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The Origins of the Exaltations: A New Discovery

The Origins of the Exaltations: A New Discovery

In episode 255 of the podcast astrologers Chris Brennan and Benjamin Dykes unveil a new discovery about the origins of the exaltations, derived from a lost Hermetic text preserved by Abu Ma’shar.

Last summer Keiji Yamamoto and Charles Burnett released their long-awaited translation of The Great Introduction to Astrology by the 9th century astrologer Abu Ma’shar. This was the first time this text has been translated into English in its entirety.

I received my copy on July 30, 2019, and the most interesting thing I found was that Abu Ma’shar frequently cites a lost Greek text attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. This appears to be the same text called the Panaretos that the 4th century astrologer Paulus Alexandrinus drew on for his treatment of seven planetary Lots, although Abu Ma’shar shares much more from the text than Paulus did.

The most interesting pieces of the Hermes material preserved by Abu Ma’shar is that it contains a set of rationales for the domicile and exaltation schemes that are unique, and it seems to preserve what may be the original conceptual rationales for both of those schemes.

The exaltations chapter in particular provides a much more detailed explanation for the exaltations than any I’ve ever seen, and it is also unique because it provides an astronomical rationale for the exaltations degrees, not just the signs of exaltation and fall.

I first talked about this discovery in episode 26 of the Casual Astrology Podcast, which was released on September 18, 2019. I urged Ben to look into it to help confirm the discovery, and over the past several months he worked on his own translation of Abu Ma’shar from the Arabic, which he finished and shared with me on May 8, 2020.

Ben was able to confirm that most of the math for the exaltation degrees seems to work out, and so with that confirmation we decided to record this episode to present this discovery and talk about it on May 13, 2020 around 5:15 PM MT.

We begin the episode by providing some background information on the text, and then eventually transition into a summary of the arguments presented by the text for how to derive the exaltations of the planets and their degrees.

Interestingly, the arguments for the domiciles and exaltations presented by this text are firmly rooted in the tropical zodiac, and this raises some major questions about previous assumptions that the exaltations had their origins in the sideral zodiac and the earlier Mesopotamian tradition.

The discovery also raises questions about the extent to which Hellenistic astrology, and western astrology in general, partially represents a sudden invention or technical construct that was put together sometime around the 1st century BCE.

This is kind of visually intensive episode, and our friend Paula Belluomini made a number of diagrams to help illustrate the concepts, so I would recommend watching the video version of the episode if you can.

Ben plans to publish his translation of the Great Introduction by Abu Ma’shar sometime in the next few months, and you can signup for the email list on his website to receive a notification when that is released:


This episode is available in both audio and video versions below.


Here are some timestamps for topics covered at different points in the episode:

00:00:00 Intro
00:01:50 New Abu Ma’shar translation
00:07:23 Hermes
00:12:16 Ptolemy
00:15:24 Domiciles and Exaltations math
00:17:50 Planetary joys, thema mundi
00:21:05 Exaltation locations
00:24:45 Exaltation degrees
00:28:00 Origins of exalations
00:29:54 Exaltations, Sect, and Aspects
00:33:00 Hermetica mandela
00:39:26 Dendera zodiac and exaltations
00:42:50 Tropical Rationale
00:48:00 Chapter V.7: reason for exaltations
00:52:00 Increase/decrease in light paradigm
00:54:03 Sun in Aries exaltation
00:55:14 Moon in Taurus exaltation
00:57:37 Saturn in Libra exaltation
00:59:50 Mars in Capricorn exaltation
01:00:20 Jupiter in Cancer exaltation
01:01:35 Angular houses in thema mundi
01:03:00 The excellent places
01:03:51 Death in the 7th house
01:06:34 Venus in Pisces exaltation
01:10:45 Qualities of signs and planets
01:13:34 Mercury in Virgo exaltation
01:21:05 Diagram of brightness of planets
01:23:27 Rationale for degrees of exaltations
01:55:45 Exaltations of the nodes
02:02:27 Additional exaltation commentary
02:19:20 Is the rationale conclusive?
02:26:09 Concluding remarks
02:28:57 Benjamin’s course

Watch the Video Version of This Episode on the Exaltations

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A full transcript of this episode is available: Episode 255 transcript

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  • Awesome episode!

    I have always used Abu Ma’shar’s reasoning for the exaltation of the planets as part of the reasoning of the exaltation degrees (while I simply use their house positions in the thema mundi as justifications of their exaltation sign placement) during the times that I was still active in astrology.

    Anyways, just to mention that in Islamic sighting of the moon, 12 degrees is almost always the maximum angular separation for the crescent moon to be sighted for sure in many falak (Islamic astronomy) texts… Some say you could see the crescent moon at the angular separation of 7 degrees, some say 8 degrees, some say 8.5 degrees, some say 10 degrees but almost everybody would give the range of 7/8/8.5/10 to 12 degrees. The range, of course, depends on the altitude of the moon, geographical latitude & altitude, weather conditions, etc. but 12 is the “max”.

    My quibble over Abu Ma’shar’s explanation of the exaltation of the moon is that, if you use 18th degree of Aries as exaltation of the sun, the Moon’s exaltation degree would be around the first degree of Taurus instead of the second degree. However, it is common in Arabian astrology to say that the first and the last degree are the weakest degrees (as 15th degree is the strongest degree). Hence, I would imagine when the calculation for the Moon’s exaltation degree falls in the first degree, it is only natural to push it a degree to not make her fall in the first degree making her exaltation degree the second.

    • Hi Astrojin,
      You are making the wrong assumption. The tekst makes clear that the Sun has its exaltation in the 19th degree, so from 18.00 to 18.59 Aries. Therefore it was written as 18° on the chart. Now if you take 12 degrees of Right Accension for the Moon, that is 13,06 degrees on the Ecliptic. The formula is:
      tan. RA = tan. GL * cos(ecliptic). Ecliptic is 23°35′ at around 850 BCE, that is: cos(ec) = 0.91643. If you fill in the numbers, you get 13,06 degrees GL = ecliptic longitude.
      Then you add up these 13,05 to the interval 18.00 – 18.59 for the Sun’s ecliptic longitude and you get the range for the Moon, which is 01.06 – 01.59 Taurus, which is the second degree of Taurus. You never come to the 3rd degree with this calculation.
      BUT… the formula assumes there is no lattitude for the heavenly body, so it works perfectly for the Sun, hourse cusps, Part of F., Nodes.
      The Moon Always has lattitude, either North or South and so this formula doesn’t work for the Moon, you will need other formules which take into account lattitude.
      That is why I am not convinced why the Moon should get the 3rd degree of Taurus, that is ONLY possible at a certain lattitude of the Moon, but that changes constantly every day. The Moon never has the same lattitude and therefore the exaltation of the Moon would vary between the first and the fourth degree Taurus, depending on her lattitude.
      But Abu Ma’shar makes a generic statement here, fulfilling a great number of average lattitudes of the Moon.

  • A very interesting explanation. I tried casting a chart for the Equator (0N00. 000W00) in Solar Fire and used the animate facilitate to wind the chart back to 15 degrees Cancer rising – I got an MC of 18 Aries 34 which is indeed in the 19th degree. I’ll have to try the Moon at 2 Taurus next to see if that meets the criteria .
    One point I did think of, though it’s on a side matter, was on the Joys and the Triplicity Rulers. The arguments from the Angular Triads, also works for Ptolemy’s rulership scheme and that could fit better. The reason being that there are only two rulers for each Triplicity and they fall in the Angular Triads for the Tenth, First and Fourth but there’s only one planet in the Angular Triad around the Descendant – Mars in the sixth. Ptolemy gives Mars both Day and Night rulership of the Water Triplcity. I’m sure someone else has already spotted that but Ptolemy keeps his rulerships to the four Angular Triads as units,and doesn’t cross into others, as the Dorothean ones do.

    I use the Dorothean ones, and have done for a long time but I now see that there may be a very good rationale to the Ptolemaic ones. i

    • Hi Minderwiz,
      When you cast a chart at 0.00 Lat. and you enforce the Ascendant at 15.00 Cancer, the Sidereal time must always be 1h 05m 11,4 sec. Then the MC is always 17°41’40” Aries as ecliptic longitude, which corresponds to 16°17’51” of Right Accension. Remember to use the year 850 BCE to emulate Abu Ma’shar’s time. The Ecliptic will be 23°35′. If you play around using modern charts to set the Ascendant to 15.00 Cancer, you get different results, because the Ecliptic angle has changed and so the conversion from Right Accension to Ecliptic longitude will give different results.
      So 15.00 Cancer on the ASC gives 17°41’40” on the MC (ecliptic) which is the 18th degree. The Sun must stay at a higher degree, it must not yet culminate and so the Sun is put at the 19th degree.

      Best regards

  • Just re checked with the Ascendant at exactly 15 degrees, and I get an MC of 17 degrees 39 minutes which fits Ben’s estimate.
    The Moon at 3 degrees Taurus, which it was today is at a Latitude of -4 degrees 09 minutes.

    • @ David Wilson. Keep checking other examples of the Moon’s longitude and latitude at the Equator. There are occasions that fit, and many that don’t.

    • Hi David,
      You are perfectly right, see also my comments here above.

      The is one big flaw in the exaltation scheme. Nobody noticed?
      Abu Ma’shar starts with setting Jupiter at 15° Cancer, exactly on the ASC.
      BUT….. 15° Cancer is the SIXTEENTH degree and NOT the fifteenth.
      All important astrologers agree that Jupiter’s exaltation is at the 15th degree.
      This MUST then mean that Jupiter is somewhere between 14.00 and 14.59 Cancer. So let’s give Abu Ma’shar the credits and set Jupiter at 14.59 Cancer, then all calculations more or less match.
      But suppose that Jupiter was at 14.30 Cancer, exactly on the ASC, then the MC at 850 BCE would be 17°07′ Aries, which is still the 18th degree and the Sun could still be set on the19th degree, so far so good.
      Now suppose that Jupiter was at 14°02′ Cancer, still being in his 15th degree, right? Then the MC would be at 16°34′ Aries which is … the 17th degree. Then the theory doesn’ match anymore, because one would place the Sun at the 18th degree of Aries to make him exalted.
      So the theory of Abu Ma’shar is only correct when the MC in the year 850 BCE is at 17.01 Aries which is the 18th degree and then one could place the Sun 1 degree ahead at the 19th degree.
      This means… you must have an Ascendant at 14.25 Cancer in the year 850 BCE. If we then place Jupiter right on the Ascendant at 14.25 everything is still ok.

      It’s interesting to think about this.
      What bothers me most here is the figure of 15° in all pictures of the presentation, because this assumes then 16th degree. Ben Dykes was explaining that Abu was very consistent in his degrees, that seems not to be the case for Jupiter.

  • Great Episode! Finally an explanation which comes closer to certain original Hermes texts related to the exaltations, although these didn’t survive (yet).
    I see a few weak points in the presentation. I assume everything was derived from Abu Ma’shar’s tekst.
    1. The exaltation of the Moon where the visibilty of the Moon on the Equator is leading. As I explained earlier in my reactions to other threads here, the Moon’s lattitude is changing every day. The inclination of the Moon’s orbit to that of the Sun’s is about 5 degrees. Depending on where the Lunar Node is, the Moon can have a South 5° lattitude when she is around 1° Taurus or a North 5° lattitude another time at that same degree when the Lunar Node has changed position.
    2. Since everything in any chart is based on longitude on the Ecliptic, one cannot “fool around” with pieces of 12° Right Ascension and then fit these again in the schedule of Ecliptic longitudes. The results however for Venus and Mars seem to be advantageous for Abu Ma’shar, since now he only has to move these planets by 1 and 2 degress resp.
    3. Jupiter is set at 15° Cancer right on the Ascendant, which implies his exaltation is in the sixteenth degree and not in the 15th degree. As Ben Dykes says, Abu Ma’shar was very consistent in noting degrees. So if you write down 15° Cancer, you mean the 16th degree. Take the Sun as an example.
    4. Mercury is set at 15° Virgo in the pictures. That implies he is exalted in the 16th degree and not in het 15th degree. If Mercury was exalted in the 15th degree of Virgo, one should have written: 14° Virgo.

    The presentation follows Abu Ma’shar’s tekst I assume, so Abu writes 15° at the places of Jupiter and Mercury?

    Finally I would suggest that the exaltation of the Moon can also be explained by saying that the Moon becomes truly visible after one day after her conjunction with the Sun at the 19th degress of Aries, which is 18° in the chart. The Moon’s average motion is 13°11′ per day. So one day after the conjunction the Moon has an initial distance of 13°11′, but after one day the Sun also moved 1 degree and will end at 19° Aries. For the Moon to keep her distance should should move a bit further to stay at 13°11′ distance. That gives the situation of: Sun = 19° Aries. Moon = 19°+13°11′ = 2°11′ Taurus which is really the third degree. But this was not stated by Abu Ma’shar, we stay with the text in the book, of course, we cannot invent other theories of our own, but it would have fit in one system of ecliptic longitudes.

  • An additional comment. Did anyone ever try to calculate the 10th harmonic on all exaltations positions? I take the degree, not the n-th degree
    18 Aries = 0 Libra
    2 Taurus = 20 Aquarius
    14 Virgo = 20 Libra
    26 Pisces = 20 Aquarius
    27 Capr. = 0 Cancer
    14 Cancer = 20 Aquarius
    20 Libra = 20 Libra

    Sun and Mars give 0° cardinal sign, the rest give 20 ° in air signs

    If you take the degree itself, you get:
    Sun = 10 Libra and all the others give 0° in water signs

    Finally if you take the 120th harmonic, you will see something VERY astonishing:
    Sun = 00 Leo
    All the other planets give ZERO degree Aries

  • Incredible and thank you! One question about Cyril Fagan’s theory that’s been rejected: even if the exaltations were not derived from one particular special day, did he, or has anyone studied that 8th c. Bc. year of many planets in their exaltations
    It seems it might have been good for king and country, with all those exaltations even if not the basis of them.

  • Having my Sun, Venus and Mercury at 19 degrees of Aries, I have pondered on this degree. Perhaps the square root of 360 makes the most sense. After all, let’s not forget that early astrologers were mathematicians.