The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 108, titled:
Bonatti’s 146 Considerations, with Nina Gryphon
With Chris Brennan and guest Nina Gryphon
Episode originally released on May 11, 2017
Note: This is a transcript of a spoken word podcast. If possible, we encourage you to listen to the audio or video version, since they include inflections that may not translate well when written out. Our transcripts are created by human transcribers, and the text may contain errors and differences from the spoken audio. If you find any errors then please send them to us by email: email@example.com
Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released August 10th, 2020
Copyright © 2020 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. This episode was recorded on Saturday, May 6, 2017, starting just after 5:00 PM in Denver, Colorado, and this is the 108th episode of the show. In this episode, I’m going to be talking with astrologer Nina Gryphon about 146 Considerations or aphorisms of the 13th century astrologer, Guido Bonatti. Before we get started with the interview, just a couple of announcements about our sponsors and giveaway prizes this month.
So each month we do a giveaway prize for patrons of the podcast who donate to help support the production of this show through our page on Patreon, with the winners of each month’s giveaway being announced at the end of the month. The first prize this month is a free copy of the astrology software program called Solar Fire. Solar Fire is one of the most popular astrology programs on the market today and is used by many professional astrologers.
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So those are our two giveaway prizes and sponsors this month. All you have to do to enter the giveaway for a chance to win one of these prizes is become a patron of The Astrology Podcast through our page on Patreon on the $5 or $10 tier, and then you’ll automatically be entered into the drawing, with the winners of this month’s giveaway being announced at the end of the month.
More details about the monthly raffle and links to find out more information about each of the prizes can be found on the description page for this episode at theastrologypodcast.com. All right, with those announcements out of the way, let’s get started with the interview.
Hi, Nina. Welcome to the show.
NINA GRYPHON: Thanks, Chris. I’m excited to be on.
CB: Yeah, this is a great topic. So what we’re talking about today is the 146 Considerations of Guido Bonatti and your project recently to illustrate and explicate those considerations. So maybe we should start from square one with just who is this astrologer that we’re talking about. Who is Guido Bonatti?
NG: So Guido Bonatti is a really interesting character because he is–well, we should start very simply. He was a 13th century, Italian astrologer. And the reason he is particularly memorable and we know about him even today is because he was extremely involved in a lot of the historical events of that time.
So even though we have a lot of gaps in our knowledge of his biography, there are certain famous names, for example, like the Holy Roman Emperor of that time or different people who essentially are historically important themselves, and then Guido Bonatti might show up as kind of a footnote. He might have been an astrologer to a famous person, or he might have perhaps determined the time of a well-known battle.
So we have these kinds of tantalizing glimpses of him and his work, which of course culminated in this huge magnum opus book that he ended up writing, but I suppose we can leave that for a later moment.
CB: Sure. So he’s a late Medieval writer or author writing in the 13th century in Italy, right?
NG: Umm-hmm, correct.
CB: Okay. And yeah, so he was the astrologer or court astrologer perhaps to some notable people, and he shows up in interesting places. Like I think he is mentioned briefly in Dante’s Inferno, right?
NG: That’s right, he is. He’s not the only astrologer mentioned there, but he is probably the one that certainly has left the greatest number of writings and historical artifacts.
CB: Sure. So he wrote this huge book at some point and we don’t know precisely when. But some time, presumably towards the end of his career, he wrote a large treatise on astrology essentially, right?
NG: Right, it’s The Book of Astronomy. And of course, it depends on what kind of printing you have, it has been translated into English, and we’ll get into that later. But I think it’s well over a thousand pages in kind of a normal book format, so it is quite hefty.
CB: Yeah, it’s a huge book. So in this book–I guess we can talk about that a little bit at this point–he summarizes a lot of earlier Medieval sources, such as Masha’allah and Sahl and Abu Ma’shar. And then Bonatti himself went on to be very influential in terms of the later Renaissance tradition, right?
NG: He really did, and I can talk about that a little bit. You know, what’s interesting about Bonatti, as far as we know, it sounds like he had a pretty long life, certainly by the standards of that time. And I remember reading in an earlier text that he was an aristocrat, so he might have either been given a title based on his work with the nobility, or maybe he was born into some kind of a minor noble family, and of course, that helped get him a lot more prestige and give his writings a lot more credibility over the centuries.
But the point I think you’re referring to, Chris, too is that he was extremely popular until about the 1500s or so, and of course, his works were primarily circulating in manuscript until the invention of the printing press. But what happened is that because his works were so heavily influenced by the Arab and Islamic astrologers of the Middle Ages, a lot of the anti-Islamic sentiment that started coming in with the invasions of the Turks into Europe really cost Bonatti a lot of popularity.
So even though we have him being mentioned in the 16th century and 17th and 18th, a lot of people kind of lost their taste for him because they felt he was just too strongly influenced by this stream of Islamic thought and astrology that they didn’t approve of.
CB: Right. Yeah, that’s a good point worth expanding on because Bonatti’s writing around or died around the year 1300. So he’s writing around the time of the 12th century translation movement, where at the beginning of the century there is not a lot of astrology being practiced in Europe. And then all of a sudden, due to some of the wars that were taking place, there was this rediscovery of astrology, and a bunch of Europeans started flocking to Spain to translate astrological texts from Arabic to Latin.
And so, Bonatti, coming at the very end of that century, is one of the people, one of the first major authors who really drew on that wealth of information from the earlier Medieval Arabic astrologers and then compiled it into this large compendium essentially.
NG: Exactly. And as I understand it–and I’m sure we’ll mention Ben Dykes’ name a lot during this podcast because he’s so important to our ability to access Bonatti today–I know a lot of Ben’s work has been focused on looking at some of these translations essentially from Arabic into Latin, which I assume Bonatti himself would have been relying on when he was learning and compiling his work.
CB: Right, on those Arabic authors. Yeah, he was drawing on the Arabic texts themselves, but also the Latin translations of the Arabic texts. And so, we see glimpses of Bonatti in different authors. So we see references to him or sometimes people like William Lilly drawing on Bonatti. Like eventually with the early traditional revival, we have Robert Zoller drawing on Guido Bonatti for his book on the Arabic parts, which was published in 1980 or 1981. But then it wasn’t until more recently actually–10 years ago in 2007–that the first complete translation of Bonatti into English was carried out and published by Benjamin Dykes who I actually just had on the last episode to talk about his new translation of Dorotheus of Sidon.
So Ben published a full translation of Bonatti 10 years ago and contained in that text–one of the sections–is this section on the 146 Considerations or aphorisms, right?
NG: That’s exactly right. I think Ben’s work has just really opened up a great amount–even just his work on Bonatti, which is a fraction of all the work that Ben had done, as I’m sure many of your listeners know. His translation of The Book of Astronomy alone has been a tremendous gift because of Guido Bonatti’s ability to distill so many sources into one compendium, and the Considerations of course are a subset of that; it’s the fifth treatise.
But this in itself I think has opened up our awareness of a lot of these historical sources and the way that they were interpreted by a Medieval European astrologer.
CB: Yeah, and that was huge. I mean, that was Ben’s very publication, and just straight out of the gate, he really impressed everyone with this huge text. You know, it’s funny looking back on it now. I sort of assumed, a lot of people assumed there’s no way he’s ever going to top that, but then he’s published almost 20 other amazing translations since then.
NG: He just kept doing it, exactly.
CB: Right, he keeps topping himself, but this was the big one that he came on the scene with. And so, we have this huge text, and I’ve got the original hardcover version, which I’m very lucky to have.
NG: Me too.
CB: You have one?
CB: It’s like two volumes with 600 pages each, or 500 pages each. And it’s huge; it’s just this massive compendium of Medieval astrology. But what’s nice about Treatise 5, which is the 146 Considerations, is it seems to be Bonatti trying to distill and summarize a lot of the basic principles that he introduces in different parts of his work, right?
NG: That’s my understanding as well, Chris. You know, for a long time–and I’ll give you a little bit of the history later on–my understanding of the 146 Considerations was that even though it’s a list of aphorisms, nonetheless, there is internal logic and consistency and coherence among them, which is not something you always see in these lists of aphorisms because sometimes the aphorisms are kind of more stream-of-consciousness, let me just lay down some rules or thoughts or ideas or little bits of astrological lore, which may or may not be connected.
But what I think is unique about the 146 Considerations is that, to me, it almost reads more like a very condensed syllabus for basic grounding in Medieval European astrology.
CB: Yeah, definitely. And the sequence to them, it’s not as disconnected as some other lists of aphorisms that I’ve seen; but instead they kind of build on each other in this way.
NG: That’s my thought as well.
CB: Okay. So let’s talk a little about what an aphorism is and that genre of aphorisms that was very popular in the Medieval period. So I did a quick search just to get an actual definition, and according to Google, an aphorism is “a pithy observation that contains a general truth; or a concise statement of a scientific principle, typically by an ancient classical author.” And I think that’s a pretty good summary of what an aphorism is.
So usually it’s like a sentence or like a paragraph that conveys some sort of interpretive principle or some sort of specific astrological principle that’s important to understand; but instead of writing an entire book about it, it’s condensed into a memorable saying or something like that.
NG: That’s exactly right. And one of the things as well, when you look at all of these considerations, some might just be a couple of sentences-long, but then you’ll have a few that are maybe a few pages-long; and we’ll talk about one of those at least. There’s one that’s particularly notable that’s one of the long ones.
And we don’t really know exactly what was in Bonatti’s head when he was writing this because obviously we don’t really have access to his writings about himself, but we can think of the aphorisms as an adjunct to verbal teaching. And I think this is something that people don’t think about today because, today, we primarily learn by reading, especially astrology. Of course, you might go to class, and you might listen to videos and things like that, but the primary mode of conveying information in the 13th century if you were a student of pretty much anything was verbal.
And books were expensive, the printing press hadn’t yet been invented, and so, you definitely see the idea of learning as something that happens primarily in that teacher-student transmission. And because we now have some writing of course in Medieval Europe, you will get these kinds of maybe outlines or lists, but they’re really meant to be aides to the memory rather than the complete knowledge itself. And that is the sense that I get at least from the 146 Considerations.
CB: Yeah, that’s a really great point; it’s almost like a bullet-point list of the main points. It’s not fully explicated, but instead it’s sort of a reminder about broader principles that you should already know at that point from the oral transmission, from learning from your teacher, or from perhaps, as in the case with Bonatti, reading the longer discussions where he goes on for pages and pages. But with this, it’s really just summarizing the core principles that you need to remember.
CB: Okay. And this was not unique. This was part of a broader genre that had been around for a few centuries at this point. There’s also other lists of Medieval astrological aphorisms, right?
NG: There are, and certainly not just Medieval; I mean, there is Ptolemy’s Centiloquy. I can think of certainly William Lilly who’s not Medieval but really more a late Renaissance writer or even early modern in some cases. Or you could look at, for example, a lot of the medical-astrological texts for physicians that came out of Medieval and Renaissance Europe. Since there was so much overlap between the two disciplines at the time. They had a tremendous number of aphorisms.
And the aphorisms, sometimes they’d be strictly medical, you know, “the color of urine means this for a patient,” but also, there would be an astrological one that followed. And so, you realize this is something that most likely permeated a lot of the sciences in just the way that both astrology and other kinds of knowledge was taught.
CB: Yeah. In the philosophical tradition, especially with the Stoics, there were lists of what were essentially aphorisms like by Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher from the 1st or 2nd century. Even Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations take on that form of short aphorisms.
NG: That’s right.
CB: Let’s see, other publications. In 2008, for example, James Holden published a set of five different short texts of aphorisms by different Medieval astrologers titled, Five Medieval Astrologers, and that contains some other early lists of aphorisms from prior to Bonatti, such as The Centiloquy of a hundred aphorisms attributed to Ptolemy, or Abu Ma’shar’s Book of Flowers, or another list of aphorisms attributed to Bethen, or some say to Ibn Ezra. So there are other works like this floating around in that period.
NG: Absolutely. And I can’t help but wonder, Chris, what the prospective audience was for this, whether it was something that was intended to be circulated. Obviously, often the list itself isn’t enough for a full book; they might be relatively brief, just a few pages.
Or again, was this something that was supposed to be handed around by students? I think the history of it as a way of conveying information is quite, and unfortunately, a little bit mysterious as well.
CB: Sure. And that actually brings up a really good point, which is that his Considerations is really one of the few things that has been transmitted relatively continuously over the past several hundred years after Bonatti’s death. Even though it wasn’t until 2007 that a full translation of Bonatti’s complete work was actually published by Benjamin Dykes, there was a previous English translation.
One of the earliest English works on astrology was a translation of Bonatti’s aphorisms at some point in the 17th century, right?
NG: That’s right. It was translated by the well-known English astrologer, William Lilly and his student, Henry Coley. It’s called the Anima Astrologiae, literally the Soul of Astrology. The English name was Guide for Astrologers, and this was published in the late 1600s; I think 1676.
What’s interesting about that particular work–and I’ll just say a quick thing about it–is that as far as I understand, it’s kind of a fun read in a way. It’s a little bit idiomatic and it has Lilly’s folksy manner, although it’s not necessarily super accurate as a translation.
CB: Sure. I think Ben, in his commentary, in one of the footnotes, when he went through and translated Bonatti’s Considerations, he also compared it to that, the only English translation is this one from 1676 by Coley and Lilly. He said in one of the first footnotes that Coley’s translation appears to be more of a paraphrase and that it omits some passages and some sentences entirely.
NG: Exactly. And as you have seen, very often with translations, even translations that purport to be exact often aren’t and important things get left out, as Ben was discussing with his most recent translation of Dorotheus.
And so, I’m sure that a practicing astrologer might just say, “You know what, this is kind of silly. I don’t need this sentence right here.” Probably what he thinks to be important is going to take a backseat–or rather is going to take a front seat to whatever the actual content is going to be.
CB: Right, that’s always the challenge with translating. And the challenge with astrologers translating astrological texts is sometimes the difference between them wanting to translate it very literally and sticking to the text versus sometimes interpreting what they think the author meant, which sometimes involves changing things, especially if you’re dealing with a written manuscript where the possibility of errors or mistaken alterations to the text is more prevalent.
NG: That’s exactly right. Astrologers have a lot of opinions, so I think it’s really difficult to avoid introducing that, especially if you run into a text that might be ambiguous in certain parts and you have to take some kind of stand.
CB: Sure. So despite the deficiencies, this was the first translation of Bonatti’s Considerations, and it’s really one of the only pieces of Bonatti’s huge, thousand-paged text that survived because it was translated and widely printed in 1676.
And then I know in the 20th century, it wasn’t widely used, but there were a few different reprints of that translation. As sort of a personal anecdote, one of the first books on traditional astrology that I ever came across is a reprinted version of that translation–I think around 2004 or 2005– when I was trying to learn about horary and electional astrology for the first time. I found it at the Astrology Adult Bookstore and picked it up and started reading it, and that was really my first exposure to Medieval astrology.
So this text has kind of been around for a little bit. But then in 2007, when Ben published his, that was just the turning point because he provides a lot of commentary and helps to unpack the text a little bit, right?
NG: I think he really does, and that’s something that Ben Dykes does very well. He’s very good at adding comments and adding a little bit of information about when there is something that’s not clear. Instead of just going forward and choosing an interpretation, he’ll very often annotate it and say, “Okay, well, this could have this particular meaning,” or “Here is this possible reference to an older text that Bonatti’s most likely drawing on.”
But actually I have a question for you, Chris. What about the 146 Considerations made you want to get that book at the time? Do you remember?
CB: Yeah. Well, the issue I ran into was in 2004, I wanted to pick an electional chart for something. I think it was for signing a lease with an apartment with a friend, but was kind of an unreliable friend and I was really nervous. I knew that practically speaking, this was a terrible idea to get an apartment with this friend, so I wanted to hedge my bets by using this thing I had just recently learned about, which was the concept of electional astrology.
But I was looking around and there were almost no modern textbooks on electional astrology, which was kind of surprising to me at the time. I was at Kepler, and I had just spent a year learning about the history of astrology. So I knew that elections and horary astrology were very prominent in the previous tradition, but for some reason, I couldn’t find any modern astrology textbooks talking about it.
So when I actually came across this little booklet–and it wasn’t very long; it was only 50 pages or less than a hundred pages–and I saw that it had specific rules of what you need to do for not just horary questions but also electional charts, I grabbed it because it was like finding a hidden, ancient tome that was from the 13th century or the 12th century, so I was pretty excited.
NG: Right, and I imagine that’s how a lot of us got into traditional astrology; the sense of that you just discovered some kind of ancient treasure, sort of like an ‘Indiana Jones’ experience or something.
NG: And yeah, it makes sense. A lot of these topics I feel really have not been as popularized in the 20th and 21st centuries. Anyway, that’s a good story, thank you.
CB: When did you first read the Considerations? Did you read them first in the Henry Coley version, or did you read them first in Ben’s version?
NG: I read them first in the Henry Coley version, and I had difficulties with it. I think the edition I got–I forget the name of it. I think it’s Kessinger, Keplinger, something like that. It’s like a yellow cover facsimile series.
CB: Yeah, that’s the one I got as well.
NG: Yeah, I’m pretty sure that was the only one that was out there around that time. I remember reading it–and it’s partly that the font is kind of terrible because it’s a facsimile–and I’m just thinking, “This is really kind of weirdly disjointed.” You kind of want a little bit more depth, but again, I wasn’t really recognizing that this is just really meant to be an outline or a guide.
And I would imagine that as a student reading it, you’re probably intended to do further investigation yourself. He just kind of gives you that first clue, but then you’re expected to go to, I don’t know, other teachers or other texts to learn that particular issue or item in-depth.
CB: Right, it’s like the cliff notes version of an astrology book where it’s just like a list of the bullet points of the main points without all the stuff in between. So it’s like if you read a synopsis of the movie Titanic or something like that without actually watching the two- or three-hour movie.
NG: That’s exactly right. So that was my experience of it. I found it intriguing, but given the lack of texts that were available in English at the time to support it, I also found it somewhat frustrating.
CB: Yeah. And so, that actually is a nice segway then to your current project, which is that you’re actually in the process of doing a commentary and an illustrated version essentially of Bonatti’s Considerations, right? Is that an accurate way of talking about what you’re doing?
NG: Yeah, that’s a really good summary. And it’s a little bit hard to describe because it’s neither entirely written nor entirely illustrated, but my goal for something like this–and I should give you a little bit of background–I have always wanted to do the expanded version of the Considerations, a version of the Considerations that you don’t need to go too much outside the text to really learn each of the considerations and understand it in-depth.
I think most of us are not going to be that motivated to look it up in three different texts to try to collate it and understand what Bonatti said, even though that would be the ideal way to approach it. But I think the reality is that most of us just don’t have that kind of time or patience perhaps.
So my goal was to initially–this started maybe three or four years ago–simply write a book and each consideration would merit a chapter and maybe I’d have an illustrative chart. But the problem is that it was still fairly dry because I was really just pulling together material with my own gloss on it; it felt a little bit removed. I felt that if I wasn’t haven’t fun writing it, I didn’t feel people would really have fun reading it.
Some time ago, I started creating these notes really just for myself, where I would write a little bit about the consideration–maybe rephrase it in my own words or try to get at the heart of what Bonatti seems to be saying–with some illustrations about how this might manifest in practice. A lot of the considerations, as I think you’ve hinted, are horary-based, though quite a few are electional as well as natal. And sometimes, Bonatti will give you one consideration that he’ll explicitly say this covers natal and electional or horary and electional or something like that.
And so, my goal was to try to bring it into a 21st century vernacular because a lot of these things have to be made, in my opinion, accessible. And then also, I enjoyed illustrating them because a lot of these metaphors that emerge out of a lot of these horary and electional concepts are very visual. And so, I thought, “Why not put some drawings around it and make it a little bit more interesting to look at?”
I feel like it’s something I’ve enjoyed I’ve enjoyed doing. And so, I started sharing it on social media, and I think people have really responded to it much more than I would have expected honestly.
CB: Yeah, the reaction has been amazing. A lot of people know about the Considerations, but it is this, as you’ve said, a kind dry thing that really needs to be brought alive a little bit more through commentary, but also, through illustration.
The lack of diagrams and examples in the Considerations make their usefulness a little bit limited. But when you started posting those pictures of your illustrations, it really brought alive a lot of the concepts that are contained in the Considerations.
I know for me, personally, I was excited to see somebody doing that because it was something that was much needed to bring the spotlight on what was a very important but somewhat difficult text to understand. Doing it in that way, with that artistic flair, I thought was a really nice touch, so I’m excited that you’re doing that.
NG: Thank you, Chris. I’m glad you think so. Again, we come back to Ben just because it’s hard to have this conversation without really appreciating his contribution. He’s been translating a ton of texts, starting with Bonatti, and all of them are extremely important, but at the same time, I think a lot of people might be intimidated by some of that material.
And so, I wish I could illustrate as fast as Ben translates, but I can’t. But I feel that a lot of it is just kind of bringing things out and making it a little bit easier for people to bridge that gap between the kind of vernacular and the kind of reading that they might be doing today, as people living today, and then accessing and approaching these old texts which sort of require their own mindset and their own emersion.
CB: Right. Ben and I were talking about that in the last episode with some of the electional considerations from Dorotheus and how sometimes you need to translate, in that case, 1st century, Greco-Roman society and some of the things that were normal back then, and how even some of the things that seem kind of bizarre to us from a societal standpoint, you can read between the lines and figure out what the underlying meaning is–or at least an attentive reader can–and then take that and figure out how it applies to modern-day society. It seems like that’s part of your program with this as well, right?
NG: It is. I suppose in that sense it’s a little easier since I’m only trying to bridge about 800 years instead of, I don’t know, 2,000. But nonetheless, it’s still a challenge. And I think part of it too is just our conception of what a book is has changed. Nowadays, at least in the West, we have nearly universal literacy, and so, books have to appeal to a pretty broad range of people, even within the astrology world.
Whereas, back then, the only people reading texts, and especially texts like this, would really be scholars and professionals and people with a pretty high degree of education, who might have maybe more of a constitutional tolerance for this kind of relatively dry reading.
CB: Yeah, that’s a good point that there’s all these different intermediary steps. It’s like you have the original Latin text, which was written by Bonatti in the 13th century, and then you have Ben translating the text; and then you have somebody like you or me, who has a background in traditional astrology, who can read the text and understand it.
And then you have a general astrological audience that may or may not have that sort of background and needs help understanding what this text is trying to convey, and needs it to be unpacked a little bit.
NG: That’s my feeling as well. And Bonatti doesn’t always make it easy. I’m just finishing up a set of one of these considerations that has 15 sub-parts or something where he doesn’t even define terms.
He just says the term, but he doesn’t say what it means or where it applies or what it is, which, to me, seems very clear that you’re probably meant to go look it up in your own Latin or Arabic texts because you’re a scholar, and presumably, have access to some of this. But until very recently, and largely thanks to Ben, we haven’t been able to even look it up, whereas today at least we can do that.
CB: Yeah, that’s a good point. So maybe we should actually get into some of the considerations and talk about the content of some of them, and maybe talk about some of the most interesting considerations and some of the weirdest ones that are the most out there. There’s a few of them that are a little bit out there; we’ll put that off until later. But I was just reviewing some of them today, and it’s like right off the bat, he starts off in the early considerations talking about horary astrology.
That really seems to be one of the dominant themes throughout the Considerations to the extent that it almost seems like that’s his primary practice, even though elsewhere in his large, thousand-paged treatise, he does talk about natal astrology and mundane and electional. Occasionally, the considerations touch on that, but it seems like the majority or the greater emphasis of this is on horary, right?
NG: That’s my understanding as well. And like I said, he will talk a lot about natal, especially toward the end of the 146. But you’re right, he definitely starts out strong with horary.
CB: Okay. So there were two illustrations that you did. What was your first illustration in the series? What consideration did that focus on?
NG: Well, I try to do them in order. Like I said earlier, the text does have some internal organization, so I tried to keep it in order as much as I could. I apologize if there are sounds of me turning pages because I wanted to look at it while I spoke to you.
But the consideration that I started out with was of course the first, and some of them go together. And since the illustrations that I do all have to fit on a 9×12 page, sometimes I can fit in one if it’s very complicated, and sometimes I’ll fit in three if they’re short or if their themes overlap to some extent.
And so, the first consideration and the second talks about what makes a horary question appropriate and radical, which of course is a term of art. I looked at some of the concepts that Bonatti introduced. Some of these are actually very well-known in that you have these heavenly bodies that then impress their essence onto the mundane or physical objects, or people, or beings that are here on Earth, and they cause them to move. He’s a little bit vague on this point, I’m sure due issues of theology and censorship and things like that.
He discusses how a horary question essentially is born, how it comes about, and how querent–which is the technical term for the person asking the horary question, who comes to the astrologer–should act when they ask their question. They should pray, they should approach it with great respect, and they need to really involve themselves profoundly in the act of asking a question; so I thought the most appropriate way to illustrate it of course would be with hedgehogs.
And so, one of the things that I did with my work is I tried to show through these little cartoons, through the watercolor medium that I use how it might look when these heavenly bodies are imprinting their influences on earthly things and what that would entail for a person asking a question.
CB: Right. So the first considerations are really about what moves a person to ask a horary question and the notion of the importance of the question or what the querent’s motivation is in some sense.
NG: Umm-hmm, that’s exactly right.
CB: Okay. What’s the breakdown for that? And maybe this can get into some broader philosophy or what your personal, practicing philosophy is in terms of horary questions. The first considerations almost seem to be dealing with this question of is the question important, or is it based on some either pressing or some broader, significant manner versus it the question not important or not significant, or is it a trifling question or something like that.
Is that the gist of the first few considerations? How did you read that?
NG: So I read the first and second considerations together because they seem to flow from one another. And so, the first one is the one where it discusses the impression of the influences of the heavenly bodies onto earthly bodies.
But then of course, he does get into this interesting sentence, which is, “The motion of the free will, which can itself be an act of the one asking. Even the soul is moved to ask, it doesn’t suffice unless the superior bodies lead him to pose the question, nor does the motion of the stars suffice unless from the motion of the free will, the act of asking is reached.”
I’d be curious to know what you think, Chris, because my reading of his introduction of free will here, it feels a little bit like a non sequitur; I guess he needs to have it in there to kind of round out the philosophy of it. But there was also a very real reason that if he’s writing a book on astrology, it’s best to mention the importance of free will because of course that would be something that would potentially get him in trouble with any kind of censors or anybody else who might be reading this from the Church.
CB: Right, it’s like that because he’s writing within the context of late Medieval or high Medieval period, and the Catholic Church being the dominant institution, sometimes it seems like he’s paying lip service.
And this gets tied into other things like the so-called Considerations Before Judgment and this question of whether the question is rooted in something, whether they need to root the question in something that’s solid. It seems to be a recurring theme for Bonatti, and I know that it’s something that Ben comes back to a few times in his commentary on this, in his introduction to Bonatti’s work. That seems to be slightly connected to some of these early considerations as well.
NG: Yes, that’s certainly my reading of it. So in the first consideration, Bonatti just lays out the theory. And then in the second one, he shows you, the astrologer, or you, the potential querent, how you might be able to come up with a question that is most appropriate and most likely to be blessed by these heavenly bodies and that is correctly in tune with the times and most likely to give you the answer that you will desire.
So he’s got some pretty well-known instructions that if you have a question, you “approach it with a contrite spirit” and that you “pray to God from whom every good beginning leads.” There’s the sense that, ultimately, whatever happens, you really do need to reach out to your deity, which of course in this case would be the Judeo-Christian God.
Also, he says you really need to have a question that you have considered for a least day and a night. That way, you’re not going to ask anything that is trivial or just a slight motion of the mind or anything like that.
CB: Right, so there’s this real sense that horary questions–for him, at least in this instance, or at least the way that he’s outlining it initially–are for important matters in some sense, or that it’s a question that really moves the querent to ask, even after thinking about it for, ideally, something like a day and a night–so a 24-hour period–so that they know that it’s something really important that they really want to get an answer to from the astrologer.
NG: That’s exactly right; yes, I think he gives that. It’s interesting that he shares that with an astrologer because obviously as the reader of this text, you’re more likely to be the person reading the chart. But it also, I suppose, as an astrologer helps give your client instructions maybe if they don’t know how to ask, or for you to judge whether the question that they brought you is something that you should be looking at and that you should be judging because perhaps they literally just thought of it, and it’s something that wouldn’t qualify under these rules.
CB: Yeah, I think it might be tied into it. In the early Medieval tradition, you have rules that are not as prominent in the later Medieval and especially Renaissance tradition where asking your own question became more common and more just a typical thing. Whereas, you’ve got earlier authors like Masha’allah saying for whatever reason that the astrologer should not ask their own question.
I don’t know where Bonatti ends up siding. I think he repeats that at some point, but I’m not sure that he necessarily follows it. But that could be the reason why there’s more of this concern about instructing through these rules; instructing it from the position as if you’re the client, from that standpoint perhaps. I don’t know.
NG: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. Given that to get a chart set and interpreted, you had to have somebody who knew how to cast a chart, and who knew mathematics, and who knew astrology, in fact, that person had to be fairly well-educated by the standards of the time.
So I wonder how easy it was as an astrologer to get your question answered. How many colleagues could you really rely on, that you felt their math was good, and their interpretive skills were good? Maybe a lot of people still felt very comfortable, or they had to perhaps answer their own questions.
CB: Sure. Yeah, that would actually make for an interesting discussion and study at some point because I’ve always wanted to get more into that and talk about some of the different ways that horary was practiced in different eras, or where the emphasis was in different time periods versus where it shifted in later eras.
OK, so the first three are kind of like preliminary considerations essentially asking horary questions, and that’s the subject of your first illustration of the first three considerations. But then eventually, he sort of jumps right into some different technical considerations for answering horary questions and the ways in which connections between planets can come about or be completed, right?
NG: That’s exactly right. The fourth consideration is where he really lets you have it. You get about 15 different subtypes that are in this fourth consideration of ways that matters can come about or not come about, and for that he will give you literally just the names.
So the first one, he says, “The first is the arrival or advancement in things which is the philosopher’s call.” And he said something like, alocohol, not actually ‘alcohol’, but it’ll be these weird, gibberish, Arabic names or words that I assume came down from all the different manuscripts being copied by hand and errors being made by scribes who didn’t know what they were transliterating.
And so, he’ll give you the quasi-Arabic or pseudo-Arabic word, but he doesn’t define it in any way. He doesn’t say what arrival or advancement is, even though he is quite clearly drawing on some earlier Arabic sources. I think in this case, it’s primarily Abu Ma’shar and potentially al-Khabisi as well.
CB: Sure. The way you titled this, drawing on the translation, was 16 Ways that Matters are Created and Destroyed, and a lot of these are talking about the dynamic aspect doctrine that was used that really developed or became fully mature in the Medieval tradition about different ways that planetary significators in the chart can either move towards an exact aspect in the chart, or that separate from an exact aspect in the chart, or different variations of that. So different types of applications and separations or things broadly-related to that, right?
NG: Right. He’ll talk about more common ideas, such as ‘translation of light’ or ‘collection of light’, things that do come up, especially in the horary context primarily, but things that are a little bit more obscure, that even though they were pretty important for the Arabic writers, they’ve sort of fallen out of fashion.
So you talk about the ideas of ‘returning of virtue’ and ‘pushing of virtue’ and what that means. Again, he doesn’t tell you, so you would have to go to some other source. And I tried to define it right there in my notes, so that you don’t have to go to a different book to try to pull it all together.
CB: Yeah, and I really appreciate that because then it acts like a commentary on these very short statements on his part, where you’re actually expanding on what these different modes of perfection are essentially.
Let’s just say hypothetically that the audience doesn’t know very much about horary astrology. One of the primary ways maybe you can explain that questions are answered is that a client comes to an astrologer, they ask a question about whether some event will take place in the future. And then the astrologer looks at the chart and they look at let’s say the planetary ruler of the Ascendant and then the planetary ruler of the ‘house under consideration’.
One of the approaches is to see if those two planets are applying to an exact aspect with each other, in which case, sometimes the answer then is affirmative, or if they’re separating from an exact aspect, or not making any aspect whatsoever, in which case, the answer is negative.
Would you say that’s broadly accurate in terms of one of the primary approaches to answering horary questions?
NG: Definitely. Certainly, there is more to it than just aspects, but I think that’s the first thing that everyone learns, and with good reason, because it is a big part of the way that you would analyze a chart. You would try to identify the planet representing the person asking the question and then the planet that represents the thing or person being asked about. And presumably, a lot of questions, not all of them, but many are concerned with issues like, “Will I get the job?” or “Will I get the girl?” or whatever. So you’re trying to bring these two planets together ideally.
And so, what Bonatti is doing in this particular consideration and others as well is showing you ways that planets might come together that are maybe a little bit more involved than just, for example, one planet applying to the other. What if there’s a third planet that they both aspect? You might get the ‘collection of light’, for instance. So he’s trying to show you all these different patterns for movements of the planets that you should watch out for when you’re doing your analysis as a horary.
CB: Sure. So essentially, once you take that idea that, metaphorically, one planet in the chart is going to signify or represent the person who asked the question and then one of the planets in the chart is going to represent symbolically the thing that was inquired about, and you start looking at the relationship between those two planets in the chart, you realize that there’s a lot of different ways that they can interact. He essentially tries to write a synopsis of 16 primary ways that they can interact.
I think you’re in the middle of illustrating these 16 right now, right, or have you completed that?
NG: I’m just about to complete them, yes. I think it took several pages because some of them are more involved than others. For example, the concept of reception I think merited one entire page by itself, and I’m not even sure that was sufficient.
CB: Yeah, that’s a pretty big concept and something that he comes back to over and over again, the idea of reception. So maybe a good starting point would be just the first few. What is ‘arrival of advancement’? That’s essentially application, right?
NG: That’s my understanding as well. You are really just looking at planets applying to each other; it’s a fairly straightforward thing. But then later, as you go through these sub-sections in this fourth consideration, you realize that advancement or arrival or application is really insufficient necessarily; you might need something a little bit more. You might need reception or something else to ensure perfection, that you and the thing you’re asking about are actually brought together.
CB: Sure, so why don’t we do that then, or let’s just build on those as building blocks and go application vs. what separation would indicate then segway into reception. So you’ve got hypothetically the planet that represents the querent and the planet that represents what was inquired about or the subject in question and they’re in an application. You would say in that instance–for a horary question–that would indicate an affirmative answer, or at least a coming together of those two things in the future, essentially?
NG: Right. And so, just to clarify, to ‘arrival of advancement’, he says, yes, that’s application, but really it’s when you’re dealing with planets that are angular. In other words, they are in one of the houses–house 1, 4, 7, and 10–which he said is something that helps planets be brought together.
So if you are the Moon and the thing you are asking about is Mars and you see them coming together, it’s generally much more favorable to see one or both planets in angular houses to help ensure that the matter really does come about.
CB: Sure, so the opposite of that would be separation, which is when the two planets are moving away from an exact aspect, like moving away from a conjunction, let’s say. What’s the situation in that scenario if you’ve got a separation between the two primary significators in a horary question?
NG: Separation indicates that you and the matter are probably on opposite courses, unless there’s something else going on in the chart. All other things being equal, you are not going to be getting that thing because the distance between you is separating.
Later on in the Considerations, Bonatti talks about this in greater length. He also talks about this in the horary section of his treatise–which is a separate book entirely–where he is essentially says that whenever you see significators that are separating but they’re still in orb–they’re still within that aspect, the degrees–it means that you might still be sort of influenced by or influencing the thing you’re asking about, but you’re on a trajectory that is slowly allowing matters to deteriorate.
I think his example was an engagement, when you’re asking, “Will I marry this person?” and you’re seeing the significators separating. While the planets are still in orb with each other, while they’re still within sighting distance, it may mean that the engagement will go on; but because the planets are drawing further from each other, the relationship will eventually fall apart.
CB: Right. He has an interesting comment or commentary there where he cites the earlier Medieval author Sahl and that Sahl says that they’re not truly separating until they’re a degree apart. But then he interjects his own comment and says, however, that as soon as a planet is even a minute slightly past the exact aspect and starting to separate or move away that’s already enough to indicate that the matter is in the past rather than something coming up in the future, right?
NG: That’s right. And I’m actually curious what you think about this, Chris, because there is not, as far as I know, any kind of consensus in the tradition about when a planet is considered separated.
In the older texts, we see it being 1°, but obviously when something is separated by a minute, it’s already separated. I don’t know if that just comes from inexactitude because of not very exact ephemerides or something like, whereas in more recent times, we’re able to figure out where planets are much more reliably to the minute. Do you have any thoughts on that?
CB: I don’t know. I mean, I don’t want to get in any trouble since I don’t know if this a contemporary issue still where contemporary practitioners argue as soon as it’s separating by even a minute that it’s over, or if there are some who argue that it has to be more than a degree or something like that and it’s not until then that it’s over. Is that actually a contemporary debate?
NG: Not that I know of. I think if you ask most people today, they would simply say, look, if it’s a minute away, it’s already separating. But again, we do have these old texts that seem to say so. I don’t think you’re going to get in too much trouble with anybody living. How about that?
CB: Okay, good. As soon as it’s separating, for me–because we can know exactly–then it’s something that’s moving into the past just through that basic idea of aspects that are applying indicate things in the future and aspects that are separating indicate things moving into the past.
So that’s pretty straightforward for me, and you can see that sometimes, especially if you’re doing live charts, like with Solar Fire and looking at a live animation for an event chart or something like that for an electional chart. Sometimes you can see that moment of exactitude and the two points in time immediately before and after, and sometimes it is very stark in terms of whether it’s still applying or whether it’s still separating; so to me, that’s a pretty straightforward distinction.
NG: No, it’s true. There are probably other things that are a little bit more ambiguous that we can worry about.
CB: Right. Okay, so that then provides a nice segway to one of the recent things in connection with this and in connection with the concept of reception you drew on Bonatti in order to create a nice infographic on the concept of reception and the perfection of aspects and how it can help to fully improve the condition of the connection between two planets, or sometimes how that can be very weak.
So do you want to talk about that a little bit–how reception works and how it’s tied into this issue of planets or significators perfecting in a horary chart?
NG: I’d be happy to. I think our 20th century common understanding of reception is pretty different than Medieval or later understanding of reception. And so, I should clarify that I would say probably many, if not most of your listeners are familiar with the concept of mutual reception as defined in the 20th century, where if you have two planets in each other’s signs then they are in mutual reception.
So for example, if you have Venus in Capricorn and Saturn in Libra then you have mutual reception because each planet is in the sign that the other planet rules. A visual of this that I always try to present is you have a king visiting the neighboring king and then the neighboring king goes to the other kingdom, so they kind of swap places; that’s essentially mutual reception. However, reception as such is a little bit more nuanced, and so, please feel free to fill in whatever I might leave out.
But essentially, reception in the traditional sense seems to, in a lot texts, require a major aspect between the planets, which is not something that’s typically taught in a modern context. And then also, reception can occur through not just rulership but some of the other dignities that a planet might have.
For instance, if you’re looking at Capricorn, Saturn rules it and then Mars is the exaltation ruler. Then you have your triplicity rulers and what’s called bound or term rulers, as well as face rulers and each of these dignities is progressively less important or less powerful than the first. So you can have all these different dignity relationships. A Venus in Capricorn might be in the rulership of Saturn and received by him there, but she’s also received by Mars because he’s the exaltation lord, and then the same thing for triplicity rulers and so forth.
And so, again, there’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s essentially what reception is. A planet is visiting essentially a part of the zodiac that’s governed by other planets with different degrees of power, and it is able or not able to act depending on the visiting planet’s relationship to its host’s. I don’t know. What do you think, Chris?
CB: Yeah, I think that’s a really great way of defining it. And what you really bring out in this graphic on your website–at NinaGryphon.com–is the idea that Bonatti really emphasizes over and over again in the Considerations–and then at one point has a long digression about at some point in his book–saying that sometimes it’s not sufficient, or at least it’s not ideal, especially in horary questions just for the two planets to be applying to aspect.
It’s actually better and they’ll have a much stronger connection–which can help you feel much more sure about the outcome of the question–if they also have some sort of zodiacal affinity between each other. At least that’s the term I would use for reception; this idea of does a planet have some sort of affinity or some sort of rulership over the specific sign in question. That can help to strengthen the relationship between two planets if they don’t just have an aspectional relationship with each other, but also, if one of them is in the sign ruled by the other, or in one of the lesser dignities or two of the lesser dignities of the other planet.
NG: Right. The graphic that I created is based on a part of Bonatti’s book that’s not in the Considerations. It’s outside of it, but it speaks to it so well that I thought I’d kind of reach people’s understanding, again, without hopefully having to go to too many outside sources, outside of the 146 Considerations. And so, he gives you essentially this graduated list of matters coming about, from the most easy way of perfecting a matter to the most difficult and unlikely way that something might happen.
The chart that I created is something that just says, okay, here is what needs to happen for it to be, what he calls ‘easiest of all’. And he’ll say, “The matter perfects most easily–and this is my paraphrase because of space considerings and also just to modernize it a little bit–when the querent significator or planet is in the house signifying the matter or vice versa.”
In other words, if you asked will you get the job, well, it’s really nice if the planet that signifies you is in the part of the chart that signifies the job because it means that you are going to get there. It’s certainly not the only thing, but to Bonatti that was an indication that the matter come about very easily, or if the significators are conjoined because a conjunction is considered to be a particularly powerful way of bringing planets and things together.
So with reception, he’ll say something like, “The next step down in this hierarchy of ease is that matters still come about easily and the matter will perfect without striving or any difficulty when the two planets are joined by a trine or a sextile with reception.” And of course, trine and sextile are the aspects that supposedly make things happen very easily; they’re the aspects of ‘friendship and love’ as one of the texts had it.
If there is reception, in other words, if one of the planets is also being hosted essentially by the other planet then that just gives you, as you say, additional assurance that there’s going to be a harmonious and giving relationship between these two planets and that the matter you’re asking about will happen.
CB: Okay, so let’s give an example. Let’s say it’s a relationship horary question like will I and such-and-such be married next year or something like that. And so, one of the highest ones in this hierarchy–where he says the matter will come about easily–is if the planet in the horary chart that signifies the person who asked the question and the planet in the chart that represents the topic that was asked about, if those two planets are applying within a few degrees, or let’s say within orb, through a trine or a sextile as one condition, and then on top of that they also have reception.
So let’s say, best-case scenario, one of the two planets is in the domicile of the other planet or the sign that the other planet rules just to keep is simple for a basic audience. That’s one of the best-case scenarios essentially, that there’s both an applying easy aspect and then there’s also reception between the two planets, right?
NG: Yeah, that’s pretty much the ideal scenario and it’s accordingly rare, I would say. It’s not often that we see something like that. Should I go to the next step then?
CB: Sure–or maybe what would that look like if you had a 7th house question? Can you think of an example or just a hypothetical set of placements?
NG: Yeah, absolutely. I’m just trying to think of what would be a good example. I don’t know. Let’s say that your significators are Venus and Mars–since this is obviously a romance question–and then Mars was in Pisces–because that is the sign where Venus has her exaltation, so she has some power in that sign–and I guess we can say that Venus could be in Capricorn because that’s the place where Mars is exalted.
So this would actually be a mutual reception, although we certainly wouldn’t need to have that. But in this case, Venus is applying to Mars, and this would happen very easily because the relationship between them from Capricorn to Pisces is a sextile and it is happening with reception. And in this case, it’s essentially a double-reception; each planet receives the other.
This could also work if, for example, Mars was still in Pisces but Venus was in–I don’t know what’s a good example. I was going to say Virgo, but that’s an opposition and that wouldn’t work. But if Venus was in Taurus, and Venus is applying to Mars out of Taurus, yeah, you’ve still got a sextile, and she is receiving Mars, again, into her exaltation into Pisces. So that would be a wonderful indication that most likely this relationship, yes, would lead to marriage in the time-frame that you specified.
CB: Okay, so that’s one of the best-case scenarios. What’s the next step down? What’s the one just below that that’s not coming about as easily?
NG: So it’s a very similar scenario, and Bonatti says that “The matter still perfects without striving, even if there is no hope.” Although I wonder if the reason that he says there is no hope is that there is some hint now that the situation is perhaps not obviously heading toward perfection just in your own understanding as the querent.
And so, here he says, “The significators of the querent and quesited are joined by a trine without reception or sextile with reception.” The perception here is that a trine is still somehow more powerful and able to affect things harmoniously than a sextile, which is kind of a junior trine, if you will. So if it’s a trine, you don’t need reception; you most likely will still get the outcome you’re asking about. But if you’re looking at a sextile, you still need that reception because the sextile is a little bit weaker and you need the extra insurance of a reception for it to work.
CB: Okay, got it. So reception then just acts as this additional, secondary factor that can help strengthen the relationship between the planets in order to ensure an easy and favorable outcome in terms of that; the perfection between those two planetary significators.
NG: Yeah, that’s my understanding.
CB: So what’s next after that?
NG: The next down is when we take a significant step down and he says, “The matter will come about, but with striving.” So you’re going to have to make an effort, or the other person will have to make an effort, or somebody’s going to have to do something; you can’t just sit back and hope that the matter will perfect.
And he says that “When the significators of the querent and quesited are joined by a square aspect with reception, or a sextile aspect without reception.” A square aspect of course is associated with some difficulty. It still brings planets together, so it’s better than nothing.
But there, again, we’re kind of in the middle of that ladder that Bonatti has laid out, and a square with reception, it means you’ll have to make an effort. A square signifies tension and you’ll have to strive for this outcome; or if you can get a sextile without reception that’s equivalent to that square with reception, so there’s some equivalence that he’s giving us here.
CB: Okay, got it. So it can still happen, but it’s going to take more work on the querent’s part, or they’re really going to have to work for it.
NG: Mm-hmm, precisely. And so, the next step down then is ‘striving, effort, and labor’.
CB: Got it. So those final two that are at the very bottom of the list, what’s the situation with those?
NG: Right. The next step down–which is the second from the bottom–you’re getting into some real difficulties here to make this come about. He says, “With striving, effort, and labor, the matter will perfect with obstacles, labor, and great difficulty when the significator of the querent and quesited is joined by opposition with reception or by a square without reception.”
So before we had a square with reception, now we have a square without reception. It’s getting pretty shaky as to whether you’re going to get the matter that you’re asking about because a large amount of effort will be required.
Then as you can imagine, just by the name, the opposition implies that your ability to get to the thing that you’re asking about or to the person is going to be challenged. You’re not together; you’re opposed to each other in some way. But if there is reception, there is still perhaps a chance that you will be able to make this work out.
And then the final step, he says, “The matter will happen with labor or hardly at all,” where he says, “the matter will perfect with the greatest labor, striving, effort, distress, and sadness.” In other words, I’m not sure you really even want this; think about it. Or, “it hardly, slowly, or never perfects even when the querent and quesited significators are joined by an opposition without reception.”
That’s probably the worst-case scenario where you have an opposition, but there is no sign, there’s no zodiacal relationship there at all. It’ll be very difficult to get to the thing that you’re asking about.
CB: Okay, so the worst-case scenario is an application between the two significators through an opposition but with no reception. At that point, that’s the weakest possible way that the horary question could still come about, but it’s going to take a huge amount of work on the native’s part, or the querent’s part, and it may not be worth it in the end if there’s no reception.
NG: That’s been my experience. Sometimes you’ll get what you want, but you kind of wish you hadn’t gotten it. But just to take a step back, all of this that we just talked about, all of this reception and aspect–this little table–that’s just one of the sub-parts of consideration 4.
And that’s what I was saying early, that my goal with this project is to unpack and unfold all of the subtleties and all of the shorthand essentially that’s backed into the Considerations.
CB: Right. And that’s brilliant just because that material really could use that kind of unpacking or that kind of commentary and explication, so I’m really glad that you’re doing it for that reason. There’s some really useful and really brilliant pearls of wisdom in there, but it really could use some work in order to bring it out to its fullest extent to translate it for a modern audience.
And the way that you’re doing that both through text and commentary, but also through illustration and through visual graphics is really useful. So I wanted to focus on that one because I thought it was one of the more accessible ones that’s immediately useful to people. But like you said, that’s really just one subset of consideration 4 at this point, right?
NG: Yeah, I’d say it’s a pretty small piece, so we kind of zoom in with our microscope, but once you zoom out, you realize it’s just one dot in the whole painting as it were.
CB: Right. Okay, so let’s move on to just some broader questions about other considerations. What are some of the other considerations that you find to be the most striking or the most compelling or the most useful in the rest of the work?
NG: One that I particularly find interesting and always feel like I’m trying to get this particular concept across is 141–so that’s obviously toward the very end–where he starts talking much more about natal astrology rather than just horary or electional.
141 deals with the fixed stars which of course are the stars that are in constellations as opposed to the wandering stars which are the planets, and he has a wonderful explication and sort of philosophical musing on the way that fixed stars seem to work in people’s nativities. He quotes an Arabic text by al-Mansur where he will basically say, “The fixed stars are the ones that bring people from depths of poverty into the heights of fortune and fame which is something that even the planets cannot do.”
In the Medieval cosmology, the fixed stars were very far from the Earth. There was the Earth and then you had the spheres of the planets–kind of like the layers of an onion–and then outside of that were the fixed stars. And because the fixed stars were kind of somewhere out there even beyond the planets, they were thought to be more perfect and more divine. And so, they were, at once, more godly, but also removed from our human experience.
So he said that the fixed stars can really bring about a level of success and a level of perhaps celebrity or fame that the planets could not give you because the planets were lower on that order; they were still a bit closer to the Earth and therefore a little bit more imperfect.
And so, this aphorism I would say is fairly well-known; it’s come down to us through other sources. But then he gives you this other half of it, which I think people often don’t cite today or in general, which is that, “The fixed stars bring blessings that people lose.” There is something about the nature of the fixed stars that because maybe they’re so divine or so far from us, our imperfect bodies and this sphere of generation and corruption–which is how the Earth was referred to in this cosmology–is unable to hold onto the blessings that the fixed stars bring.
That’s why the fixed stars might elevate you to a very high level of fame and fortune, but you will not necessarily be able to hold onto it; and you might come to a particularly bad end because that’s something that we’re just so unable to grasp their gifts.
CB: That’s actually really interesting because when I was glancing at some of the considerations or re-reading them recently, one of them that caught my eye towards the very end is consideration 145 that’s sort of tied in with that topic of fixed stars. I’ll just read it from Ben’s translation really quick.
It says, “The 145th consideration is that you look to see in diurnal nativities if Cor Leonis, which is Regulus, were in the Ascendant, namely, in the eastern line or above it only by 1° or less, or below it by 3° because this will signify the native will have a great name and great power, likewise, being exceedingly exalted. He will reach to sublime dignities even if the native were found to be of the lowest class of parents.”
So I thought that was kind of funny given a very prominent person recently who has come into the news with Regulus conjunct the degree of the Ascendant, and you have this 12th century text that says if a native is born with this specific fixed star conjunct the Ascendant then that’s really important.
NG: Yes, that’s an aphorism that Bonatti says and I think it comes up in other ways, in other texts, but that’s a great and very timely use of it. So in this aphorism, as well as in 141, he then warns that these gifts are very difficult to hold onto. And then he goes into this whole, I would say spiel–I think consideration 141 is, I don’t know, like four or five pages long–where he essentially discusses the biographies of several of his employers basically. Even though he doesn’t identify them as such, they’re all people that he has known to have worked for.
He illustrates how even though they presumably had powerful fixed stars elevating them to great heights in their own ways, and they often ruled large parts of Italy and Europe and so on, ultimately, they died potentially ignominious deaths and their families were often wiped out by their enemies and so on. So it actually kind of goes into a somewhat dark place, I would say. He just keeps giving you examples, one after the next.
And even though he doesn’t say it, he does seem to imply maybe that he has seen the charts of these individuals and that presumably fixed stars are what was responsible for their pretty serious fates.
CB: Okay, interesting. Well, I won’t get into commentary about current charts but that ties in to an earlier consideration which is the 9th consideration. And if I’m remembering this correctly, it also focused on the fixed stars, and he refers to them as being potentially secret helpers, or secret harmers, or something to that extent based on their position in the chart, or based on whether they’re tied into important significators in the chart.
Am I remembering that correctly, that notion of the fixed stars being secret helpers or secret harmers?
NG: It is. I am, I’ll be honest with you, kind of wondering how I’m going to convey this in my writing and illustration. He gives you essentially this graduated ladder of something called ‘the strongest hidden helper’ to ‘open helpers’ that are hidden and then weaken, and finally, the worst thing is the ‘strong, open, harmer’.
He discusses how the exact distance–I think to the minute, if I’m not mistaken–of certain fixed stars next to a house cusp is going to either harm the question or matter or native–depending on what kind of chart it is–either openly or in a hidden way and how strongly. I would say that’s how I would summarize that consideration.
CB: Okay. That was always a really fascinating consideration to me, just conceptualizing it. It’s true that astrologers often pay most attention to the planets and that’s sort of the primary thing in the chart, but then sometimes there are certain placements in the chart that really stand out or seem to be magnified for reasons that are not always immediately evident.
Bonatti seems to be emphasizing this notion that sometimes that’s the fixed stars which are sitting behind the planets, especially if they closely conjunct a planet; that can sometimes magnify that placement for better or worse and that’s kind of an interesting consideration to think about and explore from that perspective.
NG: I think it is. And this consideration, I remember when I first encountered it, it fascinated me as well; I think I had the same response as you. I really haven’t found anything quite like it in any other traditional text where you have the author go by minutes and degrees to show you how fixed stars might impact whatever you’re asking about or the native. It’s quite unique.
CB: Definitely. Okay, so that’s an interesting consideration that’s kind of useful or unique to Bonatti. Are there any other considerations where you feel like he sort of missed the mark, or that his meaning was unclear for some reason?
NG: Luckily, he doesn’t do too much of it in the Considerations, but I think he probably just can’t help himself. So aphorisms sometimes can be so specific to be almost ridiculous because you’ll often read it and you can think of an immediate counter-example. The aphorism might say something very specific, and you’re like, “Well, no, that actually isn’t the case for somebody whose chart I’m familiar with,” for example.
So one like that–and he doesn’t have too many duds like that, but he does have one–is 110th where he basically says that if you were born with the sign of Scorpio rising, you will never make any progress, you will never have a career in the Catholic Church. And I think this could probably be translated to really any religious calling, but he particularly mentions the Roman Catholic Church.
The reason that he gives–let me see if I can get this right–is that if you have Scorpio rising then Mars is your Ascendant ruler, and that puts the sign Cancer on the 9th house cusp, and the 9th house of course rules religion and churches. And because the 9th house is ruled by Cancer, the planet Jupiter is exalted in the 9th, and Jupiter is associated with religion and churches in general. Because Mars and Jupiter are natural enemies, you and the Church will forever be at odds, and you really shouldn’t try to get any kind of position in that organization.
CB: Right, so you can see his logic. That’s probably some rationalization that he had at one point for maybe a client chart and why this client was having such issues with the Church or working in the Church. Maybe he saw that in a few charts, I don’t know, but there’s an issue in terms of when you have Scorpio rising that the exalted ruler of the 9th is Jupiter, which is contrary to Mars, or Mars is exalted in the opposite sign Capricorn, and so, there sometimes seem to be conflicting significations.
And that brings up an interesting point about just the nature of the aphorisms in general, which is that sometimes they’re summarizing or outlining basic principles. But other times, it’s actually this somewhat more interesting thing of observations or anecdotes that the astrologer had about specific placements and that they’re attempting to extract a universal interpretive principle from that, or at least what their interpretation or their conclusion was from the way in which that placement will manifest that they think could be applicable to other charts in some way, right?
NG: I think that’s a very good way of putting it; exactly. Sometimes they come up with a very, I would say, good and pithy aphorism that really can be universalized or used in many cases. And other times, you get something extremely specific that, to me, would very much hinge on a number of factors rather than just a single one in a chart.
CB: Sure. One of the statements he makes in one of the considerations is that you look at the rising sign for the question or for the natal chart, and then if the domicile lord rules two signs then the other sign that it rules–whatever house is on the cusp of that–it will immediately tie in or bring those topics into account in the question or in the natal; and then he goes through a whole list of examples with that.
If you have Virgo rising, sometimes that means that Gemini will be on the cusp of the 10th house, so therefore, there’s a strong connection between the 1st house and the 10th house and career matters will be more prominent; or if Taurus is rising then that means that Libra will be on the cusp of the 6th house of illness and sometimes that can mean that the native will somehow bring about their own injury or illness due to the connection between the 1st and the 6th and other things like that, right?
NG: That’s right, and those aphorisms do come up in other contexts. Definitely the illness and injury ones I think are filtered down from Bonatti–I don’t know the exact provenance–but they do seem to pop up in things like medical astrological texts of later eras.
CB: Sure. And in some of the considerations, like consideration 64–sometimes he makes offhand comments–he says that if the Moon is in Cancer or Taurus or Sagittarius or Pisces, it’s a positive indication regarding the matter inquired about or something like that, even if the Moon is Void of Course. Even if it’s Void of Course in those signs, it doesn’t actually harm the Moon in that instance, at least not as much as when it’s Void of Course in other signs.
Later, we see that show up in authors like Lilly where he sort of generalizes that as principle, saying that the Moon being Void of Course is not a good thing for horary questions unless it’s in one of these four signs, in which case, it’s almost like an exemption or something like that.
NG: That’s right. I feel like a lot of these texts can be like that where it’s examples but then exceptions and then exceptions to exceptions; this is one of those things. The Void of Course Moon is sort of an exception to how the Moon normally functions, except when she is in one of these four signs.
And I think Bonatti even adds it’s not just the Void of Course, ‘get out of jail’ free card, but also if she is in a bad aspect to a malefic planet; so if she’s with Mars or Saturn. In those cases, if she’s in one of these signs, she has a little bit more ability to act, and perhaps she can still bring about the desired outcome.
CB: Sure. And that’s probably the most useful thing about the aphorism as a genre, that it often is, as you said, those exceptions to the rules. It’s the astrologer outlining oftentimes what they’ve seen as personal exceptions to the standard rule, by saying that this placement will indicate this except when you also see this-and-this, then that will counteract the first consideration.
That’s something that you will often only learn from experience and from practice and from years of doing things, but it’s something that really has to pass on sometimes from teacher to student through that lived experience. Oftentimes, it seems like what Bonatti’s conveying in these considerations is some of his experience in using some of these different factors and chart work and what the exceptions are when you’re applying some of them in practice.
NG: Yes, and that’s one of the reasons I like the Considerations is because it is a little bit like getting to sit in on a lecture, or at least getting the lecture notes if Bonatti were actually teaching astrology. As you say, he is trying to convey some of his own observations.
In other parts of the book too, you can see he is somebody who doesn’t seem to just necessarily be parroting old texts, but he will often say, “I’ve tried it out in this particular case and it worked like this.” So there is definitely a sense that he’s attempting to convey his own experience of what he has seen to you as the student.
CB: Right, and that’s one of the interesting things about him and about the tradition, or oftentimes, the way that traditional texts were transmitted or presented. He will cite an earlier source like Sahl or something like that, and he’ll outline what the tradition was, or what this other author he was drawing on said. But then after that he’ll sometimes say, “However, I’ve seen it work like this and that’s my preferred opinion.”
And that’s something you see as a common thing throughout the tradition. You see Vettius Valens doing something like that in the 2nd century where he’ll outline what his predecessors did, but then he’ll say, “It seems better to me like this,” Bonatti sort of did the same thing. You even see Lilly sometimes doing that as well I think, right?
NG: He does, absolutely. He’ll kind of give you the tradition or what he understands to be the tradition, but then he might even subvert it entirely and say, “However, I have found the opposite to be true and really you should do something different.”
CB: Right, and then we have that as a continuing thing today. Part of the traditional revival is reviving a bunch of these texts and trying to initially go through an initial stage of understanding them and trying to figure out what the traditional author was trying to convey, and then separately applying some of that stuff in practice and seeing what worked, and seeing in some instances things that didn’t work or things that were interpreted in different ways, as well as sometimes different textual debates.
I know there was a lot of debate, for example, over the past 20 or 30 years about the ‘considerations before judgment’, which ultimately go back to authors like Bonatti and Masha’allah. When people looked at the chart examples in Lilly, sometimes he would still answer questions that contained the ‘considerations before judgement’, and so, there were different interpretations about what that meant, and then what the significance was of the ‘considerations before judgement’ and whether they were still relevant and other things like that.
So there’s this whole interpretive and practical dialogue or process that takes place when working with some of these texts as well, and that’s something that you’re doing and engaged in right now also.
NG: It is. One of the interesting things too is that of course, in the Considerations, we might get examples of chart placements, but you don’t really get a complete chart to look at. So you don’t get to judge whether Bonatti is really adhering to his rules at all times as we do with some of the other authors such as Lilly who does give you a lot of charts where you can really critique whether what he’s actually preaching he’s also practicing.
And so, one of the things that I’ve been trying to do and I will do more of as I continue my project is to introduce some real charts and to show something taking place in real life, even though of course we don’t know if Bonatti would agree with that chart because I’m the one who placed it in there. But it gives people a sense of, okay, here’s how it plays out like in real life, and here’s how things look like in practice.
Because I think that is something that often we wish we had more of in a lot of these texts, that we had more examples of how people actually used these rules, and to what extent they’re really adhering to them.
CB: Right. In reviving this and in the process of doing that, you’re reviving and making this form of astrology from the 12th and 13th century a living tradition again by showing how it works in practice. Something that’s been dead a hundred years suddenly comes to life again through the chart examples and through the application and the demonstration of how these techniques and these concepts actually work in practice with clients today and with example charts today.
So for this, you’re primarily using Ben’s translation of the 146 Considerations–even though that was originally published in that large, thousand-paged translation of Bonatti is just a small piece of it, in 2007–he actually published, in 2010, that as a standalone book, which is available as a paperback and as a Kindle book. It’s just titled, Bonatti’s 146 Considerations, and that’s really the primary thing that you’re drawing on and that you recommend to other people who want to look into this, right?
NG: It is, and I think it’s a great place to start. If you’re just wanting to learn about the Considerations initially, you can certainly find the original Lilly translation online, but I don’t know that that would be a complete text, particularly if you’re trying to follow along with my work. I would definitely recommend that you get Ben’s text.
And of course, again, you’re supporting somebody for whom this is a labor of love, so you’re putting your money toward a good cause for sure.
CB: Yeah, and it’s incredibly cheap. It’s only 10 bucks or something in order to get the paperback version of that translation through Amazon…
CB: …through Ben’s site, or something similar to buy the Kindle versions, so it’s pretty easy.
NG: Mm-hmm, exactly. So I definitely recommend that folks get that if they can.
CB: Okay, excellent, and then they can read that. And so, this project, you’ve kind of initiated a very long project here; it seems like it’s going to take awhile. At your present pace, given the extreme amount of positive feedback that you’ve gotten, is that going to cause you to increase your pace with these? Do you have any estimate of how long you’ll be doing this series of illustrations and commentary on the Considerations?
NG: I’m laughing because I had someone contact me who figured it out, who did the math. He said at my current pace, I was on track to complete it possibly within–I forget what he said–two-and-a-half or three year or something like that. But I think that just depends because some considerations are short and some are long, so I think that’s an extremely rough estimate.
It’s one of those things that I’m just trying to do step-wise and also with respect to the fact that people can only absorb so much knowledge in one go. If I was putting out a new notebook page a week or something like that, I think that would be probably too fast given that most people have other things to think about. But a couple times a month seems about the right amount, where people can look at the page and examine it, and hopefully, ponder it a little bit.
CB: Sure. And you’ve recently launched a page on Patreon where people can actually go and if they like what you’re doing, they can actually support this work and help to encourage you to keep doing it and to do it more regularly, and also get some additional benefits and some additional side content that you’re producing in concert with the primary illustrations, right?
NG: Yes, that’s right. So for those who aren’t familiar–I suppose if you’re a listener to Chris’ podcast, you have heard about Patreon because he’s on that same system–but it’s a website where you can essentially pledge a certain amount per post or per item that the creator puts out.
In my case, you can pledge $1, $2 or $5 or $10 or whatever; there are some higher tiers. Every time I put out a new notebook page–which I usually do two to three a month pretty steadily–then I would get whatever you pledged per post.
And so, with the rewards, the first thing is if you do $1 per post, you get the notebook page about a week before the general public does, before I release it. If you pledge $2, then you get that, but also, you can join an exclusive discussion group that I’ve created where you can talk about the considerations and you can ask questions. Again, a lot of this stuff is new to many people, and it’s a chance to ask me things directly.
If you do the $5 tier, you can join a monthly class. It’s a lecture. It’s an online class that I do. You can join it and get a recording of it afterwards even if you can’t make it. Like I said, there are additional tiers. If you go to patreon.com/ninagryphon then you can see the whole deal, and you can sign up if it’s something that you’d like to support.
I kind of realized now, Chris, it’s actually a very Medieval way of being supported for one’s astrological work in some way, apart from doing client work. Don’t you think, this concept of patronage?
CB: Yeah. I mean, that’s basically how guys like Bonatti wrote a thousand-paged text in the 12th and 13th century, or how somebody like Claudius Ptolemy wrote many of his works. You can see a number of the Hellenistic astrologers like Ptolemy dedicate their works to their patron at the time because those were the people who were able to support that work financially and allow it to take place, by giving the astrologer the ability to do creative work like that and to output things without having to worry about running off to make money in between writing a thousand-paged, comprehensive textbook on astrology. Instead, they could just focus all of their attention on that.
That is very much a classical and a Medieval approach to doing astrological works. It’s interesting to see it revived in modern times. And I know it’s been amazing for me with the podcast, being able to have that sort of support from listeners and from the community, so that the podcast has been able to grow and expand and be much better than it ever would have been otherwise.
I’m excited to see other astrologers like yourself starting to find new and innovative ways to fund projects like this through Patreon. You couldn’t sustain a two- or three- or five-year project to illustrate these without that sort of community support, and just the fact that things like that are available now is really amazing.
NG: Absolutely. I don’t know how crowdfunding would have worked in Bonatti’s day, but I imagine you’d actually have to walk around and collect money or something every month for the work that you’re doing.
But it’s interesting too. It’s almost like you too can be like a Medieval and Renaissance patron of the arts and of astrology, which is pretty cool.
CB: Yeah, definitely. I think the crowdfunding back then was more lentil-based at that time, commodity-wise.
NG: Absolutely, if you’re on the ‘chicken’ tier, for example.
CB: Right, the ‘chicken’ tier or the ‘lentil’ tier.
CB: So I’m trying to think if there’s anything else that we meant to mention that we didn’t get a chance to. We gave an overview of who Bonatti was. We talked about the different translations that are available. We touched on especially the early aphorisms that you’re focused on right now, as well as some of the later ones where he keeps returning to the topic of the fixed stars.
Are there any other points about the 146 Considerations or Bonatti’s aphorisms that you wanted to mention or that we forgot to mention before we wrap this up?
NG: I don’t think I have anything additional. I would strongly recommend that people do get Ben’s translation and just start reading it themselves, so they can get familiar with the text. And it’s nice because it’s very bite-sized for the most part, so you’re never really committed to reading this enormous text. You can read one consideration a day if you like and really ponder it. So I would recommend that people simply get it and start engaging with it themselves.
CB: Yeah, definitely that’s a great idea. Ben has done a great service by breaking it up, so that you can buy that as a separate book. You don’t have to buy the thousand-paged, entire treatise on Bonatti’s complete approach to astrology, but you can start by just buying this one book on considerations. And then if you want to expand from there, he also has some of the separate books available, like Bonatti’s text on horary, or his text on elections and other parts of the book, so you can build on that.
So yeah, that’s great, and I’d recommend everyone get that book of considerations, and then they can use that and read along with you as you’re going through the considerations and during your commentary and your illustrations to get a better grasp of and to really understand the text better.
I know I already signed up for your page on Patreon, so I’m already supporting that, and I’m excited to see the rest of the illustrations as they start to come out more and more in the future, and I definitely recommend that other people check that out.
So your page on Patreon is at patreon.com/ninagryphon, and your website is NinaGryphon.com, right?
NG: That’s right. And of course, you can also find me on Facebook under Nina Gryphon, as well as on Instagram. I usually post on all of these things more or less simultaneously. So if you’re on at least one platform, you can find me.
CB: Excellent. And I know that I asked this early on and I don’t know if you’re at that stage–I know other people have suggested it, recommended it, or requested it at this point–but do you have any plans in the long term? How do you feel about maybe turning this into a print book at some point in the future?
NG: I would very much like to turn it into a print book. I am currently investigating exactly what I would need to make that happen, in particular, how can I convey the illustrations accurately, so that when it comes out in print, it’s attractive and the colors are accurate and all of that.
But I think if I can get the quality to where I want it, in a way that is affordable to people–because of course that’s important–I very much would like to turn it into a print book. That’s one of the reasons I’m doing the Patreon as well. With a little bit of financial support, it’ll be easier to get a higher quality publication ultimately.
CB: Definitely. Well, that’s what I’m definitely holding out for in the long term, and that’s one of the reasons I’m supporting you through Patreon because I’d love to see this as a print book in the future.
I always think about what books from our time period are going to survive the next century or two or three centuries, and I could see your commentary on Bonatti, your illustrated commentary surviving, and then somebody a thousand years from now trying to unpack that and figure out your commentary and doing studies, or somebody writing a dissertation on Nina Gryphon’s commentary on Bonatti’s Considerations. For some reason, I can see that happening, so I’ll be pulling for a print book happening one of these days.
NG: Yeah, thank you, Chris. I hope so as well. I hope that the dissertation includes some thoughts about why I included certain cute animals for certain considerations. I look forward to seeing that.
CB: Yeah, there’s going to be like a whole subsection in the dissertation on the significance of the hedgehog on the first page and why does he have a thought-bubble with an apple. It’s going to be very detailed.
NG: That’s what I’m thinking, yes.
CB: Excellent. All right, well, thank you for joining me today. And yeah, I look forward to having you on again in the future to talk about other considerations and other projects.
NG: Yeah, thank you very much, Chris. I appreciate it. I had a great time chatting with you.
CB: All right. Well, everyone, you can check out Nina’s website once again at NinaGryphon.com for more information about her project, so check it out.
Well, thanks everyone for listening, and we’ll see you again next time.