Chris Brennan’s discovery about Triplicities and the Joys of the Planets

I had the pleasure of attending Chris Brennan’s webinar on 18 May 2013 about the joys of the planets.  The issue of the various systems of triplicities has long been puzzling to astrologers.  Chris has done a great service in clarifying some key issues at the foundation of Western astrology.  In a previous post I pointed out how Morinus viewed the ancient systems of triplicites as illogical and therefore devised his own system based on logical principles which he regarded as more scientific.

In his webinar and article on the topic Chris has revealed the underlying logic behind the system, and it is as elegant as Morinus would have desired, had he been aware of it.  Anyone interested in this topic must read Chris Brennan’s article on the joys and triplicities, which he has posted online (click on the link).  In this post I would like to frame the argument and then comment on some of the key points Chris made in his talk.

By way of review, Western astrology was born during Hellenistic times (around the 1st century BC) when the Hellenistic Greek thinkers around Alexandria in Egypt were trying to synthesize the omen lore and star observations of Babylon and Egypt with the systematized mathematical and philosophical ideas of the ancient Greek philosophers.  The conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC had allowed spread the knowledge base of Persia to the Greek and Roman world around the Mediterranean.

The great encyclopedist, Claudius Ptolemy, who summarized what was known about astrology in the 2nd century AD, lived in Alexandria, Egypt.  Western astrology began a couple centuries before Ptolemy as an attempt to synthesize the age-old superstitious  practice of divination by the stars with the scientific and philosophical principles of the ancient Greek world, populated by thinkers of the caliber of Plato and Aristotle.  This tension between superstition and science has plagued astrology throughout its lifetime.

Superstition was highly valued in ancient Greece.  The gods were propitiated and oracles were regularly consulted before any major project or invasion was set in motion.  One might say (my view, not part of Chris’s lecture) that Western astrology originated when the supremely logical, systematic and philosophically oriented thinkers of Greece tried to find a scientific explanation for the omen lore and zodiac of Babylon, which they inherited through the conquests of Alexander and appeared to give predictive results at least as valid as the cryptic Oracle at Delphi.

Legend has it that this great feat of synthesizing omen lore and science was revealed to Alexandrian priests by the god Hermes Trismegistus, a god of magic and writing who was a combination of the Greek and Egyptian gods Hermes and Thoth, respectively.  Historians report that the first recorded mention of Trismegistus is found in  in the minutes of the council of the Ibis cult, written around 172 BCE near Memphis in Egypt.  Elvis was sited at that meeting.  If the Egyptian priests channeled a book on astrology from Hermes Trismegistus, it was probably written down on papyrus during the 2nd century BCE but not earlier than that.

Constructed in the 3rd century BCE, the library at Alexandria collected all the world’s knowledge and was a center of scholarship.  Unfortunately the library was destroyed by fire in various attacks over the centuries.  The earliest such destruction occurred when Julius Cesar started a fire in 48 BCE, which allegedly destroyed much of the papyri stored in the great library, perhaps including the writings of Hermes Trismegistus about astrology.  In any case we do not have access today to the original source about astrology though Hermes’s book on astrology is repeatedly referred to by Hellenistic astrologers in their texts.

The most important revelation by Hermes Trismegistus was the horoscope for the creation of the universe, known as the Thema Mundi.  As a god, Hermes must have been present to witness the Big Bang and the formation of stars and our solar system.  According to the god, here is what our solar system looked like when the earth first formed:

Thema Mundi, birth of our solar system, from Hellenistic astrology

Thema Mundi, birth of our solar system, from Hellenistic astrology as seen from the viewpoint of earth, the center of the universe!

Unlike the modern “natural” horoscope with Aries rising (Aries is the start of spring), the Thema Mundi has Cancer rising (the start of summer, which was the beginning of the new year in Alexander’s time).  The Thema Mundi became the basis for philosophical and mathematical reasoning about the theory of divinatory astrology.

Another key diagram of Hellenistic astrology had to do with the “joys” of the planets, which were positions in their daily rotation where the planets appeared to “rejoice.”  Brennan points out that the joys of the planets were probably invented after the Thema Mundi became known.  Here is a diagram of the joys:

Hellenistic Joys:  Mercury in 1st house, which straddles the horizon.  Saturn in 12th, Jupiter in 11th, Sun in 9th, Mars in 6th, Venus in 5th, Moon in 3rd.

Hellenistic Joys: Mercury in 1st house, which straddles the horizon. Saturn in 12th, Jupiter in 11th, Sun in 9th, Mars in 6th, Venus in 5th, Moon in 3rd.  A planet is happiest when it occupies the part of the sky (or astrological house) which corresponds to its joy during its daily cycle around the earth.  The Sun likes to be worshiped as a god in the 9th.  Jupiter likes the friendship and sociability of the 11th.  Saturn likes the misery of the 12th.  Mercury can swing both ways, above and below the horizon, in the 1st.  The Moon likes the variability of the 3rd.  Venus likes the sensual pleasures of the 5th, and Mars like to inflict bodily injury in the 6th.   Each planet has its own way of getting its jollies and gratifying itself, and these are reflected in the planetary joys.  Whatever turns you on!

How and why the followers of Hermes Trismegistus came to choose these locations as the joys of the planets is not entirely evident.  Perhaps they reflect the knowledge of the stars which they inherited from Babylon.  We might speculate that it makes sense to put the Sun at the top of the chart where it would be in the bright afternoon.  If the 9th house were traditionally associated with the gods, then the Egyptian Greeks would certain place the sun in the house of god, or name the house of god after the joy of the sun.

The Egyptians revered the sun, and the Greeks revered Zeus/Jupiter, so both the sun and Jupiter are placed equidistant from the Midheaven to pay equal respect to each of them.  Neither god should feel offended because they are equally high in the sky.  The 10th house had to be left empty because any planet there would outrank Jupiter and the sun in stature and might bring the god’s wrath down upon the astrologer-philosophers.  Better not to take the risk and split the position of highest honor between the two gods most revered in Alexandrian Egypt.  I think my hypothesis has some merit because it takes into account the theology of the period and the belief that the Thema Mundi was revealed to astrologers by a combined Greek-Egyptian god.  If my speculation is correct, traditional astrologers are continuing to honor the chief gods of ancient Greece and Egypt in their theory about the triplicity rulers.

Another argument in favor of my hypothesis is, as Chris Brennan notes, that the 2nd house was called the “Gate of Hades.”  Since Hades was the darkest and lowest point under the earth, it is likely that Hades in represented in the chart of joys of the planets by houses 3, 4 and 5.   Opposite Hades would be heaven in houses 9, 10 and 11 — the home of the gods, particularly the sun and Jupiter who were chief among the gods.  The 9th was called the “house of the good spirit” (Jupiter) and the 9th as the “house of god” (perhaps the sun-god Ra of Egypt).  The 10th house was the very “middle of heaven.”

The Moon is the consort of the Sun, so she would lie opposite him in the 3rd house, which came to be known as the “house of the goddess” — the complement to the 9th house of the god across the wheel, suggesting that they regarding the Moon as goddess of the night.  Mercury is constantly moving back and forth in the heavens and as psychopomp was able to visit the underworld and return to daylight, so his placement near the horizon fits his mythology and natural pattern of movement.  Jupiter was king of the gods, so he deserved a place near the middle of the sky like the sun and was placed in the “house of the good spirit” (Jupiter is the greater benefic).  Venus, the other benefic planet, lies opposite Jupiter in the 5th house, which came to be called the “house of good fortune” (Venus is the lesser benefic).  There is a pattern here of pairing planets across the wheel: sun with moon, Jupiter with Venus, Mars with Saturn, and Mercury as his own complement since he swings both ways.

The pattern of risings of the planets is also analogous.  Above the horizon, the sun (king of the day) is first to rise across the ASC, followed by benefic Jupiter and malefic Saturn.  Below the horizon, the moon (queen of the night) is first to rise across the ASC, followed by benefic Venus and finally by malefic Mars.  The sun and Jupiter keep the maleficity of Saturn in check.  The Moon and Venus keep the maleficity of Mars in check.  Mercury is neutral or swings both ways and occupies the houses that straddle day and night.

Why Saturn and Mars have joy in the 12th and 6th houses respectively is a little harder to come up with a reasonable theory about.  Houses 9, 10, 11, 1, 3, 4, 5 and 7 were already accounted for by the other planets and their partners.  This left only houses 12, 2, 6 and 8 for Saturn and Mars.  Placing Saturn in 8 ahead of the sun might offend the sun-god. In addition, Saturn was closest in orbit to Jupiter and followed Jupiter in the heavens as one moves away from earth.  Thus logically it makes some sense to put Saturn next to Jupiter and Mars next to Venus because of the respective distances of their orbits from the earth.  In addition, in nature Saturn as the outermost planet is the closest malefic planet to heaven where the gods reside and thus must have its joy above the horizon.  Mars is the malefic planet closest to earth and must have its joy below the horizon.

Perhaps the choice of 12 for Saturn was based on centuries of observations of bad things happening when Saturn had recently risen or Mars had recently descended below the horizon.  Possibly it was based on the observation that Saturn is the outermost planet and lies outside the orbit of Jupiter, thus Saturn must come after Jupiter in the order of houses and where better to put Saturn but in the final 12th house of the horoscope.  If Saturn were considered the most evil planet, one would want to place him on the same side of the horizon as the two most power gods, the sun and Jupiter, so they could keep a close eye on him.  The only place available, without placing Saturn ahead of the sun or Jupiter, would be the 12th house, known in Hellenistic times as the “house of the bad spirit.”  I also recall reading years ago in one of the Hellenistic texts that Saturn was regarded as “the sun of the night,” which might be a reason to place it above the horizon closer to the MC than the other planets except the two gods, Jupiter and the sun.   Who knows?

The above explanation was a bit rambling and long-winded, so let me summarize my theory:

  1. Fire is the lightest element and represents divinity, so the three houses at the top of the chart (9, 10, 11) belong to the gods.  The Greek-Egyptians regarded the Sun and Jupiter as chief among the gods.  The day belongs to the sun, so the Sun comes first (rising before Jupiter) and gets the 9th house.  Equally elevated with respect to the middle of heaven is Jupiter who rejoices in the 11th house, equidistant from the MC as the divine Sun.
  2. There are two malefic planets: Mars and Saturn.  The one closest to heaven where the gods reside is Saturn, so he gets the 12th house and is assigned to the day hemisphere of the chart.  Saturn cannot get the 8th house because that would give him the honor of rising before the Sun.  Goodness comes before evil.
  3. Mercury is neutral and can travel between heaven and the underworld, so Mercury gets the 1st house which straddles day and night at the horizon.
  4. An analogous pattern exists below the horizon.  The 4th “subterranean” house corresponds to Hades opposite the heaven of the 10th.  The Moon rules the night and cannot be placed in the 4th because she does not rule Hades.  The logical place for the Moon goddess is opposite the Sun god because they form a complementary pair.  Hence the Moon rejoices in the 3rd because she has a status there analogous to the sun.  She is also the first nightly planet to rise.  Venus gets the 5th house in analogy to Jupiter getting the 11th as his joy.  Finally, Mars gets the 6th house in analogy to the joy of Saturn in the 12th.  Thus, Mars is the last nightly planet to rise after the good Moon and benefic Venus.
  5. The above pattern is quite logical and consistent with the theology of the time.

In any case, Chris Brennan had an insight into the joys of the planets diagram, which clarifies many of the logical conundrums of Western astrology.  Here are a couple of Chris’ observations:

1. The planets that came to be considered diurnal or day planets lie above the horizon in the joys diagram and planets that came to be considered nocturnal lie below the horizon.  Mercury, considered neutral, lies near or on the horizon.  The Sun, Jupiter and Saturn are day planets by sect in Hellenistic astrology.  It didn’t make much sense to call Saturn, the coldest of all planets, a day planet.  Ptolemy argued that the heat of the sun was needed for Saturn to function effectively.  The Moon, Venus and Mars are night planets.  Again, it didn’t make Mars, a notably hot planet, to be considered nocturnal.  Ptolemy argued that Mars needed to cool of night to temper his hot nature.  Chris’ argument, which makes a lot of sense, is that planetary sect (whether they are day or night planets) is based on the diagram of the joys.

2.  The origins of the triplicity rulers is based to a great extent on the diagram of the joys.  In the theory of the four elements popular at the time, with its origins in Empedocles and the Persian Zoroastrians (who associated fire with divinity), the world was considered to be made up of four basic elements: fire, earth, air and water.  Fire was the lightest and rose highest, thus it belonged at the top of the horoscope.  Air also rose, like fire, but not as high; therefore air belonged at the ASC from which planets rise during the day.  Earth was the heaviest element and belonged at the bottom or base of all things, thus at the bottom of the horoscope.  Finally, water was also heavy like earth and tended to flow down toward the earth, so water belonged at the DSC where planets sank below the horizon.  Here is a table of the Dorothean triplicity rulers in use during Hellenistic times:

Dorotheus’ Triplicity Rulers

Primary Ruler in Day Charts

 Primary Ruler in Night Charts

Cooperating Ruler (both by day and by night)

Fire – above the horizon

(Aries, Leo, Sagittarius):

Sun (primary by day)



Air – above the horizon

(Gemini, Libra, Aquarius):

Saturn (primary by day)



Earth  below the horizon

(Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn):


Moon (primary by night)


Water  below the horizon

(Cancer, Pisces, Scorpio):


Mars (primary by night)


In the above table, the day ruler rules the triplicty in day charts, and the night ruler rules the triplicity in night charts — it all depends on whether the sun is above or below the horizon.  The cooperating (or participating) ruler helps the primary ruler both by day and by night.  For example, the sun’s day job is to govern the fire triplicity; the sun gets the night off and doesn’t bother with any other triplicities.  Jupiter gets the day off from ruling fire, but he’s always helping to rule the air triplicity.   Saturn is always helping to rule fire, but his primary day job is to rule the air triplicity.

Chris points out that if we apply the theory of the heaviness and lightness of the elements to the chart, we can account for the triplicity rulers.  The Sun and Jupiter are the highest planets and must rule fire (above the horizon).  The only other diurnal planet, Saturn, becomes the participating ruler of the triplicty.

Saturn and Mercury near the ASC must rule air (above the horizon).  The closest diurnal planet to this pair is Jupiter, so it becomes the participating ruler.

Venus and the Moon near the IC must rule earth (below the horizon).  The closest nocturnal planet to this pair is Mars, so it becomes the participating ruler.

Mars near the DSC must rule water.  The other nocturnal planets, Venus and the Moon, become rulers of the watery triplicity.  Mars is the primary ruler in a night chart.

To illustrate Chris’ point let me repeat the diagram of the joys with the alchemical symbols for the elements superimposed:

Joys of planets with alchemical symbols of the four elements superimposed.

Joys of planets with alchemical symbols of the four elements superimposed.  This diagram reveals a logical inconsistency in Aristotle’s theory about the qualities of the elements versus their natural order.  Fire should be on top and earth on the bottom according the the “heaviness” of the elements.  (In the Persian system fire represents divinity and belongs above all else.)  However, by qualities fire is hot and dry, and water is cold and wet, so fire should lie opposite water; but here fire lies opposite earth.  In the horoscope wheel, however, fire signs lie opposite air signs.  Chris Brennan points out in his lecture how the Hellenistic writers had a hard time incorporating the theory of four elements into a logical theory of how astrology functioned.  For centuries the triplicities were not assigned to elements as they are today in an astrological climate that embraces Aristotle’s primary qualities.

Chris makes several other valuable observations in this talk.  If you have any interest in this topic, his paper is must reading.  Let me stop here because this post is getting very long.

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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3 Responses to Chris Brennan’s discovery about Triplicities and the Joys of the Planets

  1. Tom says:

    I listened to all of the lecture except for a few interruptions. A few things struck me about all the history that Chris was going through and how Morin did pretty much all of this himself. What follows are some fairly vague perceptions. I’d like to go into more depth another time. I hope this doesn’t end up as rambling.

    Chris made a persuasive case for the development of the triplicity rulers and house meanings (cited above). Of course starting from scratch in the 1st or 2nd centuries is a far cry from reforming something handed to you intact, but Morin’s mind was such that he took on pretty much all that was available to him on the history and development of Western Astrology and dissected it , and was not shy about pointing out what he thought was illogical. He didn’t simply accept what was given to him. He examined it. While the two developments, that described by Brennan and the efforts of Morin, are not truly comparable, it does show the depth of Morin’s mind that he alone developed a consistent justification for his ideas, while the development of what Chris described took at least a couple of generations, the combining of two cultures, and the cooperation of more than a few first rate minds.

    I don’t know how Morin would have reacted to Brennan’s lecture. I have a strong feeling he would not have changed his mind, and switched to the Dorothean system, but might have given credit previously denied. Morin was a natural philosopher. Astrology is based in nature. If it does not exist in nature, it cannot exist in astrology, or so he thought. This is the real reason, in my mind, he dismisses the terms and faces. They are not natural. He may have had a profound dislike of the Arabs, but so did all the Christians in his day (If anyone wants to see frenzied hate of a group by an astrologer, read John Worsdale’s “Celestial Philosophy” and all the things he says about Catholics; he makes Morin look tolerant). Critics jump on his calling the terms and faces “Arab fantasies: or “Arab fictions” depending on which translation you read, but it is the lack of grounding in nature that he objected to more than their origin. He didn’t know they were Greek, but given his philosophy, I don’t think it would have mattered if he knew it.

    In Book 13 on page 13 he states: “Therefore, I – the slave of no author – but free in my intellect to philosophize, and intent on nature alone; I shall also comment on Cardan’s errors about the natures of the planets, because that is a matter of great moment, as something that relates to the [fundamental] principles of astrology …”

    He was not the slave of any author on any subject.

    Morin also on page 13 in a previous paragraph makes this, accurate, observation:
    ” … because he (Cardan) held him (Ptolemy) to be an Evangelist from whose teaching down to the east detail he (Cardan) had received out of reverence [not wanting] to depart [from it]; and he delivered himself up to defend Ptolemy in everything, [while] here and there asserting that some particular thing had become known to no one before himself.”

    Many of today’s researchers exhibit some of those characteristics, although some probably would have preferred that Vetius Valens ended up with Ptolemy’s influence. What did Ptolemy mean when he said this or that? Where did his knowledge and information come from? Morin didn’t bother. He looked at what Ptolemy and Cardan said and worked from there. In his mind, I suppose, it didn’t make much difference why this one or that one said what they did. What mattered was whether or not they were right.

    So Chris Brennan with some assistance, according to Chris, from Ben Dykes, deduced the logic behind the triplicities and house meanings. So did Morin over 350 years ago. He just came up with a somewhat different system based on essential dignities which in turn are based on nature. In one sense both Brennan’s discovery and Morin’s assertions have the same origins. The conclusions are somewhat different, which can make for some interesting discussion.

    I’m planning on listening again to the lecture and try to recapture the thoughts that crossed my mind during my first hearing and perhaps doing a point by point comparison where possible. If so I’ll post it here, if it is OK.

    • Anthony Louis says:


      Thanks for your detailed response. As you point out, Morin considered himself a natural scientist and would have wanted a system in accord with what he understood scientifically about nature in the 17th century.

      My hypothesis is that the scheme of planetary rulers was based on the theology of the time and was an attempt to bring Greco-Egyptian theology in line with the logical and mathematical philosophical systems of Alexandrian Egypt. Morin would not have accepted the Egyptian sun-god or the Greek Zeus as primary deities and thus would have rejected the system of joys revealed by the god Hermes Trismegistus to the ancient astrologers.

      Morin appears to have been sincerely Christian in his religious beliefs and also worshiped the logic of Aristotle’s philosophical thinking. He was also quite anti-superstitious and regarded terms, faces, etc., as Arabic superstitions. My own view is that astrology began as superstition and the Hellenistic Greeks tried to make a science out of what was basically a divinatory system.

      I look forward to your further comments when you listen to the lecture again. You can also download Chris’ paper if you haven’t already done it. There is a link to it in my blog above.


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