Saturn as Feminine, and the Earliest Female Astrologer

Saturn as Feminine, and the Earliest Female Astrologer

Episode 86 is a solo show where I talk about a couple of research projects I’ve been working on recently in connection with the book I’m writing on Hellenistic astrology.

The first topic is the question of whether Saturn was conceptualized as feminine by some astrologers in the early Hellenistic tradition, while the second is the question of who is the earliest female astrologer that can be identified by name.

Below you will find an extensive set of show notes, followed by links to download or stream the recording of this episode of the podcast.

Announcing the Winners of the July Giveaway

The podcast was sponsored this month by the makers of the astrology software programs called Solar Fire and Archetypal Explorer, and at the top of the show I announce the two winners of this month’s software giveaway.

The winner of the free one year subscription to Archetypal Explorer was Jo Gleason!

The winner of the free copy of the astrology software program Solar Fire was Jamie Delp!

Big thanks to our sponsors and patrons for supporting the podcast this month! For more details about these programs or information about how to enter the drawing for next month see the giveaway description page for July.

Next month I’m going to be giving away access to my online courses on Hellenistic astrology and electional astrology as part of the giveaway.

Episode Notes / Outline

  • Start off by announcing the winners of this month’s giveaway in the first 10 minutes.

Gender of Saturn

  • Astrologer Charlie Obert pointed out earlier this year that Dorotheus of Sidon says that Saturn is feminine.
    • Wrote a few articles about it on his website studentofastrology.com.
    • Reference occurs in Dorotheus, Carmen Astrologicum, 1, 10: 18.
    • It is a little parenthetical remark that says “(and the female planets are Saturn, Venus, and the Moon, and the male ones the Sun, Jupiter, and Mars).”
  • This is really interesting because then it creates a symmetrical set of assignments, and the Hellenistic astrologers were often really focused on symmetry.
  • Its problematic though because most of the rest of the tradition seems to have seen Saturn as masculine.
    • Sun, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars masculine, Moon and Venus feminine, Mercury usually neutral.
  • Many of the later astrologers may have just been following Ptolemy though, due to his stature as a scientist.
  • They may have also been following the associations with the gods, where the Sun, Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and Mercury were all male gods, while Venus and the Moon were female gods.
  • The question is whether this parenthetical remark was in the original text, or if it was added later, or whether it is some sort of translation error.
    • Was there some genuine variant tradition prior to Ptolemy?
  • You have to understand the situation with the translation of Dorotheus to get the issue.
    • What we have is an English translation of an Arabic translation of a Persian translation of the Greek text, which was itself originally written in the form of an instructional poem.
    • There are a number of errors and interpolations in the text from later authors.
  • An obvious one occurs early in 1, 6, 4  when it says “Saturn harms one who is born by day and Mars one who is born at night”
    • This is the reverse of the usual Hellenistic rule based on sect, and in the rest of the text it clearly treats Saturn as more harmful at night and Mars by day.
    • Thus it was just an error in the text.
  • The question is whether the reference to Saturn’s gender represents a similar error.
  • Unfortunately there are not a lot of references to planetary gender in the rest of the text.
    • The Hellenistic astrologers almost seem to focus on the gender of the signs and phase relationship to the Sun more than the inherent gender of the planets sometimes.
  • There is a reference at Dorotheus 1, 21: 10 that says that Saturn and the Sun signify older brothers, Moon older sisters, Venus younger sisters.
    • This argues in favor of Dorotheus viewing Saturn as masculine.
    • But then we don’t know for sure if this is the interpolation or if the first one was.
  • Also uses Saturn and the Sun in the calculation of the lot of father.
  • At 1, 21: 20 he says that Saturn in a feminine sign with the lot of brothers indicates the death of a sister.
  • This is complicated because Ben Dykes tells me that there seem to be some references to Saturn as feminine in Theophilus and Sahl in the 8th century.
    • But then Theophilus and Sahl both drew on the Arabic/Persian translation of Dorotheus, so they could just be following that, which bypassed the Ptolemaic tradition.
    • In the Yavanajataka Saturn is gender neutral, which could perhaps support the idea that it could have been feminine in the Hellenistic tradition.
    • Ben also points out that the Jewish Qabalists also associated the sphere of Binah on the Tree of life with Saturn, and viewed it as feminine.
  • The general point here is that I don’t know the answer to this question, but its suggestive enough that it is worth researching further.
  • I caution people that it could still be a translation error, and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions too fast.
  • Other translation errors like the triplicity thing led to major changes in the tradition, and we should be careful that we don’t make the same mistakes now.
  • But it is worth looking into.

Early Female Practitioners of Astrology

  • Over the past month I’ve been putting together this chapter on all of the Hellenistic astrologers, similar to episode 62 on the Lives and Works of the Hellenistic Astrologers
  • One of the points that you notice is that they were all men.
  • Women didn’t typically receive the same education as men in the ancient world.
  • This raises the question of who was the first female astrologer, or who was the first female astrologer that we can name?
  • Kenneth Johnson wrote a great article for the NCGR journal years ago where he identified Buran of Baghdad who lived in the 9th century in Baghdad as the earliest woman that we know of who what he calls an “astrological woman.”
    • Someone who had training in astrology and was said to have used it in her personal life, and in one famous instance to make a prediction.
  • This got me thinking about the Hellenistic tradition and if there was anyone else that we could identify earlier in the Greco-Roman tradition.
  • We know that women commonly consulted with astrologers.
  • There are some surviving court cases where women were accused of consulting with astrologers illegally.
  • The handbooks of guys like Valens and Firmicus are littered with references about how to interpret the charts of women.
    • Usually the default is a male perspective, but then every once in a while they will have a digression and either say that the same is true in the charts of women, or they will give an alternative rule for what to do for women.
  • Earlier this year when I was working on a bio for the 1st century astrologer Thrasyllus I found this passage in the Roman poet Juvenal, who wrote some pretty harsh satire pieces critiquing contemporary society.
  • There he mocks female clients of astrologers who eventually begin practicing the subject on their own.
  • While the point of this line is satire and mocking, it probably still reflects some general point that is true, which is that some female clients of astrologers probably would have started to practice the subject on some level on their own.
  • To me I define astrologer as someone who believes that astrology is a legitimate phenomenon and uses it in their daily life in some way.
  • By this standard then what we have is a reference to women practicing astrology in the Roman Empire circa 100 CE.

Hypatia

  • The next question is who is the first woman that we can actually name who would have had some training in astrology.
  • At this point I think I can argue that this would have been the famous philosopher Hypatia, who lived in Alexandria Egypt around the late fourth or early fifth century (c. 400 CE).
  • Hypatia was the daughter of the mathematician and astronomer Theon of Alexandria.
  • Theon wrote commentaries on Ptolemy’s astronomical works known as the Almagest and Handy Tables.
    • Possibly an early work on the use and construction of an astrolabe.
  • Some of Theon’s students included astrologers, and that’s who he wrote the commentaries for, so they would know how to use them to cast charts.
  • By this time the empire had changed and Christianity had become the dominant religion.
    • Laws against astrology started to be issued around this time.
    • Astrologers were told to burn their books or face exile.
  • Theon’s didn’t really talk about astrology in his surviving works, although this may have been because it could get him in trouble.
  • Hypatia evidently had an interest in astronomy, and she is said to have helped her father write his commentary on the Almagest.
  • As an adult, Hypatia gained a reputation as a teacher of philosophy and mathematics, and she had a number of students who held her in high regard.
  • Given her background in astronomy and Ptolemy, should would have at least had some training or familiarity with astrology as well.
  • She was killed by a Christian mob in the year 415 CE.
  • The motivations are a bit unclear, and it seems that it may have been primarily for political reasons, although one later hostile Christian source says that she was involved in evil practices involving “magic” and “astrolabes.”
  • An article I was reading recently on Hypatia and Theon by Alain Bernard suggests that the mob may have believed or been led to believe that she was practicing astrology, and using this to draw others away from their faith.
    • The suggestion then is that Hypatia’s background in astronomy and potentially astrology could have been an excuse used to rally up the mob against her.
  • We cannot say for sure whether Hypatia was a practicing astrologer, or even what her views were on astrology were, since almost nothing of her work survives.
  • However, we can say that since she was someone who was interested in and had some training in astronomy, that she also likely would have at least had some training in astrology as well.
  • This would make her the first female figure that we know of by name to have had that sort of training, although undoubtedly there would have been other female astrologers before her whose names have been lost.

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Comments

  1. Mark Cullen says:

    Thanks Chris, Yet again a very iinteresting podcast. I just had one comment about Saturn in in the Indian tradition. I know you mention it was neutral in gender. One other interesting point about Saturn in the Indian tradition is that in total contrast to the hellenistic notion of sect it is judged at its best in the middle of the night and at its worst in the middle of the day! This comes from the Jyotish system of assessing planetary strength called Shad Bala. in particular an aspect of Shad Bala called Kala Bala which has to do with the strength which a planet has because of the time of the day. It is strength of time. Within Kala Bala there is a concept known as Divaratri Bala. According to this system the Moon, Saturn and Mars are powerful during midnight. At noon they are powerless. These are the natural malefics + the Moon. The Sun, Jupiter and Venus are powerful during noon and are powerless during midnight. These are the natural benefics + the Sun. In Indian astrology the Sun is a malefic. Best regards, Mark

  2. Liz Hathway says:

    /Chronos- was very dualistic.. He was the father of the gods, the great ruler of the Golden Age, yet also a child consumer who murdered his father and married his sister. The marriage of Chronos with Saturn – who Klibansky et.al. suggest was a wholly good Roman god of harvest – was tricky. Saturn’s rulership over Capricorn -feminine earth- and Aquarius – masculine (Uranus air) underscores this and could be seen as reflecting the complexity. The sickle itself is interesting. It is a female Gaia who prompts Chronos to murder her husband/his father. Gaia births the action and hands her son the traditional tool for harvest to do the job. The feminine influence clearly runs through the myth/archetype. That the feminine aspect of astrological Saturn is being addressed fits well with the current emergence of the divine feminine and might even be a part of the emergence of a third feminine wave 🙂

  3. Thank you so much for mentioning Hypatia, I agree with you, and have had this feeling about her being an astrologer for a few years now. I wanted to refer you to a book titled the “woman’s book of myths and secrets” by Barbara G. Walker. She mentions the mathematesis (not sure I’m spelling it right) have you also heard or found any info on this?

    There is also a woman priestess Enheduanna, the daughter of King Sargon, that I have had a long time suspicion, was one of the first female Astrologers. Do you think this can also be a topic of research? Has anyone thought or done any research on this?

  4. I’ve always thought Saturn went well with the Crone aspect of the feminine- it’s so cool to see I’m actually not the first to say Saturn is feminine! I feel like it’s reasonable to think of the the three major female archetypes of the maiden, the mother and the crone as correlating to to Venus, Moon and Saturn. In addition to all the male/female balance, it also brings together that nice triplicity. I’m not sure how and where that triplicity ties in with Greek lore, or if I’m going full-blown new-age with this idea. Looking forward to hopefully hearing more about this or at least reading it in the book!

  5. What comes to my mind is that symbolically, Saturn is the Devil, is male. Saturn is Father Time is male, Saturn rules Capricorn which is feminine and receptive, yes, but also the patriarchy and social conventions ( established by men). Saturn rules the new order (Aquarius) which is also male – any social order was male. Element of Earth – feminine, meaning receptive (inward, conserving) and stable – not fertile in this case, and certainly not warm or moist (connecting/binding – feminine qualities), and Air – masculine, meaning outward and expressive and of the mind/spirit – connecting to the sky which is ruled by a masculine God. As for crones – women become more masculine as they age as men become more feminine. Crone etymology is “crone (n.) Look up crone at Dictionary.com
    late 14c., from Anglo-French carogne, from Old North French carogne, term of abuse for a cantankerous or withered woman, literally “carrion,” from Vulgar Latin *caronia (see carrion)”. –
    Not related to Cronus from the Greek Kronos which relates to Saturn.

  6. Janice Mutch says:

    I think that it is an error to conflate male and female (sexual gender) with masculine and feminine which are energy processes and orientations. I also like the system outlined by Genia Pauli Haddon in her book Body Metaphors of Yin and Yang and Masculine and Feminine being a quaternity not a polarity. This gives yin feminine, yang feminine, yin masculine and yang masculine. She based her ideas on the processes of the human body. The gravid uterus is the holding yin feminine and the birthing uterus is the active yang feminine: contextual thrust. The yin process is one of holding and containing and the yang process is one of moving and releasing.

    I think you have to be careful when you interchange calling the planets masculine and feminine and male and female. I think that the planets represent masculine and feminine energy. They may at time represent actual male and female people but I don’t see them as being themselves female or male. This overlapping of male and female onto masculine and feminine is a convention of our culture. It is not necessarily a universal energy arrangement.

    I think that Saturn is a good example of the yang feminine. The 10th house is the place where we give birth to our energy into the outer world, harvest. Saturn rules the structure and order of your life, you skeleton which holds life in (exoskeleton) or holds you up from the inside (inner skeleton), but in a dynamic active way. I think that Saturn’s time is feminine. It is the round of the seasons. Everything comes around again for you to deal with under a Saturn transit. Saturn is also right timing which to me is also feminine.

    One of the problems of having themes arranged as polarities is that you get into dilemmas like the one Chris was struggling with in this talk. There is never an answer in a polarity. If you structure these ideas in a quaternity, there is a lot more room for middle ground and descriptions that fit our experience of reality.

    I know that Hellenistic Astrology is your love Chris, but I wonder at putting too much credence on manuscripts just because they are old. As you mentioned several time, you can’t know what is original and what is translation error. Also it is important to remember that just like current authors can be way off base with their ideas, just because somebody wrote something a long time ago doesn’t mean that they knew what they were doing either. In addition ideas that were accepted as truth in the past are often proven to be in error as time passes and people learn more about the issue.

    I prefer to compare what I read to the reality I can experience. If something is an accurate description, it should be verifiable in today’s world. So I don’t think it matters that person X said Y about Saturn. What matters to me is if Y about Saturn is helpful to me in understanding Saturn now. Current astronomers have downgraded Pluto to a small planet. I don’t know about you but I have not found Pluto transits to be small things. Just because an “expert” says X does not mean it is true.

    I am a very strong Saturn Capricorn person so everything that you say has to be verifiable to me unless it is a theory. Then I will watch and look for evidence one way or another.

    In your September transits podcasts you and your guests talked a lot about many of the images of Saturn that referred to water and other things. This was really great. It added to my understanding of the nature and processes of Saturn. It may also explain the glyph of Capricorn that is the Sea Goad.

  7. I believe Saturn is feminine. I had a dream about Saturn and she came as a feminine energy (angel).. I think she is both light and dark. To me she is Wisdom……not male but female. A second Saturn return is at age 59 1/2 years old. She is the crone. She balances everything out in Nature. Sun/ Moon, Mars/Venus and Jupiter/ Saturn.. Mercury I guess is neutral. It makes sense

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