Length of Life Techniques
In Hellenistic astrology, it was common for astrologers to give a method for determining the length of life. The method for this determination would often differ from text to text and astrologer to astrologer. Sometimes, an astrologer might even present a few different methods for determining length of life, which is certainly the case in the Anthology by Vettius Valens (2nd century CE). Most of the techniques involve primary directions and a central significator of the life force.
Do the techniques work? I put a bunch of such techniques to the test in this 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, and instead will use his death at a very advanced age to compare and contrast a number of length of life techniques that were presented in the first 5 centuries of the common era by Hellenistic astrologers.
Birth Timing Issues
Kerkorian was reportedly born at Noon, which is somewhat suspicious (he likely was born within minutes before or after) on 6/6/1917 in Fresno, CA. His birth data is AA rated for accuracy.
Most length of life techniques involve primary directions. Primary directions are very strongly dependent on the exact time of birth. Therefore, a rough indication by primary directions, such as within a year, is sufficient for our purposes, as the birth time may be rounded. A birth time rounded within a few minutes could put the indication by primary directions off by even 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 as that is an extremely labor intensive matter. I’m going to look briefly at the indications according to a number of length of life techniques, and then discuss some general timing techniques that relate to the timing of death. Those interested in an 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, so a thorough reading of this post and my other posts on the traditional astrology of death will not give you the power to predict the length of life for other people using these techniques (not that you’d necessarily want to after reading my results). Therefore, upon learning about these techniques, do everyone a favor and don’t predict death for people. If you do so you may find yourself an unethical liar. I analyze charts using the Hellenistic length of life techniques in service of their evaluation and the furthering of historical astrological knowledge only.
The Manilius Technique (early 1st century CE)
The Roman astrologer Marcus Manilius, provided a very brief set of rules for assigning years to each zodiacal sign and each house for length of life, but 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 at all. This exposition starts at line 560 in Book III of Astronomica. Unfortunately, Manilius tells us that his section is just for conveying the years allotted to the signs and houses, and that the full exposition will follow later in the work, but he never does explain the technique. 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 Capricorn grants 14 2/3 years and the 5th house grants 63 years, so we may suppose that the indication by the technique is 77 2/3 years, which is an incorrect indication as he lived to age 98. 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 she indicates the same. 91 2/3 years is closer but still incorrect. In conclusion, Manilius does not provide enough information for use of his technique, and the most logical guesses regarding its use don’t yield accurate indications.
The Dorothean Technique (1st century CE)
According to the technique explained by Dorotheus (1st century CE), 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), it is in one of the 3 most advantageous places (it is in the 10th place/sign from the Ascendant or rising sign), and it is with its bound lord, Venus, in the same sign.
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) without any aspect of a benefic (exactly to a degree within the same bound). 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.
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 indication by bound ruler itself is a much weaker indication than an aspectual one from a malefic.
The next malefic bound was that of Saturn and that was 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, though 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. However, note that the Saturn bound of Cancer is occupied by Saturn and has no benefic aspecting the degree. 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, we find that each zodiacal degree of Gemini will equate to about 0.974 degrees of ascensions (0.974 years of life) and each degree 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, which equates to almost 47 years by ascensions. By actual accurate 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.
But, what bound does the Sun fall into after 98 years, by both ascensions and by directions through the bounds? 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, but we will find that the square of the significator is significant as the indication for length of maximum life by Valens. Also, the square of Sun is considered as malefic by some later astrologers.
Perhaps more significant in relation to the Dorothean technique, is that by actual primary directions (rather than the pseudo directions which symbolically use ascensional times even for points for which ascensional times are not remotely accurate, such as the Sun on the MC in this case), it is the bound of Mars of Virgo, that the Sun is in by directions through bounds, at the time of death.
The bound is a malefic one and is aspected by both malefics, but is also aspected by both benefics, so is still problematic by the Dorothean technique, since the benefic aspects to the bound should remove the harm. Therefore, while 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), the assertion that such an indication MUST indicate death when lacking the intervening aspect of a benefic both over-predicts death (e.g. the direction of Saturn to the Sun) and under-predicts by failing to account for death (e.g. the directions at death, in which death is either indicated by the square of the Sun or by multiple malefic directions in a malefic bound but with benefics aspecting the same bound).
The Ptolemaic Technique (2nd century CE)
Ptolemy also would take the Sun as the significator (as it is sect light and in the 10th place). Ptolemy advises use to look at actual primary directions involving the Sun, and not to use ascensional times. As the Sun is just past the MC (provided the birth time is not off by a couple minutes), he advises us to look at both direction of the Sun itself to the Descendant (i.e. converting the setting of the Sun into year), and the directions to the Sun of malefics (especially by body, square, or opposition according to Ptolemty). Ptolemy also appears to say that the direction from the square of the significator can indicate death.
There is some confusion regarding his technique of directing the significator to the Descendant, as he made a comment about aspects of benefics adding to the years indicated by this and likewise of malefics subtracting years, and noted that this is by proportion of hourly times. So, for instance, Hephaistio interpreted that the distance from significator to Descendant was to be measured in ascensions, which is a mis-interpretation as Ptolemy advised to use accurate primary directions and the use of ascensional times for points that are descending gives extremely inaccurate times. Basically, for Kerkorian, we must first find the time when the Sun sets by directions, which indicates almost 108 years. 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, and then find the time it takes to go from rising to setting, 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, which 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, multiple by its hourly time (i.e. if it is a benefic with an hourly time of 15 and it has 1/3 of its journey left to set1, 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.
We would judge Mercury to malefic in the chart because it is most closely conjunct Mars. 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. While one approach to the technique of directing to the Descendant with additions and subtractions based on hourly times appears to give a correct indication, it is also somewhat counter-intuitive. Why should we being adding or subtracting each hourly time only once, rather than adding or subtracting for each relevant aspect?
The other part of Ptolemy’s technique, and in fact the more important strategy, 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 unless the potential killing degree (aspect of the malefic) is located in a benefic bound or is aspected by a Jupiter within 12 degrees or by Venus within 8 degrees. 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, and that is within the Venus bound of Libra, so also does not qualify. Therefore, such a malefic aspect is not possible by directions. Ptolemy notes that the square to the place of the releaser (significator) also can indicate death. However, Ptolemy insisted on use of actual primary directions rather than directing with symbolic ascensional times, and the degree of the actual direction of the square of the Sun to the Sun is in late 2009, a full 6 years before death. The actual closest direction to the Sun at the time of death was the trine of Mercury, which applying at the time and doesn’t seem particularly nasty according to Ptolemy’s guidance as it is Mercury and a trine, while 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, as a certain interpretation of it provided a correct indication here, but 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, and even more techniques scattered across most of the books of the Anthology, but here I will focus on what appears to be his preferred technique and the one that relates most strongly to that of other astrologers like Dorotheus and Ptolemy. The technique is related to the Dorothean and Ptolemaic techniques but also assesses a maximum length of life based on ascesional times from the significator to a point zodiacally 90 degrees from it, or from an angle of the chart to the next angle, and a maximum based on planetary years of the bound lord of the significator. There is a free translation of the Anthology available at this link, though I recommend the Project Hindsight translation of Book III (available for $30 as a PDF if you email Ellen Black of Project Hindsight), as 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”.
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 (to about the middle of the degree), so 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.
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 advises 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.
It is worth noting though 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. Valens notes that the degree of the significator and the 3 degrees on either side of that degree (a 7 degree span) are sensitized, and each degree in Virgo has an ascensional time of nearly 1.3, so the death did occur within the critical span of the square of the Sun. Therefore, the technique of using ascensional times of the square may have some value. For instance, perhaps the indication of Venus should not be used because she is under the beams (though this is not specified by Valens), in which case we prefer the square of the significator and find it to be relatively accurate.
Valens also suggests the possibility of judging from the angle prior to the hyleg, 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 (starting point) is the hylegical lot calculated from the nearest New Moon (before or after birth) to the Moon position, which puts the lot 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 won’t be exploring further the more obscure techniques that Valens also discusses in different chapters of Book III.
We may wonder about use of the Valens technique with actual primary directions rather than ascensional times. 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 later 2009, when the native is 92 years old, so this indication too is not accurate.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, Valens presents so many disparate techniques for length of life in the Anthology, scattered across most of the books of the work, that we cannot hope to evaluate (or even clearly understand) them all. I won’t be exploring his other longevity techniques here.
The Maternus Technique (4th century CE)
Maternus (Book II, Ch. 26 and Book IV, Ch. 6 of Mathesis) advises taking the ruler of the sign following that of the Moon as the chart ruler. Therefore, the chart ruler is Saturn. 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 does note that there was a diversity of opinion on finding the ruler of the nativity, and that some took a 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), and 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)
The technique of Paulus Alexandrinus combines some features of the Dorothean technique with features of the Maternus technique, to give us a hybrid planetary years technique. This technique was combined with that of Ptolemy to form the basis of the typical Medieval technique to length of life. While in Chapter 34 of Introductory Matters, Paulus advises us to look at primary directions (by ascensions) to Ascendant, Sun, and Moon involving certain malefic planets and points, in order to assess times of crisis, he does not explicitly use directions in the context of his length of life technique. His length of life technique, which he explains in Ch. 36, has more in common with the technique of Maternus than with those of Dorotheus, Ptolemy, and Valens.
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 (i.e. he takes a ruler, not necessarily the bound ruler, typically of the sect light, and prefers it if its aspects the sect light and it is itself strongly placed). 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, but 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), and an incorrect indication is given.
Summary Findings on Special Techniques
None of the major Hellenistic special techniques for length of life provide the correct indication when employed exactly as the authors advise. However, there are elements of the techniques of Dorotheus Ptolemy, and Valens that appear to have some promise. Dorotheus clues us into the relevance of the directed bound lords and to primary directions that are within bounds. Ptolemy clues us into the importance of malefic directions and the possibility that directions to the Descendant (possibly modified by hourly times) could be significant. Valens clues 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 seem to relate to use of 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 particular predictive technique, as no traditional predictive technique reliably and accurately predicts death most of the time, and 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 as it is the out of sect malefic and rules the 8th house, as well as 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, with Mars as the lord of the month.
Kerkorian’s final solar return is striking. Mars is conjunct the Sun within 3 degrees, and 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. Additionally, Saturn is in Sagittarius, opposing the Mercury-Sun-Mars configuration. Both benefics are also in Leo, which is the 12th house of the natal chart, and said to be 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. Though there still are plenty of additional techniques provided by Valens that require evaluation. I do advocate the use of special techniques rather than individual factors for most in depth analysis, but when it comes to death I prefer a combination of predictive techniques, as they show interesting indications, even if 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, but I know of no special technique of Hellenistic or Medieval astrology that reliably indicates the length of one’s life.
Image attribution for 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