Thursday, 8 October 2015

Albohazen (or Halyian) House System

In Fred Gettings' Dictionary of Astrology (Penquin Arkana: 1990) he makes brief reference to the Halyian house system. This system also goes by the name of the Albohazen house system. Gettings writes: "The system is ascribed to the Arabian astrologer Albohazen Haly, who lived in the 11th century, and is sometimes called the Albohazen system." (p. 224)

This system is of some interest because Gettings' description of it suggests that it prefigures Carter's Poli-Equatorial system (see separate post on this site). Gettings' says that the Halyian system is "A method of house division...whereby the projected arc was defined by the passage of two hours of right ascension for each house, measured from the Ascendant." (p. 224)

This is exactly the procedure described by Carter to determine the cusps for the Poli-Equatorial system. Carter does not refer to this medieval system in his description of Poli-Equatorial houses. However, Gettings' reference to the Halyian, or Albohazen, system, does seem to suggest an historical precedent for Carter's modern, and unjustly neglected, method of house division.

Carter writes that for the poli equatorial method “...the houses are demarcated by circles passing through the celestial poles and dividing the equator into twelve equal arcs, the cusp of the 1sthouse passing through the ascendant. This system, therefore, agrees with the natural rotation of the heavens and also produces, as the Ptolemaic (equal) does not, distinctive cusps for each house....” 1

Calculation of the cusps is a relatively simple affair. The ascendant degree is converted to right ascension in degrees. Thirty degrees (or two hours) of right ascension is then added for each subsequent cusp. The right ascension so found is, for each cusp, then converted back to celestial longitude and expressed in zodiacal degrees. The tenth house cusp will not generally coincide with the MC degree. The second cusp is opposite the eighth cusp, the third opposite the ninth and so on.

A brief biographical reference to Albohazen Haly may be found in James Holden's Biographical Dictionary of Western Astrologers. Albohazen Haly is also likely to be called Haly Abenragel by some sources.

Gettings might have mis-described the derivation of Halyian houses. However it is impossible to check his source for the description as he does not identify it. It should be noted that the house system known as Abenragel is derived differently. 

The Abenragel house system finds its modern expression in the Dutch method called Ascendant-Parallel-Circle (APC), which creates twelve houses by six equal divisions of the parallel of declination traveled by the ascendant degree above the horizon and six equal divisions of the parallel of declination traveled by the same degree below the horizon.  The divisions of the parallel of declination are referred to the ecliptic through the north and south points of the horizon. The cusps of the first and seventh house are formed by the great circle of the rational horizon.


1. Charles Carter (1947, 2nd ed. 1978) Essays on the Foundations of Astrology. Theosophical Publishing House, London. p. 158-159.

The full blog post on Carter's Poli-Equatorial system can be found at  Charles Carter's Forgotten House System

For information on the A-P-C house system see 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

The Mercury Cycle - Progressed

What started me on my exploration of the Mercury Cycle was the similarity of its 116 day cycle to the upper limit, in years, of a human life – few super-centenarians live beyond 116. So apart from the Moon, Mercury's is the only progressed cycle that we might experience in full. I did some work on it towards the end of last year, starting with a rough sketch of my own cycle and was amazed to find that it mapped out my own turning points exactly. Incidentally, I was born at a Superior Conjunction and it was just a few months after my progressed Inferior Conjunction, and I passed from a lunar consciousness to a solar one, that I felt an urge to explore the cycle.

I'm a Gemini and I have most of my planets in air signs, so in case it was a fluke I started looking at other people's progressed cycles. Though I wouldn't claim it's 100% it does often seem to reflect the changes on people's life paths. And there are distinct paths depending on where in the cycle you're born. 

(Click to enlarge)

Perhaps the cycle most suited to a human life – and the one which reflects the kind of world we live in – is someone who's born around the Greatest Western Elongation. This is a young, fresh, enthusiastic Mercury energy; someone who's eager to make their mark in the world. The graphic shows the progressed cycle of CG Jung, born very close to Western Elongation. He had his first major turning point (Superior Conjunction) at the age of 27, but because of the eccentricity of Mercury's orbit it can occur at any age between 20 and 50. However, the subsequent markers (Greatest Eastern Elongation, Station Retrograde and Inferior Conjunction) remain broadly the same for everyone born around the Western Elongation. The interesting thing is that people born around this elongation appear to be at ease in the world – they're always moving forward, forging successful careers and so on – until they get to their mid-60s at Eastern Elongation, when they might (or might not, the way things are going) retire; at the next point, when Mercury turns retrograde, they'll be in their mid-70s or later and their mind will be turning to the Big Transition and return to Source.

Those born at the Superior Conjunction have a basic nature that's lunar, making them cautious and reflective, more inclined to hold themselves back. Whereas the vast majority of a Western Elongation's path is direct motion, the Superior Conjunction type encounters a change in direction in mid-life shortly after the Eastern Elongation, the latter having loosened them up and expanded their life experiences. The retrograde phase is an opportunity to revisit, re-evaluate and – because they reach this phase in mid-life rather than at the end – re-orient themselves; maybe start a new career or even a completely new life. In Freud's case – see the graphic below – his path led to him releasing late nineteenth century Europeans' repression (note all the re- words, which are deliberate). There's a major shift in consciousness at the Inferior Conjunction, which could occur anywhere between middle age and sixty-ish. What was lunar becomes solar … perhaps not the best time of life to come out fighting, but it could explain late developers or people who 'see the light' and zealously pursue a cause in their later years. Compare that to the transition from solar to lunar in the Western Elongation's case – starting out punchy and then maturing into a more reflective consciousness. Superior Conjunction types will emerge from their retrograde phase in their seventies and reach the Western Elongation in their eighties.

Someone born around the Greatest Eastern Elongation has a much rockier path, as they embark on the retrograde period early on in life. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones – see above – and George W Bush are two people who fought their demons (drugs and drink) and won. Once they'd navigated the perils of the retrograde period, they got themselves on an even keel. Bush even went on to become President of the USA … and we all know how that turned out … 

As for those born at Inferior Conjunction, they seem to have the most perilous journey. Of the four examples I've come across, only one – Ariel Sharon – lived past his thirties. Of the others, Amy Winehouse (born the day before an Inferior Conjunction) died aged 27 of alcohol poisoning, Jeff Buckley (born on the day of the conjunction) drowned aged 30 and Yuri Gagarin – the first man in space and born two days after conjunction – died on (of all things) a routine training flight, aged 34. We're going to look at his short life in relation to his progressed Mercury cycle.

Firstly, there's a bit of a question mark about his date of birth – it's also given as 9th March but it's said that Yuri's father didn't like the idea of his son being born on a 'woman's day' (I take that to be a reference to International Women's Day) so he put down the 9th. In any event, he was born around midnight of 8th/9th March. I didn't expect to find anything about him for age 11 (when he reached Station Direct) but I discovered he returned to his childhood home then, after being displaced during the War. The period around his Greatest Western Elongation is well documented, though. The elongation itself occurred in 1958, when Yuri was 24, but with orbs it stretches from 1953 to 1963. He was drafted into the Soviet army in 1955, but he obviously had star quality because he was recommended for pilot training early on, and he graduated from flying school on 7 November 1957, just a couple of months before the elongation was exact. And it gets better, because after graduation he was assigned to an airbase in the Murmansk region, in the Arctic Circle – so remote and inhospitable. So when his progressed Mercury was at its farthest point from the Sun, Yuri was flying from an airbase at the outermost north-western edge of the Soviet Empire.

By 1960 he was one of twenty candidates for the Soviet space programme and again he stood out from the crowd, quickly becoming the obvious choice for almost all his colleagues and trainers. On 12 April 1961 he became the first man in space. From this point on, though, things didn't go so smoothly. The Soviets wouldn't let him into space again because he was too valuable as an ambassador. He travelled the world, but his behaviour deteriorated. He drank too much and put on weight. On 20 December 1963 – right at the end of the Elongation period – he was made deputy training director at Star City (yes, really) cosmonaut training base. Less than five years later, he died on a routine training flight in poor weather. It's thought another plane flew too close – or maybe their wings touched – and Yuri's plane spun out of control and crashed. This happened on 27 March 1968, not long after his 34th birthday.

I've included the asteroid Icarus and the Lot of Spirit (S) in his chart because Icarus is the boy who flew too close to the Sun and the Lot of Spirit is the daimon who controls your destiny. They're opposite each other in his chart. I read these as it being Yuri's destiny to be the first man in space, but also for him to die while flying.

Now we come to two intertwined lives. Long lives, but thankfully we're only going to look at a pivotal period of around ten years. Maps of their Mercury cycles are shown above and Freud's natal chart is further down. 1902 was a turning point in both Freud's and Jung's lives. In Jung's case, aged 27, he was moving into a lunar consciousness … one that's evident in his later work. But at this point he was working as a psychiatrist at Burghölzli Mental Hospital in Zürich. In Memories, Dreams, Reflections (an interesting title in itself), he begins Chapter Five by telling us that in 1903 he resumed reading Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, a book he'd given up on three years earlier (aged 25) because he 'lacked the experience to appreciate Freud's theories.' This time, though, he could see how it linked up with his own ideas (pp 169-70). Freud, on the other hand, was moving out of his lunar consciousness in 1902, aged 46, and into a more active solar one. And we find him in the autumn of 1902 setting up weekly sessions in his apartment where a small group of followers could get together to discuss issues relating to psychology. This was the beginning of the worldwide psychoanalytical movement.

Jung sent Freud a copy of his Studies in Word Associations in 1906 and the two men met early in 1907. Freud was keen to expand his circle of followers, and Jung had a good reputation. They talked for thirteen hours almost non-stop at that first meeting. Freud came to look upon Jung as his heir apparent, but Jung had doubts from the start (MDR, p 172). Nevertheless, over the next five years they worked closely, attended conferences together and so on. But, from Jung's perspective at least, there were increasing tensions and questions of trust and authority. One of the ways I describe a Superior Conjunction type – as Freud was – is 'I am the Authority.' Jung describes an incident in 1909 when, trying to interpret one of Freud's dreams, he asked Freud for some additional personal information to assist him. Freud exclaimed 'But I cannot risk my authority!' With that remark, Freud lost his authority altogether in Jung's eyes, and for Jung it foreshadowed the end of their relationship (MDR, p 182).

Even so, Jung became President for Life of the newly-formed International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) in 1910 – an appointment that would turn out to be anything but for life. In1912, Jung published Symbols of Transformation, a book that he knew would hasten the end of his association with Freud. Letters the pair exchanged show Freud's refusal to consider Jung's ideas. They met for the final time at a psychoanalytical conference in 1913 (coinciding with Freud's Station Direct), and Jung resigned as President of the IPA in April 1914.

Also in 1912, anticipating the final breakdown between Freud and Jung, Ernest Jones organised a committee of loyalists charged with safeguarding the theoretical coherence and institutional legacy of the psychoanalytic movement. Each member pledged not to make any public departure from the fundamental tenets of psychoanalytic theory before discussing their views with the others. Following this move, Jung knew his future lay elsewhere … he had to plough his own furrow – which in fact, is his basic nature as a Western Elongation type. But it also shows the rigid, dogmatic nature of a Superior Conjunction type. There's a god-like quality to this conjunction, demanding loyalty and obedience from his followers.

I cast a progressed chart for Jung's resignation from the IPA in April 1914 and was astonished to find that his progressed Sun was eleven degrees away from his progressed Mercury. That's exactly the same as the distance between Freud's natal Sun and Mercury. It's as if Jung has stepped into his former mentor's shoes and is saying 'I am the Authority now.' 

I'll end with a word about Dane Rudhyar, who – like Jung – was born close to Greatest Western Elongation but who reached his progressed Superior Conjunction at a later stage, because of the vagaries of Mercury. (You can see, however, that he reaches the later landmarks at roughly the same ages). Rudhyar writes about his progressed Mercury reaching SC in An Astrological Study of Psychological Complexes and Emotional Problems. Rudhyar had been a composer in the first part of his life, but around the time of his Superior Conjunction, aged 43, he had to drop his focus on music. Then a few months after the progressed conjunction he started work in a completely new direction, as an artist. He says some very interesting things about this but perhaps the most significant one is that for him, the change from music to painting had a profound meaning; there was a sense of inner discovery, as if a new part of his brain and a new facet of personality had begun to operate. But … he points out that the mental foundation of a person's Mercury always remains, even though it may be seen through filters at later stages of the journey. To illustrate this, he comments that a number of critics noted that his paintings had an inherent musical quality (pp 102-3).

So that gives you an idea of how to work with Mercury's progressed cycle. I hope you'll feel tempted to explore it yourself, as what I've written here has barely scratched the surface.

Birth data

Yuri Gagarin 8 Mar 1934, 23:42:04 (rectified) Klushino, Soviet Union (d 27 Mar 1968)

C G Jung 26 Jul 1875, 19:29 Kesswil, Switzerland (d 6 Jun 1961)

Sigmund Freud 6 May 1856, 18:30 Pribor, Czech Republic (d 23 Sep 1939)

Dane Rudhyar 23 Mar 1895, 01:00 Paris, France (d 13 Sep 1985)


C G Jung (1977) Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Collins (especially Chapter 5 – Sigmund Freud)

Dane Rudhyar (1966) An Astrological Study of Psychological Complexes and Emotional Problems, Wassenaar: Servire


Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The Mercury Cycle - natal charts

What I intend showing here is how being born at certain points in Mercury's cycle produces a particular way of thinking and coming up with ideas. I've chosen eight people whose ideas have changed the way we view the world. Three of them were born at the Greatest Western Elongation (GWE), when – despite the name – Mercury is a morning star … or would be, if you could see it (Mercury is very difficult to spot because it's never far away from the Sun). Three of them were born at the Greatest Eastern Elongation (GEE – again, contrary to expectations, this is an evening star Mercury) and two were born close to Superior Conjunction, which is when Mercury's conjunct the Sun and direct.

A brief word about orbs. I follow the advice given by Bob Makransky in Thought Forms (p 71), which is an orb of five days either side of the elongations and the superior conjunction, and an orb of two days either side of the stations and inferior conjunction. Taking the two conjunctions as yardsticks, these are equivalent to about 5o of zodiacal longitude.

And of course, it'd be unrealistic to concentrate solely on the position of Mercury when looking at someone's chart but I'm doing it here to demonstrate how it works in terms of its cycle.

So let's have a look at the GWEs first, because they're always in a hurry. This is a rash, impatient, solar Mercury – and indeed the first example was in such a hurry he was born prematurely (his mother said he was so small he could fit in a quart mug) ... Sir Isaac Newton, English physicist and mathematician who's widely recognised as one of the most influential scientists of all time and who was a key figure in the scientific revolution. Recognition came early, as he became the second Professor of Lucasian Mathematics at Cambridge, aged 26. His Principia (his major work) was published in 1687, about half-way through his long life – he reached the age of 84 – and throughout that life he received many honours, including becoming President of the Royal Society and Master of the Royal Mint.

(Click to enlarge)
(GWE was on 31 Dec 1642 NS, four days before Newton's birth)

Next comes Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist, psychotherapist and founder of analytical psychology – an interesting description in view of the fact that elongations are on the rational end of the spectrum. Jung was keen to demonstrate his scientific credentials, but there's definitely another side to his work. His ideas have been influential far beyond the realm of psychiatry, touching on philosophy, anthropology and religious studies to name but a few. Moreover, Jung created some of our best known psychological terms, including archetype, introvert, extravert, the complex and the collective unconscious. Jung was the eager young man who was keen to learn from the older Sigmund Freud, but in the end he couldn't accept Freud's dogmatic insistence on loyalty to the sexual theory (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p 173). The publication of Jung's Symbols of Transformation in 1912 – when he was 37 – was the beginning of the end of a relationship that was already showing signs of strain.

(GWE was on 27 Jul 1875, the day after Jung's birth)

The final example of a GWE is 'genes and memes' man Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist, writer and atheist. Dawkins came to prominence with the publication of The Selfish Gene in 1976, when he was 35. Dawkins has written widely on scientific matters, held many academic positions and been showered with academic awards, most notably the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford in 1995, a position endowed by Charles Simonyi on the express understanding that Dawkins should be its first holder. In 2008 he resigned from his professorship and stated that he intended to write a book for children in which he would warn them against believing in 'anti-scientific fairy tales.' Dawkins is an out and out rationalist and a passionate advocate of evolutionary theory who's been called 'Darwin's Rottweiler.' We'll be looking at Charles Darwin shortly.

(GWE was on 25 Mar 1941, the day before Dawkins' birth)
So there are three people who burst on the scene, created quite a lot of noise with their new ideas and weren't afraid of upsetting the apple-cart. Success and recognition either came to them when they were still quite young and/or at the very least while they were still alive. All have stressed the rationality of their approach, even though – for some – Jung and Newton have some rather worrying, airy-fairy and/or esoteric skeletons rattling in their cupboards.

But what about people born at the Greatest Eastern Elongation? This is a much more mature, serious energy – lunar rather than solar in nature. How do the lives of 'movers and shakers' at this end of the spectrum reflect this energy?

First on the stage is Nicolaus Copernicus, the man who dared to say that the Earth moved round the Sun … but delayed putting his ideas into print until he was on his deathbed – either for fear of the scorn they'd receive or of the response of the Roman Catholic Church. Remembered today primarily as an astronomer, he did an awful lot more besides and spoke several languages too, but without his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium many of the other people mentioned here might never have got their ideas off the ground. In fact, as early 1514 (when he was 41) he had circulated privately a manuscript outlining his ideas about the heliocentric theory. In the years following he continued gathering data and by 1532 he had effectively completed De revolutionibus, but resisted publishing it because of the reception it might receive. By the end of 1542 Copernicus' health had declined and he died on 24 May 1543, aged 70. Legend has it that he was presented with the final printed pages of the book on his deathbed so he could die in peace, having said farewell to his life's work.

(GEE was on 14 Feb 1473, five days before Copernicus' birth)

Copernicus was not the only 'ideas man' to delay publication for several decades. Charles Darwin was a naturalist and geologist whose name is inseparable from the theory of evolution. His five year voyage on HMS Beagle (1831-6) established him as an eminent geologist, and publication of his journal of the voyage brought him fame as a popular author. Puzzled by the geographical distribution of wildlife and fossils he'd collected on the voyage, he began a detailed investigation which led him to conceive of his theory of evolution by 1838. However, like Copernicus, he resisted publishing at that stage, feeling that he needed to do much more research. Indeed, he was writing up his theory twenty years later when he received an essay from Alfred Russel Wallace expressing the same idea, and it was this that led to the joint publication of both their theories in 1859. He subsequently published several other related works and became internationally famous. In recognition of his achievements, he was given the honour of a burial in Westminster Abbey.

(GEE was on 17 Feb 1809, five days after Darwin's birth)

Finally, we come to Karl Marx – a man whose ideas sparked a revolution and built an empire that lasted for more than seventy years, but who died a stateless person with no more than eleven mourners at his funeral. Marx was a German philosopher, journalist and revolutionary socialist, amongst other things. He published numerous books and articles during his lifetime, and The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848 when he was 30 and Europe was in turmoil, is particularly relevant. Marx's theories highlight another aspect of the lunar part of the Mercury cycle – the concern for society as a whole rather than the individual. This comes through in the idea that bears his name – Marxism: that human societies progress through class struggle and the conflict between the class that owns the means of production and the dispossessed labourers that provide the labour for that production. Though he wrote extensively throughout his life, only one volume of his magnum opus – Das Kapital – was published in his lifetime, in 1867 when he was 49. The two remaining volumes were published posthumously in 1885 and 1894 by Friedrich Engels.

(GEE was on 30 Apr 1818, five days before Marx's birth)

Here we see a much more serious, reticent, painstaking, steady-as-you-go approach to how these GEEs researched and presented their ideas. Publication was often delayed, and recognition of their efforts often didn't come till after their death.

So now we come to two people who were born near enough to superior conjunction to draw depth of vision from the Sun, but far enough away not to be completely crushed by it. I invoke here the spirit of Marc Edmund Jones, who worked on the principle that a Mercury that was more than 14o from the Sun was untrammelled, and had greater freedom to express itself (pp 47-8). These two examples have Mercuries around 10o-11o from the Sun, so are making a bid for freedom but haven't quite thrown off the shackles. Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein need no formal introduction. Suffice to say that Freud bravely smashed through the 'delicacies' of the late nineteenth century and plumbed the depths of the human subconscious, bringing both treasures and murky stuff to the surface. Now, people born near superior conjunction do tend to take themselves rather seriously and can at times act as if they have a hotline to God. They don't like their ideas being questioned or challenged, and that's exactly what happened when a certain young Swiss psychiatrist entered Freud's inner circle. This will be explored in detail when we look at Freud and Jung's progressed Mercury cycles.

(SC was on 26 Apr 1856, ten days before Freud's birth)

Whereas Freud stared into the depths, Einstein's vision stretched out into the universe. In fact, he discovered that the universe was expanding … and at first, he couldn't accept it. Brian Swimme writes about it in The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos (pp 70-4), explaining that until the night of 22 November 1914 everyone had taken the universe to be a vast but fixed place that housed all the stars, planets and so on. But the General Theory of Relativity which Einstein penned that night changed everything. Einstein couldn't accept the enormity of what his equations were suggesting, apparently (I suggest he might have found it easier if he'd been born at one of Mercury's elongations … conjunctions tend to produce inflexible minds). Initially he doctored his equations, adding the cosmological constant to – quite literally – keep the lid on the universe. An enthusiastic young cosmologist wrote to him excitedly, explaining he'd discovered that by taking this out of the equation, Einstein's theory pointed to the fact that the universe was expanding … but even this wasn't enough to move Einstein to drop the constant. It was only when Edwin Hubble invited Einstein to look through his Mount Palomar telescope in the 1920s to see what Hubble had seen – that all the distant galaxies were expanding away from us – that Einstein was finally persuaded that his first instincts were correct.

(SC was on 4 Mar 1879, ten days before Einstein's birth)

I'll end with a few words about people born around the inferior conjunction, when Mercury is retrograde. From what I've seen so far, there's a marked difference between those born at this point in the cycle and those born near the other three points. I haven't found anyone whose ideas have changed the world in the way that Copernicus, Newton and Einstein's have. Instead I've found quite a few people whose star has burned bright for a brief period and then gone out. Admittedly many of them are associated with pop and rock culture, so fell foul of drink or drugs. But the interesting thing is that, for a few days either side of Mercury's retrograde cycle, Mercury itself burns brightest in the sky as it returns from the elongation and moves closest to Earth, and likewise when it emerges again after the conjunction. I'm still working on this part of Mercury's cycle and will write about it later.

Birth data

Isaac Newton 4 Jan 1643 NS, 02:05 Colsterworth, England (d. 31 Mar 1727 NS)

C G Jung 26 Jul 1875, 19:29 Kesswil, Switzerland (d 6 Jun 1961)

Richard Dawkins 26 Mar 1941, time unknown, Nairobi, Kenya

Copernicus 19 Feb 1473, 17:13 Torun, Poland (d 24 May 1543)

Charles Darwin 12 Feb 1809, 03:00 Shrewsbury, England (d 19 Apr 1882)

Karl Marx 5 May 1818, 02:00 Trier, Germany (d 14 March 1883)

Sigmund Freud 6 May 1856, 18:30 Pribor, Czech Republic (d 23 Sep 1939)

Albert Einstein 14 Mar 1879, 11:30 Ulm, Germany (d 18 Apr 1955)


Bob Makransky (2014) Thought Forms, Dear Brutus Press (in addition to an excellent chapter on the Mercury cycle, it contains an invaluable Mercury ephemeris)

Brian Swimme (1996) The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos, New York: Orbis Books

C G Jung (1977) Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Collins (especially Chapter 5 – Sigmund Freud)

Marc Edmund Jones (1977) How to Learn Astrology, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul (pp 47-51 deal with Mercury)


Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Mercury Cycle

It's easy to overlook the inner planets (the pair that orbit between Earth and the Sun), yet Venus and Mercury – along with the Moon – have so much to teach us about our inner selves. After all, the Moon governs moods and memories, Venus desires and expectations and Mercury our mental processes and how we view the world. The 29.5 day lunation cycle is well known and widely used in astrology. Less well known is that Venus and Mercury have similar cycles and working with theirs can be just as rewarding. They're similar to the Moon's cycle in some ways but there are important differences too. The Moon is never retrograde, for example. 

(Click to enlarge)
Cycles of the inner planets have turning points, like the Moon does, but they're not quite the same. In place of the squares that mark the first and last quarters of the Moon you have points called maximum elongations, and instead of an opposition between Sun and inner planet at Full Moon phase there's a second conjunction, because at this point in the cycle the inner planets are invisible to us, being on the far side of the Sun. To us they appear to draw closer and closer to the Sun, then disappear into its rays before reaching what's known as superior conjunction. You can tell which conjunction is which in a horoscope because Venus or Mercury is retrograde at inferior conjunction (and closest to Earth), and direct at superior. Most astrologers take the inferior conjunction as the start of the cycle and the equivalent of a New Moon.

Six astronomical points form the framework of this cycle. The two conjunctions and the two stations, which mark the beginning and end of the retrograde cycle, are familiar to astrologers. The two remaining points are less well known and not as obvious in the horoscope. They're the two maximum elongations, points that are unique to the inner planets which, positioned as they are between Earth and the Sun, act as if they're tethered to the Sun. From our perspective, Venus never strays more than 46o from the Sun and Mercury no more than 28o.

There's one important difference between the cycles of Venus and Mercury. In Venus' case, the cycle is regular and symmetrical, as befits the planet associated with harmony. Indeed, its orbit is almost circular, with an eccentricity of 0.01 (where 0.00 is a perfect circle). It takes around 584 days for Venus to complete the journey from one inferior conjunction to the next. Mercury's cycle, on the other hand, is somewhat erratic. Its average length of 116 days is usually quoted but in practice it can be anywhere between 105 and 130 days. This is because Mercury has the most eccentric orbit among the planets apart from Pluto's (0.21 eccentricity, compared to Pluto's 0.24). It means that the interval between the phases in Mercury's cycle can vary wildly from one cycle to the next. You might not quite have a situation where every cycle of Mercury is unique, but it does have that kind of feel to it. I've heard it said that the unpredictable nature of Mercury's cycle mirrors the vagaries of the human mind.

So if you're working with Mercury in terms of its cycle, rather than as a static position in a horoscope, where do you start? The first thing to note is that there's a distinct difference between a waxing and a waning Mercury. The waxing Mercury starts at inferior conjunction, ends at superior conjunction and is solar in nature. It's a young, fresh, raw energy that's finding its feet in the world and is sparky, feisty and enthusiastic. The waning Mercury starts at superior conjunction, ends at inferior conjunction and is lunar in nature. This is a mature, sober and rather serious energy that's concerned with its position in the world and is more cautious and reflective. Whereas a solar Mercury will act before they think, a lunar Mercury will think before they act.

The conjunctions and elongations are also opposites in nature. At conjunction, Mercury's energy fuses with the Sun and its proximity to the powerhouse of the solar system gives it a depth and an intensity that the elongation lacks. With Mercury at its farthest from the Sun, it feels out on a limb and cut off from its source. However, this gives it a freedom that conjunctions don't have. They can feel overwhelmed by the Sun's energy, whereas the elongations feel free to experiment. Elongations are like hummingbirds that flit from flower to flower, taking a little bit here and a little bit there, gathering a variety of substances. That can lead to shallowness, but it can also result in a much broader sweep and greater diversity than a conjunction can manage. The conjunction is like a plant that's deeply rooted and comfortable in its little patch. The advantage is that it knows its place in the world and can bring forth riches from the deep; the down side is that if you try to move it from where it's comfortable you might end up destroying it. Conjunctions would rather die than change their minds, whereas elongations don't have the same scruples.

The two stations mark the start and end of the retrograde cycle, which begins near the end of the waning cycle and ends shortly after the beginning of the waxing one. That alone is enough to suggest that the retrograde part of Mercury's cycle is about swimming against the tide, or the prevailing mindset. What's happening here (at the retrograde station) is that Mercury's being reeled in, like a fish that's been caught on a hook – probably kicking and screaming at first but eventually surrendering to the inevitable, which is the death of the old cycle as Mercury's energy is consumed by the Sun at inferior conjunction. Then, reborn and re-energised by its merging with the Sun, Mercury again makes a bid for freedom. This time it manages to slip the hook at the direct station and resumes its forward motion.

The work I've done so far suggests that the 'movers and shakers' of recent times are generally born around the elongations – which makes sense, as they're the ones with maximum mental flexibility. The retrograde part of the cycle is still work in progress for me, so I'm going to concentrate on people born around the conjunctions and elongations. I'll do this in two stages in subsequent posts: first, by looking at their natal Mercury and then by looking at their progressed Mercury cycle, because the latter can show how your mind changes and develops over the course of your lifetime.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

The Ascendant in Polar Latitudes - Reverse and Direct

The ascendant seems to behave unpredictably in polar regions, i.e., in areas above the arctic circle and below the antarctic circle. The ascendant seems to leap around, from one edge of the horizon to the other, and is sometimes direct and sometimes 'retrograde'. Some degrees never rise, and consequently can never set; some degrees never set, and consequently can never rise. However, the behaviour of the ascendant in polar latitudes is quite predictable and follows an understandable course.

The following description applies to all polar latitudes. However, as one travels north (in the northern arctic circle) fewer and fewer degrees rise and set in the conventional sense (i.e., in the manner that is observable in sub-polar latitudes). I will look at the situation at 70 North, which is around 3 1/2 degrees north of the arctic circle. At this latitude the two signs around the summer and winter solstices don't rise and set. The summer signs, Gemini and Cancer, remain above the horizon (i.e. are circumpolar and never set). The winter signs, Sagittarius and Capricorn, remain below the horizon and never rise.

It is worth bearing in mind that the phenomena associated with circumpolar and sub-horizon signs in the polar regions are related to the astrological concept of antiscia. Antiscia are pairs of degrees that fall equidistant from the winter and summer solstices. So the first circumpolar degree at any particular latitude (i.e., the first degree that doesn't set at the latitude), is the antiscion of the final circumpolar degree at that latitude. Degrees between the two antisicia are ones that remain above the horizon. A similar explanation may be given for sub-horizon signs in polar regions.

The following data is taken from a table of RAMC (right ascension of the MC) in Alan Leo's Casting the Horoscope. This book forms one part of Alan Leo's classic instructional textbooks for astrologers. Leo's tables give the RAMC for every latitude from the equator to 70 North. The ascendant for each latitude and RAMC can be read from the table. The RAMC for a given latitude also shows the MC.

The tables show that when the RAMC is 237 degs 03 mins (15 hours 48 mins and 12 secs) 29 Scorpio 15 is on the midheaven. This degree in Scorpio is the last degree to join the meridian before the phenomenon of sub-horizon midheavens occurs. At this time 29 Scorpio 15 also forms the ascendant. At polar latitudes, twice a day, the ascendant and MC will conjunct on the horizon due south of the observer. This is the first instance of the ascendant and MC conjoining. (See 1. in the image below.)

Leo's tables also show that the last degree to rise at 70 North (i.e., before the circumpolar zone of the zodiac) is 29 Taurus 15 - at RAMC 237 degs 03 mins (sidereal - 15 hours 48 mins and 12 secs). What is to be made of this? What the tables are illustrating is that at the moment the ascendant conjoins the MC due south at RAMC 237 degs 03 mins, the opposite degree in Taurus immediately begins to rise due north. At the same time the last degree of Scorpio becomes the descendant and begins to set. It is often said that the ascendant has 'flipped'. However, it is more accurate to say that the rising degree has passed from the final degree of Scorpio to the final degree of Taurus. This 'handover' occurs because of the way that the ecliptic moves in relation to the horizon in polar latitudes. (See 2. in the image below.)

What happens now is even more unusual, at least when compared to the principles of astrology in tropical and temperate regions. The ascendant degree begins to move along the eastern half of the horizon in a 'retrograde' fashion, with the later degrees in a sign rising before the earlier degrees. So, for example, 25 Taurus, in polar latitudes above 70 north, will rise before 20 Taurus, and this degree rises before 10 Taurus and so on. However, the degrees will rise in an orderly fashion, with each degree rising in sequence, but in reverse order to that observed in sub-polar latitudes. Notice that signs will also follow each other over the horizon in reverse order, with Taurus rising before Aries, Aries before Pisces and so on. To clarify this point, consider that in tropical and temperate zones the degree to rise after 29 Taurus would be 00 Gemini. However, in this example from the polar zone, 28 Taurus rises after 29 Taurus, and this is followed by 27 Taurus.

This phenomenon occurs because the ecliptic lies close to the plane of the horizon in polar latitudes. This means that rather than rising at a large angle to the horizon, the ecliptic appears to be 'peeled away' from the horizon, from the north point of the horizon to its south point. This is most noticeable when the ascendant is in reverse in the sense that I have described it here. The other notable feature of this retrograde ascendant is that the 'twelfth house' is below the horizon and the 'first house' is above the horizon. This is quite different to most astrological house systems in tropical and temperate regions where the twelfth house is above the horizon and the first is yet to rise (in the sense that is it has appeared above the horizon). The implications of this will be considered in a later article, looking at house systems in polar regions.

The ascendant now moves rapidly along the eastern half of the horizon towards the point due south of the observer. At times, around ten degrees of the ecliptic can rise in less than eight minutes (the first decan of Aries at 70 North). When the rising degree reaches the antisicion of 29 Scorpio 15 - 00 Aquarius 45 - the ascendant is again conjunct the MC. The midheaven, in the time that it has taken the ascendant to travel backwards from 29 Taurus 15 to 00 Aquarius 45, has travelled from 29 Scorpio 15 to 00 Aquarius 45. (See 3. in the image below.) This occurs at RAMC 302 degs 57 mins (sidereal - 20 hours 11 mins and 48 secs). In total the ascendant has been rising in reverse for 4 hours 23 mins 36 secs and has covered nearly half the zodiac.

At this point, the rising degree is immediately handed to 00 Leo 45 - due north of the observer. (See 4. in the image below.) From this point, until 29 Scorpio 15 again becomes the ascendant and MC conjointly due south of the observer, the ascendant will rise in the way that it does in sub-polar regions, with earlier degrees in a sign rising before later degrees. The order of the signs will also be preserved, with Leo rising before Virgo, etc. During the time that the ascendant moves from 00 Leo 45 to 29 Scorpio 15 the midheaven moves methodically (at the rate of one degree every four minutes) through the rest of the zodiac from 00 Aquarius 45 to 29 Scorpio 15. It 'chases' the slowly rising ascendant, eventually 'catching' the rising degree in the last degree of Scorpio. The movement of the ascendant from 00 Leo 45 to 29 Scorpio 15 takes 19 hours 36 mins 24 secs. The polar ascendant cycle then repeats during the next diurnal phase. All midheavens between 00 Aquarius 45 and 29 Scorpio 15 will be formed above the horizon, in the way that the MC is observed in tropical and temperate latitudes.

The following diagram summaries the movement of the ascendant and midheaven at the polar latitude of 70 degrees north. The cycle begins at 1. and concludes at 4. before returning to 1. for a further diurnal cycle.

Figure 1. The Ascendant and Midheaven at 70 Degrees North

In short, the minimum zenith distances of midheavens formed in Sagittarius and Capricorn at this latitude will be greater than ninety degrees (sub-horizon), whilst the minimum zenith distances of midheavens formed in the rest of the zodiac will be less than ninety degrees (above horizon). There are two midheavens at this latitude - 29 Scorpio 15 and 00 Aquarius 45 - where the zenith distance will be precisely ninety degrees (on the horizon) when the ascendant conjoins the MC at the sidereal times identified above.

Please note that the combined rising times for the retrograde and direct ascendants at 70 north is 24 hours, even though around 120 degrees of the zodiac (Sagittarius, Capricorn, Gemini and Cancer) will not rise (i.e., have a zenith distance of precisely ninety degrees) during the course of a day. A midheaven will be formed at all 360 degrees of the zodiac over the course of 24 hours. However, just over sixty degrees of the zodiac (Sagittarius, Capricorn) will form an MC below the horizon.

This article is the third part of a series of pieces exploring the ascendant, midheaven and houses in polar regions. Readers are directed to preliminary blog entries on the definition of the midheaven and ascendant using the concept of zenith distance.

The Definition of the Midheaven

The Definition of the Ascendant

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

February 2015 New Moon

The February 2015 new moon is an interesting one. It falls in the very last few minutes of tropical Aquarius. The new moon is at the midpoint of transiting Uranus and Pluto, which are in the final throes of their seven-time square.

One of the most interesting aspects of this new moon is its opposition to the fixed star Regulus. This star made a sign change in late 2011, moving from its two thousand year journey through tropical Leo to begin a two thousand year passage through tropical Virgo.

Dane Rudhyar and others have speculated that this sign change for the star associated with the Heart of the Lion (Leo) marks the beginning of the Age of Aquarius. This is because the star falls exactly 150 degrees from the Vernal Equinox.

Therefore when Regulus changes sign in the tropical zodiac, the vernal equinox (the First Point of Aries) changes sign in the sidereal zodiac, in this case from sidereal Pisces to sidereal Aquarius (assuming a sidereal zodiac of twelve signs of thirty degrees each).

Regulus is the stellar king, being one of the brightest stars in the sky, but also the brightest star lying closest to the ecliptic. This makes it a natural fiducial star, one that might be used to measure the passage of ages.

The following chart shows the new moon for 18 February 2015, set for Exeter. Interestingly, the opposition Sun-Regulus occurs more or less exactly as the star culminates at this longitude.

Figure 1: February 2015 New Moon (opposite Regulus)

In the latter part of 2015, Jupiter will conjunct Regulus as it enters Virgo. This may mark a major turning point in some of the issues that currently beset the world, including conflicts in Ukraine, the Middle East, and North Africa.

One interpretation of the movement of Regulus into Virgo is that much of the world's current attachment to monotheistic religion may wane. It will be worth watching the transit of Jupiter to Regulus to see if this bears out.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Definition of the Ascendant

The ascendant is the fundamental angle of the horoscope. It is one of the features of the horoscope that has endured over millenia and has been central to astrological practice since classical times. The ascendant first appeared as an astrological feature in classical Greek horoscopes around 200 BCE (Avelar and Ribeiro, p. 5).

Astrologers will often define the ascendant as the point of the ecliptic on the eastern horizon at the time and place of birth. This is a reasonably good definition and is found in reliable textbooks. For example, in The Revised Waite's Compendium of Natal Astrology, the ascendant is defined as the point of the ecliptic which cuts the eastern horizon (Candlish, p. 20). In this textbook it is noted that the ascendant varies according to the time and place (i.e., latitude) of birth.

Robert Hand provides two useful and more precise definitions of the point in his essay on the ascendant, midheaven and vertex in extreme latitudes (for reference see below). Hand's first definition is that the ascendant may be the point of intersection of the rational horizon and ecliptic in the east (i.e., the eastern node). His second definition is that the ascendant may be the ascending node of the ecliptic upon the rational horizon. (Hand, p. 132)

Hand introduces an important refinement in both definitions. He makes it clear that the horizon used by astrologers when identifying the ascendant is the rational horizon rather than the visible or apparent horizon. The visible horizon is the horizon available to the observer at the time and place for which the chart is cast. This is a small circle engirding the place lying parallel to the rational horizon. (Mayo, p. 15-16) The rational horizon is a great circle defined by points at a distance of ninety degrees from the zenith, the point immediately above the observer on the celestial sphere. (Mitton, p. 191)

This definition of the rational horizon uses the concept of zenith distance. The definition of zenith distance is taken from Mitton's Dictionary of Astronomy. Zenith distance is "the angular distance from the zenith to a point on the celestial sphere, measured along a great circle." (Mitton, p. 416) The great circles in the example of the rational horizon will run through the zenith and nadir.

In the following image, the horizontal frame of reference is shown, with the rational horizon being the green plane running through the east, north, west and south points. The red arrows running from the zenith to the rational horizon illustrate the zenith distance of ninety degrees that defines this plane.

Figure 1: The Celestial Sphere (Horizontal Frame of Reference)

In a previous blog entry I used the concept of zenith distance to define the midheaven. The midheaven or MC is the degree of the ecliptic that has attained its minimum zenith distance during a diurnal cycle, irrespective of its direction in relation to an observer or its height in relation to the horizon. ( In this second article, I would like to explore the possibility of defining the ascendant in astrology using the same terms and conditions as that adduced for the midheaven.

In this case, the ascendant ought to be defined without reference to direction (east) or according to above and below (the ascending node option). In this second instance, the ascendant would be defined as the point of intersection between the ecliptic and the rational horizon where the ecliptic moves above the reference plane (the rational horizon).

To define the ascendant using the same terms and conditions as that used for the midheaven, we have to limit ourselves to reference to zenith distance. I wish to suggest that a definition of the ascendant using this concept is that it is the point on the ecliptic that has a zenith distance of ninety degrees but has not yet attained its minimum zenith distance during the diurnal cycle. The two criteria - zenith distance, not yet attained its MZD - are necessary to distinguish the ascendant from the descendant. The latter also has a zenith distance of ninety degrees. The distinguishing feature of the descendant is that it is the point on the ecliptic with this zenith distance that has already attained its minimum zenith distance during the diurnal cycle.

How does this definition work. Firstly, the specification of the zenith distance ensures that the ecliptic degree coincides with a point on rational horizon, i.e., both points have a zenith distance of ninety degrees. This is in fact what the ascendant is - the intersection or coincidence of the two planes: the ecliptic and rational horizon. Secondly, the rising degree - or ascendant - is moving from its intersection with the rational horizon towards its intersection with the meridian when it will attain its minimum zenith distance during the day (it will be at is closest approach to the zenith).

The descendant is the point opposite the ascendant, exactly fulfilling the condition of having a zenith distance of ninety degrees (again coincident with a point on the horizon) but having attained its MZD earlier in the day, i.e., it is now setting.

In this definition of the ascendant, the application of direction (east) or concepts of above and below are not required to make a precise meaning of the term. In fact, the ascendant so defined will always be in the eastern half of the rational horizon and the descendant will always be in the western half of the same plane. However, the application of direction is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for the definition of the concept. Likewise, the recourse to above and below is not required and can be dispensed with, as we did for the definition of the midheaven.

In the following image, the definition of the ascendant offered above is illustrated. Note that the coincidence of the plane of the ecliptic and the plane of the rational horizon occurs at zenith distance of ninety degrees. The rising degree will move from its position on the horizon to the MC during the course of one diurnal cycle and set later at a zenith distance of ninety degrees.

Figure 2: The Ascendant Definition Illustrated

We now have precise definitions for the angles of the horoscope using the minimum number of concepts. In fact, in both cases, the concept of zenith distance is the only term that needs to be formally employed. Both definitions work at all latitudes and for any time during a diurnal cycle. That is, they are universally applicable, unlike, in particular, alternative definitions of the midheaven that have been offered using the concepts of direction and above/below.

The midheaven is defined as the ecliptic degree that is at its minimum zenith distance during its diurnal cycle. This degree will always be coincident with the meridian of the place but the zenith distance of any particular degree on the MC will vary with the latitude of the place. When a degree is on the midheaven it is at its closest approach to the zenith during its diurnal cycle. The degree may, in some circumstances in the polar circles, be below the horizon.

The ascendant is defined as the ecliptic degree that has a zenith distance of ninety degrees but is yet to attain its minimum zenith distance during its diurnal cycle. It will, in due course, become the midheaven, but will not do so until it coincides with the meridian of the place and attains its MZD. The descendant is the ecliptic degree that has a zenith distance of ninety degrees and has already attained its minimum zenith distance.

The IC (Imum Coeli) is the ecliptic degree that is at is maximum zenith distance during its diurnal cycle. This degree will always be coincident with the meridian of the place but the zenith distance of any particular degree on the IC will vary with the latitude of the place. When a degree is on the IC it is at its furthest distance from the zenith during its diurnal cycle. The degree may, in some circumstances in the polar circles, be above the horizon.

The nonagesimal degree is the point on the ecliptic that is closest to the zenith at the time and place for which the chart is cast - that is, it is the point on the ecliptic that has the minimum zenith distance measured on any great circle running through the zenith and nadir at this time and place.This point is different from the MC; the degree associated with the nonagesimal will have been, or will be, closer to the zenith when it had, or has, its MZD on the meridian. The MC and the nonagesimal will only coincide when the first degree of Aries or the first degree of Libra rises, that is, when the equinoctial axis has a zenith distance of exactly ninety degrees.

In a later blog, I will explore some of the implications of these definitions, particularly for house systems generally employed by astrologers.


Helena Avelar and Luis Ribeiro (2010) On the Heavenly Spheres: A Treatise on Traditional Astrology. AFA Press.
Alan Candlish (1990) The Revised Waite's Compendium of Natal Astrology. Arkana Penguin.
Robert Hand (1982) Essays on Astrology: The Ascendant, Midheaven and Vertex in Extreme Latitudes. Whitford Press.
Jeff Mayo (1976) The Astrologer's Astronomical Handbook. L N Fowler and Co.
Jaqueline Mitton (1993) The Penguin Dictionary of Astronomy. Penguin Books.