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The Astrology Podcast

Ep. 117 Transcript: Western Sidereal Astrology, with Kenneth Bowser

The Astrology Podcast

Transcript of Episode 117, titled:

Western Sidereal Astrology, with Kenneth Bowser

With Chris Brennan and Kenneth Bowser

Episode originally released on July 24, 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: theastrologypodcast@gmail.com

Transcribed by Teresa “Peri” Lardo

Transcription released March 4th, 2024

Copyright © 2024 TheAstrologyPodcast.com

CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. This episode is recorded on Tuesday, July 18th, 2017, starting just after 5:12 PM in Denver, Colorado, and this is the 117th episode of the show. For more information about how to subscribe to the podcast and help support the production of future episodes by becoming a patron, please visit TheAstrologyPodcast.com/subscribe. In this episode, I’m gonna be talking with Kenneth Bowser about the use of the sidereal zodiac in Western astrology. Ken, welcome to the show.

KENNETH BOWSER: Thank you, Chris. Thank you for having me.

CB: Yeah, I’m excited to have you on today because you are one of if not the leading expert on this specific trend or school of astrology that’s grown over the course of the past century which advocates the use of the sidereal zodiac in Western astrology, right?

KB: Yeah. Although I wouldn’t place myself in a number one position.

CB: Sure. Well, to the extent that you are the author of the 2012 book, An Introduction to Western Sidereal Astrology, I definitely think that you’re an authority on the topic. And part of the genesis of this episode or how it came about it is two episodes ago on episode 115, I actually interviewed a Vedic astrologer named Vic DiCara, who advocates the use of the tropical zodiac in Indian astrology, which is kind of interesting and different and puts him in a relatively or a very small class or subset of astrologers that practice Indian astrology, because most Indian astrologers of course use the sidereal zodiac, but then there is a small but evidently growing school of astrologers who practice Indian astrology that advocate using the tropical zodiac. And I wanted to talk to you because you are actually coming at it from the opposite, it’s sort of a similar but opposite direction where you’re a Western astrologer who advocates the use of the sidereal zodiac, right?

KB: Yes.

CB: Okay, so —

KB: That’s exactly right.

CB: So I thought that would be a good contrast, and you would provide a good counterbalance to that previous interview that I did with Vic. And it’s kind of interesting because you have parallel arguments, whereas he argues that the earliest Indian texts that we’re aware of evidently have some references to the tropical zodiac, one of your primary arguments is that many of the earliest Western texts actually seem to use a sidereal zodiac instead, right?

KB: Absolutely. The very earliest things that relate to calendar issues and astrology – reckon months, for example – this is from the second millennium – from the Heliacal risings of stars and never from the equinoxes or solstices, which are very hard to measure. And every historian of science that I know of has explicitly and firmly stated that the sidereal signs were rigidly connected to the stars and that those signs were counted from the endpoints of the sidereal equal division signs once they’d been determined definitively in the first millennium BC.

CB: Right. And so you focus a lot on the Mesopotamian tradition or the Babylonian tradition, depending on what you wanna call it, and the origins of the Western zodiac in that tradition. So that’s something that we’ll get to. So yeah, we’ll talk about different aspects of this, the historical aspect, the conceptual aspect of using the sidereal zodiac, and then also the sort of social or personal aspect of it, because one of the things that I thought was interesting that sort of connects you with that Vedic astrologer I was talking about is in one of your interviews with The Mountain Astrologer magazine a few years ago, you said that becoming a siderealist is an act of apostasy, like because —

KB: Yeah.

CB: — quote unquote, almost nobody in the West begins their astrological studies as a siderealist, because the tropical zodiac is so overwhelmingly used amongst Western astrologers that to turn away from that in some sense is almost like, you know, having a religious conversion or going against one’s religious sect just because it’s such a huge change and goes against the grain so much compared to the prevailing trend. So there’s sort of this personal or social aspect that at some point I’d love to get into with you in terms of how that’s, you know, affected your work and your sort of interactions with other astrologers and things like that.

KB: That’s absolutely true. I started out as a tropical astrologer. I took it up in 1970 and studied astrology just as enthusiastically and continuously as possible for about two years until I met some sidereal astrologers who were really outstanding interpreters. What they were talking about returned the crispness that I was expecting to see in their interpretations by their use of the sidereal zodiac. There wasn’t any vagueness; it was the dignities and debilities were especially pronounced. I wanted to know what they knew and how they knew it, and I was really sort of off to the races. And it really started, strangely enough, on a recommendation by Jim Lewis, a long-time and confirmed tropical astrologer, a very very fine astrologer, who was supporting himself very basically in an apartment with no furniture in it in San Francisco in the early ‘70s giving astrology lessons to all of us who were willing to listen, you know, seated on the floor of this spartan apartment. And he said that he thought that I might find some lectures on sidereal astrology interesting, and I did. And it was a testament to his open-mindedness; he always seemed to be respectful of sidereal astrologers, even though he never adopted that position, but it introduced me to people who impressed me very much.

CB: Sure. And Jim Lewis, for those that don’t know, was the inventor of astrocartography, right?

KB: Yes. And a terrific guy.

CB: Sure.

KB: All around, stand-up dude.

CB: Yeah. He was one of the sort of bright, leading lights in the astrological community that we lost, I guess, before his time due to illness in like, the early 1990s, right?

KB: Yeah, I think 1995.

CB: Okay. So that’s interesting; so you were actually originally referred to sidereal astrology by a tropical astrologer, and that’s also unique on your part because you did astrology for two years doing tropical astrology but then switched two years into your studies. So that’s still relatively, sort of in the grand scheme of things, relatively early on in your studies you became a tropical astrologer – or, sorry, a sidereal astrologer.

KB: Well, I don’t think I really knew what I was doing for several years. So I tended to incline toward the sidereal end of things. But astrology is a long apprenticeship, and I wouldn’t say that I could call myself a decent astrologer for another five or six years after that.

CB: Sure. Yeah, it’s definitely a lifelong study. And so the thing that struck you in the 1970s is that a lot of – from the people you met, you were actually much more impressed with the approach that some of the sidereal astrologers took and they seemed to have a more either streamlined or a more worked-out technical approach in terms of what they were doing at that point.

KB: I would say both. I still – you say “streamlined approach” – I still find myself having to rein myself in against what – I don’t mean in a rude way – that I’ll call Greek schematism that I think has really become a very important part of tropical astrology, and I found it wanting. And the tropical astrologers that I was dealing with were very much engaged in trying to figure it out, and I thought they were technically not as strong as they should and certainly not as strong as I wanted to be. And they seemed to be consumed with things that I ultimately just let go of – terms and qualities and things like that, rather to concentrate on the intrinsic nature of the planets and the signs.

CB: Sure. And so, I mean, coming in in the 1970s, you basically would’ve been coming in right on the heels of or in the sort of aftermath of the initial birth of the Western sidereal astrology movement or the revival of sidereal astrology in the West in modern times because that was kind of a recent phenomenon to some extent that really originated with the work of one specific person or one astrologer in the mid-20th century, right?

KB: I agree. That’s Fagan. Cyril Fagan was really responsible for the renaissance in the West of sidereal astrology.

CB: Okay. Well, let’s talk a little bit about him and his work. So who was he, where was he from, like, give me the whole sort of —

KB: He was Irish.

CB: — Cliffs Notes version. Okay.

KB: Career British civil servant and longtime ex-patriot to the United States. He took up astrology in 1916 at the age of 20 – he was born in 1896 – and very quickly took to it like a duck to water. In the 1920s, he founded the Irish Astrological Society and became friendly with William Butler Yeats and was what you would call an astrological scholar after 15, 16 years and was very well-respected in the 1930s. And he was very profoundly deaf. He got scarlet fever as a young man, which very badly damaged his hearing, and so he wasn’t able to follow his father in an academic career. His father was a medical doctor. And so astrology became sort of a backup career for a natural scholar who couldn’t hear a lecture in a classroom situation.

CB: Okay.

KB: He was reading academic journals, consuming them, really, which had been publishing things translated in the second half of the 19th century that demonstrated the Babylonians used a sidereal zodiac, and he was persuaded in 1944 by the evidence that he just couldn’t get around – you know, he’s a tropical astrologer – that sidereal astrology was the order of the day in the ancient world until the Greeks created tropical astrology, and he thought that it was illegitimate. So in the late ‘40s and through the ‘50s, he took on the role of heretic that he didn’t want, but he was so deeply impressed with sidereal reckoning that he couldn’t let it go. He was that very, very unusual person, an outstanding interpreter, he frightened people, he was an amazing interpreter, he had Mercury conjoined to the Neptune-Pluto conjunction, and he had insight that just left everybody else in the dust. And he was a voracious reader and student who lived in libraries.

CB: Right. He’s kind of an interesting character because he, to me at least, he’s unique as a 20th century astrologer in that he actually was following a lot of the scholarship on the history of science and the history of astrology that was being produced by academics, which is kind of unique because for the most part, from what I’ve seen, astrologers didn’t typically tend to pay attention to what the academics were doing in terms of the strides that were being taken in recovering the history of astrology over the course of the late 19th and most of the 20th century, but instead the astrologers —

KB: That’s not quite true.

CB: Right. So the astrologers were often sort of doing one thing, and the academics were doing something else, and the astrologers very rarely ever paid attention to the sort of discoveries the academics were making even though all these great discoveries were being made by, you know, people that specialized in ancient languages and people that were studying ancient civilizations and especially ancient astrology. So Fagan was one of those people that was actually paying attention to this research.

KB: Yes indeed. It was a critical difference. And it was hard for him, because he was a tropical astrologer, and yet he couldn’t ignore after years of trying to reconcile the tropical/sidereal issue that astrology had been sidereal in the ancient world and it struck him as a colossal error to abandon that premise on the basis of the geocentric universe, namely that —

CB: Right.

KB: — if you assume that the earth doesn’t move, and you see motion over long periods of time of stars relative to the equinox but you’re sure that the earth is fixed, you have to conclude that the stars were moving when in fact what Hipparchus was looking at was precessional motion, not stellar motion, and that’s how he discovered precession. But if you are sure that the earth is motionless and you see motion and you say, “Well, we need a fixed standard,” you’re going to abandon the stars for the constellations – or for the equinoxes, rather, which in fact are moving. The point is that Ptolemy got it backwards.

CB: Sure. And we’ll get into more of the technical specifics of that later. I just wanna make sure we sort of outline, you know, Fagan’s life a little bit first, because his story, like you said, is a little bit different than yours in that you were only a tropicalist for about two years, but with Fagan, he was born in 1896 and then he started studying astrology in 1916 at the age of 20. And for the next, like, 30 years, he did tropical astrology really, and it’s not until 1944 that he officially switched to using the sidereal zodiac or became sort of compelled to switch to using the sidereal zodiac under the premise that that was the oldest and the original way that the zodiac was developed, right?

KB: That was his reasoning, yes

CB: Okay. So it’s kind of like a textual argument in a way, because this is something I was going back and forth with the Vedic astrologer about as well, where you know, sometimes astrologers or traditions that deal with or you know, draw on long traditions where the history and the origins and the roots of something are important, sometimes textual arguments about how a system was developed or what the earliest version was can sometimes hold a lot of water or can really sway people. And that was the main thing that swayed Fagan was through these translations of ancient texts from Mesopotamia and ancient Greek texts and other things like that, it became clear that a lot of the early astrologers were using a sidereal zodiac rather than the more common tropical one. And as a result of that, he decided that that was the zodiac that was then intended or meant to be used or that we should’ve been using all along was the sidereal zodiac.

KB: Yes, indeed. I wouldn’t modify those statements at all.

CB: Okay.

KB: That is to say, that was his position.

CB: Okay, so and his conclusion was that the zodiac was originally sidereal in the Babylonian or Mesopotamian tradition, but then the Greeks changed it essentially, right?

KB: Yes. Until the second century BC, there is no tropical zodiac. The equinox is just described by Greeks earlier than that in terms of the sidereal signs. They would say that, well, even Eudoxus in the fourth century said that 15 Aries is in the equinox, which was not true for his day but many centuries older than that, but gradually the Greeks were saying 10, five, eight, three degrees of Aries was at the equinox, mostly 10, eight, and five, until Hipparchus said, “No, look – the equinoxes are moving,” although G.J. Toomor thinks that he changed his mind at the end of his life. We have to hang our hat on something that won’t change, and he thought that would certainly be the equinoxes and the solstices, but that instantly uncouples the zodiac from the sky.

CB: Sure.

KB: Because the equinoxes are moving with respect to the sky. So it was that kind of reasoning that pulled Fagan away from tropical reckoning.

CB: Sure. So Fagan is following all this scholarship that’s being done on ancient Mesopotamian astrology, he’s following some of the scholarship that’s being done in ancient Greco-Roman or Hellenistic astrology, and eventually he feels compelled to make the change to using the sidereal zodiac in 1944 and then subsequently has a long career publishing a few books as well as many articles promoting this use of the sidereal zodiac, starting with – I believe it was, was that his first book? Zodiacs Old and New in 1950?

KB: Yeah. He came out with the exaltation solution in 1948, which was in Zodiacs Old and New that came out in 1950. He considered that his crowning achievement. One of the things I really like about Fagan is that he was a regular guy. He had a wife, he was married for decades to his wife. He had a couple kids. He had a regular, real life, not some kind of bizarre or off-the-wall existence. And the way that many people watch television or engage themselves in some mindless pursuit because of the stress of their lives, Fagan would come home from work at night and study. He was devoted to his craft and his art.

CB: Sure. So did he have a job separate from astrology, or when did astrology become his primary profession?

KB: Yes, he was a career British civil servant, and when he retired, he started wandering a bit. He went to Morocco, lived there for a while. His son, I believe, lived in Canada, so he went to Canada for a while. Then he went to Arizona; he wrote for American Astrology Magazine for a long time. So once he had retired from the British civil service, he began to travel a lot and came here, stateside.

CB: Do you know what year that was he retired?

KB: I don’t know the year he retired. But I know that it was in the early ‘60s.

CB: Okay, got it. So he starts publishing books – I mean, he’s been studying astrology for 30 years by this point, and he switched to the sidereal zodiac in ‘44, and he publishes his book Zodiacs Old and New that has most of his core arguments in 1950 and then other subsequent books follow and eventually he also writes a column in American Astrology Magazine from 1953 until he died in 1970, right?

KB: Yes, and those columns were published in reprint form for about three years after his death.

CB: Okay.

KB: That is, they continued to recycle those things in American Astrology Magazine. 

CB: So in his arguments, he becomes kind of this sort of this lone voice in a sea of astrologers who are, you know, practicing the tropical zodiac and sort of taking that for granted and basically have been taking that for granted for over a thousand years up to that point in the West, he’s this sort of lone astrologer who’s saying, “No, we should be using the sidereal zodiac.” And eventually that actually he convinces some people and starts to gain some adherents over the course of that two or three decade long period towards the end of his life before he passed away in 1970, right?

KB: Yes, yes, and yes. Astrology slowly – sidereal astrology – slowly gained ground in the ‘50s, but in the ‘60s, it began to really take off. And I would say that interest in astrology in general – tropical and sidereal – was greater in the 1960s and into the ‘70s than it had been in the West since any time after Lilly. That is, I think it was more embraced seriously by more people and to a greater degree than any time since the 17th century.

CB: Sure. I mean, maybe even further back, since the time of Ptolemy. You could even argue that it was maybe being practiced even more widely since way back then.

KB: Well, it’s possible, but because I don’t really know that, I can’t chime in with what might be likely, but I just don’t know.

CB: Sure. And part of the – one of the things that’s interesting and sort of notable surrounding Fagan is there was also this sort of personality component to it because he had a very, he had kind of like a fiery temperament and he would make some of his arguments very strongly, so that there was this sort of element to it about his personality that sort of struck people either, you know, if the people liked what he was saying, in a positive way, and people maybe that didn’t like what he was saying in a very off-putting way. Would you say that’s fair?

KB: Yes, he had the Moon very closely opposite Mars. And he was forceful in his arguments and tended to be sarcastic and cutting in his response to people who disagreed with him, too much so, because it tended to – I think he realized late in his life that it tended to put off people who might otherwise have looked more closely at his work. And it’s been something that I’ve had to deal with too; I have Moon trine Mars almost exactly, and I’ve also rubbed people the wrong way, and as I get older, I think mellowed quite a lot compared to even 10 years ago. And if you don’t do that, you make enemies unnecessarily.

CB: Sure. I mean, it was interesting, because when I was talking to the Vedic astrologer, he had a bit of that as well, and I almost kind of wondered if there wasn’t something about, I don’t know, being drawn to – you know, on the one hand, because obviously it’s partially something where you think that both historically and conceptually but also practically that this makes more sense, but it’s also interesting sometimes that there’s kind of this personality component where sometimes different astrologers can be drawn to different types of teachers and maybe to different styles that more closely approximates their own sort of approach and sometimes you can see a sort of generational similarity between astrologers in that way. And that’s something that I’ve kind of noticed sometimes with the sidereal astrologers is they sometimes tend to be very outspoken about that, and I’ve often wondered how much of that is coming from Fagan and kind of his personality and his approach to writing versus how much of that is just, you know, part of what happens if you’re like, a smaller minority group within a broader group and if sometimes being more vocal or more trying to engage things in a more dynamic way is sometimes almost imperative in order to attempt to make your case more forcefully.

KB: I think that’s it. If you’re a voice in the wilderness and people will not listen to your positions, you tend to become irritated about it, and as you get older though, you realize that some people are going to hear it, some people are not. And you tend to let go of the crusader element and also start to see astrologers as friends. For example, you and I are very much on the opposite end of the stick, and yet I recognize what you’ve done is a tremendous achievement. There’s no other way to describe it. And I would be remiss if I were to – foolish, even – if I were to say, “Oh, well, what Chris has done in his advocacy of Hellenistic astrology is something that’s altogether without merit.” That’s madness. And I don’t go there anymore.

CB: Yeah, and I mean, it’s totally fine. I’m fine – I’m trying to be – because I’m, you know, I have two different hats here. On the one hand, I’m trying to interview and document people and sort of document the history of astrology and different traditions that are present at this time and to genuinely get some insight into what the different approaches are and what the different sort of mindsets are with those approaches. And then my other hat, of course, is me and the particular approach to astrology that I have and that I’m comfortable with. And you know, I’m gonna try to balance those two in these interviews. So I don’t want you to – I’m, obviously I’m attempting to be very respectful, I don’t want you to feel – you know, I want you to make your arguments as strongly and as forcefully as you feel like making in terms of that, because and I think then we’ll have, you know, people will have a much more clear perspective on what the different approaches are and so that’s part of what I wanna draw out in this interview. So —

KB: I understand. I’m just saying that I don’t have a chip on my shoulder.

CB: Sure. Yeah, totally. Okay. So we talked about Fagan. Fagan, you know, spurred this revival, you came in in the 1970s and then sort of took up the banner along with a number of other people who practice sidereal astrology. I know a few other astrologers who do. And so the main focal point and the main question I wanted to put to you – we’ll touch on a bunch of other points during the rest of this, but – the focal point here I guess or the main question is, what are the best arguments for using the sidereal zodiac in the Western tradition at this point in time?

KB: The main issue is that sidereal reckoning does not precess; it stays aligned to the stars that it’s based on. That’s far and away the most important element. Secondarily, a fabulous predictive technique, sidereal solar and lunar returns, are very, very persuasive. It’s the only way I was able to say that Trump would win, because I’m definitely left of center, not far left, but I’m a leftie, I’m a Democrat. And I did not want him to become president, and yet it seemed from his solar and lunar returns that there was no way around it. And I’m reminded of the Western astrologers, the tropical astrologers, who got the prediction wrong, all of them, I don’t think those people are a bunch of bozos. I question the value of their tools. And in the same way I didn’t know Trump was going to win, I just thought that was the right way to look at it, I just couldn’t see around him losing. My guess, my surmise is that the tropical astrologers who picked Hillary had the same conviction, that based on what they think is important that she was a shoo-in. And the reason that tropical and sidereal solar returns are so valuable is because the sidereal zodiac stays aligned to the stars that define the sidereal zodiac; they don’t precess, and I can’t think of more compelling arguments than that precession is not an issue with sidereal reckoning, and it renders one’s tools more formidable.

CB: Sure. So you think that there’s a historical argument – so there’s probably three points. One, you think there’s a historical argument for the sidereal zodiac over the tropical zodiac. Two, you think that there’s a conceptual argument in terms of precession and the alignment of the signs with the constellations. And then three, you think that it works better or is more effective in terms of the timing techniques that you use.

KB: Yes.

CB: So I just wanna make that broad point clear, because I’m not sure that the election itself is something that, you know, like, for example, that anyone was even using the correct chart for Hillary is kind of questionable at this point. What birth time were you using?

KB: Well, I looked at both eight in the morning and eight in the evening, and in both ways, they looked pretty bad. For the eight AM chart, her solar return had Moon square Saturn very closely, and since her birthday was October 26th, if her birth time were in the morning, almost any morning time in the neighborhood within a couple hours of eight AM is going to have Moon square Saturn in the solar return. And you know, the election is only a very short few trickle of days after her birthday, so Moon square Saturn is very much at issue. I felt that it didn’t make a lot of sense to be too fine with it if it’s a morning time, because no matter what it is she has, in varying degrees Moon square Saturn – that’s not the chart of somebody who wins an election generally.

CB: Right —

KB: There has to be —

CB: — but that’s not —

KB: — really strong Venus and Jupiter to overcome that.

CB: Just to clarify, though, that’s not something that’s dependent on the zodiac in this instance.

KB: True. On the other hand, the tropical and sidereal solar returns for someone her age don’t even occur on the same day. So her tropical solar return is not going to have Moon square Saturn for either the morning or the evening time. The evening time had some other god-awful thing – I think it was Moon-Pluto. At any rate, overall, my assessment was that even though I didn’t know her birth time, if I can assume a time near eight AM or near eight PM, is she holding a hand that can beat Trump’s full house? He had a strong, strong full house hand as it were. And, you know, she needed a straight or a flush to beat it, and either way, she didn’t have anything remotely close to that in terms of the strength of a solar return on any day, or rather any time on October 26th, 2016 that could overcome Trump’s situation, which is not contested. His birth certificate is available online – 10:54 AM from the city of New York, Department of Health. It isn’t a point at issue. And so I thought this is pretty much a slam dunk.

CB: Sure. So that’s one of the things that you would point to – things like, with solar returns for example, it makes a huge difference in terms of timing techniques because it’s not just that signs change due to precession so that there’s a 24- or 25-degree difference or what have you between the placements in the signs, but because of precession over the course of a person’s lifetime, a solar return will actually take place not even on the same day of the year if you’re doing a tropical solar return versus a sidereal one. So that’s one of the technical things that you would encourage people to look at in order to see the difference between sidereal and tropical astrology.

KB: That’s true. The difference between the sidereal year and the tropical year is a little more than 20 minutes, and so tropical and sidereal solar returns diverge by an hour at age three. And the discrepancy gets bigger and bigger and bigger until by the time you’re middle-aged, the difference between the two is so pronounced that it’s like two unrelated horoscopes.

CB: Right. So, I mean, precession goes at a rate of like, a degree every 72 years, and for somebody like Hillary who’s 69 years old, we’re talking about, you know, an entire degree of arc —

KB: Very nearly, yeah.

CB: Okay. All right. So yeah, that’s an important point. So let’s get to the core then, though, of some of the conceptual and the historical arguments, and specifically the discussion about the origins of the zodiac and its connection with the constellations in the Mesopotamian tradition. So what is the timeline of when the zodiac first started being used?

KB: Well, the sources that I’ve read claim that the zodiac was slowly put together primarily through Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Crete, and Phoenicia, and that by late in the second millennium BC, the Babylonians had worked out some discrete constellations. There were 18 in numbers; they were unequal. There were the 12 that we know now, but with Pisces split into two, and another constellation called The Swallow in the middle of Pisces as well, with the addition of the Pleiades, Auriga, Orion, and Auriga.

CB: Okay, so this is like, circa 1000 BCE —

KB: Yes.

CB: — the Mesopotomians have identified 18 constellations that fall on the ecliptic.

KB: Well, actually Perseus and Auriga – Auriga especially – they’re pretty high. So they weren’t all ecliptic constellations. However, they were making parans – paranatellonta – relationships with other zodiacal constellations, which incidentally – may I digress for just a minute?

CB: Sure.

KB: Ophiuchus is something that people have been talking about a lot, and it’s important to, I think, to recognize that Ophiuchus is a paran, is a paranatellonta, of Scorpio.

CB: And what do you mean by that? Just for like, a non-specialist audience?

KB: Most of Scorpio, almost all of Scorpio, is below the ecliptic, south of the ecliptic. And Ophiuchus is mostly on the ecliptic and north of it. So they’re sandwiched to each other, and so they rise at the same time with different azimuths on the same horizon. So when people say, well, why not use Ophiuchus? Because it’s part of Scorpio, and it rises when Scorpio rises, but the stars appear on different parts of the horizon, different azimuths, but at the same time, so it’s not like they aren’t sort of twin constellations. They’re right next to each other, but in a north-south way, not an east-west way. It’s not like Ophiuchus follows Scorpio; one is north of the ecliptic and on the ecliptic – that’s Ophiuchus – Scorpio is south of the ecliptic. So they’re in a mutual relationship, and even one of the normal stars, the working stars, that the Babylonians used was the Theta Star in Ophiuchus.

So my point is that paran relationships, planets that rise simultaneously, even if they’re not on the ecliptic will sometimes, especially in the ancient world, be grouped together with ecliptic constellations. So that’s what’s going on with Auriga, for example. At any rate —

CB: Sure. So that’s part of your response to the Ophiuchus sort of question from a sidereal standpoint is that you’re kind of saying that that constellation, that Ophiuchus is already sort of incorporated into Scorpio because they’re sort of co-rising constellations?

KB: Yes. Yes, that’s entirely it.

CB: Got it. Okay. And we’ll circle around to that again later, because I think that’ll come up again later in the discussion in my outline. So – and just to clarify for those, you know, I’ve talked about the ecliptic before in the past in the previous discussion on the sidereal and tropical zodiac, but just to clarify – the ecliptic is the path that the Sun as well as the rest of the planets take from our standpoint when we’re looking out at the sky from the perspective of earth. The ecliptic is the path that the Sun and the other planets take through the constellations, and instead of going through, you know, the entire sky or all of the constellations, the Sun actually goes through a specific path that only goes through certain constellations and doesn’t go through others, and that’s what the ecliptic is. It’s the path that the Sun and the other planets take through the sky. Is that an accurate —

KB: That’s —

CB: — sort of definition?

KB: — well-put, and that’s true.

CB: Okay. So originally the Mesopotamians, they identified something like, let’s say, around 18 different constellations that the Sun and the other planets that were sort of near the ecliptic that were somehow relevant in some way, but then eventually by the 5th century BCE – so let’s say circa 450 or let’s say 500 BCE – the zodiac is suddenly standardized so that it contains exactly 12 quote-unquote, you know, zodiacal signs that were each exactly 30 degrees along the ecliptic each. And 12 times – or 30 times 12, of course, comes out to 360. So you have three – or you have 12 sidereal zodiacal signs that each take up the entire 360-degree ecliptic by the 5th century BCE. So at this point, it’s not – they’re still sort of tied into the constellations, but at this point it shifts to sort of an idealized division of 12 signs or 12 divisions along the ecliptic, right?

KB: I agree with that, except that I think it wasn’t sudden. One of the people who had input into that 500 BC estimate was a man by the name of Abraham Sachs – S A C H S – who was an outstanding cuneiform scholar, Akkadian scholar, who said that he didn’t think that the zodiac emerged ex nihilo, from out of nothing, and that he thought it was entirely reasonable that it was really 200 years, perhaps more, older than 500 BC, especially since the astronomical diaries are well into the 7th century and eclipse records are well into the 8th century BC. And when we get to the discussion about the exaltations, I’ll point out why I think that’s true. But I don’t think it was a snap decision or a sudden decision; I think that the transition from 18 to 12 probably happened within a couple hundred years, and that by 500 BC it was already a well-established tradition. The problem is that one needs tablet surety in order to be able to say that oh yeah, that’s definitely what happened. But there are other ways of showing that, and we’ll get to that later. So yes, we go from 18 circa 1000 BC to 12 equal-length, idealized constellations by 500. And so the issue is just when did that happen?

CB: Sure.

KB: And that 500 years is a long time to contemplate, so —

CB: Sure.

KB: — at any rate, there we are. By 500, the Babylonians have produced a mathematical model that’s accurate, that can predict future predictions of the planets, considered one of the great achievements of the ancient world, especially since they did it without trigonometry.

CB: Sure. And so this was the point by the 5th century BCE where at least we have evidence that they’re using this standardized, 12-sign zodiac which was each 30 degrees. And one of the potential issues, or at least one of the objections that my previous guest raised when he was trying to argue as an Indian astrologer for the tropical zodiac is he said even this zodiac, even though typically one of the sidereal arguments – an argument that a siderealist will make – is that the sidereal zodiac is more in alignment with the constellations whereas the tropical zodiac is completely divorced from it, one of the objections that he raised and I was curious how you would respond to this is that because we’re talking about an idealized 12-sign zodiac here, that in and of itself is not necessarily even aligned with the constellations to the extent that the constellations themselves are of unequal size, with some of the constellations actually being really large – like Virgo, for example, that goes, I think it’s like, 40 or 48 degrees or something along the ecliptic – versus other constellations that are extremely small. But in this idealized framework, each of them is attributed exactly 30 degrees along the ecliptic. How do you feel about that argument, or that point?

KB: Well, they approximately conform to the actual zodiac much better than the tropical does. This is often brought up as a criticism of the sidereal system, as though tropical reckoning is somehow better in this respect, but the seasons are not equal either. Summer is more than 93 days long, winter is less than 89 days long. Spring and fall are not equal in length. So the supposed equal size of the tropical signs deviate from the real world, too, which renders the criticism of the sidereal zodiac sort of a non-starter. But the criticism I think misses the point. That the issue with sidereal reckoning is that it stays aligned to the stars, it doesn’t precess. It’s a fixed frame of reference. Tropical reckoning has to be constantly revised every year, as it is in the national ephemerides, because it moves with respect to the sky, and the sidereal zodiac is fixed. So even though the constellations are not exactly 30 degrees in extent by a long shot, still, their conformity to that approximation keeps that frame of reference aligned to the 35 so-called “normal” stars or working stars used by the Babylonians. And the zero degree of Aries, with respect to the sidereal zodiac, is still the point 45 degrees to the west of Aldebaran, the alpha star in Taurus. That was true millenia ago, and it still is, whereas tropical reckoning is constantly changing with respect to the sky. The siderealists think that the sky trumps the equinox, because the sky is an overarching standard. It changes so slowly that as a practical matter it’s fixed in as much as the night sky looks today to the naked eye exactly as it did at the dawn of recorded history, circa 3000 BC. Whereas the equinoxes moved 70 degrees in that period. So the essential point is not sizes, but rather reference frame. The essential point is that the equinox moves with respect to a fixed sky; it’s not the other way around.

CB: Well, I mean, it’s all sort of – when that argument comes up, I always come back to the point that it’s really relative to whatever your standpoint is, because the siderealists will argue that from our standpoint, the stars are what stays fixed, and so relative to the stars, it’s the equinoxes that are moving. But then the tropicalists will argue that, well, from our standpoint on earth as we’re sitting here, the equinoxes stay fixed and don’t move; it’s the stars that are moving against the framework of the equinoxes. So I’m not sure, you know, it’s really a matter of what perspective you’re looking at it, but I understand —

KB: I think that’s a misnomer, because the stars only move if you insist that the earth doesn’t move. And that has everything to do with the notion of the geocentric universe, that is the Greek and especially Ptolemaic insistence that the earth is motionless and the center of the universe. So if you see motion between positions separated by enough time, it’s reasonable to assume that the stars have moved if you’re convinced that the earth doesn’t move. But astrology was dropped in the 17th century from university curricula for two reasons: First, Western astrologers were making a truckload of really bad predictions, and Newton’s Principia that was published in 1686 and 1687 drove the final nail into the coffin of medieval thought, because Newton proved irrevocably that Ptolemy was wrong. The earth is not the center of our solar system, and the consequences for astrology were and are huge. I think astrology still has not recovered from that bombshell.

CB: Well, yeah. I mean, Ptolemy’s cosmology, which he tried to place things on a solid, scientific footing from his perspective in the 2nd century, ended up being mistaken in part of its premise, and that did lead to major rejection of his system and many of the things associated with it once that was discovered as part of the scientific revolution, and that had far more to do with the downfall of astrology in the 17th astrology than anything about, like, astrologers making bad predictions because that cosmological shift was so major in terms of people’s worldviews and the implications that it had for astrology.

But it didn’t still alter the fundamental point that natal astrology has always been calculated relative to the perspective of the observer, and that there’s something about astrology and the process of doing divination where the relative perspective of the observer is what is most relevant, and that’s why astrology has always primarily been and is still – even though we know the Sun is the center of the solar system – astrologers still cast natal charts for the position of the native from their perspective on earth, because that’s what matters is their sort of relative perspective. So I don’t think, you know, attempting to frame it as just a, that tropical astrologers are using a geocentric model as if that’s the model of the universe is not necessarily correct. It’s more a perspective of are you using something relative to the perspective of the observer.

KB: We’re gonna have to disagree on that one, because I think that the tropicalists still insist that the stars move. And as a practical matter, the stars do not move. They’ll generally move about one degree in around a hundred thousand years, which is a thousand centuries for one degree of movement. So as a practical matter, they are fixed. And to deny that it’s the equinox that’s moving with respect to the stars, I think, is to confuse the issue. This is a place where —

CB: Do the equinoxes —

KB: — we’re gonna have to disagree.

CB: — move relative to each other?

KB: Yeah, but I think that’s a false equivalence.

CB: Well, no —

KB: Because it’s —

CB: —  it’s a question. Do the equinoxes move relative to each other?

KB: What do you mean, relative to each other?

CB: Is there ever any deviation between the degree relationship between the vernal equinox and what is in the northern hemisphere the summer solstice? Are they ever more or less than 90 degrees exactly away from each other?

KB: Yes. But that’s very infrequent.

CB: What do you mean, ‘yes?’

KB: Well, that’s gonna relate to precession entirely.

CB: Well, no, no, I’m just asking relative to each other, is there ever any difference in the relationship that each of the equinoxes have relative to each other? And the answer is no, they don’t deviate relative to each other, right?

KB: They – we’re back to square one. The overarching idea from the point of view of the sidereal premise is that the sky trumps the equinoxes, because it’s unmoving, and the equinoxes move with respect to the sky. That’s one of the fundamental issues between the tropical and sidereal schools.

CB: Right. I’m just pointing out that from the tropical perspective, it’s not measuring the equinoxes relative to the constellations or the sky; it’s measuring them relative to the equinoxes and the solstices, which from the perspective of the observer on earth do not move but stay fixed if you do not compare them to the signs of the zodiac – or to the constellations or what have you. Now, if you, you know, make your argument where you’re trying to argue for, you know, the supremacy of the constellations, I could understand why you would want to attempt to measure the tropical, the equinoxes and the solstices relative to the constellations, but there’s nothing that necessitates that or like, inherently says that you must measure the equinoxes and the solstices relative to the constellations, is there?

KB: Yes. There is. I put something up, for example, a while ago that relates to the Pluto return of the United States. Because some people – some of the very good, incidentally – I think at least one of these people who’s a good astrologer is making the case for a Pluto return in 2022. But the orbital period of Pluto is 247.686 years, and so I pointed out that Pluto is not gonna reach the same position with respect to sidereal reckoning that it had in 1776 at the time of the Declaration of Independence until February 2024, even though a tropical ephemeris will say yes, yes it will in February 2022. But that’s only 245 years; that’s two years short of a complete orbit. So the point I was trying to make is that the consequence of ignoring precession is that timing gets out of sync with the sky fairly quickly in terms of a solar return for an individual during a regular lifetime and quite a lot more over several centuries more than that. Because it’s undeniably, irrevocably true that Pluto will not get back, will not return to the same position in the sky that it had on the 4th of July 1776 until February, I think February 22nd, 2024. But a tropical ephemeris will tell you, oh no, that’s February 2022. And the tropical ephemeris is wrong.

CB: Well, it —

KB: Because it violates —

CB: — depending on what your reference framework is. So if it’s sidereal —

KB: No, depending on where Pluto really is in the sky.

CB: Well, everything is relative. It’s relative to something. So the question is what are you measuring it relative to? And your argument is that the correct measurement to measure things relative to is the fixed stars, whereas a tropical astrologer would argue that the correct thing to measure it relative to is the position of the equinoxes and the solstices.

KB: Yeah, but there’s no getting around the fact that Pluto’s orbital period is 247.686 years, not 245. I mean, you can’t play —

CB: Measured at relative to the sidereal placements.

KB: No matter how it’s measured. The point is that tropical measurement over long periods of time will show an error with respect to where planets really are, not in a relative way but in an objective, actual way.

CB: Okay.

KB: And there is a consequence to saying, well, it doesn’t matter; you can – depends on your relative point of view. It’s an example of how era-to-era comparisons, in terms of tropical reckoning, are wanting badly in respect of accuracy when you look at something that’s like, the English situation around 1776 compared to the Battle of Hastings, for example, or the coronation of William the 1st as King of England on Christmas Day in 1066. Tropical reckoning will leave you twisting in the breeze because it doesn’t take precession into account. So the difference between tropical and sidereal reckoning over a period of six, seven, eight, nine centuries is massive; it’s enormous.

CB: Right. So let’s back up a little bit and go back to the history to explain what that is and talk a little bit about precession and that discovery. So as we said, by 500 BCE or so, we have evidence for the zodiac being standardized to 12 signs of 30 degrees each based on the constellations such as sidereal. We also have the development and the invention of natal astrology at least by this point with the oldest surviving birth charts dating to 410 BCE, so those —

KB: True.

CB: — two developments are happening roughly simultaneously we assume, at least as far as we know from the evidence. And then a few centuries later, we have a Greek astronomer who comes along named Hipparchus who discovered precession and basically discovers that the equinoxes and the solstices are actually moving or falling out of alignment at the rate of approximately a degree every 72 years, or I think he thought it was a degree every century based on he was looking at comparing his observations to centuries of Mesopotamian observations, and he made this discovery about precession basically, right? Around the – I guess it was around the 2nd century BCE.

KB: Well, I’m not aware that it was Babylonian stuff that really explained things for him. He was looking at the work of another Greek, a man by the name of Timocharis, who lived about 150 years before his time who had compiled – what do you call it? A star catalog. And so he compared his contemporary observations to the positions in Timocharis’s star catalog and discovered that there was a two-degree difference in every case. Which must have been tremendously eye-opening. I mean, like, Galileo seeing the moons of Jupiter. So he realized that there had to be – if you assume that the earth doesn’t move – some slow motion heretofore unseen among the stars themselves that required the use of an absolute standard. And so what he was looking at, though, was precessional motion; he thought it was stellar motion, even though Toomer and William Smart – another tremendous English math professor and professor of astronomy – thought that, both of them think that Hipparchus changed his mind at the end of his career but Ptolemy stayed with the original idea. At any rate, so Hipparchus is, well, good grief, we have to tie our measurements to an absolute standard, and so it’s gotta be tied to the earth because everybody knows the earth is not moving. And that was the beginning of tropical reckoning, but as soon as you do that, the stars and the signs get out of alignment.

At any rate, he is almost surely responsible for tropical reckoning, and perhaps the greatest genius of the ancient world. He was an amazing man and is really the father of trigonometry. He developed a table of chords that was much used later by Ptolemy and expanded upon by the Indians and then the Islamic scholars a thousand years later. But he was a genius, and yet he was laboring under some assumptions that I think compromised his conclusions even though he may have realized later, as Toomer and Smart are very confident, that the equinox is moving. But his original ideas – we have to start reckoning positions of bodies from the equinox, and we’re gonna call that zero even though it was four degrees Aries in his day with respect to Babylonian reckoning, and that’s the beginning, I think, very very likely of tropical astrology. I don’t think there was a bigger brain before Hipparchus except possibly Archimedes who could’ve come up with the concept.

CB: Sure —

KB: Maybe Aristarchus, but Aristarchus didn’t have good numbers. And he was shouted down. He was hooted down and threatened with impiety, the very thing that did in Socrates, because he went against Aristotelian notions of symmetry and perfect circles and the Greek ideas of perfection, which I think are problems. I think it has a lot to do with the element of the Greek idea of nous, which you can lay at the feet of Anaxagoras in the 5th century. The idea that nous relates to reason, awareness, or eternal or a priori truths, and that one must plug into those things in order to see things rightly. And I think that’s the principle that is responsible for the imposition of schematism on the sky, that so beloved of the Greeks that the Babylonians never embraced.

CB: Well, I mean, I have to push back on that because we just discussed how the Babylonians created an idealized, 12-sign zodiac in the 5th century BCE that, you know, does not exactly match the constellations that fall on the ecliptic. So there was already some sense of idealizations or abstractions being projected onto the sky in the Babylonian tradition. It’s not just the purview of the Greeks.

KB: Yeah, but they’re tied to stars – things that are real. Things that actually don’t change.

CB: Right, versus the equinoxes and the solstices, which are real and similarly do not change relative to each other or the position on earth. So going back to precession. So at this point, the mid-2nd century BCE – so let’s say circa 150 BCE – Hipparchus, as far as we know, is the first person in the world to discover precession, that precession is actually taking place, because he’s actually drawing on earlier astronomical observations and comparing those to his own. So he discovers that precession is taking place; he thinks it’s taking about a degree, it’s moving what is essentially you could say the sidereal and the tropical zodiac out of alignment by a degree, he thought every century but it’s actually, we know now it’s closer to about a degree every 72 years. And so this creates the fundamental difference between the tropical and sidereal zodiac, which is basically that each degree of the zodiac moves – of the two respective zodiacs moves out of alignment by one degree every 72 years, and over the past 2,000 years, that’s actually added up so that they’re what? Approximately 24 degrees off or something at this point?

KB: No, they’re almost exactly 25 by Babylonian reckoning now. I mean, it’d be 25 zero zero zero zero within a couple months.

CB: Okay, so that means that, for example, a planet at what, let’s say, a tropical astrologer would say 15 degrees of Aries is at what degree in the sidereal zodiac?

KB: Hang on a minute – 15 Aries is going to be 10 Pisces.

CB: Okay. Sure. So that makes a huge difference. That means if you’re looking at a planet, you know, according to that at 15 degrees of Aries in the tropical zodiac and then it’s at you said 10 Pisces – actually, it’s not – it wouldn’t be 10, it would be like, 20 Pisces or something, wouldn’t it?

KB: No, there’s – my mind is folded up, hang on just a second. No, you’re right, it would be 20.

CB: Yeah. So you basically just take, for example, in the tropical zodiac, you can take all of the positions of – let’s say a person is normally used to using the tropical zodiac – you can take all of the positions in the zodiac of each of the planets in your chart and subtract approximately 25 degrees, and that’s where the planets would be in the sidereal zodiac, essentially, right?

KB: Yeah. Correct.

CB: Okay. And so that is fundamentally the difference between the tropical and sidereal zodiac from a chart standpoint, and that is the effect of precession so that those placements move about one degree – or those two zodiacs move out of alignment about one degree every 72 years.

KB: Correct.

CB: This was discovered by Hipparchus in the 2nd century. And so this then raises this issue where we have the Hellenistic tradition that starts not long after that, or at least by the middle of the 1st century BCE we start seeing what is essentially the primary framework of Western astrology coming into practice, which uses planets, signs, houses, and aspects, but it seems like there was either precession wasn’t known, or it was sort of like a theory that wasn’t necessarily endorsed by everyone up to that point even though Hipparchus had discovered it. And then eventually by the time we get to the 2nd century CE, we have the work of Claudius Ptolemy, who was one of the first astrologers who clearly and sort of unambiguously adopts the tropical zodiac as his main reference point, right?

KB: That’s – exactly. So tropical and sidereal reckoning were almost exactly aligned in this day. That is, at his death, the difference between tropical and sidereal reckoning was less than a half degree. So what he was looking at was what you could actually see with the naked eye.

CB: Right, so the two zodiacs were very closely or relatively closely in alignment, although they did note that – I think both Ptolemy and Valens did note a distinction that, you know, the tables could be off by a degree or something, since that made a big difference to them if a planet was in one sign of the zodiac or another, since that would change the house placement according to whole sign houses as well as the whole sign aspects and a number of other things. One of the things actually —

KB: Valens’ values are – all of them are off, I think, aren’t they?

CB: Yeah, although I read an article recently by Alexander Jones where he made this argument that when he was looking at Valens’ calculations and how he came to them, it wasn’t clear if Valens understood that precession was a thing that was actually happening. And he tried to say, or he seemed – Alexander Jones seemed to argue that Valens may have thought that the positions that he was using were tropical even though he was effectively using sidereal positions. So, but your general point is still relevant there, that at the time around this time period during what is essentially the height of the Roman Empire and the high point of Hellenistic astrology, the two zodiacs were so closely in alignment that there wouldn’t have been a huge difference, and it’s not really clear until after Ptolemy’s time that precession was even widely accepted as a sort of scientific theory or as a reality. Many astrologers —

KB: I’m not sure that it ever was until the 2nd millennium of the Current Era. And I agree with what you’re saying altogether, and I think Neugebauer and Van Hoesen say much the same thing in Greek horoscopes that it was a mish-mash. It was a mess, because nobody knew whether it was the equinox or the sidereal position to be examined, and I don’t think very many people were just aware of the distinction between the two.

CB: Right. Well, it was sort of like a scientific theory that was not necessarily endorsed by people or sometimes people had different ideas about why that may be the case, and there were different theories proposed, like trepidation – the idea that maybe precession was something that would go forward and backward and sort of sway to and fro rather than something that was like, constantly moving at a specific rate and that would complete a full cycle. It was kind of, you know, I sometimes liken it to like, I don’t know, so how somebody might argue about like, global warming or something like that, and – I mean, that’s probably actually a really terrible analogy. I should probably find a better analogy than that because that’s something where it’s more like, widely accepted at this point as a scientific thing that’s happening. But just sort of take it back and think about global warming, let’s say, like, a hundred years ago when some of the first articles were just being published with some scientists speculating that this could actually be a thing, and sort of imagine it from that time period where there could be still open questions about it or maybe not enough research or maybe it’s just one or two guys saying this and people aren’t necessarily clear that that’s the case yet. Although you did make a point in your Mountain Astrologer article that I thought was interesting where you said that – I didn’t know this, and I still haven’t looked into it, but you said that the 72 BCE chart, which is actually from the astrologer Balbillus, you said that that was tropical. Is that true? I haven’t looked at that yet.

KB: That’s what I’ve read, that it was tropical but not very accurate in terms of its positions.

CB: So you’ve actually calculated that chart?

KB: No, I haven’t calculated it. I read that it was inaccurate.

CB: Okay. Inaccurate because it wasn’t sidereal, you’re saying, but because it —

KB: No, no, with respect to tropical parameters. I think it’s unfair to judge people by a modern standard, and if someone’s trying to follow tropical reckoning, one shouldn’t lean on them if they’re less than perfect. The situation then was, I think was fairly difficult to navigate through, because people just didn’t have enough information about the geometry of the solar system. I don’t think they had good numbers. They almost certainly didn’t have good observations. So I’m very forgiving of anybody during the Roman Imperial period or even the Hellenistic period if their numbers are a little wonky.

CB: You’re saying you’re forgiving if they were evidently using the tropical zodiac?

KB: Oh yes, but I wouldn’t be critical of them if their tropical numbers were not terribly good tropical numbers, because I don’t think they had access to enough data.

CB: Yeah, yeah. Right. I mean, I’m not —

KB: So I wouldn’t say, oh, well, you’re not sidereal, so what you’re doing is B.S. Well, no no, I don’t mean that, I mean – I think people were earnest in trying to understand something as complicated as astrology, and it isn’t something that one digests overnight.

CB: Sure. I was just curious about that because one of the things I pointed out in my book is that that chart from Balbillus is actually the oldest Greek horoscope that survives from 72 BCE. And it’s not until after that point, actually a few decades later, that we start seeing a bunch of additional Greek horoscopes, which has led to this sort of controversy and this debate about when Hellenistic astrology originated. But just sort of bringing it back to Ptolemy – so from Ptolemy’s point forward, at least maybe a century after Ptolemy, the Western astrological tradition goes – takes a sort of hard turn into using the tropical zodiac as the basic standard from about that point forward. There was a article by Alexander Jones where I think he said it was about the middle of the 3rd century or the middle of the 4th century and that by after that point, most of the Western astrologers start using the tropical zodiac and have been using it ever since, perhaps partially owing to Ptolemy and the authority sort of given to Ptolemy’s work from that point forward.

KB: I agree almost completely. Alexander Jones also said in his – what is it? Oxyrhynchus work that most of the Greek astrologers up to the 6th century in Egypt were using sidereal parameters to his surprise. And in some cases a mixture of tropical and sidereal, but that it was certainly, that it died out after the 6th century, at least in Egypt. But I think you’re quite right that in the Roman world, tropical is the order of the day from the 2nd century on —

CB: Yeah —

KB: — of the Current Era.

CB: I mean, Egypt was part of the Roman Empire from the 1st century BC forward, and I’m pretty sure Jones at least in his more recent work after collecting all the existing horoscopes was pretty clear with the majority of them surviving from Egypt because of the climate there that from – I think he said about 350 forward, the tropical zodiac became the dominant reference system. So one of your arguments, or from the perspective of a sidereal astrologer, you would argue that this was a mistake, and that at this point, the astrological tradition took a turn for the worse because the tropical zodiac at that point became the dominant system that was used all the way up until the present time, right?

KB: Yes, but I wouldn’t call it a really serious issue then, because the massive portion of the tropical signs were also in that same sidereal sign. It isn’t until very many centuries have elapsed, not just a few hundred years, that the discrepancy between tropical and sidereal becomes fairly significant. And the halfway point – that is, the point after which more people who have the Sun in sidereal Pisces who have it in tropical Aries isn’t reached until 1301 AD. So in the first millennium of the Christian era, tropical and sidereal reckoning are not so far removed that the discrepancy is outrageous so as to render statements altogether irreconcilable, one versus the other.

CB: So one of your arguments is that for the first few centuries, it wouldn’t have made a huge difference so that you —

KB: That’s right.

CB: — don’t think it mattered in most of the Hellenistic and part of the early medieval tradition, but once you get to now where it’s, you know, the positions are 25 degrees off, it makes a big difference.

KB: I agree. That’s exactly it. But you know, the Indians and the Muslim astrologers did notice, long before the end of the first millennium AD that Pisces was definitely rising with the equinox. And to their great credit, they didn’t say, well, something’s wrong here. We’ve got to deal with this. They said let’s figure this out later. Something’s going on here that we don’t understand. Because Aries is supposed to rise with the vernal equinox, but the proof of our eyes is hard to argue. Because, you know, you can see that Pisces rises with the equinox in the latter part of the first millennium AD, and yet they don’t know quite what to do with it.

CB: Well, I mean, they’re not – I don’t know. I mean, because one of the arguments that contemporary skeptics and scientists often make is that astrologers are unaware of precession or that somehow this is something that they’re just doing accidentally without realizing that the constellations are out of alignment with the tropical signs of the zodiac. But in fact, since the time of Ptolemy in the 2nd century, precession has been widely known and astrologers have arguably been making that choice to use the tropical signs rather than the sidereal signs deliberately. I mean, is there any evidence that the medieval astrologers, for example, weren’t aware of precession or you know, were just doing it sort of haphazardly?

KB: Well, I question how well they knew it or understood it, because nobody really examined Ptolemy critically until Johannes Muller, better known as Regiomontanus, who found Ptolemy’s accuracy wanting, severely wanting in the 15th century. And I think the letter of astronomical and astrological sophistication in the first millennium AD was abysmal in the Latin West. And I also question whether there were very many astrologers. I think astrology pretty much went into hibernation until the 11th century at the earliest in the West, although it was certainly the rage in the Islamic world, certainly in India. But the West became a backwater after Roman power was broken in the 5th century AD, and astrology was continued at an extremely elemental level in Byzantium.

CB: Right. So this is one of your arguments I’ve seen in your book and in so many of your papers is that you argue that the onset of the Middle Ages in the Western Roman Empire – the collapse of the Roman Empire after the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries and the lack of literacy and loss of learning that occurred, you sort of put some of this issue with the zodiac on that and say that sort of people lost knowledge in some sense and then couldn’t do astrology in a proficient way or astronomy in a proficient way and therefore that’s one of the reasons that a big error such as this could’ve been allowed to sort of persist or to exist, essentially, right?

KB: I agree. And I think that the problem with numeracy might even have been greater than literacy because to do astrology, you have to be – even to the most modest degree – you have to be numerate, and that requires tutoring if there’s no system of compulsory elementary education. Very few people had access to that.

CB: Okay, and I just wanna clarify. I was just restating your argument; I’m not necessarily making that argument myself, because I would make the counter-argument that in that exact same time period you’re talking about that astrology and astronomy in the 8th and 9th century reached a peak and there was a great flourishing and revival of astrology in the Islamic empire and especially in Baghdad, where there was astrologers from a number of different areas going to Baghdad and translating texts and making new developments and advancements in both astrology and astronomy in what is usually looked at in a period in the history of science that was a great flourishing of astrology and astronomy. So I’m not sure then why we would focus in on that being like, a period of like, the Dark Ages or something like that just because astrology’s not being practiced in, you know, Germany or France or something, but the fact that Western astrology is not just surviving but is flourishing under the Islamic empire seems to sort of contradict that statement to some extent.

KB: Well, I don’t think that can be argued that it was certainly flourishing in Baghdad and the Muslim caliphate and the areas controlled.

CB: Based on what? You’re saying that astrology wasn’t flourishing in the 8th and 9th centuries?

KB: No, that it was. But not in Europe, except possibly for Spain. But I’m saying that the Latin West was in the doldrums, and that the center of sophistication and knowledge was in the nation of Islam. And I wonder how much that affected Europe; I think almost not at all.

CB: Well, it did when astrology was passed eventually back to Europe in the 12th century, and then most of the astrology that was practiced in Europe from that point forward was that synthesis of the earlier Hellenistic and Persian and Arabian traditions that came together in the 8th and 9th centuries.

KB: Well, of course, that can’t be argued, but I think not until then.

CB: Sure. So as far as Europe is concerned, but just the general point is that the astrologers – there were still extremely competent astrologers and astronomers and scientists that were practicing Western astrology in the Middle East in the 8th and 9th centuries and keeping it alive and they were also using, evidently, the tropical zodiac, and then eventually they passed that back to the Europoeans from the 12th century forward, who then continued to primarily use the tropical zodiac essentially, right?

KB: Right. Although I think both Masha’allah and Abu Ma’shar were dabbling in sidereal too, but not to any great degree.

CB: Okay. So and that eventually brings us back sort of, you know, all the way around where we sort of completed the historical portion of this in terms of talking about what happened.

Now maybe we should with the remainder of our time just get into some of the other specific issues or topics of discussion. One of them is the ayanamsa issue, which is the question of how do we know what point to start the zodiac from? Because one of the, you know, the easy things of course about the tropical zodiac is that you always start zero degrees of Aries from the degree of the vernal equinox, whereas with the sidereal zodiac, one of the objections that’s sometimes put forward is there’s a question of where to start zero degrees of Aries. And sometimes different sidereal astrologers have different values that they give or they have different starting points where they’ll wanna point to a specific fixed star and say that that fixed star should be the starting point or should somehow be connected with the starting point, and that’s what the ayanamsa is, is it’s the difference between the sidereal and tropical zodiac or at least it’s essentially the value that you use for where the sidereal placements should be. So how do you respond to that issue, or what’s your sort of answer to that question?

KB: The position pegs for the Babylonians were the so-called “normal” stars or “working” starts; there are 35 of them. And their positions were very slowly worked out to a very considerable degree of accuracy, almost all of them ecliptic stars, starting with the Eta star in Pisces and ending with the Delta star in Capricorn. None of the normal stars are in Aquarius and there are none of them in Sagittarius, and there’s only one in Pisces, but they’re pretty much the standard big guns that, you know, we use today, like Aldebaran, Antares, Spica, Regulus, you know, that group, the alpha and beta star in Aries and Libra.

At any rate, the point is that the Babylonians got control, as it were, of the zodiac with respect to its orientation in space from the normal stars. And they’re in the same positions now as then, and it’s based on the positions of those normal stars that were studied for a thousand years before they had it worked out such that they could predict that planets would be near this or that star. Regulus is still in five Leo. Spica is still in 29 oh six, oh five Virgo. It’s the normal stars that determine where the Fagan/Allan ayanamsa is, and it’s hard to put an absolutely hard, definitive date on it, but it unquestionably dates from 2,500 years ago, and I think more like 2,800 years ago. At any rate, the positions of stars whose proper motion is essentially nil such that the night sky looks now just like it did in the ancient world or the beginning of recorded history in 3,000 BC with Egypt as a federated state. Those positions have not changed.

CB: Sure, but the – I guess the question is that so in some sidereal systems – because there’s a few different sidereal ayanamsas – that often times or in some of them, there’s a specific what’s called a fiducial star, which is a specific fixed star which is used as a reference point for the start of the zodiac. And so for example, in India, where arguably you have the greatest number of practitioners of the sidereal zodiac, the predominant ayanamsa is the Lahiri ayanamsa, which I understand they use the fixed star Spica as the fiducial star, and then it’s the point I think exactly opposite to that or something that is used as zero degrees of Aries. Are you saying that there’s no one fiducial star using the ayanamsa that is advocated by Western sidereal astrology, or you’re saying that there’s several stars that are used?

KB: Yeah, the 35. 35 stars. And the Lahiri zodiac was really sort of developed almost by committee. And there are a lot of Indians who disagree with there. There are about a dozen ayanamsas in use in India. Ayanamsa from – I’ve forgotten what the term is. At any rate, it means “motion component.” It’s the difference between the tropical and sidereal zodiacs. There’s only one in the West, and the Fagan/Allan ayanamsa was shown to conform very, very closely to what the ancient positions were determined to be in a 1957 article in Centaurus, an academic journal, entitled Ueber den Nullpunkt der Babylonischen Ekliptik – on the zero point of the Babylonian ecliptic. And as it turns out, the values that Peter Huber gave, who was at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, not an astrologer nor interested in astrology, what he came up with was almost exactly what Don Bradley – also known as Garth Allan, hence “Fagan/Allan” – what Fagan and Allan determined the Babylonian ayanamsa had to be. They arrived at it statistically based on a study of lunar returns for disasters. And so there’s very good agreement between this paper that Peter Huber came up with in 1957. And then in 2010, John Britton – brilliant man, unfortunately dead now – wrote another paper on studies in Babylonian lunar theory. It’s called On the Introduction of the Uniform Zodiac, and it confirms Huber, which confirms Fagan. So those are the sources for the legitimacy of the Fagan/Allan ayanamsa, that significantly produces the exaltation solution from 786 BC.

CB: Right. Okay. And we’ll get to that in a second. So I just wanted to clarify. So there is a specific ayanamsa that’s used by people that follow Fagan, where Fagan discovered or claimed that he found the original ayanamsa that the Mesopotamian astrologers used, and this is generally over the past few decades been adopted as the quote-unquote “Fagan/Allan ayanamsa,” and that’s the one that you’re referring to that many Western sidereal astrologers use, although it does not necessarily align with the ayanamsa and therefore the sidereal placements that many Indian astrologers use.

KB: That’s true. Lahiri puts Spica, the alpha star in Virgo, in zero degrees Libra. Zero Libra – zero zero, zero zero. And according to Babylonian reckoning, that is to say, the Fagan/Allan reckoning, Spica is in 29 oh six Virgo. So there’s a difference of 54 minutes.

CB: Okay. So your sidereal positions would be almost a degree off from the sidereal positions that many Indian sidereal astrologers would use.

KB: That’s true.

CB: Okay. So that’s just something at least if people wanna research more or get into sidereal astrology that they have to be aware of is the ayanamsa issue. And for you, you obviously consider this to be a non-issue because you think you have the correct ayanamsa that the Babylonians used, but I just wanted to clarify that there are different sidereal practitioners that use different values for where to start the sidereal zodiac according to different fixed stars, and sometimes that can lead to things being off by a degree or sometimes even more.

KB: Also true, yes.

CB: Okay. Got it. All right. And let’s see, so you mentioned the exaltations, and we should definitely get to that because that was one of the other big things that Fagan did is that since the early 20th century, the exaltations were thought to be Mesopotamian in origin, and in the Hellenistic texts, actually, there were specific degrees of exaltation. So it wasn’t just certain signs where planets were said to have their exaltation, but they were also said to be exalted in specific degrees. And one of the arguments that Fagan made is that he basically found a year in which – actually, maybe I should let you explain it. But I just wanted to say that so Fagan —

KB: No, you’re fine. Go ahead.

CB: — he thought that he found the actual rationale for the exaltations, and he published a paper on that at some point, right?

KB: Well, it’s published in Zodiacs Old and New.

CB: Okay. So his very first book?

KB: Yes, I would say it’s the central point of Zodiacs Old and New.

CB: Okay. So this became his big sort of like his hobby horse or what he felt was one of his biggest discoveries was he thought that he found the rationale for the exaltations, right?

KB: Right. He thought it was his greatest achievement.

CB: And what was it? What did he find?

KB: Well, he started out looking for a year when Saturn was in sidereal Libra and Jupiter was in sidereal Cancer. And so, you know, it didn’t take him very long to find 786 BC. And the issue then was around the positions of the planets at first nisan, which is the New Moon closest to the equinox, and that’s considered New Year’s Day. So he found that on April 3rd, 786 BC, for the coordinates of Babylon at moonset, the Sun was in 19 Aries, its traditional exaltation degree. The Moon was in 27 Pisces, its traditional exaltation degree, and the Moon was in 29 Aries, and you might wanna say well, that kills that. On the other hand, the Moon had —

CB: Just to clarify, so you meant Venus was at 28 Pisces – so you said the Sun was at —

KB: No, Venus was at 27 Pisces.

CB: Okay. So you had said the Moon, so I just wanted to clarify you meant Venus.

KB: Oh, I’m sorry. The Moon was at 29 Aries. However, the Moon had north latitude and north declination, which means that it can’t set with its ecliptic degree. It’s gonna set after its ecliptic degree. So depending on the height of eye of an observer and just how hot it was that night, it could have been seen – it was definitely seen in Taurus, but the issue was it seen in one, two, or three Taurus? And that depends on the low relative humidity that’s characteristic of desert and near-desert conditions, which alters the arcus visionis of a body that is the amount of separation between a body and the horizon necessary to see it to a very significant degree and the height of eye of an observer above a ziggurat where these things were traditionally measured. So it can’t be stated with confidence that the Moon set in one, two, or three Taurus, but it definitely set in Taurus, no question about that, early Taurus.

So it leaves you wondering about the other bodies, and Fagan discovered that the heliacal phenomena for Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn conforms to their exaltation degree in that year, that is Jupter set helically on June 22nd, 786 BC in 15 Cancer sidereal. Mars set helically on September 14th, 786 BC in 15 Virgo. Saturn set helically on September 23rd, 786 BC in 21 Libra. That means that these things had been invisible for a while, and these were their first or last appearances. Mars rose helically on January 31st, 785 BC in 28 Capricorn. Those are all the traditional degrees. And the odds against chance are astronomical that those positions just happened to correspond to the traditional exaltation degrees. The difference between tropical and sidereal reckoning in those days, even though there was no tropical zodiac, was almost 14 degrees, so they couldn’t be tropical degrees.

The problem for those who would take issue with the exaltation solution is that there isn’t any text support as yet for the use of the 12-fold equal division as early as 786 BC. However, there’s something else that is very, very compelling; it relates to the Esarhaddon Chronicles, which are the inscriptions of the Assyrian King Esarhaddon who reigned from 680 BC to 669 BC. He’s better known as the father of the son who succeeded him, the great King Ashurbanipal. First, a note about the hypsoma – hypsomata in plural form – which means “high position or elevation.” That’s the Greek rendering of the Babylonian asar bit nisirti, which means “hiding place” or “house secret.” The hiding places are the exaltations where a planet is strongest. And the earliest references to the asar bit nisirti is from the Esarhaddon Chronicles, which was – his ascension was quite a wild affair because when he came to the throne, it was upon the assassination of his father, the Assyrian King Sennacherib, by his elder brothers in the winter of 681, 680 BC. And a significant period of political instability followed that until Esarhaddon could defeat his brothers and consolidate his power. So astrological omens were taken that ensured Esarhaddon’s eventual success, and one of the things that was considered so remarkable – and this is in Mul Apin, an astronomical compendium in cuneiform by Hermann Hunger and David Pingree. They noted that in Esarhaddon’s Chronicle, a scribe said that Jupiter in the month of Pet-babi, which is October, reached its asar bit nisirti and that it stayed there. And the significance of that is that – and so they assumed that had to be good for king and country, because Jupiter in Cancer refers primarily to king and country and prosperity and success. So the point of this is that the Babylonian positions are accurate. Jupiter did in fact turn retrograde on October 27th, 780 BC at 14’37” Cancer with respect to the Fagan/Allan ayanamsa, which is virtually identical to ancient Babylonian reckoning. And you know the exaltation degree of Cancer – 15.

CB: Right. So to make a long story short, he basically found over a one- or two-year period that each of the seven traditional planets – on one date, he found a date where, as you said, the Sun and Venus and the Moon were very close to their exaltation degrees and then he found that over the course of the following year that many of the planets either stationed or made a heliacal rising or setting around those degrees and he concluded using the sidereal, using his ayanamsa, and he concluded that this was somehow the origin of the exaltations and speculated that there was a founding of a temple or something like that.

KB: Yeah, the Temple to Nabu. But it’s not really the next year; it’s the same – you know, the year was reckoned from first nisan to first nisan, so it’s during the same Babylonian year. There’s something special about that year.

CB: Well, after —

KB: And Jupiter did stay in its —

CB: — the vernal equinox.

KB: — house. When it retrograded, it didn’t retrograde out of Cancer, whereas it would have retrograded way into Gemini if tropical reckoning had been in place. The point is that there is evidential support for an established tradition of the exaltation degrees as early as 680 BC for a 12-fold, equal division zodiac, one in which the specific exaltation degrees are recognized, but in a sidereal context quite precisely.

CB: Right, well —

KB: And Fagan’s exaltation solution is from the previous century. This is suggestive that it was a tradition by 680 BC.

CB: Well, there’s no clear standardization of the zodiac into 12 signs, though, until the 5th century like we talked about earlier, right?

KB: Yeah, but this is a suggestion that there is standardization; that’s the point.

CB: Well, it’s – but it’s not a widely accepted —

KB: No, it’s not.

CB: — point.

KB: Because there isn’t text support for it yet. And yet, it’s this kind of thing that makes siderealists say probably something’s gonna turn up here.

CB: Right. But that’s – I mean, typically at least in terms of the academic community where the majority of this sort of articles and writings and things of like this have taken place, that’s usually not sufficient. Usually you’re supposed to base conclusions only on sort of surviving texts as much as possible so as to not make inferences that are sort of unfounded, and that’s one of the sort of problems or one of the objections that it seems like most of the academics have, where it does not seem like anyone’s adopted – from the academic community at least – Fagan’s arguments or accepted that this is the origins of the exaltations in the academic community because it’s just based on the fact that there are, over the course of a year like you said, some planets that were roughly in those degrees —

KB: They’re not roughly, they’re exactly in those degrees.

CB: Well, you pointed out that the Moon was not actually in its specific degree at that date —

KB: No, no, I’m saying it could have been because you don’t know whether it set in one, two, or three. It definitely set in Taurus.

CB: You said it was at 29 Aries.

KB: Yes, but it couldn’t set with its ecliptic degree because it had north dec and north latitude; that means it has to set after its ecliptic degree.

CB: Yeah, and I just —

KB: And so they would be looking at what appeared.

CB: Sure, there’s just an element of because we’re not even talking about a single specific date, we’re just talking about a year in which the planets at different points either made a heliacal rising or setting or you said one of them – Jupiter – it was just stationing retrograde. So it’s not even necessarily all the same phenomenon, but the argument is that it’s sort of an inference that therefore because he found a date during this time period in which those degrees were relevant for those planets that this must be for some reason that’s pretty much unknown, because – even if that was true, we still wouldn’t know the true reason why that date would’ve been important or why anyone would have considered it to continue to be important from that day forward.

KB: Nobody knows why.

CB: Sure. So for that reason, I mean, it’s still a sort of speculation or it’s something that’s put forward.

KB: Well, of course it is. I don’t contend that it’s a done deal. I talked to Francesca Rochberg in person about this, and she said, “Until you’ve got text support, you’re toast.” It’s entirely possible. But she said, “I’m not going to accept it until you can show me some tablet with the exaltation solution on it.” She’s super hardcore. She even talks about using tropical reckoning way into the first millennium BC.

CB: Well, right. I mean, even your rationale here for the exaltations is predicated on the year not starting until – what was it? It was like, the New Moon after the vernal equinox, so for some reason —

KB: The New Moon closest to the equinox.

CB: So for some reason, the Babylonians were taking the vernal equinox into account and they were often actually even noting it when the charts start showing up in the 5th century —

KB: Oh definitely.

CB: — BCE.

KB: They noted it from an early time. But they didn’t attribute any astrological significance to it.

CB: Are you sure?

KB: Yes.

CB: Based on what? Because there’s no —

KB: Based upon the omens —

CB: — interpretative texts.

KB: — that say the equinox is two weeks before the birth, or the equinox was in the month of such-and-such – Tishri. And then nothing follows.

CB: Well, nothing follows for most of the placement – that’s the problem with the surviving Babylonian charts is that like, the Greek horoscopes later, they largely just list the positions and don’t provide delinations. So for the most part, we’re in the dark about how Babylonian birth charts were actually interpreted because they don’t – the delineations probably would’ve been given orally like they are nowadays. And we would be similarly in the dark about the Greek horoscopes, where largely they just list, you know, Sun in Cancer, Moon in Virgo, Venus in Gemini or what have you, and then they say, “Good luck!” and that’s the end of it, because most of the delineation would’ve been presented orally. And if we didn’t have Neugebauer points out that if we didn’t have the handbooks from guys like Ptolemy and Valens and Dorotheus, then we’d hardly even know how any of those birth charts were interpreted. But unfortunately in the Mesopotamian tradition, we don’t have those handbooks.

KB: True enough. But they do have some things. There are 32 horoscopes known now, and there is some commentary. In no case do they say that the equinox refers to something specific. They use the equinox to determine the latitude and longitude of a place before the latitude/longitude grid was employed, and to determine the longest and shortest day. So it had some kind of agricultural application. They usually mention the equinox and have nothing whatever to say about it. But it was always computed, never observed. They say that explicitly.

CB: Sure. So the issue then just eventually becomes over the next few centuries after we have the introduction of natal astrology by 410 BCE a few centuries later by about, let’s say, 50 BCE, we get the emergence of Hellenistic astrology and the full system of astrology as we know it today. And so your argument is that the zodiac, the standardized, 12-sign zodiac of 30 degrees each, shows up in the 5th century BCE and that’s right around the same time that natal astrology shows up, and it used what seems to be a sidereal zodiac and therefore the zodiac was originally sidereal and therefore we should continue, we should revive the use of the sidereal zodiac in modern times.

One of the issues that I’ve always had is that often times it seems like modern Western sidereal astrologers take the interpretive principles, that you’re essentially taking modern Western astrology as its practiced in the 20th century, and then applying it to the sidereal zodiac using all of the same – essentially the same character descriptions that modern Western astrologers use for the signs of the zodiac but then applying it to the sidereal zodiac. And there’s this sort of assumption being made that that entire system of Western astrology was already in place by the 5th century BCE, but there’s actually very little evidence for that because we don’t see the domicile assignments for the signs of the zodiac showing up until the first century BCE. We don’t see the concept of aspects or the concepts of houses showing up until the first century BCE, at which point, as you said, the two zodiacs were roughly aligned. So why then, or how do you know for sure, that the zodiac – when all of those concepts were developed – should have been or was meant to be sidereal rather than tropical?

KB: Because it’s absurd that somehow they would recount all this information and then have nothing to say about it. Besides, there is an aspect that the Greeks used – or the Babylonians used that the Greeks adopted, and that’s the trine and maybe the sextile too.

CB: No, that was just a complete misunderstanding on the part of academics like Rochberg, where they confused the concept of triplicity, which we recognize as distinct and have for 2,000 years in the Western tradition, and they confused it with the concept of an aspect, which is a geometrical relationship. And Rochberg even says in her article that this concept – there’s no geometrical sort of thing underlying it at all. It’s purely a relationship between a grouping of signs into four sets of three, which we would understand as the triplicity concept. So the Babylonians did not in fact have the concept of aspects yet. That was not introduced until the first century during the Hellenistic tradition.

KB: I don’t see the distinction you’re making between groups of three and the trine.

CB: It’s like the difference between saying there’s air signs versus saying there are planets that can be a hundred and 20 degrees apart. One of them is a geometrical distinction and another is attributing a set of qualities to certain signs of the zodiac.

KB: I have to look into that. I don’t wanna concede that, because my understanding of what I’ve read is not that. So I may be wrong, but I don’t know for a fact that I’m wrong. I want to investigate that, and I’ll get back to you privately. How’s that?

CB: Sure. That’s fine. So I just wanted to – because this is really my main argument, and so I do wanna talk this point out now that we’re at the end of the show, which is that as far as I can tell, most of the techniques and concepts that we use in Western astrology didn’t show up until about the first century BCE. And so my primary objection then is it’s not actually really relevant what the Mesopotamians were doing in the 5th century BCE five centuries earlier if the system that most of us are using and that you’re even using today that uses houses and planetary sign rulerships and aspects and everything else didn’t show up until the first century BCE at the point when it could have been tropical or sidereal.

KB: I would like to add the siderealists in general don’t get much caught up in Greek schematism. Its aspects, yes, but not the qualities. The terms. The decans and all of that stuff. As far as they went, I think they pretty much stop short with the dodecatemoria.

CB: Right, the 12 parts or dwadashamshas as they’re called in modern times. But you do use the sign rulership scheme or the domicile scheme where the Moon rules Cancer and Saturn rules Capricorn and so on and so forth, right?

KB: Yes, but I don’t get really wrapped up in that, and sign rulership is something that can I think really leave you hung out to dry.

CB: Well, I mean, that’s one of the things that informs the quality of the signs of the zodiac and where those traditional qualities came from. I mean, because we don’t have, you know, gender – that didn’t exist prior to the first century BC as far as we know. Modality or quadruplicity, cardinal, fixed and mutable – we don’t have evidence for that prior to the first century BCE.

KB: That’s all true. But one of the problems with gender, for example, is that it’ll make Libra masculine and Scorpio feminine, which strikes me as one of the worst examples of schematism. And I think that Greek schematism permeates tropical astrology to its detriment, and siderealists generally don’t go down that road. It’s a pretty stripped down system that relies on planets, signs, and stars.

CB: See, when I read like, for example, your book, An Introduction to Western Sidereal Astrology, for the most part this reads like a standard textbook on modern Western astrology where most of the qualities that you’re attributing to the different parts of the signs of the zodiac, like character descriptions or aspects or planets or things like that, I mean, that seems like, pretty standard Western astrology, where you’re not – it’s not a hugely, it’s not like you’re practicing Indian astrology, for example, or Chinese astrology, where it’s just wildly, wildly different and completely unconnected. But you’re largely using the same meanings and qualities that every other Western astrologer uses, aren’t you?

KB: Yes. But those things were formulated during a time when tropical and sidereal reckoning were almost the same, so it’s not like those things would not be true for sidereal and then no longer true for tropical as time went on and the signs fell out of relationship with the sidereal signs.

CB: Sure. Well, and that’s just the point that I wanted to make is there is this ambiguity in the first century BCE because of the complete alignment of – or large alignment of the tropical and sidereal zodiac, and this ambiguity prior to Ptolemy about were the astrologers aware of precession and were they attempting to use one zodiac or another deliberately for conceptual or practical reasons? We don’t know, but that also happens to be the period in which Western astrology essentially originated, and so arguments about – at least from a textual standpoint – arguments about what the astrologers were doing several centuries earlier aren’t as relevant to me because they weren’t using the same qualities necessarily for the signs of the zodiac that later became standard in the Western tradition, and that at least becomes the crux or the focal point of this discussion for me from a historical standpoint, which is that, you know, when did the qualities of the signs of the zodiac start being used and what was the reference point or where did they derive those interpretations from? Were they deriving them from specific fixed stars? Were they deriving them from things like the seasons or the relevance of the seasons in some sense?

KB: No. You can’t say with surety about that. Although I think most of the stuff that you mention – quadruplicities and triplicities – is almost surely Hellenistic. The hot/cold, wet/dry business is certainly Greek. I’m not impressed by that at all. I’ve mentioned some of this stuff in my book, the first book, but you’ll notice at least half the book is based on what the planets mean in combination and not an exercise in Greek schematism, which I think is contrived and extreme. That is not to say that it’s without value; I think it goes too far with the endless lots and the things that strike me as things that are not altogether warranted.

CB: I mean, to me, an argument I could see somebody making is that if you’re saying that in your book you put the emphasis or the Western sidereal astrologers put the emphasis more on planetary combinations, then you’re almost saying that there’s a weakness in the system where you’re putting less emphasis on the signs of the zodiac for some reason. And somebody could argue that maybe it’s because the zodiac’s not working as well in the reference system that you’re using and therefore you’re having to put more weight on combinations or something like that.

KB: No. No, not at all. It’s that the meat of astrology in my opinion is in the planet relationships and the signs.

CB: Sure. Okay. And let’s see. I’m trying to think of any other points. I mean, I’m actually surprised because I thought you would argue more that more of the basic properties associated with the signs of the zodiac went back further in the Mesopotamian tradition and that we just don’t have evidence for it, but you’re actually —

KB: Well, that’s another thing that Rochberg tends to play down. She doesn’t think that there’s that much exchange except for the zodiac between – and things astronomical – between the Babylonians and the Greeks. She’s fairly definitive about that. In fact, she almost goes so far as to indicate that the great benefit from the Babylonians is astronomical. I disagree with that completely, but she does say that, and so I can’t – because my knowledge of Akkadian is not great. I have to look up almost everything. And as Schmidt once said, if you have to look up everything you don’t know it yet.

CB: Sure.

KB: And so I don’t pretend to be able to read Akkadian like I can read a book, and so I have to rely to a great degree on what other scholars have devoted their professional lives to say, and she’s clear that the stuff that I find myself criticizing is almost altogether Greek and probably Hellenistic, almost surely Hellenistic, and yet astrology was such a mess during the last century BC and the first couple centuries AD that it’s really hard to say that things were all – the ducks were in a row.

CB: I mean, what do you mean by that, or to what extent can it be characterized as a mess?

KB: That the lack of confidence about what was to be measured and how to measure it without instruments, without a marking star, with marginal tools make me wonder just how well worked out that era was.

CB: Sure. Okay, yeah, that makes sense. And I mean, one of things, though, that Rochberg does say – who’s probably the leading scholar on ancient Mesopotamian astrology in the world today – one of the things that she does say is that the exaltations are one of the concepts that were transmitted or that she thinks were transmitted from the Mesopotamian tradition and the Hellenistic tradition. But that’s actually something I spent a fair few pages in my book talking about, because there is actually still this mystery surrounding that due to two points, one of which is that it’s often assumed in these discussions that the Greek – what they called, the Greek word they used was “hupsoma,” which just means “exaltation,” and that’s what the term exaltation comes from is that Greek word hupsoma, that the Greek exaltations were the same as this term that was used in the Mesopotamian tradition which means “secret place” or “secret house.” And there’s an assumption that those two concepts are one and the same between the Mesoptamian and the Hellenistic tradition, but you run into issues in, for example, the surviving Mesopotamian horoscopes, which Rochberg published a collection of, when it mentions to exaltations or when it mentions the secret places being present in the birth charts, there’s no planets in those charts that are actually in their signs of exaltation, so they actually —

KB: Yeah, but the reason for that is that she insists on using tropical longitude for those. It’s infuriating.

CB: I mean, most of them, though, aren’t anywhere even near their signs of exaltation, so the point is just that there’s this lack of certainly still even about what the secret places are or at least the possibility because of the birth charts where the term “secret place” is used and there’s no planets even remotely near their exaltation signs, in some instances, on the other side of the zodiac, about what that term even means.

And then further in the Hellenistic tradition, there’s this question where the exaltations for some reason seem to be very well integrated into other concepts where, for example, Porphyry says that all of the nocturnal planets are exalted in signs that are sextile to one of their domiciles. So for example, the Moon is exalted in Taurus, which is sextile to Cancer, and Venus exalted in Pisces, which is sextile to Taurus. And then he points out that all of the diurnal planets are exalted in signs that are trine to one of their domiciles, so the Sun is exalted in Aries, and that’s trine to Leo, and Saturn is exalted in Libra, which is trine to Aquarius. So that raises this real question, because then that draws in the concepts of the domicile assignments and the concept of sect, or day and night charts, as well as the concept of aspects and the sextile and the trine aspects, which really raises this issue of which came first, and does that mean that those concepts like sect and aspects and domiciles actually go further back in the tradition than we realize or have evidence for? Or does that mean that the exaltations that we got something wrong in terms of reconstructing their history and that that concept was introduced at the same time that these other concepts were introduced in the Hellenistic tradition? It really raises —

KB: Insufficient information. It’s impossible to say definitively what’s going on there.

CB: Sure. It just raises this question about the timeline and about some of the historical things. So I just wanted to mention that because, you know, a large part of this argument becomes, as you said, I don’t know if I quoted this earlier, but you said that for you this is like – it’s like a one or the other thing. You said in an article that I read of yours – it said, quote, “If you have competing propositions, it’s possible for one to be right and the other to be wrong. Or they can both be wrong, but they can’t both be right.” So for you —

KB: True.

CB: — this isn’t an issue where it’s like, the tropical zodiac is a thing that exists and it has its own usage, and the sidereal zodiac is a thing that exists and it has its own usage, or somehow they’re both right, but for you this is a, you know, one of these has to be correct. This can’t be, you know, both type situations, right?

KB: Yes.

CB: Okay. And for you, that’s the sidereal zodiac, and so all of the qualities apply to the zodiacal signs; for you, this becomes an issue where you’ve gotta compare both of these two reference systems and then figure out what the correct one is.

KB: That’s what I’ve been doing for decades.

CB: Sure. Okay. So then I guess in terms of – what would you recommend? So, for those that wanna learn about sidereal astrology or for those that wanna conduct a comparison and try to decide which zodiac to use, what would you tell —

KB: Oh, there’s only one thing to do and that’s to do lots of horoscopes.

CB: So, birth charts, primarily?

KB: Yes.

CB: Okay. And just compare the positions of the two charts and then see which ones, which interpretations make sense or which delineations make sense or what would you tell people to compare?

KB: I can’t think of any other way to do it; the problem is that it’s subjective.

CB: Right. I mean, how do you remove the subjective component from that sort of comparison?

KB: Well, I think you need external parties to evaluate.

CB: Evaluate the interpretations themselves?

KB: Yes.

CB: Okay. So do you mean doing client charts, or you mean having like, somebody doing a research thing where you have an external person overseeing your comparison, or what do you mean?

KB: Anything that gets an outside person into the act.

CB: Okay, got it. And okay. And then in terms of if people wanna read more about this and learn more about the sort of the backstory behind the revival of Western sidereal astrology or they wanna have more an introduction to your work, would you say that your first book on that topic would be the best starting point, which is An Introduction to Western Sidereal Astrology that you published in 2012?

KB: Well, the second edition is out now, which has a lot of pretty good stuff in it. So the second edition is better. I’ll be coming out with a revised edition of Fagan’s Zodiacs Old and New with more stuff from Esarhaddon’s Chronicles that I think is fairly difficult to refute, because it makes – in order to do that, you have to completely reject, totally reject, that Fagan’s exaltation solution has merit. I think it’s very difficult to do that.

CB: Okay. So and you also generally are trying to publish and get out or re-publish, either in print or online, other articles by Fagan that he published during the course of his career, right?

KB: Yes. Yeah. Actually, the next book though that I hope I can finish within the next few months is a workbook that is about how to delineate sidereal horoscope that is based on very, very basic stuff – the condition of the lights, the strongest, closest aspects, the propinquity to the angles of various planets, and especially stars. Stars, looked at in the right way in terms of right ascension and declination, very important point because very many people just don’t take into account that most of the stars are not on the ecliptic, so you can’t take their ecliptic positions as an indication of where they really are, in the same sense that at first nisan in 786 BC the Moon was in 29 Aries but it set in Taurus as a fact, you could see it. And in the same way, a star that’s way off the ecliptic has to be regarded in terms of right ascension and declination, that its ecliptic longitude is pretty much meaningless if it’s not an ecliptic object.

CB: Sure. So it’s that visual and that actual like, visual astronomy component becomes much more important for you with this system because you’re working with the actual fixed stars and their positions, not just on the ecliptic, but also sort of vertically as well.

KB: Yeah. Yes.

CB: Got it. Okay, that makes sense. And all right. And then finally, you teach classes and you have a bunch of articles and offer consultations through your website as well, right?

KB: Yes. Most of my days are taken up with interpretations and working on the next couple books.

CB: Awesome. Well, where can people find out more information, or what’s your website?

KB: At WesternSiderealAstrology.com – I’m a working astrologer. It’s a real life. A life that I know that you understand; you’re doing very much the same thing. You read, you write, you do horoscopes and interpretations, you’re trying to understand more and more and more.

CB: Right. And just to, you know, sort of bring this full circle, I mean, the important thing and the reason I wanted to do these two interviews with you and then the other astrologer who was the tropical Vedic astrologer proponent is that there’s this threefold sort of approach and reason why you come to some of the conclusions that you make or why different astrologers come to their conclusions. There’s the sort of historical component of trying to read and read the academic literature and read ancient translations and try to understand what astrologers in ancient times did and what their approach was and where the system came from. Secondarily, there’s a conceptual component of what makes the most sense from a philosophical or a conceptual standpoint to you in terms of what seems to be informing the astrology and what can you make a sort of rational argument for. And then third and finally, there’s this practical component of when it comes down to it, what’s working best for you in terms of your chart interpretations and what seems to provide the most sort of bang for your buck, so to speak, in terms of doing consultations with real-life people. And for you, all of those three components came together to lead you to practice Western sidereal astrology, right?

KB: Yes. Yes, indeed, that’s it.

CB: All right, brilliant. All right. Well, thanks a lot for joining me today for this interview. I really appreciate it and I think it helped to round out and sort of bring things full circle in terms of, you know, giving people all of the different perspectives of all the different approaches so that they can then go into it and sort of research for themselves and then come to a conclusion about what works best and what makes the most sense and then finally what historically seems to be the case. So thanks for helping me to do that.

KB: Thank you for having me.

CB: All right. Well, I think that’s it for this show then. So thanks, everyone, for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

KB: Bye bye.