Astrology 101: Voiced, Semi-Voiced, and Mute Signs of the Zodiac

April 5, 2014 by  

Fish Mosaic in Pompeii

Fish Mosaic in Pompeii

I have spent a lot of time digging through traditional astrology texts, and have come across a division of the three groups of voiced, semi-voiced (or half-voiced), and mute signs of the zodiac. It turns out that dividing the signs into these three groups is quite ancient and comes from the Greeks. There is a very good reason why one sign would be mute rather than voiced, and we’ll discuss it. Over time, the classifications have grown muddled in telling and re-telling, and every author can have their own version of this scheme.

The voice sign divisions are quite useful in two contexts:

Horary Astrology: In questions dealing with sound, singing, speech, and communication, seeing significators in a voiced versus a mute sign can indicate the answer itself. If someone is asking “should I go into voice acting?” and his significator is in a mute sign, that would be one testimony for “no.”

Natal Astrology: Prevalence of one type of sign over another can indicate the native’s speaking style and voice. As an example, traditionally, Mercury in a mute sign with a hard aspect to Saturn can indicate speech problems for the native.

As an example, here is Abu Ma’shar’s list of voiced, semi-voiced, and mute signs of the zodiac from the Abbreviation of the Introduction to Astrology, written in the 9th century AD:

Voiced signs: Gemini, Virgo, Libra
Semi-Voiced signs: Aries, Taurus, Leo, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius
Mute signs: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces

Most authors assign the water signs to being mute, since a crab, scorpion, and fish theoretically make no sound (actually, this is not true. The fish in the pond outside my window definitely make themselves heard when they want to be fed; they come up to the surface and blow really hard right at the water line to create a loud sputtering noise.).

Here is where this division of signs really comes from: Dionysius of Thrace (2nd century BC) wrote a work called the Ars Grammatica, which separated the Greek alphabet of 24 letters into seven vowels and 17 consonants. The 17 consonants were then subdivided into eight semi-vowels and nine voiceless consonants. Now, you have to understand that the ancient Greeks were busily
assigning meanings, zodiac signs, letters, divine, and angel names to the letters of their alphabet for centuries before Dionysius wrote his work. This is not to suggest there was total agreement on these assignments, and surely systems varied among authors and in popular usage. However, Dionysius’ work represents the first assignment of zodiac signs to certain kinds of sounds.

Following popular attributions of signs to sounds, Dionysius assigned 12 of the letters to zodiacal signs, so you can probably see where this is

Voiced vowels led to the full-voiced signs: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Virgo, Aquarius
Semi-vowels resulted in semi-voiced signs: Leo, Sagittarius, Capricorn
Mute/voiceless consonants resulted in the mute signs: Cancer, Libra, Scorpio, Pisces

Compare this with the list from Abu Ma’shar, writing about a thousand years after Dionysius; one can see there have been a number of changes and most likely Abu Ma’shar and his sources did not understand reasons for the original assignment of the signs to sounds.

Much of the Greek material in this article came from the excellent book The Greek Qabalah: Alphabetic Mysticism and Numerology in the Ancient World, by Kieren Barry, published by Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1999.

Astrology 101: Saturn in the 10th House As Bad As All That?

April 2, 2014 by  

Carl XV of Sweden portrait

Carl XV of Sweden

As readers of the Gryphon Astrology blog know, I am a fan of evidence-based astrology. So many of both traditional and modern texts are full of speculation or anecdotal information presented as fact. As the Buddha teaches: “Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scriptures, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability…” In this spirit (though perhaps using some inferences), I am doing a series of mini-investigations of astrological truisms to see whether it really is true. [In a moment of delicious irony, I am writing this article in a coffee shop  that often hosts religious speakers exhorting the local youth to believe and have faith!]

Here are some basic ground rules for our study, this time and always. We will:

  • Use birth times that are not on the hour or half hour, because they smack of inaccuracy
  • Use birth times with a AA Rodden rating
  • Use major (Ptolemaic) aspects, the seven visible planets, and traditional planetary dignities
  • Use charts of people who are older or deceased to more clearly judge the entire arc of life  [I remember getting criticized for this by a luminary of the astrological world during my tender years.]
  • Use charts where Saturn is in the same sign as the MC, to avoid issues around whole vs. unequal houses
  • Examine a manageable number of charts, around ten. A small sample, but instructive
  • Use charts that are more or less randomly chosen so long as they meet our other criteria (this is why most of the names are close to each other in the alphabet)
  • Attempt to find, if possible, a conclusion that we can use in our astrological practice


Most astrologers accept as fact that Saturn, the Greater Malefic, located in the natal 10th house of fame, status, and career indicates a problematic career, infamy, or a public fall from grace. We will attempt to determine whether this is in fact the case, whether there are exceptions to this rule, and if so, when do exceptions occur.

Our Sample Horoscopes:

Paul Newman, the very popular actor, untainted by scandal, who enjoyed tremendous, life-long popularity and recognition.
Saturn at 13 Scorpio near the MC, sextile Mercury, sextile Venus, and sextile the Ascendant.

John Bradshaw, well-known counselor, speaker, best-selling author. Studied for priesthood but quit due to his problems with addiction.
Saturn at 15 Aquarius retrograde, conjunct MC. No major planetary aspects.

Tycho Brahe, the wealthy and successful astronomer, famous for his death from a burst bladder following a party.
Saturn at 27 Sagittarius, square Moon in Virgo.

Charles I of Austria, last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire, who attempted to regain his throne three times after WWI, and was exiled.
Saturn at 29 Cancer conjunct Mars

David Vernon Cox, a US Marine charged but then acquitted of the severe beating of another soldier. Found dead in lake with multiple gunshots. Subject of film “A Few Good Men.”
Saturn at 23 Pisces, trine Mercury, opposite Mars

Fernando Cardoso, popular president of Brazil and the only one re-elected to a second term, public intellectual.
Saturn at 22 Capricorn, opposite Moon, opposite Jupiter.

Carl XV of Sweden, who saw royal power greatly reduced during his reign in favor of the Rikstag but served out his reign.  Died in his 40s.
Saturn at 19 Gemini square Ascendant.

Barbara Cartland, extremely prolific, bestselling society novelist, who lived into her 90s.
Saturn at 13 Capricorn retrograde opposite the Sun, conjunct Jupiter.

Jerry Casale, founding member of the punk group Devo.
Saturn at 23 Leo, trine Moon, trine Jupiter.


1. Saturn in the 10th house dignified by sign.

When placed in the 10th, Saturn in its own sign (Aquarius or Capricorn) is extremely helpful and its strength can mitigate even difficult aspects (Barbara Cartland’s Saturn opposite Sun; oppositions to the Sun are considered malefic). Similarly, planets seem less afflicted by hard aspects to a well-dignified Saturn (Fernando Cardoso’s Saturn opposite Moon and opposite Jupiter). John Bradshaw’s Saturn in Aquarius worked out well for him, though it was retrograde, suggesting a period of “going backwards” in his achievements, perhaps his ongoing struggle with alcoholism. Carl XV’s Saturn in its triplicity belongs here, as he was born during the day. Saturn in Gemini is moderately dignified and was strong enough to keep him on the throne, though in a much reduced capacity.  Also, he died an untimely death, so the lack of support to even a decently-dignified Saturn showed up eventually.

2. Saturn in the 10th house in minor dignity, or without any dignity or debility.

When placed in the 10th, Saturn in minor dignity or without dignity or debility, is strongly influenced by aspects to other planets. Hard aspects to the other malefic, Mars, are deeply problematic. See David Vernon Cox, Saturn opposite Mars. On the positive side, see Paul Newman’s Saturn in Scorpio, helped out by its sextile aspects to Venus, Mercury, and the Ascendant. Tycho Brahe’s Saturn in Sagittarius square the Moon did not seem to afflict his life so much as his infamously strange and painful death (Moon in Virgo in the 7th house rules the bladder).

3. Saturn in the 10th house, debilitated by sign

When Saturn is in detriment (or presumably fall, though none of our examples has him in Aries), he can be problematic unless rescued by good aspects to benefic planets. For example, see Charles I, who did not give up royal power gracefully, leading him to die in exile where he was sent after his third restoration attempt. Saturn was conjunct Mars in his natal horoscope and not making any good aspects to any other planets. Howevever, look at Jerry Casale, whose Saturn in Leo trines the Moon and Jupiter. Hence his great success wearing yellow plastic suits and plastic flowerpot hats! Nonetheless, in an interview, when asked whether Devo has achieved its goals, he answered: “Mildly.” Casale gave the strong impression that he felt the group could have gone further than it actually had. Saturn is within 5-6 degrees of Regulus, perhaps further mitigating the planet’s essential weakness, but not mitigating Saturn’s malefic nature entirely.


As is often the case, the truism of “Saturn in the 10th = disaster” is only partly right.  It is only the case if Saturn lacks dignity and receives no easy aspects from benefic planets.  If you have Saturn dignified in the 10th house with no bad aspects, you can probably relax.

Astrology of the 2014 Crimean Crisis (or Is It the Russian Crisis)?

March 15, 2014 by  

Mars Sleeping

Mars Sleeping by Hendrik ter Brugghen, 1625

Much has been made of the claim that Russia invaded Crimea, starting the Crimean crisis, under Mars retrograde, as it is said (by an unattributed source) that wars begun under Mars retrograde end poorly for the initiator. I am not sure that the invasion will end terribly for Russia, and definitely not because of Mars’ retrogradation. An examination of the timeline indicates the Russian invasion began up to two days before Mars went retrograde on March 1, 2014. Specifically, as early as 4:20 am on February 27th, armed professionals planted a Russian flag on the Crimean parliament. On February 28th, soldiers without insignia, but widely believed to be Russian, took over major Crimean airports. Thus, I question the premise that the invasion actually began when Mars was retrograde, since on February 27th, Mars was still moving forward, though only at about a minute per day.

If anyone knows the source of the aphorism that wars and conflicts begun under Mars retrograde are bad for the instigator, I’d be interested in knowing about it. Interestingly, my research uncovered zero major 20th century conflicts that began under Mars retrograde, making it difficult to support or deny the accuracy of the aphorism. However, their very absence might suggest that conflicts begun under Mars retrograde tend not to become major wars.

So, how does this invasion turn out? We can look to the horoscope for Ukraine’s legal independence, which has the IC, Moon, and Venus all in Libra. Given the combination of Mars retrograding back to 9 Libra, the situation could be resolved as early as May 20, 2014, when Mars stations direct. It may take that long for Russia to feel that it has sufficiently asserted its control over Ukraine, after which point the forces may come home.

However, note that eclipses in the Aries-Libra polarity will continue until March 23, 2016, which will be the last eclipse (lunar) at 3 Libra. There may be new protests in Ukraine against Russian domination for the next few years. Given the upcoming April 15 eclipse in Libra conjunct Mars, I expect the situation to culminate in the next few weeks ahead of the eclipse, but the underlying tensions and violence to not really go away until after the Aries-Libra eclipses have passed in 2016.

Progressing the independence horoscope, we see that progressed Mars sextiled the Moon in December 2013, an influence that will likely be felt for at least all of 2014. Even today the progressed Midheaven squares progressed Saturn, a restrictive, sad, and bad influence for another two years, through 2015. I suspect that Ukraine is in for a challenging two years, though the Moon-Mars sextile suggests the population finding its identity and voice in 2014.

What about Russia? I initially expected it to run into problems due to indications in its Aries Ingress horoscope, but then realized that the Ingresses set for Moscow and Kyiv are very similar, almost identical. So which country gets the bad prognosis? Common sense says that it is Ukraine, as the smaller neighbor. So comparing Ingress horoscopes is out. Note that historically, comparing Ingresses probably rarely worked, since it’s often neighboring countries that go to war. Thus, the Ingresses set for their respective capitals will often be similar. Still, we can analyze the Ingresses and see if we can tease out any specifics for either Ukraine or Russia.

The medieval Arab author, Abu Ma’shar, writes that if, in an Aries Ingress, malefics make hard aspects to Aries, Scorpio, the Part of War, the sign of the country in question, or the significator of the king, then “enemies will achieve victory over [the country]” and will cause the country “grief and sorrow.” Several of these conditions are true for Russia, though we must take them with a grain of salt, since some are true worldwide for that Aries Ingress. The Aries Ingress horoscope set for Moscow (which sets the tone for the following 12 months), is below. The same Ingress holds for the Ukraine, with a few degrees of the house cusps earlier than that of Moscow’s Ingress.

First, war is indicated during the 2013 Aries Ingress period (March 2013-March 2014) according to Abu Ma’shar, since Mars is in a sign angular from the Ascendant (Aries is the 10th sign from the Ascendant). The Part of War is calculated by taking the distance from Saturn to the Moon during the day, and projecting the distance from the Ascendant. The Part of War is in Aries for both Russia and Ukraine.

2014 Aries Ingress for Russia (nearly identical for Ukraine)

2014 Aries Ingress for Russia (nearly identical for Ukraine)

Let’s take Abu Ma’shar’s conditions for defeat one by one:

  • The malefics (Mars and Saturn) are both present in signs of Mars. This is bad, but true worldwide, indicating that any country starting a war during this year would do badly.
  • Mars is with the Part of War. This means defeat, but for whom?
  • Russia is traditionally a Taurus country, and Saturn in Scorpio opposes Taurus.
  • The significator of the Russian president is Mars, which is accurate right now, but not negative as Mars cannot aspect itself nor is it aspected by Saturn.

Abu Ma’shar also says that if the king’s significator (here, Mars) is combust, defeat and “grief and sorrow” will be “feared concerning him.” Here, Mars is very much combust. Again, we are talking about both the Russian and the Ukrainian government, but we cannot have the same thing happening to both parties, so we can assume Ukraine will be harmed more.  As the Athenians said to the Melians, just before they annihilated the small island city-state: “The strong do as they can, the weak suffer what they must.”

The 2014 Aries Ingress paints a similar picture.

  • Saturn is still in Mars’ domicile, and Mars in Libra opposes its own domicile. Again, this is true worldwide, but bad for countries starting conflict at this time.
  • Mars is with the Part of War, which is in Libra, another strongly negative indicator…for one or both parties.
  • Saturn is still in Scorpio, opposing Taurus, the sign of Russia.
  • The Moon rules the king, and it is conjunct Saturn in the second house, suggesting that economic restrictions create problems. The problems will be worse for Ukraine as the smaller country. This could be foreign sanctions, or simply problems with the domestic purse. Again, Ukraine has a much smaller budget than does Russia, so one would expect it to suffer much more than Russia.
2014 Aries Ingress for Russia (nearly identical for Ukraine)

2014 Aries Ingress for Russia (nearly identical for Ukraine)

Russia does seem to be in danger of overextending itself with this operation. Vladimir Putin’s natal horoscope has progressed Mars square Jupiter sometime this year (the exact date is unclear because his birth time is not known). This combination indicates too much risk-taking and conflict-seeking behavior, resulting in losses, especially financial or reputational. Of course, this also shows conflict (Mars) with foreigners (Jupiter).

Traditional Astrology Handbook: How to Ask Horary Questions

March 12, 2014 by  

Excommunication of Robert the Pious by Jean-Paul Laurens

Excommunication of Robert the Pious by Jean-Paul Laurens
[this is what happens when you don’t consider your horary question for a sufficient length of time]

Since June 2013, I have been writing a book-length commentary on Guido Bonatti’s 146 Considerations.  This is not as dry as it sounds; my work is an astrological textbook with lots of examples, using the Considerations as a structure to convey astrological concepts in a systematic, organized manner that is also fun and relevant to modern readers. Now, on its face, Considerations is a long list of astrological guidelines, rules, and aphorisms written in the 13th century. It is well-known among astrologers even today, but mostly as a collection of handy pointers rather than something more substantial. This sells the Considerations far short of the complete astrological study guide that it really is. Here is a better description, from my introduction:

The Considerations are actually much more than Bonatti’s random brain droppings: they are a syllabus for a complete traditional astrological education, but, in the traditional manner, the teacher does not spoon-feed the student much. Until now, to get the full benefit of the wisdom in the Considerations, the student had to do significant additional research to locate the relevant reference sources. Often, Bonatti only names a concept and then moves on, leaving to us the work of locating his sources. My book collects and interprets key sources for the reader, so that it completely fills in Bonatti’s telegraphic outline. If Considerations is the course syllabus, my book is the textbook for an intermediate or advanced astrologer who wants to enrich her technique and improve her results.

I will be posting occasional excerpts from the book on the blog. Today’s excerpt is from the 2nd Consideration: How to Ask a [Horary] Question. Asking horary questions the right way is key to obtaining a clear answer.  If one’s mind is unfocused, the chart for the question will reflect that.  From my experience, this advice holds even when using  other divinatory means to ask questions, such as the Tarot cards, I Ching, geomancy, or dream incubation.  Bonatti provides a two-step approach to ensuring one asks horary questions (or any divinatory questions) in the proper way:

1. Pray to God [I would add that this means any personally meaningful spiritual entity/concept] to receive the truth
2. Hold the question in mind for at least a day and a night before going to the astrologer (or casting one’s own horoscope), “not touched by just any motion of the mind (as sometimes many impertinent people are wont to do, as is said elsewhere).” (p. 265, Bonatti, Treatise 5 of the Book of Astronomy, 146 Considerations, trans. Benjamin Dykes) It is also acceptable to ask questions immediately that arise out of suddden events, where waiting 24 hours is not practical.

My commentary on the 24-hour waiting period, from the “2nd Consideration” chapter:

The 24-hour minimum is a useful requirement, because it allows the querent to live with the question while awake as well as asleep, allowing both the conscious and unconscious to work on the matter. Very often, the querent will end up with a slightly different question at the end of the incubation period. The extended incubation fosters active problem-solving as it prods the querent out of the realm of vagueness into a deeper understanding of her own motives. The horary does not only reflect one’s situation, but also the querent as actor in her own life. The clarity of the querent’s mind and intention is directly related to the clarity of the resulting horoscope.

The recommendation for waiting 24 hours is helpful especially for astrologers and horary students, since the temptation to cast charts at whim is always there. Unless there is a genuine emergency (and those are thankfully rare), it is best to wait and turn the horary question in one’s mind for a while. Very often, one finds that there is no need for a chart; the answer is right in front of one’s face. The clarity of the horoscope goes up significantly when the querent poses a well-considered question.

Sometimes, it is challenging to wait the necessary 24 hours, and I am the first to admit that putting this kind of restriction in place was difficult at first, given that I like answers fast.  That said, it’s improved the quality of the readings I do for myself immeasurably, whether using horary astrology or other means of divination.

The English astrologer William Lilly, who, along with his student, Henry Coley, translated (and heavily edited) the Considerations into English, had this comment on Bonatti’s recommended horary question process:

Those that take this sober course [the process recommended by Bonatti], shall find the truth in what they enquire after; but whosoever do otherwise, deceive both themselves and the artist; for a foolish Querent may cause a wise Respondent to err, which brings a scandal upon Art amongst inconsiderable people, whereas the Astrologer is not blameable, but the ignorant silly Querent.

China’s Big Transfer of Power: November 8, 2012

November 7, 2012 by  

Chinese Man Tending Cattle
Thomas Hill

It appears that at least one major player on the global scene has not learned the lesson of Facebook’s bungled IPO:


It appears that in planning the once-a-decade transfer of power to a new group of politicians, China has done exactly that. Originally, the plan was to transfer in October, presumably around the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic (Oct. 1, 1949). It seems that the upper-echelon negotiations have dragged on longer than expected. There is a solar total eclipse on November 13, 2012, and for reasons explained below, we will see this particular eclipse is not very favorable for China.

As we saw with Facebook’s IPO on the day of an eclipse, big changes or launches made around an eclipse tend to require revision later, and often have the project end as a massive flop. I first read about this phenomenon in Bill Meridian’s book, the Predictive Power of Eclipse Paths, and have been watching for manifestations ever since. Meridian discusses his own experience with taking a new job shortly before an eclipse. The new job promptly fizzled out, and he had to find new work soon after.

The November 13, 2012 solar eclipse is a rather unpleasant piece of work, especially when we overlay the horoscope for the eclipse on the horoscope of China.

First, let’s look at just the eclipse horoscope, set for Beijing, China.  The eclipse occurs at 21 Scorpio, an inauspicious part of the sky. This is where the star Zubeneschemali, in the North Scale of the Balance constellation resides. However, historically, the Scales used to be known as the Claws of the Scorpion. The Scorpion is portrayed in a Babylonian boundary stone as reaching for a cup; perhaps the Cup of Life, or of victory. The Scorpion, of course, is the animal that slew the mighty Orion, so the sense is that the Scorpion is a killjoy. Those hoping to win the prize may be disappointed as the Scorpion taketh away.

The eclipse also has Saturn on the Ascendant, suggesting trouble and distress. Saturn falls on the right shoulder and staff of Boötes, the celestial herdsman or ox-driver. This suggests trouble for the “shepherds” of the country; if we had a benefic planet (Venus or Jupiter) on this star, the picture would be rather brighter, and would promise improvement to the country. The presence of Saturn is somewhat more problematic. Also, transiting Saturn squares China’s Moon at 0 Aquarius – this change will not be great for the population as a whole.

Solar Total Eclipse, Beijing, China
November 14, 2012, 6:07:59 am, AWST (-8)

The November 13, 2012 Solar Eclipse in China

This eclipse is particularly significant for China for two reasons. One, it falls in the important first house in Beijing, so will have an effect on the Chinese people. The first house rules the people and the nation as a whole, so eclipses placed in this house will have an evident impact. Two, it contacts the horoscope of China in some major ways.

We use the horoscope for the start of the People’s Republic of China as October 1, 1949, 10:00 am, Beijing, China. The time is from the memoir The Private Life of Chairman Mao, written by his doctor, Li Zhisui, who said that Mao and his comrades first took the podium in Beijing at 10:00 am to announce their glorious victory over Nationalist forces. (The book was brought to my attention by a recent article in The Mountain Astrologer magazine.)

The 1949 horoscope has 22 Scorpio rising, so the eclipse at 21 Scorpio falls exactly on the Ascendant. This alone would be enough to suggest a disruptive influence interfering with the transfer of power. Eclipses on the Ascendant/Descendant axis of a country or organization suggest transformation at a profound and immediately evident level – certainly, the handing over of the reins would qualify.

However, we can expect conflict at the uppermost echelons of China. Note that the eclipse Midheaven falls on China’s Mars (and, if you use the modern planets, Pluto – yes, China has a natal Mars-Pluto conjunction). So, that shows power struggles (Mars/Pluto) among the leadership (Midheaven). However, note the interesting aspects to Mercury, ruler of the Midheaven. The eclipse Venus is conjunct Mercury, and the eclipse Jupiter trines Mercury. So, there will be some very nice monetary benefits for those coming into power. You may have seen the New York Times’ expose of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s personal wealth of $2.7B, most of which was accumulated since his rise to high position in the 1990s. It’s good to be the king!

People's Republic of China Horoscope, Beijing, China

People’s Republic of China Horoscope, Beijing, China
October 1, 1949, 10:00 a.m. AWST (-8)

Some Predictions for China

Based on the above, I would suggest the following:

1.  The power may be handed over, but perhaps not completely, or the arrangement will not prove permanent.

2. There will be conflict (more than the usual machinations) among the upper tiers, and it may even become public.

3. Those coming into power will obtain tremendous financial benefits. Quelle surprise!

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