On “Fatal” Degrees in Astrology

Various astrologers give lists of unfortunate degrees of the zodiac. For example, William Lilly on page 116 of Christian Astrology lists what he called “deep” or “pitted” degrees (Abu Ma’Shar referred to them as “wells”) in which the presence of the Moon, the Asc Degree or the Asc-ruler would make the querent feel unable to move with regard to a horary question and not know which way to turn and thus the querent would be in need of the help of another to get him out of the ditch he found himself in at the time of the question (CA 118).

berkeley pit nasa

NASA image of the Berkeley Pit of Butte, Montana  (public domain).  Falling into this pit would probably be fatal.

50 Shades of Death

It turns out that Vedic astrology has a similar, though not identical list of troublesome degrees, which fall under the umbrella of the term Mrityu Bhaga. Because “Mrityu” literally means “death,” these are sometimes called “fatal” degrees  (“bhaga” means a portion but can also refer to the female sexual organ) even though the degrees can simply refer to troubles, setbacks, misfortune and other obstacles that fall short of one’s demise. According to one site, “mrityu” or “death” has several shades  and thus “Mrityu” can refer to agony, distress, hurt, fear, pain, shame, illness, confinement, restriction and insult as well as actual death.

The text Brihat Prajapatyam states the following: “The Mrityu bhagas for the Lagna (Ascendant degree) are are the 1st degree in Aries, the 9th degree of Taurus, the 21st degree of Gemini … the 10th degree of Pisces.”  This text is using an ordinal numbering of the degrees (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) and the 1st degree spans the region from 0 to 1 degrees of a sign.

The most commonly sited table of Mrityu Bhagas or Fatal Degrees appears to be one published in the book Finer Techniques of Astrological Prediction, Vol. 1, edited by K.N. Rao. Apparently K.N. Rao modified the degrees in this table based on his extensive research with charts of individuals in the sidereal zodiac. Here is a reproduction of the list from page 132, adapted for a Western audience:


In this Table of “Fatal Degrees” or Mrityu Bhagas” note that the numbers are ordinal and refer to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc., degrees of a sign.

For readers more familiar with the Vedic terminology, here is a copy of the original list from page 132 of K.N. Rao’s text:

Mrityu vedic

It appears to me that these “fatal degrees” or Mrityu Bhaga of Vedic astrology are extremely similar to the deep or pitted degrees, the ditches or wells that planets could fall into according to William Lilly and Abu Ma’Shar. My guess is that there is a common origin for both systems, probably in the horary literature of the medieval Persian astrologers.

A difference seems to be that for Lilly you either fell into the pit (the single degree) or you were simply near the pit without having descended to its depths.  At least one Vedic astrologer uses small orbs of influence for the fatal degrees, but this approach may be a modern distortion of the original ancient concept. The use of orbs would have to be tested in practice to see if it holds any weight.

Although I have been aware of Lilly’s list for many years and have found it helpful in some horary charts, I have only recently become familiar with the Mrityu Bhaga and have had little opportunity to test them with real-world charts. Nonetheless, they do appear worthy of further study and experimentation.

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 On “Fatal” Degrees in Astrology

  1. maidrya says:

    Does this only apply to horary? Would planets on those degrees be especially poor omens, on their own, in a natal chart?

  2. isabel says:

    I have Sun in Virgo , 12 house at 24 degrees and Moon in Scorpio , second house , at 14 degrees . What is the meaning of “fatal” degrees in your view?
    Thank you

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