January 3, 2009 by Nina Gryphon
NG: Can you discuss your use of the Arabian parts in natal delineation and rectification? On a theoretical level, why do you think they are so accurate, even though they are abstract points, rather than bodies?
DH: Arabic Parts (or more properly Hellenistic Lots) are essentially customized Ascendants for specific life activities. Take the 7th house. Its significations include the marriage partner, business partners, and open enemies. Now this is a real handful! How does one sort out one topic from the other? If someone ends up with a lousy mate, will they also be similarly doomed with business partners and open enemies? Or is there some differentiation between the three house topics? The first way these topics can be sorted out is a delineation technique attributed to Al-Andarzagar based on triplicity rulers of the sign on the house cusp. For whatever element falls on the 7th cusp, take the relevant diurnal, nocturnal, and participating triplicity rulers and assign them respectively to women, controversies, and entering into covenants.(footnote 3) Or in modern terms: marriage partners, legal conflicts with open enemies, and business partnerships.
The second way to differentiate these three topics is with Arabic Parts. There are specialized parts for marriage and lawsuits. There are no parts specified to open enemies I am aware of; apparently since they are ‘open’ enemies their actions are sufficiently obvious to void the need to fine tune with specialized parts. Returning to marriage, should the Part of Marriage be placed in a favorable house and by aspected by a ruler which is in good condition, this mitigates affairs for marriage.
This is not to say that a favorable Arabic Part configuration can nullify effects of a malefic on a house topic; yet a favorably positioned Part of Marriage adds some bounty to the marriage topic which might appear relatively bleak if a malefic otherwise rules or falls in the 7th house.
NG: You’ve tackled rectification. What’s next?
DH: As I have stated on my site, by the end of 2008 I plan on releasing my own rectification of the July 4, 1776 United States Declaration of Independence figure. It features a Sagittarius Ascendant, like the well known Sibly figure, but is a bit later. At this point the book is about finished.
Besides documentation of a few hundred solar arc and primary directions what makes this rectification unique is Abu Mashar’s System of Distributors and Participators which I also refer to as Directing through the Bounds in my book. What I found was directing the Ascendant through the Egyptian bounds yielded most major American social movements. I guarantee people’s jaws will drop to the floor when they read it.
Another project on my plate is physiognomy. It turns out that decans are in fact related to physical appearance as most texts indicate, but the Chaldean decan rulers do not work. One has to use the set of decan rulers based on triplicity (e.g., for the sign of Aries, the three decans are Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius). It’s an important technique to master because if the Chaldean decan rulers do not work, we need to replace them in al-mubtazz scoring.
And if the decan rulers based on triplicity have an influence on physical appearance, then by default the ruler of the rising decan needs to be included in temperament computations. Nobody is looking at this issue at the moment. Because of the additional publishing expense for photographs, the web may be the best vehicle to present this kind of research.
Via the web, one can also keep adding entries to a physiognomy database as time permits. It would take a subscription service of something like $20/month for a subscriber base of 300+ individuals to make this a viable business model. I mention this not because I think such a market exists today, but with the power of these written words, such a market might exist in a few years. There is nothing I would rather do than pure astrological research: to create a rectified database of several hundred charts which would be fodder for testing of the complete range of medieval delineation and predictive techniques: everything from temperament to religious faith to friends and enemies. It’s a project which needs to be done and I am more than willing.
Footnote 3: Al-Qabisi: The Introduction to Astrology. London: The Warburg Institute, 2004. p. 53.
Read Part 1 of the interview with Dr. H. of Regulus Astrology here.
Read Part 2 of the interview with Dr. H. of Regulus Astrology here.
January 3, 2009 by Nina Gryphon
This is Part 2 of Gryphon Astrology’s three-part interview with Dr. H. of Regulus Astrology. Read Part 1 of the interview here.
NG: What is another technique you worked with that did not prove accurate?
DH: A more general delineation technique I have had problems with is the hierarchical style of evaluating planetary condition by both quality and quantity. Much of this can be traced to Bonatti (if not earlier) with his demands that planets be ‘fortunate and strong’ to deliver effects. In my early student days, I was led to believe that should one of the Ascendant rulers be in detriment/fall and located a cadent house (usually 6th or 12th) that surely the person would reject significations of that planet as a life outlet for something better signified by a planet with some essential dignity in some other succedent or angular house. But this doesn’t hold water.
In the example I gave – an afflicted malefic in the 6th house with some claim to the Ascendant – whenever the malefic in the 6th was activated dynamically the individual suffered tremendous pain, illness, or took on a position of servitude. The individual appeared incapable of choosing a better life outlet. While this is a natal example, this kind of behavior has important implications for mundane astrology.
Bonatti, for instance, rejects a planet conjunct the Midheaven in an Ingress figure as Significator of the King should it have no essential dignity. So he would discard Saturn/Aries on the 10th cusp in favor of some other planet to delineate the actions of the King. Maybe Bonatti is wrong. Perhaps the planet most closely aspecting the MC signifies the King whether or not it has any essential dignity.
NG: I think you’re right about Bonatti’s rejection of potential significators of the King if they had no essential dignity, or other afflictions. Do you think this is more an issue of bad astrology, or more of self-protection or buttering up the boss by the astrologer? If we use Bonatti’s method, as in your example, it would mean nothing bad could ever happen to the King.
DH: First off, even if the significator of the King is itself benefic, an aspect from a malefic can still harm the King so I have to disagree with your last comment. The March 2008 Aries Ingress is a good example with Sun/Aries a logical significator for the King in many geographical locations yet the Sun is square Mars/Cancer. This does not bode well for the King.
In any case, I don’t think it’s self-protection because the only way an astrologer can truly protect himself is to quit his job if he sees bad events for the King on the horizon, especially if a fall from power is forecast. I don’t think it’s buttering up the boss either because the only way the King would know the astrologer is buttering him up is for the King to have a sufficient understanding of the methodology that the King would know the astrologer was intentionally biasing his predictions. Since most Kings probably did not have that level of expertise this is really a moot question.
But more to the point: why would Bonatti go to such lengths in creating a checklist of over 50 questions for determining the significator of the King if instead he could just lie and make something up! Instead I think what’s going on here is Bonatti’s hierarchical style of delineation reflects his own personal philosophy which is extremely class conscious. That’s my instinct based on my read of Bonatti.
Besides Kings, another example is his discussion of sexual proclivities when delineating marriage. When he starts delineating conditions for ‘foul and filthy coitus’ we should ask ourselves: foul and filthy for whom? Heads of state wouldn’t want to get caught up with this. But suppose one is dealing with a professional hooker whose life is enhanced by ‘foul and filthy coitus.’ Is this such a bad condition for a hooker assuming she uses condoms for protection? Maybe not.
Regarding other techniques I tested, I also have problems with the notion of quantity: that angular, succedent, and cadent planets respectively deliver 100%, 50%, and 25% percent of their power. Consider the delineation of children. In Bonatti’s approach, children are promised if any significator of children (Jupiter, Venus, Moon, Mercury, Lord 5th, P.Fortune, P.Children & their lords) are located in houses favorable for children (1st, 11th, 10th, 7th). Significators must also be in the fruitful water signs or the rather fruitful signs of Taurus, Sagittarius, and Aquarius. As an example, both Mercury and Venus in the sign of Taurus are correct planets in the correct sign; but if placed in the 12th house children would not be predicted.
DH: A rectified chart can be likened to an econometric model whose independent variable is time and whose dependent variable is life. Models are based on a data sample; for rectification the sample consists of life events. Out-of-sample data is simply life events which occur during a time period not used to build the model.
A second approach is to use all life events to date as the sample used to build the model. Then treat new events which occur in real time as out-of-sample events. Test these events against the model in real time. The second approach is what I have taken with Obama.
For Obama, I published a rectified time of 7:54:28 PM, Ascendant = 27AQ09’17”, on November 20, 2007 and have been watching the chart unfold ever since. Any predictive method used to create the rectification model can be employed in a real time test. Some techniques, like monthly profections, can help confirm the Ascendant sign. Other methods, like directions and dynamic activity to Arabic Parts, can confirm the exact degree and minute of the rectified Ascendant. So let’s get our hands dirty.
Consider this solar arc direction:
July 24, 2008. direct solar arc Ascendant trine Sun.
This is actually the only solar arc direction of a planet to either the Ascendant or Midheaven for the entire calendar year of 2008. So for using solar arc directions as a tool for out-of-sample tests, this is it.
Sun is the universal significator of fame and power. In the sign he rules, Sun/Leo is flamboyant and should produce an event conducive to projecting fame and power which is long lasting. What happened? This is the exact date Obama spoke at the Victory Column in Berlin, the most high profile campaign event of the year prior to the Democratic National Convention. The following day he met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. In mundane astrology, France is assigned to Leo. Obama met with the French (Leo) President and discussed what amounted to a partnership with France for defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan. Business partners and open enemies are assigned to the 7th house, the location of Obama’s Sun.
This event appears a match to the solar arc direction. It is evidence in favor of the rectification, but more events need to be tested. Arguably, one could make the case that this solar arc Ascendant trine Sun should really time his August 28 acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, meaning the rectified time is in error by four minutes of degree, the amount needed to change the birth time to push the recomputed solar arc Ascendant trine Sun measurement to August 28 instead of July 24. One can go crazy with this, making adjustments for every new event. I prefer to wait at least six months and preferably a year before making an assessment.
One also has to realize that making these micro adjustments not only changes the Ascendant trine Sun direction but literally every other direction measurement used to build the initial model.
Dynamic activity to Arabic Parts is also helpful for out-of-sample tests. I first started to look at the Part of Servants 25AR54 and its antiscion 4VI06 after Obama’s foreign policy advisor Samantha Power was fired after making some ill-mannered comments about Hillary Clinton. It turns out that Power’s March 7, 2008 resignation was timed by the transit of Saturn located at 4VI08, only two minutes of degree from the antiscion of the Part of Servants. Continuing the saga was Jim Johnson’s forced resignation from the Vice President vetting committee on June 11, 2008 timed by the converse transit of the South Node located at 4VI05. Finally, after Saturn went direct and passed over the part’s antiscion again, Wes Clark stuck his foot in his mouth on June 29, 2008 when he made the following comment on John McCain: “I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.” Saturn was positioned at 4VI25 on that date, a bit wide of the part’s antiscion, but still close.
While Clark was not officially employed by the Obama campaign as far as I know, he was up until this time a contender for the VP slot. Shortly after his June 29 gaffe he disassociated himself from the Obama campaign. Maybe the Wes Clark gaffe is irrelevant. But there is no doubt that Samantha Power and Jim Johnson were employees and were terminated from the Obama campaign.
Identifying Saturn and the South Node as significators for the termination of employees is crucial to the logic of this out-of-sample test. Employees are assigned to the 6th house. While some might assign employee termination to the 9th house (4th of the end-of-the-matter from the 6th by derived houses), I have found the 1st house (8th from the 6th) more reliable for employee termination. For Obama, Saturn rules the 1st; South Node is positioned in the 1st. Both Saturn and the South Node are significators for the death and/or termination of employees based on rulership and position.
There are some other events I have looked at, such as the transit of Pluto to the Part of Faith as a timer of Obama’s earlier Reverend Wright fracas. Overall I remain happy with the rectified model despite the official birth certificate time of 7:24 PM posted on June 12 by the Daily Kos blog. At the end of the day it is the horoscope which consistently works on an out-of-sample basis that I will always choose as a professional astrologer.
This is hard work; real roll up your sleeves kind of stuff. After doing it awhile one gets a better appreciation of why dedicated medieval predictive astrologers can take on only a handful of clients. I doubt I could ever service more than two or three clients if I use all the tools at my disposal.
Footnote 2: b. May 28, 1944, Brooklyn, NY, 6:02:37 AM EWT, Ascendant – 14GE454; Dr. H’s rectification.
Read Part 1 of the interview with Dr. H. of Regulus Astrology.
Read Part 3 of the interview with Dr. H. of Regulus Astrology.
Astrology Book Review: The Introduction to the Science of the Judgments of the Stars (Sahl Ibn Bishr/trans. James Herschel Holden)
December 26, 2008 by Nina Gryphon
Another fascinating translation from James Herschel Holden, M.A., this time of a key horary and electional work by Sahl Ibn Bishr. The Introduction was written in the ninth century by the Court astrologer to the rulers of Baghdad during its heyday. It is a sourcebook for later Western horary astrologers, specifically Bonatti and William Lilly, both of whom borrowed liberally from the text. Holden translated this text from the 12th century Latin version, presumably the same version drawn upon by Bonatti when he wrote his Book of Astronomy 100 years later.
The Introduction is for intermediate astrologers, who are comfortable with the basic concepts of traditional horary and electional astrology. The beginner may easily be overwhelmed by the complex terminology Sahl uses to describe the various relationships between planets, such as deterioration, return, giving virtue, and other now-uncommon terms. However, a more skilled horary astrologer may also have difficulty with these terms, because they represent many subtle gradations of planetary strength and differences in relationship, which we are unaccustomed to making today. Reading this book will require an open mind, unencumbered by more modern variations on horary techniques and a willingness to think through the author’s reasoning. The time and effort invested will bear rich dividends of knowledge for the careful reader.
Contents & Structure
One feature of Sahl’s astrology that bears mention. As Holden notes in his thorough introduction, the whole sign method of house division is used. This means that the entire rising sign is the first house, though with special attention paid to the rising degree; that is, there is no distinction between the fourth house and the fourth sign of the chart.
The text is composed of five books. Book 1 is the introduction, common in many ancient astrological texts, which reiterates the basic building blocks of traditional astrology. The usual impulse of more practiced astrologers may be to skip these introductions, but they can be quite useful in familiarizing the reader with terms that the author later takes for granted, that may be unique to that author. For example, today we consider the signs Gemini, Leo, and Virgo barren; Sahl lists Aries, Leo, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Capricorn as the sterile signs. We can see here that the tradition, while unchanging in its broad strokes, was also changeable, and the details were not identical from place to place and throughout history. The introduction also lists the meaning of each house,the aspects, and the relationships among the planets, such as translation of light, separation, reception, and others.
Book 2 is called “The 50 Precepts,” and contains a list of the meanings of planetary behavior and relationships. As we see often in older astrological texts, the behavior of the planets takes on almost anthropomorphic qualities with a high level of specificity about the situation. For example, Precept 48 says that a planet in its first station about to go retrograde signifies the destruction, tardiness, and dissolution of the matter, while the second station “signifies the renewal of things and their suitability and strength or directness.” Today, astrologers might take note of the planet being in station, but may fail to tease out the specific nature of the situation with the kind of detail we see in Sahl.
Book 3 is called “Questions or the Book of Judgments of the Arabs,” which contains methods of answering specific horary questions arranged by houses. There is a heavy emphasis on seventh house matters; women, commerce, theft, and wars, and a lengthy series of questions on letters, their senders and recipients, their contents, and rumors. The 21st-century reader will get a strong sense that we are in a different place and time, when we get to the section entitled “If a Slain Person Will Be Avenged or Not.”
Book 4 is entitled “The Book of Elections,” and contains some good information on the natures of the signs (cardinal, fixed, and mutable), and their influence on elected events. There is also a good section on the impediments of the Moon to watch out for when calculating elections. The usual topics are covered, such as travel, war, medicine, and the buying and manumission of slaves – the latter may not seem very appropriate today, but we could likely use similar electional rules for purchasing animals, whether as pets or working beasts.
Book 5, entitled “The Book of Times,” provides additional guidance on horary and electional astrology, mixed together. It is kind of a grab bag of useful astrological knowledge that did not fit readily into the other books. There is also an appendix on questions about visions or dreams, which helps the astrologer identify and interpret a questioner’s dream.
Holden’s translation is very lucid and accessible, as always, in easily understandable language. It is no small task to make a 1200-year-old text reader friendly, but the translator does so with aplomb and copious but straight-to-the-point footnotes. He frequently refers to parallel passages in Bonatti, and points out where the two differ. A highly recommended source text for fans of traditional astrology, and those curious about the source of more recent horary writers’ material.
The Introduction to the Science of the Judgments of the Stars
By: Sahl Ibn Bishr (author), and James Herschel Holden, M.A., trans.
American Federation of Astrologers, 2008
Available at astrologers.com and astroamerica.com.
September 7, 2008 by Nina Gryphon
JH: You asked me are there any particular techniques or areas that I favor. I guess looking back over the years I have been particularly interested in reading personality out of a chart. In fact, I wrote a paper on that that was published in our Journal of Research a few years ago. As you well know, trying to make predictions and put specific dates on them is hard to do with great accuracy, but we can do it to some extent. And we all try it. I mean if somebody gives you their birth date, then you put the chart up, and you can look at the thing, and you can pretty much tell what kind of person you’re dealing with there. To me that’s particularly fascinating, to try to work out the personality from the chart.
I might mention what’s in my paper, and I have a devised a technique that works for me, and I’ll mention it to you. It’s very simple, and you might try it yourself. The first house, the ascending sign, shows you the animal nature of the person. Now what I mean by animal nature is that this is the instinctive thing. If somebody suddenly says something to you, asks you a question, or somebody trips you up, or hits you, or says, “look at that.” You have an instant reaction to it, and this is a reaction that’s without thought. It’s what’s natural – that’s the ascendant, as I said.
And I will give an example with animals. If you have a rabbit sitting in the floor in front of you, a pet rabbit, and you throw a ball of yarn down in front of it, he’ll turn around and run away from it. If you throw it down in front of your pet cat, he’d pounce on it. That’s animal nature. This is the thing that you see with the ascendant. It’s what you do without thinking!
The Moon is the conscious mind inside your head, it’s what you think. And the Sun is a kind of a censor that sits there in the background. It’s kind of like a backseat driver. It says you’re going too fast or turn left here or something like that. And I think if you look at a chart like that, why it makes a whole lot of sense and you can read personality pretty well with that kind of technique.
And since there are three areas, and each one can be in a different sign, or in the same sign, or something, you’ve got 1,728 different combinations. And that’s about how many different kinds of people we might run across in the world. Now if you’ve got a planet in any one of those, obviously, that modifies it. For example, if you’ve got Mars in the first house then violence, to some extent, comes natural to you. If somebody comes up and hits you on the shoulder, you may turn around and slap them without even thinking about it.
On the other hand if you’ve got Mars in conjunction with your Moon or strongly configured with it or something like that and somebody slaps you, why you may think, I guess I ought to hit him, but I don’t know whether I want to do it or not. You’ll think about it before you do it.
And if you’ve got Mars with the Sun, then the Sun says it’s okay to hit if you want to. It’s kind of a censor. I see the Sun as a censor. It doesn’t necessarily tell you what to do, but it tells you what it thinks is right and what it thinks is wrong. We have all had the experience of saying something and then instantly wishing we hadn’t said it. And very often, why that is the Sun down there saying, oh No, that wasn’t righ; you shouldn’t have said that. And it popped out because either the ascendant popped it out instantly, or the Moon thought it up and put it out. But the Sun said: that doesn’t suit my personal, ethical standard; you shouldn’t have said that. I think if you look at a chart like that, I believe it’ll make more sense than the usual way that people do.
Now part of that you can trace back to some old writer. I think Alan Leo said something that agrees with part of that, but not the whole thing. I have found in the old books that there was always a lot of confusion over what does the Sun mean and what does the Moon mean and which one is the personality. Well, I think the personality really is the ascendant.
When you first meet somebody, you see him. You size people up from their looks, their physical appearance, and that’s the ascendant. When you get to know them, then you talk to them and then your Moon is evaluating what their Moon has them say. And if you get to know them real well, why, then maybe you get down to the Sun sign level and you see that their ethical standard either agrees with yours if you’ve got the same Sun sign or else it’s different.
One other thing that I’ve been interested in over the years is the house problem. Are we going to use Placidus? Are we going to use Regiomontanus? Are we going to use Koch? Are we going to use Sign-House? What are we going to use? And I would like to recommend that you take a look at what I call Sign-House, and some people call Whole Sign. But Sign-House is what I call it.
The way this works, you look at the ascendant, and no matter what the degree is, the sign that’s there, the whole sign, is the first house. Now if you’ve got twenty degrees of Aries coming up, then all of Aries is the first house. And all of the next sign is the second and the one after that’s a third.
Now this was the original system. This is what the people that invented it in the 2nd century BC came up with. And I’m not saying that they were smarter than us, or that since they did it that way, why, we ought to all fall in line and say hi-ho we’ll use it too, and so on. But I recommend you try that. I have tried it and I usually put a chart up in Placidus if it’s a natal chart. And then I look at it the other way.
I wrote a paper sometime back that was published in our monthly publication, Today’s Astrologer. It had the horoscope of Mussolini. And if you draw the chart in Placidus, or Regiomontanus, either one, I don’t think the house position suit him nearly so well as they do if you use Sign-House. For example, I think if you do it with either Regiomontanus or Placidus you’ve got the Sun and Mercury in the ninth house. If you do it with Sign-House, they’re in the tenth in Leo. Look at the kind of guy he was. He was a flamboyant speaker. He got up and blah, blah, blah to everybody, and people just ate that up.
Also, the other thing, is that he had the Moon and I think Mars and Saturn in the seventh house with Placidus and Regiomontanus. But if you do it in Sign-House, it’s in the eighth. How did he die? He got nailed by some partisans and they strung him up and machine gunned him. And that perfectly fits.
And all I’m saying is, try it. Now here’s the other advantage to that: It’ll work everywhere. If you take the city Murmansk. Now it is above the Arctic Circle and there’s 300,000 people that live there. And using Regiomontanus or Placidus, you cannot draw their horoscope. But with Sign-House you can do it. And even if somebody’s born at the North Pole, they’ve got zero Libra rising and you’ve got a sign for each house all the way around. And it seems to me that if the thing’s true it ought to work everywhere.
I’m not saying that Placidus is wrong or Regiomontanus is wrong,but I’m saying try this other one, and I think you’ll see some samples right in your own chart. And if it moves some planets into another house, well, look at it and say, now which one of those really suits me best. And the further north you are the more likely it is that they are going to move them into different houses. And I think putting up a chart using any of the quadrant systems in Stockholm, for example, where you can have houses that only have eight or nine degrees in them and others that have two whole signs; that doesn’t seem to make any sense.
I’m just saying here’s something that I discovered that people used at the dawn of time, and maybe you ought to take a look at it.
NG: My last question was if you’re related to Sir William Herschel [the discoverer of the planet Uranus].
JH: Oh, I’m sorry to say that I’m not. Sir William was German. He was born in Hanover I think. And I’m nearly all English with a tiny bit of Scotch in there some place. I don’t know where the name Herschel came from. My grandfather Holden’s middle name was Herschel. He was Albert Herschel Holden.
And he was the first in our family that ever used the name Herschel, and why in the world he had that middle name, I’ve never been able to discover. He’s long since passed away so I can’t ask him. I wish I was kin to Sir William, but I’m not.
I’ve got to tell you something funny though. I’m interested in genealogy. I discovered quite by accident that I was kin to Doris [Chase] Doane [former president of the AFA]. Yes. She and I were about tenth cousins I think. Now that isn’t very close but her maiden name was Chase, and if I go way back up to my great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfathers, one of them was named Chase. [Doris Chase Doane] was directly descended in the Chase line from that one. I was indirectly descended, I think one of this granddaughters married a man named Sergeant; and straight down the Sergeant line was my paternal grandmother, who was Cordelia Sergeant Holden. And so Doris and I were very distantly related. And I found that out just a few years before she passed away, and we kind of had a little bit of a laugh over that.
JH: This is for you or anybody else that’s bought one of my books. If anybody has got one of my books and they read something they don’t understand, let me know about it. Send me an e-mail and say, hey on page thirty-seven it says this, and that desn’t make any sense, or I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I’ll be glad to answer their question.
And let me say this about my latest book, The Five Medieval Astrologers. I solicit comments from anybody that’s bought the book. If you like it, tell me you like it. If you say, well, you should have done so and so in this part of it, or I read this, and I don’t understand it, why, let me know about that too, because this is feedback. And if we can fix it, we will.
JH: [On William Lilly] I’ve got a Master’s Degree in English and I was able to write my thesis on William Lilly. “William Lilly Christian Astrologer: a Biographical and Critical Study.” How about that? It’s probably the only astrological thesis that the University ever accepted.
But anyway in Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales, which I suppose you have read. You remember the Doctor of Physic? And in one place it says of him, “Gladly would he learn, and gladly teach.” And I have adopted that as a motto. I mean I like to learn things, and if somebody asks me a question, then I’ll do my darndest to answer it.
September 6, 2008 by Nina Gryphon
This is the third part of an interview with astrologer, author, and translator, James Herschel Holden. Mr. Holden has a number of translations coming out in summer and autumn of 2008, including Books 16 and 17 by Morinus, and a collection of ancient astrological texts in Five Medieval Astrologers. To catch up, read Part 1 and Part 2 of the interview.
NG: I was curious what prompted all your recent translations.
JH: There is one thing that’s causing some of them to come out pretty close together. I don’t know if you’re aware of it but the AFA was reorganized last year. And now we have a new chief executive officer, Kris Riske. For about six months or a year before last summer I don’t think the AFA had printed very many books. And this was partly because people hadn’t offered any and said, “Hey, I’ve got a book; would you like to print it?” And then when the AFA was reorganized, why it took six months or a year to get the office straightened out, because there were a lot of things that needed to be done with a leadership change. So during that time they didn’t publish any books, because they were busy doing other things. And it’s just in the last few months that Kris Riske, who also is the principal editor, has had time to deal with anything like that.
And so some of the things that she’s done for me, I had done in earlier years, but they’re coming out close together now, not because every month I did something new, but they’re just kind of sitting around waiting to be published. And there’s more to come.
If you’re interested I can tell you a little bit about the Morin Method. Twenty years ago, and for two or three decades before that, there were only two people to my knowledge in the United States that knew anything about the Morin Method and they were the only ones that had ever even heard of it, except for the Morinus system of houses which is kind of a joke. But anyway, one of them was Zoltan Mason, and he was in New York City. And the other one was a man named Gerhardt Howing who lived in Dallas. I used to be in Dallas. And I attended some classes with Gerhardt and he taught the Morin Method. Now those to my knowledge were the only two people in the United States that knew anything about it. And both of them taught classes. And Bob Corre was a student of Zoltan Mason.
Mason died a couple years ago I think. And he hadn’t been teaching any for the last few years of his life. But Corre has picked up where Mason left off and he is a very active teacher of the Morin Method. He travels all over the world. He’s lectured all over Europe and Australia and every place else on it. And he also has a correspondence course over the Internet that you can sign-up for. And Corre has encouraged me to translate a good many of the books of Morin’s Astrologia Gallica.
And that’s what caused me to do most of those. And I think the method is good, and Corre finds them useful in his course so I havel translated aquite a few of them.
I have a new translation of Firmicus, for example, that I hope we can get printed this year. And I think it will be a considerable improvement over the Bram translation that’s available now.
And also, there’s several other things. Like I said, Book 25 is going to come out on Meteorology and Mundane Astrology, which I think people that are interested in either one of those will like.
Incidentally, if you are interested in Meteorology, Kris has written a book on that. Kris did something that I think a lot of people didn’t do. She actually collected statistical data on notable hurricanes and all kinds of storms and things like that and studied them astrologically. And [she] took some of the old rules that were in the old books; and well, she tried them out to see if they work. And so the book that she wrote is based on practical experience, and she gives a whole lot of examples in there. So, if you’re interested in that subject, I recommend that book.
NG: Are you also a practicing astrologer, whether amateur or professional?
JH: No, I’m not. Actually, I’m a retired telephone engineer. I worked for the phone company all my life. And I was a senior engineer, and then I got put in charge of the engineering budget for the state of Texas. That was when I was living in Dallas; I’ve only been here in Phoenix since `93. And prior to that, I was living in Dallas. And I would say that I never did practice professionally to amount to anything. I have read charts and answered questions for friends and family, for free of course. I think we all do that. And I had have done some work for pay in the past. Nothing in recent years. But if somebody came up to me that I hardly knew and wanted me to do their chart or answer a question or something, I charged those people. And I did it partly for this reason: I thought, well some other professional might have gotten this job and if people get the idea that they can get it done for nothing, why then I’m sort of knocking somebody else out a fee. And since I was a Professional Member of the AFA, I thought I guess I really ought to charge people that weren’t close friends.
But as far as having a standard practice or putting my name on the door and having the public come in, I never did that at anytime, because I didn’t have time, for one thing. And after I retired, I spent most of my time studying and writing books. That’s all I did.
JH: You were curious about how I got started in astrology. You’ll laugh at this. I think I was about twelve when I got interested in astronomy. And I studied up on the planets and their orbits and the stars and eclipses and all that kind of stuff. And the next year I took note of a publication that we got every year which was an almanac that was printed by the Telephone Company. And on the front, they had the figure of a man with the signs of the zodiac all around, Aries for his head [and so on]. And then they had some Sun sign material. I think they had one page of that in there; and I read that,and I got fascinated by that. I thought, hey, this is something really interesting.
And then that was age thirteen. I guess when I was thirteen and maybe early fourteen, I used to occasionally go to the beauty shop with my mother; she would pick me up at school, and then stop off at the beauty shop to get her hair done, or something like that. And here I am a teenage kid sitting there with nothing do. They had two kinds of magazines. They had movie star magazines and they had astrology magazines. Well, at thirteen or fourteen, I couldn’t care less about reading about movie stars. But I began to read astrology magazines. They had Horoscope. They had American Astrology. I think there was one that used to be called World Astrology, and there were two or three others. Back in those days there more of them than there are today.
And I read those and I looked at the charts and I got fascinated. And I found out they were sky maps and I looked at the numbers around the edge, the cuspal numbers. And I wondered how they figured those. And I got real interested in all of that, and I guess in a way, that’s what really sucked me into astrology. Like I said, when I was around eighteen I got hold of a copy of Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos. And about the same time I found the Latin text of Julius Firmicus. I’d had four years of Latin in high school so I could read Latin pretty well. And at the University I had had nine hours of Latin, in which I guess would be fifth year and first half of sixth year. So I could read the Latin without much trouble. And both of those books fascinated me. And they got me interested in the old stuff, and then I began to apply the astronomy that I had.
Well, I did quite a bit of those things like you saw in the introduction to The Book of Flowers, I was working on that thing back in the sixties. When I’d get bored with doing anything else, I’d say oh, I’ll get that out and translate another page or two, something like that. And also I had in the late fifties and early sixties begun to acquire the Greek texts of some of the classical Greek astrologers that had been published in Europe. And I taught myself Greek and I began to translate some of those.
NG: You must have a real gift for languages.
JH: Well, I guess I do or I wouldn’t have been able to have done it then. I can’t take any credit for it, I guess you’re born with that sort of thing. I have thought to myself sometimes, and I don’t say this as a piece of braggartry, but just as a fact. I think of all the people in my high school that took Latin I’m probably the only one that ever did anything with it.
To show what you can do, I got that Latin text [Guido Bonatti’s Book of Astronomy]; I guess I’ve had that thirty years or so. And I sat down one day and I made a table of contents for it. The pages aren’t numbered, but they ave what they call folio numeration every fourth page: why, you’ve got B and then you’ve got one, two, three, four and then you’ve got C, and so on. And I made a complete index of the whole thing, so now if I want to look up something, well I get that out. I can open up the book and find a page that’s got that information on it. So it’s kind of handy. And then I discovered the Universal Bookstore (or something like that) up there in Canada that reprints old books. Anyway, they’ve reprinted a lot of the old books,and they offered Coley’s book, for example. And I bought that thing, oh, I guess twenty-three years ago.
I got several other of the 17th century English books that they reprinted, and those are very handy. You can find a lot of stuff in there that you’d be hard put to locate in the modern books. Like I said, Coley had done the three Centiloquies, and that was the only place I knew where you could find all three of them. And I don’t know that anybody ever did al-Mansur, or I guess somebody must have translated it, but I’ve never seen it. Anyway, that’s some of the stuff that I put together over the years.
[Read the final Part 4 of the interview with James Holden.]
September 2, 2008 by Nina Gryphon
Last month, I spoke with James Herschel Holden, M.A., author of A History of Horoscopic Astrology (now in its 2nd edition), and translator of countless astrological texts, including a dozen or so by Jean Baptiste Morin, and texts by famed astrologers such as Sahl ibn Bishr, Albumasar, Abu ‘Ali, and Masha’allah. Mr. Holden has been Research Director of the American Federation of Astrologers since 1982.
NG: What got you interested in the history of astrology and how does one kind of get into working with these texts as you have?
JH: Well, all my life I’ve been interested in history, history of everything. When I was in school I didn’t care anything about modern history but I was interested in ancient history. If you say why was that, the answer is I don’t know; that’s just the way I was. And I guess it was perhaps a little exotic, and so it appealed to me more than every day things that you see around you.
And when I first learned something about astrology; I got interested in where it came from, how it got started, and that led me back to the origins of it in the old books and so on
I was about eighteen when I ran across a translation of Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos and I read that. And then about the same time I found a Latin text of Julius Firmicus Maternus. And since I could read Latin, that was another one that sort of whetted my appetite for the old stuff.
NG: So you were hooked. Is there a particular era in the history of astrology that you find interesting? It sounds like you’re very interested in the ancient texts, even before the medieval era, is that accurate?
JH: Well, not to the exclusion of anything else. I would say that I’m interested in all periods of astrology, except maybe what somebody thought up last month. I can say that I’ve been more interested in the older things than I have in a few of the modern things that have come up. But I don’t have any particular [favorite] period. If you’ve got my history book [History of Astrology, 2nd Ed., AFA] you saw how it was divided up into sections.
And each section in that is interesting to me; I’m interested in the classical section, also in the medieval section, what the Arabs had to say, and early modern, and so on. And there’s a whole lot of material to read in each one of those eras.
NG: I saw you have a new edition of your History of Astrology. I know it’s one of those books that it seems everybody I know has it and has read it.
JH: Well, I hope they like it. That’s the distillation of many years of reading about astrology and thinking about it. And you asked the question about the 2nd Edition whether there was any significant change, and I guess the answer is No
What had happened, is that the first one sold out, and we had noticed maybe as many as eight or ten typographical errors in it; most of them trivial, so we had a chance to correct those, and I was also able to correct some omissions that were in the 1st Edition. One of them was rather significant. Being a member of the American Federation of Astrologers, I had written that 1st Edition and never even mentioned our President, Doris Chase Doane.
I just forgot about it. I think the reason is that of the modern people that were alive today, or we’ll say the 20th century people, I was trying to think of those who had done something a little bit different or had acquired some notoriety in recent years or something. And Doris wrote an awful lot of books, but she hadn’t written any very recently at the time that I was putting that history together, and for some reason I just didn’t think of her. And I know the lady personally, or rather knew her. She passed away a couple years ago but, this is one of those things you slap yourself with your hand on the forehead, and you think how in the world could I have forgotten her.
In the 2nd Edition Doris is in there, and also I had left out three or four Europeans that I think were of some importance, and I simply forgot them the same way. So they’re in there now. And one of my friends in Greece, Thomas Gazis, was kind enough to rewrite the whole section on modern Greek Astrology, so that’s revised from the 1st Edition.
And I have a little bit more information about astrology in other countries. And of course in the ten years that went by, some of the people mentioned in the 1st Edition had passed away, so I’ve got their death dates in there.
I think there’s five hundred and some odd [people] in there. And so percentage wise…leaving those few out was a small error, but I regretted it.
NG: What do you think are some of the biggest changes in our knowledge, what we’ve learned in the last ten or twenty years that we didn’t know about the history of astrology before?
JH: I would say that maybe going back as far as thirty years ago we began to get some old books, and I’m talking about English speaking countries, I think what I’m saying is largely true of foreign countries too. But in this country, if you go back about thirty years, about the only old book you could get was Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos. And many astrologers, not being aware that anything else existed, assumed that Ptolemy invented astrology and that everything that was original about it was in that book, which isn’t true.
Ptolemy was a science writer. He was like Isaac Asimov who wrote books on practically everything. I suspect that Ptolemy had been hired by some rich man who said: “I’ve got a nice, private library in my house and I’d like to have some books on the sciences. And I’ll pay you good if you’ll write them.” So Ptolemy wrote him a book on astronomy, and he wrote one on geography, and he wrote on two or three other subjects.
And then the man said: “Oh, and astrology; write something on astrology.” So Ptolemy wrote something on astrology. But if you look in the very first chapter of the Tetrabiblos, Ptolemy says he has left out a whole lot of what was current in his lifetime, and he said: “My book is not complete, I’ve left out a whole lot of things because it’s a big subject and if I wanted to put everything in it, it would be a whole lot bigger book.” Why, I think hardly any astrologer after his time ever bothered to read that part of it. Most of them assumed that he was first so he must have invented the whole thing.
For example, there was a man who was a professional astrologer, named Vettius Valens who was living in Alexandria from about 150 to 175 AD, which would have overlapped Ptolemy’s lifetime. He didn’t know Ptolemy and never mentions him once.
I’ve written a paper on this that hasn’t been published yet, but I think what happened is that Ptolemy wrote his books for a client or a patron whose name was Syrus. All Ptolemy’s books are addressed to a man named Syrus who is otherwise totally unknown.
When he finished he gave all the books to Syrus, the guy stuck them on the shelf, and they sat there for 150 years. They were not published or made available to the general public until around 300 AD. And Valens lived in the same town with Ptolemy and never heard of him, though Valens was a professional astrologer and also had a school of astrology. He would have known if the Tetrabiblos had been available; he would have had a copy; and he would have known all about it. And yet Valens’s book is true to what was going on at the time. For example, I think it’s got almost a hundred example horoscopes in it. Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos doesn’t have a single one.
So one is a theoretician, and the other one was a practicing astrologer. Ptolemy went down to the Alexandrian Library and got out two or three books on astrology, read through them, and then thought, well, I’ll talk about this part of it, and wrote the Tetrabiblos. Now, what he put down there is good, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not complete, that’s the point I’m trying to make.
And yet, I don’t think up until thirty years ago, hardly anybody knew about that. But since that time, various people have translated some of the old books. I think Robert Schmidt translated all or most of Vettius Valens, for example. A translation of Firmicus came out in 1974, I think. People little by little began to get some of the old books and found out, hey, there was more to it back then than we thought.
Then, in the last ten or fifteen years, why there have been people who got interested in medieval astrology and began to read the medieval books. And that opened up a whole new field too. So those are things that have happened in recent years that have expanded our knowledge. Now, if you are a working astrologer and you’re dealing with clients and so on, you probably don’t have time to sit around and devote yourself to reading the history, and as a result many astrologers today haven’t read any of the old stuff. They havn’t read my book. They haven’t read any of those old texts either. So they’re not familiar with that. I think it’s good to know how things started.
Did you ever see the movie Fiddler on the Roof? Well, there was something very significant in that. At one point some fellow says to Tevye the dairyman, “why do we do this particular thing?” And Tevye says, “it’s tradition.” And the man says, “Why do we have this tradition?” And Tevye says, “I’ll tell you, I don’t know.” That’s kind of situation that I think many astrologers are in. They learn the rules and they even learn to read charts pretty well, and so on. But if somebody said: “why do we do it this way?” all they could say is: “Well, that’s the way I learned it.”
And where did the rule come from? It says that Mars rules Scorpio? They were using Scorpio, and so on like that. Well, somebody made that statement 2000 years ago and we’re stuck with it.
I think that’s interesting, but most people don’t. I guess I could say that if you have any interest in the old stuff, I think my book is helpful because it not only mentions a lot of the old timers, but it gives some excerpts and it gives you a lot of footnotes and refers you to where you could find additional material.
[Read Part 2 of the interview with James H. Holden here.]
August 19, 2008 by Nina Gryphon
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
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] gryphonastrology.com or write to me here (don’t forget to include your contact info).
August 17, 2008 by Nina Gryphon
The 5th and last part of GA’s interview with astrologer and translator Benjamin Dykes, where he discusses his upcoming translations. To catch up, read Part 1, Part 2 , Part 3 , and Part 4 of the interview.
NG: That actually leads to my last question. I was curious what your next publications are going to be and why you’re going that direction?
BD: My next book is going to be called “Revolutions and Nativities.” It will be a collection of Arabic astrologers writing on nativities and solar revolutions—both of the native and of the world. While I was writing the Sahl and Masha’allah book I was disappointed with the natal material in it. It has largely to do with life expectancy and then a little bit about some general issues in the native’s life. But other than that there’s not much there. And there’s almost nothing on the revolutions of nativities. So, since most traditional astrologers practice horary or native astrology, and there aren’t a lot of books on natal astrology out there, I wanted to devote my next volume to that.
I’m very excited because several of these works have never been translated out of Latin. And some of them were never even printed: they’re still in manuscript form. But I’m really excited about them. There will be works by Sahl, Masha’allah, Abu Ma’shar, Abu Bakr, and others.
NG: That’s wonderful. So I take it you’re still working with the manuscript collector that you met or have you now branched out to other ways of obtaining manuscripts?
BD: I’ve branched out. I have slowly been collecting my own printed editions and manuscript editions for the last few years. I have plenty of material to work on for years to come.
NG: That’s great. I think the traditional astrological community and really the whole astrological community owes a lot to you and your efforts because only now is someone putting these works out in a very accessible form.
BD: It’s very fun for me and I hope I’m performing a good service for other astrologers. I’m learning a lot ,so I’m going to continue doing it.
August 13, 2008 by Nina Gryphon
This is Part 4 of Gryphon Astrology’s interview with astrologer and translator Benjamin Dykes. To catch up on prior parts of the interview, read Part 1, Part 2 , and Part 3 here. In Part 4, Benjamin discusses traditional thought and its application to astrology.
NG: It seems like in some ways it’s almost not possible for us to get away from traditional thought. We can maybe layer it over or twist it but you can never really get away from certain concepts entirely.
BD: Yes. Traditional thinkers worked for a couple of thousand years on a set of themes and questions that were of interest to people in many different times and many different places. And in order to get these conversations going we need to know what they said. There are a lot of fantasies that modern people have about themselves and about what it means to be modern. And traditional thought can sometimes be a corrective that can help dispel these fantasies.
NG: I think conveying that traditional knowledge back into a modern person’s language might be a challenge. Have you experienced that? Or do you feel, as you said, that people just kind of naturally are open to what you’re saying?
BD: It depends. I have met both clients and people in social settings who are modern astrologers, and even if they don’t take on clients themselves, they’re modern people who have mainly studied modern astrology and understand its ethical, cosmological, and social claims. And when I can look at their chart and speak frankly about both good and bad things that are going on in their lives it comes often as a breath of fresh air. They are appreciative. There is a belief out there, and part of it is because of modern fantasies, that you can’t ever say anything bad to the client, because the client is so fragile and probably has so many traumas and so many potential mental illnesses that are just waiting to be unearthed, that you might scar them forever—so someone comes to you for advice but you are not supposed to recognize conventionally bad things in their lives. But clients, even those studying modern astrology, often know the bad things that are present or on the horizon, and they themselves consider it bad, and they are pleased when you acknowledge that. That is one of the things I mean about modern people being receptive to traditional thought: because in traditional thought we can say something is conventionally good or bad.
NG: Perhaps that is why for many people that’s a relief when they start studying traditional techniques that hey, you are allowed to acknowledge the whole of the life or the whole of the person rather than just start working with these fantasies about everything about being good or beneficial.
BD: Or even indulging in fantasies, as I said, about most people having mental illnesses and neuroses and having all sorts of traumas that you have to tiptoe around.
NG: I suppose people are slightly hardier than modern thought would allow them to be. What do you think the current revival of traditional astrology, where do you think that fits on the astrological timeline? At first, we have traditional thought, then for a few hundred years it really goes into dormancy, and now we’re experiencing this revival. Why do you think that is happening now? And where do you think it might go from here kind of on a very large timeline? What do you think it means?
BD: I think several things are happening. First, there are issues of modern culture in general, having to do with people not really being sure what value system they hold, or who are even afraid to say what is good or bad. And I think this leads to people feeling adrift and alienated: so they might naturally turn to traditional thought. And then in various New Age, occult, magical, or astrological circles there are trends back to traditional practices. I’ve met a lot of modern astrologers who say that after studying and practicing for a long time, they’re exhausted with modern astrology. And I think it is partly because astrologers are experiencing some of the same problems that are in the culture in general. There’s always a new technique, always a new vision of the universe, but very little agreement on how to even read a chart.
And so what traditional thought does, I think, is to help ground us. You don’t have to believe everything that medieval people did in order to feel a lot more grounded and confident in talking about stuff in ways that they do. You don’t have to stop being a modern person. But a traditional dialogue on matters of good and bad, or of fate and freedom, helps to articulate issues and values in ways that modern people often have not been prepared for, because we have modern myths that blind us to alternatives. In one sense modern conservatives are right about how an extreme multiculturalism and de facto moral and intellectual relativism has bad effects on people. But you don’t have to be a judgmental jerk in order to cure yourself of that. Traditional thought often has a very realistic, down to earth way of dealing with these issues.
NG: I think one of the things that people find perhaps confusing with modern astrology is they find issues of morality or things not being right or wrong. In that sense, the traditional astrologers can be very refreshing. They say this person is going to be on the evil side and they don’t have to tell you what exactly evil means because we all understand some of these basic concepts.
BD: And it’s not only more refreshing but it’s more helpful. For example, a modern astrologer recently wrote that we should not give bad news to a client if we see something terrible in the chart about the native’s relationships. Now you wouldn’t even treat your best friend that way, leaving them in the dark about something important like that. But there is a certain strand in some modern astrology that says we just can’t talk about that stuff. Someone comes to us for help and we just can’t talk realistically about it.
The issue of good and bad is also interesting because there are a couple of ways that we can look at matters. In traditional astrology, when you look at the houses, the houses are filled with things that are conventionally good and bad, and I think that’s the key. They’re conventionally good and bad: wealth is good, God is good, death is bad, slavery is bad, friends are good. These are conventional values and they are the ones embraced by a philosophers like Aristotle and most of the astrologers in the tradition. The chart, in essence, presents conventional, Aristotelian values.
But there are other ways of looking at things, and this is where you can adopt different philosophical views and adopt a different cosmology. You can say that from God’s perspective, none of this is good or bad. The planets are doing nothing more than carrying out their natures as God has willed their natures to be. Mars, from a God perspective, is not evil. Mars does what he does. But what he does may be conventionally bad for us.
You could take this further in a Stoic direction, a philosophy which is implied but not often articulated well in many Hellenistic texts. This could be useful in astrological therapy. The Stoics disagreed completely with how Aristotle grouped values together. And their whole attitude towards philosophical therapy and healing emotional problems had to do with realizing that what we conventionally recognize as good and evil are not good and evil in themselves; they’re things we should select or deselect in accordance with our natures and what the situation requires. But getting too wrapped up in conventional values sets you up for either misery or false happiness.
So when we’re talking about good and evil with a client, we can talk about conventional good and evils, but we can also talk about—and I think in the future we need to start doing this—something more of a Stoic approach, in which we realize that we are part of a universe in which everything acts according to its nature. And if we can get a bit of critical distance from these conventional values we’ll be a lot more happy and relieved and confident about what we get or do not get, than if we only think our happiness has to do with having these conventional values, and either get scared out of our wits when we lack them or have a false sense of joy when we have them.
You asked about where are we going in the future. I don’t know about the reception of traditional astrology among astrologers generally. But I am confident that within the next five years we will have all of the major and most of the minor works of these key medieval astrologers translated. And we will have resolved issues like whole-sign houses versus quadrant houses, and other matters. I think we’ll have resolved all the main issues and have all the material there. The next step will be to train a new generation of traditional astrologers to work with it.
[Read part 5 of the interview with Ben Dykes.]
August 6, 2008 by Nina Gryphon
For those of you just checking in, this is part 3 of 5 of an interview with Dr. Ben Dykes, the noted traditional astrology text translator and astrologer. Read part 1 and part 2 of the interview before continuing here.
NG: [Changes in astrological meanings, terminology, and concepts are easy to miss] especially when you follow a certain thread of a concept from one book to another. And then perhaps to yet another text. Unless you are a professional I can’t imagine that you would pick up on that.
I think over time your translations are going to really change the way that astrology is practiced and also what our understanding of traditional astrology will become. Is that something you were conscious of when you were doing this? What is your very big picture of where you see your translations making an impact?
BD: My big-picture goal is to make sure that more people who are interested in traditional astrology can practice it and read it, and can both appreciate and communicate the riches that are there. I found that for many people who maybe have some modern astrological training, when they’re presented with traditional ideas and rules, rules of interpretation, they get very turned on and they get very excited. I think this excitement has a good chance of spreading amongst astrologers generally.
One thing I would suggest is that modern astrologers have spent a lot of time focusing on their vision of the universe, their vision of the mind, their cosmology. But my feeling is that they are not as good on techniques. There is not as much discipline with regard to techniques, among other things. On the other hand, while traditional astrology is very heavy on techniques, the traditional astrologers are not very strong on communicating their vision of the universe. Now, some do communicate this. Abu Ma’shar communicates this in his Great Introduction. But it often falls to other kinds of writers who are astrology symphathizers to express what this vision of the universe is.
I think there is work we need to do in traditional astrology to articulate its vision, but one thing we can do is show how these techniques will work for modern astrologers.
NG: It sounds like the techniques are what gets people interested, and then hopefully they absorb some of the traditional world view along with it.
BD: Right. Because by and large, the traditional astrological writers only give a few statements here and there about what their vision of the universe is; but once you start practicing the techniques you’re almost forced to sit back and ask yourself: “Well, what kind of world do I live in that makes these techniques work?” It forces you to look at your view of the universe.
NG: Is that something that happened to you as you got involved in traditional astrology? Was there a moment that you had that you thought: “I’m really not in Kansas anymore?”
BD: It was a shift that took place for me when I was studying under Zoller, because Zoller thinks this is very important. I was already undergoing this shift. I was lucky because I was already teaching traditional philosophical materials from Aristotle and the Stoics to college students, and was personally adopting some of the ideas. I was already prepared to undergo this shift, but I still had to go through it. I
n earlier years, when I had tried to study horary and tried to study Lilly, I found that no matter what ancient or traditional material I was teaching or studying in other parts of my life, whenever I approached the chart, I had my modern psychological hat on. I became easily frustrated because I found that the interpretations didn’t seem to be working. And what I didn’t know until I was studying under Zoller, and was able to blend this traditional material with astrology in my mind, was that in order to practice traditional astrology you really need to take a whole different attitude towards the chart. If you can’t adopt this attitude and make this shift and make certain value judgments the chart will never work out for you.
NG: That’s very interesting. I mean on one hand it’s perhaps the most ephemeral part of being an astrologer and practicing traditional techniques. On the other hand, it sounds like it really does underlie everything else that you do in your practice. Do you think it’s one of the biggest things that traditional astrologers face today?
BD: I think it is. And I think one reason is that the traditional attitude forces you to adopt a kind of critical distance from the chart. When you are trying to analyze planetary strengths and weaknesses, what signs they’re in and so on, and especially when you assume that the houses and the planets refer to objective facts—that’s a very different approach from what some modern astrologers do, which is to rely on their intuition or on associations of psychological ideas in their own minds. Because then the astrologer’s psyche and whatever is bumping around in the psyche is going to insert itself into the judgment. The traditional attitude forces us to have a critical distance. That doesn’t mean there aren’t better and worse traditional astrologers. And that doesn’t mean that traditional astrologers don’t talk about the mind, because they do; but they talk about the mind in a different kind of way. This traditional worldview and how it forces you to approach the chart can’t be underestimated, I think.
NG: How do you think we modern people living today can achieve that paradigm shift? Is that something that simply comes from trying to work with the techniques until your mind is made malleable enough?
BD: I think that most modern people have a lot of junk ideas in their minds about the world. We get them from many different places. But I think that, underlying these ideas, modern people have a natural receptivity to traditional ideas; so often it’s just a case of trying to appeal to what’s already there. So for example, when I taught Stoicism to college undergraduates, I would start out by listing a number of things that the Stoics taught. I would list maybe ten things and present it in a way that seemed incredible and absurd. At first Stoicism seemed like an insane philosophy.
But then once we actually got into how the Stoics think the world works and how the psyche works and how emotions work, I was often able to convince students that they already believed the things the Stoics were teaching. But they hadn’t been taught how to pay attention to it. So in some ways we need more formal instruction and that is something that I’m very interested in doing.
The issue of fate and free will often comes up when we talk about modern-versus-traditional attitudes. And it’s definitely relevant. But unfortunately, very few people who actually talk about the topics have done the research and have actually read traditional authors to figure out what exactly is meant by fate and free will. For example, there are many people who consider themselves modern and atheist in thought who will very vocally insist that we have free will.
But the fact is that our notion of the free will was invented by a set of Jewish and Christian theologians, and they had theological and biblical reasons for inventing this notion. So even people who consider themselves modern and not traditional at all, and are maybe disdainful of traditional attitudes, often hold on to ideas that they don’t know the source of. I think we need broad and detailed discussions by people who are studying this, and who have done the research, to reintroduce and reacquaint us to traditional ideas, many of which I’ve said modern people are already receptive to.
One of those ideas is that people’s lives are to a great degree fated (depending on how we define fate), and that the so-called free will is very rare, if it even exists at all. There are good reasons to think it does not exist, and we see ambiguous attitudes toward it in the astrological texts.