Astrologer Interview: James H. Holden (Part 2)

September 4, 2008 by  

This is the second part of an interview with translator James Herschel Holden, an astrological author and translator.  If you are just joining us, read Part 1 of the interview here.

NG: You have a book that just came out, The Five Medieval Astrologers [read the Gryphon Astrology review], and you have picked the very books that I would have wanted in that one book. I’ve always wanted to read The Book of Flowers, but as far as I know it doesn’t exist in English right now other than in your translation.

JH: Well, this is true, but if you read the preface you could see that I actually translated that thing a long time ago. It’s been sitting here in my house and I never had a chance to get it published until recently. And when the executive secretary of the AFA said: “Jim, have you got any books that we can publish?” I said: “Yeah, I’ve got some.”

And I thought immediately we can put The Book of Flowers in there because I think the thing’s interesting. If you’re interested in mundane, I think we’re [AFA] going to publish a book in a few months that will probably interest you. I have translated half a dozen or so of the Jean-Baptiste Morin books from his Astrologia Gallica. Book 25, I have translated that; it’s on mundane and meteorological astrology.

NG: Other than mundane astrology, my other favorite topic is weather astrology, so I’m looking forward to it.

JH: You’d probably like that book, and I would think that maybe by October we may have it published. Right now, we’re working on Sahl’s book on horary and elections. And also, I have translated [Astrologia Gallica] Book 16 on aspects and Book 17 on astrological houses. Both of those will be published later this summer.

When they publish Book 25, we will have nearly all the books from 13 down to the end. The last book, number 26, is on horary astrology, and elections. And I’ve translated the first half of that. And I don’t know whether I’m even going to finish it or not. Morin didn’t like horary astrology. He thought it was silly rubbish that the Arabs had invented. I have a great deal of respect for Morin. A lot of his stuff is good and his Astrologia Gallica is good. But if you think about it, the main emphasis in the Morin Method is on what you would call accidental significators, that is, rulers of houses and things like that, rather than on universal significators.

For example, if you read some of the older books, you find that Mars rules warriors and Venus rules women, and so on like that. And that if you have a chart and you’re reading the thing. and you want to know something about a woman, well you look at Venus. And like if it’s a marriage question, well, look at Venus. Well, Morin says, No, look at the seventh house. See what’s in the seventh!

See what the ruler of the seventh is and how it’s related to all the other planets, then you can look at the fifth house too, but look at the seventh mainly. And what he’s doing that he didn’t seem to understand, is that he’s applying the horary method to natal astrology, because that is exactly what you do in horary if somebody comes in and says; “I have a question about my son,” what do you do? You look at the fifth house. And this is precisely what Morin says to do in reading a natal chart. If you want to know something about money look at [house] two. If you want to know something about marriage and business relations and open enemies you look at [house] seven and so on like that.

And this is exactly the horary method, and yet he says horary doesn’t work. But the reason he said that was two-fold. First, though, he didn’t know anything about the history of astrology. People didn’t in those days.

The old standard was Ptolemy, and they didn’t know there was anything else. And most of the books that were available were books that had been translated from Arabic in the 12th century, and he read those things, and he knew that those books had been written by Arabs. Morin didn’t like the Arabs because he was a devout Catholic, and those people, to him, were infidels. Also, Ptolemy never mentions horary astrology any place in the Tetrabiblos. So plainly it must have been invented by those wicked Arabs.

I think that this is one thing that sort of illustrates the advantage of knowing something about the history of the art. If you know the overall history of astrology, you know where the different techniques came from; you realize that people were making horary charts back in the days when astrology was a Greek science. And that it was medieval, and it wasn’t something the Arabs invented. Arab astrology is basically Greek astrology, because if you read my history book, in the 8th and 9th century Arabs got hold of Greek books on astrology and translated them into Arabic and that’s where they learned the business.

But Morin didn’t know that. And in one place, I think it’s maybe it’s in Book 16 or 17 some place, he even accuses Firmicus Maternus of having copied the Arabs. Well, Firmicus lived in the 4th century, and the Arabs didn’t know anything about astrology till the 8th century. So that didn’t make any sense, but like I said, he plain and simply didn’t know the history of the thing. Nobody did in his day. It wasn’t that he was ignorant and other people were aware, because it hadn’t been studied. This is why I think that it’s important to know something about the history.

Now back to The Five Medieval Astrologers. I had gotten a copy, I guess thirty, forty years ago of a 17th century book that had translations of the three Centiloquies in it. And I’ve been using that all along but I got to thinking, well, if we’re going to put The Book of Flowers out, well, maybe we ought to print all three of the Centiloquies too, because otherwise, let’s say you wanted the Centiloquy of Hermes where would you have found it?

You would have had to have located some old, out of print book or something to get the thing. Henry Coley had translated all three of them, and they’re in his book that was published about 1660 or the late 1600’s. And you can get a copy of that. Maybe you’ve got one. You can get a copy of his book.

NG: I did, before yours came out, but yours is much better, because he translated, but often he just paraphrased and it’s not the same.

JH: He not only paraphrased, but he actually left out about a fourth of it. He didn’t even have it all in there. And that one’s hard to read; I think the Latin’s bad. You can see in the footnotes that I had to struggle with part of it, too. Anyway, I thought to myself it would be nice to have all three of those things in one place. And then also there was The Hundred and Fifty Propositions of al-Mansur, which I don’t know where you’d ever find that. I have never seen it any place, so I thought we’re going to put all this together, and if anybody is interested in this old stuff, there it is all in one book.

NG: That’s wonderful. I’m really glad that you did, because I think a lot of people just don’t know it’s out there.

JH: I guess you read the little thing I put down there about why would anybody want to read a thousand year old book. But anyway, some of these books that I put out, well, I have to think about what Mark Twain said about a book once. “ This is a good book for people that like this kind of a book.”

[Read Part 3 of the interview with James H. Holden.]


6 Responses to “Astrologer Interview: James H. Holden (Part 2)”

  1. Christine N. Davis on September 4th, 2008 8:08 am

    Nina, I’m really enjoying your interviews! Holden in particular sounds like a lot of fun to talk to – just a great resource and full of stories. Favorite line: “I’m interested in all periods of astrology, except maybe what somebody thought up last month.” Do you ever think of sending some of these interviews to The Mountain Astrologer for publication?
    As for your book reviews, the problem there is that now I want to buy pretty much everything you’re reviewing. Keep up the terrific work.
    Christine (typing on my golden keyboard between sips of Dom Perignon)

  2. Nina Gryphon on September 4th, 2008 9:12 am

    Hi Christine,

    Yes, Jim Holden is great and totally one of a kind. You’ll see what I mean in the future installments of this interview. Maybe I should send this to TMA; I believe that he deserves serious recognition for his work.

    Best wishes,

  3. Gryphon Astrology Blog » Astrologer Interview: James H. Holden (Part 1) on September 6th, 2008 8:56 am

    […] Part 2 of the interview with James H. Holden here.] Bookmark […]

  4. Gryphon Astrology Blog » Astrologer Interview: James H. Holden (Part 3) on September 6th, 2008 8:58 am

    […] of ancient astrological texts in Five Medieval Astrologers.  To catch up, read Part 1 and Part 2 of the […]

  5. Astrologer Interview: James H. Holden (Part 4) » » Astrology Around The Web on September 24th, 2008 10:21 am

    […] translator, and author James Herschel Holden.  If you are just joining us, read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 […]

  6. What is traditional astrology ? « Episthemologie on February 8th, 2009 11:42 pm

    […] It is important to note that Ptolemy was not an example of this astrology. In fact, his astrology is very unique, and is very likely that he didn´t read a lot of other works, and that none of the other authors have read ptolemy. You can see interesting comments on this theme in this interview with James Holden. […]

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