William Lilly and Charles Emerson’s Point of Death

In her book on horary astrology (p. 173), Barbara Watters popularized Charles Emerson’s “death point” which is calculated by the formula: Mars + Saturn – MC.  Watters noted that in her experience it was more reliable than the traditional Lot of Death.

Recently I was reviewing some charts of Lilly and decided to check whether Emerson’s 20th century discovery would apply to a 17th century chart. In England’s Prophetical Merline Lilly discusses the decumbiture chart of John Pym, Esquire, a member of the House of Parliament who had fallen quite ill. Someone sneaked a container of Pym’s urine and brought it to Lilly to cast a decumbiture chart to determine whether Pym would live or die. Lilly received the urine on 30 November 1643 (OS) at the moment that 15 Cancer was on the eastern horizon.

Here is the chart with the modern calendar (10 December 1643 NS) calculated by computer.

In decumbiture charts the Ascendant signifies the sick person. With Cancer rising, the Moon signifies John Pym.

The Moon on the cusp of the 6th house shows that he is ill, and the Moon’s approach to the Sun in the 6th indicates that the sick person is approaching death, a traditional meaning of the applying combustion of the first house ruler to the Sun in the 6th. According to Johannes Ganivetus in Amicus Medicorum the Ascendant-ruler or the Moon combust the Sun can signify the death of the patient. In addition, the Sun rules the 2nd house, which in Hellenistic astrology has significations of death similar to those of the 8th house.

In his original text Lilly had miscalculated the position of the Moon as 11 Sagittarius. In fact, the Moon was at 12 Sag 31 at the time of the chart. Using 11 Sagittarius of the Moon, Lilly estimated that it would take about 7 degrees for the conjunction to the Sun to perfect. He then checked the ephemeris and noted that on December 8th the transiting Moon would conjoin 8th ruler Saturn, and so he predicted death on December 18 (NS), which was in fact the case.

Now for Emerson’s Point of Death. In this chart Mars + Saturn – MC = 18 Sagittarius 56, where it conjoins the Sun (a general signifier of vitality). The Moon at 12 Sag 31 will arrive at the Death Point in 6 degrees 25 minutes. If we allow each degree to be equivalent to a day, the sick person should die in about 6 and a half days, which would be December 17th. Given that both the Sun and the Death Point are ruled (disposed) by Jupiter which is stationary (not moving), one could deduce that death will be somewhat delayed and may not occur until December 18th, which was the case.


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Bonatti on choosing among options in horary

Bonatti gives an interesting method of answering horary questions of the type, “Should I choose option A or B or C, etc.? Which option is best for me?”

Ben Dykes translates Bonatti’s chapter heading as follows: “Of two lands or houses or whatever things, or of two or more business deals or journeys (and the like): which will be better for the querent?”

Let me illustrate with a hypothetical example. Suppose someone asks whether they should stay in their current job or move to a new one. Which is the better option?  Consider the following chart. The querent is a woman who is unhappy in her current stressful job, even though it pays well. She has an opportunity to change jobs but is not sure if she will be better off if she does so.

It is a Mercury day during a Jupiter hour. Jupiter also  rules the Ascendant, which is a criterion for radicality.

The 12th part of the Ascendant lies at 3 Virgo 12 in the 6th house (menial labor), with Virgo ruling the 7th (contractual relationships). Virgo’s ruler Mercury lies in the 10th (career) and is about to change signs, which symbolizes her thoughts about a job change. The ruler of the 12th part, Mercury in Sagittarius, is in its detriment and has no essential dignity, so it is peregrine, which is consistent with the querent’s unhappiness in her current position.

Neptune applying to the Ascendant raises the question of whether she is being realistic in her thinking about changing jobs or whether she has all the facts she needs to make a sensible decision.

Bonatti (see Dykes translation, pp. 551-554) uses four factors to assess the situation:

  1. The triplicity rulers of the sign on the house cusp of the quesited and how those rules relate to the ruler of the Ascendant. The 1st triplicity ruler signifies the first option; the 2nd triplicity ruler, the second option; and the participating triplicity ruler, the third option if there is one.
  2. The rulers of houses 1 and 7. If the condition of L1 is better than that of L7, it is an argument for the first option. If L7 is in better condition than L1, it is an argument in favor of the second option.
  3. The condition of the Moon as indicated by its aspects with benefics and malefics.
  4. Whether the benefics and malefics aspect the Part of Fortune, a fixed point which signifies the querent’s material well-being.

On closer inspection it appears that Bonatti is discussing two distinct methods:

  1. Studying the triplicity rulers and how they relate to the ruler of the Ascendant by aspect and dignity. The example he gives is of a man who must chose which of three women to marry. The chart has a Libra Descendant; and the triplicity rulers of Libra in a day chart are, in order, Saturn, Mercury and Jupiter. Thus, the 1st woman mentioned is signified by Saturn, the 2nd woman by Mercury and the 3rd woman by Jupiter.
  2. Studying the condition of the rulers of the 1st and 7th houses, using the condition of the Moon and of the Part of Fortune to refine or confirm the judgment about L1 versus L7.  Here the 1st house signifies the querent’s current situation and the 7th, the new situation which the querent may change to.

In this chapter on this subject Bonatti first recommends studying the triplicity rulers of the house in question. Because she asked about a job change, we look at the 10th house with Sagittarius on the cusp. The Egyptian day triplicity rulers of Sagittarius are Sun (D), Jupiter (N) and Saturn (participating). Thus, her current job is indicated by the Sun and the new job opportunity by Jupiter.

The Sun (current job) lies in the fortunate 11th house and has minor dignity by face. The sun is separating from the Ascendant-ruler Jupiter. The Moon (querent’s co-ruler) applies to the Sun by sextile. Venus, exalted ruler of the Asc, is just leaving cazimi with the Sun and is now combust, which is consistent with her feelings of being stressed out by her current job. However, Venus is a benefic and the Sun benefits by its conjunction with Venus.

Jupiter (the job opportunity) has no essential dignity (is peregrine), lies in the unfortunate 8th, and is afflicted by a conjunction with Mars.

Judging by essential and accidental dignity, the Sun is in better shape than Jupiter, which suggests that staying in her current job may be the better option.

Bonatti’s next suggestion is to consider the rulers of the 1st and the 7th houses. The idea is that the 1st house symbolizes your current situation and the 7th, the circumstances you would change to.

Here Jupiter rules the 1st and Mercury rules the 7th.

As mentioned above, Jupiter (L1) has no essential dignity (is peregrine), lies in the unfortunate 8th, and is afflicted by a conjunction with Mars.

Mercury (L7), however, is in even worse shape than Jupiter (L1). Not only is Mercury without essential dignity (peregrine) but it is also in detriment.

Thus, staying where she is (though not great) is a better option than moving to a new position.

In addition, Bonatti considers the condition of the Moon, which shows the flow of events in any question. The Moon’s most recent aspect was a sextile to a dignified Saturn in Capricorn in the 10th and its next aspect is a conjunction to peregrine Jupiter in Scorpio in the 8th. This sequence suggests that leaving a demanding job (a dignified Saturn in Capricorn) leads to a less demanding but also less dignified position (Jupiter in Scorpio) that could entail financial loss. Because the Moon is separating from a dignified Saturn in the angular 10th, the Moon is fortified by this dignified planet, which supports staying with the status quo (L1) which is in better condition than L7.

Finally, Bonatti studies the Part of Fortune, which is a fixed point that symbolizes the querent’s material well-being, and how the benefics and malefics are aspect it.

Here the Part of Fortune (PF) lies at 4 Capricorn 41. The “greater malefic” Saturn applies to PF. Venus, Jupiter and Mars are separating from PF.  Saturn, however, belongs to the diurnal sect in a day chart and has the dignity of occupying its own domicile Capricorn, so that Saturn in this chart has benefic qualities despite being a generally malefic planet.

Because Saturn has great essential dignity, Saturn’s application to conjoin the Part of Fortune is an argument for saying where she is (L1, which is in better condition than L7) rather than changing to a new position. She may have to work hard, but her efforts will be recognized an rewarded. In addition, Saturn rules the 11th (income from career) and its application to PF suggests that staying in her current job will be financially beneficial.

I found Bonatti’s discussion of the role of the Moon and the Part of Fortune in this technique a bit confusing. Here is how I understood Bonatti, but I may be mistaken. Please feel free to leave a clarifying comment or correction.

  • Bonatti gives the instruction that
    • if L7 is in worse condition than L1,
    • AND the Moon is joined to a malefic,
    • AND a malefic is aspecting the Part of Fortune,
    • then the matter the querent wants to undertake or change to is not right for him and he is better off staying put. (Bonatti seems to be saying that the bad condition of the Moon and of the Part of Fortune support the idea that L7 is a bad place to be.)
  • Conversely, Bonatti says that
    • if L1 is in better condition than L7,
    • AND the Moon is separating from a benefic,
    • AND a benefic is applying to the Part of Fortune,
    • then the current situation is better for the querent. (Bonatti seems to be saying that the good condition of the Moon and of the Part of Fortune support the idea that L1 is a better place to be.)

In summing up, it seems that the querent is not making a realistic assessment of her situation (Neptune applying to conjoin Ascendant). The majority of testimonies suggest that, even though her current job is stressing her out, a change to the new position will not improve her situation and may have a negative impact on her finances.

I hope this discussion has not been too confusing. To summarize my understanding of Bonatti’s method:

  1. If the querent is faced with more than one option, the triplicity rulers of the house signifying the quesited and their relation to the ruler of the Ascendant will indicate which option is best for the querent.
  2. If faced with a major change in the querent’s situation (relocation to a new house or a new city, accepting a new job, changing professions, etc.), then the 1st house signifies the querent’s current situation and the 7th house signifies what the querent would change to. Whichever ruler (L1 or L7) is in better condition is the better choice. The condition of the Moon and the Part of Fortune will further modify the judgment about the choice between L1 and L7.



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Student Missing in Lake Forest

Earlier this week a headline caught my eye: Student Missing in Lake Forest (California). According to the news article:

“Blaze Bernstein entered Borrego Park in the Foothill Ranch-Lake Forest area of Orange County Jan. 2 at 11 p.m. The college student, home for the holidays, was wearing a dark jacket, dark gray long-sleeved zip-up and white Adidas shoes. His family said he hasn’t been seen since, and now a massive search is underway to find the missing Ivy league student. … At 9:30 p.m., he sent a text message with his family’s Lake Forest address for a high school buddy to pick him up and take him to the park to meet the third person…”

Lilly says that when a person goes missing, you use the Ascendant to represent the missing person and study the chart for the moment he was last seen to judge what happened.  Here is the chart for 11 pm, 2 Jan 2018, Lake Forest, CA.

The Libra Ascendant signifies the missing person. His ruler Venus lies in the 4th house (fields, landed areas) in Capricorn (an earth sign), suggesting that he may still be in the park he went to visit.  According to Lilly, the 4th house signifies “gardens, fields, pastures, orchards” and Capricorn suggests “fallow-grounds, barren fields, bushy and thorny.”

Venus applies to conjoin the Sun (which is the exalted ruler of the 7th house of death), and Venus is now “combust” the Sun, which Lilly interprets as:

“The significator of the Querent combust, shows him or her in great fear, and overpowered by some great person.” (CA, p.113).  The chart suggests that the student was entering into a situation where he felt great fear and was overpowered by someone.

Will he be found dead or alive?  The Aries 7th house rules death.  The Moon, a co-ruler of the missing person, is in square to Uranus in Aries on the cusp of the 7th house, suggesting the possibility of a sudden or unexpected demise.

Following the advice of Barbara Watters, in missing person charts I always look at Emerson’s Point of Death:   Mars + Saturn – MC.  In this chart Emerson’s Death Point calculates to 15 Taurus 51, which is  almost exactly opposite Mars (at 15 Scorpio 35), ruler of the cusp of the 8th.  Unfortunately, such an exact aspect between the Point of Death and the ruler of the 8th almost always indicates that the missing person will not be found alive.

As the chart had indicated, tragically the missing student’s body was discovered during a search Tuesday afternoon in brush near Lake Forest’s Borrego Park, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department confirmed.

This sad case again confirms what Lilly taught in his 1647 text on horary astrology.

ADDENDUM (further details):

Revere Press (22 jan 2018) reported the following:

“Blaze Bernstein, 19, went missing after a meetup up with former classmate Samuel Woodward, 20, who he had been communicating with on Snapchat while home on winter break. Bernstein’s body was found on January 9 in a shallow grave near a neighborhood park in the Orange County park by his parents’ home. He had been stabbed more than 20 times.

Police arrested Woodward based on DNA evidence linking him to the crime. Woodward had told police that Bernstein, who was gay, tried to kiss him — clenching his fists and jaw as he recounted the story — for which he pushed Bernstein away. He also reportedly called Bernstein a homophobic slur.

Now, Woodward’s online presence has revealed his white supremacist and neo-Nazi beliefs. ‘Anti-Semitism and homophobia were certainly aspects of his ideology,’ said one user on a site Woodward frequented, who claimed to be close to the suspect.”




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Angular Diameter, Sect, the 5-degree rule and the Aries Ingress

Modern practitioners of Hellenistic astrology have noticed that when the Sun is very close to the Ascendant, it can sometimes be difficult to judge the sect (diurnal or nocturnal) of a chart when delineating it using Hellenistic methods. Technically speaking, a day chart is defined as one with the Sun above the horizon, and a night chart as one with the Sun below the horizon. The problem is that the Sun does not suddenly jump from below to above the horizon. It takes some time for the body of the Sun to cross over Ascendant. To complicate matters, there is also an issue of refraction of the sun’s rays by the Earth’s atmosphere, which causes the sun to appear to be in a place other than it is in reality.

Let’s start with the angular diameter of the Sun. The following diagram from wikipedia makes this clear:

sun diameter

Modern measurements of the angular diameter of the Sun give a figure of about 32 minute of arc, or about half a degree. Because the Ascendant takes about 4 minutes to change by 1 degree, we can estimate that the body of the Sun will take about 2 minutes to cross over the horizon.

But now the interesting part. To an observer on Earth, the sun appears to rise before the body of the sun even reaches the horizon due to the refraction of the sun’s light by the Earth’s atmosphere. The following diagram from wikipedia makes this clear:

sun refact

Due to refraction the sun appears to have an angular diameter of 34 minutes of arc, a figure often found in older astrological texts which were based on observation. This is why cazimi is defined as being within 17′ of arc of the center of the Sun.

In addition, the Sun appears to rise while its body is still beneath the horizon. As can be seen in the diagram, the center of the Sun lies about 50 arc-minutes below the horizon when the upper tip of the sun first appears on the horizon, and the lower tip of the body of the sun lies about 50′ + 17′ or 67′ below the horizon. It takes the Ascendant a little over 4 minutes to traverse 67 minutes of arc, so that during this roughly 4-minute period we are in a gray zone about whether to consider the chart to be of the diurnal or nocturnal sect.

I wondered if Ptolemy, who was an astronomer and natural scientist, allowed these observations about sunrise and the refraction of the sun’s light by the Earth’s atmosphere to influence his thinking about the 5-degree rule in astrology. With this in mind I calculated the time it would take for the Ascendant to traverse 67′ of arc in Alexandria, Egypt, around sunrise for the cardinal solstices and some dates in between. Here are the results.

Time to traverse 67′ of arc in Alexandria around sunrise:

Alexandria sunrise

As you can see, the average duration was about four and a half minutes with a range from a low of just over 3 minutes to a high of just over 5 minutes. My hypothesis is that Ptolemy, knowing that the symbolism of the Ascendant in astrology is based on the rising of the sun, applied his astronomical observations of the duration of the sun’s rising as one consideration in the development of his 5-degree rule for the Ascendant in astrology. In other words, could Ptolemy have had in mind, as astrologers sometimes do, an equivalence of 1 minute of clock time to 1 degree on the ecliptic? At the very least during these 3 to 5 minutes of duration of the rising of the sun, the chart remains somewhat ambiguous about its sect, that is, whether it should be interpreted as a day or night chart.


A related issue comes up with regard to the timing of the Aries ingress (or any other ingress of the Sun). The Sun travels about one degree every day and half a degree in 12 hours.

Do we time the ingress from the moment the tip of the body of the Sun touches 0 Aries, or when the center of the Sun conjoins 0 Aries, or when the final edge of the Sun crosses over 0 Aries so that the entire body of the Sun lies in the sign Aries. The crossing of the body of the Sun from Pisces fully into Aries lasts a span of about 12 hours.

This issue poses a potential conundrum for astrologers who use Whole Sign houses. If the body of the Sun is partly in Pisces and partly in Aries, it must be simultaneously in two whole sign houses, somewhat like a person standing at the Equator with one foot in the northern hemisphere and one foot in the southern hemisphere. How does one interpret a planet that is partially in two houses at once?

I think the convention in modern astrology programs is to cast the ingress for the moment that the center of the Sun conjoins 0 Aries, but at that moment part of the Sun has been in Aries for about 6 hours  and part of the Sun will remain in Pisces for the next 6 hours.

It would be interesting to cast a chart for the Aries ingress for the moment that the forward edge of the body of the sun first touches 0 Aries to see if this convention produces a more meaningful astrological chart. To use a human analogy, am I at your house when my foot first enters the threshold, when the center of my body is exactly centered in the threshold, or when my entire body is just inside the front door?




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The Houses, Templates of the Sky

Recently I’ve been interested in the origin and use of the 5-degree rule in horary astrology. This has led to a consideration of the use of the houses in the history of astrology. A couple decades ago Deborah Houlding published a popular and influential book about the astrological houses entitled The Houses, Temples of the Sky, which appears to be a reference to the Goold translation of Manilius (Loeb, 1977).


Upon re-reading Manilius recently, I failed to find justification for Goold using the term “temples” to describe the houses. After describing and delineating the cardines (MC, Asc, IC, Dsc) and the division of the sphere into quadrants by the horizon and meridian axes (which depend on the location or locus for which the chart is calculated), Manilius begins his discussion of what we call “houses” as follows:

Omne quidem signum sub qualicumque figura partibus inficitur mundi;
locus imperat astris et dotes noxamque facit; vertuntur in orbem singula et accipiunt vires caeloque remittunt, vincit enim natura loci legesque ministrat finibus in propriis et praetereuntia cogit esse sui moris, …” (Astronomica 2: 856-861)


  • Omne quidem signum sub qualicumque figura partibus inficitur mundi;

My translation: Every sign [of the zodiac] in whatever figure [astrological chart] is colored  by (dyed with, infected by) the mundane partitions [the divisions of the sphere into quadrants by the ASC and MC];

Goold: “In any geniture any sign is affected by the sky’s division into temples.”

Manilius never mentions “temples” in this passage, instead he speaks of “partibus mundi” or mundane divisions.

  • locus imperat astris et dotes noxamque facit

My translation: locus (location on earth) has dominion over the stars and renders them beneficial or harmful.

Goold: “position governs the stars, and endows them with power to benefit or harm”

[Here Manilius is referring back to his discussion of the quadrants and mundane divisions determined by the horizon and meridian of the location for which the chart is cast.]

  • vertuntur in orbem singula et accipiunt vires caeloque remittunt

My translation: one at a time the signs turn in the sphere and absorb (receive, grasp, accept) the force (powers, might, influence) [of the mundane partitions], and send it back (remit, throw back) to the heavens.

Goold: “each of the signs, as it revolves, receives the influences of heaven and to heaven imparts its own.”

Goold seems to have misunderstood Manilius here.  The Latin text implies that the signs receive the influence of the mundane divisions and transmit that influence back to the heavens.

  • vincit enim natura loci legesque ministrat finibus in propriis et praetereuntia cogit esse sui moris

My translation: Indeed, the nature of the location on earth prevails; [the mundane partition] determines (supplies, provides) the laws (principles, conditions) within its own boundaries and impresses (forces, compels) its own character on the signs that pass over it.

Goold: “The nature of the position prevails, exercises jurisdiction within its province, and subjects to its own character the signs as they pass by.”

Goold seems to have gotten this one right, but I’m not sure he understands that the “position” referred to is the location on earth for which the chart is cast.

It is fascinating that Manilius chose the verb “to infect” to describe how the mundane divisions by horizon and meridian affect the zodiacal signs. It’s as if the mundane “houses” are like contagious organisms that infect the zodiac and alter the nature of the zodiac signs. In Latin the verb “to infect” is also used to describe how the color in a dye changes the appearance of a piece of white cloth. In other words, the zodiac signs are like the nondescript pods in the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The mundane divisions are like the individual aliens who impart their own nature onto these unformed pods.

Goold gives the flowery and misleading translation: “In any geniture any sign is affected by the sky’s division into temples.” Manilius does not mention temples in this introductory sentence. Several lines later Goold correctly translates Manilius’s writing when he uses the phrase “portion of heaven above the occident” to describe what we now call the twelfth house.

I suspect that Goold chose the word “temple” to sound poetic and also because later in the text Manilius associates planets with some of the mundane partitions; but if we follow Goold’s logic, then only 7 “houses” are temples because only the 7 visible planets are honored, leaving 5 mundane divisions without a god to honor.

To be fair, there are occasions in the poem when Manilius does use the word “templa” as a synonym for “partibus” (parts, segments, divisions, portions, components). “Templa” can mean temples, but in the context of the poem, Manilius means a space, interval, area, portion or segment, which are all meanings of templum in Latin.

It’s interesting that “templum” in Latin was also used to mean an axis or a cardine (kardo), so that Manilius probably chose “templa” to stress the link between the “houses” and the mundane axes.

Thus, it seems clear from reading Manilius in the Latin that he did not mean to refer to the what we call “houses” as temples but rather as “templates” which determine the functional use of that portion of space. Instead, he is talking about partitions of the zodiac based on the horizon and meridian of the location (locus) for which the chart is cast. This is clearly a quadrant house system in which the mundane divisions are topical houses, and I can find no reference to Whole Sign houses in this section of Manilius’ poem, which is interesting because Manilius composed this text at the time of Christ, early in the 1st century (around 15 or 20 CE), when Jesus would have been a teenage boy. Nor have I found a reference to use of the 5-degree rule with Manilius’ system of quadrant houses, so I guess I’ll just have to keep looking to understand how the 5-degree rule came to be used in horary astrology.

An interesting corollary to Manilius’ description of the “houses” is that if the astrologer knows only two facts besides the date of birth, namely, the degree of the Ascendant and the location on earth for which the chart is cast, then the entire 12-house quadrant system can be calculated. This may explain why in the early Hellenistic literature so many of horoscopes list only the Horoskopos (ascending degree) and omit mention of the  MC degree.

Manilius states that the mundane segments of the sky, resulting from the division into quadrants by the meridian and horizon, impress their influence onto the signs of the zodiac which cross over them. It is possible that Manilius views the zodiac with its twelve 30-degree signs as a kind of generic or universal house system, which then gets particularized by its connection with the mundane divisions of the sky around the place of birth. From Manilius’ text it is not possible to determine whether or not he used whole signs as houses.

It is possible that I have misunderstood Manilius. His Latin I find rather difficult, and my own Latin is rusty. In addition, he is writing as a poet and using words in quite a terse and evocative manner, as poets do. Also, I do not mean to disparage Goold. He did an overall masterful job with a difficult text.





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The 5-degree Rule in Horary and the Twilight of the Gods (part III)

This is the third post about the 5-degree rule in horary astrology, which Lilly adopted and used extensively in his practice. My hypothesis is that Lilly adopted this rule from Ptolemy’s discussion of how to calculate the length of life of the native. My question has to do with whether a technique developed to calculate the length of life in natal charts should also be applied to horary charts. If so, what is the theoretical rationale for doing so?

My investigation of this question has led to a discussion of Ptolemy’s method and the charts of early horary astrologers like Masha’allah and Sahl. In reviewing Ben Dykes translation of these authors, it appears that the use of both Whole Sign and quadrant houses was in effect in their time and that the 5-degree rule was variously applied. In his introduction (7c), Dykes notes:

“…Sahl recommends this 5-degree rule in a general way (not just in the context of longevity procedures, as Masha’allah does)…”

So it appears that there was a difference of opinion among these early horary astrologers about applying the 5-degree rule to other than length-of-life calculations.

In fact, in Chart 12 (a horary question about a rebellion in Africa) of On Reception Masha’allah ignores the 5-degree rule.  Masha’allah’s text gives the position of Venus as 2 Sag 31, which is more than 5 degrees from the Ascendant, given as 8 Sagittarius (“the 9th degree of Sagittarius”), yet he specifically states the Venus is in the Ascendant and nowhere does Masha’allah mention the idea of Venus being cadent or lying in the 12th house, which suggests that he was using Whole Sign houses to analyze this chart. If Masha’allah were using quadrant houses, by the 5-degree rule Venus would have been considered a 12th house planet.

On the other hand, Wade Caves found a chart from Masha’allah in which he does use the 5-degree rule to include Mercury in the 10th house. This does not appear to be a horary chart, and I do not know if the issue being discussed was the length of life of the native (which would justify the use of the 5-degree rule) or some other topic. Here is the chart (I set the MC for Basra, Iraq, because the chart data are not available).


Here Mercury in the 9th sign Pisces lies about 2 degrees from the MC at 21 Pisces 30. Masha’allah writes, “Mercury is in its descent in the ninth, by equalization in the tenth.” When he says “in its descent in the 9th” it is not clear whether Masha’allah is using whole sign or quadrant houses because Mercury would be in the 9th in either system. When he writes “by equalization in the 10th” he must be referring to the 10th house because Mercury and Pisces are both in the 9th sign from the Ascendant, so here is is referring to quadrant houses with the cusp of the 10th being 21 Pisces 30. He apparently calls the use of the 5-degree rule here “equalization,” but what is being equalized?

My guess is that Masha’allah is referring to the Hellenistic concept found in Ptolemy of equalizing aspectual relationship in the ecliptic system with their counterparts in the mundane system. Ptolemy notes that aspects such as squares on the ecliptic can act like trines in signs of long ascension. Lilly himself adopted Ptolemy’s practice in this regard.

Masha’allah must have been aware of the Hellenistic use of Whole Sign houses in which the angular houses where those zodiacal signs in square (perpendicular) or in opposition to the Ascendant by whole sign. In a chart mentioned in a previous post, Masha’allah notes that “the cardines of the ascendant are perpendicular,” which implies that this is something special and not the norm. My hunch is that Masha’allah has in mind the difference between the angular whole sign houses which are always exactly perpendicular and the quadrant cardines (Angles) which are only perpendicular on a few specific occasions during the year.

In the mundane system the meridian and the horizon are perpendicular and their corresponding points on the ecliptic (Asc – Dsc axis, MC – IC axis) constitute the cusps of the angular houses.  The angular houses (the power points in the chart) could differ in each system and needed to be “equalized” when interpreting a chart. If my analysis is correct, then the formula for the equalization becomes: zero degrees of of the Ascendant sign in the whole sign system equals the degree of the Ascendant minus 5 degrees in the quadrant house system and so for the other angles as well.

The following table may make this idea clearer. The Whole Sign house system is the idealized form of house division provided to us by the universe. The quadrant house system is particular to our location on Earth. How do we “equalize” the two systems (universal and particular) so that we can interpret their meaning in a birth chart?


Where does the 5 degree adjustment for quadrant houses come from?  I believe it has to do with the Ascendant (eastern horizon of the chart) being a symbol of the life force of the native, which is derived from the Sun. The Ascendant of a chart derives its symbolism from the rising of the Sun.

The early astrologers based much of their interpretive theory on observation. We all know that the sun does not suddenly rise bringing about daylight, nor does it suddenly set, initiating the night. Sailors especially are aware of this phenomenon. For example, nautical lore distinguishes three types of twilight (and by implication three types of dawn). The following images from Wikipedia make this clear.


Notice in the above diagram that the sun sets at the horizon but there is an extended period after the moment of sunset during which the sun’s light gradually fades and the darkness of night completely dominates the scene. The astronomical measures of this gradual decline in available sunlight are shown in the next diagram.


  • Civil Twilight: The center of the body of the Sun lies between the horizon and 6o below the horizon. At this time you can still see things clearly without the need for extra illumination.
  • Nautical Twilight: The center of the body of the Sun lies between 6o and 12o below the horizon. Objects become harder to see and appear in silhouette. The brightest stars begin to be visible in the night sky.
  • Astronomical Twilight: The center of the body of the Sun lies between 12o and 18o below the horizon. It is completely dark and the stars are clearly visible in the night sky.

As an aside, recall that the Sun has a diameter of about 34′ of arc in the sky. In a previous post we say a chart of Masha’allah in which he notes the the Sun at 0 Aries 11 was considered a 7th house planet where the point opposite the Ascendant lay at 29 Pisces 39.  In this case, the center of the Sun which has a diameter of 34′ of arc in the sky. If so, the body of the Sun lies partly in Pisces and partly in Aries. In fact, the body of the Sun extends from 29 Pisces 54′ to 0 Aries 28′. Thus, the Sun lies in the 7th sign from the Ascendant and also in the whole degree of the Descendant, and on this basis could be considered a 7th house planet.

Let’s return to Sahl for a moment and his Fifty Judgments. Sahl rendered Ptolemy’s idea about the 5-degree rule as follows in his Judgment 44 (Dykes translation, bold and italics mine):

“If a planet were in the beginning of a sign, it will be weak until it is made firm in it and walks through it by 6o [the period of civil twilight before sunrise]. And a planet does not fall from the angles except after 5o. For example, if the angle were in the 10th degree of Aries, every planet which is less than 5o [of Aries] is cadent and not thought to be in the angle.”

It seems to me that these ancient astrologers were deriving their notions of strength and influence with respect to the Ascendant from the analogy with sunrise and the gradual increase in light in the twilight period before sunrise. In astronomy civil twilight in which there is enough light to get things done even before the sun reaches the horizon is a period of 6o from the horizon. If we allow that each degree of the Ascendant corresponds to about 4 minutes on the clock, this corresponds to a period of 6 x 4 or 24 minutes of functional light before the sun actually conjoins the horizon.

An interesting fact is that the amount of usable light just prior to dawn varies with one’s proximity to the Equator. The further south you are, the more light that is available to you to get things done. For example, at the March Equinox, in:

  • Quito, Ecuador (latitude 0), nautical twilight starts 20 minutes after sunset,
  • Key West, Florida (latitude 24N), nautical twilight starts 23 minutes after sunset
  • Kansas City (Latitude 39N), nautical twilight starts 26 minutes after sunset
  • Anchorage, Alaska (latitude 62N), nautical twilight starts about 44 minutes after sunset.

What we see from this is that nautical twilight at the Equator lasts about 20 minutes, which corresponds to 5o at the Equator.  Ptolemy made use of the arc traveled both on the equator on on the ecliptic and also made extensive use of ascensional times. It may be that for this reason he chose 5o as the period of influence to the eastern horizon (where the sun rises).

I have already mentioned an argument for applying the 5-degree rule to the other angular cusps. Is the a theoretical justification for applying it to intermediate houses? The answer may lie in the Hellenistic concept of Lots, which are usually projected from the Ascendant. In other words, the distance measured in arc along the ecliptic between two points or planets is projected from the degree of the Ascendant to produce the Lot.

With this in mind, I conjecture that Ptolemy reasoned more or less as follows in analyzing the length of life:

  • The Ascendant (eastern horizon) is analogous to sunrise and represents the life force of the native.
  • The sign containing the Horoskopos (Ascendant) is the 1st house of the Whole Sign House (topoi) system.
  • But the power of the Ascendant has its maximum effect within 5 degrees of the Horoskopos, which can lie anywhere from 0 to 30 degrees within the ascending sign.
  • Therefore, to evaluate where the maximum life-giving force has effects in the chart we must use a different type of house system with the Ascendant as the cusp of the 1st house and the point lying 5 degrees before the Ascendant as the initial boundary of the 1st house.
  • Because traditional houses (topoi) are based on 30-degree Whole Signs, this new “longevital” house system must also have houses of exactly 30 degrees each, and they will be patterned after the 1st longevital house with its cusp as the horoskopos and its initial boundary as 5 degrees before the horoskopos.
  • Based on Whole Sign Aspects, the most effective houses will be those in major whole sign aspect to the sign of the 1st house.
  • Because the Ascendant is so powerful with regard to longevity, the cusps of the other houses will be in exact degree-based aspect to the Ascendant degree.
  • For example, because the 8th Whole Sign house from the Ascendant represents the death of the native, the cusp of the 8th longevital house will be the point that is exactly 210 degrees from the Horoskopokos.  In other words, the cusp of the 8th will be like a Lot in which the distance from boundary of the 1st whole sign house to boundary of the 8th whole sign house is projected from the Ascendant, and the boundary of the 8th longevital house will be 5 degrees before that cusp because of its analogy with the powerful Ascendant.

The ideas in this post are, of course, preliminary and subject to change. However, I think it offers a potential theoretical justification for the use of the 5-degree rule at least in judging the length of life. It may be that the use of the 5-degree rule in horary charts by Sahl was his attempt to generalize Ptolemy’s more restricted use to other branches of astrology.

Addendum (27 Dec 2017): Antiochus of Athens and Equalization

Antiochus of Athens was a Hellenistic astrologer who published sometime between the late 1st and mid 2nd century AD. In Robert Schmidt’s translation (pp.32-33) Antiochus writes:

Each of these 12 places obtains as its lot the 5 pre-ascended degrees and the 25 post-ascending degrees, if the squares should occur through ninety degrees.

If the Asc and MC degrees are not exactly 90 degrees apart, then Antiochus advises us to  divide the degree of angles into three to determine the number of degrees for each place, and then adding “the 5 degrees that have pre-ascended it”.  This appears to be his description of the house system now attributed to Porphyry.
My understanding of this passage (which may or may not be correct) is that when the Asc and MC cardines are exactly 90 degrees apart, the first house begins 5 degrees before the Ascendant and all the houses are 30-degrees in length. Because the MC is 90 degrees from the Asc, the beginning of the 10th place will be 5 degrees before the MC.

It does not seem logical to me, however, that the places are calculated proportionate to the size of the quadrant but the 5 pre-ascending degrees are not also proportionately calculated.

To give an example:
Suppose the Asc lies at 0 Gemini and the MC lies 60 degrees away at 0 Aries, then each place should be 60 divided by 3 = 20 degrees of arc in length. Following his logic, the 5 pre-ascended degrees should be proportionately reduced to 2/3 of 5 = 3.33 degrees.

In this same example the IC lies at 0 Libra, and the 2nd place would be the size of that quadrant divided by 3, or 120 divided 3 = 40 degrees and the 5 pre-ascending degrees would be proportionately increased by 4/3 = 6.66 degrees.

In other words, it doesn’t seem logical that the size of each place would vary according to the quadrant it is in but the 5 ascending degrees would remain constant regarding of the varying sizes of the quadrants.

In Masha’allah’s chart above, the MC lies at 21 Pisces 30 and the Descendant at 8 Capricorn.  The size of this quadrant containing the 10th place extends from 8 Cancer (the Ascendant) to 21 Pisces 30 (the MC). This quadrant is 106.5 degrees. Dividing this figure by 3 we get 35.5 degrees.  Proportionately, the 5 pre-ascended degrees is then equivalent to 35.5/30 times 5 or 5 deg 55 min of arc.  Thus the 1st house would begin 5 deg 55 min above the Asc and the 10th house would begin 5 deg 55 min before the degree of the MC.







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The 5-degree rule in horary, part II

In a recent post I raised the question about the theoretical reasons for Lilly’s use of the 5-degree rule in horary. What prompted my question was my being told by a colleague that horary astrologers in France and Spain had abandoned that rule on the basis of  the belief that it was not justified by the basic principles upon which Western astrology is founded. My first impression was that the 5-degree rule made sense for the cusps of the angular quadrant houses because the Angles are powerful points in the chart. I couldn’t think of a good reason for extending the rule to the cusps of the succedent and and cadent houses.

Please note that in this post I am simply exploring ideas and not coming to definitive conclusions. This is a matter that puzzles me, and I am seeking to gain a better understanding of what the early founders of modern horary were thinking and how they did they work.

I posted the question in an online horary group to which I belong and it led to a fascinating and enlightening discussion about the original house systems and how they were used. The origin of the 5-degree rule may have been Ptolemy’s discussion of how to calculate the length of life of the native. To do so Ptolemy postulated an Equal House system in which the boundary of the first house is 5 degrees before (above) the Ascendant degree, and the other houses are each 30-degree segments that follow the 1st house in order around the wheel.

It is not clear whether Ptolemy intended this system only to calculate the length of life, or whether he used it for other types of delineations of a natal chart. Sahl apparently rendered Ptolemy’s idea as follows in his Judgment 44 (Dykes translation): “…a planet does not fall from the angles except after 5 degrees. For example, if the angle were in the 10th degree of Aries, every planet which is less than 5 degrees [of Aries] is cadent and not thought to be in the angle.”

Wade Caves showed that Masha’allah used the 5-degree rule for the MC and not just for the Ascendant degree by citing a chart from The Astrological History of Masha’allah by Kennedy and Pingree (1971, Harvard University Press) in which the position of Mercury is described as follows: “Mercury is in its descent in the ninth, [but] by equalization in the tenth.

By “in its descent” I assume Masha’allah means either that the planet is cadent from the 10th sign from the Ascendant or that it is falling away from the degree of the MC, which could place it in the 9th or 8th house.  By “equalization” I assume he means that by the use of the 5-degree rule Mercury which is within a couple degrees of the MC degree but falling away from the MC would be considered a 10th house planet. Here is the chart which may look strange because the 1st house is at the very top.


Presumably this chart is set for Baghdad, which would give is a MC degree of 21 Pisces, which is the 9th sign from the Ascendant. In this example, Masha’allah appears to regard the 10th house to be defined by the MC degree rather than by Whole Sign houses, and Mercury lies in the 10th quadrant house because it is within 5 degrees of the MC degree. This seems to be clear evidence that Masha’all did use the 5-degree rule for houses other than the Ascendant.

There are inconsistencies in Masha’allah’s example. In the previous post I reviewed one of Masha’allah’s horary charts from On Reception in which Venus lies at 2 Sag 30 (the 3rd degree of Sagittarius) with the 9th degree of Sagittarius rising. Thus, Venus is more than 5 degrees from the Ascendant and should be considered to be falling away or cadent from the Ascendant, but Masha’allah never mentions this. Nor does he say that Venus is a 12th house planet, though he states that Jupiter in Scorpio is in the 12th house. In this example, Masha’allah appears to be using Whole Sign houses rather than quadrant ones.

In Dykes translation of Masha’allah On Reception (page 480), Masha’allah says explicitly of the Angles: “… the second [quickest and most effective] is the angle of the Midheaven or tenth sign,” which Dykes regards as an unambiguous equating of the 10th sign with the angular Midheaven house. In this quote Masha’allah appears to be referring to Whole Sign houses rather than a quadrant system.

From my reading of Masha’allah, one of the founders of modern horary, it appears that he did use the 5-degree rule, at least for the angles, and that he used by Whole Sign and quadrant houses (probably Alcabitius).  In the charts of his that I’ve looked at in detail the Whole Sign positions are the same as the Alcabitius positions, so I haven’t yet been able to find a good example in which he uses the topical meanings of the Whole Sign sign in preference to those of the quadrant house.  Such an example would help clarify how he used each of the two systems of houses in his work.  I’m also looking for examples in which Masha’allah may have used the 5-degree rule for succedent and cadent houses but haven’t found any yet, which does not mean they are not out there.

Here is another interesting example from Masha’allah (Kennedy & Pingree, 1971).

sun 7 center

The Angles are shown for Baghdad when the Sun is in the first degree of Aries (the vernal equinox).  Masha’allah says that “…the cardines of the ascendant are perpendicular, and the planets are cadent, except the Sun. It is in the seventh, between it [Sun] and the center of the seventh there being two degrees, conferring counsel upon Saturn.”  Let’s pick apart Masha’allah’s comments:

  • The cardines of the ascendant are perpendicular.” The “cardines” are the Angles (Asc, MC, Dsc, IC).  They are perpendicular at the Equinoxes (here Sun lies at 0 Aries, the vernal equinox. Otherwise, the cardines are not at right angles in the chart and in the Equal House system, sometimes the MC falls in the 9th or the 11th rather than in the 10th.  Having a chart with perpendicular cardines is unusual and so Masha’allah makes special mention of it.
  • The planets are cadent, except the Sun.”  Here “cadent” may mean falling away from an angle by the primary motion of the heavens. He is speaking of planets and not houses when he says that all the planets are cadent (falling away from angles by primary motion) except for the Sun. In this chart, for example, in the Whole Sign system, Saturn would be an angular whole sign 4th house planet but would be cadent from the Cardine of the 4th because it is falling away by primary motion of the heavens.  In a quadrant house system, Saturn would be considered a cadent 3rd house planet in this chart, so this example could indicate Masha’allah using either type of house system.. Calling the Moon is Capricorn “cadent” is puzzling, however, because Capricorn is the 5th whole sign and the 4th Alcabitius house, neither of which is cadent from an angle or from the Ascendant (in aversion).
  • The Sun is not cadent but is rather in the angular 7th. The Descendent cardine (angle) lies at 29 Pisces 39 in Masha’allah’s diagram. The Sun lies at 0 Aries 01. There is only  22 minutes of arc between the DSC and the center of the Sun.  Because the body of the Sun measures about 34 minutes of arc in the sky, the degree of the 7th cardine touches the body of the Sun. There is a corporal conjunction of the Sun with the Descendant degree. One could say that this example supports the 5-degree rule because the center of the Sun is separated from the Descendant by 5 minutes of arc, but the body of the Sun is still in corporal contact with the Descendant degree.  Masha’allah may have been emphasizing that although the Sun looks like it is in the 8th Whole Sign house, it is still in the 7th because the body of the Sun is still in direct contact with the Descendant or Cardine of the West.
  • “There are two degrees between the Sun and the center of the 7th.” This statement makes no sense if we think he means the center of the 7th house.  The Dsc in the last degree of Pisces and the Sun in the first degree of Aries, suggesting a region whose width is two degrees. Perhaps instead of center of the 7th the text should read cardine (from the Latin cardo) of the 7th, which would make perfect sense. Or if the translator had access to Greek, it could have read the kentron of the 7th (kentron meaning cardine, angular point, pivot, stake, axis of rotation). If he were using quadrant houses, the cusp of the 7th would have been 29 Pisces 39 and the center would be at roughly 14 Aries.  (See addendum following this point.)
  • [Addendum: (26 Dec 2017).  Paul Kiernan suggested that  by “center” in this quote Masha’allah means an Angle, cardine, kentron or point of axial rotation:
    “…the cardines of the ascendant are perpendicular, and the planets are cadent, except the Sun. It is in the seventh, between it [Sun] and the center of the seventh there being two degrees…” Paul’s insight makes sense. Masha’allah is not talking about a geometric center of a house. The main theme in this quote is the “cardines of the ascendant” which are the Angles of the south (MC), of the west (Dsc) and of the north (IC). Each cardine is the center of an entire hemi-sphere as defined by the horizon and meridian axes. So when Masha’allah says “center of the seventh” he must mean the western horizon or Descendant (the center of the heavens west of the meridian), just as the center of the first is the Ascendant degree which is used to define the 1st house. Then the statement that the Sun is 2 degrees from the center makes perfect sense.]

This chart is enlightening because it shows the difficulty we have when translating ancient texts. It is important not to import our 20th century understanding of words and concepts into the original text because the words used by the translators of Masha’allah into Latin and then into English may not mean what we assume they mean with out 20th century eyes.

In the charts reviewed so far it does appear that Masha’allah did use the 5-degree rule for the Angular points and that he took into account both the Whole Sign and the quadrant houses but how he integrated the two house systems is not yet clear.

To be continued …


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