Star Myths of the Greeks and Romans: A Sourcebook (by Theony Condos)

December 9, 2008 by  

Astrology isn’t just about the planets. We use the fixed stars frequently in our work, and this handy sourcebook collects the ancient writings on the myths associated with various constellations. This translation of primary sources, including The Constellations by pseudo-Eratosthenes (1st/2nd century A.D.), and Poetic Astronomy by Hyginus (1st century B.C.), is very helpful in interpreting the deeper meaning of the fixed stars, without relying on modern sources who conveniently digest but also distort the information. It is said that only the fixed stars elevate from the depths of poverty to the heights of fame, but the planets do not do so. To achieve mastery in astrological interpretation, it behooves us to know the fixed stars well, an excellent reason to read Star Myths.


A historical compendium of astronomical myths, straight from the Greek and Roman sources. The ancient sources give interesting shadings to the Star myths, helping the astrologer understand the more subtle nuances of the stars’ symbolism. Because fixed stars have a strong say in a person’s character and destiny, understanding the stories behind the stars is very helpful in natal, electional, and mundane astrology. This book summarizes the stories clearly and with substantial detail. The author often adds useful astronomical tidbits about the behavior of each constellation, and its ancient use, such as the rise of the Pleiades indicating the beginning of the ancient sailing season.

Contents & Structure

For practical study purposes, one will want to read Star Myths with a star atlas or a book on the fixed stars, such as that by Vivian Robson. The reason is that Condos does not always identify each star, inserting a question mark where the original sources are vague as to the specific identity of the star.

The book begins with a preface identifying the tactics used in this compendium, including the translations that condos used to get a consensus of interpretation. The introduction places the two source texts, The Constellations and Poetic Astronomy, in their historical context, though unfortunately Condos takes the modern view that the star myths were somehow superimposed on the celestial canopy as a way of honoring ancient heroes, gods, et cetera. A more traditional approach would view the stars and the myths as existing interdependently, one reflecting the existence of the other, in accordance with the Hermetic maxim “as above, so below.”

The main body of the book consists of an alphabetical collection of some 40 plus constellations. Each constellation is described in the two ancient texts, followed by the translator’s commentary. For example, the chapter on Canis Major (The Great Dog) goes through the several associations of the dog in Greek and Roman mythology – because the symbol of the dog has appeared in various myths, the classical sources may reference more than one as a possible origin of the star myth. Canis Major has several characteristics salient to astrological interpretation; it was appointed by Jupiter to guard Europa, and later was used as a hunting dog because it “had the power to outrun any wild beast.” This constellation contains the brightest star, Sirius, which will indicate jealous guardianship but also great athleticism. We may think back to the horoscope of tennis ace Roger Federer, who has his Mars on Sirius.

The main body of the book is followed by an appendix listing the Greek and Latin names of mythological/astronomical characters, a list of the constellation names and abbreviations, followed by a couple of star charts. There are extensive endnotes here, most of which refer to classical sources for mythology. Because this is an academic book (it began as a doctoral dissertation), there is an extensive biography for those interested in additional information.


A useful book for the astrologer who wants to go back to the source for astronomical myths. The author often makes references to myths and mythological characters that are not developed, so it would be useful to have a mythological dictionary handy, particularly for the minor characters, to fully understand the import of each story. A great resource to keep on the shelf and commit to memory. The old engravings of each constellation and its image are a delightful touch.


Star Myths of the Greeks and Romans: A Sourcebook

By: Theony Condos

Phanes Press (rights: Red Wheel/Weiser), 1997

288 pages, paperback

18.95 USD

Available at and

Astrology Book Review: The Latin Picatrix, Books I & II (Trans. Greer and Warnock)

November 30, 2008 by  

The Picatrix (also known as “The Goal of the Wise”) is a renowned book of astrological magic, translated for the first time into English by a practicing astrologer (Chris Warnock) and a magician (John Michael Greer). It was written in Arabic around the 10th century, and translated into Latin in the 13th century. The original author is anonymous, but it is quite possible that the book was written in the Arab world of al-Andaluz, which was fascinated with astrology, magic, and philosophy. The fact that al-Andaluz was relatively lax in its observance of Islamic law, which strictly prohibits dealings with magic, points to a fertile ground for a text such as this.


The Picatrix is for advanced astrologers only, specifically those comfortable with electing horoscopes. This is only half of the work, as the reader is then expected to fashion talismans during the elected moment. Not being a seasoned talisman maker, I cannot attest to the efficacy of the Picatrix talismans, but there is something here for everyone: Charms for love, the founding of cities, business and trade, the safe escape of convicts, and stopping gossip. It is important to note that this is a “limited review edition” of a finalized version that will come out in the next year or so. This means that the cover and layout of the preview is very basic, but serviceable. The most important point is that the translation was done by a knowledgeable astrologer for an astrological audience, and is therefore very clear and easy to read. The same is not true of other English translations of the Picatrix.

Contents & Structure

This edition of the Picatrix contains the first two books of the entire four-book text. First, there is a prologue by the translator, appended to that of the author. The prologue describes the author’s purpose in writing the book, stating that the wisdom of the past has at last been revealed in this book “to reveal the highways and byways of this science.”

Book I, On “the nature of the heavens and the effects caused by the images [talismans] in them.”:

The first book of the Picatrix starts with theoretical and philosophical chapters. These contain a fascinating discussion on the nature of magic, and its connection to astrology, which is seen as a kind of bridge through which one must pass to create magical effects in the physical world. Then, we are introduced to the 28 Lunar mansions, and other conditions of the Moon to be learned before electing horoscopes. In Chapter 5, the author gives a list of talismans and their electional “recipes,” which is the heart of Book I. The final two chapters of Book I continue the explanatory and theoretical theme from the earlier chapters.

Book II, On “the figures of heaven and the motion of the eighth sphere [of the stars], and their effects on this world:”

The first chapter exhorts the would-be astrological magician to learn the classical Pythagorean sciences before approaching magic: arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. The author means the esoteric aspects of these disciplines, rather than assuming that one’s mastery of 1+1=2 qualifies one as a classical arithmetician.

Then, we get two chapters devoted to basic astrological concepts, such as the nature of the Moon, and some electional precepts. This section presents the basics of electional astrology in a practical, succinct manner, and it would be useful to all astrologers interested in this field, not just magicians.

The following few chapters expand on the “why and how” of astrological magic and the universe, including the relative strength of the planets and the fixed stars, the relationship of the four elements and similar topics.

There follows a short chapter with some talismanic glyphs, evidently based on magic squares (the ones where the numbers are arranged to add up to the same number horizontally, vertically, and diagonally). The next chapter lists the planetary affinities of stones and metals, and the talismanic images associated with the planets and their seals. For instance, one image of Mars “is the form of a crowned man with an inscribed sword in his right hand.”

The last two chapters discuss the images associated with the astrological decans, and the kinds of talismans best for each. So, if you wish to increase the milk given by your goats, make a talisman in the second face of Capricorn. These recipes are nothing if not down-to-earth.


The Picatrix is a classic in the magico-astrological field, and, most likely, in the Top Ten Banned Books of All Time list. The Greer/Warnock translation is excellent; clear and non-intrusive, their easy prose does a complex, very niche topic justice at last. The cost is steep for a 140-page paperback, but presumably this is because of the small number of printed copies. Yet, a would-be astrological mage might consider this a low price to pay for lessons in controlling the very fabric of space-time (cue dramatic music). Let us join the anonymous author in hoping that the book “might come only into the hands of the wise…and that whatever will be done by its means be performed for good and in the service of God.”


The Latin Picatrix, Books I and II

By: Anonymous (author), and John Michael Greer and Christopher Warnock, trans.

The Renaissance Astrology Press, 2008

54.95 USD, with 9.95 USD shipping (paperback), 74.95 + 10.95 for the hardcover.

Available at

Astrology Book Review: The Art of Forecasting Using Solar Returns (Anthony Louis)

October 19, 2008 by  

I am delighted that there is now a book about Solar Returns written – mostly – from a traditional perspective, but for a modern audience. Anthony Louis’s book is grounded in tradition, specifically in Jean-Baptiste Morin’s book on Solar Returns (readers interested in going straight to the source can purchase an English translation of Morin’s book from the AFA), but there is plenty of space given to modern techniques, including minor aspects, outer planets, and secondary progressions.


The Art of Forecasting Using Solar Returns is chock-full of techniques for astrologers to try, summarized handily along the way. Morin alone has 31 aphorisms for judging the Solar Returns, so a less organized book would be overwhelming. The bedrock of the traditional approach is to use the natal horoscope in conjunction with the Solar Return, and Louis does this throughout the book. Louis also summarizes some of the modern approaches to Solar Returns, so there is a great deal of diverse information packed into this 300-page book. As mentioned above, Louis embraces modern elements like outer planets, but his method is nearly always grounded in the tradition. Highly recommended to all but the newest astrological beginners.

Contents & Structure

Louis introduces the Solar Returns with a chapter on basic concepts, including planetary characteristics, the nature of fixed stars, and essential terminology. The following chapter summarizes some basic elements of the Solar Return, as demonstrated through the work of 20th century astrologer, Alexandre Volguine. Some of Volguine’s techniques are traditional (“Never interpret the Solar Return in isolation”), others are more modern, originating with Morin (“…cast the Solar Return chart for the actual location of the individual at the moment the Sun returns to its natal position.”), but the chapter gives a good summary of the technical knobs that the astrologer can twiddle when experimenting with Solar Returns.

The third chapter provides a top-notch explanation of the meaning of the Solar Return houses superimposed on the natal houses. For instance, the Return Ascendant in the natal 10th house shows a year focused on the mother, career, reputation, and other 10th house matters. The chapter includes a summary of house meanings from traditional and modern sources, including the author’s own experience. The author also discusses the planets’ annual strength based on essential dignity.

The fourth chapter uses the Pope and Salvador Dali’s horoscopes to contrast the technique of non-precessed Return charts with precessed Return charts (a modern technique favored by some astrologers). The fifth chapter discusses the technique in detail, and discusses Marc Penfield’s use of this method, along with other techniquest favored by Penfield.

Chapter six discusses the meaning of the Return Ascendant, and the author shows a personal example of his solar return for the year his mother died prematurely. This tragic incident was also prefigured by several eclipses, and the author discusses their role in indicating his mother’s death. The following chapter discusses Emerson’s Point of Death, and its use in timing of the native’s demise. Louis uses several example charts and a method of progressing the Solar Return to show the timing of events during the year.

Chapter eight delineates Morin’s contributions, and it is here that the reader can find true gems of technique. Chapter nine discusses Morin’s techniques with his returns at the time of his death, which he had correctly predicted. This chapter includes Morin’s 12 Steps for Judging a Revolution – the old term for a Return chart. Today’s astrologers only use a few of his techniques, but they are all useful and give the astrologer additional information about the upcoming year or month.

The next chapter summarizes Morin’s 31 aphorisms for judging Revolutions. Judging a solar return using all of Morin’s methods will thus take a few hours, especially when one is just familiarizing oneself with Morin’s methods. However, the resulting predictions are especially rich and descriptive, and in my view, worth the effort. Chapter eleven compares and contrasts the Solar Returns of John Lennon and Bob Dylan, for the years of their death and major motorcycle accident, respectively.

Chapter twelve discusses some recent books on Solar Returns, which are interesting, but to me, as a traditional astrologer, not quite as compelling as the older material presented in the book. A fascinating tidbit is Mary Fortier Shea’s observation of the cyclical nature of Solar Return sign placement, and her consequent focus on house placements in the Return chart. Louis uses an example of the Progressed Annual Meridian technique, which shows the method of timing events using the progressed MC of the Solar Return chart.

Chapter thirteen shows the method of casting solar returns for people with an unknown birth time. Louis uses a sunrise natal chart and generates a Solar Return from it. Chapter fourteen gives a cookbook of aspects in the Solar Return, divided into positive and negative aspects for each pairing, and including the outer planets. Chapter fifteen, “Pulling It All Together” does just that, summarizing all of the key factors you might consider when analyzing a Solar Return. There is enough here to keep you busy for half a day with a single Solar Return, but that speaks to the depth and richness of this book.


The Art of Forecasting Using Solar Returns is a highly recommended modern work leaning heavily on traditional predictive methods. Louis is a very organized, methodical writer, and it shows in his agile handling of a complex topic. He all but takes the reader by the hand and walks her through the thicket of techniques. As a traditional astrologer, I tended to gloss over the modern astrology parts of the book, and went straight to the hairy bits, like Morin’s 31 Aphorisms. I am sure this condition is treatable, however. Regardless of one’s area of interest and expertise level, there is enough in this information-packed volume to keep one exploring and experimenting for years.


The Art of Forecasting Using Solar Returns

By: Anthony Louis

The Wessex Astrologer, 2008

20 GBP (about 37 USD at the time of writing)

Available at,, and

Astrology Book Review: Astrologia Gallica 16 (Jean-Baptiste Morin)

September 8, 2008 by  

The indefatigable James Holden has translated another volume of Jean-Baptiste Morin’s astrological opus. Book Sixteen, a relatively slim volume relative to others in the series, discusses “The Rays and Aspects of the Planets.” The book is mostly theoretical, unlike some of Morin’s more hands-on volumes, and all but the most hardened Morinistes will value the book as an exposition of the theory behind astrological aspects. The reason for this is that Morin takes some unorthodox positions, most of which are not implemented today.


A fascinating theoretical book about astrological aspects for the advanced astrologer or hard-core Morin fan. If you are still learning about astrology basics, or even grappling with more intermediate topics, Book 16 will be hard going. However, if you are interested in the complexities of astronomical arguments so beloved by Morin, get this book.

Contents and Structure

The book consists of three sections, each composed of several chapters. The first three chapters of Section I define aspects and planetary rays, and their effects on this world. Morin defines an aspect as the relationship between the rays of two planets. In Chapter 4, Morin enumerates the Ptolemaic aspects, and adds a few of his own, besides, such as semi-sextiles, semi-squares, sesquiquadrates, and others. Chapters 5-9 discuss and refute other astrologers’ views on the planets’ maximum latitudes. Finally, Morin presents his own method, which the translator writes out in simpler terms following Chapter 9.

In Chapter 10-12, we learn about the natures of the aspects, which are benefic and which malefic, and why. For example, trines are benefic, because they are sides of an equilateral triangle, and always fall in the signs of the same element and sex, and is “the greatest and particular symbol of love.” Morin makes the point in this chapter that “every Planet that is malefic…badly afflicted…and determined to evil in the figure…harms that to which it is determined with all of its aspects.” The implication is that a bad planet can cause trouble to another planet regardless of the nature of the aspect between them.

Chapter 13 discusses Morin’s “new and improved” orbs, based on the visibility of the planets outside of the Sun’s rays. Chapter 14 is about applying and separating aspects, as well as dexter and sinister aspects, which are determined by the direction of the aspects with or against the direction of the signs.

Chapters 15-17 talk about antiscia (or antiscions), which are the planets’ shadow positions. Morin reworks this doctrine as well, adding in the concept of declination.

Chapter 18-20 refute arguments against aspects by other astrologers, including the currently fashionable Marsilio Ficino. Chapter 21 talks about whether fixed stars can cast aspects (recall that a conjunction is not, properly speaking, an aspect) – the conclusion is that the stars cannot aspect planets, but planets can aspect stars.

Section II of Book 16 starts off by discussing applications and separations of the planetary aspects, and the strength of applying versus separating aspects. Chapter 4 touches on the concept of doryphory, or planets attending the luminaries, which helps determine the worldly fame and distinction of the native.

Section III analyzes the three modes a planet has when near to the Sun; cazimi, combustion, or being under the sunbeams. Morin analyzes the opinions of the ancient astrologers and (unsurprisingly) finds them mistaken. For instance, he differs with them on the weakness of intellect as indicated by Mercury combust, instead interpreting this position as hidden knowledge: “And so, those persons for whom Mercury is combust, and the significator of intelligence, do not disclose to all either their own intelligence, or what they have in mind, but something is always researved, or revealed in the smallest things they keep back for themselves.”


A clear translation of a complex and sometimes confusing work. It is important to remember that though Morin often finds reasons to dismantle astrological tradition, he lays out his logic fully, helping us understand his reasoning. Especially valuable are his references and summaries of astrological authorities well known in his time, but forgotten in ours. Recommended for the more advanced astrologer or lover of the Morin system.


Astrologia Gallica: Book Sixteeen, The Rays and Aspects of the Planets

By: Jean-Baptiste Morin

Translated by: James Herschel Holden, M.A., Fellow of the American Federation of Astrologers

American Federation of Astrologers, 2008

21.95 USD

Available from,, and

Astrology Book Review: The Consultation Chart (by Wanda Sellar)

September 3, 2008 by  

The practice of casting a horoscope for the moment of the consultation is quite ancient, though until now, there has not been a full-length book devoted to the subject. It is fairly rare to see an astrologer using this method today, though when I first started learning about astrology, I thought it was common practice!

The first astrologer I ever consulted was a very hip and alternative-looking lady with a sparkly purple sweater and a laptop in Seattle, Washington. I sat down at her table at the local New Age shop, not knowing what to expect. She pulled up a chart on her computer and started telling me why I had come to see her. I confirmed her analysis of my situation, and she answered my question based on the chart, pulled a few tarot cards for good measure, and sent me on my way (her prediction was correct, by the way). This experience obviously skewed my impression of what a typical astrological consultation entailed, with the result that I was hooked on predictive techniques from Day One.

Wanda Sellar describes a very similar procedure, sans tarot cards. She casts a chart for the moment the astrologer and client meet, with the ascendant and ascendant ruler of the chart representing the client, her mental and emotional state, and specific concerns. At this point, the consultation chart reading looks very similar to a horary reading, whereby applying aspects represent the future, and separating aspects show past events. In fact, one might say that the consultation chart is a horary chart with the question unknown to the astrologer. Sellar’s book proposes to teach the reader just how to interpret a chart with two unknowns; the question and the outcome.


The Consultation Chart is a terrific introduction to this ancient method. Make no mistake about it; the author uses modern house meanings, all of the outer planets, including Chiron, and sometimes takes a psychological approach to the chart. In that sense, The Consultation Chart is a modern astrology book that teaches an ancient method. The book contains thorough explanations of the meaning of the ascendant, planetary movement, planetary house and assigned positions, and detailed house meanings, all in the context of the consultation horoscope.

The most absorbing part of the book are the case histories, forming about one third of the volume. The author’s interpretations are crisp and succinct, helping the reader understand how the author arrived at her conclusion. There is a lovely assortment of various horoscopes for our study, including a chapter on “spooks,” showing consultation charts of clients asking about family members and loved ones beyond the grave.

A book that is highly recommended both for traditional and modern astrologers; the consultation chart method has much to recommend it for speed and accuracy. In Wanda Sellar, the method has found an experienced and gifted proponent.

Contents and Structure

Chapter 1 plunges the reader right into interpretation of the ascendant sign of the consultation chart, followed by a checklist of observations about the ascendant ruler, which will help the astrologer understand what is going on with the client. We are then briefly introduced to the planetary dignities.

Chapter 2 is a brief overview of the way planets interact, much like we would find in an explanation of basic horary concepts such as combustion, prohibition, and the somewhat controversial considerations before judgment. Chapters 3 through 5 give us a detailed tour of the planets and their meaning in the signs. The author uses the planetary dignities to assess the strength of the planet, or whoever the planet represents (a client, their significant other etc.), a more traditional approach. In chapter 5, outer planets are treated as something between full-fledged planets and fixed stars, one example of the blending of traditional and modern approaches we see frequently in this book.

Chapter 6 discusses the nodes and Chiron. Chapter 7 is a detailed explanation of each House, along with a short description of the meaning of each planet in the houses. The houses are interpreted with both modern and traditional meanings. Following are six chapters on case histories; career questions, health concerns, relationships, spooks, consultation/natal horoscopes together, and interpreting the turned chart.

In the examples provided, the author seems to take a more traditionalist approach, though she does use the minor aspects, with a stronger emphasis on the traditional house meanings. It is very instructive to see an experienced astrologer working through a chart where she has very little background knowledge of the situation. That takes confidence and serious astrological chops, both of which are evident throughout the book.


Wanda Sellar’s book is very timely, in that it gives astrologers an easy way to incorporate a traditional method into their practice, with both an increase in client satisfaction and accuracy. The consultation chart is very clear and efficient, and often cuts right through to the client’s real concerns. It takes practice to become good at this method, as the astrologer’s usually reading the chart on the fly, right there in front of the client. The Consultation Chart gives the reader everything they need to start working with the consultation chart themselves.


The Consultation Chart: A Guide to What It Is and How to Use It

By: Wanda Sellar

Wessex Astrologer, 2001

14.50 GBP (about double in USD)

Available from,, and

Astrology Book Review: Flirting with the Zodiac (Kim Farnell)

August 27, 2008 by  

Both modern and traditional astrologers like to grouse at Sun sign columnists for prostituting the ancient astrological art. The complexity of the natal horoscope is reduced to one single factor – the Sun sign – and the public is disappointed when these simplified predictions do not pan out. At least, that is the common understanding. However, there is much more to Sun sign astrology than meets the eye, and it has quite a historical pedigree to boot. Flirting with the Zodiac is the latest book by Kim Farnell, who takes us along on a journey through the history of Sun sign astrology, showing that Sun sign astrology has its importance and has played an important role in astrology’s history.


A captivating and fascinating journey through 2000 years of Sun sign astrology. The strength of the book is in its vivid, brisk descriptions of the motley crew inhabiting the world of astrology. Recommended for astrologers of all levels; beginners will gain background on the who’s who of Sun sign astrology, while more advanced astrologers will find fascinating nuggets of information not widely available elsewhere.

Contents & Structure

Flirting with the Zodiac is set up chronologically; Farnell walks us through Sun sign astrology in the ancient world (did you know that the Roman legions carried standards with zodiac signs?), followed by its role in the Middle Ages. There is an in-depth discussion of the importance of almanacs in providing quick and easy astrology advice, like in daily newspapers today. Here we see an important reality check to those of us who like to believe that historically, all people were deep, profound beings with a grasp of the nuances of astrology. Really, the majority of people always wanted an astrological “quick fix,” whether it was via almanac prediction or by reading their daily horoscopes in The Times.

Interestingly, the chapter on the 16th century, arguably the best century in recent history for legal, quality, in-depth, profound astrological work, is the shortest with regard to Sun signs. Perhaps in the last few hundred years, the availability of the quickie astrology fix is inversely related to the amount of more in-depth astrology being done.

The book gets more detailed and anecdote-rich once we hit the last 150 years, with a fascinating journey through the interconnected worlds of mystical societies, gurus, and astrologers, all of which loom larger than life. The public’s hunger for occult wisdom about 100-150 years ago was undeniable, after a couple of centuries of pure scientism. Many astrologers stepped in to fill that void, including Sun sign columnists and publishers of astrology magazines. Serious astrology became interesting again, too, but the popular astrology got the lion’s share of attention.

Farnell gives us some in-depth chapters on two Sun sign greats; the turn of the century astrologer and palmist Cheiro, and 1960s “Queen of Sun sign astrology” herself, Linda Goodman. A nice summary of the scientific backlash against astrology follows.

Finally, we come to one of my favorite parts of the book, the Hall of Fame, which is a collection of biographies of some contemporary Sun sign astrologers, including Patric Walker and Russell Grant. These short articles provide an interesting summary of the astrologers’ careers, along with hard-to-find tidbits and facts about their lives.


Flirting with the Zodiac is something of a meta-book, in that the book is not unlike its subject of Sun sign astrology. Lots of interesting tidbits are presented in a snappy, engaging manner, but without wearing out the reader with too much technical or historical detail. A very good history of astrology, particularly with an emphasis on recent centuries, that can stand on its own as both a tribute and a history of this fascinating corner of the astrological world.  Farnell’s book has certainly given this astrologer a new respect for Sun signs!


Flirting with the Zodiac

By: Kim Farnell

Wessex Astrologer, 2007

256 pages, paperback

27 USD

Available at,, and

Astrology Book Review: Astrological Roots: The Hellenistic Legacy (Joseph Crane)

August 19, 2008 by  

There are not many modern books out there that teach traditional astrology, and that give an accurate representation of what is actually in traditional texts. Astrological roots is such a book. It is a summary of Hellenistic astrology, that is, astrology as recorded by the Greeks 2000 years ago. The book appears written with two goals in mind; first, to give an overview of Hellenistic astrological techniques, and second, to demonstrate these techniques on a multitude of charts. The book stops short of being a true how-to manual, like John Frawley’s The Horary Textbook, for example.


Because Astrological Roots is both an overview and a manual, it cannot serve both functions perfectly, but that does not seem to have been the intent. The real beauty of Astrological Roots is that it is accessible to nearly all levels of astrologers. A beginning astrologer could start working through the book, which gives a good introduction to the signs, and houses. An advanced astrologer would find much here of value as well, though probably later in the volume, among the chapters on the Hellenistic Lots (Arabian Parts) and profection.

It’s important to remember that Hellenistic astrology is a system. As a result, not all of its methods might translate 100% into more recent astrological systems; the use of whole houses, for instance, may not work as well if we are looking at progressions or directions to house cusps. However, most of the techniques can be fruitfully incorporated into any astrological practice. Highly recommended as an introduction to traditional concepts.

Book Contents and Structure

Astrological Roots covers a large amount of ground in 14 chapters. The first three chapters introduce the traditional perspective on the planets, signs, and astronomical concepts such as sect. Herein lurk extremely useful modern updates of occupations, physical traits, and personality characteristics associated with the traditional planets. Yes, all of these can be had from the source and traditional texts, but a modern perspective can be very useful, especially on things like descriptions of the native’s profession, which has changed substantially over the last 2000 years. We are also introduced to the concept of the sign subdivisions called bounds, more commonly known as terms, and their use in natal astrology.

The following five chapters get into the gnarly bits of traditional astrology, including the use of triplicity Lords to determine the quality of the native’s life experiences by thirds. This is a method primarily detailed by the astrologer-poet Dorotheus. The author then whisks us along to the determination of soul, which today might be called personality or motivation (we discussed the significator of soul here), the Arabian parts, the meanings of the 12 houses, and aspects.

All of these techniques are illustrated with charts, not all of which have reliable birth data, which seemed a slightly odd choice. The methods presented in these chapters are very profound, reaching to the depth of the native’s existence and fate, and verifying their accuracy might only work in a heart-to-heart conversation with the native. Since that level of feedback is not possible from those whose charts were used, a few charts explored deeply, combined with detailed biographical information, would have been more informative.

We are then treated to more specialized topics, such as determining love, marriage, and indicators of the parents. A lovely chapter on the fixed stars follows, with heavy reference to traditional authorities. The author gives various methods for incorporating fixed stars into the natal horoscope, such as parallels of declination, rising/co-rising, and paranatella.

The last three chapters focus on specific prediction using transits (though these were used very little by ancient astrologers), and profections, which move natal points forward through the chart at a set rate. We are also introduced to firdaria, and other planetary time lord systems, as the author calls them. The concept here is that any given moment of our lives is governed by at least one, more often two planets, and the quality and nature of our experience during that time will depend on the quality and nature of the planet(s) in our natal horoscopes. The final chapter focuses on progressions, directions, and ascensions. As the author demonstrates, these can be used to determine the native’s length of life.


An engrossing astrology book, better as an in-depth overview than as a step-by-step textbook. Upon receiving it, I felt compelled to try out all of the methods, because the resulting information is so concrete and useful. Crane’s book demonstrates that traditional astrology can be simultaneously concretely predictive and psychologically illuminating. The use of traditional terms for commonly understood concepts was interesting (zoidia, rather than signs), though perhaps confusing to a beginner. The author clearly wishes to immerse the reader in traditional thought, not just to present interesting techniques for cherry-picking. This is commendable, showing the author’s understanding that traditional methods should be approached with respect and an open mind. Astrological Roots engages our hearts and minds, which is the only way to study astrology.


Astrological Roots: The Hellenistic Legacy

By: Joseph Crane

The Wessex Astrologer, 2007

Available from and

305 pages, softcover.

22.50 GBP (about double in USD)

(If you have written or published an astrology book you would like reviewed on Gryphon Astrology, please contact me at nina [at] or write to me here (don’t forget to include your contact info).

Astrology Book Review: Five Medieval Astrologers (by James H. Holden)

August 13, 2008 by  

There has never been a better time for astrologers interested in adding time-tested astrological techniques to their repertoire. New English translations of astrological classics are popping up everywhere, and James Herschel Holden’s Five Medieval Astrologers is a recent addition to a growing genre.

Holden has been translating books for many years now, and is perhaps best known for his translations of Jean-Baptiste Morin’s Astrologia Gallica. In Five Medieval Astrologers, Holden pulled together five essential astrological treatises, none of which were readily available to English readers.

The Book of Flowers, a classic guide to mundane astrology, has not been translated into English until now. Three of the treatises were translated, or rather paraphrased, by Henry Coley, William Lilly’s amanuensis. Holden translated them more accurately, and added footnotes to show where the translations differ from Coley’s version. The result is a readable, accessible collection of short texts.


Five Medieval Astrologers is accessible to intermediate-level astrologers, or motivated not-quite-rookie beginners. The language is very accessible, and most cryptic phrases are explained in the footnotes, so we would recommend some familiarity with astrological concepts, such as solar ingresses, planetary latitude, and planetary dignities. Treatise 1 deals exclusively with mundane astrology, while treatises 2 – 5 encompass horary, natal, and electional astrology.

Astrologers familiar with modern techniques wanting to dip their toes into astrological tradition will be well served by this inexpensive but content-rich book. A word of guidance: the aphorisms found in Centiloquies are not necessarily meant to be followed slavishly, as some modern readers believe. Rather, aphorisms are educational tools meant to test and guide the reader’s reasoning. If we ask “why?” while studying these rules, they can greatly enhance our astrological reasoning and understanding.

Five Medieval Astrologers not only enriches our immediate knowledge, but steeps us in the tradition, as though we sat at lectures of five ancient master astrologers.

Book Contents and Structure

Each book begins with an introduction of varying length, explaining the provenance and translation history of the treatise. The contents are as follows:

1. Abu Ma’shar: The Book of Flowers. A collection of rules for mundane astrology. This book is a small treasure, written by the Afghani religious scholar and astrologer Abu Ma’shar in the ninth century. Having experimented with some of his interpretations, I can say that his guidelines are highly accurate. For the Aries Ingress set for Washington, DC prior to the 9/11 attacks, Abu Mashar says that Saturn as Lord of the year in terrestrial signs [it was in Taurus] “signifies troubles and injuries from tremors and earthquakes, and the destruction of houses, cities, and country places.” There is much more to be said about that chart, of course, but Abu Ma’shar’s pithy and minimalistic interpretations get right to the point. This treatise alone is worth the price of the book.

2. Pseudo-Ptolemy: The Centiloquy. A collection of astrological rules and aphorisms. This treatise is written to seem like one of Ptolemy’s books, but Holden says it is not authored by Ptolemy himself. He doesn’t state why, but it is a heavily Arabic-influenced text but also exists in a sparser, earlier version in Greek. The aphorisms range from natal to horary to electional astrology, with a little philosophy mixed in.

An example aphorism is #28: “When you’re not able to put the Moon to conjoin two stars [in an electional horoscope], put her to join a fixed star having the nature of the two.” According to the aphorism, if we want the Moon conjunct Venus and Jupiter, but are unable to wait for this configuration, we could simply find a fixed star assigned those two values by Ptolemy, and the Moon will draw upon the energies of Venus and Jupiter via the benefic fixed star. Indeed, this is a very useful text dotted with gems.

3. Hermes Trismegistus: The Centiloquy. Another collection of 100 astrological rules. This is an excellent collection of rules, again spanning several astrological disciplines, including astrometeorology, the forecasting of weather using astrology. One interesting aphorism is #33: “When Saturn is transiting from one sign to another, there are made in the sky shooting stars […] or some other celestial signs of the nature of fire.” When Saturn entered Virgo from Leo last year, this did in fact occur.

4. Bethen: The Centiloquy. A collection of 100 rules, including some quick electional guidelines. My favorite part of this text is the collection of 30 rules for daily elections. For example, see aphorism #49: “When the Moon is joined to Mercury, that day is good for every kind of action, especially bestowing dowries, to meet with writers and stewards; it is good to buy, sell, and make computations.” All major aspects to all the other planets are also listed. A dynamic collection of aphorisms.

5. Almansor: The Propositions. A collection of 150 astrological rules. Some of these aphorisms are obscure, and invite serious thought. Mundane astrology is addressed here, though not explicitly.

Some aphorisms in this treatise are veritable mines of pure astrological gold, such as #63: “The accidents of the body are known from the degree of the ascendant; from the degree of the Part of Fortune the essence of his personal assets is known. But from the degree of the Moon the essence of his body and mind is apprehended. Moreover, from the degree of the Sun, his health, but from the degree of the Midheaven his personal status and actions are distinguished; give one year to each degree.” Voila; natal astrology in a nutshell!


The texts themselves are fascinating, and I am thankful to Holden for translating them. The footnotes are extremely useful as well, and I learned at least one new thing from the footnotes. Ancient astrologers often make reference to planets “increasing in number,” which mystifies most of us today, because the reference is obviously not to planets moving forward by degree. Holden has a very plausible explanation that this refers to a planet’s swiftness — is the planet speeding up or slowing down?

The translation is simple and lucid, which I appreciated. I believe in making ancient texts as accessible as possible to a wide audience, without compromising the integrity and style of the original. Holden seems to have a similar approach. In a recent conversation, the translator indicated that he welcomes feedback or questions regarding the translations from his readers (he can be contacted via the AFA website). This is much appreciated when reading ancient texts, no matter how clearly translated.

Five Medieval Astrologers is a highly recommended book, whether for seasoned traditional astrologers, or those just dipping their toes into the vast pool of tradition.

Note: This is one of several forthcoming translations by Holden, with the AFA slated to publish a half-dozen of his others in the next six months.


Five Medieval Astrologers

Translated by: James Herschel Holden, M.A.

American Federation of Astrologers, 2008

Available from,, and

148 pages, softcover.

21.95 USD

(If you have written or published an astrology book you would like reviewed on Gryphon Astrology, please contact me at nina [at] or write to me here (don’t forget to include your contact info).

Astrological Book Review: Works of Sahl & Masha’allah (by Benjamin Dykes)

August 7, 2008 by  

Last month, Ben Dykes published a new translation of the works of 8-9th century Persian astrologers Sahl and Masha’allah. The book is a compilation of 16 shorter astrological works. As Dykes pointed out in his interview with GA, this is not an exhaustive collection of Sahl and Masha’allah’s works. The works that are included have dual value: they are of use to a practicing astrologer, and provide insight into the practice of astrology by the Arabs.

Dykes translated Guido Bonatti’s Book of Astronomy last year, and because Bonatti refers to Sahl and Masha’allah very frequently as his sources, Dykes sought to make the works by the two authors more available to the English-reading public. If Bonatti was only sparsely translated into English (such as his aphorisms, by Henry Coley), Sahl and Masha’allah were translated even less frequently, despite their importance in early medieval astrological practice.


Works of Sahl & Masha’allah is a difficult, dense, but extremely rewarding text. The astrological concepts themselves are not terribly complicated, but we would recommend a working knowledge of planetary dignity and reception, planetary movement, and astronomical phenomena like eclipses. Dykes’s introduction to the text is a must-read, because he explains several specific concepts/phrases recurring frequently in the texts that the reader is unlikely to have encountered before.

Readers interested in the nitty-gritty practica of horary, electional, political, and weather astrology will find very useful material here. However, there is also a nice balance of more theoretical texts on the building blocks of astrology, such as Sahl’s Fifty Judgments, or Masha’allah’s On Reception. Dykes’s easy-to-read translation is a fine addition to a library of the intermediate/advanced working astrologer or astrological history enthusiast.

Book Contents and Structure

The book begins with a listing of text or reference abbreviations, of which there are plenty, Arabic transliterations, and a table of figures. The 80-page introduction by the translator is a must-read, not only for key phrase definitions, but also for a succinct comparison of techniques used by Sahl, Masha’allah and other ancient astrologers, and an explanation of frequently used sources in the text.

Because a book with just one introduction is for weaklings, the book proper begins with Sahl’s Introduction, which is essentially Astrology 101, medieval-style. Here we get the meanings of the signs, houses, aspects, and astrological concepts such as reception. This is followed by On questions, an horary treatise organized by house. Astrologers familiar with William Lilly’s Christian Astrology will see similarities in organization, but the substance is rather different. Topics such as “on a commander setting off to war, or another worried person when he asks about him,” are covered, often in great detail, along with “a question about the age of the winning beast,” such as in horse races.

A short work On the elections, follows, again organized by house-related topics. The last of Sahl’s works in the book is On times, which is a work on methods of timing events in horoscopes. These methods seem most obviously applicable to horary charts, but they could be applied to natal horoscopes as well.

The Masha’allah part of the book begins with “on the knowledge of the motion of the orb,” a cosmological, astronomical, and physical treatise. This is followed by a short work called On the roots of revolutions, and On rains, the former introducing key concepts in mundane astrology, such as solar and planetary ingress charts, and eclipses, with the latter treatise showing how to apply the methods to astrometeorology.

A useful and information-rich treatise, On the revolution of the years of the world follows, focusing on mundane astrology and specific positions of planetary significators, and their meanings. Two treatises on nativities follow, one more of a planet-in-terms cookbook, the latter containing lots of example charts in traditional square format with a paragraph of analysis each.

To shorter treatises follow, On the interpretation of cognition, and On hidden things. The former gives hints to the astrologer for discovering the intention of the questioner, and the latter text is about finding lost objects. The next text is on reception, first discussing the theory, and then its applications to various topics, such as financial questions, and “will I get the kingdom” kinds of questions, with example charts. The last text is What the planets signify in the 12th domiciles of the circle, a kind of cookbook, which could be applied both to natal and horary charts. For example, Saturn in the 12th house gives “impediments which happen in connection with the King, and he will be strong and bold in this, and he will be captured by enemies, and he will be afraid in all of his matters.”

Finally, we are treated to a multipage bibliography and detailed index.


As noted above, Works is a very dense, rich book. The ideal way to read it is in small pieces at a time, to better experiment with unfamiliar techniques and concepts. The sheer magnitude of information can be intimidating, though the astrology itself is pretty accessible to a modern reader.

The translator does not pull any punches, and obviously enjoys bringing to light forgotten techniques and astrological concepts. He does not bend the text to shape it to our modern preconceptions. This is good, because it preserves textual integrity, and bad, as many readers might benefit from more familiar terms to help ease into a very different text than they might be used to. Ultimately, however, a translator has to balance integrity with accessibility, and Dykes’s choice, though more demanding of the reader, leaves us with the sense that justice was done to the text.


Works of Sahl & Masha’allah

Translated by: Benjamin N. Dykes, Ph.D.

The Cazimi Press, 2008

Available from the translator at 532 pages, hardcover.

91.95 USD

(If you have written or published an astrology book you would like reviewed on Gryphon Astrology, please contact me at nina [at] or write to me here (don’t forget to include your contact info).

Astrological Book Review: The Houses – Temples of the Sky (Deborah Houlding)

July 29, 2008 by  

My copy of The Houses – Temples of the Sky arrived last week from Wessex Astrologer, and because it is a relatively slim book, I expected to have read it in preparation for this review in a matter of a few days. However, it is a testament to the sheer amount of information contained therein when I confess that it took the whole week to really do this book justice.

The book was written by Deborah Houlding, who was interviewed on this blog a few weeks ago. In the interview, Houlding spoke of practicing traditional astrology, and in The Houses, we get a glimpse into Houlding’s sources.


The Houses – Temples of the Sky is highly recommended, especially for intermediate and advanced students of astrology. However, beginners could also benefit greatly from this book, provided they are prepared to do a little more intensive studying than other books on houses require. It is also useful as a quick reference comparing what ancient astrologer XYZ said in contrast with astrologer ABC, without having to find the relevant material in each book. Both modern and traditional astrologers will find much substantial information here. This is the nec plus ultra of books on houses.

Book Contents and Structure

Three introductory chapters begin the book. The first is a foreword by Robert Hand, followed by two chapters on the theory and practice of house division. Here, the author objects to the simplification of house = sign = planet, which is a recent melding together of largely unrelated concepts. We are then whisked through some of the basic terminology of house division, though I suspect that most readers of an intermediate-level book such will be familiar with these concepts.

The text itself then starts with a historical summary of the way houses were used in ancient astrology, followed by a very interesting and rarely seen analysis of the ancient astrologers’ use of the four angles of the horoscope. Houlding links the fourth house to the ancient Egyptian concept of the underworld as the source whence we emerge and to which we eventually return. As a result, traditional astrology sees the fourth house of all things contained within the earth, including graves; and our biological source, our ancestors. Each angle is analyzed and various historical sources are given for the meaning.

The subsequent four chapters address the non-angular house polarities; second/eighth, fifth/11th, third/ninth, and sixth/12th. The opposing houses in the horoscope carry related but different meanings, and Houlding wisely analyzes the houses in pairs, to better compare and contrast the often subtle differences among them. As with the chapter on the angles, multiple sources are given for the meaning of each house, with a summary of each source’s material.

Then, from a practicing astrologer’s point of view, we get to the really juicy part. Each house is treated separately in a section called “House Rulerships and Practice.” The house meanings are categorized according to the main rulerships, horary associations, mundane associations, lawsuits/conflicts, events, medical matters, commerce, colors, qualities (angular, diurnal, masculine, etc.), compass direction, associated planets and signs, and other names of the house.

Following the house attributions, we go on to more chapters dealing head-on with the multiple house systems available to astrologers. Houlding describes the problematic nature of dividing space based on the ecliptic, which becomes particularly troublesome in high latitudes. She then describes some alternatives to this method, and the pluses and minuses of the major house division systems. An interesting chapter is devoted to Ptolemy and his lack of use of the houses, as well as his interchangeable use of the words “place” and “sign”. There is some discussion of the concept of angularity, and whether planets near an angle but not within it can be considered truly angular, based on various sources.

Finally, we get a very detailed glossary of terms, followed by an explanation of the planetary hours, as well as Al-Biruni’s instructions on finding the hour of birth. There is a convenient house rulerships index, in addition to a general index for the entire book.


The Houses is very useful, particularly as a solid reference book. To my knowledge, there are no other books on houses that deal in such depth with traditional house rulerships, as does this one. In particular, the individual house rulerships section will be invaluable to anyone reading a horoscope, whether it is a horary, natal, or mundane chart. Pulling together major sources in one book is no small feat, and clearly a lot of research went into this deceptively slim volume.

As a traditional astrologer, I could have done without the modern house attributions intermixed with the traditional sources in the book. The Houses is a book appealing both to traditional and modern astrologers, while blending the two approaches. At times, this was interesting and enlightening, as with the inclusion of Charles Carter’s mundane house meanings, but other times, the approach wasn’t that helpful, resulting in my glossing over modern house attributions to get to the “good stuff.” Some of the modern house attributions are questionable in their validity, and it is no fun sifting through them to get to more accurate material, even if the book is very even-handed as a result! Still, because the approach to the traditional authorities is so thorough, this was a minor price to pay.

I particularly appreciated the detailed discussion of the pros and cons of various house division systems. Since most of us are familiar with the house systems primarily from the menu in our astrology software, it is very useful to learn more about the history, origins, and rationale behind each method. The useful section on equal houses should invigorate and inform the ongoing debate between proponents of various house division systems.

The value of this book will most certainly last through the years, as good astrological reference books are hard to come by. Ultimately, it is best to go to the original source, but when I want to know what Al-Biruni thought of the 8th house, and how his approach contrasted with William Lilly’s or that of modern astrology, this is the go-to book.

The Houses – Temples of the Sky, 2nd ed. (expanded & revised)

By: Deborah Houlding

The Wessex Astrologer, 2006

Available at, the Wessex Astrologer, and at Amazon.

168 pages, paperback.

14.50 GBP/25.00 USD

(If you have written or published an astrology book you would like reviewed on Gryphon Astrology, please contact me at nina [at] or write to me here (don’t forget to include your contact info).

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