Besieging a Castle: How Not to Do It

October 27, 2005 by  

Besieging a Castle: How Not to Do It.

If you haven’t yet read Bonatti’s On War, you owe it to yourself to do so. This is not so much because it will come in handy in your daily life (note: if you routinely lay sieges as part of your workday, you may need a new career), but because it is a fascinating firsthand account of a “field” astrologer in the 13th century Bonatti had participated in many military expeditions, and there are several stories of his astrological prowess saving the day (check out Holden’s History of Horoscopic Astrology) The text is also an excellent illustration of the fact that even then, the commander did not always listen to his astrologer’s advice!

In this post, I will examine a chart from 1261, when Bonatti went on an expedition with the then-podesta (a type of military commander) of Urbino, Guido di Montefeltro. By way of historical context, Guido was one of the Ghibelline faction and was consigned to Hell by Dante Alighieri in Canto XXVII of his Divine Comedy. Guido was apparently quite a character; he ran Urbino for over thirty years, no small task in those unstable times, and at the end of his long life became a Franciscan monk, presumably to atone for his sins. As an astrologer, Bonatti earned a place in Hell also, though Dante gives every indication of possessing quite advanced astrological knowledge himself! In our chart, Guido and his army were besieging a castle, and the commander wished to know whether they would take it or not.

Technical Details: I am using Robert Zoller’s translation of On War, which I would recommend highly to interested readers. Though the place, date and time for the chart are not given, the closest approximation I could find is October 11, 1261, 9:05 am GMT, Urbino, Italy. Interestingly, the Sun and Moon for this chart are where they should be, but several of the other planets are in different degrees from Solar Fire’s calculation. This could be because Bonatti was doing the chart on the go, as it were, and he probably did not bring a watch, mainly because they did not exist in 1261. The computer approximation is close enough for our purposes, anyway. If you have Zoller’s translation, the chart reproduced from a 16th-century manuscript is the preferred version.

In a siege chart such as this one, Bonatti says to use the 1st house and the Moon for the querent and his side, and the 4th house for the enemy’s castle or land. One then weighs the accidental and essential dignities of each house and ruling planet to see who will emerge victorious. This seems simple enough. However, Bonatti acknowledges other authorities who would assign the 10th house to the enemy’s land (under the reasoning that it is the 4th from the house of open enemies, the 7th). There is yet another possible analytical approach we can take, which Bonatti does not mention, but it seems the most plausible to me: weighing the relative strengths of the 1st and 7th houses, house cusps, planets therein, and their rulers, as in any contest. The 4th/10th house axis becomes largely irrelevant in that case. I will apply each of these three techniques to this chart, and see which one(s) gives the result Bonatti describes.

METHOD 1 (Bonatti’s original method):

Querent and his army are represented by Moon in Taurus in the 5th house, and Jupiter in Capricorn in the 2nd. The 1st house cusp is conjunct Antares, the star of the autumn equinox, symbolizing endings. Two planets below the horizon, one in fall, Asc conjunct Antares; not a terrible start for Guido, but it could be a lot better.

The enemy (the castle’s army) are shown by the 4th house, also ruled by Jupiter, so we cannot use it twice. However, we do see the North Node in the 4th, and also Saturn. In his book, Bonatti says that Saturn is positioned at the entrance to the house, which it clearly is not. I think he just does this with 20/20 hindsight, since the castle (spoiler alert!) was not taken by Guido. Normally, seeing Saturn in a house is not good for its occupants. It seems, however, that the North Node may have helped quite a bit.

We will also note (and this is NOT what Bonatti says) that to find the ruler of the 4th, we simply move on one sign from Pisces, and take Mars, ruler of Aries. Mars is the most elevated planet in the chart, conjunct the fixed star Vindemiatrix, the widow-maker, and conjunct the South Node. Note that Jupiter exalts Mars; Jupiter is in Mars’s power. With the Moon applying to a trine with a weak Jupiter, we can assume Guido will not win. Bonatti says Guido’s men lost because they were slothful; given that Jupiter is in its fall, perhaps they spent too much time in excess to really do battle. Attacking the castle with a beer in each hand just doesn’t work.

METHOD 2

Bonatti mentions that this method is used by some authorities; give the castle the 10th (as 4th from the 7th) and 1st to the besieging army. We’ve already talked about the 1st above; the 10th is ruled by Mercury, which is in Scorpio in the 11th house (so elevated over Jupiter). As we mentioned previously, Mars is conjunct Vindemiatrix and the South Node in the 10th house. The South Node does not bode well, but elevation seems to mean a lot in these charts, and having the God of War on your side, elevated over all the other planets is not a bad thing. Even according to this method, then, Guido\r\nloses.

METHOD 3

I like this method the best, because it’s based on first principles. Our team gets the 1st house; our opponents get the 7th. It doesn’t really matter if our house (4th) or castle (4th) or cattle (12th) or child (5th) is at stake. This is a duel. Mano a mano.

On this reality check, we proceed: As we noted the 1st house and its rulers are not in excellent shape. The 7th house looks a bit better; Mercury is in the 11th. The Moon just opposed it, so we can assume that our armies have clashed, or at least that negotiations were broken off and Guido announced that the castle is now officially besieged. Note that Mercury hates the Moon; it is in Scorpio, the Moon’s fall. The Moon could care less about Mercury, on the other hand. Guido’s men just don’t seem that motivated. Jupiter recently squared a very nasty Saturn in fall; our men are doing really badly, now that we look at it.

As Bonatti points out, it’s not that the enemy were such amazing fighters, it’s just that Guido’s men were in such pitiful shape. And why were they in such pitiful shape? Bonatti mentions that when they leave the siege field, the men are grateful that for the first time in four months, it stopped raining. No wonder they were glad to go home!

Horary of the Week: Will We Be Reunited?

October 22, 2005 by  

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Email your horary questions to nina “at” gryphonastrology.com by Friday to be published on Sunday.

Question: “Will my boyfriend and I get back together?”

Background: The Querent was dating a man with some psychological issues, and the two enjoyed a long-term relationship. The boyfriend left the country for a few months, promising to return and resume the relationship. However, when he returned, he had a relapse of his former problems and told the Querent that he was not in a state to continue the relationship. The Querent wished to know if they would be reunited and if so, when.

Short answer: Not in the foreseeable future. The chart shows very clearly that as of the date of the chart, he was about to somehow do himself ill, that is, he would start acting against his interest. Certainly, rejecting a positive and constructive relationship would qualify as harming oneself. What is most interesting – and unusual – in this chart is the level of interest that the two people have in one another. Most relationship questions only get asked once the affair is on the rocks; here, there is strong mutual interest. It is his propensity to act against his own best interest that gets in the way of his feelings for the Querent. There is no connection shown between the two people in the near future, however, and so the Querent has two choices; she can wait for him to get his life and health together, or she can move on.

The astrology: The Querent is symbolized by the Moon, Lord of the 1st house, and her biological “I am woman” needs are shown by Venus. Her boyfriend is shown by Saturn, and his biological mate-finding prerogatives are shown by the Sun. We can immediately see the mutual love between the two shown by Moon in Aquarius, Saturn’s sign and triplicity; and Saturn in Cancer, the Moon’s own sign. He loves her, she loves him, so there is no problem so far. Note, however, what is going on with the Sun and Venus, their respective biological urges. Both planets are in Pisces, Jupiter’s sign. Clearly, both people are strongly under Jupiter’s power. Jupiter itself is angular in the 4th house, and retrograde. While it is strongly positioned to act due to its angularity, it is in Libra, the sign of the Sun’s fall, and so harms the Sun. Jupiter rules the boyfriend’s 12th house of self-undoing; his tendency to make less than wise choices controls his urge to be in a relationship. Jupiter is retrograde, implying that his problematic tendency is returning.

Saturn exalts Jupiter in Cancer, showing the boyfriend’s attachment to making less than wise choices. There is no applying aspect between any of her planets and any of his planets, showing that while the mutual inclination is there, there is no opportunity to resume the relationship; the occasion simply is not shown. Finally, the Moon is about to trine Juipter, indicating that the Querent will soon run into her boyfriend’s self-harming tendencies.

The Astrology of the Vices: Passion and Pride

October 18, 2005 by  


As traditional astrologers, we love our malefics, Saturn and Mars. Not when they act on us, of course, and we find ourselves caught in a Saturnian vise or a Martial tempest. Nonetheless, we pride ourselves on understanding these two planets are meanies to some degree and given half a chance, they will do their utmost to ruin our glorious designs.

However, according to Traditional thought, it is not Saturn and Mars we should really fear, but rather the Sun and Mars, the two Hot and Dry planets. For traditional metaphysicians, passion and pride are the most serious obstacles to spiritual pursuits. Pride is the ugly side of the royal Sun, and passion quite simply is Mars. Frithjof Schuon, in his Survey of Metaphysics and Esoterism, speaks of the problems associated with each vice.

Astrologically speaking, we can discern what these problems are and how they operate in us. We can also watch for the two planets’ operation in natal charts. Pride is said to be a particularly insidious sin, said St. Augustine, because it is the only vice that attaches itself to virtue, rather than fleeing from it. This is very true in any chart: imagine that you have a perfectly lovely Venus in Libra in the 10th house, such that you simply overflow with the milk of human kindness and can share it easily with the world.

Now imagine that this Venus is uncomfortably close to the fallen Sun in Libra, which, in this particular chart, likes to claim accomplishments it knows it does not deserve. And so, where before we had an unadulterated strength, the Sun’s merciless rays turn it to a weakness. Just as no planet is safe from the Sun; no virtue is immune from pride’s destructive tendencies.

Schuon says that passion causes two chief problems: attachment and insatiability. Here, we turn to Mars’s dignities and debilities to understand the difficulties Mars can cause. Mars is strong in its own signs, Aries and Scorpio, and in its exaltation, Capricorn. It is important to remember that though Mars is personified in the following explanation, the application of this is not liimited to natal charts; sign placements in horaries and electional charts are extraordinarily revealing as well.

In Aries, Mars is strong because it remains unattached; the quick-moving cardinal fire sign will not permit Mars to dwell too long on any given desire. The dark side of this placement, however, is the weakness of insatiability; in its eagerness to conquer everything and lose no time, Mars’s hunger for new experiences produces a lack of focus and the drive to pursue an impossible quest.

The converse is true for Mars in Scorpio, a fixed water sign. Water is the desire nature, but fixed water (ice!) forces Mars to slow down and move cautiously and deliberately in pursuit of its passion. Such slow-moving passion is just another word for attachment, this placement’s weakness. Mars is Scorpio is slow to adopt the new and slow to let go of the old.

Finally, Mars in Capricorn is disciplined and given firm boundaries by Capricorn’s ruler, Saturn.. Mars’s unrestrained passion becomes very focused and controlled. However, as a planet in exaltation is not quite as strong as in its own sign, Capricorn does not fully address Mars’s innate tendency to attachment and insatiability; it merely puts Mars into something of a straitjacket.

NG Is Back!

October 17, 2005 by  

Dear Readers,

I am so excited to be back to blogging and posting the Weekly Horary. My life has been through many wonderful changes recently, and only now have I settled into a routine. The good news is that I have been reading a great deal of fascinating astrological and philosophical material that I am eager to share with all of you. In the next few days, expect a new Weekly Horary and a new “food for thought” article. Thank you for all your support and emails!

Nina