Book Review: Horary Astrology Re-Examined (Barbara Dunn)

May 3, 2009 by  

Book Review: Horary Astrology Re-Examined by Barbara Dunn

Reading Horary Astrology Re-Examined brought me back to the days when I was just beginning to learn horary, with Olivia Barclay’s book, Horary Astrology Rediscovered, at my side.  Dunn is a student of traditional astrologer Olivia Barclay, and Horary Astrology Re-Examined is similar to Barclay’s book, in that it is a compendium of traditional quotations on various topics from many authors.  Essentially, Dunn appears to have updated Barclay’s book with the new translations that had been obscure or unavailable when Barclay published her book in 1997.  Dunn has taken over Barclay’s horary course a few years ago, and it appears that in writing Horary Astrology Re-Examined, she has updated the course book as well.


This is perhaps the most thorough survey of traditional thought on horary astrology.  However, precisely because of its depth and breadth, I would not recommend this for a beginning horary astrologer.  The book is not written especially didactically, “soup to nuts,” but rather gives the reader absolutely everything, and more, right from the start.  Horary Astrology Re-Examined is more like a compendium of horary.  For the intermediate to advanced practitioner, Dunn’s book is a treasure trove of information, with seemingly everything traditional ever written about horary in one book.  It is best used as an encyclopedia when one wants to understand a specific topic in depth, with footnotes and references to primary sources galore.

Contents & Structure

Horary Astrology Re-Examined is organized into two major parts; Part I is methodology and doctrine, and Part II contains house-specific questions and judgments.

The Introduction sets out the author’s argument for traditional astrology, which is portrayed as losing ground to the new age facsimile of the art.  I am not convinced this is the case, as traditional astrology has come a long way just in the last decade, but Dunn’s basic hypothesis is sound, in that she views traditional astrology as a valuable, internally cohesive system that can be used for accurate methods of prediction.  The introduction is followed by a dozen or so pages of Terms of Art, which the student should understand as they learn horary.

Part I starts with a chapter about the planets; their nature, joys, friendships, associations (Morin, Lilly, and Abu Ma’shar), and rulership of the days and hours.  Chapter 2 describes the houses, the house systems, the nature of the quadrants and directions, and the nature of the angles/succedent/cadent houses.  There is a good-sized listing of the meaning of each house, drawn from the traditional authors (Lilly, Al Biruni, Morin, and Ptolemy).  This is not a substitute for a good book on the houses, such as Deb Houlding’s text, but is a very good start.  Included is a good discussion of the triplicity rulers of the houses, a natal technique.

Chapter 3 discusses the signs of the zodiac, their divisions, and associations with parts of the body, the seasons, colors, directions, fertility, places (for lost objects), and geographical locations.  Chapter 4 covers planetary sect, hayyiz, and the way these concepts are used in natal horoscopes, including the notions of oriental and occidental planets.  Chapter 5 explains planetary movement and aspects, antiscia, beholding, and orbs.  Oddly, not much time is spent on the nature of the major aspects, the heart and soul of horary, specifically the ways in which they can bring about perfection (square brings perfection with difficulty, for example, while the trine does so with ease).  The material on planetary movements is quite valuable, and unique, in the sense that no one has brought together this material as comprehensively as the author.  Concepts discussed include committing disposition – though we are never told what disposition is, exactly – pushing nature, pushing power, pushing two natures, pushing counsel, and the uses of a separating aspect.  There is also some discussion of void of course and feral Moon.

Chapter 6 deals with essential dignities, discussing domicile, exaltation, triplicity, term, and face, according to each of the ancient sources.  The author then gives information on the debilities of detriment, fall, and peregrination.  In the interest of comprehensiveness, it would have been most useful to include Ibn Ezra’s description of the dignities, both here and in the following chapter. 

Chapter 7 continues this theme with a discussion of accidental dignities and debilities, with a heavy emphasis on William Lilly’s point scoring tables, which apparently continue to exert fascination over astrologers despite their limited utility in practice.  There is also a table detailing the nature of the planets when occidental and oriental.  The table dates from the 1930s edition of Al Biruni’s treatise on astrology, and, in my humble opinion, should have been reset for easier reading.  A section on accidental dignity and debility follows, discussing each of the factors that strengthens or weakens a planet, depending on its position in the horoscope and relative to other planets.   Chapter 7 closes with a wealth horary by Lilly, demonstrating Lilly’s checklist of essential and accidental conditions of each planet. 

Chapters 8 and 9 address reception and almutens, respectively.  Both are very well presented, in that they summarize and quote the traditional authors on these multi-faceted topics.  Almutens are not as important in horary as in other branches of astrology, but they are important to know and understand.  A thirty-page chapter on signification follows, dedicated to the method for selecting the correct significator(s) in a horary chart.  There is a good discussion of natural significators, which tend to be under-utilized in today’s practice of horary.  Another good portion of the chapter is the section on planets and their role in appearance, another forgotten but highly effective horary technique.

A chapter on Considerations before Judgment is a good summary of the various pre-judgment cautions given in traditional texts.  Chapter 12, on The Question, is a particularly welcome and unique addition to this book.  Most books gloss over the importance of asking the question properly, but the author does not skip this rather unglamorous part of the proceedings.  An added bonus is a rather amusing deconstruction of a psychological horary analysis.  Chapter 13 gives a big picture view of how to judge a chart, including a section on timing.

Chapters 14 and 15 are titled “The Possibility of the Matter Propounded,” and “The Impossibility of the Matter Propounded,” respectively, and since they match the subtitle of the book, we can assume they form the center of the author’s work.  The chapters essentially summarize the ways that outcomes can perfect or fail to perfect; the assiduous student could create a checklist for each chapter and refer to it when judging a chart.  The more experienced astrologer may not find these chapters as useful, but they are essential to learning to read horoscopes.

Part II focuses on the specific horary types for some of the more popular houses; the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 10th houses are detailed.  It is unclear why, with her obvious penchant for thoroughness and completeness, the author did not address the less riveting but still essential 1st, 3rd, 8th, 9th, 11th, and 12th houses, especially given that the traditional authors usually described them all.  The houses that are not addressed are the ones that have subtle meanings, and that give students the greatest trouble, so one would think that a comprehensive approach would be worthwhile.  The houses that are covered are done very well, with a detailed description of some of the criteria of the ancients, and supplemented with the author’s own examples. 

The book wraps up with an excellent bibliography and index.


An excellent book to round out one’s horary collection.  This is not the book to start with, due to its sheer comprehensiveness, and one would be better off starting with something a bit pithier.  Olivia Barclay’s book is useful, and, of course, John Frawley’s Horary Textbook is a great introductory text.  The attraction of Horary Astrology Re-Examined is that it encourages the reader to peruse the primary sources for himself, rather than rely on restatements by modern authors.  The frequent footnotes and rich bibliography make it easy to discover the sources for oneself.  Highly recommended.


Horary Astrology Re-Examined: The Possibility or Impossibility of the Matter Propounded

By Barbara Dunn

The Wessex Astrologer, 2009, 536 pages, paperback.

28.00 GBP (44.00 USD),,,


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