Sue Ward recently appeared on The Astrology Podcast with Chris Brennan. One of the topics they discussed was her seminal paper on Lilly’s understanding of a void of course moon or planet. Sue mentioned that the definition had changed since Lilly’s time and wondered whether Sibly was responsible for the shift to the modern understanding. Sue’s comments prompted me to look up how Sibly in the 18th century and Rupertus Stella in the early 19th century had defined VOC.
Here is Ebenezer Sibly‘s definition from page 145 of his book on the Celestial Science of Astrology, the 1826 edition which was published posthumously. He died in 1799.
I then checked the definition in the 1832 book on horary by Rupertus Stella:
The definitions are identical. It looks like the person who wrote under the pen name “Rupertus Stella” simply copied verbatim from Sibly’s text without giving Sibly credit. I haven’t yet checked whether R.Stella simply plagiarized the entire contents of his text from Sibly.
It looks like R. Stella, who copied Sibly, defined void of course in a manner consistent with Lilly’s understanding:
Lilly writes: “A planet is void of course, when he is separated from a planet, nor doth forthwith, during his being in that sign, apply to any other.”
The difference is that Lilly explicitly states that the VOC planet not APPLY to another planet before leaving its sign. In contrast, Sibly states that the VOC planet not FORM any aspect to another planet before the change of sign. One could argue that by “form an aspect” Sibly meant exactly what Lilly did when he wrote “apply to” an aspect. It appears that modern astrologers read Sibly’s definition and understood him to mean “to form a perfect aspect” when he wrote “form” an aspect. Nonetheless, an aspect forms when the two planets are within orb of one another, and it perfects when the planets are the exact number of degrees apart as specified by the aspect.
A common dictionary definition of “to form” is “to make or fashion into a certain shape or form” or “to assume a definite appearance.” For example, in a natal chart the Moon at 5 Virgo would be considered to be in a trine aspect with the Sun at 6 Virgo. The trine has not yet perfected, but most astrologers would regard this configuration as the Moon having formed a trine with the Sun.
Raphael in his 1917 text on horary (p. 50) states that the Moon is VOC “when she forms no aspect with any planet before she leaves the sign, and especially if she is just about leaving it. I have found that in a case like this, the querent relinquishes his object, alters his mind, etc., so that nothing come of the matter.”
It is not clear whether Raphael means “apply to” or “perfect” when he writes “form” an aspect.
To conclude, let me quote Alan Leo‘s definition of VOC from 1907:
“Void of Course. Forming no aspect in the sign the significator then is. That is, the significator passes out of the sign occupied without encountering the aspect of any planet.”
It appears that Alan Leo is restating Sibly’s definition but he has misunderstood Sibly and created a new and bastardized understanding of VOC, which differs significantly from the way Lilly and proably Sibly conceptualized it. There may have been other authors preceding Alan Leo who also misunderstand and promulgated an incorrect understanding of void of course.