strongest of what is [possible] if the Moon is under the earth by day.    (Dorotheus, Book V, Ch. 5, p. 267)

This passage implies that rising sign should be given primary consideration by day (especially if the Moon is below the horizon). By contrast, the Moon should be given primary consideration by night (especially if she is above the horizon).  This is another fascinating doctrine that has apparently been lost and could be a fruitful avenue for further electional research.

Moon Sign

In Chapter 4, discussing sign sect, Dorotheus noted that it is good when the Moon is in a sign that is in sect. The Moon should be in a diurnal sign by day or a nocturnal sign by night. Similarly, there are passages in Book V that imply that you want to avoid putting the Moon in a mutable sign. Therefore, there is a parallel between the Ascendant and the Moon for elections. The indications given for the rising sign also appear to be relevant for the Moon, but more so at night, especially when she is above the horizon.

Moon Lord

Another contrast with typical traditional electional doctrine is that there is less emphasis on the lord of the Ascendant.  However, the lord of the Moon is very important (and possibly that of the Sun).  In a likely addition in Ch. 5 (attributed by the translator to Valens), it is advised that one is to pay great attention to the Sun and Moon and the lords of their signs. After that, the Sun is no longer mentioned and the section pertains only to the Moon. The Moon is said to indicate the base or start of the action while its ruler indicates how things end up.

Fortifying the Moon

When it comes to strengthening the Moon, we again find a variance from the typical doctrine.  It is often said that the Moon shouldn’t be in the rising sign because it could create instability. However, in Book V we find it explicitly advised that one put the Moon (and its lord) in the Ascendant (1st house) or Midheaven (10th house) if possible. Try to put the Moon in one of the stakes (1st, 10th, 7th, or 4th houses). Avoid putting the Moon (or its lord) in a cadent place (12th, 6th, 9th, 3rd).

My guess is that the doctrine of not putting the Moon in the Ascendant resulted from a later distortion of a Dorothean passage on electing for a journey. In that passage, Dorotheus advised not to put the Moon in the 1st if it was aspected harshly by a malefic. presumably because it could signify bodily harm.

When it comes to strengthening any planet, it is important to take into account the regards of the benefics and malefics. The planet should not be regarded (i.e. whole sign aspect) by malefics from square or opposition. It should be regarded by benefics. This holds for the Moon, her lord, and the other factors discussed.

Corruptions of the Moon

Dorotheus advises to avoid starting an action when the Moon is corrupted. Corruption is defined as pertaining to one of the following conditions:

  • Eclipse: (lunar?), especially if in the sign it holds in the nativity or a sign of the same triplicity (i.e. element).
  • New Moon: because the Moon being hidden under the Sun’s light lacks exposure.  However, this is actually beneficial for elections involving secret actions, especially if commenced as the Moon is moving out from the rays.
  • Full Moon: Moon opposed to the Sun, indicates quarrels, advantage to youngest, upset.
  • Bound or Twelfth-Part of a Malefic: Moon in a twelfth-part or bound ruled by Mars or Saturn.
  • Moon in the via combusta: 15 Libra to 15 Scorpio.
  • 9th House Moon in a twin sign: Moon in IX and in a mutable or common sign.
  • Slow and Slowing Moon: decreasing in speed while moving less than twelve degrees per day.

Lunar Aspects

Finally, the way that the Moon’s aspects are viewed also has some subtle differences from typical doctrine. Typically, the separations of the Moon are not very significant because they are said to pertain to the past. It is the applications of the Moon which are typically given crucial importance as they represent the future. Similarlly, Dorotheus associated the separation with ongoing situations and what has passed, and the application with things to come. However, the separations of the Moon are also strongly emphasized in Dorothean elections.

In Chapter 5 the separations of the Moon (particularly those in the same sign) are indicative of the basis of the action and ideally should be from benefics. The exception is in the matter of fleeing from those who wish one harm . In such case the symbolism of the Moon fleeing from malefics takes precedence. Interestingly, the importance of the separations is noted before the applications are discussed.

When electing for buying and selling, the Moon’s separation is vitally important. Dorotheus advised that the Moon may symbolize the commodity, the planet she separates from the seller, and the planet she applies to the buyer. Therefore, the seller will want to emphasize the strength of the planet the Moon separates from.

The star to which the Moon connects is very important if the election pertains to creating a new situation rather than modifying an existing one. Again, the separated planet represents the current situation, while the applied one indicates a new situation. Dorotheus advised to make the planet the Moon applies to strong, by putting it in a stake (i.e. angle) just as he advised for the Moon and its lord.

Summary of the Lunar Principles

There is a lot of information pertaining to the use of the Moon in elections in Dorotheus. Below, I summarize the Dorothean principles for using the Moon. I particularly highlight the way they differ from typical traditional electional doctrine:

  • It is the Moon and Ascendant that are important in the Dorothean doctrine, but not the lord of the Ascendant.  The Ascendant is more important by day and the Moon is more important by night.
  • The type of sign the Moon is in plays a big role in facilitating the action, as does the type of sign of the Ascendant.
  • The Lord of the Moon is very important and signifies the final outcome so it should be strengthened.
  • A strong Moon (or planet generally) is one in an angle, especially the 1st or 10th house, while weakest is when cadent.
  • Avoid corruptions, like lunations, and harsh malefic influences on the Moon.
  • Pay attention to the separations of the Moon as the basis or foundation of the action, good or bad, and strengthen the planet the Moon conjoins to.
  • There is not concern given to having the Moon apply to such and such house lord of such and such topic. Strengthening the topic itself actually pertains to natural significators (see below).

Natural Significations

By natural significations I mean the significations of the planets themselves. These significations are in contrast to the accidental significations that planets take on by ruling or being in a certain house. Natural significations are much more immediate and overt. When a planet is generally strengthened or made more prominent, it is like turning the volume up on that planet’s energy and influence.

Importantly, we see more of an emphasis on generally strengthening the planet that signifies the matter in Dorothean electional astrology. This is in contrast with the preoccupation with connecting the lord of the first and the Moon to the lord of the relevant house. That approach became prominent in the Middle Ages and is still dominant today.

Staking the Benefics

In Chapter 2, Dorotheus advised to make the benefics strong and the malefics weak.  By strong, he meant angular. He explicitly advised to put the benefics in the angles, especially the 1st or 10th. Presumably, we also want the malefics to be cadent. He noted that malefics in the Ascendant (or regarding it) slow things down and create trouble.

In Chapter 5, Dorotheus advised to let Jupiter or Venus (the benefics) be in the 1st or the 10th. Additionally, he advised that they should be in good condition. By this he meant to avoid having them under the beams, retrograde, in a mutable sign, cadent, in a dark place,  or regarded harshly or closely by malefics.

Therefore, we seek to make the benefics more prominent and strong, and the malefics less so. We harness the natural significations of the benefics for good and ease. When we can, we obscure the natural significations of the malefics for difficulty and trouble.

Fortifying the Natural Significator

In Chapter 30, Dorotheus advised to look at the lord of the action and make sure it is in good condition.  He clarified that he meant the planet which naturally signifies the thing. Again, this is not the lord of the house that signifies that matter, but the planet itself that signifies the matter. Below is a list of the matters he associated with planets (and their combinations).

  • Saturn and Jupiter together: buying land (i.e. real estate), power of attorney
  • Mercury: theft, gifts, arguments, practice, partnership, insults, love, trades, cultural events
  • Venus: marriage, love, food, perfumes
  • Mars: fights, military, etc.
  • Jupiter: government, asking favors, momentous needs for good
  • Sun and Jupiter together: important or beneficial matters but not involving secrecy or evil


In conclusion, Dorothean electional astrology differs in many ways from today’s electional astrology. It involves paying greater attention to the sign of the Ascendant and the Moon.  We also seek to strengthen the Moon, her lord, the benefics, and the natural significator of the matter. The planet that the Moon applies to or separates from might also be significant depending on the nature of the election. The angles or “stakes” of the chart are the critical houses used for strengthening planets.

Personally, I prefer the Dorothean approach to elections. I urge you to experiment with the guidelines for electing as discussed in this article.  Only through keeping an open mind and a willingness to experiment can we decide the best times for facilitating actions.

Dorotheus of Sidon. (2005). Carmen Astrologicum. (D. Pingree, Trans.). Abingdon, MD: Astrology Center of America.
Featured image of Roman bone dice and tokens from Musée gallo-romain de Saint-Romain-en-Gal-Vienne is in the public domain.


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

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