Understanding “standing” in horary astrology

I recently posted this comment at the Traditional Astrologers page on Facebook:

“I have a historical question about the first use of a term in astrology. Modern astrologers sometimes talk about a querent’s ‘standing’ to ask a horary question. I can find no evidence of the use of the term ‘standing’ in any horary literature prior to the 20th century. The traditional texts talk about a chart being ‘radical’ but I can find no traditional author who mentions a querent’s ‘standing’ to ask a question.  Is the modern use of the word ‘standing’ in horary merely a contemporary concept borrowed from the Law and projected backward on the history of astrology, as us moderns are wont to do? If anyone knows of a traditional author who actually uses this legal term (‘standing’) in the discussion of horary astrology, please respond to this post. I suspect the idea of ‘standing’ is another modern idea that we are projecting back onto the history of astrology without justification.”

Tom Callanan responded with: “I like Frawley’s observation: ‘The saying is ‘As above so below, not as above so below every now and then.”  This is a position I happen to agree with.

J. Lee Lehman observed: “I just checked Marc Edmund Jones, and no mention of the term “standing” at all. Actually, I find this very interesting, because of all the mid 20th century astrologers, he was probably the most theoretical as far as trying to logic out how horary should work.”

Eric Purdue quoted Lilly:  In Lilly’s CA p. 298 he said “Judge not upon every light motion, or without premeditation of the Querent, nor upon light and trivial Questions, or when the Querent hath not wit to know what he would demand.”

Chris Brennan commented: “At the beginning of On Questions Sahl says ‘…the question will be more useful if a man asked about himself, or were to send a one who would ask for him who is concerned about his matter.’”  Sahl ibn Bishr al-Israili, often known as Zahel or Zael (c. 786–845 ?) was a Jewish astrologer/mathematician from Tabaristan. The full quote from Benjamin Dykes’ translation of Sahl’s text goes as follows:

“For he who came to you knowingly (as though one crafty or a tester), you should not look [at a horary chart] for him.  For the matter goes out [i.e., is expressed by the querent] according to the quantity of concern of the questioner in the matter about which he asks.  Therefore beware … for the question will be more useful if a man asked about himself, or were to send such a one who would ask for him [that is, the one] who is concerned about his matter.”

From this quote I deduce that Sahl is advising astrologers not to do horary charts for people who are simply being crafty or trying to test them, but rather to do horaries for people who are genuinely concerned about a matter.  In addition, the question will be more “useful” if a querent asks about himself, that is, about something of personal concern.  The main criteria for accepting a horary is the genuine concern of a querent.  The usefulness of the horary analysis will depend on the matter being personally relevant.  Nowhere does Sahl say the querent cannot ask a general question about which a modern astrologer would say the querent has no standing.

The idea of “standing” (in Latin, locus standi) comes from the Law and means “the right to address the Court on a matter before it.”  USLegal.com has this to say about the definition:

Locus standi is the ability of a party to demonstrate to the court sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged to support that party’s participation in the case. For example, in the United States, a person cannot bring a suit challenging the constitutionality of a law unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the plaintiff is (or will be) harmed by the law. Otherwise, the court will rule that the plaintiff “lacks standing” to bring the suit, and will dismiss the case without considering the merits of the claim of unconstitutionality. In order to sue to have a court declare a law unconstitutional, there must be a valid reason for whoever is suing to be there. The party suing must have something to lose in order to sue unless they have automatic standing by action of law.”

In the United States the idea of “legal standing” is fairly recent, dating back to only 1922.   Its first prudential origins occur in Fairchild v. Hughes, (1922) which was authored by Justice Brandeis. Nowadays we hear about legal “standing” frequently in news broadcasts, and I suspect that the popularity of this term accounts for its current adoption for use in horary.

It is easy to see why modern astrologers have applied the modern legal notion of standing to horary questions, but there does not appear to be a tradition to support the modern modification of horary practice.  William Lilly, for example, asked horary questions about politics, prominent figureheads, and the fate of the church and the nation despite the fact that he personally lacked standing in the modern sense to do so.  Consider Lilly’s horaries:  “What manner of death Canterbury should die?” (CA, p. 419) and “If the Presbytery shall stand?” (CA, p. 439).  Lilly had friends in government who were concerned about such issues and may have asked him such questions, but a modern astrologer would ask who has a right to know the answer to such questions and thus “standing” to ask the question in the first place.  Who but Canterbury himself, for example, has a right to know his own manner of death?

Lilly maintains that a horary chart can answer the question of whether “a Report or common Rumour were True or False”  (CA, p. 199), but he also believes that horaries should only be done for matters of pressing personal concern.

Perhaps the most eloquent passage about what to look for in a horary question comes from Anima Astrologiae by Guido Bonatus (Bonatti).  Bonatus begins by reflecting on the doctrine of “as above, so below.”  Whatever occurs in the mind of man has a correlate in the heavens (not, as Frawley points out, “as above, so below sometimes” which the idea of “standing” suggests).  The following quote is from the Henry Coley translation used by Lilly (italics are mine):



Book One.

1.     The first, is to observe what it is that moves a person to propose or ask a question of an Astrologer; where we must take notice of three motions: the First, of the mind, when a man is stirred up in his thoughts and bath an intent to enquire; a Second, of the superiour and celestial bodies; so that they at that time imprint on the thing enquired after, what shall become of it; the Third, of the free will which disposes him to the very act of enquiring; for although the mind be moved to enquire, ‘tis not enough unless the superiour bodies sympathize therewith; nor is such motion of the stars enough, unless by the election of his will the person does actually enquire.

2.     The second consideration is (what we hinted at before) the method or manner everyone ought to observe that enquires of an Astrologer; which is, that when he intends to take an artist’s judgment of things past, present, or to come, he should, first, with a devout spirit, pray unto the Lord, from whom proceeds the success of every lawful enterprise, that He would grant him the knowledge of those things of the truth of which he would be resolved; and then let him apply himself to the astrologer with a serious intent of being satisfied in some certain and particular doubt, and this not on trifling occasions, or light sudden emotions, much less on matters base or unlawful, as many ignorant people used to do; but in matters of honest importance, and such as have possessed and disturbed his mind for the space of a day and night or longer; unless in sudden accidents which admit not of delay.

****Note by Lilly. ——Those that take this sober course, shall find the truth in what they enquire after; but whosoever do otherwise, deceive both themselves and the artist; for a foolish Querent may cause a wise Respondent to err, which brings a scandal upon Art amongst inconsiderable people, whereas the Astrologer is not blameable, but the ignorant silly Querent.


Bonatus clearly views horary astrology as divination, a way of deciphering what is on the mind of the deity.  Only if a period personal devout prayer does not satisfy the querent’s doubts should the querent consult an astrologer for help in figuring out what God wants to tell him.  The main criterion, probably derived from Sahl (see above), is that the horary question be about “matters of honest importance, and such as have possessed and disturbed his mind for the space of a day and night or longer.”  There is no mention of standing.  The querent can apparently ask God about any matter of honest importance.  The considerations before judgment will alert the astrologer as to whether or not God is willing to answer the querent’s concern through the patterns in the heavens.

Recently an astrologer send me the following email:

“Dear Tony,

“I recently asked a horary question about the Presidential Election. Before I analyzed the chart, my Astrology teacher told me that I had NO STANDING to ask the question.”  My teacher said:                                                 “If a person has a legitimate interest in the outcome of a horary question, that person has standing to ask the question.  If the outcome of the horary is actually irrelevant to the person’s life, if nothing will change in any predictable way, the person does not have standing.  Horaries of the form, “Will X win the election?”, almost always lack standing.  Young horary practitioners seem to have to learn this the hard way in every generation, as did I.”

Though I basically agree with his teacher, I see the matter slightly differently so I responded as follows:


“I was recently thinking about the question of standing.  It is true that many students of horary will ask about the outcome of an election just out of curiosity or to see if the method will work.  In this case those students do not have standing because they have no deeply personal stake in how the election will turn out.    Without standing the chances are 50/50 of being correct.

“As far as I can tell, the use of the term ‘standing’ is rather recent.  There is no mention of it in Lilly or Bonatus, for example.  On the other hand, they do talk about the querent being personally and deeply concerned about the matter.  It can be very hard for the astrologer to tell whether the person has standing in a question.  Bonatus implied that only God knows what is truly in the querent’s heart and that the querent should consult the astrologer only after fervent prayer still leaves the querent uncertain.  From this point of view, only God and the querent know for sure whether the querent has true standing in the matter to be able to pose and get a response from a horary question.”

“Horary, after all, is a form of divination, a way of asking God (or the universe, etc.) to answer a question and remove the querent’s uncertainty.  Bonatus, Lilly, and other traditional horary astrologers developed a set of rules to determine whether the querent had ‘standing’ (which they phrased as ‘whether the chart was radical’) by looking at the chart.  Lilly’s rules are on p. 121 of Christian Astrology.  By letting the chart determine standing, Lilly et al. were allowing God to tell them via the horary chart whether the querent could receive a valid answer.  The value of this approach is that it removes from the astrologer the burden of judging his fellow man and deciding whether the querent’s concerns were worth the bother.”

“The modern approach to ‘standing seems to me to be rather presumptuous on the part of the astrologer.  Can we really know what goes on in the heart of our querents?  Who are we to sit in judgment?”

“Thus, a student may ask about an election for a deeply personal reason that we cannot fathom.  In this case I would expect the chart to be radical.  Most students will ask out of curiosity or to make a name for themselves if they are correct.  In this case, they probably do not have standing and the chart will be no better than chance in predicting the outcome.  I don’t feel I can always judge the sincerity or validity of someone who asks a question.”


My conclusion is that the modern use of the word “standing” derives from jurisprudence and adds a dimension to the idea of a chart being “radical” that does not exist in the traditional horary literature.  Standing means that there are certain questions which the querent has no right to ask of horary because the querent lack a sufficient stake in the matter.  The traditional approach, as I understand it, is that the querent can ask whatever he or she is deeply concerned about provided the querent asks with sincerity and asks when he or she is “most solicitous” about the matter.  All the better if the matter is one of personal import to the querent because then the horary will be more “useful.”  Bonatus adds that the querent must have directly sought guidance from God through sincere prayer before ever consulting the astrologer.  If these criteria are met, the astrologer is justified in casting a horary chart, and the considerations before judgment will alert the astrologer as to whether God is willing to provide an answer to the querent in this particular instance.

 In conclusion, consider a hypothetical example.  Suppose Joan of Arc, as a young peasant girl, had consulted a horary astrologer about her voices with the question, “Sir, what will be the outcome for my country if I pursue my goal to lead the armies of France?”

A modern astrologer would dismiss the girl’s question as invalid because, as a mere peasant, she has no “standing” in the modern sense to lead France in battle.  A traditional astrologer (Lilly for example) would appreciate the sincerity and deep concern of Joan about the matter and would cast the chart, which no doubt would meet criteria for being radical.  This example illustrates how the modern notion of “standing” has added a dimension to judging whether a chart is “radical” that did not exist prior to the 20th century.

About Anthony Louis

Author of books about astrology and tarot, including TAROT PLAIN AND SIMPLE, HORARY ASTROLOGY, and THE ART OF FORECASTING WITH SOLAR RETURNS.
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4 Responses to Understanding “standing” in horary astrology

  1. Jenny B says:

    An illuminating post, thanks!

    A case could be made that Lilly’s political questions were about matters that would have a strong impact on his own life since the presbytery was the rule of Oliver Cromwell and Canterbury the Archbishop of the Anglicans who favored the Royalists. Cromwell’s puritan government would have been likely to suppress the practice of astrology, which flourished after the Restoration of Charles II.

  2. Jenny, the same case could be made for the US Presidential election will will have a profound impact on all Americans, regardless of who wins. Can all Americans then legitimately ask a horary question about the outcome if they are sincerely concerned and feel a pressing urgency to know? Different astrologers will have different responses to this last question.

  3. Eric says:

    My thought would be that a horary chart should be able to answer any sincere question and indicate any insincere question. However, I’m not certain that when it comes to the presidential election horary would be my first choice – mundane charts and the charts of the candidates should probably be the first course of action. On the other hand, for town and county elections I’d be more inclined towards horary, since candidate’s charts are hard to come by and ingresses aren’t too different from town to town.

    • Eric,
      I agree with you that techniques other than horary, especially mundane techniques, are more suited to studying a presidential election. The question I was addressing was whether a sincere horary about an upcoming presidential election could produce a radical chart if the querent is deeply concerned about the outcome for personal reasons (unrelated to the querent being involved directly in the campaign in some way). Many astrologers would argue that the querent “lacks standing” to ask such a question, but this stance seems to me to be at odds with tradition. Certainly it protects the astrologer to take such a position, but it may also shortchange the querent in certain circumstances.

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