The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 188, titled:
With Chris Brennan and guest Demetra George
Episode originally released on January 2, 2019
Note: This is a transcript of a spoken word podcast. If possible, we encourage you to listen to the audio or video version, since they include inflections that may not translate well when written out. Our transcripts are created by human transcribers, and the text may contain errors and differences from the spoken audio. If you find any errors then please send them to us by email: email@example.com
Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released August 2, 2019
Copyright © 2019 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. This episode was recorded on Friday, November 9, 2018, starting at 1:33 PM, in Denver, Colorado, and this is the 188th 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 the astrologypodcast.com/subscribe.
In this episode, I’m going to be talking with Demetra George about her new book titled, Ancient Astrology in Theory and Practice: A Manual of Traditional Techniques. Hi, Demetra, thanks for joining me today.
DEMETRA GEORGE: Hi, Chris.
CB: Hey, so I’m really excited about this. We’re literally on the cusp of the release of your book finally, which I believe is going to come out sometime in the next 24 hours, right?
DG: Yes, that’s my understanding.
CB: Okay. And I’ve already got a proof copy. We’ve been reading through and proofing it over the course of the past month, and it’s a really amazing book, so I’m actually really excited to talk to you about this today.
So first, congratulations on the release of the book. I know this is something you’ve been working on for quite awhile, right?
DG: Right. It has been a long time, I think. Really it’s been 20 years in the making, and then it’s probably the actual… Well, I think for each chapter since then there must be 13 or 14 versions of each chapter, so it’s been a process.
CB: Right. And it turned out to be a pretty big book where you guys ended up actually breaking it up into two volumes, so that this is actually–it’s almost 600 pages, but this is just part one of two volumes, right?
DG: Right. That’s correct. And as I was writing it, on one hand, my intention when I started was to have it be short and simple and concise in a workbook that just dealt with the fundamental principles. But as I started writing, more and more details kept coming out, and then I’d go back and try to delete and rewrite passages and pages and sections only to find out that the material kept showing up as I went on.
So at a certain point, I surrendered to the fact that it wasn’t going to be a stripped-down, distillation of the material, but that I was going to include as much of the richness of the tradition as was wanting to come through. And at that point, until it began to be typeset, I really didn’t know how long it was going to be because a certain part of it is full of workbook exercises.
CB: Right. So that’s actually really important, and that ties back into your earlier career where your second book was actually a workbook. It was a very well-regarded and it’s still a very popular intro book to modern astrology, which also had that workbook format as well, right?
DG: Exactly. And I remember doing the beginnings of that at the very start of my astrology teaching career and trying to create structures to train people’s thinking about how to combine the elements of planets, sign, house, and aspect.
And that has proved to be a tremendously popular book that has held through the ages. Teachers have said that they either use it as their text, or if they recommend it, then people who are working with it progress much faster because the certain form for how they construct the astrological statements becomes embedded in their thinking.
CB: Right. And the title of that book is Astrology for Your…
DG: Astrology for Yourself: A Workbook for Personal Transformation. It’s how to learn astrology by working on your own chart. And to a certain extent, this is a continuation of that process where each one of the 60 chapters ends in a workbook exercise. There are two worked-out examples for the reader to follow, and then there are precise instructions given for repeating the process a third time with your own chart.
And this is something that I’ve been developing for the Hellenistic astrology since I began teaching at Kepler College. 2001, we offered the first course in Hellenistic. But in the years of taking private students since then I’ve had them go through these exercises, and I found that to the extent that a student does them in order and is conscientious in the process, the concepts that seem initially overwhelming or complex become second-nature quite quickly.
CB: Right. Because you’re literally one of the first people in modern times to start teaching ancient, Greco-Roman astrology to modern astrologers. And so, you actually went through the process of figuring out what works and what doesn’t in order to make this material easier for people to grasp.
DG: Exactly. And the process that I’m asking the reader to go through, I’ve taken several hundred people through that process, so I have confidence that it works based upon my experience.
CB: Right. And so, I had the pleasure of writing, the honor of writing the forward to the book, and I told a little anecdote about actually taking your course on Hellenistic astrology at Kepler, and how there was actually like a miscommunication and I only got the sourcebook, which was a collection of just translations of excerpts from the Hellenistic astrologers that had been prepared by Robert Schmidt of Project Hindsight. I didn’t initially, for the first few weeks of my study, get–there were supposed to be a set of notes, a comprehensive set of notes, which is actually what this book eventually turned into.
CB: And so, I struggled actually for the first two weeks of learning Hellenistic astrology because I was just reading the texts without context, and it’s actually extremely difficult to just pick up a book on ancient astrology and start reading it and understand everything the author is saying because ancient astrology is so different from modern astrology.
But then, eventually, a few weeks into the course, we realized what had happened, and you sent me your notes. And suddenly, everything became much easier and much more understandable because you were such a good person at knowing how to break down these complex concepts and make them understandable to modern people, and that’s really what this book is about I think as well, right?
DG: Yes, that’s exactly the process. And now, this most recent fall, I’ve done the third, five-day Hellenistic astrology retreat. The first one, I took the group through basically the contents of this book in five days. We met eight hours a day.
And I remember the first day, people’s mouths just sort of dropped open, “Like you want us to do what?” And I said, “Stay with it. Trust me.” And by the fifth day, they were all flying through the concepts and the material and just amazed at how much they understood the nuances of how many different factors are involved in understanding how it is that a planet operates.
And that’s the essence of volume one. It’s called Assessing Planetary Condition. And for each planet, we subject it to 30 or 40 different criteria that are based on sect, and the sign it’s in, and the power it has in various signs, it’s relationship to the Sun, to the aspects. And each factor yields more information about how effectively the planet can bring forth the things it represents and its trying to do in ways that are most beneficial for the individual.
So then, in many astrology interpretation books, it’s like one sign fits all. Mars in, let’s say, Gemini, or the 3rd house, has one stock interpretation of two paragraphs. And through the richness of the ancient tradition, we find how many more factors were involved in understanding the multi-varied ways in which a planet brings about the matters that it’s trying to.
CB: Right. And so, from a modern perspective, it’s not usually giving value judgments, or that there can be better or worse placements, it’s just giving almost psychological interpretations. But in this approach, you’re actually trying to determine the condition of the planet in the chart to see how well it’s able to do its job, and then that has both psychological as well as sometimes literal manifestations in the person’s life.
DG: Exactly. One of the simple examples I use is that you may have two individuals who both want to, let’s say, start their own business. They’re both intelligent, they’re both competent, they’re both worthy, and one is able to do so easily, and another one, no matter how hard they try, they struggle with bringing forth less results for greater–from greater effort. And it’s in the understanding of planetary condition that it illuminates to the reader why things are easier for some people than for others, and what are the particular strengths and weaknesses and individual needs to factor into their approach to bringing about their objectives, where are they most vulnerable, and how is it that that can be seen in the chart.
CB: Right. And instead of somehow that being disempowering…
CB: …which is the fear I think that modern astrologers sometimes have about that approach, instead, sometimes it can be more validating about what a person already does know and understand about their life in some ways.
DG: Exactly. The take-home is that it isn’t that I’m a bad person, or I’m an incompetent person, but this is something I never realized. It was a blindspot in how I functioned. And now, I have the insight to be able to recognize that and then within that being able to do what one can…
DG: …to both mitigate it, or to be able to accept it and move forward.
CB: Sure. And you get into a lot of different types of conditions in terms of planetary condition. One of the things I really appreciated in this book, we knew for a long time that you’ve been working on it and that it would come out, and it complements my book very well. One of the things I’m almost jealous about is that you do give a little historical overview in the beginning, but it’s relatively concise compared to the 200 pages…
CB: …I spent in the first part of my book, and then you just jump right into the techniques. So this is very much a technique-oriented book. And you’re able to go much further into some specific techniques than I did because you don’t spend all that time worrying about the history. You just give this very nice overview of the history of the past 2,000 years–actually it’s more like 4,000 years of the practice…
CB: …of astrology, and you get right to how do we use this today.
DG: Exactly. And I had spent many years putting together the history and philosophy of ancient astrology when I taught at Kepler College. And then as we were both getting serious about writing our books, there was a point in which I was very happy to let you do the history, the philosophy, some of the conceptual issues.
DG: Because I had already done that, so I didn’t need to do it over again, but I wanted to see all the places that you were going to take this material to. And then that sort of relieved me of the responsibility of tending to that part because I knew that it would already be done, and it would be done in a wonderful way.
DG: Yes, we worked together in sorting out how we were going to have our books complement each other.
CB: Right. And so, one of the nice things about that then is you’re able to go into some techniques that I either only mention in passing or couldn’t deal with at all. So one of the things that you’re able to address, for example, that I was excited about is spear-bearing. You actually address that concept in this book?
DG: Yes. Many astrologers by now have heard us use the word ‘maltreatment,’ of specialized ways in which planets or the functions that they represent can be severely impaired or damaged, making it difficult to bring forth the most positive things that those planets represent. But in the source texts, either right before the treatment of maltreatment or right after, both Antiochus and Porphry talk about spear-bearers. And these are actually bodyguards, and these are ways in which planetary patterns can offer protection, which is the corollary to the patterns that cause danger or damage.
And the notion of spear-bearers, especially as we saw in the text, is that it was often used to indicate a person who was very eminent. And if we think of queens [kings] and queens, or important political figures, they all have entourages of bodyguards that accompany them. And this was the notion of spear-bearers in the ancient texts, and laying out the ways that you can see the way in which certain parts of a chart are not only protected, but they signify a person who has the eminence that warrants being protected.
CB: Right. I love that. So it’s like a celebrity that has a bodyguard, or even like the President has the Secret Service…
CB: …that fans out physically in front and behind.
CB: And then in the actual astrological concept, one of the definitions, one of the versions of spear-bearing is having planets either in a conjunction on both sides, either directly in front or directly behind, protecting one of the luminaries.
CB: Okay. So yeah, you spend quite a bit of time going into that because there’s three different variants or versions of spear-bearing, and then you give worksheets for how to calculate it in a person’s chart.
DG: Right. And this is really one of the most complex of the preliminary topics in the ancient material. There is some variation among the authors. There are some texts that are incomplete. And what I’ve done is worked with each of the authors, taking it as far as I could given the material that is presented, and then create worksheets. And in some cases, it’s easy for people to figure out if there are ‘spear-bearer’ bodyguards in their chart or in other people’s charts. And then, other cases, you get to a certain point and you’re not sure how to read it, and if you go back to the text, the text themselves are inconclusive.
So I think this was a concept that a number of ancient astrologers struggled with, and as time went on, each one tried to interpret–reinterpret the material according to their own understanding. So I hope that in my chapter on that I both conveyed the tradition and then laid out a format that people could follow with the view that there are certain pieces of this doctrine that are inconclusive.
CB: Right. Yeah, and part of the background behind that is back in 2010, you actually set out and you completed translating–or you did translations of all of the relevant texts of all of the different definitions of spear-bearing and maltreatment, and all of the different definitions of types of aspects doctrines that the Hellenistic astrologers had. And then you actually asked me and Ben Dykes if we wanted to get together…
CB: …for a week on the coast of Oregon in order to put all these different definitions together, and then reconstruct what we thought the original definitions of things like spear-bearing and maltreatment and other things like that were. And over the course of the week, we had this really amazing collaboration, and at the end of it, we did have what we felt like was a pretty solid reconstruction of most of it.
DG: Right. That was a glorious week, like one of the high points as I reflect back upon my life. We’re there in an oceanfront condo on the Pacific Coast, and we had brought our lexicons, and dictionaries, and manuscripts, and texts, and translations and went through some times from early in the morning until the wee hours of the night totally immersed in this conversation, punctuated by walks on the beach and looking at the waves, the tides coming in and out. For the whole concept of the scholar in the tower, that was really one of the more glorious weeks of my life.
CB: Yeah, definitely. I’m really glad that we did that. And then pieces of that reconstruction we came up with that week have come out in different places. I know Ben included a little bit–I think it was in his Introductions to…
DG: Exactly. Introduction to Astrology.
CB: Yeah. Was that it? I can’t remember if it was–it wasn’t Traditional Astrology for Today, but it was his other one. I think it was titled, Introductions to Astrology: Abu Ma’shar and al-Qabisi.
CB: So he was trying to introduce a lot of the medieval definitions of basic concepts in the aspect doctrine and things like that. But in order to do so, he also introduced and talked about some of the Hellenistic precursors, which are the ones that we had tried to reconstruct.
CB: So that came out, I think, in 2010 or 2011. And then, in my book, I introduced large parts of my understanding of that in a few chapters, especially surrounding the ‘modification’ and maltreatment techniques. And now, in this book, you’ve introduced basically all of the rest of it and your understanding of all that as well.
CB: And what was interesting though–and one of the things that will be interesting for students of ancient and traditional astrology to look at–is sometimes there is still points of uncertainty or disagreements about certain aspects of some of the definitions though and different ways that you could interpret certain sentences that would have vastly different meanings from a practical standpoint, especially with the definition of maltreatment, right?
DG: Yes, there was. And so, at least in one instance, both you and I settled on different interpretations based on our reading of the text. And sometimes, I say it all depends on where you think the comma should have been placed.
CB: Right. It’s literally something like that. Like the grammar of the sentence completely and how you read it completely changes how you would apply it to charts. Do you mind if we read that definition of maltreatment really quickly?
CB: Okay. So here’s your translation. It says, “Concerning injury, it’s called maltreatment whenever some star is struck with a ray, or is struck with a ray by malefics, or it is enclosed, or if it is in a connection sunaphe with a destructive star or an adherence–in brackets, kollesis–or if it is opposed or overcome, or ruled by an evildoer which is badly situated, and when it itself declines in the ineffective places.” And that’s from Porphry’s Introduction from the 3rd or 4th century.
Maybe we should go through the list in terms of some of those really quickly. So this is a definition of maltreatment. So this is supposed to be the most extreme versions of what modern astrologers sometimes call ‘affliction,’ except in modern astrology that’s more of like a generic term that…
CB: …doesn’t have any…
DG: Affliction includes other factors as well.
CB: Right. Whereas this is more like a specific set of conditions of extreme, like worst case scenario for a planet.
DG: Right. And they’re relatively not so frequent. It’s not uncommon for charts not to have any maltreatment conditions. And so, when you see them, it’s a sort of red flag to pay attention that there’s a problem here.
CB: Right. And then you also in other chapters talk about a corresponding set of positive conditions that can indicate very good things about a…
CB: …planet’s condition. Okay. So some of the different ones here that are relatively straightforward are things like being overcome by a malefic is a condition of maltreatment according to this text.
DG: Well, I think this is the point on which we differ.
CB: Okay, right.
DG: Right. This is the point where it’s not so straightforward.
CB: So the difference of interpretation is that very last sentence where it says, “and when it itself declines in the ineffective places,” you take that to apply grammatically to the entirety of the rest of the definition?
CB: No. I’m sorry. The part where it says, “by an evildoer which is badly-situated?”
DG: Yes, that’s the piece. So then there’s a series of conditions and then there’s an ‘and,’ and then they list three that a planet is overcome, or opposed, or in the domicile of a malefic that’s badly-situated.
And so, badly-situated, or in disadvantaged places refers to the house location of the malefic planet. And if that planet is in houses whose topics are problematical topics–such as the 6th house of illness, or the 8th house of death, or the 12th house of suffering and other kinds of grave difficulties–those are the topics of the planet in that house has to use in order to bring forth what it represents.
When a planet is in one of those difficult houses and overcoming has a superior square to a planet, or opposes a planet by Whole Sign, or is a domicile lord then that’s what brings that more graver level of difficulty to the experiences of the individual. It’s not simply being opposed by Mars or Saturn, or having the superior square, but that Mars and Saturn is in a house sector of the chart whose topics through which it expresses, that they themselves are the most difficult topics of life–so it’s a double-condition almost.
So anyway, that’s my rationale for why I have included that the malefic be in a difficult planet as well as making that superior square opposition.
CB: Right. So that’s the interpretation that you take in reading the text. That it’s not just that it is overcome, or opposed, or ruled by a malefic, but the malefic itself also has to be in one of the difficult houses…
CB: …especially the 6th or the 12th.
DG: Or, even the 8th. Because I think that the very last piece… And then there’s a comma, and then the last piece says–and this has been something that all of us, including Schmidt has gone back and forth with–it seems almost as if, if a planet is simply in the 6th or 12th house that also is enough to create a situation of distress for the planet.
CB: Right. Because the final clause is, ”and when it itself declines in the ineffective places.” And so, I’ve interpreted that as a whole seventh condition just onto itself…
CB: …of a malefic planet ruling another planet, and then the malefic being badly-situated in the 6th or 12th house, which is a condition known as ‘counteraction,’ so that’s like a second interpretation. And then Schmidt has a whole eighth, separate interpretation, which is that it’s just a planet placed in one of the ‘bad’ houses, especially the 6th or 12th. So that means between the three of us, we have three entirely different interpretations of this one passage, depending on how you read the grammar.
DG: Right. To our audience, that may seem very confusing, weird, or how come that’s the case? But in terms of reading Greek, it’s not unusual. The ancients often said that the Greeks were liars, and that was because the syntax of their language could be interpreted in so many different ways. So someone could seemingly be giving you a compliment, but really for those who could read underneath it, you could see it was an insult.
And when I was–in the years after I graduated from the U of O, I participated in a reading group that some graduate students and professors were in, and we would read different texts. And they could spend an hour discussing one sentence in the text we were reading, with each person offering their own interpretation of that sentence. And that often became the substance of our reading group, seeing the variety of ways that each reader could interpret, as I said, one particular sentence. So the fact that we’ve all landed in that position over the maltreatment definitions is not unusual in the larger context of people reading and understanding ancient Greek.
CB: Right. Because it also involves comparing. There were three different texts that survived…
CB: …that preserved that definition, and all of them are slightly different. So it’s not even just reading one text and coming to different conclusions, it’s attempting to reconcile three different versions of the same definition and figure out what the original one was. And that was a project that originally was undertaken by Robert Schmidt in his 2009 book, Definitions and Foundations, where he tried to reconstruct the original text underlying all of these three different variations.
CB: But then we got together in 2010 to see if we could validate that and if we agreed with the reconstruction or if we came to our own. And we ended up coming to different conclusions largely for reasons like this.
CB: And this represents basically the publication of all of your conclusions and all of the work that you did. What I love about this and what’s going to be the most valuable is you did your own independent translations from the Greek for every astrological passage that you translated in this book, right?
CB: Okay. I mean that’s a pretty big deal. That took you a lot of time to do.
DG: Right. And that was when we were so confused over understanding the aspect doctrine. At a certain point, I realized that I was never going to really get it unless I sat down and did my own translations. And that sort of opened up the areas where I saw how different translators interpreted a single word, and that’s what really helped me get into deeper layers in understanding the material.
CB: Right. Just because there’s so many different ways then that you can practice astrology and establish that the doctrines depending on how you interpret the texts. And you wouldn’t think sometimes that they could be that wildly different, but this is a really good example of how that can have major practical implications.
DG: Oh, exactly. For anyone who’s ever, let’s say, read the Greek tragedy plays, there are many different translations of the same play, and if you pick them up, you can see how much they vary. And if you happen to be looking at the Greek as well, sometimes you look at someone’s translation, you go, “Oh, my goodness. How could they get these English words out of these Greek words? It makes no sense at all what they’ve done with it.” But someone just picking up any old translation wouldn’t realize what a great variation there can be based upon the knowledge and the bias of the translator.
CB: Sure. So there’s a little bit of that in here in terms of presenting the translations and then explaining what they mean. But you’re also just focused on trying to show people what they would do with this material, taking this interpretation of the different texts and this is how you apply it. And then throughout the book, you focus on a recurring application of the techniques to two specific example charts.
DG: Right. I’ve been working with the chart of Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis for a number of years. Each principle I present, I work the interpretation through with her chart, and then I do it with a second chart, which is that of Pablo Picasso. And I was looking for a man that everyone knew that had a night chart instead of a day chart, and at a certain point that’s what I landed upon. So then there’s two fully worked out examples that the students can read, and then the instructions start again from the beginning. Now take the process and do it with your own chart.
And I remember one moment in the retreat that we did, the afternoon sessions, people worked together in small groups. And there was one student that went, “Ahhh! I don’t know what to do!” And then a person in her group said, “Wait a second. Let’s just go to Instruction #1. Let’s just read that, see what it says, put in the box what she tells us to. Now go to Instruction #2, follow that.” And then by the end of that sequence, the students were able to replicate the process. So I tried not to make any previous assumptions of what you should know, or what you may have forgotten, but there is a tremendous amount of repetition in the book. I think that’s probably what takes up some of all of the pages.
But in my work of being a teacher, I understand that many people need to–if it’s a new concept–they need to hear it repeated over a number of different times before it finally sinks in. And with that repetition comes mastery of the understanding.
CB: Right. Yeah. And that’s a lot of what the book focuses on is just forcing you, at the end of the instructional chapters, to then write this out in a chart. Because sometimes it’s only by doing so that you truly start to understand and the knowledge starts to sink in.
DG: Exactly. And you also see what you didn’t understand, in fact, and then you’re forced to go back an re-look at that material until you clarify it.
DG: And it’s all progressive. It would be quite challenging not knowing any traditional astrology to just jump in and start the aspect chapter because each chapter builds upon the previous one.
CB: Right. And one of the things you did that I was surprised at that’s really nice, is you do, in some places, summaries, where you do short paragraphs, or just a sentence to summarize the basic principles. And it almost takes on the form of a traditional list of aphorisms basically of just the key points of this section of the book.
DG: Yes. And that’s also part of it. It’s like, hey, these are the main points that you should have gotten. And in some of those medieval books, all we have is the aphorisms, but we don’t have the explanation of how you got to that conclusion…
DG: …and that’s what I tried to do in the main text. This why we’ve come to this final conclusion about this factor or this doctrine.
CB: Right. So another major component of the book that you spend a lot of time talking about is the ‘solar phase cycle’ and the importance of some of these concepts, which has the effect of reconnecting astrologers with the astronomy, at least in part in realizing that there’s a lot to the phase relationship that each of the planets has with the Sun that has a lot of really important interpretative meaning. And sometimes, it’s really small or seemingly minor things, but those minor things can add up to have a big overall effect in terms of the overall interpretation of a planet’s condition in a chart.
DG: Right. Part of how I start out is this larger cosmology that the ancient philosophers had that was incorporated by the astrologers, and it starts from the principle of unity into the divine quality of the stars, and then the planets are slightly less divine than the fixed stars, and they have these nested orbits. And their first relationship is to the Sun and to the Moon as the celestial king and queen of the heavens, and then to one another, but in that is the planet’s relationship to the Sun in terms of their cycles.
And the ancient astrologers saw that a planet’s speed, its visibility, and that its moments when it appeared and disappeared according to its phases–or its station turning retrograde or direct–were very key moments. They were a visual phenomenon but they had great interpretative meaning.
And so, it’s through a thorough understanding of that cycle that a planet has from one conjunction with the Sun to the next time it conjuncts the Sun that all of these factors–whether it’s going fast or slow, direct, or indirect, it’s appearing after having being hidden, it’s disappearing for a period of time–there are many subtleties of interpretation that come in with each of those moments.
And so, I’ve tried not to only say, “Oh, the planet is within 15° of the Sun, it’s weakened.” But to understand that within the entire cycle of its relationship to the Sun–and with that astronomical model to work off of–then the final, interpretive conclusions begin to make sense because you see the rationale that has informed those conclusions. And that was the beauty of the Hellenistic astrology at the beginning. As modern astrologers, we learned many things but we didn’t know why, and the Hellenistic began to reveal the underlying structure that informs the delineation of the chart.
CB: Right. It seems like the longer and longer the tradition went on, the more it just became lists of rules and understandings…
CB: …about when you see a placement in a diagram, in a chart, this is what it means, or x = y. But if you take it as far back into the traditional as you can, you start to get back to this layer where they’re focused more on looking at actual observational astronomy, and then interpreting the movements and the positions of the planets symbolically as having symbolic import in the person’s life. And when you do that you get connected to this much deeper level of astrology it seems like.
So with the ‘solar phase cycle,’ that includes a lot of things like the speed of the planet, the direction that the planet is moving along the Zodiac, either direct or retrograde. It includes visibility conditions like being able to see the planet in the sky, or whether the planet is hidden by being too close to the Sun, so that the Sun’s light overwhelms it. And there’s a few other conditions…
CB: …in that general area.
DG: …there are.
CB: Right. So yeah, that’s one piece of things in terms of the visibility and interpreting astronomical movements in a symbolic way. And then there’s also that separate part of Hellenistic astrology which seems like it’s more directly symbolic, or more based on sort of abstract systems or things like that. I’m trying to find a way to describe something like the ‘planetary joys,’ or the Thema Mundi, and the aspect doctrine and other things like that, where it’s more like…
Robert Schmidt would always call a theoretical construct of some sort where somebody’s put something together that almost has an artificial ring to it. But it’s not artificial in a bad sense, instead it’s more artificial in a way that’s deliberate and thought out, where the concepts are interlocking in some way.
DG: Yes. There’s a very elegant substructure–it’s often geometrical substructure…
CB: Geometric, yeah.
DG: …that underlies the relationships that we accord planets with certain signs and signs with one another, and even the aspects conforming to the nature of the planets. And it’s a simple model, but it ties together all of these pieces into an elegant explanation.
DG: And that’s part of the beauty and the excitement of the traditional astrology.
CB: Yeah, seeing that there was something there that was deliberate and something that was… Because sometimes when modern astrologers, when we learn different pieces of traditional astrology, it just seems very arbitrary, and there doesn’t seem to be any rule or reason underlying it. It’s just like here’s a set of rules and this is how you interpret them and that’s it. But then, suddenly, you go back to the Hellenistic tradition and you see many of these rules are part of an overlocking, overarching structure that’s underlying the entire system in some way.
DG: Exactly. And initially, I thought I wanted to make it simple and simply having, “Here are the rules, and here’s how you do it.” But then I quickly realized that I was simply unable to do that, that I had to explain as best as I could the underlying structure that informed all of the principles and doctrines. So that’s why both of our books got to be so big.
DG: We were unable to restrain ourselves from providing those explanations as best we could.
CB: We have to apologize to future translators…
CB: …and other people transmitting the books, or just carrying them or that matter. So what that the thing though that got you interested finally? Because there was a period where…
One of the things that’s interesting that’s mentioned in the book, or I try to mention in my preface, is that you were actually the very first subscriber to the Project Hindsight translation series through this weird set of circumstances.
CB: And you got some of the translations, and you also attended some of their seminars or their conclaves in the mid-’90s. But it wasn’t until after that, around 2000-2001, that you really got deeply interested in Hellenistic astrology and went out there to study it, and started studying the text more closely. What was it that changed at that point compared to the mid-’90s that really got you interested in it as a modern astrologer?
DG: Well, in the mid-’90s, when I got interested in it as a modern astrologer, it was like the new, big thing in town, so to speak, that Rob Hand–who’s a great spokesperson for whatever he believes in–was supporting throughout the community. But I do a little bio in the book of how I got to Hellenistic astrology that was also connected with a regression that I had that sort of focused my attention.
But just as when you first looked at the Hellenistic course and the texts, and you couldn’t understand what they were saying, that was my reaction in the mid-’90s. I was getting the translations but they could have still been in Greek for all we knew what they meant. And I remember going to some initial lectures that both Bob Schmidt and Rob Hand were giving, and it’s like, “I didn’t understand a word that you’ve said. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
And that’s where I was, let’s say, by 1996-97, three or so years after the first translations began to emerge, and then that’s when I went back to graduate school. And that decision wasn’t really about learning the Hellenistic material, it was just about continuing my ongoing love of learning and being able to further my education. And I went into classics because of my mythological interests. And then once I got into the program, it’s like, “Well, you have to learn Greek and Latin because that’s what we do here.” And it’s like, “Okay, whatever.” My Gemini…
CB: Which is hilarious.
DG: Right. My Gemini Moon just loves learning almost anything new just for the adventure and the sake of learning.
CB: But that’s literally one of the hardest things you could possibly do in grad school is try to go back and study ancient Greek and Latin, but it was done initially–just the motivation that your background was in mythology…
CB: …and that was a major component in your astrological career. And so, you thought that would be the best access point in grad school was learning ancient Greek and Latin, but that turned out to be both incredibly difficult, but accidentally very useful later on when you did get more interested in ancient astrology.
DG: Right. So then during those years, 1997 to 2000, I sort of put my life as an astrologer on hold because I couldn’t do graduate school and continue to travel to conferences, and prepare new lectures, and to see clients. And my life existed between my study chair, the bus stop, and campus for three years.
Then, again, as I was ready to graduate, Kepler College received its authorization, and I was asked to teach the first-year history program because I would have the right degree, at the right time that the state board required for authorizing their instructors, their teachers. So then I was totally immersed in putting together the history of ancient astrology. So I was aware that Project Hindsight was still continuing to have events at their home in Maryland, but my life was so overwhelmed with this other thing I was doing that there was no way that I could really follow that or participate in it.
And then it was at the end of Kepler’s first year where I taught the history of ancient and medieval astrology that our students attended a NORWAC where Project Hindsight had a table and a booth. And Alan White was talking about the techniques of interpretation with Hellenistic astrology and our students said to me, “What this about? Like what are all these techniques?” And I realized, “Yeah, what are all these techniques? You’ve been learning the history for a year. There’s a whole body of practical information that goes with that, that in terms of keeping with the integrity of that program that you should also be exposed to.”
And then, a month later, Bob at Hindsight was giving an intensive, a week-long intensive, and I realized that I had to go there and sort of catch up to speed on what they had done during the past four years while I had been totally immersed in graduate school and Kepler’s first-year program. And that was the moment when not only did I connect with the potency of the techniques, but because I have had enough of the Greek, I was able to hear those teachings in a way that I couldn’t have possibly understood four or five years earlier.
So that’s what happened at that moment, I saw how important the teachings were. I went back to Kepler, I was able to arrange to have that module included in the Kepler curriculum. And then I returned to Maryland and to Virginia for a number of months where I put together that first course under the instruction of Alan White and Robert Schmidt.
CB: Right. And you wrote a lot of notes. It was probably, I don’t know, 200 pages maybe of a course manual of commentary, an instructional manual that would go with some of the translations. And then, those course notes, you continued to expand as you teach private students over the course…
CB: …of the past decade-and-a-half, and now, that’s what this book is.
DG: That’s what this book is.
CB: And I can actually recognize some of the sections of it where I remember it from all those years ago, for more than 10 years ago now, reading it in the Kepler course.
DG: I first started doing the workbook application there because I was still connected with the Astrology for Yourself model.
CB: Okay. Right. And you were probably doing that for some of yourself in learning that material and trying to systemize…
CB: …and understand each of the concepts. All right. Yeah, so that’s really important. I’m trying to think–one of the issues that we could go into is… One of the things that’s interesting about the book, actually notable is I thought before I read this that it was just going to be about Hellenistic astrology–which is basically Greco-Roman astrology from the 1st century BCE roughly to the 7th century–but you actually incorporated some later medieval authors into your treatment as well because you’ve been studying them over the course of the past decade in addition to some of the Greek texts.
DG: Right. And I tried as much as possible to have footnotes from the ancient texts themselves about where these doctrines came from, or who said it, and to have it go back to where we can trace it to. And in that search for primary source documentation, it inevitably led me into looking at some of the material of the Arabic and medieval authors. And thanks to all of Ben Dyke’s translations, I had all that material right at my bookshelf, so it was quite impossible not to see how the tradition continued into the medieval and Renaissance period.
And in volume two, which will be mostly about the houses–although I’m treating some other pieces on the rulers of the nativity as well–that interest in how the tradition developed over the course of 2,000 years is especially evident where I look at the significations of the houses and find what Hellenistic authors said about each house, and then Arabic/medieval authors, and then a number of Renaissance authors, and then the early modern authors to be able to see what pieces of the doctrine survived and remain constant, what elements of the houses were added in at certain times and why, what pieces dropped out and perhaps speculate as to why, and then be able to do that analysis of our understanding of the houses from the entirety of the tradition.
So something that started off in the beginning, “Well, did Bonatti have anything to say about sect?” we heard those words, medieval words, a planet being in Hayz. Let’s say that sect-related conditions, that was a concept that we didn’t see in the Hellenistic. And then, as I started, again, the Gemini part of myself can’t contain–refrain actually is the word–from gathering more and more information. “Like what did so-and-so say? And where did they get it from?” just kept moving me forward through the tradition, so you see more and more of that as the book goes on.
CB: Right. Yeah, I appreciate that. And I think other traditional astrologers will appreciate that because it sets it up as something that’s useful for everybody, and not necessarily just one tradition even if it’s very much rooted in the Hellenistic tradition primarily. And it kind of raises an interesting thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, which is because traditional astrology was dug up… On the one hand, partially because it was dug up in different eras where first there was a revival of Renaissance astrology in the 1980s because the text of William Lilly was rediscovered, and because it was the earliest text written in English…
CB: …you could still read it without any language skills. So there was like a rebirth or rediscovery of Renaissance astrology first and there was much excitement surrounding that. And then at some point, there was also probably after that a revival of medieval astrology through the work of people like Robert Zoller. And he was working on Latin texts basically, like Guido Bonatti and other authors like that. And then, eventually, there was a revival, especially more recently of the Hellenistic texts and excitement surrounding the Greek texts that were written around the 1st century, or give or take a few centuries.
But there’s different people–depending on which tradition oftentimes they started with–that will tend to prefer that tradition. And there’s different, almost like fundamentalism that sometimes develops out of each tradition…
CB: …depending on what the person’s preference is, where there can be versions of Hellenistic fundamentalism of saying the original system was the best and everything else was a de-evolution. There is a medieval fundamentalism we’ve seen sometimes, which is like the Hellenistic astrology was okay, but it really got at its best during the medieval tradition and then it declined during the Renaissance. And then there’s like a Renaissance…
CB: …fundamentalism where they say the earlier traditions were okay, but it really reached its peak in the Renaissance and then declined after that. How do you–you don’t seem to oftentimes go down that route. What do you recommend, or do you recommend avoiding that? Is that okay, that impulse? Have you ever had that impulse yourself? Or, how do you perceive it yourself when you see it in sometimes other practitioners?
DG: From a very cynical point of view, I understand that wherever an astrologer has invested their ego and being right about the kind of astrology they do–and correspondingly, their income is dependent upon their authority and maintaining that authority–I understand why many astrologers are so rooted in that their astrology is the best and the most correct.
But if we take a larger sweep of understanding, we see that astrology has made its way around the world almost since the beginning of its development. And that each culture that has received teachings has, in order to fully integrate them into being applicable to their own experiences, has made certain insights or adaptations that brought it in alignment with their primary beliefs.
However, to the extent that we consider that astrology is–I hesitate to use the word a language of ‘truth,’ but the language that it is can reveal the truth of the situation of the condition, and fate or karma of a person’s life and their purpose. Then that truth can be communicated in many different languages, and we have to be careful not to fall into the trap that the only ‘true’ word is something that happens in our own language that only we ourselves can understand. And so, that gives us that sort of openness to respecting the variety of different traditions that emerged from this one, fundamental understanding.
And what I’ve tried to do in this book is the notion of planetary condition is something that remains uniform from the earliest of times through the Renaissance. This idea that based on a planet’s sign, and house, and relationship to the Sun and aspects, its ability to form its function was easier or harder for the individual, that’s a constant in all of these different traditions. And by speaking to how a certain doctrine developed and was re-understood, my hope is that the book can cut through those barriers of the differences between one tradition and another.
Astrologers have always disagreed. Even in the Hellenistic texts, you see Valens says, “This person said that, and that person said whatever, but this is what I think.” This variant of opinion has been continuous, so there’s no use in pretending that it hasn’t been. And being able to present the multiplicity, and yet, from the multiplicity to be able to isolate the things that are continuous and constant is what I tried to do, so that hopefully, students of medieval or Renaissance astrology can read this book and benefit from the understanding of the principles without it causing them to totally reject a tradition that they are connected with for whatever other reasons. Now did that make sense?
CB: Yeah, definitely. And I think you accomplished that because you traced that thread later in the tradition, in addition to talking about the foundation. I think that’s going to have the effect of showing the overlaps more clearly, and showing where some of those later things that just became rules or aphorisms originally came from and what the original conceptual and philosophical rationale was originally.
Yeah, it just comes up sometimes in funny ways because so much of the tradition became about the textual tradition…
CB: …and what texts were transmitted, what texts weren’t, what authority is being given to certain texts in different eras versus in other eras, what texts are being given more authority. We came up with this at one point when you were writing your book in the editing phase of the question of was Claudius Ptolemy a practicing astrologer…
CB: …and some of the debates surrounding that, and then subsequent questions about how much authority to give his texts based on what your answer to that question is. And so, there’s just some tricky issues that come up sometimes in terms of that.
DG: Yeah. Things that make us question that is all of the other Hellenistic astrologers were continually mentioning and citing one another. But Ptolemy is rarely cited by anyone until way later on, and he, himself, isn’t including other astrologers whose texts we have in his books, so that’s one reason why his book is different from any of the others. So that makes us wonder if, in some ways, he was outside of the mainstream of the astrological tradition of his day.
DG: And one comparison we might have to that in our time right now is there are a number of academics, especially in Europe and on the continent, who are working with the history of astrology, but they have no idea who the foremost, astrological practitioners of today are. And many practicing astrologers have no idea who these academics who are authorities in the academic world are. So there’s a big gap that exists between those two groups today, and I imagine that that could have also been the case in earlier eras.
And then we also know that one of Ptolemy’s objectives was to reconcile this new astrology with the philosophy of his day because he did have other academic works on optics, and astronomy, and geography and different subjects out there.
CB: Right. He was like a polymath who wrote…
CB: …major works in a bunch of different fields.
DG: So I’m sure that in the course of learning a lot about the important subjects of his day that he did give due attention to astrology and presented it to the best of his abilities. And he was a great mind, he did a lot of good work in what he set down. But that he was a practicing astrologer in the same way that the others were, there’s some question there because no one seems to know about him, and he doesn’t seem to know about anyone else.
CB: Right. And unlike his contemporaries, he doesn’t use any example charts.
CB: Whereas somebody like Valens, you have a bunch of…
CB: He uses his own chart. He uses client charts. He gets in a shipwreck, and he goes around and collects everyone on the boat’s chart afterwards to see what happened in the concept of the shipwreck. We don’t see that necessarily in Ptolemy.
DG: Right, so there’s that. But that’s not to say that his work isn’t representative of the period and that it’s not valuable.
CB: Right. That was the question I had as I’ve been… There was an extreme pushback against Ptolemy in the ‘90s, especially in the work of people like Geoffrey Cornelius and James Holden for many of the reasons that you said. And then there’s also, of course, people that place his work on a pedestal. And up until recently, it’s always been thought of as the major work on ancient astrology that everybody should emulate and was the best example of that. And sometimes, in the Renaissance, for example, that reached into an extreme version where they would just adopt a bunch of Ptolemy’s techniques, even though, in some instances, they were radically different with what the tradition had been for 1,700 years up to that point.
But all that being said, and despite those two extremes, there’s still probably reason to say we don’t necessarily know. And he did write a book on astrology, and while he sometimes would omit or just not talk about concepts or techniques that he didn’t like, there were techniques that he did agree with that he does seem to treat competently and in a way that’s not so dissimilar from other astrologers that it’s just completely breaking with the tradition. Like, for example, with lots, or the Arabic parts, he doesn’t seem to like those very much. He keeps the Lot of Fortune because he’s able to find a rationale for it that he agrees with, but he kind of dispenses with all of the rest of them.
DG: Right. There’s very little information on the houses. A few lines here and there, but he doesn’t really treat the significations of the houses.
CB: Right. It’s very sporadic. And he mainly focuses on angularity but not so much on topics necessarily.
DG: So there’s another part of that question of how do I deal with other astrologers who are fundamentalists in their own tradition. And my sense is not to really disperse my energy by getting involved in those disputes, but by doing the very best work I can with the material that I’m comfortable with and feel competent in, and to let the material speak for itself, and to support that which I want to put my energy into making available and not get distracted by trying to dispute what someone else is doing. So I tend to ignore it, for the most part.
CB: Sure. And that’s probably been easier because you’ve done work with Dennis Harness. You originally co-taught the Hellenistic course with him where you compared Hellenistic and Vedic astrology, in order to both emphasize and show, just by teaching them side by side, how many similarities there were as well as the differences. And so, exercises like that have probably been really fruitful in terms of keeping an open mind and seeing the value of that comparison between the traditions.
DG: Exactly. We discovered in that Kepler course was Hellenistic and Vedic were much more similar than Hellenistic is to modern. And then the second thing was that we would give a question and have our students both arrive at a judgment using Hellenistic techniques and then using Vedic techniques. And what was often the case is that they arrived at similar conclusions but used entirely different systems to be able to get there. And so, that also opens up your mind. You can’t keep it as fixed to the one-and-only-way point of view.
CB: Right. Yeah, that’s amazing. And then more relevant in terms of modern astrologers is that you’ve also continued some of that work in terms of not wanting to just do ancient astrology in and of itself, but sometimes now going back and looking for ways to integrate ancient astrology and modern astrology, or perhaps, synthesize the two.
DG: Umm, yes, that also. And I’ve continued to use the asteroids through this whole time period, and I definitely use the modern planets, the outer planets. So it isn’t as if I’m only doing ancient astrology, but I’m using the insights that the foundation of our tradition has given us as the foundation of my understanding, and then treating asteroids and the outer planets, while fully considering them, treating them in different ways, and again, doing that layering process with it.
My belief is that everything in our solar system and even in our cosmos has meaning. Every celestial body has some sort of interpretive meaning, and that opens us up to the asteroids, the trans-Neptunian planets, the fixed stars, and given the grace that we should live that long, being able to integrate black holes and other galaxies into our understanding. Not that we ourselves should live that long, but that the tradition of astrologers can continue that far out into the future.
So it all has interpretive meaning. There’s nothing that should be rejected, but the Hellenistic… Unless you have a strong foundation of your house, you pile up all this other stuff, it’s all going to topple over. And so, the foundation is so beautiful, and elegant, and clear, and strong, it’s hard not to give it the respect that it should have, and that was my intent in bringing forth this work.
CB: Awesome. And you feel like having had a long astrological career prior to getting into ancient astrology and continuing to have a long career afterwards, that going back and doing this work and getting into this material has enriched your work as a modern astrologer and created a more solid foundation?
DG: Absolutely. And the students that I’ve had, I’ve asked them afterwards, “Well, how are your readings?” And they say, “Oh, the readings are so much better than they were before. I feel so much more confident in what I say and understanding why I’m saying it, and having some sort of justification for it.”
And so, I’m still a working astrologer. I see a number of clients every week, every month for years. And I have totally benefited from the clarity and depth of the ancient material. It’s added to my practice as a counseling astrologer. When I do a reading, if someone isn’t themselves an advanced astrologer interested in the traditional material, I’m not layering it with all of the terminology of maltreatment, and sect, and all of the other jargon that we use. But that information is for the astrologer, him- or herself, to be able to feel confident and then saying what they need to to their client with a sense of purposeful clarity.
CB: Yeah, and really giving people a structure for how to go about delineating a chart and what steps you take. Because that seems like the wall that I see most students of astrology hit at some point like a year or two or maybe a few years into their studies. They know a bunch of different things, they know what everything should mean, but they don’t know how to put it together…
CB: …in order to form a meaningful synthesis. And that seems like the main thing that this book is really about is how you form a meaningful synthesis by going through the necessary steps in the right order and knowing what to prioritize, or what to put a little bit further down the chain of interpretive principles.
DG: Right. I remember when I was a young astrologer, after we learned planet signs, houses, aspects, transits, progressions. Okay, now, you’re ready to read charts. And we would go, “But where do we begin? What do we say first?” And the word was, “Well, each of you have to find your own voice,” and then it became a process. I remember the panic in those early days that you look at the chart, you don’t know where to begin. You just land on some aspects that you remember, something that you know about and start talking about it…
DG: …until you exhaust whatever it is you have to say on that, and then desperately search for something else to start addressing. And I hope that in the process of both volume one and volume two that there’s a clear and definite pattern and structure for how to approach the interpretation of not only each planet and its full range of meaning according to its condition, but the various topics of life designated by the houses–how will marriage turn out, how will health turn out, how will children turn out.
And in that part two, again, it’s the interpretation, one, from the planet’s point of view, but then we turn around and do it from the house topic’s point of view. So you’re considering the questions that people bring to the counseling room from a multifaceted perspective and knowing how to proceed specifically within each approach.
CB: Brilliant. All right.
CB: Great. Well, I’m really excited about this. I think the book comes out probably today or tomorrow, we’re waiting. So your publisher is Aaron Cheak…
CB: …of Rubedo Press, which is just amazing. I’m so glad that you guys got together. Aaron actually edited my book. And so, the fact that he was able to edit and then become the publisher of your book, I was just ecstatic about because I thought he was a great person for the job, and that’s really panned out.
DG: Yeah, he’s been brilliant. He totally has the conceptual understanding to realize what I was trying to do, and then through his superb editing skills, being able to bring it into a very accessible language presentation and visual presentation as well.
CB: Yeah. The book is just laid out beautifully. Like the cover is beautiful. The layout is amazing. All the diagrams came out very nicely. There’s a nice image of the Zodiac of Dendera on the cover.
Yeah, so I’m told that the book is–it will eventually be available on Amazon, but for the first month or so, it’s primarily going to be available through the publisher’s website, which is rubedo.press. Yeah, that’s it, rubedo.press. So I’ll put a link to the website where you can find the book, where you can order the book on the description page for this episode on theastrologypodcast.com. I’m sure you’ll be speaking at conferences and doing other promotions for the book over the course of the next year.
DG: Yes, I will be. And then people can also go to my own website, demetra-george.com. You can join the mailing list, and then you’ll be getting regular notifications of the book and how to order it, and presentations I’ll be doing over the course of the year in conjunction with it.
CB: Brilliant. All right. And I’m trying to think of anything else, but I think that’s it. Part two, I’m told will be probably be released somewhere in the early part of quarter two of next year. So hopefully, we can, maybe we can come back again to talk about part two in a follow-up discussion where you’ll be dealing with, as you said, the houses, the master of the nativity, and other topics like that.
CB: All right. Great. Well, thanks a lot for joining me today.
DG: Oh, it was wonderful, Chris. Thank you for having me. And I’m just so grateful for our friendship and our astrological collaboration that has gone on almost for two decades now, so that’s just wonderful.
CB: Me, too. Well, congratulations. And yeah, I look forward to hearing what everyone thinks of the book. So thanks everyone for listening to this episode of The Astrology Podcast, and we will see you again next time.