Monday, November 21, 2016

The Speech of the Stars: An Astrological Interlude

Last week’s post on divination, for the sake of simplicity, finessed a distinction that’s actually of some importance—the existence of different categories of divination. Most of the divinatory oracles in use these days belong to a single category, which is technically called “sortilege.” That’s what you call any oracle that involves the (apparently) random selection of one or more symbols out of a predetermined set. Tarot cards, runes, geomantic figures, Ogham fews, the hexagrams of the I Ching, the letters of the Coelbren alphabet, and the list goes on: all these are methods of sortilege.

Sortilege is the most popular approach to divination these days, but it’s not the only game in town, and a brief glimpse at some of the other options is appropriate here. The oldest of all methods of divination, as far as anyone knows, is omen divination: you watch for something unusual to happen, and when it does, you interpret it.

That was the most prestigious method of divination in classical times.  Before any important event, such as the founding of a temple or the beginning of an official’s term of office, an augur—a professional omen reader—would sit down in the appropriate location, facing south, and wait for an omen to happen: the appearance of a lucky or unlucky bird, thunder from this or that direction, or what have you. We still talk about the inauguration of a president or other elected official, even though nobody but birdwatchers notices what’s perched in the trees beforehand. 

Mind you, omens still happen, even if there’s a shortage of augurs to interpret them. The news media in America just before the recent election, for example, carried a story from Florida, where two bald eagles, one male, one female, got into a fight in midair and plunged together into the gutter. After a few minutes, the male flew up and away, leaving the female eagle to be rescued by the local animal-control department. Any ancient Greek augur worth his salt would have known exactly how to read that omen.

The difficulty with omen divination, though, is that omens don’t necessarily show up when required. I suspect a lot of augurs spent a lot of long hours staring south at an empty sky waiting for something, anything, to happen. The other approaches to divination all get around this by making an omen happen when required. Sortilege is one of these, but there are three others in common use.

The first of these doesn’t have a common name, but without too much distortion it could be called Rohrshach-blot divination. Tea leaf reading is the method of this kind that most people know about, but there are other practices of the same kind—for example, wizards in Finland used to pour molten lead into cold water, wait until the lead congealed, and read the future from the blobby shape produced. Methods of these kind generally use no-holds-barred free association to interpret the results, so their accuracy depends entirely on the intuitive gifts of the diviner.

The same is true of the next kind of divination I have in mind, which is scrying. That’s what the stereotypical Romany seer is doing when she stares into a crystal ball and sees a tall, dark stranger coming into your life. Crystal balls aren’t the only option; any more or less reflective surface will do. People who have the gift of scrying can put themselves into a light trance as they gaze at the surface, and then they begin to see things. It can be an extremely effective method, but it depends on having strong intuitive gifts and also the talent of going into the light trance, which not everyone can do. For example, I can’t manage the thing at all.

Then we go to the other extreme, to those systems of divination that require no special states of consciousness, because they rely on cyclical phenomena that, at least in theory, have objective effects on human consciousness and thus on human affairs. There are a number of divination systems in this category, but the one that I plan to discuss—partly because it’s the one with which I’ve had a decent amount of experience, partly because it has had an immense role in the occult traditions of the western world—is astrology: “the speech of the stars,” to give the combination astro-logos its actual meaning in ancient Greek.

I should probably be more specific here, because there are four broad traditions of astrology in the world. There’s Mesoamerican astrology, Chinese astrology, Indian astrology, and the Western tradition, which had its roots in ancient Mesopotamia and went from there through Greece and the Arab world to Europe and the European diaspora. There are important similarities among these four traditions, but also important differences, and it’s not safe to generalize from one to the others. Thus I’m talking about the last of the traditions just named, Western astrology.

What’s more, all four traditions are full of the same lively process of competition between different schools of theory and practice that you find in, ahem, every other science. What I’ll be discussing here is the kind of astrology used by the great majority of practitioners in the English-speaking world: more specifically, the particular version of that kind of astrology that emerged in early to mid-twentieth century America, as taught and practiced by Llewellyn George and Ivy Goldstein-Jacobson, the two writers I’ve studied most closely.

It is, to begin with, tropical astrology. No doubt this phrase suggests to many of my readers that it ought to be practiced under a palm tree with a pina colada close at hand, but that’s not actually what the term denotes. To understand the difference between tropical astrology and the other kind, sidereal astrology, it’s useful—surprisingly so—to turn to one of the standard criticisms of astrology.

This is the claim that astrology can’t work because the precession of the equinoxes—the slow wobble of the Earth’s axis that takes 25,920 years or so to complete a full cycle—has moved the groups of stars named Aries, Taurus, etc. out of the regions of the sky that share those names, and astrology hasn’t taken that into account. It’s a very common sound bite flung by self-proclaimed skeptics against astrology, and like most such sound bites, it seems to make sense so long as you don’t know the first thing about the subject.

In point of fact, the very first surviving discussion of the precession of the equinoxes that has survived is in a book by the Roman astrologer Claudius Ptolemy. Pick up any astrological textbook that’s beyond the babytalk level and odds are you’ll find a detailed discussion of precession. Many of my readers may have heard the phrase “the age of Aquarius” in an astrological context—what defines that age is, again, precession. So, yes, astrologers know all about it.

Why hasn’t the shifting of star groups affected the location of those regions of the sky that astrologers call the signs of the Zodiac? It’s really quite simple. The signs are not the constellations.

As seen from the Earth, the Sun appears to move across the background of stars at a little less than one degree a day, following a track in space called the ecliptic—the name comes from the fact that eclipses happen when the Moon crosses that track. There are four important points along the ecliptic: the two equinoctial points, where the ecliptic crosses the celestial equator (the projection of the Earth’s equator into space), where the Sun may be found at the spring and fall equinoxes, and the two solstitial points, when the Sun is as far from the celestial equator as it gets, up against the Tropic of Cancer or Capricorn at the northern hemisphere’s summer and winter equinoxes respectively.

Those four points are at right angles to each other, marking out four ninety-degree wedges of space. Astrologers divide each of those wedges into three, to produce the twelve signs. Each sign got its name from the constellation that was there in classical times, when casting a horoscope usually involved noting the angle of the Sun with an astrolabe at the moment of birth, then waiting until after sunset to see where the planets were; the constellations were convenient signposts back then. As mathematics improved, tables of planetary positions took the place of the astrolabe, and so nobody cared much when the constellations drifted out of the signs to which they’d lent their names.

The signs are not the constellations. The signs of the zodiac are thirty-degree wedges of space defined by the relationship of the Sun and the Earth, with the thin point at the center of the Earth and the base along an arc of the ecliptic, like slices of celestial pizza. Each wedge has its own distinct flavor or character, and when the Sun, the Moon, or one of the planets is in a given wedge, its influence on Earth takes on some of that flavor.

Take a moment to imagine the Earth in space. Spread out in the middle distance are an assortment of other celestial bodies: the Sun, blazing at the center of the solar system; the Moon, circling the Earth; the other planets moving along their own orbits. Each of these bodies is either on the ecliptic or fairly close to it, and so each one falls into one of the signs, the thirty-degree wedges of space I’ve just described, which are established by the relationship of the Earth to the Sun. The constellations and the individual stars? For all practical purposes, they’re just background decor.

That’s the universe of the tropical astrologer. It’s only fair to note that there’s also a system called sidereal astrology, which is used by a small minority of Western astrologers, and which assigns those wedges of space according to the location of the constellations rather than the location of the solstices and equinoxes. (Again, this sort of disagreement between competing theories happens in every science.) There are various systems of sidereal astrology, and apparently some people get good results with them.  The one I’ve explored, the one used and then discarded by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in its early days, produced inaccurate predictions and embarrassingly bad personality readings when I used it, which is why I went back to tropical astrology. Still, your mileage may vary.

Skeptics of the sort who like to rabbit on about how precession disproves astrology also like to insist that there’s no way that the stars, all those light-years away, could affect events here on Earth. With this claim the tropical astrologer has no disagreement at all. The universe of tropical astrology stops at the limits of the solar system, and even scientists admit that the planets are much, much closer than the stars and thus able to exert measurable effects on this planet. The thesis of tropical astrology is simply that there are more effects of this kind than modern science has gotten around to noticing, mostly because it doesn’t want to look—and that these effects can be tracked by the tools of astrology.

Some astrologers of the last century who were also students of occultism suggested what, to my mind, is the most plausible explanation for the way that astrological influences reach the Earth. We’ve already talked about the astral light, the subtle whatever-it-is—not energy in the sense that physicists give that word, and probably not matter either—that, ahem, “surrounds us and penetrates us, and binds the solar system together.” In occult theory, the Sun is the source of the astral light—presumably every star is the source of astral light in its own system—and as the astral light from our Sun streams out to the edges of the solar system, it forms complex patterns of resonance and reverberation around each of the planets, which then react with one another in predictable ways.

If that were the case, you’d get the strongest effects either from the body that was the primary source of astral light, or from a body that was really, really close to the Earth—and in astrology, that’s exactly what you do in fact get. The Sun and the Moon are far more powerful in a chart than the planets. If you know somebody’s Sun sign, Moon sign, and rising sign—the wedge of the heavens that was on the eastern horizon at the moment of birth—and nothing else, you know much more about them than if you know the location of all the planets in their birth chart but don’t know the three points just named.

What’s more, the planets are more important in a chart than smaller bodies.  After the discovery of the asteroids, astrologers went to work trying to figure out what they meant; the astrology of the asteroids is a field for specialists these days, though, because the influence of these little lumps of rock turned out to be fairly minor most of the time. The discovery of the Kuiper Belt objects off beyond Pluto has launched similar investigations on the part of today’s astrologers; while everyone’s pretty sure that Eris, Sedna, and the other glorified snowballs out there in the frozen outer reaches of the solar system have some effect, it’s doubtful that they’ll have much more influence than asteroids.

So you’ve got the Sun, Moon, planets, and a variety of minor bodies, each of which seems to lend a specific force to human consciousness and life, moving through the pizza-wedges of the signs, each of which has a distinct flavor or character that it seems to impart to any celestial body that, from our perspective on Earth, passes through the sign. There are three other sets of factors. The first are the houses, which are twelve more pizza-slice wedges of the sky, defined not by the solstices and equinoxes but by the location on Earth for which a chart is cast. There are various ways to calculate the cusps (dividing points) of the houses, each of which has its partisans—again, the sort of competition of theory and practice usual in every science—but in most systems, the four cardinal points are the same:   the ascendant at the eastern horizon, the descendant at the western horizon, the midheaven at the ecliptic’s greatest elevation, and the nadir at its lowest point. It’s the fine points of dividing the quarters into three slices each that are still up for debate.

Where the planets have their specific forces and the signs have their flavors or characters, the houses relate to the different aspects of human life. The first house, which is just below the ascendant, relates to personality, and so any celestial object in that house will exert its force, flavored by the sign it’s in, predominantly on the personality. Similarly, the tenth house, which is just east of the midheaven, relates to career, and any celestial object in the tenth house will influence the career in accordance with its force and the flavor of the sign it happens to be in.

That’s the first factor. The second factor is that each celestial body relates to the signs in its own idiosyncratic way. The Sun, for example, has a special connection with Leo; its influence is unusually strong there, and if the cusp of one of the houses is in Leo, the Sun will influence the part of life governed by that house, even if it’s in a different house in the chart. Astrologers express this by saying that the Sun rules Leo. Correspondingly, the Sun is very weak in Aquarius—in its detriment, in astrological jargon. In Aries, the Sun is exalted—that is, it tends to express its influence in an unusually beneficial manner—while in Libra it’s in its fall, and expresses its influence in an unusually negative manner. The Moon and the planets have their own rulerships, detriments, exaltations, and falls, which work exactly the same way.

The third factor, finally, is that celestial bodies can affect one another if their positions form certain angles when seen from the standpoint of Earth. At some angles—especially 60° and 120°—they reinforce each other; at others—especially 90° and 180°—they conflict with each other. What if they aren’t at one of these angles? In that case, they don’t have a thing to do with each other. These angles are called aspects; there are major aspects, which have strong effects, and minor aspects, which have less obvious effects.

Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? It is. It’s an intricate, extraordinarily complex, and rather fussy form of divination that has had more research, experimentation, retrospective analysis, and testing put into it than all other Western systems of divination put together. One of the downsides of astrology is that it takes a lot of study and practice to get good at it. I got to the point of being able to do clear, accurate Tarot readings after about six months of steady practice, and it took me less than that to become a good geomancer; by contrast, I’ve been studying astrology pretty systematically for getting on for seven years, and there are still entire branches of theory and practice relating to the speech of the stars about which I still basically don’t have a clue.

(One of the things I haven’t mentioned yet is that you can use astrology for much, much more than birth charts. You can take a birth chart and progress it, to give year-by-year predictions about the life of the chart’s subject; that’s predictive astrology. You can choose a time to start something in order to give it the best possible start; that’s elective astrology. You can cast a chart for the moment a question is asked, and read the answer to the question right off the chart; that’s horary astrology. You can cast a chart for the moment you first feel ill, and use the chart to figure out the cause, course, and result of the illness; that’s medical astrology. You can cast a chart for one of the equinoxes or solstices for the capital city of a country, and get a very clear sense of the mood of the country and the course of political events for the following three months; that’s mundane astrology. Birth charts? That’s natal astrology, or if you prefer a more ornate term, genethliac astrology.)

Another downside is that astrology is inherently “fuzzy.” An astrological chart, whether it’s a birth chart or something else, talks in general categories. That doesn’t mean that anything goes; if you know what you’re doing, you can draw hard and fast conclusions from a chart—but there’s a gap between the conclusions you can draw and the exact details of the way they’re expressed. For example, I have Uranus in the first house of my natal chart. That’s the classic placement of the eccentric, the person who instinctively veers left where everyone else veers right, whose interests are at right angles to other people’s and gets bored with anything that’s too popular—and I’m unquestionably that sort of person.

What couldn’t be told from the chart is exactly what kind of eccentric I would turn out to be. A good Tarot reader or scryer could have gotten details; an astrologer, by and large, has to settle for “eccentric, with a taste for old things” (the latter due to my Saturn placement). Mind you, there are astrologers who can read a chart the way a Tarot reader reads the cards, and extract all kinds of improbably accurate data from it; I suspect what’s going on here is that intuition’s being applied on top of astrology.

But there’s an upside that goes along with that: you can surf the waves of astrological influence, to a much greater extent than you can surf other divination methods. If you find something in your natal chart you don’t like, once you know about it, you can work around it. If you have a bad transit—that is to say, a planet moving through a position where it’s in a difficult aspect to something in your birth chart, and thus influences your consciousness and life in some unwelcome way—you can deliberately counter its influence. You take fewer risks when Mars is afflicted, allow more time when Saturn is being difficult, decide not to order that second piece of pie when Jupiter’s in a bad position. Equally, when you have a favorable transit, you run with it.

All this suggests to me that there really is something objective behind astrology—something that more or less corresponds to the occult teaching referenced earlier. That’s a possibility I’d encourage readers to keep in mind as we proceed.

It’s been a while now since I proposed a contest, asking readers to write stories about magic that dealt with magic as it actually works, rather than the cheap imitations that fill the pages of fantasy novels and Hollywood movies. I received in response some first-rate stories—but, I’m sorry to say, not enough of them to make an anthology along the lines of the four After Oil anthologies. I want to thank everyone who wrote a story in response to my challenge, and since a good many of the stories in question deserve publication, I’ve forwarded them to the editor of MYTHIC Magazine, who has promised to consider them for publication. MYTHIC is a new magazine of fantasy and science fiction, and a paying market; I’ve got a story slated for publication in the first issue—and to be quite frank, I would be honored to have my story appear alongside some of the stories that were submitted in response to the contest.


James M. Jensen II said...

Astrology has been subject to more combined hand-wringing and pearl-clutching from skeptics and religious dogmatists than nearly any subject except perhaps the Ouija board. Even before I started taking the speech of the stars seriously, I was amused and frustrated by just how bad the arguments against it are.

One question I've been meaning to ask you is what you think of recent attempts, especially by Robert Hand and Chris Brennan, to revive whole sign houses (which treats the first house as occupying the entire sign which the ascendant is in, the second house as the next sign, and so on)?

Hand has written an ebook in which is discusses the history of houses, and concludes that quadrant house systems (i.e. the sort that every other house system is) had originally been used only for special techniques where whole-sign houses would give nonsensical results, and later astrologers may have simply misunderstood this and started using quadrant house systems for general charts.

Brennan has an episode of The Astrology Podcast entitled, intentionally hyperbolically, "Whole Sign Houses: The Best System of House Division." He lists 12 major points on the page.

One point that's particularly appealing to me is that most astrologers recommend that planets very near the cusp of the next house should be included in the next house, and whole sign houses seem to eliminate the need for that rule since the cusp of the house (the point of greatest influence) is not necessarily at the beginning of the house -- it's the same degree of the sign as the ascendant in the rising sign.

(Also, whole sign houses are ridiculously simple and since nobody can decide which house system is best anyway, why not?)

John Roth said...

There are a lot of nooks and crannies in astrological practice, and quite a bit of information that just isn't so. I'm not at all surprised that you couldn't get any significant personality information from western sidereal techniques: I've observed that the people who practice western forms of sidereal astrology simply don't attempt to draw that information from those techniques.

The sidereal techniques that work are Hindu; the one I'm most familiar with is Jyotsh. It works very well and gives very specific results.

As far as the fixed stars are concerned, they work, but you have to know how to use them. The instructions in most current texts are simply wrong, and the reason is a lesson in the limitations of technical innovation. Projecting the positions of the stars onto the ecliptic simply doesn't work.

The technique is absurdly simple: when a planet crosses the horizon or meridian (either end) at the same time one of the bright fixed stars crosses the horizon or meridian (not necessarily the same one) the combination is effective. It was extremely easy for the ancient astrologer to use because the configuration of the stars simply did not change at any given latitude; all the astrologer had to do was observe the locations of the planets to tell when one of them would be configured with a particular star. Of course, if the astrologer moved around the situation got a bit more complicated contacts did not happen at the same time for Athens or Alexandria. It's extremely easy to use as long as you don't complicate it too much.

I was working on it when 9/11 occurred, so I decided to see what it could tell me. The result was quite interesting: One of the Royal Stars of Persia had been activated. There are four of them, and each promises supreme good fortune as long as the person avoids a fatal flaw, a different one in each case.

In this case, the flaw was a desire for revenge. The rest is history.

Karim said...

Greetings all!

A very clear introduction to what astrology is all about.

A naive question: what if we ask the same question to different astrologers practicing different types of astrology, do we tend to have similar answers?

Steve McAllister said...

Wow. I've been interested in astrology for a bit now, ever since a love interest of mine ran my natal chart (and laughed knowingly when she discovered that my solar, lunar, and rising signs are all Pisces), but really struggled with the procession issue, as well as the fact that the zodiac constellations differ substantially in size. Now that you've said it, the fact that the astrological signs are oriented regions in space that are NAMED for constellations, rather than the constellations themselves, seems blindingly obvious. Thank you for making that click for me.

Staying with natal charts, I've wondered for a while if at least some of the influence ascribed to solar signs could simply be the influence of birth season; that is, could it be that traits I have in common with other Pisces folks could be related to the fact that we're all born in the last third of winter, and this encounter milestones of childhood development at similar times during the year? Have you ever noticed a distinct influence of birth hemisphere?

John Michael Greer said...

James, I don't find whole sign houses useful, but your mileage may vary. I use Placidus pretty consistently these days, with good results, and it's not that hard to work out the cusps even if you do them by hand.

John, Jyotish is by all accounts a very effective system; I haven't pursued it, because my magical interests tie in very precisely with Western astrology, but that's just a matter of personal needs and choices. Your comment on the fixed stars is fascinating -- yes, I could see that working.

Karim, good question. You might consider trying it!

Steve, I've never worked with a chart from the southern hemisphere's temperate zone, where the seasons would be reversed, but I've cast and delineated several charts for people born in the tropics, where you don't have the same seasonal patterns at all -- and Pisces still seems to be Pisces wherever you go.

PhysicsDoc said...

Thanks JMG for an enjoyable and informative post as usual. I only have a superficial knowledge of astrology but your description of tropical and sidereal astrology makes sense to me.
From a physics perspective I have always found Mach's principle, which relates the most distant fixed stars to the phenomena of inertia, and quantum entanglement, compelling support for the idea that all the elements of the universe have an impact on our lives.

Synthase said...

Please take this in the spirit of a frequently asked question, rather than a pseudoskeptical attack - why is Shawn Carlson's 1985 paper 'A double blind test of astrology' NOT comprehensively damning towards the entire concept?

Hereward said...

I have dabbled a bit in astrology myself and find it a fascinating, if time-consuming, activity. I have had good success with horary astrology and also with relatively simple natal astrology for other people. The only one for whom I get total nonsense is me! I have had charts done by other people as well and they always come up with character descriptions which bear no resemblance to how I am. It's actually the reason why I put astrology aside. I wonder if you might have an opinion on this?

Nicolas Costa said...

@JMG: given the subject of this month's post, would you mind if you took a quick look at my natal chart? I know enough from the "White book" level but I know for certain that there are some aspects I'm not getting yet. It's OK if you can't, I know you're very busy, but since you mentioned you never worked with a temperate chart from the southern hemisphere, and I was born in Buenos Aires, I thought you might be interested. I already have the chart if that helps.

Ray Wharton said...

Thank you for this article, this clarifies my understanding of tropical astrology greatly. Also this explanation of what the houses are makes it ever so much easier to visualize the sky based on a chart!

Ray Wharton said...

I am reviewing some charts I had drawn up for my self a while back, with this post in mind. Very quickly I am realizing that I had glazed over the houses in my last reading of the charts because I didn't really know what they were on about. This time I am reading into the houses much more carefully, and am shocked to find that they are really the hammer to my nail, in much more impressive ways than the signs. Interesting... to a degree that could be illusion because all newly incorporated data looms large, but still, impressive.

Jeffrey Kotyk (Indrajala) said...

In my research I'm constantly fascinated by the level of interest in astrology that we see among ancients who developed astral magic. From Spain to Japan we see people practicing astral magic integrated into astrology (or the other way around?). There are still all sorts of pujas for the Navagraha (nine planets) of Indian astrology.

I've started to think of astral magic as a kind of global "substrate tradition" amongst Eurasian (and North African) religions, as it is found literally everywhere despite custodians of orthodoxy often denouncing it. Nevertheless from Islamic Spain to Buddhist Japan, people practiced it. Much of it is rooted in the Near East ultimately (Alexandria and Mesopotamia).

Neo Tuxedo said...

The news media in America just before the recent election, for example, carried a story from Florida, where two bald eagles, one male, one female, got into a fight in midair and plunged together into the gutter. After a few minutes, the male flew up and away, leaving the female eagle to be rescued by the local animal-control department. Any ancient Greek augur worth his salt would have known exactly how to read that omen.

Anyone who'd seen the whole thing, anyway. The social media site Tumblr, which is my primary internet access portal these days, initially focused on the image of the two eagles in the gutter together as a metaphor for the condition of America. Earlier, they'd been much taken with the moment in March when a dove landed on the podium behind which Bernie Sanders was giving a speech, comparing it with the moment in August of 2015 when Trump was attacked by a bald eagle.
Donald Trump was literally attacked by a bald eagle,

Nicolas Costa said...

@Steve: My birthday is in September 21st, first day of Spring here and I'm a Sun Virgo through and through, with the Moon in Leo and my ascendant in Geminis. Hardly surprising, I'm good at intellectual and practical things (make web pages and fix computers, cook, archery, I started my third year of growing aromatic herbs in my balcony, spend many hours every day reading about every subject that falls in my lap). That combination of Mutable Air and Mutable Earth made me a Jack-of-many-trades and master of a couple.

Ron M said...

Well, well, Mr. Greer – you ARE full of surprises! I had assumed that due to your fondness for geomancy, you would gravitate towards Western Renaissance astrology. Guess I was wrong. I’m curious as to what made you opt for the current/modern version of this ancient art.

Nice, high-level intro to a topic of inestimable depth and complexity! I appreciate the facts that you bring up regarding the diversity and differences of opinion in the field, and that without intuition, one can only go so far in terms of providing specific predictions. I have among my circle of jyotish-practicing friends two who are polar opposites – one is “analysis on steroids” (using a galaxy of obscure techniques and a plethora of divisional charts); the other sticks to the birth chart, basic rules of interpretation and seasoned intuition. While both provide impressive results, the intuitive one hits more nails on the head.

One thing I really like about astrology as a form of divination is the varying degrees of “confirmation”. Even in “deterministic” jyotish, if one has only indicator of a matter (e.g., the Moon is harmed – indicating suffering for the mother), it is considered only a potential; while if there are multiple indicators (e.g., debilitated Moon aspected by both Saturn and Mars, Cancer in the 8th house, spoiled 4th house [which indicates the mother in jyotish]), one can predict with quite a lot of confidence (in this case, that the mother will have a rough life).

Thanks for this post!

Eric S. said...

Interesting. Astrology is a system that fascinates me, but I've got a pretty full plate in the area of those endeavors right now, and I mostly know just enough about astrology to be wary of almost anything that gets filtered down through mainstream popular culture and not quite enough to know what to actually trust. One question I do have: you mentioned that the precession of the fixed stars not having a major role in Tropical astrology, but also pointed out that the movements of the fixed stars do play into the passage of astrological ages. Do astrological ages have any significance you've been able to discern in defining any aspects of human society on a macro-scale that you've been able to discern through a study of history? The Piscean Age seems to have begun with the rise of Christianity, and would be ending in another century and a half or so, corresponding pretty closely with the likely timelines that have been discussed elsewhere for the long descent, and the shift toward whatever religious sensibilities would be supplanting the salvation-centered ones that were at the heart of our culture. I do recall you touching briefly on the connection between the connection between religious history and astrological ages in Apocalypse Not, using the transition from the Titans to the Olympians as an example, which did seem to suggest some sort of tie between religious sensibilities and astrological precession. In that case, could an astrological age be an influencing factor in the dominant worldviews of a particular cultural cycle? Or is the concept of astrological ages in general mostly a useless one when it comes to practical astrology?

John Roth said...

@James M. Jensen

Whole Sign Houses are part of Hellenistic (that is, Greek) astrology. That's the system which may have been invented by Hermes Trismegistos, who may have been Eudoxus of Knidos. who has been called the last of the Pythagoreans, and was a contemporary of Plato and Aristotle. Research is ongoing on that question.

I get reasonable results from whole signs, and they're usually a lot more obvious than using a different house system. Other people's results may well vary.

Robert Schmidt (Project Hindsight) has recently created a workshop discussing the issue of whole sign places, equal houses and the Porphyry system. As background, Mr. Schmidt has been translating the entire corpus of Greek astrology into English. The results are a bit pricey, so I haven't been following it in real detail. While the System of Hermes builds on Mesopotamian and Egyptian astrology, it's essentially a new branch, the root of all western astrology, with a highly contentious connection to Joytsh.

John Michael Greer said...

PhysicsDoc, you're welcome. I probably know less about physics than you know about astrology, so I'll simply nod and smile. ;-)

Synthase, why, for the same reasons that a single unreplicated study in a highly contentious and controversial field, taken in isolation from all other research and without careful consideration of its own limits, wouldn't be comprehensively damning to the entire concept of any other science.

Hereward, how certain are you of the accuracy of your own birth data? When the sort of thing you describe happens, as it does, the most common cause is that you've got the wrong time of birth.

Nicolas, thank you, but just at the moment I'm in the middle of three book projects and don't have the time to spare.

Ray, you're welcome. The houses really do matter -- that's how you know what part of your life each astrological influence affects.

Jeffrey, bingo. If you practice astrology, and understand the usefulness of magic, combining the two is just plain common sense -- and since magical and astrological teachings got passed across the length and breadth of Eurasia, it's not at all surprising that the same techniques ended up all over the place.

Neo, he was indeed. Ironically -- or not -- right about the time Trump announced the beginning of his presidential bid, a pair of bald eagles started nesting in New York City for the first time in way over a century...

Ron, I've done a fair amount with Renaissance astrology, and it's a powerful and flexible system, but the magical traditions I practice are rooted in the late 19th and early 20th century occult scene, and the astrology that was also part of that scene is in several ways more compatible with the magic. I distinguish between that system -- the sort of thing you find in Alan Leo, Llewellyn George, Ivy Goldstein-Jacobson, et al. -- from today's post-Dane Rudhyar, personality-centered astrology, which has a very different flavor and focus. In some ways the early 20th century stuff I use is closer to Alan Leo than it is to current standard practice; they did a lot of horary readings (Goldstein-Jacobson is particularly good with horary), progressions offering hard and fast predictions, and so on.

Eric, the relationship between the astrological ages and historical cycles is a hugely contentious field, and I haven't given it a great deal of study yet; my work with mundane astrology mostly focuses on ingress charts, which cover between three months and a year -- rather a smaller time scale! The timing of the end of the Piscean age is one of the points of contention; my current take, which is open to revision with further research, is that the Age of Aquarius began in 1879, as predicted by various 19th and 20th century occultists. It's here, we're in it, and it doesn't seem likely to live up to some of the more extravagant billing it's received.

Odin's Raven said...

Here's an interesting site which associates at least some of the signs with important activities at that time of year; the birth of lambs and calves and the Atlantic salmon run.

The actual stars forming the mnemonic background could change without changing the significance of the sign.

John Roth said...

Eric S.

Back when I was going to astrology conferences, I had the good fortune to be in the audience when Rob Hand was expounding on the Cardinal Axes through the Constellations. His description of the Vernal Equinox through Pisces, star by star and historical event by historical event, was most fascinating. If I remember correctly, there are still three contacts before the Vernal Equinox leaves the Ptolomaic constellation of Pisces, and then a several hundred year period before it contacts the first star of Aquarius.

He also mentioned, very briefly, the passage of the Summer Solstice through Gemini. The interesting point was that the first contact was when Julius Caeser declared himself Emperor, and the last contact was in 1918, when the last four rulers with the title of Caeser (two Czars and two Kaisers) abdicated or were executed. Between the two ends, there was always a ruler in Europe with the title of Caeser.

John Roth said...


If that's the study I think it is, it was a fraud from begining to end. The only thing it proved is that some astrologers are gullible, and were taken in by the attempt to find a "scientific" basis for astrology.

It was published in Nature as an unrefereed letter rather than a refereed research report, after being held for a year. The editors of Nature have never said why they did that, rather than simply rejecting it for not being able to find anyone willing to referee it.

Allan Elder said...

Neo wrote: "Donald Trump was literally attacked by a bald eagle"

Just to be fair, an agitated bird of prey being transferred to an untrained person's arm and nipping is no more of an "attack" than a dog barking at a stranger. All it did was flap and nip while being transferred to Trump's glove. It's not like he was walking in the Square and one swooped out of the heavens and tried to kill him (even though it seems to be reported that way in some places).

Eagles are serious birds. They have been videoed trying to pick up children and attacking people. Unalaska has to put up signs every year warning visitors to beware of eagle attacks.

The bird on Bernie's podium was a finch, not a dove. Everyone thinks it was a dove because Bernie said it was to capitalize on the moment. I think, symbolically, the finch would mean someone who is willing to speak their mind (apropos for Bernie).


Unknown said...

Archdruid Greer,

Thank you for your description of astrology. I was quite confused by the difference between the signs and the sections of the sky until you clarified the difference for me. The whole subject makes a great deal more sense. I plan to continue studying astrology as soon as I finish my current course of study.

I would also like to congratulate you on your successful prediction of the election. I wanted to post on the other blog, but you received so many comments so fast that I hesitated to create more work for you, especially since I had no other useful information to add. Luckily, the subject is suddenly relevant here as well :) You certainly called it!

To Archdruid Greer and the Community At Large,

You also mentioned omens, and I would like to mention my own experience reading omens. I spent a few years intensely studying my dreams (which I found very useful for personal exploration and self-understanding) and learned to interpret symbolism in general (which is also very useful for both magick and divination, as well as reading and art). When you interpret the symbolism of random events, that's reading omens. So learning dream interpretation taught me to read omens, and that has changed my life more than any other magickal skill I have acquired, because it opened up the opportunity for the divine to speak directly to me, unsolicited. The result is I have been forewarned of several traumatic events, and that gave me the opportunity to emotionally prepare. It also provides a great deal of comfort when the general order of the universe cares enough to warn you of catastrophe. Bad omens have a bad reputation that is undeserved! Bad omens have significantly raised the quality of my life and probably protected me from severe depression. The spirits of loved ones who have passed also use omens to communicate, and that is also intensely comforting when all you want is to know your lost loved one is safe, wherever they are. I share this information because people have asked me how I learned to read signs, and it was by learning my dreams. There may be other ways to learn, as well. For anyone who is interested but questions the usefulness of a divinatory system that only works on its own time, I would say that's exactly why it's useful. And yes, I have also sat under a tree for a few hours waiting for a sign (more than once). I don't recommend that! Pretty much any other divinatory system works better when you have a question to ask. It's best to go about your life and when a sign appears, you will know its meaning. The benefit of reading omens is that they answer the very important questions you didn't ask.

Jessi Thompson (anotheramethyst)

John Michael Greer said...

Raven, um, the signs of the Zodiac were given their symbolism and meaning in Mesopotamia, which iirc doesn't have salmon runs, and which has a different seasonal cycle entirely. It's clever, but unconvincing.

Allan, well, there does seem to be some flapping and nipping going on as the eagle is being transferred to Trump's hand, so that counts as an omen!

Jessi, most interesting. Thanks for this.

Kfish said...

Dear Jessi,

I agree with you about the bad omens - I've just started a daily Tarot practice and after pulling a bunch of reversed cards, I think that a warning about a specific pitfall is more useful than a promise of wealth and health and all good things. Unfortunately, too many negative signs tend to produce a pessimistic outlook.

Urban said...

Where does one start to learn how to interpret dreams? Are there broad guidelines that can be used by everyone?

Nicolas Costa said...

@Allan: my take on the eagle with to Trump. It's a metaphor for the transition of power. Trump will not have an easy one, USA will flap and nip at him, and he'll be put in place any time he overextends.

Eric S. said...

" The timing of the end of the Piscean age is one of the points of contention; my current take, which is open to revision with further research, is that the Age of Aquarius began in 1879, as predicted by various 19th and 20th century occultists."

Hmm... interesting. What makes that such a point of contention? It seems like that would be something reasonably simple to establish just based on where the sun is during the appropriate equinox. Is there some other element to how those are calculated that makes it more complicated than that?

UtopiaBorderPatrol said...

To come back to my comment from last month: Thank you for the book recommendations JMG, I ordered both books - and until they arrive in Germany I'm busying myself with an introductory text in German. Lordy lordy, astrology done right is really complicated!
Still, an astrologically inclined acquaintance once mentioned I received quite the unfortunate deal on the astrological front and I'm determined to find out what he meant (he died very surprisingley a few years back and now that I'm finally dipping my toes into esoteric waters I would have been very happy to have him as a mentor. But this is how things go - and besides, I'm very happy to have found this site and others).

zach bender said...

to be fair to "the age of aquarius," by your own calculation we are still in early days. also of course some of the associations with aquarius -- rationalism, technology, etc. -- are not unmitigated goods.

John Roth said...

@Eric S.

There are a number of bases for the contention over the timing of the "Age of Aquarius." The first is that there's really no agreement that the entire idea of astrological ages makes any sense. Most of the explanations of the ages I've seen involve a lot of cherry-picking to show that the symbolism matches.

A second issue is this: where are the fixed signs (the sidereal signs) that the vernal equinox is supposed to be going through? Anything but the most cursory study of Hindu astrology will show that there is no agreement where the sidereal zodiac begins. The various proposed ayanamsa's (sp?) spread over several degrees, which will give several hundred years difference in the timing.

This isn't the place for me to weigh in on that subject. All I'll say is that Rob Hand's approach, which I mentioned in a previous comment, is very appealing because, first, it doesn't use the zodiac at all, and second, it can use any of the constellations as historical archetypes. This presumes that the constellations are projections of deeply seated archetypes, of course. There was an article a few years ago by Rob Hand in The Mountain Astrologer where he applied the same technique to a non-zodiacal constellation, Aquilla if I remember correctly. He used that for the U.S.

Emmanuel Goldstein said...

When people do remote viewing, there is some evidence that doing it within an hour of 13:30 Local Sidereal Time makes the results more accurate. Here's a link;

This seems to be an astrological phenomenon. Does the astrology community have any comment on 13:30 LST? Would 13:30 LST be a better-than-usual time of day to cast a chart (for purposes of maximized intuition)? Would 01:30 LST be a particularly bad time to cast a chart?

Diotima Mantineia said...

@Synthase -- Scientists are as prone to bias as the rest of us mortals. Here are some reasons why most "scientific" tests of astrology are, in fact, not very scientific at all.

@JMG -- Great post! :-)

John Michael Greer said...

Urban, there I can't help you; dream interpretation isn't something I know much about.

Eric, the question is where to draw the boundary between the constellations Pisces and Aquarius. That's far from clear; you've got two constellations with a gap between them, and of course you have to decide first of all whether you're working with the constellations or some set of equal pizza-slices that slide through the signs. There's a lot of debate over the whole business.

Utopia, yeah, horoscopes vary; there's pretty much always some way to play the hand you're dealt successfully, but it can take a lot of work.

Zach, granted, but the point I hoped to make is that no age of the world is going to be Utopian, no matter how much rock music you add to it. ;-)

Emmanuel, that's really quite odd. Off hand, I can't think of anything astrological that would cause that.

Dio, thank you!

Synthase said...

Diotima, John Roth, JMG: Thank you.

I'm still going to have to finds some pearls somewhere, but I can see that the astrology you're talking about and the astrology that that paper and the various pseudoskeptics are talking about aren't the same thing. Nevertheless it still seems to me about as iffy as 'technical analysis' in trying to time the price movements of securities.

I am however willing to listen, if you've got the patience.

As I am fortunate enough to know the exact time, date and location of my birth, I have used an FOSS package, OpenAstro, to generate my natal chart. What, then, can I do with this?

astroplethorama said...

JMG, James et al.,
After many years of studying and writing about astrology, using Placidus then Koch houses, I read again Robert Hand’s small book “Night and Day: Planetary Sect in Astrology,” which I acquired when it came out in 1995. It was, I think, the first published product of Project Hindsight — an effort to translate material never before published in English. By now there are quite a number.
I’m not sure why I didn’t pursue it more the first time — probably the preponderance of modern material that took no account of time of day or night. Which now seems to me a tremendous blind spot of modern practitioners, though understandable in the age of electric light, computers, etc.
The idea that the rules of interpretation would be different depending on day or night also makes eminent sense to me.
I also find whole-sign houses quite useful, and especially the system of planetary dignities (which modern astrology also largely glosses over or ignores).
It seems to me that the strength of the Hellenistic system of astrology, using these and other key elements, is in representing the structure of a person’s life (for example, major phases in one’s life), rather than personality characteristics. As I’ve become an elder, that is what interests me more.
One thing to bear in mind is that Western astrology was largely reinvented in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, using scraps passed down from medieval times, but without access to ancient texts and methods.
Two other issues I have with most astrologers these days: an excessive reliance on the outer planets (Uranus, Neptune, Pluto and now Eris), and that few astrologers seem interested in observing the actual sky — two habits from which I’ve had to wean myself. Oh yes: Delineation begins with the ascendant rather than Sun sign.
A few years ago a novel, The Luminaries, came out and was well-received. I gather that various characters exemplify various attributes related to the planets. And while I can’t give an appraisal, not having read it, other readers here may find it — well, illuminating.


David, by the lake said...


Not directly relevant to astrology (ok, not at all) but pertaining to divination more generally (augury perhaps), I'd like to relate an experience I had just this morning. I am still making the transition to becoming more aware of synchronicities and signs, so the fascination with even simple things is still very new.

As I've mentioned previously, this path I'm on is earth-centric and I've been "told" that my path is 'not within the structures of Man' (old-school gender usage, I realize, but that is how the message came). Anyhow, nature magic and druidry keep bubbling up, so last night I decided to take a look at the AODA website. Scrolling through the curriculum, I noted the three paths and that the overall approach did rather reasonate with me. But I decided to let everything just sit for the time being, because I'm still unsure of exactly where I'm to be going or by what path and I don't want to force something that doesn't belong.

This morning I got up and was making my morning coffee when I accidentally splashed some of the hot water on the fingers of my left hand. (My left hand has figured prominently in my one or two solid experiences that I've had with Gaia or Whomever-She-May-Be.). I do not know if you are familiar at all with JourneyQuest ( but one of the notable aspects of the series is the development of an internally consistent Orcish language. And as I was running cold water over my hand this morning, it suddenly leapt into my mind that the Orcish word for "bard" is "skald."

Well, I wanted direction. It came with a bit of a sting to make sure I was paying attention, I guess.

John Michael Greer said...

Synthase, get a good textbook of natal astrology and start going over it point by point, paying attention to where things seem to match and where they don't. Many schools of astrology start students out with their own natal charts for precisely that reason. Once you've got a good handle on your own chart, cast a chart for someone else you know well, and repeat the process. Learning to synthesize a chart is like learning to read an X-ray or a core sample from a glacier -- it takes practice.

The alternative, if you don't have the spare time to invest, is to pay for a natal delineation from a competent professional astrologer. If you don't happen to know one, I'm sure Diotima would be delighted to help you out. ;-)

Astroplethorama, the revival of astrology in the mid-19th century didn't draw on fragments, but rather on one tolerably complete text: William Lilly's Christian Astrology. All of the first couple of generations of modern astrologers used Lilly's techniques, with very modest modifications, and such things as planetary rulerships were still important in their teachings. The real shift happened following the publication of Dane Rudhyar's The Astrology of Personality in 1936, which launched the modern focus on personality instead of prediction. The pre-Rudhyar tradition, and the work of those authors who continued it after Rudhyar's time, is a very different kettle of fish.

That said, if Hellenistic astrology is your krater of wine, by all means drink deeply! Just as there's ample room in the field for practitioners of Jyotish, Chinese astrology, Nine Star Ki, etc., there's room for Hellenistic astrologers. The world would be duller without many different ways of looking at the sky and learning from it.

David, fascinating. The Orcish word was, btw, lifted from the Norse -- a skald is a Norse bard, just as a scop is an Anglo-Saxon bard.

David, by the lake said...


Thanks for that info! It actually makes me feel better that there is a historical linguistic connection. The Orcish was likely just the gateway to get my attention. And the Nordic element gives me another thread to follow, so follow it I will.

Yucca Glauca said...

Fascinating post. Most "Traditional" (I.e., Renaissance or earlier) Astrologers I've talked to seem to blame Alan Leo for much of what you're suggesting Dane Rudhyar introduced. I have a suspicion that most of them haven't actually read the works of either men though--I'm in that boat myself, though they're on my reading list.

I'm interested in how the Astrology of Alan Leo et al. works better with your magical interests than Renaissance Astrology does. Are there any particular examples you could give?

Bill Pulliam said...

About the eagles -- one of the primary skills of an augur is to know what is normal, so as to be able to understand also what is unusual.

If the eagles were indeed a male and a female, it seems they were much more likely to have been courting than fighting. Bald Eagles are famous for their aerial courtship gymnastics, during which pairs grasp feet and spiral downward in death-defying plunges. Bald Eagles are wintertime nesters, so this is courtship season for them. So if these two birds were in fact a romantic pair, and not dueling rivals, this would put an entirely different spin on the interpretation!

John Roth said...


Both men had an influence, but Rudhyar's influence was substantially larger. The saying I've heard about Alan Leo is that they (the Astrological Lodge of the Theosophical Society) invented a psychological basis for astrology to keep him out of jail for fortune-telling.

I've read Leo's books, and don't remember getting a whole lot out of them. Of course, by the time I read them I already had most of the material down, so going through different ways of doing hand calculations wasn't all that exciting. Rudhyar, on the other hand, was completely opaque - I couldn't make any sense out of him at all. Possibly that has something to do with Asparagus, oops, I mean Asperger's, syndrome.

bruce said...

OT but this looks like the best place to ask- any know of a version of Zelazny's Pattern of Amber using the Tree of Life?

Tori Minard said...

Urban, if I may -- I'm not exactly a master at dreamwork, but I have been working with my own dreams most of my life. I was part of a dream group at a UU church for a couple of years, so I've done some group work too. So maybe I can give you a few pointers to get you started.

1. Write down (or otherwise record) your dreams. The single most important thing you can do to understand and work with your dreams is simply to pay attention to them, which is a lot more than most people do.

Write them down even if they seem meaningless or too short to be of note. Most dreamworkers believe that all dreams have meaning, even the really short ones, the totally bizarre ones, the ones that are bizarre because of their utter mundanity, etc. They all matter, so write them down.

An interesting thing happens when you start to pay attention. Your dreams will probably become easier to remember, and they may seem more involved and/or more vivid after you've done this for a while. It's like the dreamworld notes that you're paying attention and it responds to that.

2. Consider the content of the dream. Visual images, colors, numbers, repeating themes or motifs, emotional states, lack of emotional states. Anything and everything in the dream can have meaning.

Look at this content and tell yourself about it. What does an oak tree mean to you, for example? Was it in full leaf? Winter-bare? Dream dictionaries can be helpful, but they're not the end authority on your dreams. You are, so take what they say with a grain of salt.

3. Remember that all dreams have multiple levels of meaning, and sometimes those levels can even seem to contradict each other. That's okay. Dreams are fluid, living things, not simple encoded messages.

4. You might want to read Jeremy Taylor's work. The dream group I belonged to followed his protocol. I attended a workshop with him, and I have to say he definitely has gifts in dream analysis.

5. In addition to analyzing the dreams, you might want to draw pictures or write poems or do some other kind of expressive work with them. This can lead you to a different kind of understanding than analysis.

I hope this helps. I don't do much work with directing my dreams, but I have done some dream incubation, which is pretty simple. You just tell yourself you want to dream about subject X as you're falling asleep.


grisom said...

Bruce, very interesting—I haven't read the Amber books, but Wikipedia's description of The Pattern makes it sound like it was already consciously based on the Tree: a labyrinthine path which orders the universe, grants strange powers and involves struggling through three Veils? Hah! Yes; that's the "path of return", which you may have seen depicted as a snake coiled around the Tree of Life.

So, if you're looking for instructions on how to "walk the Pattern" for real, our host's book Paths of Wisdom is just that. Good luck and safe travels!

John Michael Greer said...

David, you're most welcome.

Yucca, Leo is still very much in the older tradition -- read his book on progressed charts sometime and you'll find that it's full of predictive material (and includes a long section on primary directions, a predictive method much used in the Renaissance and almost entirely supplanted by secondary directions today). I suspect what gets a lot of traditional astrologers' backs up about him is that he was a Theosophist, and uses a lot of their jargon in his books.

As for magic and astrology, what I've found is that post-Eliphas Levi ceremonial magic is much less sensitive to the minor dignities of the planets -- the triplicities, decans, and terms* -- than classic Renaissance magic. If you want to consecrate a talisman or Venus using Renaissance methods, say, you can do it and get decent results if Venus is in one of her minor dignities and additionally dignified by, say, an applying trine from the Moon, and you can't do it at all if Venus is peregrine. If you're using a Golden Dawn-style ritual, by contrast, as long as Venus isn't in her detriment or fall, you're fine; having her in a major dignity is lagniappe, but the minor dignities don't seem to help much. Beyond that, if you work with the Tree of Life, Uranus and Neptune are worth including in your symbolic cosmos; I also find Ivy Goldstein-Jacobson's Moon-centered method of interpreting horary readings more revealing than the classic method.

*For those readers who don't speak astrologese, these are sections of the ecliptic where a planet gets some additional strength, but nothing like as much as in its rulership or exaltation. "Dignity" is the Renaissance astrologer's way of talking about strengthened planetary influence; its opposite is "debility."

Bill, interesting. Thank you.

Bruce, nope. I'm familiar with the books, of course -- I read and reread the first two back in my misspent youth, though the later ones never did much for me -- but I don't know of anyone trying to link the Pattern with the Tree. I suspect, for what it's worth, that the influence went the other way. I seem to recall reading that Zelazny dabbled in occultism back in the day -- many SF and fantasy authors did, back before the current fad for rationalist pseudoskepticism hit the genres -- and if you've been through a magical initiation ritual such as the Neophyte Grade of the Golden Dawn, Zelazny's description of Corwin's walking of the Pattern seems rather noticeably familiar.

One thing, though: I don't recommend using fantasy fiction as the basis for magical practice, if that's what you had in mind. Fictional magic produces fictional results; if you want real results, you need real magic, and you won't find that in the pages of Nine Princes in Amber.

bruce said...

@Grissom- Thanks for the links. And for'struggling through three veils' I missed that.

@John- Thanks. I don't intend to use fantasy fiction as the basis for magical practice, but the other way. I will miss-spend my middle age rereading the Amber books with a Tree of Life beside me when I get to the Pattern scenes. Especially the first two, which I agree are the best.

Scotlyn said...

@JMG, in a reply to me in the last post you said, "Scotlyn, that makes perfect sense to me. In traditional Western medicine -- as in, back before the scientific revolution, when we had a system more or less parallel to TCM -- it was standard practice for the physician to cast either a geomantic reading or an astrological chart as a guide to diagnosis. (Astrology wonks will want to know, if they didn't know already, that the chart -- called a decumbiture -- was cast for the time and place where the patient first noticed serious symptoms, and was compared to the natal chart.) So the comparison you've offered works well for me. (Is it at all traditional for TCM practitioners to consult the I Ching as part of diagnosis?)"

As the theme is still topical, I'd like to reply here with some data points and observations.

Firstly, it seems that the debunking community sees this connection (the article is very, very interesting, notwithstanding its skeptical stance)... As it happens, the connection between the two traditions interests me greatly.

Secondly, some of the earliest written evidence that is placed within the developmental timeline of what is now known as TCM* are these "oracle bones"...

Thirdly, there is a modern "I Ching" written for TCM-trained acupuncturists, and once upon a time I bought a copy. However, I have not ventured into any kind of useful relationship with it... there's a certain awkwardness about the wordings of the hexagrams that I find very difficult to penetrate.

The sense in which I personally think my practice resembles divination is more along the lines of Jesse's post on omen reading... that is to say, each person expresses through their gait, expression, tone of voice, complexion, thought and speech patterns, symptom picture, pulse and tongue characteristics and many other outward appearances, something of their inner states and processes, something of their interaction with their environment, something of their personal history... and the skill is to read "personal omens" from these outward signs and there discern the pattern that may be altered or set on a new track by the interventions you are trained to deliver.

*Modern TCM, as I was taught it, is of course, also a 19th/20th century revivalist "tradition" - not every TCM practitioner wants to know or admit this. Nevertheless it does self-consciously connect back to an actual canon of classic works rich in hints and suggestions which can be put to the test in the clinic, as succeeding generations of practitioners of diverse schools and styles of medicine practiced in different times and places in China have done.

However, the test is always and only of THIS patient and THIS treatment. And, yes, this test is subjective and non-repeatable by its very nature. (A patient, and their disease, is, after all, a non-repeatable entity). But ultimately, THIS test is the ONLY test that matters to the patient themselves.**

**This may explain why the proponents of "averaged out [evidence based]" medicine never seem to make any headway in arguing with people who insist that X (debunked treatment) works for them, or Y (very successful in double blind studies treatment) doesn't work at all, or makes them very ill. They don't actually care/notice what happens to the "statistically average" person. They care/notice what happens to them.

Scotlyn said...

This may be a small thing, but it is rather a large thing for me, and may be of general interest...

My journaling has suddenly stopped being a chore and become an easy, and natural extension to my practice since I discovered the "Bullet Journal" (a brilliant idea, just add pen and paper)...

Nano said...

One thing. I recommend you read Grant Morrisons "The invisibles" graphic novel. You may enjoy it. Alan Moore also has some potential interesting readings for you. And there's always Terry Pratchet, I'm particularly fond of the science of disk world and Time Thief.


Nano said...

@JMG that you know off, has anyone tried casting a chart on a 3D plane?

Meaning, we drop the helial model of our solar system and visualize how we actually move through space , like so and then map the movement of the celestial bodies accordingly. We could then think of the celestial forces as sound waves traveling up and down, bouncing and interacting on the solar carousel, to wax poetically ;)

Ien in the Kootenays said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ien in the Kootenays said...

As well as gleefully pouncing on the weekly archdruid report, I really should visit this blog more often! I have been a serious student of astrology since my first Saturn return. I am now working on the third opposition, so it has been a while. I have found it incredibly helpful in life, and as a basic framework for reflecting on Life, the Universe, and Everything. I also have Uranus in the first house, squaring the chart ruler Venus. I know you are a busy man, but if you can spare 5 minutes you might enjoy this blog post.

OMG. While I am typing this, an acquaintance calls, and asks me about the idea that "none of the signs are true anymore and she is now supposed to a Pisces instead of an Aries. Talk about synchronicity! She will receive a link to this post.

Sister Crow said...

Re: story contest, I won't say I'm not disappointed. I was looking forward to your foreword for that particular volume, almost as much as I was hoping to get back into print. Do you have a sense of their timeframe for responding to submissions?

John Roth said...


There are quite a few people who have played around with the idea of doing a chart on a spherical surface or in actual 3D space, but none of those ideas have gotten any traction. Somewhere I've got a treatise on doing primary directions on the surface of the sphere rather than projected onto a circle, but I've never really gotten into the math, let alone automated it so it's practical.

The fundamental problem is that Western astrology since Hermes (and a lot of Hindu Astrology as well) is premised on this 12-fold division, and if you drop that, you're plowing new ground.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Oh no. So many interesting comments to wade through. Has anyone worked with the Reinhold Ebertin method of focusing strictly on the angles and planetary patterns? I happened to stumble upon The combination of stellar influences very early on when I started teaching myself back in 1973. What I like about Ebertin is the way the system bypasses all the controversies about which house system to use, even which zodiac to use. Moon square Saturn is Moon square Saturn in any system, whether the Moon calls itself Pisces or Aquarius, whether the main sign is Cancer or Sheep. I fear my mind glazes over when trying to interpret midpoint tree configurations, and I miss the rich symbolic language of tradition. But I always keep an eye out for midpoints. They often tie patterns together that are not immediately obvious otherwise.

Myriam said...

This is a slightly off topic question I hope you would help me with. I'm finally able to hear some of what the Ogham fews are telling me (a little), and the overall feeling I get from them is that they are a friend to me.

I have purchased both Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom, and Ogam: The Celtic Oracle of the Trees, and noticed that the flavour of the meaning for each few is different from each other and from your writings. Pronunciation, focus, keywords, overall meanings both upright and reversed, and how they apply to my life differ, some slightly, some more substantially.

Am I wrong to think that what matters is what I am hearing from the fews? I don't want to assign meanings that are not the original intended meanings, but as I experience the messages they are sending me, and match them to my lived experiences, they are taking on connotations that are personal, and will, if this continues, end up being a “dialect” with one speaker in this world (me).

So far, I am using the meanings you have given in Druid Magic Handbook and The Druidry Handbook though I have rewritten them very slightly to make them more available to me. For example, Saille's first upright meaning is written: Moving with the flow of events. I have rewritten it to mean: Allow yourself to move with the flow of events (based on the rest of the meanings you've given.) This is working well for me.

I may be mistaken, but it seems to me your meanings have a stronger orientation to the other world. This I greatly value, because although I value the other two books meanings relating to how to improve my outward life, it's more my inward life that I am trying to develop.

However, I worry about whether these different, personal meanings will affect my using the Ogham for future magic rituals. One book suggested there may be unintended consequences if I don't get the meanings (and pronunciations) right.

Your insight is much appreciated!

John Roth said...


My first reply doesn't seem to have gotten through, so here's another.

There have been attempts at modeling astrology the way you seem to be thinking, but they haven't gone anywhere. Getting out of the straitjacket of the flat chart, though, while still looking at it from a specific point in time and space is a more interesting idea for many astrologers and has a number of advocates. Here are three ways of doing it (the first two have some traction):

Local Space Charts. This looks at altitude and azimuth (direction) of the planets in the sky at birth. If you plot it out on a map and draw out the lines, you might be amazed that the places you frequent show up on symbolically appropriate lines.

(Forgot the name) If you draw a chart of where on the globe the planets at birth would be on the horizon or meridian, you get "power locations" or places you'd do well to avoid. For example, doing this for George W. Bush has lines going right through Baghdad and Tehran. (This is from memory, but it's quite consistent.)

Accurate house placements. Most texts say that if a planet is close to a house cusp, it might be effective in the adjacent house. This is because the projections onto the ecliptic don't accurately model where the planet is really at in the sky. For example, if a planet is below the horizon, it ought to be in houses 1-6, but if it's about to rise or has just set, it can show up in the 12th or 7th house. Etc.

James M. Jensen II said...


Thank you for sharing that! I've started using it myself and it's already helping me organize more easily.

fudoshindotcom said...


For someone practicing AODA/ Dolmen Arch magic is planetary influence tapped into through invoking Spirit Above, or must the connection be made separately?

It never occurred to me to ask, but does the magic tradition taught in the course have a specific name?

Thank you

Justin said...

JMG, I don't doubt that this stuff is real on one level. On the other hand it occurred to me a few years ago that from a strictly atheistic perspective, if everyone believes in the Zodiac, and for instance, everyone thinks that 2016 is the year of the Fire Monkey then 2016 likely will be the year of the Fire Monkey, which 2016 certainly was.

If anything, my present understanding places more value in magical traditions involving randomness (tea leaves, casting bones, etc) because perhaps there is some way to perform a magical coupling between one pseudorandom process (how your tea leaves look) and another pseudorandom process (will Trump's election affect the government funding that my job depends on?)

My question with astrology lies in the fact that it seems like the movement of the various signs and symbols can be explained entirely within a scientific materialist worldview even if the supernatural properties of those movements defy rational explanation. If I were to submit my date and location of birth (I don't know the time, although I could ask) to a suitable practitioner, and based on an account of my life, have that practitioner successfully determine the time at which I was born on that would be quite something!

grisom said...

Totally OT for the present post, but:

A Buddhist magician named David Chapman is working on how to teach modern scientists to move beyond "rationality"—but, crucially, while caaaaarefully avoiding anything a pseudoskeptic might call "woo".

"In fact, a critical step is letting go of some of STEM’s own woo—quasi-religious beliefs about the ability of rationality to deliver certainty, understanding, and control."

Readers curious what "modern industrial society's Iamblichus" might end up teaching may find it interesting.

John Roth said...


That astrological process is called "rectification." It's necessary because most people's birth times aren't known with any precision - birth certificate times, when they exist at all, can be a half hour or more off. That's not all that surprising - the attending physician has a lot more important things to do than check the clock! It's also a rather arcane specialty.

John Michael Greer said...

Bruce, by all means! I've fielded enough questions over the years from people who want to use spells out of fantasy fiction that I'm probably hypersensitive on the subject.

Scotlyn, so noted.

Nano, I'll consider them, but I'm not a great graphic novel fan. I enjoyed the first few Discworld novels, btw, but the later ones didn't do much for me. Yes, I know, I'm picky. With regard to three-dimensional astrology, that was actually standard before the last few decades. It wasn't done in a sphere, because the planets are all fairly close to the same orbital plane, but the declination of the planets -- their position above or below the ecliptic -- is tracked in old-fashioned ephemerides. When two planets are within a few minutes of arc of the same distance above or below the ecliptic, that's an aspect known as a parallel, which has many of the same characteristics as a conjunction.

Ien, delighted to hear it! I liked the post, too.

Sister Crow, it'll depend on the workload Shaun (the publisher) happens to have on his desk right now; he's just published Retrotopia and the first issue of Mythic Magazine, so he's been hopping.

Ien, I haven't gotten to Ebertin yet -- I'm still wading through the details of casting ingress charts for mundane astrology! It really is a rich and complex science.

Myriam, au contraire, developing your own sense of the meanings of each few is essential not only for effective divination but for effective magic. You're doing exactly what, in my way of thinking, you should be doing -- and every really good diviner I've ever met had his or her own interpretations of the symbols of whatever oracle he or she uses.

Fudoshin, nah, if you consult the basic tables of symbolism you'll find that each of the points in the Sphere of Protection corresponds to one of the seven classical planets -- the Sun in the east, Mercury in the west, Mars in the south, Venus in the north, Jupiter above, Saturn below, and the Moon in the center. If you want to work with planetary energies, you can contact them through the relevant direction. Hint: after tracing the standard symbol, trace the emblem of the planet inside it.

Justin, in fact, astrologers do that; it's called rectification, and it's much used when the birth time isn't known for certain. It's not something that I know how to do yet, but there are people who are apparently very good at it.

Grisom, fascinating. There were moves in that direction back in the 1970s, before the long winter of dogmatic pseudoskepticism set in; it's promising to see that being revived.

John Michael Greer said...

In other news, I'm delighted to report two new publications. The first is my latest book, The Secret of the Temple: Earth Energies, Sacred Geometry, and the Lost Keys of Freemasonry. You're probably thinking that it's about occultism, right? Not so; after studying temple traditions from around the world and comparing them with the symbolism of Freemasonry and some odd corners of legend, I've become convinced of the existence of a forgotten tradition that used natural geomagnetic forces to improve agricultural fertility, and used temples of certain specific designs to concentrate and direct the forces in question onto nearby fields. This book is a first speculative exploration of that lost tradition, and breaks a great deal of new ground in the study of Masonry, ancient religion, and mythology. Copies can be ordered here.

In addition, the first issue of MYTHIC magazine -- a new quarterly of science fiction and fantasy -- is now available. It's got a bravura collection of stories and essays, including a piece of mine on the decline and revival of science fiction and fantasy, and a story -- "The Phantom of the Dust" -- set in the same topsy-turvy Lovecraftian universe as The Weird of Hali: Innsmouth, pitting Owen Merrill and sorceress Jenny Chaudronnier against a sinister mystery from colonial times. Check it out! Copies can be purchased here.

Eric S. said...

This seems like a news story that may be relevant to the themes of this blog:

Kevin said...

If geomagnetic forces can benefit crops, then what about human health? It seems like a major topic.

Aron Blue said...

*Publish if you like but not necessary*

Hi JMG, thanks as always for your insights into practical magic. I'm a tarot / omen person myself but I appreciate the art and science of astrology very much and am in fact getting my first chart done soon.

I wanted to share that I have used that, er, waste elimination spell and had very strong results. I started with eliminating low self esteem and procrastination. This is really embarrassing to write about but now I do what I call pooping out poverty because I have chosen to be a full time musician in the US - one of the most competitive and least lucrative fields of work in the nation. As a fiction writer I'm sure you understand. But then I was trained that poverty is holy so I might be losing things about myself that I like. I have been training myself to love money, though, because I've always hated it so much and I felt like I needed to balance it so I could succeed as a musician. I appreciate any input / advice very much.

In addition, I have been working on another spell based on repeating number time synchronicities that has given good results. I think you mentioned one time that the Secret uses something similar? I've never read it. My friend wrote a really touching song about 11:11 and wishes and so whenever I see that time, I say I wish to be happy. This was effective for me in getting in touch with what I really wanted to do in some of my relationships.

Also, I won $20 on the election results.

John Michael Greer said...

Eric, yep. The medical industry is desperate to stem the hemorrhage of customers to alternative health care, but isn't willing to do anything about the factors that are causing it -- skyrocketing medical costs, poor quality care, inadequate safety and quality testing of pharmaceuticals and procedures, a rising tide of negative outcomes, etc., etc., etc. -- so trheir pals in the regulatory agencies are trying to squeeze out homeopathic medicine. If our president-elect really wants to crack down on excessive regulation, I can suggest a great place to start.

Kevin, it is a major topic. What I've done is simply a very tentative first reconnaissance of an unexplored territory, and it's presented as such, in the hope that other researchers will study it from their own angles.

Aron, delighted to hear it! The excretion spell really is effective, especially if you use it repeatedly, as you have. Generally, it sounds as though you've got a good handle on a range of basic techniques and are using them effectively; to that, all I can say is "go for it."

And of course I'm delighted that my predictions have been of benefit to my readers. ;-)

Myriam said...

That's a relief, thank you. One of the issues I'm learning to correct is my habit of catastrophizing if the message is negative and miraculizing if it is positive. I'm having quite a laugh at myself when the messages turn out to be about mundane day-to-day happenings, of the normal ebb and flow of life.

Gigoachef said...


I have a question related to the subject of mixing Fantasy literature and magic.

Coming from a strictly secular background / upbringing I am by and large unfamiliar with most religious practices, except to some extent the Catholic ones predominant in the place were I was born, which I was able to observe as a kid.

After reading most of your books, I have found that both the Judeo-Christian elements of Golden Dawn rituals, as presented in , or the Celtic alternatives presented in your AODA works, feel wholly alien and distant to me. And I, perhaps mistakenly, see this as an obstacle to a regular practice of magic.

At one time, I considered your suggestion of using a more neutral symbolism for rituals, but it occurred to me that there is indeed a pantheon in know inside out and that I could probably use: Tolkiens' Valar and Maiar.

I have spent over 20 years reading and re-reading Tolkien and most of what he wrote, but I could never make much sense of the cosmogony, pantheon and religious practices he put in Middle Earth. Until... I took up an interest in occultism, when all of a sudden all the pieces started falling into place.

Tolkien was not an occultist himself, but he certainly was far more knowledgeable than it appears from a first reading of his works.

I am sticking to a GD practice now, although somewhat inconstantly, and I am somewhat reluctant to try any syncretism, but in my ignorance I can't think of any reasons why Manwë in the East, Aulë in the South, Ulmo in the West and Yavanna in the North should be less fitting patrons than the Hawk, Stag, Salmon and Bear.

Well, unless the Hawk, Stag, Salmon and Bear are more than just symbolic place-holders...

I am a bit confused and I would appreciate you help on this point.

John Michael Greer said...

Myriam, that's very common. One of the benefits of regular divination is that you learn to decatastrophize and demiraculize your readings!

Gigoachef, let me ask you this. Do you believe that if you call upon the Valar, something -- a deity, an energy, a force of some kind -- will answer you? If so, by all means; if not, I don't recommend it. One of the reasons so many people have gotten such poor results from magical practices based on the Judeo-Christian tradition, for example, is that it's not usually helpful to call on a deity if you not only don't believe in that deity's existence, but actively dislike him!

Breanna said...

So, what do you do if your own natal chart is extremely difficult? Mine is all squares and challenging placements. It's not that I'm surprised - I was diagnosed with both cancer and schizophrenia before I turned 20, after all - but it has been a real struggle to figure out how to put those challenging energies to constructive use. There's also a lot of stuff going on with my 12th house, which it seems like most astrological resources don't have a good handle on.

I'm also pleased to report that my daily divination practice is going pretty well - I feel like I've learned a great deal about how the cards actually show up in life events. Sometimes they are oddly literal, as when I drew 5 of Wands (a scene of conflict with sticks) and instead of getting into arguments, I managed to step on and break my knitting needles.

John Ross said...


I recall reading a post of yours somewhere that said students in the original GD were expected to be able to divine with tarot, geomancy, and horary astrology. Because of that, I'm curious as to what extent one needs to get involved in astrology as they gets deeper into the Golden Dawn system. I know an understanding of the energies of the planets and zodiac signs is necessary, but is there any need to learn to cast an astrological chart, etc?

Astrology is interesting to me, but not enough for me to take it up in earnest in the near future because of how complicated it seems.

Gigoachef said...

Thank you for your answer, John.

Yes, my reasoning is that being clearly Manwë traced on the typical Indo-European Sky God, Ulmo on a Sea-deity, Aule having dominion on Fire, and Yavanna Goddess of the Living Earth, it could make sense to use them as symbolic points of reference for the four elements, and that any deities or powers out there that recognised themselves in these symbols and were willing to establish a contact would eventually manifest themselves.

As for the other point, I have already noticed that - for example - the sign of the cross gesture that is part of the Qabalistic Cross ritual grates so much on me that I must impose it on myself to do it. I have recently started trying alternatives gestures, such as using both arms at the same time and I have felt it both more natural and energising. Strangely, however, when I cross my arms on my chest at the end of the Qabalistic Cross, which is something you don't do in a Christian prayer, the effect I get is a lot blander than when I simply join my hands with palms, fingers and thumbs touching, which is conversely common in prayer. I find these mixed signs very confusing!

The reason why I've stuck with the Judeo-Christian GD tradition so far is that there are things I like about the GD system, primarily the Tree of Life and the tarot. But I am still exploring and one day, I am sure, I will find my path.

Thank you again for your answer, and for keeping this very useful blog.

Semper ad majora.

Agent Provocateur said...


"I've become convinced of the existence of a forgotten tradition that used natural geomagnetic forces to improve agricultural fertility, and used temples of certain specific designs to concentrate and direct the forces in question onto nearby fields."

On the face of it, this sounds highly improbable but ...

I used to work as a naval ship's engineering officer. Large ferromagnetic objects (like metal ships) certainly do concentrate the earth's natural magnetic field much like a concave transparent lens can concentrates light rays. Naval ships are typically fitted with two sets of electrical coils through which direct current is directed to counteract two such effects.

One set of coils counteracts the ship's inherent magnetic field established when the ships was (literally) banged together (and so assumed the local field where it was built). The setting for this set of coils does not change.

The second set of DC coils has setting which change with the ship's heading (stronger when north or south than east or west) in the local magnetic field (itself varying throughout the world).

The idea is to create equal but opposite magnetic fields to make the ship disappear as a magnetic anomaly and so not set off marine magnetic mines. Submarines are detected by the same principle as a marine mine would detect a ship. Marine patrol aircraft are typically fitted with magnetic anomaly detectors (a large rod sticking out of the tail of the aircraft) for finding submerged submarines.

Ancient temples were typically mostly made of stone though metal was sometimes used to joint some of their stone elements. If the stone itself had a large component of ferromagnetic materials, or enough iron joining material, there would certainly be a noticeable magnetic anomaly effect. Indeed any large structure has some geomagnetic effect.

Without the benefit of hearing your full argument (I only read what is available online as a sneak preview) I'd guess the weakest link in your thesis is what magnetic anomalies do for fertility. I'd assume that is the least verified of the phenomena involved.

Phil Harris said...

You write that you do not do interpretation of dreams. Neither do I, though I am interested when some repetitive themes change or in some cases thankfully go away. Occasionally I get oddities out-with the patterns that might be worth mentioning.

I rarely, perhaps only once or twice, have dreamed about publicly known figures. I was spared Margaret Thatcher for instance; whom I understand was suffered by quite a few dreamers. Smile? However, a few nights ago I spotted JMG, no other, briskly and efficiently sweeping very large quantities of leaves out of the road. The brush was flat and broad in what I recognise as a traditional 'Russian' splayed pattern of bound twigs or tough reeds. (I guess that this year’s actual leaves of course are long ago safely on the compost heap.) Anyway, in the dream I was coming along with my trusty shovel seeking a way to help complement the effort. By the way, the efficient sweeper had engineered an ingenious handle which balanced the action of the broad brush.

I don't think interpretation is needed. Grin. Further words though about the trusty shovel: over the last decade I looked to obtain a shovel of the pattern and quality that I had as a matter of course wielded for 10 hour days in my youth. None apparently were available that could be used even for an hour or two, although there were some 'look-alikes'. Eventually I inherited a shovel from my friend who had inherited it from his dad. (My friend liked tools even if he did not use them often.) I dedicated my first story to him - the one published in 'After Oil 3'. There might be a metaphor or two lurking in waking life it seems!

Phil H

BoysMom said...

This being the beginning of the Christian year, we are fast approaching the day (Jan 6) when we talk about astrologers very carefully without talking about astrology. (Divination being forbidden, one wouldn't want to accidentally imply it's okay, right?)
But of course the Magi/Kings/Wise Men were astrologers, who else would have been watching the sky for signs? Leaving aside the possibility of a supernova, what would the Magi have been likely to be looking at? A horoscope for Israel or Judah (seems rather far-fetched, as why would they care about that little Roman-ruled backwater)? A conjugation of planets? Some sort of global horoscope (is such a thing even possible)? What sort of things might indicate a birth so important that fairly prominent people would take a trip to deliver gifts, as they did?

zach bender said...


my analogous experience with tarot cards would suggest that the personal meanings you attach to a particular symbol will turn out to be provisional, the first step on a much longer path of revisiting, refining, etc., in search of meanings underlying the meanings. and along the way deriving greater insight into how your own mind -- which projected these meanings -- works.

John Michael Greer said...

Breanna, a lot depends on the fine details. Generally speaking, squares are difficult but they're also sources of strength, especially if the planets in square aspects are well dignified by sign or house. Through close study of your own chart, you can figure out where the easy stuff is -- planets that are well dignified by sign, house, or aspect, and not involved in the squares -- and rely on those as your strong suits; you can figure out how your squares normally get in your way, and adjust your choices and habits so you don't get hamstrung by them anything like as often; and you can also pay attention to favorable aspects by transit and progression, which can give you breathing spaces.

John, if you're going to do Golden Dawn magic with any kind of thoroughness you need to be able to cast and interpret a chart. Yes, you can use a computer program to do the casting! That's partly because horary divination is one of the three standard divinatory methods -- and it's a lot less complex, btw, than most other branches of astrology -- and partly because you need to be able to elect charts for certain rituals, such as consecrating planetary talismans (you don't want to consecrate a Jupiter talisman, say, when Jupiter is applying to a square with Saturn). Still, that requires much less work than mastering natal astrology, much less the whole gallimaufry of astrological technique!

Gigoachef, fair enough. In that case you have a lot of work ahead of you; it took me some years to do the same thing with Druid traditions and work out a Golden Dawn system that works with them, and the project isn't finished yet. Still, that's what happens when you decide to break new ground.

Agent, actually, the effect of electric and magnetic fields on plant growth has been tolerably well researched. Back before chemical fertilizers came into common use, there was a good deal of work done on what was called "electroculture' -- meaning what happens when you run a weak electrical current through the soil -- and controlled tests showed that this would improve crop growth significantly. There's also been some very sound work done on the effect of terrestrial magnetism on crop growth. Those findings were among the things that convinced me to go ahead and do a book on the subject; I'm considering talking about it at length in this month's post, too.

Phil, granted!

John Michael Greer said...

BoysMom, you're quite correct, of course. Christian astrologers -- there have been a great many of them -- like to cite Genesis 1:14 to point out that, from their perspective, the heavenly bodies were put there by God "for signs," to indicate things to come. The three mages -- for that's what "magi" amounts to, after all -- were simply following that up.

That I know of, the most common theory among astrologers about the sign those mages read in the sky was a triple conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in Pisces in the year 7 BCE. Conjunctions of Saturn and Jupiter, which happen every 20 years or so, have a very important role in what's called mundane astrology, the astrology of nations and peoples; as they roll around the zodiac, they serve as the minute hand on the clock of precession; and new religions are said to be founded when one of these conjunctions happens under certain conditions.

The next great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn will happen at the winter solstice, December 21, 2020. That's a single rather than a triple conjunction, but given its location in Aquarius, and its timing on the solstice, it should mark the beginning of a significant new period in history. The last one, another singleton, was on May 31, 2000, and a chart of it says a lot about the era we're now in.

Urban said...

Somebody in a site posted a question, "where to buy effective magical tools?" I was considering to reply that they are mostly ritual trigger tools to focus your will, though some of them use natural magic properties, like amulets.

Then I thought it would be a good idea to talk a bit about will focus and what can be called a real magic sword, the Trident of Paracelsus. Made of iron, and charged with ritual, it is an effective weapon against etheric nasties, who hate iron, the way we also are not fond of sulfuric acid.

But I didn't post a reply. If iron is disruptive to etheric patterns, how does it store "charge?" Is the energy actually stored in the mage with the rituals, and the Trident itself, of course together with the natural properties of iron, is mostly a trigger for the powers of the magician?

Patricia Mathews said...

Not astrology. Just minor bragging rights, simple magic. This came to me spontaneously at our Yule ritual and feast, shortly after they closed the back door, which had stood open for people to come and go, hauling stuff. Also aimed at two of my acquaintances, but never mind. So* ... as the Old Witch buttoned her coat, put on her hat, and stepped through the patio door, she turned to those gathered there and intoned...

A Curse

Ye who heat with Gaia’s farts

While your doors stand open wide

Freezing your guests and heating up the atmosphere

Enjoy the ride.

The sun will scorch you, Polar Vortex freeze you

High winds blow your trash around

Gaia’s laws will bring you down –

Till humans cease to pat her on the head in their pride …

Enjoy the ride!

*Actually, only in my imagination. But don't tempt me.

Agent Provocateur said...

JMG et al

For something a big more on topic:

I'd been following Dr. Jordan Peterson's engagement with political correctness here in Ontario Canada. Dr. Peterson is a psychology professor at the University of Toronto. He has done some work on the psychology of personality and is a proponent of what is referred to as the "Big Five" personality trait groups/scales.

These are five scales on which a wide range of personality traits that have been found to be correlated. They are commonly remembered in the acronym "OCEAN". This stands for: Openness (including intellectual and experiential openness), Conscientiousness (including Industriousness and Orderliness), Extraversion (including Enthusiasm and Assertion), Agreeableness (including Compassion and Politeness) and Neuroticism (meaning in this usage Emotional Volatility and Withdrawal).

To my mind these fairly nicely line up with traditional personality traits associated with Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Venus, and perhaps to a lesser extent Mercury in that order.

Its perhaps not unsurprising to see these groups/scales even if there were no empirical basis for astrological personality traits. After all, the language commonly used for personality is deeply indebted to western astrological itself; astrology having been around a good deal longer than modern psychology and humans and language having been around much longer than both.

Still, it is interesting to see the grouping come out so close and in the same order no less. Hmm!

And what of the Sun, Moon, and Ascendant Sign? Well, Gauquelin didn't come up with much support for these either nor for the more modern (+850 CE) house division systems. Incidentally, I think these anomalous findings suggest his work is more, not less, credible (i.e. if one is to cook one's data, one tends to go for gold not lead). My guess as to why these big three do not show up in statistical studies (astrological or psychological) is that they are so broad in application that they do not easily present themselves as scales or grouping of eternally traits: i.e. how "Moon" are you, how "Sun" are you, or how "Libra" are you does not easily group out of the data. How "Jupiter" are you does apparently.

Just tossing this out there.

John Roth said...

BoysMom, to take another tack, and leaving aside the liberal Christian and non-Christian assumption that all three birth stories (Matthew, Luke and the Infancy Gospel of James) are fictional, the question still remains of what the author of the Matthian story thought his audience would make of the story - and remember that his audience was not composed of professional astrologers!

The phrase "we have seen his star in the East," (or: at its rising) suggests that they are looking at a specific planet or star. There was a common belief that every person had a star associated with him; that star governed his destiny.

The other thing of note is the second part: Mt 2:9, where the star leads them to the correct house. Now, taken literally this is a physical impossibility; they were undoubtedly using some form of divination that used the guide star as an integral part. This supports the conjecture in the first part: that there was a specific star that represented Jesus, and which controlled destiny in sufficient detail for them to use it in direction finding.

One consideration here is that we know almost nothing about Persian or Zoroastrian astrology of the time, so there's not much else that can be said. Even so, my suspicion is that what they observed was a planet (probably Jupiter) configured with one of the Royal Stars of Persia at its heliacal rising (that is, the first day on which it was visible), with Jupiter being in Pisces, the traditional House of the Hebrews. Since the four Royal Stars only rise heliacally once a year (each), and Jupiter isn't going to be on the horizon or meridian at the same time they're on the horizon or meridian more than once every 30 years or so, this is a notable event.

Phil Harris said...

JMG & Agent P

Like Agent I have not yet read the full story of telluric currents etc. and Temples. I cast my mind back to a brief discussion on this blog a couple of years ago. I offered at that time a few notes I had gleaned. I included the comment: “We do indeed live in a charged environment, whatever its direct effects might be on us.”

The trick of staying alive means thermo-dynamically staying out of equilibrium: the latter defines death. One way of looking at living systems is as signalling systems – or to make a stronger case; ‘we’ are ‘made’ of 'signals'.

This is a repeat of those gleaned notes (I do not and did not at the time pretend to fully understand the science):

"Faraday's Law of Induction: changing magnetic fields produce alternating currents.
Changes in the Earth's magnetic field produce alternating electric currents just below the Earth's surface called telluric currents."

"1. In diamagnetic substances, small magnetic fields produced by particle motions are randomly oriented and cancel each other out, leaving atoms and ions with no net magnetic field.
Examples: salt, gypsum, marble, quartz, graphite

2. In paramagnetic substances (which include most substances), the small fields don't cancel each other out but leave the atoms or ions with net magnetic fields.
However, since the atoms are randomly arranged, the substance as a whole has no net magnetic field.

3. In ferromagnetic substances, the atoms have net magnetic fields and the atoms are arranged in regions called domains in such a way that each domain has a magnetic field.
(Domains can only be explained by using quantum theory.)
However, normally the domains are randomly oriented and there is no net magnetic field in the substance.
Examples: iron (which is technically ferrimagnetic), magnetite, hematite (technically counted anti-ferrimagnetic), ilmenite, pyrrhotite, goethite, many other iron compounds

When each of these kinds of substances is placed in an external magnetic field (like the Earth's field, for example), additional small magnetic fields are induced."

I find that quartz was important for the ancient civilisation that set up its monuments over several thousand years from southern Brittany to the north of the British Isles. The geometry was aligned with sun and moon and thus with 'signals' in time.

As Boys Mom has reminded us we are coming to a time of year.

The original time defined by the alignment at Newgrange is about 5000 years ago. I retain an article in Nature from some decades ago from an Institute for Advanced Studies that did the calculation. The yearly event which this monument celebrates is of course coming up again shortly. Note the extraordinary ‘wings’ of quartz walls (somewhat reconstructed). One can surmise that something more than metaphor is likely going on here.

Like Agent P and all, I am looking forward to reading ‘the argument’

Phil H

Myriam said...

@Zach Bender

Your comment set off many days of meditation, and I wondered if you were suggesting that my mind was creating the meanings, or that it was acting as a filter for messages from the astral light (or both). The first would lead in time to a more sophisticated way of generating meaning, while the second would lead to greater intuition hearing messages beyond my mind.

I wondered what would happen if I created a bunch of fews that had no meaning attached to them at all but drew a symbol for each, threw them into the bag with the other fews, on the understanding that if I required an answer that the existing fews did not have the right answer for, I would get one of these “wild cards”.

My Ogham set is small wooden discs from the craft store, on which I've painted the fews, and (until I can make a nice silk bag) are in an old sock. So I threw a blank one in, to see what would happen, and drew out a few. A Nuin reversed. Ok, so I tossed it back in and drew out a second few. I got the blank one on the second try. Not bad.

As I looked at it to hear the meaning (remember there is no meaning attached to the blank) I got a very clear sense of laughter. Something, someone, or some part of me thought this experiment was hilarious.

I'm familiar with both the I Ching and the Tarot. They seemed to mesh well with the way my mind works when I used them. Part of the challenge of learning the Ogham fews was that they were not familiar and therefore bumped me out of the ruts in my mind. However, as they become familiar, I find that I am losing that benefit. I'm wondering if each system eventually becomes limiting, in its own way, based on the range of meanings assigned to its symbols. If one starts with a certain meaning, even if it evolves, does that keep one within certain boundaries? Would the mind go places much wilder if the symbol had no starting meaning? Or maybe it would be better to use all three systems to keep from settling in certain thought patterns.

I wonder what would happen if I had a set of completely blank fews. No symbols at all, no meanings attached at all, and could only draw a blank from the sock. Would different draws yield different answers? I'll have to try that.

In any case, I thank you for your insight about how my mind itself needs to be examined.

anioush said...

Fascinating that you mention the Jupiter-Saturn cycle. Would you connect the period of cheaper access to energy to the current sextile of those planets?

Cliff said...

I have a question about the intentions used in workings. You've said several times that one of the key things about doing this kind of magic is to visualize one's end goal, as opposed to any of the steps along the way.

I've started a job search, and I'm thinking about trying a working of the sort outline in the Druid Magic Handbook to help me out. The thing is, while my end goal is not just another office job, but some sort of concrete work to help the Earth, I need to get my financial affairs in order first.

So, is it better to do a working towards my (fuzzily defined) end goal, or towards the intermediate goal? Or is there some way to fuse the two that I'm just not seeing?

Guillem mateo said...


About omens, im very interested on knowing more about the matter. Could you recomend me some good books about it?

Many thanks,


John Ross said...

JMG, thanks for the response! In that case, can you recommend any instructional books that cover the basics of the sort you're talking about?

I searched through the comments to see if any books were suggested and didn't see anything definite for a beginner to start with, but I apologize if I missed it.

John Michael Greer said...

Urban, remember that there are different levels and forms of "charge." Iron dispells what old-fashioned occultists call etheric patterns, but it can certainly take and hold a charge on the astral and mental levels. The Blasting Trident of Paracelsus, btw, is a good solid piece of magical hardware to have; my book Circles of Power, which I'm pleased to say is on its way to a new edition, gives instructions for making and consecrating one.

Patricia, that's a very professional curse.

Agent, many thanks! Exactly -- it would be very hard to quantify the influence of Sun, Moon, and ascendant, though it might be possible to develop a personality test that would do the trick, but the planets are much more specialized.

Phil H., I'm currently planning on posting an overview for the solstice, so stay tuned.

Anioush, to answer that I'd need to sit down with a historical ephemeris and a chart of energy prices, and see whether there's a correlation. That's the way astrology was originally developed -- look, said one Sumerian priest to another, Mars is squaring Saturn and a war just broke out; what happened in the past when Mars squared Saturn in the same signs?

Cliff, if the first priority is getting your financial life in order, focus everything on that. Make it happen, using everything in your power, and once it's done, you can reassess where you are and what you want to do then. That would be my advice, at least.

Guillem, I don't know of any! Omen divination has been out of fashion for a long time.

John, the doctrine of the great conjunctions is from the writings of Albumasar. I don't know of anything for beginners on the subject; most of what I've learned has been via practice -- comparing ingress charts to the previous great conjunction, drawn up for the location of the national capital in question, and watching the way aspects from the ingress chart to the conjunction chart predict events over the period of the ingress that aren't in the ingress chart itself. I may just put up the Aries ingress chart for 2017 for Washington DC here in March, and delineate it; then we can all see how well events follow the predictions over the next six months (the ingress has a mutable sign rising, so is good for that period). Might be entertaining!

Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG (blushes) - The Grey Badger (Ma Badger) says "Thank you, Sir and Mister. It was my first prentice work using that format." It's a lot more powerful than "Blast you, you fracking idiot, may your next landlord sock you with a $200 heating bill." Insert here, praises of actually being taught a format, rather than being turned loose to "do what you feel like doing."

Looking forward to your astrological view of the Jupiter/Saturn conjunction. As a 1939 Capricorn, I like to say that, metaphorically, I was born on the cusp of the Saturn decade and the Mars decade.

John Roth said...

@Agent Provocateur

The Gauquelins basically underlined the importance of angularity in the real world, not the artificial world of the standard horoscope chart. Their studies are slightly biased because French birth statistics only record birth times in 15 minute increments and tend to be late on average (this is true of most birth certificates). They were both university graduate statisticians and collected their data while doing a statistical study for the French government: they used a lot of carbon paper to get their own copies of the data they were copying from local birth registries.

To apply their results, you need a program (or the manual equivalent) that will tell you how many degrees a planet is from the real horizon or meridian. You don’t get this from looking at a standard chart.

I’d think Neuroticism goes better with the Moon.

I had a discussion about the Sun with Mrs. Gauquelin when she came through Chicago. We agreed to disagree.


Thanks for the pointer on the relationship between ingress charts and great conjunctions. That could well be an entertaining thing to do.

KKalbert said...

John Ross and anyone wanting to learn how to use charts for the Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions:

A great introduction was given by Robert Hand in the April/May 2002 issue of Mountain Astrologer, entitled "The Great Conjunctions and the World Trade Center Attacks." It is a fascinating read, and in a half-dozen pages he shows how to use the conjunction chart for the moment of the event along with other charts to gain insight into the trends of the time.He packs a lifetime of expertise into this article, but it is quite comprehensible to the reader with some basic astrological knowledge.

Mountain Astrologer's website used to carry an online version, but their article section is "under construction" for now. It's worth tracking down

anioush said...

Sure it's hard to predict... If I'm not mistaken, the last conjunction in Aquarius happened several thousand years ago? I was inspired to ask by your other blog: "How many people are paying attention to this, and using the current interval of relatively cheap energy to get ready for another period of expensive energy a few years from now?" - this week you said over there that you expected another price spike for 2020 which happens to be the year of the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction.

John Ross said...

@ JMG,

I'll look forward to your chart and interpretations for DC! I might have some trouble following along though, because my knowledge of astrology is next to none.

For my question about instructional books, I was just looking for something basic to get started with astrology in general, and to learn how to cast a chart like you said I might need to do if I get deeper into the Golden Dawn system.

@ KKalbert,
Thanks for the info! I'll take a look at the site you mentioned.

(I think the similarity between my name (John Ross) and John Roth's may have caused folks to get the two of us mixed up though, because I think it was he who commented about the great conjunctions.)

anioush said...

Well, of course I was mistaken, it happened in 1405. Which kind of energy source are we to look up then? More generally, aren't the periods from opposition to conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn said to be periods of recession?

Patricia Mathews said...

@anioush - energy sources in 1405? They were getting near to Peak Firewood about then, IIRC. The Great Plague had reduced the population and hence the strain on the ecology, but ... actually for energy sources at 2nd hand, look for a book by Fischer called The Long Wave. Price data from the middle ages on. Some earlier. Accurate enough that from the earlier vignettes I could pinpoint the Siege of Athens (Peloponnesian Wars)at a glance.

Patricia Mathews said...

Blessed Solstice to you on this day before the Longest Night.

Baba said...

Greetings from a many times in then out then back again reader.

This is rather late to this thread, but perhaps still relevant to its topic:

We have an actual Inauguration coming up here pretty quick. Were you to cast an horary chart for Mr. Trump's presidency, would you use the time of his actual inauguration? (Rather than whatever the heck time the MSM called the election. Maybe HRC's conceding? But then he's President-ELECT, and has, as yet, no Constitutional executive powers.) I don't recall that the time taken for a president to take the Oath of office as being particularly lengthy, and personally, I would (and am going to) use the moment that he concludes the Oath as being the time used to cast the chart. (Because it's an Oath. Signed. Sealed. Delivered. He's ours.) Is that the time you would use?

Are you going to cast an horary chart for this event? If so, I know that I (and I'm sure many others) would be very interested in your take on that chart.

Are you going to be watchful for other omens on that particular day and that particular time? (Probably a silly question, I know.) I'd be very interested in reading what you perceive.

Les, Umbrian