Astrology Book Review: Astrologia Gallica, Book 17 (Jean-Baptiste Morin, trans. James Herschel Holden)

May 31, 2009 by  

Astrology Book Review: Astrologia Gallica 17

James Herschel Holden, the premier English translator of the works of Jean-Baptiste Morin, recently published this essential volume, Book 17 of the Astrologia Gallica. Book 17 discusses the qualities of the 12 houses, and, as is typical for Morin, he lays out and refutes the objections of those who say that the division of the sky into 12 parts is arbitrary. Never one to shrink from ambitious projects, Morin discusses the reasoning behind the meaning of each house, and makes some of his own emendations according to his own logic. Then, he moves on to discussing the various house systems, and makes arguments for his own preference for Regiomontanus, after which he explains his own eponymous system. Book 17 concludes with some theoretical discussion of the calculations used in determining house cusps, which is primarily of theoretical and historical importance, though less so for practicing astrologers today.

Briefly…

A slim but essential book for understanding Morin’s system of horoscope construction and interpretation. The theory behind house construction is interesting, primarily for those with interest in the history of astrology and astronomy. For astrologers who simply want to understand Morin’s assignations of the house meanings, there is plenty of food for thought and in-depth discussion as well. Perhaps the most unique feature of Morin’s house meanings is his linking of opposite houses. For example, the traditional meaning of the sixth house is that of illness; Morin also assigns this as one of the meanings of the opposite, the 12th house, precisely because the two are opposite and therefore share some essential meaning. Book 17 of Astrologia Gallica will be of interest to intermediate to advanced astrologers, but beginners can get a great deal out of it as well, provided they can keep up with the various historical references to other astrologers and some of the more obscure astrological/astronomical terminology. For those who want additional information by Morin about the houses, he wrote a short work called The Cabal of the 12 Houses, which was translated in 1659 by the English astrologer Sir George Wharton.

Contents and Structure

The book is divided into three major parts: Section 1, “The Cabal of the Astrological Houses and Its Natural Foundation That We Have Revealed,” Section 2, “The Erection of Celestial Figures for Astrology,” and Section 3 “In Which the Essence or the Formal Reason for the Astrological Houses Is Stated.”

Section 1 begins with restating basic arguments that Morin made in Book 14 of Astrologia Gallica, namely that the “birth, bigger, decline, and the death of things” are all distinct periods of life on earth, and therefore are shown by different parts of the heaven. Philosophically, Morin assumes agreement with the basic notion of “on earth as it is in heaven.” Chapter 2 begins with the most basic distinction in the heavens; above the horizon and below it, with the ascendant, or the rising place being the most powerful of all the points in the heavens. The Midheaven is the apex of the path of the body as it travels through the heavens, the setting represents decline, while the angle of the earth or the fourth house is directly below the Earth and represents the death or end of something. In Chapter 3, Morin provides a table listing the meanings of each of the houses. The two major differences between his meanings and those of the older astrologers is the assignment of illnesses to the 12th house and the assignment of both the parents to the fourth house, whereas before it was only associated with the father. It is interesting to note here Morin’s reference to Kepler, who correctly stated that it is the earth that turns, and not the heavens. Morin apparently went to his grave believing that the earth is stationary, in accordance with the Church dogma of that time.

Chapter 4 affirms that there are 12 divisions of the heavens, and they are divided by three because of the divine Trinity. Thus, it follows naturally in Chapter 5 is an explanation of the threefold division, the triplicity. Each of the four triplicities is associated with with one of the angles; for example, the first house in the first triplicity is that of the ascendant, followed by the ninth house of religion, and then the fifth house of children. Morin calls it the triplicity of life. He goes through each of the triplicities in turn, concluding that everything that happens to humans can be shown by one or more of the 12 houses. Chapter 6 presents Morin’s view that the opposite houses are related, as discussed above with the example of the sixth and 12th houses. Chapters 7 and 8 are theoretical reputations of anti-astrological writers, including Pico Mirandola, and an additional exploration of the relationship of the fall of man and the division of the heavens into 12 houses. Morin comes to the conclusion that even if we lived in a prelapsarian state, the heaven would still have been divided into the 12 houses we know today. Here, he runs into the theological problem of suffering, which is only said to have begun after Adam’s exile from Eden. This makes it difficult to place houses four, eight, and 12, which are associated with suffering, but he performs a little logical legerdemain.

Section 2 takes up the division of the houses into two halves, that above and below the horizon, and of the vertical division of the Meridian. Chapter 2 examines and rejects be equal house system which divides the ecliptic into 12 equal parts. Morin attacks that on the basis of the two most important points of the horoscope, the Ascendant and the Medium Coeli, not starting their appropriate houses. In Equal House system, the first house would begin at 0° of the given sign, and the Ascendant would be somewhere in the house, but not necessarily copresent with the beginning of the house. Morin also shows the horoscope of Cardan, “the Prince of Astrologers,” to demonstrate the efficacy of systems other than the equal house system. Perhaps somewhat inevitably, Morin shows his own nativity, which he uses throughout Astrologia Gallica, and complains of his Pisces stellium in the Vale of Miseries, also known as the 12th house. This is an interesting chapter, because in it, Morin gives great autobiographical detail, and reveals his character indirectly. He uses the difficulties of his life to show that in the Regiomontanus system, his miseries were shown by all the planets in the 12th house, whereas in the Equal House system, they would have been in the benefic 11th house. Of course, some might argue that his life was indeed very fortunate, prosperous, and highly accomplished. He then uses as an example another nativity that shows up throughout Astrologia Gallica, that of Gustavus Adolphus, the King of Sweden. He died in battle, and his chart is indeed very violent and indicative of a military death. Another horoscope is given, that of the Duke of Montmorency, and that of Albert Wallenstein, the Duke of Friedland. These were all military commanders during the war-filled 17th century, all of whom died violently in battle.

Chapter 3 lists a few other house systems of which Morin disapproves, including that of Porphyry and Alchabitius, the latter having been used extensively before and during Morin’s time. In Chapter 4, Morin examines the Campanus method of house division, and finds it wanting, partly because the system divides the ecliptic and the equator into unequal parts, and often does not intersect the ecliptic. Moran also shows his natal chart as it would have been drawn using the Campanus system, and points out that in that system Saturn would have ruled his ninth house of religion, rather than Jupiter, and Saturn would not have made Morin as deeply devout as he had been. He then displays the Nativity of François de Bonne, the Constable of France, who ascended through the ranks of the nobility, which is better indicated by the Regiomontanus system. Chapter 5 comes to the inevitable conclusion that the Regiomontanus is the better house system, and Morin’s own variation of it, which later becomes known as the Morin house system, is by far the best method to use.

Section 3 is the most theoretical and perhaps mathematical of the entire book, and begins with the assertion that the essence of an astrological house is the relation of its location to the native’s location on the earth. Chapter 2 states correctly that the houses are determined by a line that passes through the center of the earth, even though a human is born on the surface of the earth. The difference between these two locations should be corrected by parallax, but Morin does not apparently do so for any of his charts. Chapter 3 determines that the heaven should be divided into 12 houses, rather than some other number, and reaffirms the privacy of the ascendant degree. Chapter 4 and Chapter 5 discuss some of the ambiguities that are writes from dividing the sky into houses. Chapter 6 briefly discusses some traditional divisions of the houses, such as into four quadrants. Moran quickly dispenses with these, stating that it is illogical for the fourth quadrant, comprising houses one, two, and three, to be called that of the old age, because it contains the first house, which represents the beginning of life, not its end.

Observations

Book 17 of Astrologia Gallica is challenging, but essential for understanding some of the concepts that Moran later takes for granted in the following volumes. It is particularly useful to look at the concepts that he retains from the tradition, and those that he discards, such as the division of the heaven into four quadrants, as shown in the last chapter. The book is also worthwhile for examining the lives and natal horoscopes of people largely forgotten by history, and to watch over the master astrologers shoulder as he interprets them. Another highly recommended book from the Astrologia Gallica series.

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Astrologia Gallica: Book Seventeen, The Astrological Houses
By: Jean-Baptiste Morin
Translated by: James Herschel Holden, M.A., Fellow of the American Federation of Astrologers
American Federation of Astrologers, 2008
21.95 USD
Available from Amazon.com, AstroAmerica.com, and Astrologers.com.

Astrology Book Review: The Judgments of Nativities (Abu ‘Ali Al-Khayyat, trans. James Holden)

May 10, 2009 by  

Prophet Elijah. Astrology Book Review: The Judgments of Nativities

This essential work has been re-released by the AFA more than 20 years after the first edition appeared in print. The Judgments of Nativities is a classic of natal astrology, and a remarkably lucid and systematic exposition of traditional astrological principles. Many astrologers keep their copy of The Judgments of Nativities close to hand, and most copies from the 1988 edition are disintegrating at this stage from frequent use. Thus, the re-release is a most welcome step by the AFA, who obviously took great care in the presentation of their new edition. The new edition font is clear and easy to read, while the cover is a handsome glossy red abstract design. Inexpensive printing options have clearly advanced a great deal in the last 20 years!

Briefly…

The content in the 2nd edition is unchanged, as far as I could tell. The translator’s 1988 preface is still there, providing a good, beginner-friendly introduction to this 1000-year-old astrology text. In the introduction, Holden actually gives a summary of the history of astrology, placing Al-Khayyat’s book in proper historical context. The book is suitable for intermediate astrology students, since some previous knowledge of concepts like triplicity rulers, for instance, is assumed. An excellent text on natal astrology according to the Arabs.

Contents & Structure

The Judgments of Nativities starts with material on rearing of children and the length of life; the traditional astrologers, including Al-Khayyat, always started their analysis by determining whether the native will survive infancy, and if so, the length of his life. There is also material on the native’s quality of mind (what we might call personality today), and several example charts apparently taken from Greek sources. The examples illustrate the triplicity lord method, indicating the success of the native by looking at the condition of the sect ruler’s triplicity lords.

Al-Khayyat then goes house by house to determine the quality of the different areas of the life. There are many aphorisms sprinkled throughout this portion of the text with a distinct Hellenistic provenance, such as “if any one of the fortunes is in the 11th sign from the Part of Fortune, it signifies the acquisition of money and of assets from good things.” There is also some interesting material on determining the parents’ length of life.

Chapters 39-50 are cookbook style materials on the placement of the planets in the houses and signs, with some material on the placement of the Part of Fortune. The latter materials appear to be specific to profection of the Part of Fortune, rather than just natal placements.

There are some excellent appendixes in this text. Appendix I goes through the many example horoscopes provided in the text, figuring out their approximate dates (they are from the 1st and 5th/6th centuries AD. Appendix II is from Masha’allah’s Book of Nativities, giving additional techniques for calculating the native’s length of life, so the reader can compare Al-Khayyat and Masha’allah’s methods, which are very similar, but not identical.

Observations

As always, James Holden’s translation is clear and easy to read, bringing this old text closer to modern readers. Because of Al-Khayyat’s thorough and succinct approach, this text is highly recommended for astrologers who want to get started with traditional natal astrology. An extremely accessible and cohesive text.

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The Judgments of Nativities

Abu ‘Ali Al-Khayyat, translated by James H. Holden, M.A.

American Federation of Astrologers, 2008, 146 pages, paperback.

USD 23.95

Available from astrologers.com, astroamerica.com, and amazon.com

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

August 7, 2008 by  

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

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

Briefly…

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

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

Book Contents and Structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Observations.

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

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

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Works of Sahl & Masha’allah

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

The Cazimi Press, 2008

Available from the translator at www.bendykes.com. 532 pages, hardcover.

91.95 USD

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