“[T]he spiritual genome of the human consciousness is similar to the physical genome, which has been coded from the information within the double helix of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) . . . at the root of the cellular structure . . . contains the information necessary for Nature to evolve a separate and unique organism in accordance with the chemical sequences encoded on its strands.”
— Richard Palmer, Modern Spiritual Astrology
Astrology reminds me of feng shui, just on a massive cosmic scale rather than what’s going on in the landscaping of your backyard. In feng shui, natural land forms around you will have particular influences over your life. Directionality, the particular vibrations that colors, minerals, or elements give off can have an impact over what happens to us. Astrology is not so different, only we’re talking about the influence of celestial bodies that are hundreds of millions of miles away.
There is a sensitive dependency between the various bodies in our solar system and even to every one of us as individuals. It’s the notion in chaos theory that the flap of a butterfly’s wing can cause a hurricane weeks later, hundreds of miles away, or in the case of astrology, a distant past hurricane can cause a butterfly to flap its wing in a particular way today.
Understanding astrology is to have a metaphysical understanding of the collective, universal, cosmological context we live in. When we can understand that context, we can better plan our personal conduct so that it may be harmonious with the pulses of the universe. You want your personal conduct to be harmonious with the universe because it’s how you’ll find support for success. That’s feng shui. And that’s astrology.
THE ORIGINS OF ASTROLOGY
But it’s theorized to date back to 3000-2500 B.C. Historians date Babylonian astrology as far as 2000 B.C., which is the first time that astrology was purportedly used for divination. Through the cross-pollination of cultures, from the Mesopotamians to the Greeks, we get Hellenistic astrology. That’s attributed to Claudius Ptolemy, a Greek astronomer and astrologer living in Alexandria, Egypt. The earliest written text on astrology is dated to around the first century B.C. And all that is just what we understand as western astrology.
Western astrologers today generally adopt a traditional method of Hellenistic astrology or a modern method that takes into account more planetary bodies than the traditional method, dwarf planets and asteroids even, and will subscribe by different rulerships. There are astrologers who firmly and consciously stick to one set approach, be that traditional or one of the modern methodologies, but for the most part, astrologers today work with a hybrid, a mix of all sorts of astrological doctrines that the individual astrologer feels intuitively drawn to.
What is Hellenistic Astrology?
The techniques we use today in Hellenistic astrology can be traced back to the Ptolemaic Kingdom (305 BC – 30 BC), which was a Greek-controlled state of Egypt during the Hellenistic Period. This system of astrology was based in large part of the Babylonian system of astrology pre-dating it, and thus integrates much of Babylonian astrological techniques, such as decan rulerships.
In sum, it is a horoscopic system comprised of twelve 30 degree celestial houses marking ascendant hours, equinoxes, and solstices.
There are two prevailing zodiac systems that you’ll see today: Tropical and Sidereal. Tropical is dominant in Hellenistic western astrology while Sidereal is more dominant in Vedic or eastern astrology.
The orientation of the Tropical system is toward the four seasons, or more specifically, the equinoxes (traditionally the Point of Aries and Point of Libra personal sensitive points) and solstices (the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn).
The Tropical zodiac chart is drawn per the sun’s reference to the horizon as seen from here on Earth. Then a horoscopic chart of 12 equal houses are superimposed over a chart of a specific point on the solar path.
The orientation of the Sidereal zodiac system is toward the positioning of the stars. The Sidereal chart is drawn per the sun’s reference to the constellations and the sun’s movement across the landscape of constellations.
The Sidereal system better reflects what you see when you physically look up at the skies at a given point in time from a given geographic location.
The above compares what a Tropical zodiac chart and a Sidereal zodiac chart would look like for the same exact date, time, and location. Based on a system that fixes the point of Aries, point of Libra, tropic of Cancer, and tropic of Capricorn, the sun at the moment charted above– the spring equinox– is said to be in Aries, the classical positioning of the sun’s 00 degree solar longitude on the spring equinox, per medieval astrology.
However, if you look over at the Sidereal chart, you’ll see that today, due to the movements of our solar system, technically the day we consider the spring equinox, or 00 degrees solar longitude, is now in Pisces. Where Mercury might be said to be in Pisces under a Tropical zodiac system (above left), in its Sidereal zodiac counterpart, Mercury would be in Aquarius (above right).
There are dozens of house systems used by astrologers, and the systems differ from one another significantly. The most common one you’ll find among modern astrologers is Placidus, though I prefer Whole Signs. You’ll more commonly find Whole Signs readers in Hellenistic and Babylonian astrology. Whole Signs is also the older of the two systems.
Other house systems you’ll often find include but are not limited to Koch, Porphyry, Equal House, etc.
The above charts are for the same date, time, and location with a Tropical zodiac, but to the left is how the chart looks under a Whole Signs house system vs. how it looks under Placidus.
Whole Signs is consider an equal house system, whereas Placidus is considered an unequal house system where the Ascendant (As) is always plotted on the cusp of Houses 12 and 1, while the Midheaven (Mc) is plotted on the cusp of Houses 9 and 10.
In the Placidus chart to the right above, you won’t see “As” or “Mc.” Instead, “As” or the ascendant is the arrow marking the boundary between Houses 12 and 1, and the midheaven is the arrow marking the boundary between Houses 9 and 10.
In contrast, Whole Signs will cast the equal house wheel, marking out 30 degrees per house, 12 houses total for the 360 degree circle, chart the zodiac signs per the zodiac wheel of choice (i.e., Tropical or Sidereal, etc.), and then mark exactly the degree positioning of the ascendant sign, and the exact positioning of the imum coeli, descendant, and midheaven.
Your Natal Chart
With a cool astrology software program (like Solar Fire Gold), your date of birth, time of birth (i.e., the moment of you first took breath), and location of birth, you can generate a natal chart, a map of the heavens at the exact moment you came into this world. It is the context that you (the native) was born into.
Now the traditional methodology is to convert your time of birth to UTC time (a practice that still applies in numerology, by the way), then calculate your ascendant sign and mid-heaven point, which is the highest point in the ecliptic coordinate system, though these days most of us have cool software programs to do all the legwork for us. From the ascendant, the astrologer can get a sense of your physique, what you look like, and who you are at your essence (as opposed to the sun sign, which is what most people commonly refer to for their horoscope sign; the sun sign talks about your external character). The mid-heaven tells the astrologer about your aim in life, your goals and the greatest trajectory of your ascent in terms of career and social status. Basically, your potential. Then if a Hellenistic astrological model is applied, a house and sign analysis commences and much of it is intuitive (or subjective…take your pick of adjective) interpretation on the part of the astrologer.
I have rarely encountered a situation where someone felt his or her natal chart was not a spot-on character and life path representation. Natal charts are uncanny like that.
Synastry is the study of relationship potential by analyzing two natal charts and reconciling the two charts with one another. In synastry analysis, the astrologer considers what each party to a couple brings to the relationship. Projection analysis helps to offer insight into what persona each party projects into the relationship, for example. Looking at the elements in each person’s chart and how it balances out (or clashes) with the other will help the couple get a sense of temperaments. Who is the one who usually instigates the fights? Is one of them codependent? In a married couple, which one is more likely to handle the family finances? Is one more introverted and the other more extroverted? These points of temperament through the study of the elements help an astrology understand potential compatibility. Inter-aspects between the charts reveal chemistry. Superimposing one chart over the other to compare and contrast them house by house also offers compatibility insight. In the old days, synastry is what those (more ethical?) village matchmakers used (I’m guessing) to hook up arranged marriages.
Electional astrology is the practice of choosing the best dates for certain events, “best” meaning the stars are well-aligned for success and prosperity that day. In electional astrology, the astrologer first considers the nature of the event, then whether that date and time is powerfully and energetically aligned with the individual. In addition to a general house and sign analysis, the astrologer will concentrate on the moon, making sure it isn’t void of course, that it’s in both a house and sign that is energetically aligned with the event in question, and ideally, is in the same sign as the sign in House 10 of the individual’s natal chart. Planetary rulerships are considered. The positioning of the ruling planets for the individual’s sun sign, moon sign, and especially the ascendant sign are considered and should be in harmony with their positions in the chart for the date and time in question. Strong applying aspects between the ruling planet of the individual’s ascendant sign and benefics like Jupiter or Venus are important, as are strong applying aspects between the date and time’s ascendant with benefics. The astrologer will also note the sect, whether diurnal or nocturnal, and apply interpretation accordingly. The dominant modality for that date and time is also important. A cardinal sign is good for ambitious undertakings and ventures. Fixed is good for ensuring stability and longevity. Mutable is great for a new change or a rite of passage.
Horary astrology is a method of divination, like tarot. You (or the querent) thinks of a question and the astrologer constructs a House and Sign chart for the moment the question was presented (the quesited, if we’re using astrology lingo). You assign a significator (that’s probably where tarot got the term) for the querent, which can be the ruling planet for the querent’s ascendant sign or the moon, depending on the astrologer’s particular approach, and a significator for the quesited, which is the House that seems to best govern the subject matter of the question. If it’s about love, for example, the astrologer will likely look at House 7. If it’s about money and finances, then House 2. If it’s about the native’s current job or day to day issues at the workplace, then House 6, but for professional or career trajectory, then House 10. There are other ways for selecting the significator.
I’m blazing through the general techniques here to give a broad overview. Looking at the ascendant will give you a sense of whether it’s too early to reach a conclusive answer (under 3 degrees) or shit’s hit the fan already and it’s too late (over 27 degrees). You look at what’s going on between 15 degrees Libra and 15 degrees Scorpio (the so-called Via Combusta) to see whether things are auspicious or not. Look also to aspects with the moon and whether it’s void of course. The moon, generally, is very important in divination with astrology. It offers insight into the situation. Rulerships, whether traditional or modern rulerships are being observed, are significant, especially the ruling planet for the querent’s ascendant sign. Note where the ruling planet for the querent’s ascendant sign is in the horary chart. A strong position is good. A weak position, not so good. Planets “under the sunbeam” are also noted. Lots, such as the Lot of Fortune and the Lot of Spirit are considered as well. An astrologer will consider all of these points to arrive at a divinatory answer to the querent.
Horary Astrology Step-by-Step Checklist (PDF)
This document is more advanced in the sense that I don’t explain anything. I’m sharing my personal checklist that I use when performing horary astrology, a form of divination using astrological charts. If you’re familiar with Western astrology fundamentals, then you can use this checklist to get a sense of how I approach horary astrology.
Glossary of Astrological Terms (PDF)
This glossary download has bookmarked sections, so whether you are viewing the PDF on your computer or in an e-reader, be sure to have the navigation pane open so you can easily click from section to section. Those who have had a natal chart reading from me before will be familiar with this document. It appears at the end of all my reading reports to provide a glossary of the terms I use throughout the report. Here, it’s provided for those who may wish to incorporate it into their astrological study journals. However, understand that its original context is to be the glossary at the end of a natal chart monograph that I prepare for requesting clients.
Interested in a comprehensive course on Western Astrology that covers both medieval, traditional and contemporary methodologies, Whole Signs and Placidus, and an overview of all the modern dwarf planets and asteroids? Check out my online course by clicking here for more details and how to order. Watch the video below for more info.
5 thoughts on “Introduction to Western Astrology”
Thanks for the interesting post! Which system do you feel is more accurate, the sidereal or tropical?
Hi Megan! As I instruct in my astrology course, the difference between the two is a difference of paradigm, and to say one is more accurate than the other would be a subjective judgment, an opinion. I explain both systems, the paradigm and philosophical rationale behind both, and always let astrology learners decide for themselves. If you take my current astrology course, although it only teaches tropical, it does explain both systems and what you learn through the course can absolutely be applied to sidereal. If you go for the $10 add-on, I’ll send you all of your birth charts under both sidereal and tropical systems so you can do a direct comparison and walk through the course content studying both your sidereal and tropical charts, whole signs and placidus, and in the end, make your own determination. I highly recommend that approach. Would love to see you in class! Check it out: https://benebellwen.com/2017/03/20/astrology-course-for-beginners-online-independent-study/
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