Will the Real Void-of-Course Moon Please Stand Up?

Recently, I’ve been going through Chris Brennan’s course on Hellenistic electional astrology in which he discusses, among many topics, the void of course Moon.  Chris points out that there are several different definitions of a void of course Moon in the astrological literature.  In reverse chronological order, they are:

  1. The modern definition, popularized by Al Morrison, which defines the VOC Moon as perfecting no aspects before leaving its current sign.  This is the definition I first learned many decades ago and the one I believe was valid when I first seriously studied horary astrology back in the 1980s.  (Astrologer Al H. Morrison was born on July 8, 1916 at 0:15 AM in North Little Rock, Arkansas,  and died of cancer on May 29, 1995.)  I tested Morrison’s idea in many charts ant it seemed to work much of the time.  There were, however, instances in which the Moon was VOC in Morrison’s sense but about to change signs and quickly conjoin or trine a benefic and, in these cases, the outcome was usually quite favorable. Morrison has the Moon’s power to aspect another planet limited by sign boundaries, as if the end of a sign cuts of the light of the moon.
  2. William Lilly’s definition (1647).  Lilly wrote: “A Planet is void of course, when he is separated from a Planet, nor does forthwith, during his being in that Sign, apply to any other” (CA, p.112).   I used to think that Lilly and Morrison were saying the same thing, but then (in the early 1990s) I read an essay by the erudite horary astrologer Sue Ward who pointed out that Lilly did not use the modern definition in the examples from his famous text Christian Astrology.  Not quite believing Sue Ward at first, I went through all of Lilly’s case examples and discovered that she was correct.  Lilly has several examples in which the Moon perfects no aspects before leaving its sign and yet is not considered void.  He even has an example in which the Moon is void for a little while in the middle of its sign and then leaves the void state when it comes within orb of applying to another planet before leaving its sign.  Clearly, Lilly meant that the Moon is void of course when it is not within orb of applying to another planet by major aspect, regardless of where the Moon lies in its current sign. (Lilly used an orb of 12.5 degrees for the Moon.)  This is the definition I used in the 1996 revision of my text on horary.  A variation of Lilly’s definition occurs in Ramesay’s 1653 book on elections: “the Moon is impedited when she if void of course, which is when she is in any sign, and beholds not any Planet till she enter another sign, &c.” (An Introduction to Elections, 1653).  Notice that Ramesay says “beholds not” rather than “perfects” — he means that the Moon is not within orb of aspecting another planet and thus can’t see or behold the light (orb) surrounding the other planet. Lilly allows the Moon’s light to cross a sign boundary and aspect a planet on the other side.
  3. The original Hellenistic definition.  According the Chris Brennan, the original Hellenistic definition is that the VOC Moon does not perfect a major aspect within the next 30 degrees regardless of sign boundaries (as opposed to within a 30-degree sign).  It takes the Moon about 2 1/3 days to travel 30 degrees.  This definition apparently comes from Porphyry. Even this definition seems to have variations.  For example, James Holden (2009) in his translation of Rhetorius the Egyptian notes on page 159: “Void of course is said whenever the Moon applies to nothing, neither zodiacally nor by degree, nor by aspect, nor by bonding, nor within 30 degrees of the nearest application or conjunction that it makes; and such nativities are undistinguished and without advancement.”  (Bonding refers to the Moon appearing with the Sun and not departing from the Sun by more than the number of degrees of the Moon’s daily passage, which averages about 13.2 degrees per day.)
  4. Eduardo Gramaglia in his book Astrología Hermética (page 188) states that the early 2nd century Hellenistic astrologer Antiochus of Athens defines the Moon as being void of course when it finds itself failing to make application by conjunction or aspect, irrespective of sign boundaries, to any other planet for a period of a day an a night (i.e, 24 hours or an arc of about 13 degrees, which is the average daily motion of the moon)  {“si no realiza ninguna aplicación por conjunción o aspecto a ningún otro planeta durante un intervalo de un día y una noche“}. The definition of a void of course Moon used by Antiochus is essentially the one adopted by Lilly. Like Antiochus, Lilly allows the Moon’s light to cross a sign boundary and enter into application by aspect to a planet on the other side.

Which, if any, of these definitions is correct?

My own view is that Al Morrison got it wrong and his “modern” definition is a misunderstanding of Lilly and Ramesay.  I ceased using Morrison’s definition many years ago after I kept coming across horary and electional charts in which Morrision’s VOC Moon did not function the way he said it would.  Unfortunately, modern astrological calendars and almanacs continue to supply Morrison’s mistaken notion of VOC periods as if they had some significance for electing a good time to act.  In reality, if the Moon is applying to a favorable major aspect with a planet across sign boundaries, matters will proceed just fine during a Morrison VOC period.

When doing horary with quadrant house systems, I use Lilly’s definition (as Sue Ward clarified it).  Lilly’s definition agrees with the Hellenistic view in which the VOC Moon ignores sign boundaries and depends only on whether the Moon is traveling in a aspect vacuum devoid of any application to any major aspect with another planet.  Lilly’s idea of VOC is similar to the notion of “bonding” discussed in #3 above in which the Moon is allowed an “orb” of its daily motion which averages about 13.2 degrees daily.  Lilly’s orb for the Moon was 12.5 degrees.  Thus, if the Moon is within about 13 degrees of perfecting an aspect, regardless of where it lies in its current sign, it cannot be considered void of course.

I do not have sufficient experience with the Hellenistic definition to have an opinion about its validity in practice.  The Hellenistic VOC definition suggests that the Moon is very infrequently VOC, which makes sense given the negative connotations of a VOC Moon.  With Whole Sign Houses, however, the Hellenistic definition makes the most theoretical sense.  Hellenistic astrology allows aspects by sign, whereas Lilly use the Regiomontanus house system and depended on orbs of planets.  These are quite different approaches to interpreting a chart.  It is possible that some later translator of early Hellenistic texts paraphrased the original idea of the Moon not making an aspect within the next 30 degrees as the Moon not making an aspect within the number of degrees contained in one sign, thus introducing confusion into the system.  You can’t validly mix the concepts of Hellenistic and 17th century astrology; they are two different systems with unique ways of viewing and interpreting the chart.


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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7 Responses to Will the Real Void-of-Course Moon Please Stand Up?

  1. Eric says:

    In fairness to Morrison, there is something similar to his definition in Firmicus Maternus, who discusses the Moon at the end of a sign signifying nothing (Book 3, chapter XXV). It’s different from the proper Hellenistic Void-of-Course Moon, but the passage is remarkably similar to the modern definition.

  2. Eric, Thanks. I’ll check it out. It seems you are referring to the Bram translation which, I believe, is less authoritative than the Holden translation. The difference in translation is quite striking. On the other hand, the Holden translation makes clear that the end of the sign prevents the Moon from applying to a planet beyond the sign boundary.
    [Conjunctions and defluctions of the Moon]

    1. We must now show you how the Moon receded and how she is joined; phenomena which the Greeks call synafas (junction) and aporroicas (defluction). For in all signs she recedes from many and is joined in aspect to many. For whenever she is found in the sign or terms of some planets she is always in a state of receding from their house and entering into the next house.
    2. Observe therefore if the ruler of the terms aspects her and from what house. Observe the planet whose sign she enters in the third place — for that also has power in the forecast — and pass on to the last degrees of that sign, so that you will be able to find everything which pertains to the Moon’s significance.

    3. You must notice that in all signs when the Moon possesses the last degrees she does not indicate anything; for if she is impeded by the sign she is meeting. Again when she is in the first degrees of a sign and receding from no one, then only the effects of the aspects must be considered. All the power of the sign she has just passed through is left behind at the boundary which is between signs, and another meaning is allotted in the first degree of the next sign. (pg. 153)

    Holden (with footnotes):
    Chapter 14a. The Moon’s Separations.] [IV.25]

    1. Now we ought to make known to you in what manner the Moon separates and also in what manner she is joined, which the Greeks call its synafae [and] aporroicae.[1] For in all the signs, she both departs from many [planets] and is joined by an aspect to many. For in whatever sign and the terms of whatever star she is found, departing from this one, she bears toward that one; and in the same sign she has entered the terms of some other star in the second place.
    2. Look, therefore, to what degree the Ruler of the Terms aspects her or is posited in the same house [with her]. And, having grasped the preceding astrological influences, you will be able to explain the whole fate of a man with true statements. Look also, in the third place, at the degrees of which star she enters — for from that one[2] she receives the power of denoting [something] — and proceed thus down to the last degrees of that sign, so that you can find everything in particular that pertains to the efficacy of the Moon.

    3. For it must be known that in all signs, whenever the Moon possesses the last degrees, she bears to none, for she is prevented from doing so by the obstacle of the next sign.[3] But also again, when she is posited in the first degrees of a sign, she departs from none, but then only the efficacy of the [next] conjunction is investigated. For all the power of the preceding degrees is forfeited from her having passed over the dividing line, which is between both the signs, and she is allotted another efficacy from the first degree of the sign. (pgs. 244-5)

    [1] These Latin neologisms are derived from the Greek words synaphai ‘applications’ and aporroiai ‘separations’.
    [2]Reading ex ‘from’ with the MSS rather than the Teubner editors emendation of et ‘and’.
    [3] Since the classical astrologers viewed the signs as households divided by walls, they did not recognize aspects from the end of one sign to the beginning of another as moderns do. In effect, it was the signs that were in aspect, rather than the individual degree positions of the planets within the signs.

    Note how the two translators render the first sentence in section #3. I suspect that Holden is closer to the original and that Bram is paraphrasing with what she believes Maternus means. On the other hand, I’m not an expert in this area, so maybe someone well versed in Hellenistic astrology can clarify this matter.

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