ANCIENT ASTROLOGY IN THEORY AND PRACTICE
This is a huge book – huge in its scope and huge in its capacity to carry the earnest reader to a higher level of skill as an astrologer. This does not happen quickly or easily or even with the first reading of the book. I have spent months with the book, however, going over the techniques described throughout its 60 chapters, applying them to charts and scratching my head a lot. I was beyond fortunate to have some willing and hard working astrology students with me on the journey, who are pictured here proudly hefting up this weighty tome. We all met up at the bookstore at NORWAC 2019 and committed to this book and formed an Astrology Book Club, none of us quite realizing what we were in for. Everyone hung in there, though, doing the homework and thrashing the material out during sometimes five hour sessions. To Lindsey, Sallie, Amy and Penny, I say thank you, and I promise we will find a shorter book next time, which demands a little less of the gray cells and which Penny will not have to carry around on her head!
Demetra George has spent decades studying Hellenistic astrology, even learning ancient Greek so she could read the original source texts. This form of astrology was practiced between 150 BCE and 625 CE, so her research required gathering teachings which spanned over 700 years and went through many permutations. In this book, she brilliantly distills this knowledge into an accessible description of techniques which astrologers today may apply to their chart readings to discover unbelievable depth and meaning.
Hellenistic astrologers only had access to the visible celestial bodies – the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. They would put each of these bodies through a meticulous diagnostic process that would reveal how well each luminary or planet functioned in the native’s life. Does our Moon easily manifest its significations, helping us to live comfortably in our bodies and feel nurtured in life, or do we struggle in these areas of life? Does the condition of our Mars indicate a confidence to fight our own battles, or do we fear confrontation or turn to passive aggression?
While some astrologers today resist putting labels such as “good” or “bad” on a client’s chart, Demetra George gently reminds us that we all have good and bad operating in our life. And by “good,” we see that certain things in life come easily to each person, and by “bad,” we can recognize that we all have our struggles. Using Hellenistic techniques does not tell clients where they are “doomed.” Rather, it indicates where they need to roll up their sleeves. This kind of guidance can be very healing once we confront a problematic aspect in our charts. Someone with Venus applying to a conjunction with Saturn in his chart may be lonely because past experiences in hurtful relationships have led him to mistrust others and project the expectation of receiving hurt from any new relationship he forms. Working – Saturn – with a therapist on this issue could help him to break this pattern of perception and form relationships based on realistic expectations and earned trust – Saturn again.
I am so keen on using these techniques that I decided I could best show a few of the techniques rather that simply describe them. I chose two charts to use, one for Bill Clinton and the other for Barack Obama, our two recent Sun in Leo presidents. What makes each chart distinctive from the other is that Bill Clinton was born during the day, which makes the Sun the primary luminary in his chart, while Barack Obama was born after the Sun had set, which makes his Gemini Moon his primary light. The difference is evident when you think of Bill Clinton, beaming in a crowd, his Sun in Leo rejoicing in the attention and adulation of just being there. Barack Obama, however, while the quiet charisma of his Leo Sun is always present, shone most eloquently at the podium, his Gemini Moon in the spotlight throughout his stirring and articulate speeches.
In Bill Clinton’s chart, then, we start with the Sun, the life force, shining happily away in a day chart, and made even more powerful because it resides in what is considered its own domicile. Hellenistic astrologers saw this as conferring on a celestial body the advantage of being in its own home, having all the resources it needs and not relying on any other host to anticipate or meet its needs. Being of the masculine gender, it moves quickly to manifest its significations, being in the fixed modality, it has a focused energy, and being in the fire triplicity, its impulse is towards freedom and power. The Sun is further assisted by being the lord of its triplicity of fire, which gives it a community of supporters to help manifest its energy.
Each luminary in the chart has “sect mates,” who assist in carrying out its mission. The Sun’s “team” consists of Jupiter and Saturn and, in Bill Clinton’s chart, Mercury, because it is rising ahead of the Sun and so is a part of the day sect of the chart. Mercury and Saturn are excellent team mates, both rising ahead of the Sun so functioning well in a day chart. In the same sign as the Sun but not so close that they are “under the beams” of the Sun, thus made invisible, their domicile lord is the highly charged Sun. This would give the native the discipline, Saturn, and the intelligence, Mercury, he needs to realize his ambitions in the world.
The Sun’s only problematic teammate is Jupiter in the Venus-ruled sign of Libra. Jupiter is in whole sign sextile to the Leo bodies, so they get along well, and the native’s ability to relate to other in a big and generous way can help “Team Leo.” However, this Jupiter rises behind the Sun (the Sun relates better to sect mates which rise ahead of him) and is in a different hemisphere of the chart, so can have a tendency to do its own thing and wander off the path. There is a “Good Time Charlie” energy to Jupiter, which is fueled by its domicile lord being Venus strong in its own domicile of Libra. Jupiter will “listen” to Venus and, when he wants to express his innate expansiveness, Jupiter will seek bodily pleasure and the pleasure of connecting with others. Another problem arises when we see that on Venus’s tail heading towards Jupiter is Mars, frustrated in the sign of his detriment and so looking for a way to express his will and aggressive energy in the domain of peace-loving Venus.
The Hellenistic astrologers understood Venus and Jupiter to be “benefics,” who bring blessings to the native, and Mars and Saturn to be “malefics,” which can work against the best interests of the native. Having a day chart, Bill Clinton would experience Jupiter as being the greater benefic, and Mars as being the greater malefic. Mars being in Libra with the two benefics, Venus and Jupiter, gives them “negative testimony,” making it more difficult for them to bring the native all good things. Or, as we see this case, pursuing his own pleasure became a very grave liability for Bill Clinton during his presidency and led to an impeachment.
However, Jupiter, the greater benefic, has an ace up its sleeve. He has the power as a benefic to “shoot rays” backward in the zodiac by sextile, square or trine to “bonnify,” or bring blessings, to any planet he hits within three degrees on either side of the planet. Jupiter from 23 degrees of Libra hurls a ray back to Leo between 20 degrees and 26 degrees. Bill Clinton’s Sun is at 26 degrees, receiving protection and “bonnification” from the greater benefic. Therefore, the Sun is able to prevail when the native is challenged and manifest its overall Leo mission.
When Barack Obama was born, the Sun had slipped beneath the horizon, so the Moon was the primary luminary in the sky, giving him a night, or “nocturnal” chart. It is this energy that the native will first seek to express when moving through the world. Demetra George writes that a nocturnal chart indicates someone who will process things internally before moving forward. With a day chart, we will use “reason and an inclination to bring things to light and illuminate them.” Natives with a nocturnal chart, however, will display a “subjective state of awareness, the use of instinct, and an understanding by delving deep into underlying causes.” President Obama was one who famously kept his own counsel, listening to his advisors and then processing the information carefully before he spoke.
To understand how effectively Barack Obama’s Gemini Moon is expressing its significations, we follow the same diagnostic process used when examining Bill Clinton’s Sun. This Gemini Moon will move quickly in a masculine sign, be adaptable in the mutable modality, and seek mental connection as part of the air triplicity. It does not have the advantage of being in its own domicile; rather, it is in the domicile of Mercury. Mercury struggles somewhat in Leo, ten degrees ahead of the Sun and so invisible, “under the beams.” However, it had moved into this position just four days before Obama’s birth, and so is in a state of “phasis,” which gives it more power and a great deal of focus than it would have ordinarily. Mercury is also helped by being in the domicile of the Sun, who is in its own domicile and so full of confidence and largess towards those he is hosting.
Gemini and Leo, while sharing a whole sign sextile aspect, get an additional boost because they are considered signs which “Sense and Perceive” each other because they share equal amounts of light and dark (picture sunsets falling at approximately the same time in June and in August). This enhances the sextile aspect between the Moon and its domicile lord, Mercury, and the whole sign sextile between the Moon and the domicile lord of Mercury, the Sun. So while initially it seemed this Gemini Moon would struggle to bring its gifts for the native, we can see that mitigating factors are in place to help this luminary shine in the world.
Mercury is also working overtime for this Moon because it serves not just as the domicile lord, but it also rules the triplicity of the Moon and its bounds. The triplicity is the element of the Moon’s sign, air, and the lord of the triplicity will bring a community of support to the native. This Mercury-fueled Moon has given Barack Obama the ability to communicate and connect with people in his communities who can help him achieve in the world. Mercury as the bound lord sets the rules for the native, contributing both its adaptability and the fixed Leo ability to focus. This native has the gift of a highly organized mind.
Emphasizing this characteristic is the Moon’s sect mate, Mars. Mars also resides in a Mercury-ruled sign, and is of the mutable, therefore adaptive, modality, strengthening the native’s capacity to act only after well-reasoned consideration. While Jupiter and Saturn work with the Sun, the Moon’s team consists of Venus and Mars. Mercury, rising ahead of the Sun, is a member of the Sun’s team. Barack Obama’s Mars does fall in whole sign square to the Moon, giving his Moon the ability to “see” its sect mate, although the relationship can have its conflicts. They eventually pull together on the same team, however, which is enhanced because they share the same domicile lord, Mercury. This is another mitigating factor which smoothes over any blowups the Moon and Mars may experience.
Venus is a more problematic teammate, unable to “see” the Moon in the adjacent sign of Cancer. It functions well with Mars in Virgo, however, by whole sign sextile, and has the Moon as its domicile lord. The Moon can therefore “talk” to Venus. This strengthens Venus’s willingness to put aside its Cancerian sensitivities when the Moon needs to find objective expression – or it could also contribute an empathy to others which warms this cooler, more cerebral Moon.
But just as Bill Clinton’s Sun enjoyed special protection, or “bonnification,” Barack Obama’s primary light, the Moon, is similarly blessed. Jupiter, while functioning as the lesser benefic in Obama’s chart, is still Jupiter, bestowing great gifts. Jupiter forms a trine aspect to the Moon, from 0 degrees of Aquarius to 3 degrees of Gemini. While this is a fortunate aspect, it does not constitute the special blessing of a “bonnification.” What does raise this aspect to the level of bonnification is that Jupiter, a benefic, is in a “good house,” the first, and it is in a “superior position,” rising ahead of the Moon. Jupiter therefore bonnifies Barack Obama’s primary light by a technique called “overcoming.” Jupiter arrived at Barack Obama’s birth to bonnify this Moon and give him the great good fortune of a silver tongue and masses of people eager to hear his words. What is particularly enchanting about this aspect is that Jupiter and Saturn will be making their conjunction on Barack Obama’s Jupiter in December of 2021. How will this manifest in his life? What other gifts will he bring to the world?
This is only the beginning of the richness one can discover when applying Hellenistic techniques to the traditional seven celestial bodies in the chart. Each luminary and planet is placed under this diagnostic microscope to reveal its gifts and its challenges, building a full, rich, complex portrait of an individual’s life. Demetra George has promised a future volume of this work which will delve into the meanings of houses and how studying house placement unearths new veins of information and meaning. I can’t wait.
How fortunate we are to have Demetra George toiling away to deliver the very best in scholarship and writing to those of us who love to study astrology and hunger for greater knowledge. Thank you so much, Ms. George, for your tireless efforts, your integrity, and for making it your mission to enlighten generations of astrologers in this age and for ages to come.