Yesterday Ben Dykes’ new version of Abu Ma’shar’s Great Introduction translated from the Greek original arrived in the mail. I had ordered it a few weeks ago, but it must have sold out in the first printing and there was a delay in receiving it.
In the previous post I had been examining the concept of Void of Course and wanted to see what Abu Ma’shar had to say about it. Here is Dykes’ translation of Abu Ma’shar’s definition of a planet being void on its course:
“Emptiness of Course is that a planet separates from the connection of a planet (by assembly or looking), and will not connect with a planet so long as it is in its [current] sign.” (p. 458). This definition has three components: 1) current sign boundaries are respected, 2) the VOC planet must have separated from another visible planetary body or ray within its current sign and 3) the VOC planet will not connect with another visible planetary body or ray before it leaves its current sign.
“Assembly” means that the two planets occupy the same sign. Ma’shar’s term “assemby” appears to be a synonym for “co-presence,” which sevenstarastrology.com explains as follows: “planets in the same sign (i.e. the same house) are said to be co-present in that house, as if cohabitating in the same abode. The planets are co-present even if they are in opposite ends of the sign. Planets that are co-present strongly influence each other’s significations. “
“Looking” means that the two planets are able to see each other because the occupy signs that are in whole sign Ptolemaic aspect (that is, opposition, trine, square or sextile).
“Connect” means that one of the planets applies to the other by body in the same sign, or by ray in configured signs, within a particular number of degrees from exactness.
In this diagram by Schöner (1551 CE), the Sun and Saturn are both in the sign Leo. The Sun in the 9th degree of Leo extends its orb of influence forward to the beginning of 21st degree. Saturn in the 28th degree of Leo extends its orb of influence back to the end of the 20th degree. The orbs of influence of the Sun and Saturn are just beginning to touch and will soon overlap.
In his introduction to the translation (p.30) Dr. Dykes explains that Abu Ma’shar is following the ancient tradition that “aspects are fundamentally between signs” and adds the Hellenistic dictum that “looking” (aspecting) occurs by signs as distinguished from planets “connecting” which occurs by specific degrees.
The implication of the Hellenistic approach adopted by Abu Ma’shar, according to Dykes (p.34), is that out-of-sign aspects (or conjunctions) are not possible, because it is the relationship between signs, or the co-presence of planets within the same sign, which determines whether an aspect even exists. As Dr. Dykes points out, the Arabic word for “orb” refers to a body, that is, to something that has mass or volume. In other words, only the planetary bodies have orbs of influence about them.
If I understand the text correctly, planetary bodies send out rays (following the false ancient optical theory that, like the human eye, planets emit rays of light), and these planetary rays are simply points of light distributed around the zodiac wheel in the pattern of the Ptolemaic aspects. Such points of planetary light will fall in particular signs of the zodiac but will have no orb of influence about them. Planetary bodies may approach these points of light to form connections with them, but the nature of the aspect between the planets so connected will depend on the aspectual relationship between the whole signs which the planets occupy. [I’m not sure whether, in this ancient optical theory, these points of planetary light are regarded as one-dimensional geometrical points or whether they have the same angular diameter as the planet which emits them, which seems to me the more likely possibility in such a hypothesis.]
In the above diagram by Johannes Schöner, if there were a planet at the end of Cancer it would be within the Leo Sun’s orb but would not be considered conjunct the Sun because the two planets are not co-present in the same sign. If there were a planet at the end of Capricorn, sending its single-pointed opposition ray to the end of Cancer, the Sun and that planet would not be considered to be in opposition because Leo is opposite Aquarius rather than Capricorn. The whole signs determine the nature of the aspect, not the planets.
Ben Dykes goes on to define a feral planet or a planet possessing “wildness” as a planet that occupies a sign in which no other planet looks at it (p. 459). He gives the example of Mars being in a sign in which it is in aversion to all other visible planets around the wheel, so that no other planet looks at Mars. Feral planets must be a rare phenomenon because the “wild” planet must occupy a sign which is in aversion to the signs occupied by all other visible planets in the horoscope. I looked though my files and have been unable to find an example a notable person who has a feral planet in their birth chart, as defined by Abu Ma’shar. If any reader knows of such a chart, please post a comment below.
Abu Ma’shar’s concept of feral is similar to the ancient Hellenistic idea of the Moon being “void of course,” which meant that the Moon would not apply to a Ptolemaic aspect with any other visible planet for the next 30 degrees on its course through the zodiac, regardless of sign boundaries. The definition of “feral” apparently requires sign boundaries.
Another interesting point of clarification was Abu Ma’shar’s definition of “handing over nature” as a planet in the dignity of another handing of its lord’s own nature to its lord. Ma’Shar gives the same example as found in the writings of Sahl that when the Moon in Aries applies to aspect Mars, the Moon hands the nature of Mars back to Mars, the lord of Aries. (p.466). I have read discussions of this topic in which current astrologers have argued that handing over nature in this case would mean that the lunar nature gets handed to Mars, which is not what Abu Ma’shar is saying. The concept seems to be that the Moon, by traveling through Aries, takes on some qualities of Mars and hands these back to Mars when Luna comes into aspect with its dispositor Mars.
Example of a VOC planet according to the definition of Abu Ma’shar:
“Emptiness of Course is that a planet separates from the connection of a planet (by assembly or looking), and will not connect with a planet so long as it is in its [current] sign.”
The famous writer Agatha Christie has Mars “empty of course” in the 1st house of her birth chart (Rodden Rating AA):
Mars is VOC because it meets all three requirements of Abu Ma’shar’s definition:
1) The sign boundaries of Sagittarius are being considered.
2) Mars has separated from the rays of Jupiter and Saturn, and the sextile of Jupiter and square of Saturn fell in early Sagittarius when Mars was also early in that sign. In other words, before Agatha was born Mars was transiting through Sagittarius and, at the same time, Jupiter was sending its dexter sextile ray into the early degrees of Sagittarius and Saturn was sending its sinister square ray into the same region of Sagittarius. As a result, Mars connected with the rays of Saturn and Jupiter and then separated from them to become void or empty of further connections with other planets during its course through the sign.
3) Mars will not connect with the body or ray of any other visible planet before leaving Sagittarius.