April 18, 2024

Why We Need to Study Hellenistic Astrology

Why We Need to Study Hellenistic Astrologyby guest astrologer, Robert H. Schmidt

Robert was educated at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, the original “great books” school. For the past 15 years, he has dedicated his training in classical languages, the history of science, and the history of philosophy to the problem of astrology. Robert is co-founder and current director of Project Hindsight and has lectured widely on the theory and practice of Hellenistic astrology. He is soon to release his voluminous and comprehensive new series of translations of the Hellenistic astrological sources. He can be contacted through Project Hindsight (bob@projecthindsight.com).

Western Astrology effectively began during the Hellenistic era, sometime in the second century B.C.E. Its founding is ascribed to a small cast of semi-divine figures, including names like Hermes Trismegistus and Asclepius. The concepts and techniques that were introduced at that time continued to be defining for Western astrology well into the late Middle Ages. They remain central to the practice of modern astrology, although, for the most part, we have lost touch with their original meanings and interpretations.

Ask yourself whether you really understand the use and interpretation of the Part of Fortune. This mysterious point was an essential component of the astrological toolbox in Hellenistic times. And even though it is routinely and dutifully located in astrological printouts, the Part of Fortune has become more like a vestigial organ than a vital, functioning part of the chart. Some of the mystery surrounding it is due to the fact that it has been mistranslated. The proper translation should be “Lot of Fortune.” It is in cases like this that the study of Hellenistic astrology can illuminate modern practice. And when you find that the Lot of Fortune was systematically connected to other important features in the chart, it might tempt you to explore their original meanings as well!

In the Hellenistic sources, the study of the Lot of Fortune is always linked to the study of the Lights and the Ascendant. The respective rulers of these places in the chart were called “the planets having a relation to the nativity.”
The frequency with which this collective expression is repeated in the source texts should prompt us to ask whether these planets have some deeper connection with one another than may at first be apparent.

Among the many things that were lost during the translation of Hellenistic astrological texts into different languages was the intricate structure of anthropomorphic paradigms that gave clarity and cohesiveness to astrology’s concepts and practices. These paradigms can be rediscovered by a careful study of the Greek meanings of the original technical terminology introduced by the founders of Hellenistic astrology. For the modern practitioner, they can be of immense value in understanding what it is you are looking at in a chart. They can also provide the astrologer with a concrete language for communicating the results of chart analysis to a client.

Let me write about just one of those paradigms. It ties together the study of three of the most important features of any chart: the Rising Sign, the Lights, and the Lot of Fortune.The underlying paradigm for the study of these places in the chart was “a sailing ship with its various officers.”

The Hellenistic astrologers called the Rising Sign “the helm of life,” the helm being the end of the rudder by which a ship was steered. This designation, then, likens a human life to a sailing vessel. In order for this ship to get to its destination – a metaphor for the destiny of a human being – it must be steered. Thus, the ruler of the Rising Sign represents the steersman, the first officer on a Greek ship, and the study of its position and condition in the chart tells us something about how skillfully that planet fulfills its function.

However, no matter how well the ship is steered, it may encounter events that are beyond the control of the steersman, such as unfavorable weather, pirates, sandbars. This is where the study of the Lot of Fortune and its ruler comes in. The Lot of Fortune represents all the events that befall the life on its voyage. In general, the Hellenistic lots (and there were many) were devices for separating and distributing the manifold meanings of a given planet around the chart so they could be studied individually. (You know the Hellenistic lots by the name “Arabic Parts,” although they were definitely introduced by the Hellenistic astrologers.) In ancient Greek times, soldiers were often assigned dangerous missions “by lot.” They would each put their mark on a potsherd, and all of these were then put into a helmet. The potsherd that fell out of the helmet when it was shaken determined which man was allotted the particular mission. The algorithms for lot construction are meant to represent this process, giving a lot a somewhat “accidental” character, although a complete and exact exposition of this process would require more space than I have in this little article. The important point is that the Moon itself has Fortune as one of its significations. When it is related to the Sun by means of the construction of the Lot of Fortune, this particular meaning of the Moon is singled out and represented as the Lot of Fortune.

Now, the ruler of the Lot of Fortune was the analogue of the second officer on the sailing vessel, the officer at the prow, whose function it was to be on the lookout for events that befall the native so as to take advantage of favorable fortune and avoid accidental disasters. Not surprisingly, the iconography for the goddess Fortuna frequently represents her as striding upon the prow of a ship. It also depicts her as holding a rudder in her hand. Why? Because the officer at the prow must communicate to the steersman and tell him how to turn the vessel in response to these impersonal acts of wind and weather. One would suppose, then, that there should be some harmonious relationship between the ruler of the Ascendant and the ruler of the Lot of Fortune in order for the life voyage to be more successful, and so it is stated in the Hellenistic sources.

But we still lack one concept to complete this nautical paradigm. In order for the sailing ship to get to its destination, there must be favorable winds. In the original Hellenistic system, the triplicities were not so much related to the elements, but to the four winds, which were related to the four cardinal directions. And there was a special set of planetary rulers for these triplicities, different from the sign rulers of modern astrology. This is where the lights enter into our paradigm. The “light of the sect” – that is, the Sun in a daytime birth and the Moon for those born at night – is understood to set the course according to the wind associated with the triplicity in which it is found.

The triplicity ruler itself represents this wind, and the study of this ruler according to its position in the chart provides information as to whether the life voyage is facilitated by a favorable wind or hindered by a headwind. –Again, one would expect that the light of the sect, whose responsibility it is to set the course, should be in a position to communicate with the ruler of the Ascendant, who has to execute these instructions. Similarly, one would hope that the light of the sect could receive input from the ruler of the Lot of Fortune so as to make any necessary course corrections on behalf of the native’s life voyage. And so it is reported by the Hellenistic astrologers.

I regret the necessity of having to be so brief and impressionistic in this exposition. However, I trust that you can see the advantages of these original Hellenistic paradigms in navigating your own way around a chart, as well as their value for communicating your findings to a client in clear and intelligible language. If you are interested in learning more about the rich, original astrology of the west, please check out the Project Hindsight website (projecthindsight.com) —It’s extraordinary what there is to learn– or contact me at the Project Hindsight office (301-724-4463).