I haven’t really said this before, but I am an amateur astrologer. I grew up fascinated with the zodiac and the night-sky, however I grew up thinking that the horoscopes featured in newspapers and magazines were the be all and end all of astrology. So when my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to start learning about astrology, I was overwhelmed by the complexity of it and the wealth of information.
When I started practising astrology, I had my chart drawn up and deciphered it (badly) with ‘cookbook’ descriptions of placements and aspects. These cookbook descriptions were usually from people who practised modern western astrology, they were also usually into Jungian psychology or New-Age spirituality. After a while, I ended up growing restless and decided to look into other schools of astrology. I eventually settled on traditional western astrology, although I have started adopting more Hellenistic techniques.
The biggest problems I have with modern astrology is its over emphasis on natal astrology as well as its designated planetary rulerships. For those not savvy with astrology, they are as follows:
Now you may be asking, ‘Amy, why does this bother you so much?’ It bothers me because I find the traditional rulerships to speak more about the signs than their modern counterparts.
Above is the Thema Mundi, a mythological horoscope used in Hellenistic astrology which shows the supposed positions of the planets at the beginning of the universe. It is important because it explains concepts such as planetary domiciles and astrological aspects.
Ptolemy perfectly explains the reasoning behind planetary domiciles:
The planets also have familiarity with the parts of the zodiac, through what are called their houses, triangles, exaltations, terms, the like.
The system of houses is of the following nature.
Since of the twelve signs the most northern, which are closer than the others to our zenith and therefore most productive of heat and of warmth are Cancer and Leo, they assigned these to the greatest and most powerful heavenly bodies, that is, to the luminaries, as houses, Leo, which is masculine, to the sun and Cancer, feminine, to the moon. In keeping with this they assumed the semicircle from Leo to Capricorn to be solar and that from Aquarius to Cancer to be lunar, so that in each of the semicircles one sign might be assigned to each of the five planets as its own, one bearing aspect to the sun and the other to the moon, consistently with the spheres of their motion and the peculiarities of their natures.
For to Saturn, in whose nature cold prevails, as opposed to heat, and which occupies the orbit highest and farthest from the luminaries, were assigned the signs opposite Cancer and Leo, namely Capricorn and Aquarius, with the additional reason that these signs are cold and wintry, and further that their diametral aspect is not consistent with beneficence.
To Jupiter, which is moderate and below Saturn’s sphere, were assigned the two signs next to the foregoing, windy and fecund, Sagittarius and Pisces, in triangular aspect to the luminaries, which is a harmonious and beneficent configuration.
Next, to Mars, which is dry in nature and occupies a sphere under that of Jupiter, there were assigned again the two signs, contiguous to the former, Scorpio and Aries, having a similar nature, and, agreeably to Mars’ destructive and inharmonious quality, in quartile aspect to the luminaries.
To Venus, which is temperate and beneath Mars, were given the next two signs, which are extremely fertile, Libra and Taurus. These preserve the harmony of the sextile aspect; another reason is that this planet at most is never more than two signs removed from the sun in either direction.
Finally, there were given to Mercury, which never is farther removed from the sun than one sign in either direction and is beneath the others and closer in a way to both of the luminaries, the remaining signs, Gemini and Virgo, which are next to the houses of the luminaries”
- Tetrabiblos, Book I, 17
As for astrological aspects, they are the angles the planets make to each other in a horoscope; they can also make angles with points in the chart known as the Ascendant, Midheaven, Descendant and Lower Midheaven. Personally, I only use the ‘Ptolemaic aspects’, which are named as such since they were defined and used by Ptolemy. These aspects are the conjunction (approx. 0-10°), sextile (60°), square (90°), trine (120°), and opposition (180°).
William Lilly describes the nature of these aspects rather well:
You must understand amongst these Aspects, the Quadrate Aspect is a sign of imperfect emnity; and that the Opposition is an aspect or argument of perfect hatred; which is to be understood thus: A Question is propounded, Whether two persons at variance may be reconciled?
Admit I find the two Significators representing the two Adversaries, in Square aspect; I may then judge because the aspect is of imperfect hatred, that the matter is not yet so far gone, but there may be hopes of reconciliation betwixt them, the other significators or planets a little helping.
But, if I find the main significators in Opposition, it’s then in nature impossible to expect a peace betwixt them till the suit is ended, if it be a suit of Law; untill they have fought, if it be a Challenge.
The Sextile and Trine aspects are arguments of Love, Unity and Friendship; but the Trine is more forcible, (viz.) if the two Significators are in Sextile or Trine, no doubt but peace may be easily concluded.
Conjunctions are good or bad, as the Planets in Conjunction are friends or enemies to one another
- Christian Astrology, p.106
It may seem odd for a ‘pagan’ to take material from a book known as ‘Christian Astrology’, but when it comes to horary astrology, it is essential reading in my opinion.
The Wheel of the Occupations of the Months and the Zodiac, from the Kalender of Shepardes
Now, for the nature of the zodiac, this seems to be a subject that is misunderstood. The zodiac is a circle of twelve 30° segments of celestial longitude, they are not constellations. While the sidereal zodiac takes into account the position of the fixed stars and the procession of the equinoxes; the tropical zodiac does not. The tropical year is calculated via the solstices and equinoxes, so it ignores the procession of the equinoxes. But even in sidereal astrology, the constellation Ophiuchus remains just that, a constellation.
So the tropical zodiac is primarily concerned with the seasons and the start of the tropical year is marked by the vernal equinox. Ptolemy explains why:
“For this reason, although there is no natural beginning of the zodiac, since it is a circle, they assume that the sign which begins with the vernal equinox, that of Aries, is the starting-point of them all, making the excessive moisture of the spring the first part of the zodiac as though it were a living creature, and taking next in order the remaining seasons, because in all creatures the earliest ages, like the spring, have a larger share of moisture and are tender and still delicate”
- Tetrabiblos, Book I, chp.10
Keeping with the theme of the seasons, the signs are also divided into four quadrants, which are:
The vernal or spring quarter: which is hot, moist and sanguine. It contains the signs Aries, Taurus and Gemini.
The estival or summer quarter: which is hot, dry and choleric. It contains the signs Cancer, Leo and Virgo.
The autumnal quarter: which is cold, dry and melancholic. It contains the signs Libra, Scorpio and Sagittarius.
The hyemal, brumal or winter quarter: which is cold, moist and phelemic. It contains the signs Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces.
The zodiac is also divided further via the elements, which are fire, earth, air and water, known as the triplicities. They are perfectly explained by William Ramesey:
“The Fiery-Triplicity, consisteth of Aries, Leo and Sagittary: the Aery, of Gemini, Libra and Aquaries: the Watry, of Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces: the Earthy, of Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn; and these signs behold one another with a Trine; as a Planet in a fiery sign beholds another Planet in another fiery sign (being in equal number of degrees) with a Trine; as also a Planet in an Aery sign, another Planet in an Aery sign; one in a Watry sign, another in a Watry sign; in an Earthy sign, a Planet in ‘an Earthy sign. And this Trine Aspect, consists of an hundred and twenty degrees.
The Sun and Jupiter have dominion in the Fiery-Triplicity, the Sun by day, and Jupiter by night: the Sun, for that he is hot and fiery, of the nature of these signs; and Jupiter , for that he is temperate, and to moderate the extremity thereof, therefore he ruleth this Triplicity in the night: yet some of the Ancients [e.g., Dorotheus of Sidon, whom I follow] have added in government with them Saturn, that by his cold nature, he may temperate the excess of heat. This is the Eastern Triplicity.
Saturn and Mercury have dominion in the Aery-Triplicity, which is Western, Mercury by night, and Saturn by day; Libra is his Exaltation (and you have heard for what reasons) Aquaries is his house and sign wherein he most doth joy; Gemini is Mercuries house; wherefore Saturn hath chief Dominion in this Triplicity; yet some have joyned Jupiter in signification with them, by reason of his temperancy.
Mars both night and day, hath assigned him chief Dominion of the Watry Triplicity; this Triplicity is Northern: certainly the reason why Mars was assigned chief Rule of the Water, was to cool his courage and abate his heat; for we see he is more powerfull to work his mischievous pranks in Leo then in Cancer; for he having dominion and rule in Cancer, he worketh not altogether so much mischief (yet is he in Fall in Cancer, but Peregrine in Leo) wherefore a Planet Peregrine is worse then a Planet in Fall, if he be but in a term: yet some of the Ancients have joyned Venus and the Moon with Mars, by reason Cancer is the Moons house, and Pisces the Exaltation of Venus.
Venus and Luna are appointed chief Governesses of the Earthy-Triplicity, which is Feminine and Southern, cold and moyst, causing South-east winds, cold and moyst Ayr; and therefore assigned to these Feminine Planets”
- Astrologia Restaurata, chp.XII
The signs are also classed as masculine or feminine. The fiery and airy signs are masculine, they are more active and less receptive than their feminine counterparts. The feminine signs are the earth and water, they are more passive but are more receptive than their masculine counterparts.
There are also the different qualities, which are:
The cardinal signs, which are Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn. When the sun enters these signs, it heralds the change of the seasons. These signs are goal orientated and change their surroundings.
The fixed signs, which are Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius. When the sun enters these signs, the season is ‘fixed’, meaning that hot or cold, dryness and moisture are more evident to us. These signs tend to build on what they have got, disliking change.
The mutable signs, which are Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius and Pisces. These signs take on qualities of the previous signs of the season. These signs adapt to their environment and ‘go with the flow’.
Just like there are twelve signs, there are twelve astrological houses which are also abstract divisions of the ecliptic. Calculating these can vary among astrologers, the Placidus and Koch systems seem to be the most popular, but I personally use the ‘whole sign system’, which was the most used system in Hellenistic astrology. While I do not want to go into the meaning of each house right now, I’ll leave this excerpt from William Lilly’s Christian Astrology:
“There is nothing appertaining to the life of man in this world, which in one way or other hath not relation to one of the twelve Houses of Heaven, and as the twelve signs are appropriate to the particular members of mans body; so also doe the twelve houses represent not onely the severall parts of man, but his actions, quality of life and living, and the curiosity and judgment of our Fore-fathers in Astrology, was such, as they have alotted to every house a particular signification”
- Christian Astrology, Chp.VII, pg.50
The planets are also hard to pin down in this post, because what they represent can also vary depending on the form of astrology you are practising. But I will quote a description of the natures of the planets as described by Ptolemy:
“The active power of the sun’s essential nature is found to be heating and, to a certain degree, drying. This is made more easily perceptible in the case of the sun than any other heavenly body by its size and by the obviousness of its seasonal changes, for the closer it approaches to the zenith the more it affects us in this way. Most of the moon’s power consists of humidifying, clearly because it is close to the earth and because of the moist exhalations therefrom. Its action therefore is precisely this, to soften and cause putrefaction in bodies for the most part, but it shares moderately also in heating power because of the light which it receives from the sun.
It is Saturn’s quality chiefly to cool and, moderately, to dry, probably because he is furthest removed both from the sun’s heat and the moist exhalations about the earth. Both in Saturn’s case and in that of the other planets there are powers, too, which arise through the observation of their aspects to the sun and moon, for some of them appear to modify conditions in the ambient in one way, some in another, by increase or by decrease.
The nature of Mars is chiefly to dry and to burn, in conformity with his fiery colour and by reason of his nearness to the sun, for the sun’s sphere lies just below him.
Jupiter has a temperate active force because his movement takes place between the cooling influence of Saturn and the burning power of Mars. He both heats and humidifies; and because his heating power is the greater by reason of the underlying spheres, he produces fertilizing winds.
Venus has the same powers and tempered nature as Jupiter, but acts in the opposite way; for she warms moderately because of her nearness to the sun, but chiefly humidifies, like the moon, because of the amount of her own light and because she appropriates the exhalations from the moist atmosphere surrounding the earth.
Mercury in general is found at certain times alike to be drying and absorptive of moisture, because he never is far removed in longitude from the heat of the sun; and again humidifying, because he is next above the sphere of the moon, which is closest to the earth; and to change quickly from one to the other, inspired as it were by the speed of his motion in the neighbourhood of the sun itself”
- Tetrabiblos, Book I, Chp.4
Concerning ancient Greek religion, there are a few deities who could be associated with the art of astrology, although it must be noted that there was no distinction between astrology and astronomy in antiquity.
I think the role of Helios, Selene and the Astra Planeta (the planets) is pretty evident. There is also Ourania is the muse of astronomy, so naturally astrology will come under her sphere of influence. Asteria is also thought to be the Titan goddess of oracles and prophecies of the night, which would include prophetic dreams, astrology and necromancy. Then there’s Astraios, who is the father of the stars and planets, who could also be linked to the art of astrology.
The Olympian god Hermes is also associated with astronomy, especially when you take into account his syncretism with the Egyptian god Thoth. This syncretism gave birth to the movement known as Hermeticism, a religion which heavily influenced the western esoteric tradition. Hermes’ mother is also the nymph Maia, who is one of the Pleiades. The Pleiades were important to the ancient Greek farmer, as Hesiod accounts:
“When the Pleiades Atlagenes (born of Atlas) are rising [early May], begin your harvest, and your ploughing when they are going to set [November]. Forty nights and days they are hidden and appear again as the year moves round, when first you sharpen your sickle”
- Works and Days, 383 ff
I can’t say I buy into linking the zodiac with the Twelve Olympians either, it just doesn’t fit for me. I personally think that the Horai would have more to do with the signs, since they are goddesses who deal with portions of time and heavenly order.
Then, last but not least:
“The Moirai to whom wise Zeus gave the greatest honour, Klotho, and Lakhesis, and Atropos who give mortal men evil and good to have”
- Hesiod’s Theogony, 901 ff
Surely the Moirai and Zeus are tied up into astrology in some way, being gods who determine the fates of men. Saying that, I haven’t really thought too deeply into how astrology plays into Hellenic religion. So if you have any thoughts on the subject, feel free to share them!
So, does astrology work? It has for me and often enough for it to make me believe it is a viable art. That’s all I really have to say for now about astrology for now. So, to finish this post off, I’ll leave a famous piece of music that was inspired by Saturn, which has always been my favourite planet since I was a child. Which is quite amusing really, considering Saturn is actually the ruler of my natal chart.