The Hellenistic Astrology Approach


[What follows is a guest-piece by our associate, Clécio Pereira Juventino. We have been significantly intrigued by this notion of a ‘Hellenic Astrology’ for some time – motivated in no small part by our own ongoing observations of the strong concordancies of Hellenic star-lore with its Vaidika / Jyotisha cousin, and therefore pointing toward an archaic Proto-Indo-European knowledge of the Stars and Astrology. This has only become further fascinating to us following an array of what we might term ‘technical demonstrations’ to the sphere that have proven its utility to us. We therefore felt it only appropriate to give the man a platform to discuss what he does in further detail … and help to make it more accessible for more people. Starting by explaining just what it is in the first place. [-C.A.R.] ]


After waking up, you follow to do your morning routine as always, whatever that may be. There is a heart-warming sun out there and you can’t stop yourself from feeling glad. Because of that, you proceed to make the best breakfast possible and, weirdly or not, you even see yourself reading today’s newspaper. But page after page and nothing seems to grasp your attention, and so you can only hope for the astrological section.

Now, perhaps astrology is a subject of your interest and today’s horoscope may bring up some favourable insights into your love issues. Perhaps you understand it as pure gibberish. Either way, you find yourself reading it. This article talks about the twelve signs, the sun signs, and the people that belong to each one of them, and how comes to be the nature of that people. “Cancer is emotional” is firstly said, “but Virgo is neat and organized”. As you reach Scorpio, you notice the annoying repetition of the word “intense”. You also discover that Capricorn only thinks about work and making money, and that Pisces is the dreamy one.

And whatever your opinions may be, you can’t stop yourself from asking: is that it? Again and again those same vague words? It sounds almost as this is all that astrology has to offer, and astrology is surely more than a thousand years old! Then why is it always described like that?

And that is a good question after all: as so many people understand the subject to be mystical, magical or spiritual, then one should only guess why would those same spirits or spiritualists fail to bring any extra meaning to this… well, very mystical, magical or spiritual subject! For sure, if we are to consider and accept the reality of astrology, then we are also to expect at least the effort of bringing more than a collection of four or five keywords to describe each of the twelves signs. Otherwise the utility of such a subject becomes hardly meaningful, and so one is to enquire if astrology has any seriousness at all.

But thanks to Lady Fortuna, astrology has not always been like that, and in fact that despicable appearance is nothing but a recent, really recent development — though a better word would be “corruption”.

But to understand why it is so and so, one is firstly required to go deep back in time and meet with the so-called grandfather of western modern astrology: the hellenistic astrology.

I. TWO DIFFERENT DIMENSIONS

Our first intention is not to expose the historical roots and context of hellenistic astrology, but rather to allow the reader to perceive and understand primarily the foundations where it lies upon, and then to present the heights of its conceptual dimensions.

For now, it will be enough to have in mind that “hellenistic astrology” is the name given to an astrological tradition that generally spans from the age of Alexander the Great to the fall of the Roman Empire. By that we are to acknowledge both the periods and extensions, and the cultural, religious and philosophical values of such times.

Meanwhile, today’s understanding of astrology doesn’t really come from that ancient tradition, but mostly from the works of a 19th century theosophist named William Frederick Alan, better known as Alan Leo. This is the man who fathered the so-called “modern astrology”. Modern astrology can be described by its strong inclination towards a psychological approach, or the reading of “someone’s tendencies of character”. It is in fact a strong deviation from the “fatalistic”, “fortune-based” astrology of the past.

The differences between the two schools are far greater than that, of course, and much of it can be noticed directly from the way that certain core ideas will be understood and evaluated by each one of them. For instance, thanks to the very roots of modern astrology, it was naturally easy for it to be influenced by the thoughts and doctrines of the New Age movement, and also many other forms of spiritual syncretism. Later developments in psychology and in astronomical sciences were also taken into account by modern astrologers, as the discovery of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto shows. In a sense, modern astrology could be describe as a weird admixture between both the spiritualist and materialist mindsets from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, for exemple, have their meanings primarily described from the works of Carl Jung and his analytical psychology. They are supposed to rule therefore over the “collective unconscious”, since their revolution around the sun takes generally longer than a human lifespan, and so only a society can live up to see their full effects. Here we can see how the modern astrologer got to assemble astronomical discoveries with psychological ones. There was yet another way to define their meaning and that was through any relevant historical occurrence at the time that a planet was discovered. Since Pluto was discovered roughly at the same period as the Atomic Bomb was developed, Pluto was assigned the rulership over any atomic power, for example. But one is only to guess what sort of methodology was applied to distinguish what is to be considered historically relevant from what is not.

Many other astronomical bodies were or still are welcomed by the modern astrologer, like an infinity of asteroids and even a bunch of hypothetical planets, and their meaning and their reason to be is obviously less certain than Uranus or Pluto’s reason. The fact is that modern astrology is readily open to any astronomical discovery. That shouldn’t be necessarily a problem as long as it is built on solid astrological ground. That’s hardly to be the case, however, as modern astrology doesn’t allow itself to be restricted by any sort of conceptual consistency, thus being prone to even disregard astrology’s most core elements (like sign rulership). Only in modern astrology we are to find the idea that Aquarius is Mercury’s actual sign of exaltation, or that there is a thirteenth sign (Ophiuchus), etc.

But how far goes the difference between modern and hellenistic astrology? Well, as one is soon to find out, there isn’t much of a resemblance but that of the word “astrology”.

The twelve signs are understood as archetypes of some sort in modern times, but that’s not at all the classical perspective. For the latter, the signs were Zōidion, which can be translated in two ways: firstly, “Zōidion” means “animals”, “living beings” or an “imagery or figure”, but it can also mean a “place for life.” Thus the Zōidion share both the senses of living beings (twelve animals) and the habitats from where they come in its meaning. And because that word is simutaneously in a locative and diminutive case, we are inclined to understand that the zodiac signs are the simplest living beings from which more complex living beings originate. And if one was to inquire why the zodiac is to be composed precisely by those twelve animals (the ram, bull, men, crab, etc.) and not others, that would hardly be a difficult question for any classical astrologer to answer, as every animal in existence, history or even potentiality is indeed represented in one of the twelve signs. That’s because the zodiac signs do intend to represent everything in existence and are themselves the frame of creation.

Everything is indeed “as above”, and thus the Bull of Taurus conceives not a singular kind of bull, but all those animals that share the same bull-wise quality, like the yak, buffalo, bison and musk ox. But Taurus is truly one of the simplest among the examples, because if one is to consider a different zodiac animal, things may get a little wild (with some pun intended). The twins of Gemini stands for animals like all those little birds out there, and primarily those which are either living along humans or that are capable of speech — thus relating Gemini to animals like the dove, raven and parrot. Yet the goat of Capricorn shares its qualities with many lizards and greater reptiles like the alligator and komodo dragon. Why twins and a half-goat, half-fish creature would bring up such examples? The reason is not that confuse, though it might be less intuitive:

The animals in Gemini, the two human beings, are bipeds. Gemini is also an air sign, and that metaphysical element represents freedom of movement — and flying is the best representation of that same idea. The same element also refers to things like communication and talkative behavior, as air is the mean that allows opposites to relate, linking them together as a third part. And if that’s not enough, the ruler of Gemini is none but Mercury. Mercury is the smallest planet, and therefore it also represents things which are small — and that come in a great number, like a pingeon flock. It rules and provides things like speech, intelligence and mimicry, because Mercury is also the witty and trickster planet.

The same can be done to every sign, as the only requirements are patient, reason and attention. Let us demonstrate that again with Capricorn: here we have a creature which is half-goat and half-fish, indicating things that simutaneously belong to earth and to water. Capricorn is an earth sign, and its ruler, Saturn, is the most earthy among the planets. This element is dry and cold, which are fancy words to say that “earth” means things like “restrict”, “austere”, “stiff”, “crude” and “rocky”, just to say a few. Indeed, earth is not so much like plants and grass, but stones, walls, mountains, armors and iron bars. And the same goes for Saturn, and this planet also represents all kinds of fear, poverty, severety, pessimism, imprisonment, death, punishment, and hardiness. That being said, Capricorn is “the sign that lies closer to the ground”, and so it should be a surprise that its own animals would be creeping around, and living as something between beast and fish.

That whole frame idea does not limit itself to living beings, of course, for actually all things in creation are framed by the zodiac signs and do proceed from them. Buildings, tools, plants, places, minerals, directions, forms, organs, sounds, behaviors… everything is indeed an extension of the signs, and is precisely here where the true beauty of astrology is to be found. This is far greater than any psycholnnogical archetype or whatever might be the name taken, for it purposefully shows not a mere connection, but an actual union between all existent things, no matter how base or lofty they may seem.

II. A PRACTICAL APPROACH

But to understand hellenistic astrology more properly, we do need to know and consider the context in which it was applied. Much of the difference between that tradition and what is done modernly comes from that. Yet the importance of that matter doesn’t lie só much on the empires ruling over that time or certain cultural or religious notions of that period, but on the overall necessities, fears and hopes of people therein. As anybody can readily suppose, life was really difficult. In fact, it was so difficult that certain topics and interests now so highly appraised, like the vanity of one’s own personality, would simply dim or fade away when confronted by the actual, immediate need to survive. Hellenistic astrology was far more focused in objective matters, on the necessity of acquiring the maximum amount of certainty needed to prepare oneself against Fortune’s whims. It was far more important to know whether one would be able to have children or not, and whether they would live or not, and whether they would be favourable or not, than to delve into senseless wording like “you are intense!” and “you are mysterious!”

However, that doesn’t mean that they had no regard for personality and things alike. In fact, why would also say that their perception of personality was far ahead than our actual one, as each aspect of our persona was elegantly detailed not only in itself, but considering also from where that person comes, and to where that person goes; and also how that person goes, by which path, and whether he or she is to attain that objective or not, and how great shall be the glories of that doing. Destiny was a greater matter, and although hellenistic astrology refers to destiny more than to personality, it does not deny the power, purpose and impact that the latter may have upon the first.

III. THE VERY BASICS

However complex that hellenistic astrology may be, the whole system can be enoughly described by those following basic elements: a) signs, b) planets, c) houses, d) dignities, e) aspects, and f) receptions. Many of those elements are also applied in modern astrology, although in a different and less solid manner: aspects have become highly emphasized and increased in number, while dignities and receptions had their importance somewhat diminished or right away corrupted. And the planets are also suffering from the same thing, as more and more heavenly bodies are added up to the whole figure, increasing its visual and conceptual pollution.

But let us remain on hellenistic ground and provide an easy and simple explanation on each of those six basic elements, one by one. There are many allegories used to explain that: some people will state that astrology is like a play, where the planets are like actors, houses are like scenes and circumstances, and signs are like all the roles, costumes and settings. In other words, planets “do” things, signs “describe” things, and houses say “where” those things are going to happen. Meanwhile, dignities are going to describe “how good” are those actors, if they are capable or not so much. But aspects will say how are they to “interact” with each other, while the receptions will describe “how harmonious or clashing” is the interaction between two actors.

If that is still confuse, let us exemplify this in a more colored manner:

IV. AN ASTROLOGICAL PLAY

Let’s say that we open a chart and we find that the planet Mars lies in the sign of Aries. As an actor, Mars would be similar to any virile, warrior-like figure from action movies. Rambo is a fitting example.

Aries on the other hand is a sign ruled by that very planet, which means that the whole setting, costume, tools, make-up and so on provided by Aries is going to strengthen the impression of that Mars. So it is not just Rambo now, but Rambo with two loaded machine guns.

Because Aries is ruled by Mars, the planet feels comfortable in this position, and só the planet has a great amount essential dignity here.

Thus we have a warrior-like actor (Mars), in a very warrior-like role and setting (Aries), which turns him into the proper actor for that job.

Now, let’s say that Mars is positioned in the Tenth House, which is the highest place on heavens. The Tenth House represents things like action, vocation, authority and renown, which are the scenes, the locations and circumstances of our play: Rambo is not only well-armed and ready to shoot, but he is also in a position of authority, with all the strength that come with that. Indeed, Rambo has the high ground and is pretty much the king of the hill.

But what would happen if the Moon was to appear right in Libra, which is the opposing sign to Aries? Libra stands against everything that Aries stands for, and the Moon is certain to profess those same values of Libra as far as possible. Since Moon doesn’t receive much strength from Libra, Moon’s actor will be less capable, less efficient… an ordinary actor. And since Aries expresses no sympathy for the Moon also, and every planet in a sign will embody the values, likes and dislikes of that same sign… well, let’s simply say that Mars in Aries is not going to help that Moon out.

That is similar to any situation where an well-recognized actor has to act with an evidently mediocre one. And here the first actor (Mars) can clearly see how bad is the other (Moon). And yet the latter goes around saying that the first is doing everything wrong, that he should act this way and not that way, and so and so. That is of course a clashing situation, for there is no way for the good actor to provide and support for the weaker one in this case, as it happens sometimes, and so they are going to conflict on and off character. That’s a recipe for a bad play if no caution is taken, because the aspect between those two actors is distressful, there is no proper reception and one of the parts lacks in dignity.

What that could mean astrologically speaking?

Mars here can easily represent one’s profession, vocation, general actions, and alse one’s kind of renown. It suggests a courageous, active and strong person, like the very Rambo, and that person would be known as someone in the likes of Rambo — for again, Mars is powerful and Tenth House represents fame.

But Mars is heavily clashing with the Moon, which represents things like home, mother, emotions, mind, perception, physical body, rest, etc. In such situation, anything represented by the Moon can be easily overcome and denied by anything represented by Mars. One of the consequences is that the person will be so assertive and active to the point of denying the need and importance of things like family and sleep. Since Mars is strong enough and holds enough power, that may go for a while without much damage, but that is to change sooner or later. But by looking at the Moon alone, we also know that the person will not also be that independent, for one’s mind still recognizes and seeks to evaluate and to be evaluated by others — on account of Libra providing diplomatic qualities.

Or to put that in the colors of our allegorical play, Rambo’s mom wants him to leave the battlefield, but that’s the only place where he is someone and where he can drive a tank.

2 thoughts on “The Hellenistic Astrology Approach

  1. Pingback: The Hellenistic Astrology Approach – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

  2. Pingback: The Hellenistic Astrology Approach — arya-akasha | Vermont Folk Troth

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