Length of Life Techniques
In Hellenistic astrology, astrologers often presented special techniques for determining the length of life. The method for this determination would often differ from astrologer to astrologer. Sometimes, an astrologer might even present multiple approaches to determining the length of life. This was certainly the case in the Anthology by Vettius Valens (2nd century CE). Typically, length-of-life the techniques involve primary directions of a significator of the life force.
Do the techniques work? I put a bunch of such techniques to the test in this article. Note that I will not be fully explaining the techniques in this article. For more information on the techniques, please see the passages from the relevant source texts referenced in the article.
Kirk Kerkorian Lived to 98
The recent death of Kirk Kerkorian has generated a lot of buzz in my stomping grounds of Southeast Michigan. He was a major figure in business in this area, involved with the auto industry. He died on 6/15/15, just 9 days after his 98th birthday. I won’t be analyzing his life in this post. Rather I will look at the timing of his death. He lived to an advanced age, so his longevity allows us to compare and contrast a number of length of life techniques.
All techniques examined were presented in the first 5 centuries of the common era by Hellenistic astrologers. Medieval astrologers presented some of their own variations on such techniques. However, the fundamental methods behind the longevity techniques of Medieval came from Hellenistic astrology.
Birth Timing Issues
Kerkorian was reportedly born at Noon, which is always a somewhat suspicious time. He likely was born within minutes before or after. He was born on 6/6/1917 in Fresno, CA. His birth data is AA rated for accuracy (i.e. from birth record).
Most length of life techniques involve primary directions. Primary directions are strongly dependent on the exact time of birth. My experience is that recorded birth times are often slightly rounded or slightly later (due to delay) compared to actual birth time. For instance, I saw my first born emerge at 12:12 and get recorded as 12:15. Therefore, a rough indication by primary directions, such as within a year, is sufficient for our purposes. Note that a birth time rounded by even just a few minutes could put primary directions off by more than a year in some cases.
Part I: Special Techniques
I am not going to fully explain and evaluate each length of life technique due to the labor involved. I’m just going to look briefly at the indications according to a number of length of life techniques. I’ll also discuss some general timing techniques that relate to the timing of death. Those interested in a (very brief) overview of the length of life techniques of the Hellenistic era, can find such in a previous article on the topic.
The Hellenistic techniques for length of life are not foolproof. They have their issues. A thorough reading of this article and my other articles on the traditional astrology of death can serve as a good primer on the topic. However, it won’t give you the power to predict the length of life for other people using these techniques. Therefore, upon learning about these techniques, do everyone a favor and don’t predict death for people. Doing so is usually unethical and you will usually be wrong. My analysis is in service of evaluation of such techniques.
The Manilius Technique (early 1st century CE)
Roman astrologer Marcus Manilius provided a very brief set of rules for assigning years to each zodiacal sign and house for the length of life. However, he never fully explained how to use them. He did say that the Moon’s placement in the houses indicated the years, but didn’t explain what to do with the years of the signs.
This exposition starts at line 560 in Book III of Astronomica. Unfortunately, Manilius tells us that the full exposition will follow in a later section, and it never does. He begins his exposition about the years of the houses by noting that if the Moon is in the 1st house she grants 78 years. Therefore, my best guess is that the house of the Moon provides the indication. Perhaps the years of the sign (which are all small amounts) are added to that indicated by the house.
Kirkorian by the Manilius Technique
The Moon in Kerkorian’s chart was in Capricorn, which is the 5th house. Manilius asserted that the Moon in the 5th house grants 63 years while Capricorn grants 14 2/3 years. My best guess is that we add these together for an indication of 77 2/3 years. However, the indication is incorrect as he lived to age 98. perhaps the Moon gets 25 years, plus the house, plus the sign. Then it is 25+77 2/3= 102 2/3. Or maybe for the sign we must take the remainder of the sign left. 91.61% of the sign is remaining after the Moon, which multiplied by 14 2/3 would drop the estimate by less than a year to almost 102.
Typically in Hellenistic techniques, the sect light or one of its rulers (particularly the bound lord) is the most important planet for longevity indications. The sect light (the Sun) is in Gemini (14 2/3 years), the 10th house (77 years), so indicates 91 2/3 years. Venus is the bound lord and only aspecting lord of the sect light, but she is in the same sign and house so if we use her we get the same indications. 91 2/3 years is closer but still incorrect.
In conclusion, Manilius does not provide enough information for use of his technique. The most logical guesses regarding its use don’t yield accurate indications.
The Dorothean Technique (1st century CE)
The technique of Dorotheus (1st century CE) is the subject of Book III of his Carmen Astrologicu. The Sun in Kerkorian’s chart would be the important significator to use for length of life, as it is the sect light at the time of birth (Sun by day; Moon by night). Furthermore, it is in one of the 3 most advantageous places (10th from the Ascendant), and it is with its bound lord, Venus, in the same sign.
Malefic Bound in Front of the Sun
Death is said to be indicated by the bound in front of the Sun that is ruled by or aspected by a malefic (exactly to a degree within the bound). Though an intervening aspect of a benefic (to a specific degree within the same bound) will prevent it. Jupiter and Mars are in the same degree in Kerkorian’s chart, so Jupiter will take away the power of a lethal aspect from Mars in all cases. Saturn is at 27 Cancer while Jupiter is at 24 Taurus and Venus is at 26 Gemini, so the possibilities for Saturn to aspect a bound that is not accessible to aspect from Jupiter or Venus is also limited.
First Malefic Bound
Very soon after birth, the Sun enters the bound of Mars in Gemini, which is malefic and has no benefic casting a ray into it. He obviously did not die shortly after birth. One may suggest that the already applying bodily conjunction between the Sun and Venus was responsible, or that the harm of Mars was mitigated by its conjunction with Jupiter. It could also be that the indication by bound ruler itself is much weaker than a malefic aspect.
Next Malefic Bounds
The next malefic bound was that of Saturn. It is occupied by Venus, so is protected, according to the Dorothean method. From there the Sun entered the Mars bound of Cancer, which is also not aspected by a benefic. However, one may argue that the aspect of the Moon intervenes. The Jupiter bound of Cancer is aspected by Mars, but also Jupiter, so is protected.
Malefic Bound without Benefic Influence
The Saturn bound of Cancer is occupied by Saturn and has no benefic aspecting the degree, as it starts at 26 Cancer while Jupiter is at 24 Taurus. Therefore, by the Dorothean technique we should expect the death to occur when the Saturn bound of Cancer or exact position of Saturn directs over the Sun.
Dorotheus used the distance between the two in ascensional times. Using a table of ascensions for Gemini and Cancer at about 36-37 degrees north of latitude. Each zodiacal degree of Gemini will equate to about 0.974 degrees of ascensions (0.974 years of life) and each of Cancer will equate to about 1.171 degrees of ascensions (1.171 years of life). There are about 14 1/2 degrees of Gemini (14.5*0.974=14.123 years) and 28 degrees of Cancer (28*1.171=32.788 years) between the Sun and Saturn. This equates to almost 47 years by ascensions. By true traditional primary directions, the indication is almost 46 years. In any case, Kerkorian lived to age 98, so the indications by the Dorothean technique are wrong.
Fast-Forward to Age 98
But, what bound does the Sun fall into after 98 years, by both ascensions and by directions through the bounds?
Ascensions to Square of the Light
By ascensions, we already noted that the remainder of Gemini gives us about 14.123 years, then all of Cancer gives us 35.136 years (46.259 cumulative), then all of Leo gives us 37.025 years (83.284 cumulative). So, 98 years is only another 14.716 years, or degrees of ascension, into Virgo. There is about 1.218 degrees of ascension for each zodiacal degree in Virgo, so there are (14.716/1.218=) just over 12 degrees in Virgo before the time of death. 12 Virgo is the bound of Venus. it is a bound ruled by a benefic.
There is not malefic aspect of the bound but it is the bound where the square of the Sun (15 Virgo) directs to the Sun. Dorotheus does not name the square of the Sun as being a dangerous direction. However, we will find that the square of the significator is significant as the indication for length of maximum life by Valens (also see Ptolemy below).
Primary Direction to Complex Mars Bound
Perhaps more significant in relation to the Dorothean technique, is that by true primary directions, it is the Mars bound of Virgo, that directs to the Sun at the time of death.
The bound is a malefic one and is aspected by both malefics, but is also aspected by both benefics. Therefore, it is still problematic by the Dorothean technique,as benefic aspects should remove the harm.
The Dorothean technique points to directions to the significator by malefic bounds and malefic aspects to the bounds as particularly important, and they are (as illustrated also in some prior posts in this series). However, the assertion that such an indication MUST indicate death when lacking the intervening aspect of a benefic both over-predicts and under-predicts death. It over-predicts because the direction of Saturn to the Sun should have brought death to Kerkorian. It under-predicts because it failed to account for the fact that the death occurred (with multiple malefic directions in a malefic bound) while benefics intervened.
The Ptolemaic Technique (2nd century CE)
See Book III, Ch. 10 of the Tetrabiblos for Ptolemy’s technique. Ptolemy also would take the Sun as the significator (as it is sect light and in the 10th place). Ptolemy advised to look at actual primary directions involving the Sun (not ascensional times). As the Sun is just past the MC (provided the birth time is not off by a couple minutes), he advised us to look at two things. First, the direction of the Sun itself to the Descendant (i.e. converting the setting of the Sun into years). Secondly, the directions to the Sun of malefics (especially by body, square, or opposition). Ptolemy appears to have regarded the square of the significator as also deadly.
Descendant Direction Complexity
There is some confusion regarding his technique of directing the significator to the Descendant. He made a comment about aspects of benefics adding year and malefics subtracting years from the total indicated. According to him this is to be done by a proportion of hourly times. We’ll return to this. First, we find the distance from Sun to Descendant. Basically, for Kerkorian, we must first find the time when the Sun sets by primary directions. This is at about age 108.
Note on Hephaistio
Hephaistio commented on the Ptolemaic technique in Book II, Ch. 11 of Apotolesmatiks. Note that Hephaistio interpreted that the distance from significator to Descendant was to be measured in ascensions (p. 35 of Schmidt trans.). This is a mis-interpretation as Ptolemy advised to use true primary directions. Additionally, the use of ascensional times for points that are descending gives extremely inaccurate times.
Finding Proportional Hourly Times of Planets
From here, we must find the rise and set times of the benefics, malefics, and/or Mercury, when any such planets have an aspect that intervenes from the Sun’s journey to the Descendant. Then find the time it takes to go from rising to setting (see table below), divide that by 12 to convert it into an “hourly” time, and divide that by 4 to convert it into an hourly right ascensions figure. This is considered the “hourly time” of that planet. The amount added or subtracted then depends on the proportion of arc that the planet has traveled for its journey from rising to setting or vice-versa, multiplied by its hourly time.
For example, if it is a benefic with an hourly time of 15 and it has 1/3 of its journey left to set, then it adds 5 years). It is unclear whether each aspect from the planet adds or subtracts, of if we are just to add each relevant planet once.
Adding It Up
We may judge Mercury to be malefic in the chart because it is most closely conjunct Mars (Ptolemy says to judge it by its closest aspect). In this case, the Sun will meet the aspects of Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Mercury twice, and the aspect of Saturn three times before it sets. Given the time left until they set, each of these planets individually adds and subtracts the following on their own in this chart:
Jupiter +5.3 years
Venus +10 years
Mars -6.4 years
Mercury -6.2 years
Saturn -12.9 years
If we do the additions and subtractions only once per intervening planet, then the net added is negative 10.2 years, with a life expectancy of about 98.2 years. This figure accords with this actual length of life of 98 years. If we must add and subtract for each separate aspect then the net added is negative 33.3 years, for a life expectancy of 74.7 years. We got the correct result from just adding/subtracting once, so that is more promising, but also counter-intuitive. Why should we being adding or subtracting each hourly time only once, rather than adding or subtracting for each relevant aspect?
Aspectual Primary Directions
The other part of Ptolemy’s technique is the more typical strategy. It is to look in front of the significator to see what will direct to it. The direction of a malefic (or the Sun if the significator is the Moon) to the significator will indicate death. Death is prevented if the potential killing degree is located in a benefic bound, or is aspected by Jupiter within 12 degrees or by Venus within 8 degrees. However, a planet cannot save or destroy if it is under the beams of the Sun (i.e. within 15 degrees of the Sun).
Mars is conjunct Jupiter, so no aspect of Mars will ever meet the killing criteria. Venus is under the beams, so cannot save. Therefore, there are some aspects of Saturn that fall without the intervention of Jupiter, but not until 27 Libra. However, that is within the Venus bound of Libra, so also does not qualify. Therefore, such a malefic aspect is not possible by directions.
Square of Releaser
Ptolemy notes that the square to the place of the releaser (significator) also can indicate death. However, Ptolemy insisted on actual primary directions rather than directing with symbolic ascensional times. The degree of the actual direction of the square of the Sun to itself is in late 2009, a full 6 years before death. As noted, there is a square of the Sun to itself around the time of death but only if we use directing by ascensional times.
Directions at Time of Death
The closest major direction to the Sun at the time of death was the trine of Mercury. It was applying at the time but doesn’t seem particularly nasty according to Ptolemy’s guidance. After all, it is Mercury, a trine, and Jupiter aspects within 2 degrees.
In conclusion, the technique of using aspectual primary directions as given by Ptolemy is not a reliable indicator of length of life. His much more complex technique of directing to the Descendant and then adding/subtracting by a proportion of hourly times may hold some promise. However, the correct results also could be due to chance, so more research is needed.
The Main Valens Technique (2nd century CE)
Vettius Valens provided numerous techniques for length of life in Book III of his Anthology. There are even more longevity techniques scattered across most of the books of the Anthology. Here I will focus on what appears to be his preferred technique and it relates strongly to the techniques of Dorotheus, Ptolemy, and Hephaistio.
The technique is related to the Dorothean and Ptolemaic techniques but also assesses a maximum length of life based on ascensional times. The maximum can be one of three distances converted into ascensional time. First, it can be from the significator to its square (i.e. the point zodiacally 90 degrees from it). Alternatively, it can be the planetary years of the bound lord of the significator. Finally, there are also times when it can be the distance from an angle of the chart to the next angle – namely the angles on either side of the significator.
Obtaining the Text
There is a free translation of the Anthology available at this link. However, in this matter I recommend the Project Hindsight translation of Book III (available for $30 as a PDF if you email Ellen Black of Project Hindsight). Its footnotes are invaluable for serious study of the technique.
Valens would also take the Sun as the significator as it is the sect light, in the 10th, and with its bound lord. Therefore, according to Valens, the Sun predominates in the chart (it is the significator) and Venus is the relevant “ruler”.
Sun to its Square
The first determination is according to the ascensional times from the Sun’s position to the square of its position in front of it (i.e. from 15 Gemini to 15 Virgo). As noted in the section on the Dorothean technique above, there are 98 ascensional times between the Sun’s position and about 12 Virgo. Adding another 3 zodiacal degrees given a conversion of about 1.2 ascensional times per degree, brings us to about 101.6 ascensional times, or 101.6 years as an indication of maximum length of life.
Planetary Years of the Ruler
According to Valens, we then look at the greater years of the ruler, Venus. She assigns her total greater years (82 years; or 84 years as indicated in some places in Valens and Maternus) because she is well placed. Valens advised to prefer her indication as the maximum length of life, so we conclude that the maximum length of life is 82 or 84 years.
Now, we must check to see if a malefic aspect intervenes between the Sun and its square, without a benefic aspect within 7 degrees of the same. Saturn’s direction is protected by Jupiter, as is the square of Mars in Leo, and there are no other significant malefic directions in that span. Therefore, we conclude that the length of life is 82 or 84 years according to the indication by the planetary years of Venus. This technique leads to bad results.
Revisiting the Square of the Significator
It is worth noting that the indication by ascensional times from the Sun to its square is relatively good as a maximum length of life at 101.6 years. After all, Valens noted that the degree of the significator and the 3 degrees on either side of that degree (a 7 degree span) are sensitized, and 12 Virgo is a square within that span. Therefore, the technique of using ascensional times of the square may have some value.
Perhaps the indication of Venus should not be used because she is under the beams (though this is not specified by Valens). In that case, we prefer the square of the significator and find it to be relatively accurate.
Angle to Angle
Valens also suggests the possibility of judging from the angle prior to the hyleg (significator), to that following it. The ascensional times of the signs from the Descendant to the MC are very small, and would provide an indication under 61 years, which is way off the mark. If we use the MC to the Ascendant, then the span is slightly longer than that of the Sun to its square, so it would add a couple more years to the sum, giving a length of life around 104 years, which is less accurate than the square of the Sun.
Another possible apheta (significator) for the angles calculation is the hylegical lot calculated from the nearest New Moon (before or after birth) to the Moon position. The lot is at 22 Pisces. This is near the Descendant, so we would again end up with a much shorter indication of death in his sixties (i.e. Dsc to MC). I won’t be exploring further the more obscure techniques that Valens also discusses in different chapters of Book III.
Note on True Primary Directions
We may wonder about the use of the Valens technique with actual primary directions rather than ascensional times. Obviously, this would not effect the indications by years of Venus, and the fact that malefic directions are protected, but it would affect the indication by the square of the Sun. The square of the Sun directs to the Sun in late 2009, when the native is 92 years old. Therefore, this indication too is not accurate.
Valens use of the square of the significator in ascensional times as a length of life may hold some promise but more work is needed. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Valens presents many disparate techniques for length of life in the Anthology, scattered across most of the books of the work. It is difficult to evaluate (or even clearly understand) them all. I won’t be exploring his other longevity techniques here but the possibility for finding good length of life techniques in the Anthology is still out there.
The Maternus Technique (4th century CE)
Maternus (Book II, Ch. 26 and Book IV, Ch. 6 of Mathesis) advised taking the ruler of the sign following that of the Moon as the chart ruler. Its planetary years are the length of life. Which set of planetary years to use depends on the condition of the planet.
In this case, the chart ruler is Saturn (ruler of Aquarius). Saturn is in the 11th house and in its own bound so would likely be considered to provide its greater years, which are 57 years. This technique provides an indication that is very far off the mark.
Maternus noted a diversity of opinion on finding the ruler of the nativity. Some took the planet that is in one of the principal houses of the chart and in its own sign or bound, others took the bound lord of the sect light, and others took the ruler (or exaltation ruler?) of the Moon.
Only Saturn is both in an advantageous place (the 11th) and in its own bound or sign (in this case, it’s bound – not that Maternus didn’t use the concept of detriment). Saturn is also the sign ruler of the Moon, but as noted, Saturn indicates only 57 years.
The bound lord of the Sun is Venus, and she indicates at most 82 or 84 years. Mars is the exaltation ruler of the Moon’s signs and can only indicate at most 66 years (but is cadent and out of sect, so may indicate less here).
Basically, no matter how you slice it, the Maternus-style technique involving planetary years does not yield the correct results.
The Technique of Paulus Alexandrinus (4th century CE)
Paulus Alexandrinus provided a hybrid planetary year technique which combines some features of the Dorothean technique with features of the Maternus technique. This technique was later combined with that of Ptolemy to form the basis of the typical Medieval approach to length of life.
In Chapter 34 of Introductory Matters (on crises), Paulus advised to examine primary directions (by ascensions) to Ascendant, Sun, and Moon involving certain malefic planets and points. However, he did not explicitly use directions in the context of his length of life technique. His length of life technique (Ch. 36) has more in common with the technique of Maternus than with those of Dorotheus, Ptolemy, and Valens.
Planetary Years of the Lord of the Hyleg
As with Maternus, he finds a “ruler” that indicates the length of life by planetary years. His instructions for finding the ruler are similar to the instructions given by Dorotheus to find the ruler of the hyleg. In other words, he takes a ruler of the hyleg (typically the sect light), but not necessarily its bound ruler, and he prefers if it aspects the hyleg and is itself strongly placed. The length of life pertains to this planet’s planetary years. Planets in whole sign aspect to the ruler can add or subtract years from its total.
If this sounds familiar then you’ve probably studied Medieval astrology. This methodology is the direct ancestor of the Medieval hyleg and alcocoden approach.
Paulus would select Venus as such a ruler, as she is the only ruler of the Sun that sees the Sun. Venus indicates 82 or 84 years. Planets in whole sign aspect to Venus may add or subtract years from this indication. However, there are no such planets, so 82 or 84 years are indicated (or less as Venus is under the beams), which is incorrect.
Summary Findings on Special Techniques
Arguably, none of the major Hellenistic special techniques for length of life provide the correct indication when employed exactly as the authors advised. However, there are elements of the techniques of Dorotheus Ptolemy, and Valens that appear to hold some promise. These “best techniques” all involve primary directions, either true ones or symbolic ones by ascensional times.
Dorotheus clued us into the relevance of the directed bound lords and to aspectual primary directions within bounds. Ptolemy clued us into the importance of malefic directions and the possibility that the direction of the significator to the Descendant (possibly modified by hourly times) could be significant. Valens clued us into the importance of the ascensional time length from the hyleg to its square as a possible maximum life span.
The indications that are most off the mark are those that use planetary years, whether by Valens, Maternus, or Paulus Alexandrinus. Interestingly, planetary years came to provide the main indication of general length of life in the Medieval period.
Part II: Other Factors
I typically examine the astrology of death in terms of other factors that coincide with the death rather than in the context of a special technique. I don’t believe any traditional predictive technique reliably and accurately predicts length of life. However, as death is arguably one of the most important events in life, there are many indications of danger or hardship shown by predictive techniques.
Mars is arguably the most relevant planet for death in the chart. It is the out of sect malefic and rules the 8th house. It also afflicts the lord of the Ascendant somewhat due to its conjunction with it.
Kerkorian turned 98 shortly before his death. On his 98th birthday, June 6th, 2015, the annual profection shifted to Scorpio, ruled by Mars, so Mars is the lord of the year for the year of death. Mars is in Taurus in his natal chart, so the profection was also in opposition to Mars.
As death occurred in the first month after the birth day, the monthly profection was also still in Scorpio. In other words, Mars was also the lord of the month.
Kerkorian’s final solar return is striking. Mars is conjunct the Sun within 3 degrees. They are both with Mercury (lord of the natal 1st). The Sun is the main significator of life in the chart (it is the sect light and prominently placed) and here it is afflicted by the main indicator of death in the chart (Mars). Additionally, Saturn is in Sagittarius, opposing the Mercury-Sun-Mars configuration. Both benefics are in Leo, which is the 12th house of the natal chart, an ineffective place.
Distributor: Directing through the Bounds
As noted above in the context of the Dorothean technique, the sect light, the Sun, had directed into the bound of Mars in Virgo in late 2014. Therefore, the bound lord of the directed sect light was Mars, and additionally Mars aspects that bound.
The transits at the time of death are also striking, as the transiting Sun is in partile conjunction with transiting Mars (i.e. they are conjunct in the same degree), and the transiting Moon is joining them in the same sign, Gemini, which is the natal sign of the Sun. Additionally, by this time Saturn had retrograded back into Scorpio, the sign of the annual profection. Therefore, even with the transits, we see multiple repeat indications of the them of Mars afflicting the Sun to indicate the time of death.
People sometimes ask me why most of my traditional analyses of death lack the use of special techniques for predicting longevity. Here I’ve presented an answer. None of the existing longevity techniques are perfect, and the more prominent Medieval techniques for longevity are particularly inaccurate. However, some of the techniques involving directions are worth further exploration and there still plenty of things to try in Valens’s Anthology.
I do advocate the use of special techniques rather than individual factors for most in depth analysis. However, when it comes to death I prefer a combination of predictive techniques. They provide some of the clearest and most intriguing and reinforced indications. Though it would be almost impossible to know with certainty that those indications were for death rather than some other difficult event.
There are elements of early length of life techniques that I make use of and that I keep in mind to regularly test. However, I know of no special techniques of Hellenistic or Medieval astrology that always reliably indicate the length of one’s life.
Featured image of this article (bas relief of Lachesis) by Jim Kuhn [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons