Astrologer Interview: James H. Holden (Part 1)

September 2, 2008 by  

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.]

Astrology 101: Are You Shameless?

August 26, 2008 by  

If you have Venus or Mars in detriment in the Ascendant, the astrological writer Hermes seems to think so.

In the Centiloquy of Hermes Trismegistus, Aphorism #25* says:

“In the nativities of women, when the Ascendant is in any of the domiciles of Venus with Mars in them or when the Ascendant is in any of the domiciles of Mars with Venus in them, the woman will be shameless; and it will be the same if she has Capricorn in the Ascendant.”

A workable definition of shamelessness is public immorality; Hermes refers to sexual immorality, but this is somewhat narrow based on our examples. Also, as our examples below show, the native does not have to be female for this rule to apply. I excluded Capricorn rising from the examination, because this clause is unclear: Is Hermes referring to Venus or Mars in the Ascendant in Capricorn? Or is having Capricorn rising enough?

1. Bill Clinton – Libra rising, Mars in Libra. Clinton’s failings are a matter of public record, though the publication was not exactly voluntary, which may be a necessary component of shamelessness.

2. Pete Rose – Aries rising, Venus in Aries. A record-breaking baseball player at the epicenter of a major baseball gambling scandal. Rose bet on his own team for years, and eventually served time for tax evasion, presumably because of the underreported gambling income. Despite his obvious skill as a baseball player, Rose will probably never be admitted to the Hall of Fame due to the gambling scandal.

3. Anais Nin – Libra rising, Mars in Libra. A published diarist who described her personal experiences with sex; her writing was meant for public consumption. This seems the closest to Hermes’ definition of shamelessness – intentional display of one’s personal life for public view.

4. Roman Polanski – Libra rising, Mars in Libra. Film director who fled to France due to being indicted for sex with a 13-year-old in the U.S. During an unrelated libel trial twenty years later, with Polanski as plantiff, it was remarked: “Surely a man like this hasn’t got a reputation to tarnish?”

5. Groucho Marx – Scorpio rising, Venus in Scorpio. Not particularly known for public vices, perhaps the most scandalous fact is that all of Marx’s wives were considerably younger than him, with the last one over 40 years younger than Marx. Still, this hardly qualifies as shameless, even by traditional, conservative societal standards.

6. Grace Slick – Scorpio rising, Venus in Scorpio. The vocalist for Jefferson Airplane, Slick has had a typical rock‘n’roll life; famous lovers, child out of wedlock, and run-ins with the law for various infractions.

Many charts that I examined (with a reasonably specific birth time) with the Aphorism #25 characteristics do not seem especially remarkable for their shamelessness. Of course, perhaps we just don’t know them well enough!

Dear reader: what do you think? Is Aphorism 25 right?

*As translated by James Herschel Holden in Five Medieval Astrologers.

Celebrity Astrology: Who Are Your Enemies?

August 22, 2008 by  

What if your horoscope could tell who your enemies will be? A tidbit in Ibn Ezra’s The Book of Nativities and Revolutions (written c. 1140-1160) tells us a quick way to do just that. All you have to know is your rising sign; the 12th sign from the ascendant tells us about the nature of people who will make your life just a little less pleasant. I won’t give away all of the signs, because you should really read this great book yourself, but I will use a few famous examples to illustrate the simplicity and accuracy of Ibn Ezra’s method.

Bill Clinton – Libra rising –> Virgo ruling 12th sign. “Quarrels with the learned people.” Pretty accurate for someone who spent much of his presidency in court and especially in the press (both ruled by Mercury, ruler Virgo). John McCain, Jimmy Carter, and JFK all have Libra rising as well.

George W. Bush – Leo rising –> Cancer ruling 12th sign. “Most people will hate him,” because the 12th sign ruler is the Moon, ruler of the people. This correlates with Bush’s chronically low approval ratings and general lack of popularity worldwide.

Barack Obama – Aquarius rising –> Capricorn ruling 12th sign. “He will hate himself and will bring upon himself quarrels for no good reason.” Ouch! The reasoning is that the same planet rules the 12th and the 1st houses, so Obama is the cause of his own undoing and his own worst enemy.

What is your 12th house sign? Does it describe your enemies or interpersonal conflicts?

Astrology 101: An Easy Way to Predict Your Fate

August 20, 2008 by  

Accurate astrological prediction is supposed to be complex and incredibly time-consuming. It can be, and if you want detailed predictions, you will have to put in serious time studying the natal chart, directions/progressions, and other steps. However, there is an easy method for determining how good your life will be. Joseph Crane mentions it in his book, Astrological Roots (click for review), but the method comes from the ancient Greek astrologer Dorotheus, whose book, Carmen Astrologicum,  or the Song of Astrology, is widely available in English today.

Everyone’s life has peaks and valleys, times of good fortune and bad, and this method accounts for those variations. But this is not just about one’s material well-being, though of course money will play its role. This method shows which parts of our lives will be happier and easier than others.

Predicting with Dorothean Triplicities

Here is the basic method, step by step:

1. Examine the natal chart. Note which planets are strong or weak by sign, house, and aspect.

2. Determine the length of the native’s life. This is tricky, and merits a full chapter in a book, if not a book in itself. If you’re not familiar with this technique, you can use 75 years for our purposes, and be right much of the time.

3. Identify the luminary of the time (i.e.: the sect luminary). For those born at night, this will be the Moon; the Sun rules day births.

4. Note the elemental triplicity (earth, fire, water, air) of the sect luminary. Look up the planets in the table below, noting their order. For day births, note the planets in the order written. If you were born at night, the planet marked N will go first, then the planet marked D, followed by P:


Sun (D)

Jupiter (N)

Saturn (P)


Saturn (D)

Mercury (N)

Jupiter (P)


Venus (D)

Moon (N)

Mars (P)


Venus (D)

Mars (N)

Moon (P)

5. Each planet rules one third of your life. The happiness during that third of your life will depend on the strength of the planet in question.

Example: Barack Obama’s Horoscope

We can try out this method, with abbreviated commentary, on Barack Obama’s horoscope, which is below.

Barack Obama's Horoscope

Obama was born just after sunset, but it was still daylight, so we can consider his horoscope diurnal. Therefore, the sect luminary is the Sun in Leo. Leo is of the fiery triplicity, so the first third of his life is ruled by the Sun, the second by Jupiter, and the last by Saturn.

First third of Obama’s life – Sun in Leo, ruler of the 7th house, placed in the 6th house.

The strength of the Sun in its own sign tells us that Obama’s youth was generally positive, but the sixth house rules slavery and low social status, which might indicate difficulties early on in life. The sixth house also rules illness. Because the Sun rules the seventh house of other people, significant others, and open enemies, we might assume that he suffered through interpersonal relationships at this time, and that they created obstacles for him.

Second third of Obama’s life – Jupiter rx in Aquarius in the 12th house, ruling the 2nd and 11th houses, opposing Mercury in Leo in the 6th house, trine the Moon in Gemini in the 4th house.

This part of Obama’s life is auspicious for his career and wealth, as Jupiter rules the 11th house of good fortune and ambition, and the second house of money. Jupiter is moderately strong, as it is a triplicity ruler of Aquarius, but it is afflicted by house placement in the malefic 12th house of secret enemies, and by being retrograde. This might indicate partial success, but hindrances from enemies and secrets. There could also be health issues at this time, because the sixth/12th house polarity is involved. The Moon is relatively weak in Gemini, and ruling the sixth house might cast aspersions on his heritage (Moon in the 4th).

Last third of Obama’s life – Saturn rx in Capricorn in the 12th house, ruling the 12th and 1st houses, trine Mars in Virgo in the 8th, square Fortuna in the 3rd.

The last part of Obama’s life will be good, though not without some suffering. Saturn is a malefic placed him in the 12th house, so again we see suffering through hidden enemies. The contact to Fortuna promises financial success, but not without effort. Saturn’s trine to Mars might bring career success, as Mars rules Obama’s 10th house of success and fame. However, the weak house placement of the two planets indicates incomplete success, or even harm through his public standing.

Take a look at your own chart and see what comes up using this method. Is it accurate for you?

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

August 19, 2008 by  

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


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

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

Book Contents and Structure

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

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

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

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

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


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


Astrological Roots: The Hellenistic Legacy

By: Joseph Crane

The Wessex Astrologer, 2007

Available from and

305 pages, softcover.

22.50 GBP (about double in USD)

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

Isaac Hayes: Music & Creativity in His Horoscope

August 15, 2008 by  

Isaac Hayes, who died this week, is best known for his music, spanning soul, R&B, and funk, but he is most famous for his theme song for Shaft. Using traditional astrological methods, we can find music in Hayes’s horoscope.

Isaac Hayes Has Soul

It is said that the planet rising just before the Sun is the strongest indicator of one’s profession. For Hayes, that is Venus in Leo in the Ascendant trine the Moon in the 5th house. Venus in Leo loves to be center stage, and in the 1st house, Hayes had a relentless drive to be famous and unique (Venus ruled by the Sun).

The Moon is in Sagittarius in the 5th house of pleasure and creativity, a high-energy placement for a musician. Bonatti writes that planets in mutable signs make one “expert at gaining the knowledge of music”. This is true for Isaac Hayes: five out of seven planets are in mutable signs, including the all-important Mercury and Moon.

A Prolific Musician…

The 5th house of creativity is important for any artist, and Isaac Hayes’s 5th is activated by the Moon trine Venus. However, the Moon is also opposite Saturn in Gemini, a barren but multiple sign, which is strongly placed in the 11th house of good fortune. For Hayes, creativity is combined with a capacity for hard work, but there would have been difficulties stemming from Hayes’s fickle audience and friends. Saturn rules the 7th house of the public, and the 11th house of friends.

Hayes’s sheer quantity of work came from the Moon-Mercury-Mars-Jupiter-Saturn combination, heavily involving the 5th house. All of the planets are in double signs, giving quantity, and Jupiter is in hyper-fertile Cancer. The squares and opposition indicate that creativity was not easy, and Hayes had to work hard to create music. The strength of exalted Jupiter and Mercury suggests the result was worth it.

…with a Prolific Personal Life

Isaac Hayes was married four times, and had a total of 12 children. Saturn, ruler of his 7th house of marriage, is in double sign Gemini, aspecting three planets, all of which are in double signs themselves. Three marriages would have been the absolute bare minimum for someone with this configuration.

The 12 children are shown by the same combination as Hayes’s prolific creativity; the 5th house and the five associated planets. Similarly to his marriages, an astrologer predicting Hayes’s future would probably lose count of the possible number of children, and say he would have lots of offspring. Lots and lots of offspring!

Iran: Astrological Path to Revolution and War, Part III

August 5, 2008 by  

Last week, we used eclipses to narrow down the most likely time for conflict in Iran. The time frame was the 20-year period between two Great Conjunctions, 1961-1980. Very heavy eclipse activity activating both the 1961 Great Conjunction horoscope and the Reza Khan coronation horoscope (1926) pointed toward 1977 and 1978 as the most dangerous two years in the ’61-’80 period for the Shah and the country.

So, we have the timing of potential upheaval, and our next task is to find the nature of the events. We look to the 1977 and 1978 Aries Ingress horoscopes. These are the charts cast for the moment that the Sun enters Aries, showing important events and influences for the coming year.

1977 Aries Ingress set for Tehran, Iran

This horoscope looks ominous for the Shah. A very debilitated Saturn afflicts the 10th house of the King, trine the Moon in Aries. The Moon represents the people, and Aries is the fall of Saturn. The people will cause the King to fall; in a Mars-ruled sign – the fall occurs by violence.

The 1977 solar total eclipse that triggers the Great Conjunction and coronation charts occurs at 19 Libra. It is ruled by Venus, which rules the King’s open enemies (the hard-liner Muslims, ruled by Venus). Venus is in the 6th house with the malefic South Node in the Aries Ingress, conjunct the 10th house of the eclipse chart. The King is afflicted in 1977.

1978 Aries Ingress set for Tehran, Iran

The violence intensifies. The Shah in this horoscope is ruled by Mars, ruler of the 10th house. Mars in Cancer, the sign of its fall, is conjunct the 7th house of the country’s open enemies. The Shah is in his enemies’ power and is in real danger of falling. This conjunction is activated by Mars in the 1977 Solar Eclipse. Moreover, the Midheaven of the April 1978 eclipse is conjunct the Mars-7th house conjunction as well.

Further, we have the Moon, which rules the Shah in the coronation horoscope, trine Venus in detriment, and applying to Mercury in Aries. Mercury rules the 8th house of the Shah, the radical 5th house. Physical death, perhaps, but also the death of the dynasty, and the end of a royal era in Iran. The Shah died in 1980, but his future was already made clear in the Aries Ingress horoscope for 1978.

Next week, we will look at a whole new set of horoscopes for Iran, this time for the Islamic Republic, in order to determine the current sensitive points in Iran’s horoscope, including indications of the Iran-Iraq war. This will help us determine whether war in Iran is likely in the near future.


Read Part I of the Iran Series – The seeds of the revolution in the Shah’s Coronation and 1961 Great Conjunction charts.

Part II of the Iran Series – The revolution draws near: Eclipse hits to the coronation and 1961 Great Conjunction.

Part III of the Iran Series – The revolution is here and the Shah is deposed.  Aries Ingress charts for 1977 and 1978.

Part IV of the Iran Series – War comes again: the charts for the Islamic Republic and the 1980 Great Conjunction.

Part V of the Iran Series – Early indications of war and Khomeini’s death.

Part VI of the Iran Series – When would the war begin?

Part VII of the Iran Series – The 2000 Great Conjunction and the Khomeini horoscope.

Astrology 101: Leonardo da Vinci & the Quality of Mind

July 31, 2008 by  

Can we find creativity in the horoscope? We will look at Leonardo da Vinci’s horoscope to determine whether his tremendous inventiveness and flow of ideas were shown in his chart. To do this, we will use a method called determining the “quality of the mind.” This is a much more nuanced examination than an astrological IQ test, because unlike such tests, this method shows the person’s facility in various thinking modes. The horoscope shows one’s level of interpersonal intelligence, creative intelligence, physical intelligence, and so on.

1. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mind.

We look at the conditions of Mercury and the Moon, the left brain and right brain, respectively.

Mercury is angular in the 4th house and thus is better positioned than the Moon. This means the native is more likely to rely on the left brain, analytical functions of the mind. However, Mercury is not very strong by sign – it is in Aries, where it moves very fast – perhaps too fast to do the kind of comparison, pro-and-con thinking Mercury loves and excels at. But Mercury was actually moving very slowly at the time of da Vinci’s birth, likely leading to a tense frustration between Mercury’s motion and its fast sign.

Opposition to an exalted Saturn can give good spatial reasoning, but there is the sense that cold, hard reality bumped up against da Vinci’s lightning-fast mind. Saturn rules the 3rd house of communication, and he may have had difficulty conveying his ideas to others in the same purity of vision he had in his mind. Mars in Aquarius on the third house cusp made his communication fast and perhaps a touch abrasive.

The Moon is in its joy, the third house. Being cadent, the Moon is much more “tucked away” than Mercury, but for all that, it is a veritable fountain of inspiration. First, the Moon is in the phlegmatic, or watery 4th quarter, and it is in Pisces, the most fertile of the signs. This in itself shows a pouring forth of creative ideas from the native’s right brain. As if that weren’t enough, the Moon is conjunct Jupiter in Pisces – the two most fertile planets in the most fertile sign. The third house rules communication and indeed, Leonardo’s writings and jottings are legion.

The Moon-Jupiter conjunction is sextile Leonardo’s Taurus Sun placed in the fifth house of creativity. The Taurus Sun, combined with the Saturn influence on Mercury, tell us that da Vinci’s creativity will be channeled toward the practical, tangible world. Still, Pisces is what it is, and the inventions may often seem outlandish and otherworldly. The Sun rules the 9th house of faith, so there is a sense of divine inspiration in da Vinci’s horoscope.

2.  Leonardo da Vinci’s Significator of the Mind.

The significator of mind (aka Significator of Manner in some texts) describes the native’s personality, and the way he or she thinks and interacts with the world.

The SoM should be a planet with influence over both Mercury and the Moon. For Mercury, this is most likely Mars, as Mercury is sextile Mars and in Mars’s sign. However, we must also include the opposition to a strongly placed Saturn. The Moon is most strongly influenced by Jupiter, due to the conjunction and the fact that the Moon is in Jupiter’s sign. Ptolemy writes that Saturn and Jupiter together give a “virtuous, respectful, well-intentioned mind…prudent, patient, and philosophical.” Mars adds a bit of recklessness, a big mouth, and fierceness. Leonardo probably shunned the limelight, but had a fierce streak when challenged.

Bonus question: Who can see Leonardo’s famous “mirror writing” in his horoscope?

Mercury in Virgo August 10 – August 30, Best Location All Year

July 30, 2008 by  

Mercury in Virgo August 10 - August 30

Mercury will enter its own sign and exaltation, Virgo, on August 10th. This is great news for Mercury, which has been in a relatively weak position since it left Gemini in early July. But Mercury could not be any happier than it is in Virgo, a mutable/double earth sign, where the Trickster gets to apply all he’s learned to the real world. Mercury is right at home in mundane affairs, indeed. The only problem is that he rarely looks at the big picture, so busy is he running to and fro.

Mercury in Virgo

Virgo is an earth sign associated with the harvest, which is odd, because it is also a barren sign. Its qualities, cold and dryness, are not exactly associated with massive fertility. The harvest association likely came from the days when the extremely benefic fixed star Spica (the Stalk of Wheat) was in Virgo, despite the fact that Spica is now at 24 Libra, and was last in Virgo over 1,700 years ago. Indeed, many depictions of Virgo today still show a young woman with a stalk of wheat.

Ibn Ezra, a medieval astrologer, writes that Virgo rules writers, comedians, women and eunuchs, and mathematicians. This is convenient, because Mercury rules these as well, with the exception of women (the eunuchs could be Mercurial, because they are neither fully male nor female). [from The Beginning of Wisdom by Avraham Ibn-Ezra, trans. Meira Epstein]

If you have Mercury in Virgo, this is very positive, and unless your Moon is much more prominent than Mercury, you can rely on your left brain skills pretty well. The exact way you use your Mercury in Virgo depends on its position, rulerships, and aspects. As an example, a Mercury-Saturn aspect might show a tendency to serious, scholarly thinking, and negative influences might tend to depression and gloom.

Larry Ellison has Mercury conjunct Mars in Virgo, if memory serves, which probably makes him very sharp and quite critical.  Princess Kiko of Japan, originally a commoner, has Mercury in Virgo as her significator of wealth, and Mercury’s position probably makes it quite helpful to her in surviving the rule-laden Japanese royal household.

Now, let’s see what Mercury will do in August, and what it means for us.

Mercury Aspects in August

August 15 – Mercury conjunct Saturn in Virgo. Probably not the best day for your Mercurial tasks, such as important communications, journeys, or merchandising of any kind. Saturn is restrictive and produces denials and delays. However, the day is favorable for solitary, deep thinking, and scholarly pursuits.

August 18 – Mercury trine Jupiter in Capricorn. A day when Mercurial things seem to turn out better than they really did. Jupiter in Capricorn is weak, and because it is a benefic, it appears rather better than it is in reality. Lots of things are going on, and you may want to do make your big Mercurial move, but your expectations are bigger than is warranted.

August 19 – Mercury in Exaltation Degree (15th degree). Mercury is very strong today, so if you don’t mind the applying aspect to a weak Venus, now’s a good day to do your Mercurial errands and tasks.

August 21 – Mercury conjunct Venus in Virgo. Venus in Virgo can have trouble letting her hair down, and Mercury is happy to communicate that. This might be a good day for fun without consequences, or fun…but not too much of it. Not the most favorable combination, as Venus is another debilitated benefic, like Jupiter.

[Missed Mercury in Leo?  Here it is.]

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

July 29, 2008 by  

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

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


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

Book Contents and Structure

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

By: Deborah Houlding

The Wessex Astrologer, 2006

Available at, the Wessex Astrologer, and at Amazon.

168 pages, paperback.

14.50 GBP/25.00 USD

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

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