Electional astrology is one of four distinct major uses or categories of astrology. Electional astrology is the art of choosing the right time to start something important; a time that will facilitate success. The other three major uses of astrology are Natal astrology, which uses birth charts to indicate things about people’s lives, Mundane astrology, which uses important cycles and astronomical events, such as equinoxes, solstices, and lunations, to indicate things about worldly affairs, and Horary astrology, which uses the chart of the asking of a question to indicate the situation and the answer as a form of divination.
The earliest horoscopic astrological literature, in the Hellenistic world of the first few centuries CE, put a particular emphasis on natal astrology. This is in contrast to the greater preoccupation of its predecessor, Babylonian astrology, with mundane astrological indications. Hellenistic Astrology included major developments in the astrology of the individual. Large tomes of new natal astrological lore were written at that time, including those of Dorotheus and Manilius of the 1st Century CE, Ptolemy and Valens of the 2nd Century, and Maternus of the 4th Century. Natal astrology comprised the bulk, sometimes the entirety, of these large and influential works. What is perhaps also interesting in this era is that mundane astrology seemed to somewhat wane in importance and horary astrology did not yet exist (to be developed and refined by the Perso-Arabic and the Indian astrologers). The emphasis on an intricate astrology of the individual is interesting, and it may be this emphasis on the individual that helped to spark the ascendancy of a more complex form of electional astrology in the same period. That a use for astrology that is so strongly linked to the will (i.e. electing a facilitating time) gains prominence along with one that focuses on the individual (i.e. natal astrology) is certainly a testimony to shifting philosophical attitudes at that time about fulfillment and fate.
The Carmen Astrologicum (“Song of Astrology” as it was written in verse) or Pentateuch (“Five Books” as it contained five books) of Dorotheus is one of the oldest surviving Hellenistic works (composed in the 1st Century CE). Its first four books dealt with natal astrology, but its final book focused on electional astrology. This fifth book of Dorotheus laid the foundation of the horoscopic approach to electional astrology, and its influence is felt from the Hellenistic era thru the Middle Ages and Renaissance, 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.
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 Greek work and is notoriously corrupted. It influenced pre-medieval astrologers like Julius Firmicus Maternus and Hephaistio of Thebes, so their works can provide some guidance for reconstruction, but it does appear to differ at times from even those works. The only known major Hellenistic work to work with the Dorothean electional material is the third book of The Apotlesmatics by Hephaistio of Thebes. There is now an English translation available at this link. Aside from Hephaistio, we are left with a medieval somewhat-corrupted translation as our best representative of Hellenistic electional astrology. There are additional Persian works from the 8th century and beyond, which further develop the Dorothean material but often at a variance from the approach of Dorotheus and the chart principles of Hellenistic Astrology.
“Choices & Inceptions“, a collection of important medieval electional texts translated by Ben Dykes, is the best source for the study of the Dorothean electional astrology as developed and elaborated upon by the Persians. That text will repay years of study. However, all serious students of electional astrology will also want to have a thorough understanding of the foundations of the art as laid out in Dorotheus and Hephaistio.
There is much in Dorotheus to suggest that electional technique was a bit broader in his day, as opposed to the later more systematic emphasis on the lord of the 1st, the application of the Moon, and the lord of the house signifying the topic. Much like there is more than one way to skin a cat, as the saying goes, there is more than one way to bolster the helpfulness of a time in a general way, and we find a few things about these ways which were emphasized by Dorotheus that are gradually lost, or de-emphasized, in the later tradition. I think that an understanding of Dorotheus’ approach is extraordinarily helpful in contextualizing electional astrology.
Book V can be divided into two main sections. Chapters 1 thru 5, and Chapter 30, deal with the general principles of elections which can be applied to facilitate a diverse non-delimited range of actions, from when to start a journey to when to carry out a secret theft. Chapters 6 thru 27, Chapter 29, Chapter 31, (Chapter 32 is natal astrology) and Chapters 33 thru 43 pertain to special considerations that pertain to specific topics, from construction to sales, and from marriage to sickness. 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.
Here my focus will be on the general indication sections, which focus on the Ascendant, the Moon, and the natural signification of the planets.
The Rising Sign
It is rather surprising that Dorotheus begins his book on elections with four chapters on choosing a rising sign that will facilitate success. Most traditional electional astrology puts emphasis on the condition of the lord of the Ascendant and the application of the Moon, not what type of sign is rising. However, the type of sign rising is the first thing noted by Dorotheus. The first chapter introduces the book and stresses the importance of the rising sign at the start of every action, particularly whether it is straight or crooked in rising, as indicative of whether “its end will be good or bad” (Dorotheus, Book V, Ch. 1, Pingree, 2005, p. 262). These are the admonitions of each of the next three chapters as concerns the sign rising when something is begun:
- Crooked signs (Capricorn thru Gemini) rise fast so they facilitate quick and easy completion, while 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. (Ch 2)
- Tropical (i.e. cardinal or moveable) signs (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn) indicate only brief activity so action break off before completion and need to be repeated. Twin (i.e. mutable or common) signs (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces) indicate complexion so an additional condition will arise that needs to be addressed before the action completes. Since both of these signs encourage additional demands, you should generally elect when a fixed sign (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius) is rising. (Ch. 4)
- It is stronger and more fortunate to elect when the sign rising is of the same sect as the time of the election, so to have a diurnal sign (i.e. fire or air sign, though the “triplicities” weren’t identified with the elements at the time of Dorotheus) rising during the day and a nocturnal (i.e. water or earth sign) rising during the night. (Ch. 4)
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 and Taurus (the crooked, fixed, nocturnal sign) that is the most fortunate rising sign to elect with by night. 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 nor by Libra or Sagittarius by night, as 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 bulk of the information about the use of the Moon is in Chapter 5. There is one interesting passage at the end of Chapter 5 that provides a different perspective than what we are used to. I would like to bring it up first, so I will 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) and 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.
In Chapter 4, besides indicating that it helps to facilitate the action when the Ascendant is in a sign that is in sect, Dorotheus also noted that it is good when the Moon is in a sign that is in sect (i.e. in a diurnal sign by day or a nocturnal sign by night), indicating a sort of parallel between the Ascendant and the Moon for elections, not unlike that noted in the two paragraphs above. There are also passages in Book V that imply that you want to avoid putting the Moon in a mutable sign, so the indications given for the rising sign also appear to be relevant for the Moon (perhaps more so at night when she is above the horizon).
Another contrast with typical traditional electional doctrine is that there is virtually no emphasis on the lord of the Ascendant. However, the lord of the Moon is very important (and possibly that of the Sun). In a passage in Ch. 5 that is 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 (then 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 sign lord indicates how things end up.
When it comes to strengthening the Moon, we again find it at somewhat of a variance from the typical traditional doctrine. Whereas we often heard it expressed that the Moon shouldn’t be in the Ascendant (i.e. rising sign or first house) for an election because it could create instability, in Book V we find it explicit advise to put the Moon (and its lord) in the Ascendant (1st house) or Midheaven (10th house) if possible, or in one of the stakes (1st, 10th, 7th, or 4th houses), and 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 passage on journeys in which Dorotheus advised not to put the Moon in the 1st if it was aspected harshly by a malefic at the start of a journey, presumably because that could cogently signify bodily harm. Also, when it comes to strengthening planets, whether the Moon, her lord, or the planet she is conjoining (see below), but especially the Moon, then it is important to make sure she is not regarded (i.e. whole sign aspect) by malefics by square or opposition, and that she is regarded by the benefics.
Dorotheus advises to avoid starting an action when the Moon is corrupted, which he defines as pertaining to one of the following conditions:
- Eclipse (just a lunar eclipse?), 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, i.e. Moon opposed to the Sun (quarrels, advantage to youngest (upset?)).
- Moon in twelfth-part of a malefic (i.e. Mars or Saturn).
- Moon in the bound of a malefic at the end of a sign.
- Moon in the via combusta (15 Libra to 15 Scorpio?).
- Moon in the 9th and in a twin (i.e. mutable or common) sign.
- Slow and Slowing Moon, i.e. decreasing in speed while moving less than twelve degrees per day.
Finally, the way that the Moon’s aspects are viewed also has some subtle differences from typical traditional doctrine. The separations of the Moon are typically not seen as very significant in traditional doctrine because they supposedly indicate the past, while the applications of the Moon are given crucial importance because they represent the future. Dorotheus does assert that the separation indicates ongoing situations and what has passed while the application indicates things to come. However, the separations of the Moon are given a great emphasis in Dorotheus. 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 unless it is a matter of fleeing from those who wish one harm (in which case the symbolism of the Moon fleeing from malefics takes precedence). Interestingly, the importance of the separations is noted before the applications are discussed. Similarly, in Chapter 28, for looking at event charts it is advised that one pays special attention to the planet the Moon separates from when the matter pertains to a situation that already exists which one wants ameliorated, such as an illness or imprisonment. Also, when electing for buying and selling, Dorotheus advises that the Moon may symbolize the commodity, the planet she separates from the seller, and the planet she applies to the buyer, which makes the separating planet very important in an election for a seller.
The star to which the Moon connects (applies, especially if in the same sign) is very important, especially if the election pertains to creating a new situation rather than modifying an existing one. 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.
To summarize the Dorothean principles for using the Moon and the way they differ from typical traditional electional doctrine, I review the points below:
- 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, just as the type of sign of the Ascendant does in the Dorothean doctrine.
- 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 pertains to natural significators which are addressed below.
By natural significations I mean the significations of the planets themselves, as opposed to the accidental significations that planets take on by ruling or being in a certain topical house. Natural significations are much more immediate and overt. It is little wonder we see more of an emphasis on generally strengthening the planet that signifies the matter (much like turning the volume up on that planet’s energy and influence) in the early electional astrology of Dorotheus, rather than a preoccupation with connecting the lord of the first and the Moon with the lord of the house that pertains to the topic, an approach that became prominent in the Middle Ages.
First off, 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, and presumably we want the malefics to be cadent because he noted that malefics in the Ascendant (or regarding it) slow things down and create trouble. Next, in Chapter 5, Dorotheus advised to let Jupiter or Venus (the benefics) be in the 1st or the 10th and to make sure they are in good condition such as not under the beams or retrograde or in a mutable sign or cadent or in a dark place or regarded harshly or closely by malefics. These are considerations which harness the natural significations of the benefics for good and ease, while minimizing the natural significations of the malefics for difficulty and trouble.
In Chapter 30, Dorotheus then additionally advised to look at the lord of the action and make sure it is in good condition. He clarifies that he means the lord which naturally signifies the thing. Here are some of the actions he associates with planets (and some pairings):
- 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: evident important matter not involving secrecy or evil
In conclusion, Dorothean electional astrology generally involves paying attention to the sign of the Ascendant and the Moon, and probably giving more attention to the sign of the Ascendant by day and that of the Moon by night. It also involves generally strengthening the Moon and its lord, and the benefics, while secondarily strengthening the planet the Moon applies to and the natural significator of the matter, while weakening the malefics. The 1st and 10th place become crucial in this matter, and the other angles secondary.
As you can see, there are many differences between the emphasis of the electional astrology of Dorotheus of the 1st century CE and that of the Middle Ages which continues to be a dominant influence over the practice of electional astrology today. Only through keeping an open mind and a willingness to experiment can we decide the best times for facilitating actions.