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by Gary Brand - written February 13, 2012,
published in the March 2012 edition of Echo* newspaper
A Renaissance astrologer, who is compiling a list of points to
make after completing a square birth chart for one of his patrons In an earlier lifetime, Gary was much like this Renaissance astrologer, who is compiling a list of points to make after completing a classical square birth chart for one of his patrons.  He wears a cap and a full-length cape because dwellings were drafty and not well insulated.  Like Gary, this astrologer/astronomer is surrounded by reference books and work implements of his time, such as the celestial globe beside him.  Today, one of Gary's prime work implements is his computer, which calculates a chart in seconds.

Armillary Sphere The Armillary Sphere, invented by the Greek astronomer/mathematician Eratosthenes, is comprised of concentric rings representing the celestial great circles of the horizon, ecliptic, equator and meridian.  It also contains rings that represent the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn and the Arctic and Antarctic Circles.  It was used by traditional astrologers to visualize the celestial sphere and compute the positions of the planets at the time of an event to be analyzed astrologically.  The Armillary Sphere pictured here is the frontispiece from French astrologer Claude Dariot's book on Judicial Astrology, published in 1653.
Ptolemy & Astrologia, the Greek goddess of Astrology Claudius Ptolemy (Ptolomeus in Latin) observing a huge armillary sphere and the heavens using an astrolabe and being instructed by Astrologia, the Greek goddess of Astrology, while a scribe records his measurements.  Ptolemy was considered by many traditional astrologers of old as the “father” or “king” of the tradition (he is pictured in royal raiment) but he did not represent the mainstream of the Hellenistic Greek tradition.  Unfortunately, the works of many Greek authors were not available to most traditional astrologers so most embraced Ptolemy as the primary souce of their methodology.  The above depiction, rich is symbolism, is a 1515 woodcut by Erhardt Schön.  What symbols do you see and can you decipher their meaning?
Once in a while, we all need a diversion from our present course.  For a number of recent issues of Echo, I have been engaged in describing the Uranus-Pluto square in-depth and its numerous manifestations in our lives, our nation and the world.  As a diversion, this article is an attempt to briefly enumerate some of the most important differences between traditional and modern astrology in the West (meaning west of India, which is in contrast to astrology as practiced in India, China, Japan or Southeast Asia – the East).  Why are such differences significant to students of Western astrology?  Because traditional astrologers of today are attempting to re-institute and reconstruct the great art/science that we now call “traditional astrology” as it was conceived and practiced some 24 centuries ago by the Hellenistic Greeks, with later innovations contributed by Arabic, Middle Age, and Renaissance astrologers.  Much of this ancient tradition was lost after the European Renaissance (during what I euphemistically refer to as the Age of Endarkenment rather than Enlightenment) and, when what we now call “modern astrology” was born at the close of the 19th century, it was very different from and scant in comparison to its traditional roots.  There was also a gradual decline in understanding of certain key concepts as the astrological tradition spread from Greece to Rome during the Roman Empire, when it withdrew to Persia and Arabia during the European Dark Ages, was reintroduced back into Europe during the Middle Ages where it subsequently flourished as a key component of governance, aristocracy and ecclesiastical affairs during the Renaissance, and then emigrated to the U.S. (some of the earliest books published in the American colonies were astrological almanacs).

Many of the technical terms of traditional astrology contained in this article will be unfamiliar to the majority of my readers, even to those of you who are students of modern astrology, but I include them to give you a flavor of how much of the tradition has been lost and is absent from or not understood in modern astrology.  An example is essential dignities, a component of which is triplicity rulers.  The triplicities are called “elements” (fire, earth, air, water) by modern astrologers and, in traditional astrology, each triplicity or trigon was assigned three planetary rulers or governors.  The triplicity rulers remained consistent with Greek tradition, except Claudius Ptolemy (c. 100-170 A.D.) – who apparently did not understand the Greek rationale, during the Dark Ages as practiced by Arabic astrologers, through the Middle Ages as used by Italian astrologer Guido Bonatti (c. 1210-1290), and during the Renaissance by French astrologer Claude Dariot (1530-1594).  Nonetheless, the basic Greek assignments of triplicity rulers were lost upon almost all other Renaissance practitioners, many of which followed Ptolemy, probably because other Greek texts were unavailable to them.  Modern astrologers have completely discarded the planetary rulers of the essential dignities of triplicities, terms (or bounds), and faces but have retained the essential dignities/debilities of exaltation and fall (though most moderns are unaware of the Greek rationales and some have invented their own).

Traditional astrologers during the Middle Ages (e.g. Bonatti) and the Renaissance used an innovative numbering system for “essential” dignities and debilities (derived from the nature or sign relationships of the planets), as well as “accidental” dignities and debilities (derived from circumstances of the planets), with which they systematically evaluated both the overall inherent (essential) and circumstantial (accidental) strength (dignity) or weakness (debility) of every planet in an astrological chart.  Modern astrologers, if aware of this enumerative system, don’t use it.  However, they do take into account some of the traditional “accidental” dignities and debilities, like combust the Sun, Via Combusta (the way of fire), besieged, void of course, and retrogradation.

The numerous applications and meanings of planetary sect (the inherent diurnal or nocturnal nature of a planet), such as spear-bearing, trigon rulers, terms (or bounds) rulers, the Greek and Arabic lots (or parts, e.g. the Lot or Part of Fortune), counter-resolution, Hayz, Firdar, and Hyleg are lost upon most modern astrologers.  Likewise, concepts forgotten or unused in modern astrology include joy by sign and house; the several forms of reception (moderns typically recognize only mutual reception); whether a planet is oriental or occidental; conformity of quarter, security, almugea, proper face and the domicile rulership pattern; whether a planet is peregrine or feral; whether there is collection, translation, denunciation or abscission of light between planets; the concepts of refrenation, frustration, hearing and seeing, and juxtaposition; the several forms of sympathies between the signs; planetary periods and their application in predictive methods; and the mathematically complex predictive technique of primary directions.

With the advent of the modern telescope, accurate ephemeredes and computer-generated charts, many modern astrologers are unfamiliar with the location and movement of the planets in the sky and in their synodic cycles, which were of great importance to traditional astrologers down through the ages.  An example of traditional knowledge that has been lost in modern times is the distinction made by traditional astrologers between dexter aspects (right-handed or hurling of rays backward in the zodiac) and sinister aspects (left-handed or looking ahead in the zodiac), which depends upon where the two planets are in their synodic cycle with each other.  Traditional astrology concepts of swiftness of course, increasing or decreasing in light and number, several forms of elevation, and ascending/descending in the circle of a planet’s auge are planetary circumstances that were used by past masters to evaluate planetary standing or strength based on the synodic cycle.

In closing, I want to emphasize two points:  (1) I have merely scratched the surface of the differences between traditional and modern astrology and (2) modern astrology is not merely a shadow of traditional astrology resulting from numerous losses of understanding, concepts and practices.  Indeed, it has added innovations unimagined by the great astrologers of old, such as Astro-Carto-GraphyTM and relocated birth charts, new house systems, computer-aided astrology, composite and Davidson charts, planetary patterns, midpoint pictures, psychological astrology, accurate ephemerides and many more.

*Echo is a monthly newspaper about community, the environment, health, cuisine, and spirituality that is distributed in central Virginia.
Good Timing and Location are Keys to Success

Gary Brand, Astrologer
Tallahassee, Florida

© copyright 2012-2013 Gary Brand.  All rights reserved.