The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 244, titled:
How Did Placidus Become the Most Popular House System?
With Chris Brennan and Anthony Louis
Episode originally released on February 24, 2020
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Transcribed by Mary Sharon
Transcription released June 21, 2021
Copyright © 2021 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CB: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. In this episode, I’m going to be talking with astrologer Anthony Louis about why the Placidus system of house division is the most popular or the default system of house division in Western astrology today. So hey, Anthony, thanks for joining me today.
AL: Nice to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
CB: Yeah, I’m excited to have you on. I’ve known you for several years now, quite many years so I’m excited to have you on the show finally. So, you are the author of a few different books on astrology. One of your first ones was one of the earliest books on horary astrology after the revival of horary astrology in the late 1980s and early 1990s but you’ve also written on solar returns and you’ve also done or helped with a translation of the 17th century author Marinus, right? Okay, so that’s pretty wide. And then you’ve also authored several books on tarot? Okay, so wide interests. And the genesis of this episode is actually an article that you wrote last year as well as a blog post that’s getting passed around recently from your website from November 2019 titled Why Are Placidus Houses So Popular? I thought it was such a good article which is a follow-up to another article you wrote that I wanted to have you on today to talk about that. So, thanks for agreeing to do this.
AL: My pleasure to be here.
CB: All right. So, let me set the stage by introducing the topic and providing some context. So, the premise of the discussion is basically that in the late 19th, sorry, in the late 20th and early 21st century, so today and for the past few decades, the Placidus system of house division is I think indisputably, the most popular system of house division and it’s the default house system in most software programs like for example on astro.com or the Astrodienst website which is one of the main sites that people go to get their birth chart calculated. I think that’s relatively non-controversial statement, right, that Placidus is like the default house system?
AL: At least in the English-speaking world, yeah.
CB: Okay. Do you think is it elsewhere or are other systems more prominent elsewhere?
AL: I think in India, they’re using the whole signs and some people will add the quadrant cusps to those.
CB: That’s a good point. Okay, so let’s say for our purposes, then we’re primarily talking about modern Western astrology in the English-speaking worlds, primarily.
AL: I think South America, a lot of South Americans use the topocentric which is very close to the Placidus.
CB: Okay, got it. So, anyway, despite that or as a result of many software programs or websites like I think even Solar Fire using Placidus as the default, this is the system of house division that many people start their studies of astrology with. And because people have a tendency to stick with whatever system they started with, they tend to probably more often than not stick with Placidus as their primary system of house division throughout their career. And I think this is partially because our understanding of our lives become so intertwined with our birth chart that changing a house system can have major implications for how one sees their life as well as the lives of those around them. So, this is would you say that’s accurate more or less that people tend to view their birth chart as a, their birth chart becomes a tool for how they perceive their life and the meaning that they attribute to it?
AL: Yeah, I think that’s true. People who get seriously into astrology, the birth chart becomes a self-portrait. And I also think as astrologers we tend to do what our teachers taught us and perpetuate a tradition that way.
CB: Sure, that makes sense. So, this is one of the reasons why the house division debate can get so tense at times because people become very personally invested, not just personally through their own birth chart, but also professionally since of course whatever system of house division they use is the one that they also apply to client charts and so some of their statements or predictions that they make about client’s lives are also predicated on that choice, whatever system of house division they use, right? Okay, so people become very invested. One of the questions that naturally comes up is then why is Placidus the default quadrant house system in most software programs or most astrology websites like astro.com or what have you. There’s other systems of quadrant house division that calculate the cusps or the boundaries between the houses differently, sometimes slightly differently and sometimes radically differently. So, there’s even alternative forms of house division like equal houses or whole sign houses that calculate the houses from a radically different standpoint. But even with quadrant houses, there’s sometimes very small and other times very large differences between how they calculate the cusps. And so, people have questions of why Placidus or why that method in particular has become so popular. And this partially, actually becomes a historical question which is what we’re going to focus on today is the historical angle of that and that’s what you tried to address partially in your articles partially based on some quotes that I made, but also connected to something that I was quoting to some extent from James Holden.
So, the setup for that was that essentially or especially because so many astrologers don’t understand the math behind the houses because especially in the past couple of decades, a lot of astrologers are just calculating charts automatically through software programs rather than by hand, most astrologers will use the default house system or at least the one that they started out with, and yes, then why is Placidus the default? So, James Holden in his book, A History of Horoscopic Astrology, he made this passing remark, I think his book was published in like 1996-1997, saying that something to the effect of Placidus, there’s a perception that Placidus had become the default in the 20th century due to availability. So, the quote is, “It has become a cliche in the 20th century that the Placidus system later became the 19th and 20th century standard because it was the only one for which affordable tables were readily available.” And he says, “This is partially true, but the same thing could also be said for the initial success of the Regiomontanus system.” So that’s from page 150 of the first edition of his book, A History of Horoscopic Astrology. And I, of course, have quoted that or not quoted because I didn’t make an exact quote which is one of the things that you pointed out in your article, but I cited that statement from Holden a few times in different episodes of The Astrology Podcast in the past saying that the availability of Placidus in tables of houses so that astrologers could calculate it relatively easy especially when they were still calculating charts by hand is one of the reasons why Placidus became the default in modern times. And you took issue with that in your article because you pointed out that historically, Placidus was popularized much earlier than the 20th century for much different reasons. And so that’s a large part of what we’re going to talk about today is your critique of that statement or that angle on why Placidus became the default. So, is that accurate setup so far? Are we on the same page?
AL: Yeah, I think I’ve heard the statement over the years [Anthony laughs] told mainly as a joke and the joke being look at all these astrologers at least in the United States, in England, they’re all using Placidus and the only reason they’re doing it is because the tables were available. They have no theoretical justification for doing it. And isn’t that silly? That’s the kind of joke. And the joke goes way back. I think I’ve mentioned this to you before we started talking that not James Holden, but Ralph Holden the British author who wrote on houses, he speculates that the reason Placidus houses became popular is that the Old Raphael who published an almanac at the beginning of the 19th century, I think in the 1820s, chose to use Placidus houses because they were easy to calculate the tables. And because his almanac was popular, everybody started using Placidus. And again, that’s partially true, but what it leaves out is that there was a theoretical reason why the British astrologers of that period chose Placidus over Regiomontanus which was the predominant house system before that.
CB: Yeah, so that’s part of the answer to the question is that the statement or the argument that Placidus became the default, especially in the 20th century and especially with the advent of like software programs, the reason it became the default is because partially because it was true that earlier in the 20th century and maybe even in the 19th century that Placidus had become established already as the preferred system amongst a number of astrologers historically. And therefore, when tables were printed up like books of planetary tables that would list how to calculate the house cusps when you’re calculating a chart by hand, that those did tend to be the ones that were in wide circulation and therefore, those are what astrologers tended to use because that was what was available and it makes the process of calculating houses much quicker and much easier so astrologers are going to basically use what’s available. So, that’s part of that again, that’s partially true. But then the other part that you’re bringing up is that there was an earlier historical precedent for an intellectual shift away from some of the previous forms of quadrant house division and towards Placidus like a historical reason why everybody decided to adopt Placidus at a certain point.
AL: Right. And I think there’s also a chicken and egg argument here. And I think I gave the analogy in one of the papers that it would be like saying the reason hamburgers are popular in the United States is that there are 20,000 McDonald’s franchises, instead of saying [Anthony laughs] the reason there are 20,000, McDonald’s hamburger franchises because people like hamburgers. It’s sort of which came first?
CB: Got it, I like that. All right. So basically, your point was that while it’s true that Placidus was the primary system that tables of houses were available for the 20th century and that did help to popularize it to some extent, the reason it was already popularized or went in that direction was because it had been promoted widely since about the 17th century when the Placidus system originated.
AL: Which is the end of the 17th century.
CB: Okay. So, the question we’re going to address here today is how did this get started? So why don’t we start then right back at the beginning of this system of house division at least with Placidus and let’s talk about Placidus, his publication, and the subsequent acceptance of his work way back in the 17th centuries. So, maybe I didn’t write this down, but who was Placidus? He was like a monk, right?
AL: Placidus was a monk from Perugia, Italy I believe from a fairly prominent family. He was a very bright guy. He became a monk, but also a professor of mathematics, astronomy, astrology and a respected university professor.
CB: And his full name was what again?
AL: He says Placidus de Titus or Titi. I don’t know his full name. [Anthony laughs] I’m sure it’s-
CB: Sure. I’m just pulling it up on Wikipedia that Placidus-
AL: I’ll have to look it up. He actually published his major book under a pseudonym initially because it was somewhat controversial in terms of the church. He said things that the Pope and the hierarchy wouldn’t have liked. He was censured for it. And eventually, he was placed on the index of forbidden books, so the Catholics were not allowed to read his works.
CB: Right, and that’s a really big deal. So, his first book and the one in which he originally outlined the house system was published in 1650, right?
AL: Yes, I think so. Yeah.
CB: Okay. So somewhere, which is really interesting to me as like a side note because that was right around the time of a Uranus Neptune conjunction which I’ve talked about before is coinciding with important turning points in the history of astrology where there’s a transmission of older forms of astrology and a revival of older forms that are then synthesized with whatever the prevailing forms of astrology is at the time. And originally, I really associated that conjunction with William Lilly who published Christian Astrology just three years earlier, I think in 1647.
AL: Right. And Marinus published his works about a decade later.
CB: Yeah, exactly. And Marinus is the other guy, but this is actually another super important one that I’d overlooked previously is that Placidus published his works at the exact same time around that conjunction and also had similar motivations that are tied in even more clearly in terms of an attempted synthesis of ancient wisdom and modern contemporary wisdom. So, he was among his time period, I just looked up his original name on Wikipedia and it’s I guess Placido de Titi and the Latinization is Placidus. So, we know him as Placidus, he lived from 1603 to 1668 and he was at the University of Pavia from 1657 until he died about a decade later. So, he published that first book in 1650 and there were other subsequent books, but in terms of what his contribution was he was focused especially on two issues in those publications and they were primary directions which is a timing technique, but also house division. And he seems to have been really focused and really interested in reconstructing Ptolemy’s approach, the second century astrologer Claudius Ptolemy who’s the most famous and most influential astrologer or at least the author of an astrology book of all time who published his Tetrabiblos sometime in the mid-second century, probably in Egypt and Alexandria.
So Placidus seems like he was part of this general back to Ptolemy movement where Ptolemy represented the oldest and most authoritative Greek astrological texts that was available at that time. And this back to Ptolemy movement is something that’s evident in other people of that era like William Lilly as well. And they were really interested in going back and trying to figure out what Ptolemy was trying to do and trying to emulate or reconstruct his text as best as they could. And in particular, Placidus was focused on this chapter in Ptolemy’s work where he discusses the length of life treatment because that’s where he introduced primary directions and that’s also where he describes some form of house division except that what he says about house division in that chapter has been the subject of much controversy and much interpretation because basically James Holden says at one point on page 47 of A History of Horoscopic Astrology that this one chapter has occasioned more astrological controversy than any other ever written. And this is about Ptolemy’s Book Three, Chapter 11 where Ptolemy talks about the issue of house division and primary directions. So, part of the thing, was this a general movement because Placidus wasn’t the only guy that was part of this back to Ptolemy movement, right?
AL: Well, in terms of Ptolemy, it wasn’t just astrology that he wrote on, he was recognized as a polymath, a genius who wrote books on almost all types of the natural sciences. He did one on harmonics, music theory, optics, mapping, geography, coordinate systems, and one specifically on astronomy that was said the Almagest on astronomy separate from astrology in which he presented whole cosmology theories about orbits, his epicycles, fixed stars, observational astronomy, measurements of the universe. So, he was regarded as this universal natural scientist genius who had a wealth of knowledge and information. And his books only gradually came into Europe, several of them got translated when the Arabs came into Spain and then the Toledo School of Translators got together translated them into Latin or Spanish. I don’t know about Italian at the time. I think his book on geography was only discovered around 1400 well after the infiltration of the Arabs into Spain and didn’t get to Italy until the early 1400s. And that was after the period in which Marco Polo had published his stories about journeys to China. So, there was this fascination with the world with geography with mapping and the whole idea of coordinate systems, how do you measure things on Earth and measure things on the celestial sphere? And Ptolemy worked in three dimensions the celestial sphere. I think a problem modern astrologer have is we reduce everything to a two-dimensional chart and we’re missing the earlier conceptualization and when astrology was taught, it was taught with a three-dimensional globe or celestial sphere really, so you had to look at what the planets were doing in three dimensions, not on a piece of paper.
And so, for this reason, Ptolemy was revered as a real expert who had a lot of knowledge to teach us and some of his works were being uncovered and translated for the first time. So, it was new knowledge much like the current movement with Project Hindsight where we were translating these old texts and realizing there’s so much we didn’t know that seems novel and we have to figure out what it means.
CB: Right. Or sometimes like reinterpretations of older authors that are being looked at in a new light that’s then leading to new discoveries or new approaches.
AL: Right. But discovering Ptolemy was really would be like if 1000 years ago, we had lost Einstein and then suddenly they rediscovered his papers on relativity.
CB: That’s a great analogy because that was the analogy I was about to make is that Ptolemy was basically like the Einstein of his day and it was like if Einstein was a polymath who did like a unified field theory and also wrote on like several different areas like Ptolemy did like you said, harmonics, geography, astronomy, astrology, and he wrote what was like the most authoritative work on astronomy for over 1000 years so that that established him not just as a major paradigm creating astronomer, but as a result of the work he had done in astronomy that cascaded over into and made his other works including his astrological work be viewed as very authoritative as well so that it was continually passed on and transmitted over the next 2000 years.
AL: Right. And obviously, if Ptolemy was Einstein, then Placidus was Stephen Hawking. He took ideas of Einstein, modified them, gave them a new twist and advanced them. Popularized, yeah.
CB: And popularized it by writing A Brief History of Time, it was Hawking’s book so that’s a really good analogy, I like that. So, Placidus is like the Stephen Hawking to Ptolemy’s Einstein. So, going back to that then, so Ptolemy is viewed as this huge authoritative guy from as early in the Greek tradition as they had, they didn’t have other texts at that point in the Renaissance from the earlier Greek authors necessarily like Vettius Valens or like Dorotheus or something like that but they did have Ptolemy. And the issue with Ptolemy is that he deals with primary directions and he introduces house division in the context of this chapter on the length of life, but it’s a notoriously difficult chapter to read in Greek that Ptolemy, whenever I’ve talked to other Greek translators like Robert Schmidt or James Holden, they always say, “Oh yeah, Ptolemy’s Greek is super advanced and super subtle and very difficult and he has a lot of run on sentences that just go on for lines and lines and you have to break it up into separate sentences in English, but grammatically, in the Greek, it just keeps going forever.” So, he’s a very difficult author to read, like reading a really advanced scientific paper in modern English let’s say that’s using a ton of technical jargon and also taking a lot of concepts for granted without necessarily introducing all of them. That’s what Ptolemy was doing to some extent.
So, he deals with it in Book Three, Chapter 11 on the length of life and basically, immediately after the Tetrabiblos was published within a century or two because of his astronomical contributions, his astrological book also draws a lot of attention and starts getting very prominent very quickly. But even in the later Greek tradition within a century or two after Ptolemy, there were different authors who would get to this chapter of Ptolemy’s book, Book Three, Chapter 11, where he starts talking about house division and they started coming to different interpretations about what he meant and what form of house division he was talking about in that chapter or trying to outline. And basically, what happened is that for the next 1000 years, actually, for the next 1500 years after Ptolemy, a lot of the different or several different forms of house division actually came from attempting to interpret the system of house division that Ptolemy was trying to describe in this chapter and that applies at the very least to Regiomontanus and to Placidus were interpretations of what Ptolemy was trying to describe in that in that chapter basically, right?
AL: Yeah, and I think you’ve mentioned this already, but it’s important to repeat that a lot of astrologers believe that you had to use the same type of primary direction technique as you did to construct the houses and in fact, they can be independent and separate. But there was a belief that they had to be the same method, use the same circles of position or same types of measurements of movements of planets or measurements of how much time had elapsed by measuring distance along the equator. And so, I think that’s how Regiomontanus came up with his system and reading the same paragraph or actually sentence in Ptolemy. Placidus came up with a different method of both primary direction and house division.
CB: Right. So, there’s this great paper James Holden the famous historian of astrology who passed away just a few years ago wrote two papers on house division and he wrote the first one in like the 1980s and then at some point he published the second paper titled Ancient House Division 2 and I don’t have the full scan of the original, but he sent me like a word document of this paper at some point so I can’t quote the page numbers but just if I can find that article and scan it when we release this episode I think I will. So, just to give a quote about Regiomontanus he says, “Regiomontanus claimed that his method was what Ptolemy had in mind when he wrote Tetrabiblos 310,” which is actually chapter 311 in latest the modern critical editions but that’s the same thing the length of life chapter basically. So, he continues he says Holden says, “This is certainly false, but Regiomontanus’ arguments were accepted by the majority of astrologers.” He goes on he says, “His house tables accompanied by auxiliary tables for calculating primary directions were very likely the first extensive set of mathematical tables of any kind ever printed appearing as they did scarcely four decades after the invention of printing.” So, he’s talking about the late 15th century here and then he finally says, “Three things combined to make the Regiomontanus system a success. First, it provided a convenient printed set of house tables. Second, it was modern and scientific. And third, it’s substituted a system with a legend classical Greek sanction for a system supposed to have been invented by a medieval Arabic author. But these arguments would have been equally applicable to the Campanus or Placidus systems. Thus, it’s fair to say that the success of the Regiomontanus system was due to external circumstances rather than any inherent superiority.”
So basically, he’s saying this was an early example of what we were talking about here about Placidus being the system that printed tables were the most widely available for easily accessible for in the 20th century. There was a similar thing with Regiomontanus starting at the end of the 15th century because it was one of the first houses of tables for quadrant houses in calculating them that was printed on the printing press and thus became widely available only a few decades after the printing press itself was invented.
AL: Yeah, I think that’s true but it is also true that Regiomontanus claimed he understood this passage from Ptolemy whereas others hadn’t, so he claimed that he was a true disciple of Ptolemy and was correctly interpreting his intent and had done it mathematically so that there was a reason a theoretical reason to use his method if you believed he’d done what he did. And Marinus actually, when he wrote his book on houses said that Regiomontanus was the most rational system. In his view, it’s the best system, the most rational system, the most in accord with logic and reason and modern science as he understood it.
CB: Right, that was his belief but that’s a good point that if you thought Regiomontanus made a convincing argument intellectually and you looked at like a translation of Ptolemy and then you read Regiomontanus’ arguments and you are persuaded by his arguments then you are partially then going to accept the system because it intellectually seems to go back to the original system of Ptolemy if you believe he interpreted Ptolemy correctly and so what you’re saying here.
AL: Yeah. I sent you some slides and in one of the slides, I included I don’t know if it’s possible to show it.
CB: Yeah, let me see if I can share that.
AL: There’s a book, it’s slide five [Anthony laughs] and it’s a nice image it’s a book entitled the Epitome of the Almagest which is Ptolemy’s work on cosmology and astronomy from 1496 and this is the bottom of the front cover, not front cover the frontispiece of the book and it shows Ptolemy on the left sitting and Regiomontanus across the table having a conversation with him. So clearly, the message here is Regiomontanus is understanding Ptolemy, he’s correctly interpreting him and here’s a visual depiction of how Regiomontanus is advancing the work of Ptolemy in the 15th century.
CB: Yeah, I like that. They’re just like sitting at the table reading some books there, they’re bros, they’re getting along and Regiomontanus is a buddy of Ptolemy so that makes sense.
AL: This is a theoretical justification and well, if you like Ptolemy, you got to like Regiomontanus because they’re buddies. They share the same ideas. They talk the same language.
CB: Okay. So really good point. And that’s Regiomontanus, so I’m just going to look up really quickly his date because I know we’re talking about like the late 15th century, but since we’re mentioning him so much, I want to make sure. So, Regiomontanus he was born in 1436 and died in 1476. So, towards the end of that period, let’s say, he publishes his system of houses as well as his arguments arguing this is the system of house division that Ptolemy intended and that became the basis of the argument and then he printed his tables which became widely accessible and widely used. And so, this is the reason then why later astrologers like William Lilly, for example, uses Regiomontanus’ houses when he casts horary charts, I believe in Christian Astrology in 1647, right?
AL: Right, throughout Europe, it was accepted because it was taught the teachers of astrology were teaching that Regiomontanus got it right. He understood Ptolemy, so let’s use his system and fortunately, the tables are really available so we can do it easily.
CB: Right, okay. And then it becomes like a circular thing in terms of it having then that ancient authority, but then also of course, because of that perceived intellectual credit that it has or I can’t think of the word but that it then becomes widely circulated in terms of the availability of those tables. So therefore, even astrologers, let’s say, that are not focused on Ptolemy and able to accurately do textual analysis of Ptolemy to Regiomontanus to compare and see if that’s true, there’s probably some astrologers that are just going to use what’s available and if Regiomontanus is widely available to calculate quadrant houses, that’s what they’re going to use.
AL: Right. And what their teachers taught them and what the majority of astrologers are using, there must be a reason they are using it.
CB: Yeah, exactly. So, it’s very similar to modern times. And that’s one of the things I love so much in studying the history of astrology is there’s always these parallels or these like cyclical trends that are very similar that you can see sometimes in the astrological community today that have very similar parallels throughout history in different periods. Okay. So, this is Regiomontanus and that’s the 15th century when he published that, I don’t know the exact year that he published his work. Do you happen to know that offhand?
AL: I’d have to look it up.
CB: Okay, I think it might be 16 or 1464. Just glancing through some stuff, but anyways, around the middle of the 15th century, basically. So that means we’re talking about what a couple of centuries later when Placidus comes on the scene and publishes his work, right, 1650. So, the context the reason we focused on that so much is that Regiomontanus then became the most popular system of house division in many places for a couple of centuries after that point partially due to the intellectual arguments he made about Ptolemy, but then Placidus comes on the scene and he has a new reinterpretation of that chapter of Ptolemy both in terms of what he thought Ptolemy system of house division was that he was trying to outline as well as what Ptolemy’s approach to primary directions was and he publishes this in 1650. And yeah, basically, what’s unique is that he also then like Regiomontanus is thought then widely to be the first to correctly understand Ptolemy’s system of primary directions as well as house division. So, Placidus introduces what we know today of as the Placidus system of house division at this point basically, right?
AL: Yeah, along with his system of primary directions.
CB: Right. So, and this is partially based on a reinterpretation of basically the same passage of Ptolemy. What’s weird about this though is that James Holden argues in his works that Placidus was actually correct and actually correctly reconstructed for the first time what Ptolemy’s system of primary directions was so that his reconstruction was accurate on that count. However, Holden says that Placidus however misunderstood Ptolemy’s intended system of house division and instead in his view introduced something much more elaborate or much more complicated than what was called for based on the Greek text in his view. Is that your view as well or where do you come down on that?
AL: Yeah. Well, [Anthony laughs] I don’t read Greek, so having read the translation in English of Ptolemy and knowing the history of Regiomontanus and Placidus, I would agree with James Holden that I think what happened was astrologers had this belief that the house system had to match the system of primary direction. If that’s your premise then Placidus has to invent the new house system. He did understand Ptolemy’s method of primary directing with the proportional semi arc method for those who know that and he assumed as most astrologers of the period did that well, if I direct planets by proportional semi arc, I have to construct the houses by proportional semi arc too meaning that in the Placidus system, each house is two planetary hours in duration or in length. That was a new concept. I don’t think it is in Ptolemy. I think Ptolemy was simply dividing the wheel into segments of 30° or some equal division of the wheel.
CB: Yeah, that seems to have been both I believe like James Holden’s interpretation of what Ptolemy was trying to do in that chapter that he was doing some form of equal house division.
AL: Right, so equal house from the Ascendant but not exactly because I think he started 5° before the Ascendant.
CB: Right. And then also that was Robert Schmidt’s interpretation I believe of that passage of Ptolemy that it was an equal house division that started 5° above the degree of the Ascendant or had a range that extended to 5° above. But Placidus saw in trying to reconstruct a system of primary directions, he took some of what Ptolemy was genuinely doing with primary directions and applied that to the house system and came up with this new and elaborate system of house division and then believed that this was what Ptolemy originally intended so that he had rediscovered like this ancient more complex and more what he believed would be more accurate system of house division.
AL: Well, I think part of what threw him off or maybe was part of his creative genius is that in primary directions, planets moving to the midheaven degree are very significant. They’re one of the most important primary directions you can have, so it made sense that the midheaven degree which is usually in the 10th house whole sign or may not be would act like a 10th house cusp so that was a quadrant house idea. And so, if you move to quadrant houses, then the Placidus system makes perfect sense. If you stick with whole sign houses, then you’re back to Ptolemy’s original.
CB: Okay. So, one of the things that’s interesting about this to me is this passage of Ptolemy. One of the things that you pointed out and that Holden has pointed out is that even though the Placidus house system bears the name of Placidus at this point, this wasn’t actually the first time historically that it was introduced but in fact, Ibn Ezra describes the same approach all the way back in like what the 12th or 13th century 12th century, okay. So, Ibn Ezra also describes the same system but then as far as we know, Placidus didn’t have wasn’t reading Ibn Ezra and doesn’t cite him so Holden seems to say that they must have discovered it and come up with it independently basically.
AL: Yeah, and I don’t know the answer to that but it seemed to me that they both read Ptolemy, had the same understanding of Ptolemy, and came up with the same system whereas other people didn’t have that understand, but that’s not… So, if you read a difficult text, everyone’s going to come up with a different idea about it and such it’s surprising the two very bright astrologers would make the same interpretation.
CB: Yeah, and there were also different arguments about that with different things like the calculation for the Lot or part of Fortune and different calculations that you can use depending on how astrologers were reading different texts and things like that. And it’s interesting in terms of Ptolemy, Ptolemy’s text was being interpreted in different ways like I said going back to the Greek tradition because so, Holden and Schmidt both say that Ptolemy was describing equal houses essentially in this chapter and if you read Hephaistio of Thebes who was writing in Greek in the early fifth century around like 1415, Hephaistio when he first describes that that’s basically how he describes it as that he says it’s viewed as like an equal house system, but then he cites another early commentator on Ptolemy named Pancharius who interpreted differently and at this point introduces what was either a modified version of what’s called the Alchabitius house system or Holden says that it may have been like a modified version of the Porphyry house system of quadrant house division. So basically, even back in the Greek tradition, these different authors reading the same passage of Ptolemy were generating different forms of house division just by attempting to interpret the same passage. So that’s at least three different forms of house division that are being generated purely based on textual or partially at least largely based on textual reasons as this attempt to reconstruct what Ptolemy was trying to say.
AL: In the Alchabitius, it’s sort of a precursor to Placidus. It’s a time-based system so that’s not so unusual that you would think in terms of time instead of space. See, I think before I lose this thought, part of the brilliance of Placidus in reading Ptolemy, he also had studied Kepler’s work as Kepler came before Placidus. These P words [Anthony laughs] confuse me here. Kepler came before Placidus. And one of Kepler’s major finding says, I think it’s the second law of planetary motion, is that the planets will sweep out equal areas in equal lengths of time. And Placidus was very familiar with Kepler’s laws. He probably taught them in his university courses so he was used to thinking that time and space are connected. So, we have to think of he didn’t use the word but it’s kind of pre-Einstein that he’s thinking in terms of a space time continuum that you can’t measure things just spatially which is what Regiomontanus did, you can’t measure them just temporarily. You have to think of space time as Kepler did, equal areas and equal amounts of time. And Ptolemy’s houses are very much like that. There are areas of space swept out in equal amounts of time. So, it’s a very Keplerian idea that Placidus applies to house systems.
CB: Okay. So basically, though part of this means that interpretations of this passage or this chapter in Ptolemy have generated multiple house systems and so this is why James Holden called this the most controversial chapter basically ever in the history of astrology or something to that effect. Now we can start to see why because there’s literally centuries of astrologers trying to go back and figure out and understand read Ptolemy and try to reconstruct what he was doing and sometimes coming to different conclusions which would then generate in different technical systems which were then sometimes changing the history of astrology when astrologers then would get excited about what they thought Ptolemy was doing and figuring out the original system and then everyone would switch to whatever the new thing was. All right, so that’s all the background on this. So, let’s talk a bit then about the impact of Placidus once he publishes these works in the middle of the 17th century outlining this new system of house division or at least what for him was a new system of house division essentially. So, Placidus system of houses didn’t impact William Lilly’s Christian Astrology famously like the earliest or one of the earliest major technical works on astrology or instructional manuals on astrology in the English language because it was published in 1647. So, Lilly used Regiomontanus houses and so did his disciples like John Gadbury and Henry Coley, right?
AL: Right. And they used him well into the rest of the century of it from the time of Lilly’s disciples used Regiomontanus until at least 1700. They died in the early 1700s.
CB: Okay, so Lilly himself his dates are like born 1602 and died 1681 and then John Gadbury is 1627 to 1704 and Henry Coley is 1633 to 1707. So yeah, you’re right. So, if-
AL: And so, and during this period even though Placidus was, many people in England were getting interested in Placidus, the Lilly group stuck with Regiomontanus.
CB: Okay. And then, but unfortunately for Placidus while he was still alive, I believe, one of the points that you make that you really emphasize is that his work was forbidden by the Catholic Church later in his life and his book was placed on the index or the Church’s index of forbidden books in 1687.
AL: Right. For those non-Catholics, [Anthony laughs] I grew up Catholic so I know about the index, it was still in effect when I was a child actually. They got rid of it finally.
CB: In the 20th century?
AL: When I was born in 1945, I went to Catholic school as a child and there were books you could not read. I think it was considered a sin, a violation of your faith. And the church eventually got rid of this index but it was a way of controlling what you read so you wouldn’t read heretical stuff that would challenge your faith.
CB: And do we even know why he was added to it? Like that was one thing I wasn’t clear on.
AL: Well, I tried to look that, I can’t find a reference. It’s interesting this is in the side. The Church, Giordano Bruno who we didn’t discuss was a very brilliant cosmologist. He was burned at the stake because he held positions based on his reason that violated church’s dogma. There’s a very interesting biography of him in which the biographer actually reproduces, got hold of the transcript of his trial for heresy and so you can read what he was charged of and how the trial went. And unfortunately, he was a provocative guy. This is an aside, but it’s interesting and very logical, very creative genius. And one of the things he would say which was really stupid if you’re in a Catholic country where the church can burn you at a stake is that it’s scientifically impossible for a virgin to give birth without being impregnated by sperm, so the virgin birth of Mary, the key belief of the church is scientifically impossible. It’s a nice myth, it’s a nice story, but it couldn’t have happened. Well, of course, the church is not going to like this.
With Placidus, one of the slides I sent you and actually, this is I think the key passage slide seven and it’s brief, I can read it. This is an English translation by… Who translated this? Cooper’s 1814 translation of Placidus’ 1650 text. I think this is the key paragraph. Let me read the first sentence. Placidus writes, I desire no other guides but Ptolemy and reason. Now, what he’s saying is that I don’t care what the Pope says, I don’t care what the Church says, I don’t care what the hierarchy says. I’m just going to listen to what Ptolemy says and what my reason tells me to be true. This is going to get him in trouble with the church because from the position the church put Galileo under house arrest for not recanting his belief that the Sun was the center of the solar system, the beginning of the 1600s maybe a few decades earlier.
CB: Yeah, so Galileo died in 1642. So, it’s yeah, like you said just a few decades earlier.
AL: So, for him to state in writing my only guides and remember, he’s a Catholic monk so he’s supposed to obey the church and obey the Pope and he’s saying I’m not going to listen to you if my reason tells me otherwise. When this book came out, he was censured by the church. They let him publish it but with censure, means they didn’t like certain parts of it. And I think he was censured three times and finally, they put him on the index. I think it was 1687. I might have that date wrong.
CB: Yeah, 1687 is what you wrote or I wrote in the notes and so-
AL: But what’s interesting about 1687 that is the same year that an abridged translation of Ptolemy came out in English in England.
CB: Right. And that’s why the ban and that’s something you really focus on is important because while Placidus’ works then became banned in Catholic countries on the continent in Europe, in Protestant England there was no ban because there was no religious like enforcement of it in the same way that there was in Europe.
AL: Right, exactly. And probably, this is a guess on my part. [Anthony laughs] I have no proof of that. I would think that Protestant astrologers in England knowing that the Pope didn’t want you to read this would be even more interested. It’s like, [Anthony laughs] if you’re a parent and you say, don’t you read that novel, [Anthony laughs] what are the kids going to do? They’re going to pick up the novel and read it.
CB: Sure. So, by the end then, even though it didn’t influence Lilly and some of his initial students in the middle of the 17th century by the end of the 17th century, Placidus’ work in his attempt to reconstruct Ptolemy and his reinterpretation to introduce this more Ptolemaic approach to primary directions as well as his new system of house divisions started to become popular among the English-speaking astrologers at the time by the end of the 17th century?
AL: Yeah. And so, I think we would have to use another analogy. Regiomontanus was close. He took this very puzzling passage by Ptolemy about how do you know when planets are in equivalent places in primary directions, they have to be a certain relation to the horizon and the midheaven, the Meridian, and he constructed circles that seemed to work except it wasn’t quite exactly 100% right, and then Placidus came along and had a system that worked perfectly. It would be like the Rubik’s Cube if you worked it and you got everything right, but only one little square was out at the wrong color and then Placidus does the Rubik’s Cube and everything is perfectly aligned.
CB: What do you mean by perfect? Cuz that’s one of the problems when you get into–Usually people instead of this approaching the house division thing from a historical standpoint like we’re doing here, they’ll approach it from an astronomical standpoint. And there’s been a lot of good work done that shows the astronomical validity of almost every system that each system has some sort of astronomical basis or a rationale for it. They’re just using different frames of reference in order to calculate where the cusps should fall exactly.
AL: Oh, no. I was talking about primary directions not house cusps.
CB: Okay, got it.
AL: In other words, Placidus Ptolemy’s description of primary directions was what puzzled people. How do you get things so that there are in equivalent places with respect to the horizon and the meridian?
CB: Sure. So Regiomontanus got it partially correct.
AL: Regio got it almost maybe 99% right. And then Placidus came along, and it was perfect. It was 100% right, and it matched exactly what Ptolemy was saying. So then the reasoning is that because Placidus got the primary directions right in terms of how Ptolemy did them, his house system must also be correct.
CB: Got it. Okay. Yes.
AL: Which is a jump. That’s a jump.
CB: So he built on the work of Regiomontanus, but he was able to nail it with the primary directions. And actually in sort of contemporary historians’ opinions like James Holden that he did think that Placidus was successful in reconstructing the original system of primary directions that Ptolemy used, and so that then raised his profile and made people more open to thinking that he was right in reconstructing the system of house division that Ptolemy used at the same time.
AL: Chris, I think it might be useful. It’s a bit technical. Let me read the at least English version of that sentence from Ptolemy because we’re sort of talking about it without people knowing what it says. I’ll just read it, okay?
CB: Do you have it? It’s on the slides, right?
AL: It is. It’s slide three.
AL: And it’s really just the thing in bold. A place meaning a place in the horoscope and the ecliptic, could be a planet or a point, is similar and the same. And by the same here I think he means equivalent, so let me say it’s equivalent. I’m changing the translation a bit. A place is similar and equivalent if it has the same position and same direction with reference to both the horizon and the meridian. And so this may not sound like it makes a lot of sense. But all he’s saying is that if you have a quadrant house system if there are two planets in a quadrant, how do you know when one planet aligns with the other? And Ptolemy’s saying they have to be in the same position in the same direction with reference to both the horizon and the meridian. And he says that’s done by proportional semi arc.
CB: Are you gonna read the rest of that or is that it?
AL: I don’t wanna get too technical, but we–
CB: Okay, yeah, that’s fine. No, we’d have to.
CB: But the point is the really important underlying point here I guess that we have to emphasize is just that it became popular amongst English astrologers by the end of the 17th century partially or maybe even largely because it was seen as a new or radical reinterpretation of Ptolemy and innovation. And there was that theme again of recovering lost wisdom that had been obscured which then there was this idea that it would help improve the techniques and the practice of astrology by recovering this ancient wisdom that was lost. And so it starts rapidly becoming popular by the late 17th and early 18th century, and in many ways we can see parallels. Like we said earlier, it’s similar to the recent popularization of whole sign houses in our time where it was similarly like something where the concept of whole sign houses didn’t even survive until James Holden first in the 1980s pointed out that this was the system that all of the early Hellenistic or the Greek astrologers were using and then subsequently Project Hindsight with Robert Hand and Robert Schmidt made the same discovery and also pointed out that that seemed to be the system. And then it’s been popularized over the course of the past two or three decades since then sort of based on similar underlying motivations or themes.
AL: Right. I think that’s true. The British astrologers who got into Placidus, it was kind of a conversion experience like a religious conversion. Partridge especially who was a main proponent, he wrote a book. I forget which year. Late 1600s. It was like an astrologers’ handbook. I forget the exact title. An Astrological Vade Mecum or something.
CB: Oh yeah. Did you wanna mention Kirby first?
AL: Let’s stick with this because he was really a big prime mover of this. Kirby and Bishop did a translation a bridge translation of Placidus so introduced it into the English language.
CB: Right. So that was in 1687?
AL: 1687. Do you have the date of part of his first book? The–
CB: The very first one. His first book was I think 1679.
AL: 1679. Okay. And–
CB: So that was actually before. Okay.
AL: And he was espousing Regiomontanus houses in that book. He begins the book with tables of Regiomontanus houses. And so I think this is one argument against the people who say, “Well, Placidus is only popular because those were the only houses available.” Partridge’s books were still available in the 18th and 19th centuries, and people could have easily reproduced these tables of Regiomontanus houses. Just copied them. It would have been very easy. And 14 years later Partridge and Placidus tried these techniques, got wowed by them, thought, “Oh my god, this is my version of it. I’ve been doing it all wrong. Placidus has showed me the way. I see the light.” [laughs] And so he then, I think 14 years after his first book where he’s using Regiomontanus, came out with the second book which he calls his Opus Reformatum. I think it’s I’m reformed, I see the truth now. And said, “Forget Regiomontanus. He made a mistake. Go with Placidus. He knows what he’s talking about, if you wanna follow Ptolemy.”
CB: Right. So John Partridge who lived from 1644 to 1715, he was like the last major English astrologer of the 17th century. But he also became, not in his first book but in his second and third book, a very vocal proponent of the Placidus system of house division. And this ended up having a big impact because he was like the last major English astrologer.
AL: Yeah, he basically had a conversion experience. He read Placidus, and his eyes opened.
CB: Well, there’s something else we’re going on with Partridge though because he also– Holden points out in his work that Partridge initially had a teacher who he praises in his first book in 1679. But then when it comes to his second and his third books, he is just like very viciously constantly attacking all the–
AL: Was that Gadbury? Cuz he attacked Gadbury viciously.
CB: Yeah. And it was not Holden. It was Martin Gansten actually. In his book on primary directions he has a really interesting discussion about this. And he just talks about how Partridge had a falling out with I guess his teacher or at least with this earlier author John Gadbury who he was very fond of and speaks of favorably in his first book, but then 14 years later he’s referring to him with all sorts of negative language. And it seems like there was some sort of transformation that Partridge went through that wasn’t just a technical transformation, but he was also attacking other astrologers who he viewed as bad for whatever reason.
AL: Mhm. Yeah.
CB: I don’t know how much of that was a contributing factor as well versus just being swayed by the technical arguments of Placidus or what have you.
AL: Well, are you saying that there aren’t hostilities and animosities between astrologers who have different opinions? [laughs]
CB: Yeah. Well, I’m just bringing up the point that sometimes again parallels in modern times with ancient times. And this is one of the ones. I was talking to Nina Gryphon recently about maybe doing an episode about infighting among astrologers in history especially in the 17th century where it starts being much more well-documented. There’s all these funny little cliques or cliques or these little groups that were started into fighting with each other. Or sometimes like teachers and students who would have a falling out, and then they would speak harshly of each other. And that sometimes these personal disputes between astrologers that start out as personal turn into things that become professional or sometimes affect the astrological tradition.
CB: So sometimes what we might think or what’s even put forward as technical disagreements that are supposedly coming from technical places can sometimes be coming from personal disputes between people that know each other.
AL: Well, I think your podcast on whole sign houses being the best system, you got a lot of heat for.
AL: So I think–
CB: Right. Yeah. That’s a good example or even to some extent Project Hindsight and the breaking up of Project Hindsight in the 1990s I think was partially due to personal issues that eventually became a professional dispute and then changed history a little bit as a result of that sadly. But that maybe something to talk about. We can kind of shelve that now. I’ll see if I can find the Partridge–
AL: But I just think astrologers are human like everybody else. So we have our foibles and do crazy things at times.
CB: Yeah. It’s just important to keep that in mind when it comes to some of these people that sometimes they might be swayed by technical arguments, and other times they might be swayed by personal issues. So I actually found it. So Martin Gansten in his book which is amazing and I hope to interview him about at some point titled Primary Directions: Astrology’s Old Master Technique which was published by the Wessex Astrologer in 2009. And I believe you drew on this or cited this in some of your articles, right?
AL: Yeah. That’s an excellent, excellent book. It’s–
CB: Okay. He’s talking about John Partridge, and he says in 1679 he published his first work. And he notes that it’s a small book. And in the beginning he says it “contained a laudatory epistle by the author.” And he refers to “my good friend John Partridge.” Yeah. Well, he basically says, “a laudatory epistle by John Gadbury student in the sidereal science unto the readers of my good friend John Partridge.” So basically Gadbury wrote something positive for Partridge in his first book, and they must have been connected personally or as teachers. But then 14 years later Partridge publishes his second book Opus Reformatum reformed work. And he says Gansten says, “In which he rejected the doctrines of the medieval astrologers in favor of Ptolemy and Placidus.” Although the latter is rarely mentioned by name. More particularly, the book sets out to refute Gadbury who is abused on nearly every page of the book not only as an incompetent, ignorant, and dishonest astrologer but also as a traitor and a turncoat.
The background of this bitter attack lay in Gadbury’s newfound Catholic sympathies during the religio-political struggle over the English throne towards the end of the 17th century. And then Gansten goes on. He says Partridge’s own sympathies lay with the parliament and in particular Oliver Cromwell whose nativity in Placidian directions are discussed extensively in the book, etc. etc. He keeps going on and says Partridge was by no means the only English astrologer of his day to take Placidian teachings to heart. Others included Richard Kirby and John Bishop who had a few years before had published The Marrow of Astrology an unacknowledged and somewhat abbreviated translation of Placidus’s own work with the original content added. But there is little doubt that Partridge was the most influential in bringing about the Placidian revolution in England and by extension in making Placidus the grandfather of modern Western astrology.
CB: Anyway, so Placidus was a big deal. Partridge was a big deal. There were some technical reasons he was drawn to Placidus, and there was also potentially some personal stuff going on at the same time. But this is when astrology is already in steep decline in Europe and it’s like falling out of the universities and falling out of intellectual, the intelligency in general. So we’re going into like a century or two low period for the practice of astrology by this point anyways.
AL: Right. But it doesn’t disappear. It just subsides.
CB: Sure. So in that low period when there’s like for example less–there’s fewer astrologers and there’s fewer books on astrology that are being published for a couple of centuries. One of the books that is transmitted is William Lilly’s book which is republished at some point in the 19th century in an abridged form, and this is the famous Zadkiel edition of Lilly where he abbreviated William Lilly’s Christian astrology and he also updated it, like added some new things. But one of the things that he did that I find really interesting is that he took–Even though Lilly used Regiomontanus houses and he included a table for calculating Regiomontanus house cusps in Christian astrology in the original book from 1647, in the Zadkiel addition he removes that table of Regiomontanus and replaces it with a table of Placidus houses.
AL: Yeah. I’d have to look. I know he removed the Regio tables.
AL: I don’t know if he put Placidus tables in their place or just left tables out altogether.
CB: Oh, he just took it out altogether? Okay.
AL: I’d have to look. I don’t think he put new tables in. And I’m not sure whether he recast all the charts in Placidus or whether he just kept Lilly’s original Regio charts. I’d just have to look. I don’t know. I don’t know.
CB: Okay. Maybe that was something I misunderstood. But you did say that he at least removed the Regiomontanus tables?
AL: Because Regio wasn’t being used anymore.
CB: Right. So Placidus had already–
AL: And Placidus was at the time.
CB: –taken over and become popularized partially due to guys like Partridge. And–
AL: See, the point I was making when I wrote that was that because he was abridging Lilly’s original texts, he could easily have just reproduced the Regio tables.
AL: And then they would have been available to everybody, but he deliberately chose to eliminate those tables from the abridge text.
CB: Got it. Okay. And so that may have influenced history to some extent. So then when we get to the early 20th century astrologers, we find in the early late 19th and early 20th century Alan Leo was using Placidus houses since that had become the standard practice in England at that point.
AL: Right. And before Leo was Luke Broughton. I don’t know if I wrote that. I think I might have put a slide with Luke Broughton on the slides.
CB: Okay, let me find that really quick.
AL: That’s probably toward the end, the last two slides. Let me because some people can’t see this. Luke Broughton Luke Dennis Broughton was a British guy. He and his brother had both learned astrology in England Leeds, England. He’s born in 1828. And then in 1840 roughly he came to the United States I think to study naturopathic medicine, but he quickly became an astrologer. Published a monthly astrology journal from 1860 to 69 and then wrote a book The Elements of Astrology published in 1898. He was a very influential British astrologer who began teaching a lot of people in the United States astrology, and he learned astrology using Placidus houses. And that’s what he taught. For those who can see it, I reproduced his chart which he drew in his book. And he also cites Placidus in his text. That’s the next slide.
CB: Okay, got it.
AL: So he was using 1789 Sibley translation. So Sibley of the famous Sibley USA chart actually translated Placidus’s magnum opus into English as well.
CB: Okay. So there were multiple translations of Placidus’s work, then?
AL: Yeah, which we know of. Yeah.
CB: Okay. That’s really important point, then. So Placidus published his work in 1650. And not only was it only available in English-speaking countries at least in terms of being banned by the Catholic Church, but there were at least three different translations of parts or all of Placidus’s work into English. And so this became then one of the intellectually for like the intellectual astrologers really compelling things about that system of house division is that those arguments were in circulation in translation that you could actually read in English in terms of his arguments about why this interpretation of Ptolemy was correct.
AL: Yeah. And just to get back to Sibley, Sibley was a prominent and influential astrologer. And so in 1789 people were reading Placidus.
CB: Okay. Yeah, Ebenezer Sibley who published you said that one of the first horoscopes of the United States.
AL: For the founding United States. Yeah.
CB: That’s an episode me and Nina Gryphon and I are working on actually. Hopefully, we’re just gonna do it next month. So and then Luke Broughton was a very famous and influential astrologer in America in the United States. So then that means this is not just restricted to England at this point, but instead one of the more prominent astrologers in the US also is using and endorsing Placidus houses.
AL: Using it and the students are learning it because he used it and–
CB: Perfect. So and then on your slide here, it just says that Broughton’s monthly planetary reader and astrological journal from 1860 to 1869 used Placidus houses as did his 1898 textbook on astrology.
CB: Got it. Okay. So, that’s bringing us all the way up to modern times.
CB: And Alan Leo was also another great popularizer. He’s usually at least attributed having the role of re-popularized astrology and helped to spur the revival of astrology especially in English-speaking countries in the West in the early 20th century. And he used Placidus houses in his many–Cuz he published something like a dozen books, right?
CB: Yeah. Okay, let’s see. So that’s bringing us all the way up to the present time where the early 20th century astrologers tended to use Placidus. And this also meant that tables of houses for Placidus were printed up and became widely available so that we start getting into that circular thing again in terms of availability partially coming from the intellectual credibility that the system had in being this supposed interpretation of Ptolemy. But then also it started becoming widely available so that I’m sure even people that weren’t necessarily reading Ptolemy or following that whole textual argument or historical argument were also using it because then if it’s endorsed by astrologers like Alan Leo and the tables are widely available, then people are just gonna start using it based on that precedent.
AL: Right. And Evangeline Adams used Placidus. She was quite influential in the first several decades of the 20th century.
CB: Okay. Are there any other major astrologers like that that are worth mentioning that endorsed Placidus?
AL: Well, I think I’ve put a note on the Google Docs that in France Alexander Volgin who extensively studied and wrote a book on solar returns which influenced a huge number of astrologers up to about the 1970s initially wrote in French. But his books were translated to English and Spanish and maybe other languages. And he published a journal that went I think from the late ’30s to the 1970s, a research journal in which he and his students literally studied thousands of charts, solar returns and demonstrated that Placidus cusps were very sensitive points in predicting from solar returns. So there was a great deal of empirical justification of this demonstration by the Volgin school of astrology in France, and he was quite influential especially in France in Europe and eventually in the United States and England when the books got translated. And he espoused the use of Placidus with solar returns, and it wasn’t just theoretical. He would show example after example of how the predictions worked as you would expect.
CB: Sure. Right. Okay. So then in the 20th century like you’re saying that Placidus becomes the primary system, that tables of houses are available. This is important because when calculating a chart by hand, you need a table of houses to calculate house cusps which simplifies some of the mathematics involved in what is already kind of a tedious process if you’re calculating charts by hand if anyone’s ever done that before which some people that have just gotten into the field in the past couple of decades haven’t necessarily. One of the points that’s maybe worth making here is that astrologers don’t always tend to be highly skilled in astronomy. While they tend to be more focused on interpreting charts and the act of chart interpretation or of timing or other things which can still be highly detailed technical processes or skills to acquire, they’re not always hugely skilled in the background astronomy because that’s not necessary even to some extent to calculate charts by hand. If you have a table of houses if you have an ephemeris, you can calculate a birth chart just by knowing the steps to do without even fully, fully understanding all of the technical arguments behind Placidus as a house system versus Regiomontanus versus whatever, right?
AL: Yes and no.
AL: Generally, yes. But if you’re doing techniques like primary directions, it’s important to know the latitude of the planet cuz most planets are not on the ecliptic. And so–
CB: Although that’s funny cuz primary directions fell out. That’s one of the things that’s funny about like Alan Leo for example promoting primarily secondary progressions is that much more simplified timing techniques start to dominate in the 20th century like secondary progressions and transits, and the more complicated advanced techniques like primary directions seem like they fell out of vogue a little bit to some extent,
AL: I think they have. I think that’s unfortunate cuz they’re very good and very powerful techniques.
CB: Sure. And that’s fine. I was just pointing that out in terms of so much of these different systems of house division has been wrapped up in the issue with primary directions and Ptolemy’s treatment of those two things being intertwined. But it’s interesting that by the 20th century one of the other things that happens in addition to astrology getting simplified is that other piece of it primary directions kind of falling by the wayside as a technique, and instead secondary progressions which is much simpler to calculate becomes much more prominent.
CB: So eventually with the advent of computerized astrology–
AL: Oh, by the way the secondary progressions were an invention of Placidus.
CB: Yeah, that was supposed to be one of the other things that he–Except I was just reading, and I believe it was Gansten or possibly Holden that said that that was another thing that Placidus read into Ptolemy where he thought Ptolemy was talking about this technique which we know as secondary progressions where you equivalate, which is not a word, one day per one day for each year of the native’s life. But in fact, the passage where Placidus got that and developed secondary progressions as a result was actually Ptolemy who was just talking about profections like annual profections where you just count one sign per year forward.
AL: Yeah. But the point I was making was a follow up to your comment that modern astrologers use all these very simple techniques like secondary progressions. Well, they owe that to Placidus whatever his motivation was.
AL: He was such a genius. He had so many creative ideas. And this is what the British astrologers were fascinated by, that he gave us secondary progressions regardless of the origin or whether it was a mistake or not. And they’re probably one of the most widely used predictive tools that we have.
CB: Yeah. And a technique just because it’s let’s say a misunderstanding or just because a new technical concept–This is something that one of my teachers that Robert Schmidt always really emphasized and I thought it was a great point. And he drew this conclusion from mathematics which is that I think he was saying like algebra or calculus or something or some advanced forms of it developed out of a misunderstanding of what earlier authors were doing and that sometimes there can be creative developments in fields that can be valid developments that develop out of a misunderstanding of what an ancient astrologer was trying to say. Because sometimes in the process of trying to read an ancient text and understand an ancient astrologer, it can be a creative process that opens things up that you otherwise wouldn’t have seen even if that wasn’t the original astrologer’s intention. So–
AL: Yeah, I do think that’s true.
CB: So it’s like that’s certainly valid, and we have to make room for that that there can sometimes be positive, creative developments that derive from a misunderstanding. But then at the same time we also have to recognize and acknowledge that this one passage of Ptolemy generated three at least maybe four different discrete forms of house division, and all of them may have been misinterpretations of what the original author was attempting to say. And so there’s something that’s a little suspect there that we have to also be aware of or open to in terms of the origin or the generation of this technique.
AL: And another way to frame that is that Ptolemy was dealing with a certain problem.
AL: And he came up with a solution that people didn’t quite understand in their efforts to understand how he solved the problem. They came up with other creative ways to solve the same problem.
CB: Okay. Yeah. That’s a good way to frame it, I like that. But there’s just different arguments you can make. And because all these issues are intertwined and it’s tied up with like technical astronomical considerations, it’s tied up with philosophical considerations, it’s tied up with even historical or textual analysis type of considerations, there’s a lot going on here in terms of the generation of some of these different systems. Eventually, once you get to the past few decades to more recent times with the advent of computerized astrology and websites, Placidus was often the default system of house division when you go to calculate like a birth chart or something. And for people of my generation where I started learning astrology around the year 2000 through the website astro.com or through Astrodienst, Placidus being the default on astro.com was a big deal because that means that that’s the first system that you start with and the accuracy or inaccuracy of the interpretations then partially depends on that.
CB: And so to go against that and go with some other formed house division often means rejecting what you first learned but also rejecting sometimes what drew you to astrology or made you think that that was compelling in the first place if you resonated with that interpretation of your birth chart or what have you. So for these and some of the reasons that we’ve listed above and maybe some we didn’t go into, those are the reasons why Placidus is the most popular system of house division today.
AL: Yeah. And I think it’s basically the British astrologers from Partridge forward who read Placidus and were compelled by his thinking thought that he had it right. And so they popularized it, continued to use it, taught their students. And it became the way to do astrology that was accepted in the group, the astrological society in England for a couple centuries. And that just carried forward because in the United States we basically learned astrology from the British astrologers.
CB: Right. And then with astrology being revived so much over the past few decades, it seems like the output of astrology books from English-speaking countries from like the US and from the UK often get translated into other languages and can sometimes have the effect of influencing sometimes even astrology in other countries or other languages at this point, it seems like.
AL: Mhm. Oh yeah.
CB: Have any of your books been translated into other languages?
AL: Funny you should mention that. Yeah. The horary book I think is in Russian.
AL: The tarot books are in Spanish, Japanese, and Russian. And I think there’s a pirated Chinese edition. [laughs]
AL: Someone from China wrote to me about a question in my book, and he read in Chinese. So I said, “I don’t think I have a Chinese edition.” Well, I do. But it has nothing to do with my publisher. [laughs]
CB: Sure. Yeah.
AL: Somebody translated and–
CB: Yeah. And I know like Alan Leo’s books were–that was one of the reasons why he was influential is that his books were very popular in English in the early 20th century, and then they were translated in some instances into like French and German and other languages. So that then would have exported Placidus into those countries. Yeah. So–
AL: And actually Placidus in India, there’s this whole KP system, the Krishnamurti system. Do you know about that system?
CB: No. Only a little bit, but go ahead.
AL: Basically, he took the Western idea of Placidus and Placidus house cusps. And the Placidian idea of space, time.
AL: And he converted doshas the which are a planet that’s a major lord and a sub lord which is a time-based just like zodiacal releasing where things go through time. He converted that into space where a point would be on the natal chart. And then the rulers of Placidus casters, they relay to the doshas the Vimshottari dashas to make interpretations. The people who use it say it’s very accurate. Someone I know in India, his uncle practices this form of astrology. He says his uncle can make predictions down to the minute like, “Oh, my letter will arrive at 12:42.” And then the postman comes at 12:42. So whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. But–
CB: Yeah. In terms of the technical accuracy of the system–I asked you this before, but maybe to reiterate like what system of house division do you use personally?
AL: I experiment. I’m not convinced any of them is true.
AL: So if I do natal charts, I generally use the whole sign and Placidus. I look at both.
AL: And I like actually the Indian system where they put the Placidus cusps in the whole signs and interpret it as a unit. And in fact I learned this from Marinus, and I mentioned Charlie Obert. When I was translating book 18, there’s a passage where he’s discussing the chart of King Alfonso of Sweden Gustavus Alfonso. And the king dies in battle in a foreign country. And Marinus says if you look at his chart, he’s got a debilitated Saturn in the eighth, Regiomontanus house. So that’s probably what’s gonna kill him. But the eighth Regiomontanus house is really the ninth sign from the ascendant. And so he calls the whole signs the accidental houses.
AL: And he says so his true house placement is Regiomontanus eighth house, he’s gonna die. But the accidental house is the ninth because I think he’s got Saturn in Leo or something like that. Is in the ninth whole sign, so he’s gonna die in a foreign country. So Marinus basically uses a combination of whole sign and Regiomontanus.
AL: But instead of calling whole sign houses, he calls them accidental houses.
CB: So that’s not unlike what the late Hellenistic and early medieval astrologers like Rhetorius and Mā Shā’ Allāh and Sahl were doing even Abu Ma’shar to some extent where they were using combination of both whole sign houses and quadrant houses at the same time.
AL: Right. Marinus considered Regio to be the essential house and whole sign to be the accidental house. And he combined the meaning of the two to make an interpretation which I thought was fascinating.
CB: Yeah. That seems like it was an avenue that the, like I said, the late Hellenistic and early medieval astrologers were headed in as well. But then something happened after the time of Abu Ma’shar as I was talking to Ben Dykes about in my interview with him about his new translation of Abu Ma’shar and solar returns last summer on The Astrology Podcast where it seemed like after Abu Ma’shar or something changed and astrologers largely forgot about whole sign houses and started largely focusing on just doing quadrant houses. Although you mentioning Marinus using both seems like an interesting departure there in some ways.
CB: Or exception to that rule, I should say.
AL: Mhm. Well, we get into this either or black and white thinking like, “Either this house system is the correct one or this one.” But why couldn’t they both be valid and list different information?
CB: I think they could both be valid, but I think we do need to figure out this quadrant house thing. And if we’re gonna reconcile quadrant houses with whole sign houses, there needs to be a good reason why an astrologer should have a reason why they’re using a specific form of quadrant house division rather than another whether that’s astronomical or philosophical or what have you. Because part of the issue is we can see that some of these systems of house division just came out of different interpretations of Ptolemy, and they can’t all be correct. Like somebody is misinterpreting Ptolemy, and maybe interpretations of what Ptolemy was trying to do isn’t even the best reason to be generating a house system in the first place.
AL: Right. Cuz who’s to say Ptolemy was correct in the first place?
AL: He could have been mistaken and–
CB: Yeah. Or was even trying to describe a form of quadrant house division or is Holden and Schmidt correct that he was just describing a form of equal houses or–We didn’t even mention Porphyry houses which derives from the introduction to the Tetrabiblos that was attributed to Porphyry or that may have been written by the philosopher Porphyry in the third or fourth century and then that he interpreted what Ptolemy was doing as what we know as Porphyry houses where you just take the degree of the midheaven and the degree of the ascendant and then you divide that quadrant or each of the four quadrants into three sections.
AL: Right, three equal sections. Yeah.
CB: Right, through proportional sections so that it’s like a third. Each house has exactly one third of the division of the quadrant. And so that’s another house system then that was partially developed out of just an attempt to interpret what Ptolemy was doing.
CB: Okay. So, that was the main thing I wanted to cover today was just the historical origins. And that was the main part of your article that I think you did a really brilliant job outlining which is the–
AL: Thank you.
CB: Yeah, just the historical origins of Placidus and why it became the primary or the default system of house division in modern times. And, yeah, it becomes that circular thing that we’re talking about of partially historical reasons but then eventually at some point gains enough steam that it becomes a matter of like precedence in the system that is in circulation that is the default system that people learn first from their teachers and then pass on subsequently. And there’s a little bit of an issue as well where sometimes some charts change radically depending on what house system you’re using, but some charts don’t change much at all.
CB: I feel like most of the time there’s a large percentage of astrologers that often will pick the system of house division based on their perception of their natal chart and where it puts certain planets in their own houses, and sometimes some of the houses will only change like a few degrees or move the cusps and move one planet into one house or into another house. And that becomes–
AL: Right. I’m smiling cuz Marinus does that.
AL: He has this whole book on houses. He gives all these arguments about why he believes most houses are worthless except for Regiomontanus and they’re sort of highfalutin, very intellectual. And the clincher is he says, “When I look at my own chart, the ninth cusp of Regiomontanus is perfectly trying my ascendant reflecting how brilliant I am.” So of course it’s the [unintelligible]
CB: All right. Yeah. And I feel like I see similar arguments most of the time when it comes to astrologers’ personal views on which system of house division, and that becomes another motivating factor for different systems of house division. Yeah, so that’s a factor as well just from a historical perspective that we have to keep into account especially in modern times about why different astrologers sometimes switch systems as well even if oftentimes they don’t know or understand the mechanics or the astronomy behind that system. Instead for them it’s just a practical matter of what houses does that place the planets in my chart and how would that change the interpretation. And the actual astronomical or mathematical information behind the system of house division is often not the primary consideration for them or it’s not even necessarily a consideration that they focus on.
AL: Yeah. In the past years I’ve been trying to learn about Indian astrology cuz that’s a real gap in my knowledge of astrology.
AL: And when you start switching zodiacs from tropical to sidereal and then even if you’re in sidereal, there are so many options so planets can change signs or houses.
AL: It gets very confusing.
CB: And I wanted to say about Indian astrology. I don’t know enough about the house division issue to say this authoritatively. But even though you mentioned like in the KP astrology school of Indian astrology which is more modern I think that developed in the 20th century, they have started incorporating Placidus on top of whole sign houses. I was under the impression that some of the earlier astrologers when they use quadrant houses in the Indian tradition that there was more evidence of use of Porphyry houses which is divided proportionally.
AL: Yeah, the Porphyry is common. Some people are using Campanus. Some people are using Placidus. I’m by no means an expert at all in Indian astrology, but it’s just something I’ve read.
CB: Yeah, at some point I was thinking about interviewing another guy, a person that I know for that to do an episode on like how are some of the secondary forms of house division used in addition to whole sign houses as the primary form in Indian astrology and can that inform us or give us any hints about how we might reconcile those two systems in the Western tradition. So, we’ll see if I do that at some point.
AL: Right. India has absorbed so much from modern Western, and I think the Persian influence the whole system of solar returns of horary comes from the Arabic and Persian tradition got absorbed into India which they then modified in different ways and–
CB: Yeah, there’s the Tajika tradition in Indian astrology which is like a medieval partial Arabic astrology in Sanskrit. But then they have their own horary tradition of Prajna that’s like purely a whole sign. All right. Are there any other points about Placidus and why it became the default or the most popular form of house division that we completely forgot to mention or that we should try to slip in before we wrap up?
AL: Not that I can think of. I think the reason I wrote the article is I kept hearing people saying the only reason Placidus is popular is because the tables were available, and that was driving me crazy because it just leaves out so much of the history of astrology.
CB: Yeah. Well, I appreciate that. And as maybe the primary person who’s restated that statement from Holden, I appreciate you for correcting that and bringing this other side to it because that’s hugely important from a historical perspective and then makes much more sense in terms of actually understanding what happened. Yeah. And there’s still some question at this point is, will Placidus–For example, whole sign houses has really rapidly become much more popular in the West in the past two or three decades since it was rediscovered. And I’ve seen different polls among astrologers, and at least two of them placed whole sign houses as like the second most popular form of house division under Placidus still being in the lead. And I am curious, in the future what happens? Like what does house division look like by the end of the century by the end of the 21st century in the world or in English-speaking countries? Is Placidus still the dominant system by the end of the century, let’s say? Or do other systems come into vogue for different reasons? And I think it’ll be really interesting to just watch and see what happens.
AL: Mhm. Okay.
CB: But, yeah. But this will provide us with additional historical context so that we can have more open discussions about why do you use Placidus or why do you use Regiomontanus or Porphyry or equal houses or whole sign houses or what have you and giving astrologers a little bit more of an ability to talk about that from different perspectives so they can give a good answer if that question ever arises.
CB: All right. Well, thanks a lot for joining me today. You have a blog. You’re actually a very active writer not just in writing a lot of different books, but also you seem to write really very interesting blog articles for quite a while. And you’ve been doing your blog for I think like 10 years now, right?
AL: Well, what happens is I love astrology. I have since I was 11 years old. I get interested in idea, and I follow up and read about it and experiment. And then if something interesting strikes me, I like to write about it.
AL: At least I don’t forget it. [laughs]
AL: So I do a little blog post, and then I usually move on to something different. I just like to see where the ideas lead me, and it’s a bit disorganized.
CB: Well, no, it’s good. And you’ve got hundreds of posts. And your website or your blog is available at tonylouis.wordpress.com, right?
AL: Right, that’s probably the best place to find me. Yeah.
CB: Are there any other websites or anything?
AL: No, I’m more of a perpetual student of astrology than anything else. Occasionally, I’ll do readings or charts for people. But that’s not my main focus. I really like learning and experimenting, seeing where ideas lead basically,
CB: Do you mind mentioning your main profession or?
AL: Oh, not at all.
AL: I’m currently retired. I’m a psychiatrist. But astrology has interested in me since I was very young, and it’s always been a hobby. So–
CB: And I like mentioning I think I used your chart as an example, but you published your first book on horary astrology. And that was one of the early books that was influenced by the revival of more traditional style, William Lilly style horary astrology in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Do you remember what year that was that the book came out?
AL: I think it came out the end of 1989 the first one or the very beginning of 1990.
CB: Okay. And that was titled Horary Astrology: The History and Practice of Astro-Divination which for some reason at least Amazon’s saying is 1991, but that might be the later version. So it was eventually republished by–
AL: Or maybe it was ’91.
CB: Maybe it was ’91. Okay.
AL: Maybe it’s the end of ’90.
CB: And then it looks like Llewellyn republished it as Horary Astrology Plain & Simple: Fast & Accurate Answers to Real World Questions. And you said that the Llewellyn version was more like a shortened version?
AL: Yeah, I think Llewellyn felt that the original version had too much basically historical cuz I liked the history of astrology. I had a very long chapter on the history of astrological concepts.
AL: And I think they felt it was using too much paper. [laughs]
AL: And it wasn’t essential to the technique, so they had to be eliminated.
CB: Got it.
AL: It’s basically the same book. The newer one has–it’s missing the first chapter which is a more historical background.
CB: Okay. At the 1992 United Astrology Conference you actually won like a Regulus award for having published that book which had become very popular at the time, right?
AL: Yeah. It wasn’t the big, I wanna be clear, the big Regulus award at that time. I don’t know if they still do it or giving these smaller Regulus awards. And I won promising newcomer award for the publish because that book was very popular and very well reviewed.
AL: So, it was a very big surprise to me to get the award.
CB: Yeah. I think I used you in a chart example at one point either in my course or my book cuz you were in an 11th house profection year I think that year. And that was your first time attending an astrology conference, right?
AL: A major one, yeah.
CB: Yeah, okay. And you were given a award by your peers?
AL: But the 11th also can represent receiving honors or praise or awards, so it fits.
CB: Yeah. And I think you were in a 10th house profection year before, but awesome. Well, thanks a lot for joining me today. And thanks for writing that article. We’ll have to come back again some time to talk about some of your other many, many interests and topics that you’ve written on.
AL: It’d be a pleasure. Sure.
AL: Well, thanks for inviting me. This was a lot of fun.
CB: Yeah, thanks for joining me today. And thanks everybody for listening to or watching this episode of The Astrology Podcast. Please be sure to like and subscribe or sign up to our page on patreon.com to support the production of future episodes of the show. So thanks everybody for listening, and we’ll see you again next time.
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