The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 255, titled:
With Chris Brennan and guest Benjamin Dykes
Episode originally released on May 16, 2020
Note: This is a transcript of an audio podcast. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio version, which includes inflections that may not translate well when written out. Transcripts are created by using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and the text probably contains some errors and differences from the audio version. Please submit any corrections to Chris Brennan by email at email@example.com.
Transcribed by Mary Sharon
Transcription released April 17th, 2021
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CHRIS BRENNAN: 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 Benjamin Dykes and we’re going to be going over a new discovery about the possible origins of the exaltation signs and degrees in Western astrology. Hey Ben, thanks for joining me today.
BENJAMIN DYKES: Thanks for having me on.
CB: Yeah. I’m excited about this. I’ve been sitting on this since last summer. I think this could be a big discovery. It’s still very early, very preliminary but it’s enough that I think it’s time to start talking about it. I’ve been sitting on it since last summer and you and I recently had a meeting about it where we went over some of it and it seemed like some of the math checks out. So, this could at least contribute to our understanding of where the signs of exaltation and possibly the degrees of exaltation come from in Western astrology. And that’s always been a mysterious thing, right? Like the domiciles scheme is relatively straightforward, but the exaltations have always been a little bit weird. I feel like it is one of the questions surrounding what their basis is in the Western tradition.
BD: Yeah, there’s been different theories about and we’ll get into this, we can see different patterns. If we look at the relationship between the sign rulerships and exaltations, there’s some patterns, but as far as an actual explanation, there hasn’t been a lot that’s convincing even the ones that seem to show that at one date the planets were in those positions in some sidereal zodiac.
CB: Right. Yes, a bunch of different theories have been put forward. Ptolemy even has a partial explanation that looks okay at first, but then it breaks down and you’re not sure what he’s drawing from that doesn’t seem to check out. So, the genesis of this discussion today was last summer, the long-awaited translation of The Great Introduction by Abu Ma’shar, a translation of that ninth century Arabic text was finally published by Charles Burnett and Keiji Yamamoto, and it seems like it came out sometime last summer. I received my copy on July 30th, 2019 and I think you received yours probably like a week before that, right?
BD: It was sometime around then.
CB: Yeah. So, I was excited and read the text for the first time. It was only previously in Arabic and Latin, so this is my first time reading the entire thing all the way through. And the most interesting thing to me was that Abu Ma’shar would frequently cite Ptolemy and draw on Ptolemy, but then oftentimes, he would contrast the opinions of Ptolemy with citing this other text attributed to Hermes Trismegistus and then he would quote or summarize these very long explanations from different things pretty much throughout The Great Introduction from this text of Hermes. And what was interesting about this is whatever this text was by Hermes, he seemed to be drawing on some lost Greek texts that otherwise doesn’t survive and from the Hellenistic tradition in the original Greek.
BD: Yeah, there’s evidence in the chapter that we’re going to talk about that even if it came to other Abu Ma’shar via Persian, it was based on a Greek original most likely because there’s at least one word in there that up for exaltations which corresponds to the Greek meaning but not to the later Arabic meaning. And Hermes is said to also be giving the views of agathodaemon which is a Greek legendary name.
CB: Right. It was like a Greek god that became very prominent in the Hellenistic tradition and then shows up prominently in some of the philosophical Hermetica text, right?
BD: Yeah. So, there’s some authentic Greek background to this text even if it came to Abu Ma’shar via Persian.
CB: Okay. And Abu Ma’shar’s dates are roughly 787 through 886 CE. I think we talked about when you published your translation of Abu Ma’shar on solar revolutions last summer, we did an episode on that where we talked a little bit about some of the questions surrounding his exact dating, but those are roughly correct dates, right?
BD: Yeah, roughly. He was definitely active in the first third and first half of the 800s in Baghdad.
CB: Okay. And he was working in Baghdad and this was during this era where there was still a lot of translations going on of earlier astrological texts from the Greek and Sasanian Persian and even some texts from the Indian tradition and Abu Ma’shar was drawing on and synthesizing a lot of these traditions, right?
BD: Yeah. By the time of Abu Ma’shar, I think a lot of the translations had already been done or the main ones had been done. They had been done during the generation of Masha’allah and Sahl and Umar al-Tabari apparently, but they were pretty well digested and known by the time that Abu Ma’shar put The Great Introduction together.
CB: Okay. And some of these translations into Arabic were from Persian texts or Persian translations of Greek texts like the translation of Dorotheus you did, I remember was an Arabic translation of a Persian translation of the original Greek text so it was a bit removed from its original language. But in some instances, there were direct translations from Greek into Arabic as well, right?
BD: Of the original Dorotheus into Arabic?
CB: No, just of other texts just like for example, I know Ptolemy was translated at some point that was probably translated directly from Greek into Arabic instead of through a Persian intermediary. Okay. So, there’s a variety of different sources for texts. There’s also some late, I did an episode since your last appearance on the show last summer with Christopher Warnock on the Picatrix and we talked a little bit about the city of Harran as this interesting source of some of those magical traditions, but it was also a city that where some of the Hermetic astrological and magical traditions survived as well. And that’s also an interesting city that survived very late into this period and perhaps could be connected with the transmission of some of the later Greek or Hellenistic texts from different sources would you say? Or what role do you think Harran played in anything?
BD: It could have played an important role. It was known to be a center of astro magic and astro worship and the thought is that possibly a famous Platonist philosopher who also did some of his astronomical work was there. So, it probably was important as some way station between the East and West at that time.
CB: Okay. So, what happened was this translation came out and had been long awaited, I started reading through and I was really surprised that these frequent references to this lost text of Hermes that otherwise I’d never seen before in the Hellenistic tradition and the surviving Greek texts, except with one exception when Abu Ma’shar gets to an entire chapter of his book towards the end where he introduces the lots or the Arabic parts. He does introduce seven lots that are each associated with one of the seven traditional planets and some of the calculations he gives are the same as in a chapter from the fifth century astrologer Paulus Alexandrinus where he outlines these seven planetary lots that were said to come from a text attributed to Hermes called the Panaratus which means something like all-virtuous. So, the appearance of the same or very similar set of lots in the text of Abu Ma’shar then the lots that were in Paulus also attributed to Hermes, might create some connection there between these two Hermetic texts that were attributed to Hermes and perhaps Paulus was drawing on the same text or a similar text as part of that tradition.
BD: Yeah, we don’t know how many of these Hermes texts were floating around but it’s possible that Abu Ma’shar had one big book by Hermes or comparatively big and wherever you see Hermes in The Great Introduction, you’re seeing excerpts from that same book. There are many other lots that Abu Ma’shar discusses which he talks about Hermes and he says, here’s what Hermes said about it. So, he evidently had some pretty consistent traditional astrology texts from Hermes which is different from the sorts of things we normally see with like the Corpus Hermeticum which are more philosophical and pious and religious, this is straight up astrology.
CB: And it is straight up astrology, that’s actually one of the weird things that is unique about me when I’m reading the Hermes excerpts in Abu Ma’shar is they often are couched in this quasi-philosophical language in terms of how it’s coming at these certain deductions and it’s often trying to start at like first principles of things like light and darkness and like good and bad or temporal distinctions like beginning, middle and end and different things like that. That is a little bit unique to me in terms of it almost having some philosophical basis underlying it even though it’s primarily technical in its orientation.
BD: Yeah, if you read the Corpus Hermeticum, most of the material there it’s philosophical, but it’s more like theology and metaphysics. It’s more like a form of middle Platonism. So, he’s talking about different levels of reality. Here, in Abu Ma’shar, it’s straight up astrology but it’s also a philosophical physics talking about the four natures or four elements and like you said, beginning, middle and end and coming into being and passing away out of being. In a way, what makes this material Hermetic is that if you look at all of the things that were most of the things that Hermes was said to be good at and what he was praised for and what he knew all about the sciences, they generally have to do with the concept of being, one truly exists and how things change from one thing into another. And that’s exactly what he’s talking about here, but in the context of astrology and physics rather than levels of reality which is what you get in the Corpus Hermeticum.
CB: Right, that makes sense. And it brings to mind a distinction that some scholars use between the philosophical Hermetica and the technical Hermetica which modern scholars are often quick to say is an artificial distinction although it’s still a somewhat useful one since there is more of a philosophical slant to the philosophical Hermetica that we see in the Corpus Hermeticum and there is more of an explicitly technical slant to the technical works we see attributed to Hermes. But in no other texts, except for these excerpts from Abu Ma’shar where he’s drawing on this Hermetic text have I seen something that does seem to integrate a philosophy or have an underlying philosophical basis that the astrology is then coming out of or being derived from and I think that’s one of the more interesting things about it. Okay, so that’s the basis.
So, as I was reading through this, there’s a lot of interesting things in the Hermes excerpts, but the most interesting things and surprising and striking things that are introduced are when Abu Ma’shar gets to the treatment of the domiciles scheme, the domiciles and the exaltations or the signs of the zodiac that planets are traditionally said to rule or call their homes and then the signs that they’re said to have their exaltations and their depressions or falls in and what the rationale is for those two concepts in the tradition. So here, he first introduces the opinions of Ptolemy and he seems to put emphasis on Ptolemy first, but then in each instance, he then switches to drawing again and then apparently summarizing the doctrines in this lost text attributed to Hermes. And what’s interesting is that the Hermes text often has a unique but really interesting take on both of those concepts that seems to introduce new information that isn’t there in Ptolemy necessarily, but instead is something we haven’t quite seen before.
BD: Yeah, it’s new to us and I think it’s funny that Abu Ma’shar is very critical of Ptolemy [Ben laughs] and often doesn’t seem too impressed by Ptolemy, but he really likes the Hermes text. And it’s refreshing to see him respect it so much that he wants to include all of it because if he hadn’t done it, [Ben laughs] we wouldn’t have it.
CB: Right. Yeah. Well, and that is funny about Ptolemy because Abu Ma’shar was really into Aristotelianism and he was really a big fan of Aristotle, but then he made a distinction or seems to make a distinction in this work between Ptolemy the guy who wrote the Almagest which he views as a great work on Aristotelian astronomy and that fits perfectly with Aristotelian principles. But then he criticizes this and he doesn’t like or at least he takes issues with the Ptolemy who authored the Tetrabiblos, which he doesn’t think applies Aristotelian principles consistently enough or something like that, right?
BD: Yeah, he isn’t even sure they’re the same man.
CB: Right. So, he thinks they’re like a separate author. And what’s funny about that, I mean, ironically, is that they probably were the same author but the issue is that Ptolemy was trying to get the astrological tradition to fit within largely Aristotelian cosmology and he was doing the best that he could. He tended to emphasize the parts of the system that were consistent with that and he tended to deemphasize or just not mention the parts of the system that were not consistent with that, which ironically, most of that system may have ultimately come from more of a Hermetic philosophical or a Hermetic technical tradition and that’s the reason why Ptolemy was having trouble making it purely Aristotelian.
Okay, so domiciles and exaltations. So, I recognized pretty immediately by August and reading this that it appeared to have the missing key to exaltations. I discussed this on September 18th, 2019 in an episode of The Casual Astrology Podcast which is available to subscribers of The Astrology Podcast and I ran it by you and I said, “This looks really important, you should check this out. And I’d like to know if especially the math behind the rationale it gave to the exaltation degree seemed to check out.” So, you looked into it and you spent the past several months working on your own translation of the Arabic because you wanted to be sure and wanted to be completely familiar with everything it was saying and that everything was precise and correct. And you recently finished that translation or at least came up with a preliminary translation of those chapters in most of The Great Introduction which you’re going to publish at some point in the not-too-distant future. And last Friday, on May 8th, we got together and had a meeting and went over it all and you were able to confirm for me that the math checked out that Abu Ma’shar describes that the Hermes text describes the exaltation degrees so that it actually does seem to present something that seems like it could actually be the original rationale potentially.
BD: Right. Yeah, the math works out or works out for the most part and the principles he uses to generate the signs and the degrees of the exaltations are consistent enough that it doesn’t seem like he’s just back forming this from a pre-given system.
CB: Right, because that was one of our concerns or one of the considerations that I was concerned about and part of the reason why I wanted you to check because it was possible that this was just some later alternative explanation that somebody shoehorned the exaltations into versus being the actual original reason for this concept in the astrological tradition and it wasn’t clear, but when we went over it, it seemed consistent enough that it at least could be tentatively like the original explanation. Okay. So, this combines with and to me, I think may end up completing a series of discoveries that we made exactly eight years ago in late April and early May of 2012 where we started doing some work together on the planetary joys scheme and were able to show how that acts as a centerpiece along with the Thema Mundi that ties together a bunch of other technical concepts into an umbrella which then provides the explanation for a number of different things including how the four classical elements came to be assigned to the triplicities or to the signs of the zodiac and a number of different things. What were some of the other things that came out of the joys’ discovery? I’m trying to remember right now.
BD: The order of the triplicity lords, there were some aspect considerations that we’re going to see also may help explain something about the exaltations.
CB: Right, maybe some of the significations of the houses early on?
BD: Yeah, the significations of the houses. Yeah, some matters to do with sect.
CB: Okay. Yes. So, I published some-
BD: And if we could end, I’m sure we’ll get to this that the fact that I think isn’t the Thema Mundi partly attributed to Hermes as having invented it. Right. And in the joys’ diagram, Mercury also known as Hermes in the Ascendant straddling light and darkness on the degree of the Ascendant. And so, this could mean that these are a series of Hermetic mandalas invented by someone with Hermes as a centerpiece and principles of light and darkness.
CB: Right. So, it all fits together into this weird system that seems a little bit too clean and a little bit too systematic or coherent for it just to have fallen together accidentally, but instead, it seems like somebody deliberately put this together as a schematic or as Robert Schmidt used to say, as like a theoretical construct at some point in time. So that’s the conclusion we came to with the joys and that was also a conclusion with the Thema Mundi which was the other important diagram. But what we’re about to go into here is the exaltations which has a similar schematic function in some sense. Okay, so let’s move on to… So again, I published part of that discovery in 2012 in a paper titled, The Planetary Joys and the Origins of the Significations of the Houses and Triplicities that explained part of it but not the entire discovery that we came to in 2012 and there’s been a few additional pieces discovered since that time. Maybe we’ll talk about them later in this episode when we’re bringing everything together.
All right. So, we talked about the Hermes text. The next step is the exaltations and their origins just to define, let’s say, to define that concept really quickly. So, the signs of exaltation are just seven signs of the zodiac which the seven traditional visible planets were said to be exalted in or said to be raised up and the Greek term that was used was always hupsala which means to like raise up or to extol something like when you extol somebody’s virtues. So, here’s the diagram for those watching the video version. The exaltations of the planets are traditionally the Sun is exalted in Aries, the Moon is exalted in Taurus, Venus in Pisces, Mars in Capricorn, Jupiter in Cancer, Mercury in Virgo and Saturn in Libra. There’s also a tradition-
BD: And maybe we should mention for people who are looking at this diagram for the first time that we have Cancer rising because Cancer is rising in the Thema Mundi or so-called chart of the birth of the world. We could say it’s important that Cancer is rising here because it’s also going to relate to some parts of the exaltation discussion.
CB: Yeah. Well, and that was an observation that Robert Schmidt made and I don’t know or I never knew if that was based on just his own observation or if he had noticed that from reading some of these texts where I think sometimes it’s alluded to, but where if you took the Thema Mundi diagram which is said to be the mythical birth chart for the beginning of the world at the beginning of the cosmos, that it was said to have Cancer rising or the Ascendant in Cancer and so that was always referred to as the birth of the world or the chart of the world or the cosmos. So, Schmidt observed that when you took the exaltation, the signs of exaltation and you superimpose them on the Thema Mundi that all of the planets fell in one of the positive or the so-called good houses which are configured to the Ascendant in some way and that none of the planets fall in any of the bad houses. So, go ahead.
BD: So yeah. So, in this case, Jupiter is in the Ascendant which is a good place and you can see that the Moon, Sun and Venus all aspect the Ascendant likewise with Mercury and Saturn and also Mars. And those are the seven places that are called the good places.
CB: Right. And they’re not any of the bad places which don’t aspect the Ascendant which are the 2nd, 6th, 8th and 12th. So that’s one of our first instances of something where that looks a little schematized and there’s this open question of well, is that an accident or could that be evidence of some deliberate invention or some deliberate schematization on the part of somebody who came up with this? So, at this level, we can’t say it’s an open question. However, we’ll introduce other concepts later that keep pushing us more and more in the direction of, hey, there’s something weird going on here. It’s like somebody came up with this and made sure all the different pieces fit together in this very clean way. All right. So, we have the exaltation signs. There’s also reported in many of the Hellenistic authors, a specific set of degrees that were said to be associated so that there were not just signs of exaltation, but also each of the planets was said to be exalted in a specific degree as well. And I don’t think this is actually correct. This diagram might not be correct, is it? I think I’ve got this off from one of the other ones, but the exaltation degrees roughly are… Let me pull up my books since I have a good list of them. Or do you have it in front of you?
BD: In the final scheme in the Hermes text, it should be Jupiter 15 Cancer, the Moon in 3 Taurus, sorry, in two Taurus which is the third degree, Mercury in 15 Virgo, the Sun in 18 Aries which is the 19th degree. There’s always a little ambiguity. They’ll say it’s the 19th degree, but then sometimes they’ll say it’s 19 Aries and that’s not the same thing. In the final version here, Saturn is exalted in, he says it’s in 20 Saturn, but we have also seen as being 20 [Ben laughs] Libra, but we wonder whether it’s actually 21 Libra, Mars in 27 Capricorn and Venus in 26 Pisces. And we’re going to see that these are adjusted positions because he derives them and then he says we need to adjust them.
CB: Right. And so, in my book, what I wrote because in the textual tradition, there’s some slight differences every once in a while in some of our Hellenistic sources but the standard set seemed to be the Moon at 3 Taurus, Sun at 19 Aries, Mercury at 15 Virgo, Venus at 27 Pisces, Mars at 27 Capricorn, Jupiter at 15 Cancer and Saturn at 21 Libra. And that’s a more or less standard set of the exaltation degrees. So, there’s been some ambiguity about that of what is the origin of the science and especially what is the origin of the degrees. Different scholars have put forward different explanations, but it’s not been very clear. Since the early 20th century, well Ptolemy for example even if you go back, Ptolemy has the partial explanation for the signs of exaltation but it’s not complete, it doesn’t really do a good job of explaining all of the signs and he doesn’t even attempt to explain the exaltation degrees at all, which had always then raised an open question for me about whether the exaltation signs and degrees were developed at the same time, or whether these were developed separately, or how they were even related, and how even closely intertwined they were and which one also came first? Did the exaltation signs come first, or did the exaltation degrees come first? There were all sorts of open questions about that.
Since the early 20th century, most academic scholars of the history of astrology think up till this point that the exaltations came from the earlier Mesopotamian astrological tradition largely based on a set of cuneiform tablets that was published by Ernst Weidner in the 1910s where these cuneiform tablets seemed to depict the exaltations of the planets that were identified in the later Greek tradition. So as a result of that appearing in a cuneiform text, a lot of the scholars then assume that somehow the Mesopotamians came up with this concept in cuneiform first and then it was later transmitted to the Greek tradition. However, I believe like Francesca Rochberg notes or acknowledges that most of the cuneiform evidence for the exaltations in the late Mesopotamian tradition comes from very late in the Mesopotamian tradition which is potentially problematic because it could mean at least to me that instead what happened was the exaltations could have been developed first in the Hellenistic tradition and then went back into the late Mesopotamian tradition as back feed. And the issue that I raised in my book is that Porphyry in his Introduction to Astrology which is largely derived from the first century astrologer Antiochus points out how each of the planets when they’re in their signs of exaltation is configured to one of their domiciles by a sextile or by a trine which creates an interesting little schematic that again seems to show some incorporation of different concepts.
So, let me share that so you can see. So, these are the signs of exaltation, the planets in their signs of exaltation, and what Porphyry points out is when you look at the planets in their signs of exaltation, all of the daytime or the diurnal planets, which are the Sun, Jupiter and Saturn, when in their exaltations are configured to one of their domiciles by trine whereas all of the nocturnal planets when they’re in their exaltations are configured to one of their domiciles by sextile. So, this sets up a situation where it’s incorporating multiple concepts such as the distinction between day and night time planets which is the concept of sect as well as incorporating the concept of exaltations, domiciles, and the concept of aspects of sextiles and trines. And many of these are Hellenistic concepts that were only known to have developed later in the Hellenistic tradition and not known to have existed in the earlier Mesopotamian tradition.
So, in my book, I have this like long section outlining this where the conclusion that I draw from this is basically it means that either all of those Hellenistic concepts existed in the earlier Mesopotamian tradition if indeed the exaltations did come from the Mesopotamian tradition, then it means sect, aspects, domiciles also would come from the Mesopotamian tradition, we just don’t have evidence for it yet. Or alternatively, the easier and what seemed like the more likely explanation to me at the time was that it means that the exaltations were actually developed later in the Hellenistic tradition in concepts or in somehow incorporating all of these other concepts and some part of the exaltation scheme just was sent back or there was back feed into the Mesopotamian tradition which sent it back into late cuneiform sources.
BD: Once we see the kinds of patterns that are across these charts, it’s hard to believe that the exaltations were derived from someday 3000 years ago when someone set up a temple on a certain day and the planets happened to be in a certain degree and then somehow that fortuitously created a whole bunch of patterns in the Thema Mundi and so on. That seems less and less likely the more that we look at this.
CB: Yeah. So, let’s digress then and bring that up because it goes back to the joys. And this is a discovery that I made later after we’d already made our initial set of discoveries about the planetary joys, but it actually fits into this and fits into our discussion about the exaltations really nicely which is once we establish that the planetary joys is a conceptual construct like the Thema Mundi that acts as a theoretical foundation that other concepts are being derived from, and you actually had a specific phrase for that you’ve been using, right?
BD: The Hermetic mandala?
CB: Yeah. So, what is that? What is a mandala?
BD: Well, it’s a diagram for meditation to get insights from. So, when we look at this diagram of the joys, we’re getting insights into the elemental schemes, the sect scheme, the triplicity scheme, a lot of this is all based on light and darkness. And Hermes who is in the Ascendant is straddling light and darkness or spirit and matter. So, a lot of ideas are being combined here in this simple diagram, and then because they overlay onto house meanings, now you’re getting some practical astrology out of it too.
CB: Right. So, one of the things that we of course noticed is that if you draw aspect lines in the joys from the two luminaries to the benefics and malefics, you get the sextile going from the Sun and the Moon to the two benefics. So, the sextile is like an easier or a more positive aspect and it goes to the positive planets whereas the square which is often interpreted as a more challenging or difficult or even negative aspect goes to the two malefics and the two malefics, of course, are the more challenging or difficult planets. So, we had seen that but the point that I realized later that I initially overlooked in the first set of discoveries in early 2012 about the joys is what happens if you draw aspect lines from the two luminaries to Mercury who is the central figure in this? What you end up with is the Sun which is the leader of the daytime sect draws a trine to Mercury whereas the Moon which is the leader of the nocturnal sect draws a sextile from its position in the third house to Mercury. So where have we seen that before? We’ve seen it in the exaltations, in the exaltations scheme as Porphyry points out. So, this isn’t just speculating about this, this is from like a fourth century source noted this as well. All of the diurnal planets when they’re in their signs of exaltations are configured to one of the domiciles by trine and all the nocturnal planets when in their exaltations are configured to a domicile by sextile. So, for example, the Moon exalted in Taurus is configured to Cancer by sextile, Venus in Pisces to Taurus by sextile and Mars in Capricorn to Scorpio by sextile versus the Sun in Aries to Leo, Jupiter in Cancer to Pisces and Saturn in Libra to Aquarius.
So that’s a huge overlap all of a sudden right there where we’re seeing this concept of trines being associated with daytime planets and sextiles with nighttime planets coming up in two completely different sources, one in the joys scheme and the other in the exaltation scheme. And that starts getting interesting and I feel like it is unlikely to be a coincidence. Do you think that’s a fair statement that I’m not going too far out on the edge there?
BD: No. Once you start putting these together, the idea that it was cobbled together by a bunch of people spread out over 1000 years based on some coincidental charts and [Ben laughs] half-baked ideas and personal experience, it becomes less and less likely.
CB: Sure. Yeah. And that was the point that I was at when I wrote the book was just there’s something weird going on here and it may mean that the mainstream narrative about the origin of the exaltations in the Mesopotamian tradition that’s been taken for granted up to this point based on not a ton of evidence may not have been true or may not be true and there may be reasons for revising that.
So, aside from that, there’s also been other attempts to explain the exaltations. Pingree speculated that it might have something to do with the seasons in Mesopotamia. There was also an astrologer in the mid-20th century named Cyril Fagan who was the founder of Western sidereal astrology and he tried to associate the exaltation degrees, he went back thinking maybe this was tied into a specific date so he used like a sidereal ephemeris and found a date sometime in the eighth century BCE where over the course of a year or so, all of the planets stationed not too far from those specific exaltation degrees. And some of them, it falls very close but other ones, it’s a little bit off or it’s a little bit not as close. For the most part though, and he didn’t have any explanation like why this should be the case. He speculated that there was the foundation of a temple in that year and it may have had something to do with that because it was a temple dedicated to Nabu who was associated with Mercury or something like that, but there was no other reason why or explanation of why that would then be persistent is a concept in the rest of the tradition from that point forward. Most of the scholars I don’t think I’ve seen any academic historians who took Fagan’s argument seriously. And for the most part astrologers, only some Western sidereal astrologers really have taken it seriously where it’s not otherwise widely accepted.
Aside from that, there was only one other thing which was somebody, an academic historian attempted to date the Dendera zodiac and they did it to like the first century BCE partially based on again the same thing, some planets going retrograde or aligning there around the first century BCE and so he came up with a date for it. But Otto Neugebauer pointed out that Dendera zodiac wasn’t depicting an actual date, it was actually just depicting the planets in their signs of exaltation. So that’s the picture I actually have for the cover of this episode which I should have showed first, but this is a picture I took in the background that many people have seen. It’s the famous Dendera zodiac that’s in the Louvre now that was taken from a temple in Egypt. If you do the translation from Egyptian, Neugebauer and other scholars say that it puts the planets in the same signs in which the later Greek astrologers said they were exalted, so the Sun in Aries, the Moon in Taurus, and so on and so forth. So that’s another really cool historical piece of this is that Dendera zodiac may be just a diagram basically of the exaltations. Okay, so that brings us to-
BD: And you’re saying maybe a diagram of them not for their positions on a specific day, but a symbolic type diagram of the kind that we’re describing.
CB: Yeah, exactly. Which almost if we’re describing it in that way having something like this relief in stone almost emphasizes that point more that this is something that’s more conceptual and has this broader cosmological or quasi spiritual component instead of something that’s just depicting like a date or an alignment of planets at a certain point in time.
BD: Which might because if it’s just where the planets were in a certain day, there’s no reason for it to have any particular significance beyond whatever was happening on that day.
CB: Yeah, no particular like persistent significance in the rest of the tradition whereas like that’s not how it’s actually treated. The domicile scheme, for example, is treated as the planets are more let’s say auspicious at the very simplest or more auspiciously placed when the planets are in their domiciles. And similarly, planets, when they’re in their exaltations were also said to be more auspicious in the astrological tradition. So, there is then an underlying question of why is that or why should the planets do better in those signs or conversely because this concept is not just the signs of exaltation, but also the signs opposite to a planet’s exaltation is said to be the place of its fall or depression where it’s not said to do well or is said to be inauspiciously placed. So that’s a corollary concept I guess we should mention as well, but that’s probably good. All right, so that brings us I believe to the text itself. So, I think we should go through, I’ve written a summary of the text and maybe we can go through and just walk through that summary and try to summarize it as it explains the rationale from start to finish. Do you think that makes sense?
BD: Yeah, I think we should start by saying that the chapter is really divided into three parts. So, the first part is where he reminds us of some of the principles he’s been talking about and is laying out why he will start identifying certain planets and signs together.
CB: Oh yeah, and that’s important to mention that because this also comes after, for example, the domiciles chapter where Abu Ma’shar has already drawn extensively on the Hermes text. And I did want to say one thing about that because even though we’re focused on the exaltations here, there was also one major point that’s easy to overlook, but I think it’s a very important and very crucial point about the origins of the domicile scheme as well that Abu Ma’shar relays from the Hermes text which is that he says, “In the Thema Mundi, the Sun was at exactly 15° of Leo because that is right in the middle of the summer when the hotness and the light is at its strongest.” [crosstalk 00:42:56:08] Right. So, it’s right in the middle of the fixed sign, but also, it’s not just the middle of the fixed sign, it’s in the middle of the season. So, this is really important to me because it brings up a long-standing issue about the tropical versus the sidereal zodiac and what the conceptual rationale was for the assigning of each of the planets to the different signs of the zodiac. And the way that it sets this up in that chapter is it makes that the starting point of the entire scheme that putting the Sun at 15° of Leo becomes really the focal point and the foundation or the basis of all of the rest of this, the assignments of the planets, the signs of the zodiac from that point forward. So basically, answers the question of if you wanted to build Western astrology from scratch, this would be your starting point, the premise that in the Northern Hemisphere, the middle of the summer occurs when the Sun is at 15° of Leo right in the middle of the summer. And that sign of the zodiac then should be the sign assigned to the Sun because the Sun is the source of light and heat in our solar system so that becomes the conceptual basis for everything.
BD: So, as we go through, the chapter has three parts and the first part is where he reminds us of this and introduces a couple more things about some of the principles he’s going to use. In the second part, he uses them to explain why the signs of exaltation are as they are. And then in the third part, he explains now here’s why the degrees are where they are. So, it’s a very orderly way of explaining this.
CB: Right. And just to wrap up that last thing, I was emphasizing that just because it means that the domicile scheme was explicitly predicated on the tropical rationale and the exaltation scheme to some extent also, based on the argument that we’re about to introduce is also based on a tropical rationale. So that’s really crucial in terms of current ongoing debates about whether Western astrology was originally tropical or sidereal. If these rationales come from the original line of thinking than it was always originally predicated on a tropical rationale which incidentally, makes later even skeptical arguments that the astrologers are wrong because their zodiac is off by an entire sign and all of that that are still persistent attacks on astrologers today completely pointless because it means the foundations of Western astrology were always tropical essentially from the first century forward. Does that make sense to you as an important point that’s coming out of this Hermes text?
BD: Yeah, because the whole thing is based on the idea of increasing daylight or decreasing daylight and so it’s tying the length of day and seasons together and so the only way you can keep that going is if you assume a tropical zodiac.
CB: Right. So, it starts off at the beginning like you were saying in the first third, with a kind of philosophical, it tries to set what to me comes off as almost like a philosophical basis first for the entire discussion. And that was one of the things that interested me because part of the reason it interested me because it only brought to mind something that Robert Schmidt always speculated that he always wanted to find and he always expected to be there which was the idea that whoever came up with this system must have had some philosophical conceptualization that came first and then they developed the techniques out of that. And I don’t feel like he was ever able to demonstrate that, but this text comes closer to that than anything I’ve seen because most of the other later surviving texts from the other Hellenistic astrologers are just technical and often largely devoid of philosophical context for the most part. Would you mind if we read from your translation like that first little section or first few sentences of the chapter? Okay. Can I share it on the screen? Okay. So, this is a preliminary translation. This is not finished quite yet, right?
BD: Right. Yeah, I’ll still do some tinkering.
CB: Okay, so the title of the chapter is on the reason for the planets’ exaltations according to what fits with the statement of Hermes. So, this is Abu Ma’shar summarizing or relaying to us the explanation for the exaltations from this lost Hermetic text. So, he says, or do you want to read or do you want me to read it?
BD: I’ll go ahead. So, we start at the beginning with ideas about increase and decrease and we will later on relate that to light and daylight. So, he starts out by saying, “For things which have an inception, at the beginning of their inception, they are in a state of advancement and increase. And at their middle, they are stronger and the most robust they can be. And at their end, they are retreating and weak.” So, he’s talking about the natural process of things and how things develop, culminate, and then weaken over time. So, it’s a very general point.
CB: I mean, it’s a general point but it’s just interesting that it’s proceeding from a philosophical statement of like anything that has a beginning, it’s going to have a state of growth and then being at its most robust in the middle, and then eventually a state of decay. And it contextualizes everything that comes afterwards from this point.
BD: Yeah. And so, he directly talks about plants and animals, but then he says that planets are advancing and increasing at the beginning of the signs, in the middle they are the strongest and at the end of the signs, they are retreating and weak. And he also says, this is true about when they do things like come out of the rays, they start to become strong when they’re visible on their own, then they become much strong as they’re farther away from the Sun and as they get even more distanced and really get close to their first station where they’re retrograde, the energy peters out. So, he’s saying it’s a general principle which we see both in nature and already in astrology.
CB: Right. So, it’s really emphasizing and then it goes on to emphasize just this notion especially of increase as being the primary principle that it’s focusing on over and over again with the exaltation and the notion of something being on the rise or being emerging and being on the increasing side of things instead of the opposite.
BD: Right. And something that we were discussing is that once you’ve reached the peak, there’s nowhere to go but downwards. [Ben laughs] So, in a way, exaltation is still in a sense still a little on the upswing because it’s the process of becoming greater rather than just about to decline.
CB: Yeah, and I think that’s really important that was one of the main things we’re talking about the other day is that becomes the paradigm for exaltation and also means the previous paradigm for exaltation may not have been correct where we always assumed that exaltation meant definitely already being at the very height of something but instead, it might be still the process to some extent of rising up towards the high point and getting there instead of necessarily being at the peak of one’s power which might be more actually related to the concept of domicile starting from the idea of the Sun in the middle of the summer or being at the very height of its power. Okay. So, at that point, do you want to switch to the summary here of when it actually is because now it gets to the technical argument of explaining the signs of exploitation and we could probably summarize that if you’d like?
BD: Right. Do you want me to take the lead on how the course of his argument goes?
CB: Let me see. So, let’s do it together because I’ll pull up the summary that I wrote. So, he starts with the philosophical rationale which we’ve just gone over and then he sets out the signs of exaltation and he says that there’s two groups of cardinal signs that indicate increase and decrease. He says that Aries and Cancer are both advancing and increasing because when the Sun moves through those signs, the light starts increasing or is increasing and is moving upwards. For example, when the Sun moves into Aries, the days start to get longer and the nights start to get shorter. Or when the Sun goes into Cancer, the days are at their longest. Whereas the other two cardinal signs are Libra and Capricorn which are associated with, he says, retreating and decreasing because when the Sun, for example, goes into Libra, the days start getting shorter and the nights start getting longer whereas in Capricorn, the nights are at their longest. So, the initial paradigm is just this notion of increase and decrease of light basically, right?
BD: Right. So, what he’s going to do is start associating each planet and the groups of planets, he’s going to start associating them with these four signs.
CB: Right. And he also associates that notion of increasing and advancing with the planets and he says especially the benefics are associated with increased and advancing and the malefics are associated with decrease and retreating. At one point early on, it sets up a principle that two planets cannot be exalted in the same sign so there’s only one exaltation per sign. And he starts with the Sun which seems to be the paradigm for everything just like the Sun was the paradigm and the starting point for the domiciles scheme at 15° of Leo. So, he says the Sun is assigned to Aries where it begins to move north and increase the day over the night so that the light and the concept of light and presumably also heat is seen to be on the rise, basically. And he initially assigns the Sun to 15° of that sign, the very middle of the sign, which has already established in the very introduction to this chapter that the very middle of the sign is when the planets are at their most robust. And that 15-degree thing becomes important throughout because it basically starts out by first assigning the signs of exaltation and then putting all the planets right in the middle of those signs at 15° and then it starts modifying those degrees essentially from there, right?
BD: Right, we start with this and then we have to make some adjustments.
CB: Okay. So then, he moves to the Moon which follows the sign of the Sun and gets assigned to Taurus. And this one’s not actually explained very well here. It gets explained better once you actually get to the degrees, but it appears to be that part of the reason for this and the Moon’s relationship to the Sun sets up the paradigm for the rest of the exaltations which is that the Moon emerges from under the beams of the Sun or under the rays of the Sun in Taurus and makes its appearance and therefore is in the early phases of rising up and beginning its waxing cycle which is known in the Hellenistic tradition as increasing in light.
BD: Right. And again, through all of this, you have to remember that when he’s putting these planets in different signs, sometimes he’s putting them in a certain sign because if he put it in a different one, there would be a mismatch in the concepts. So, he’s treating the Sun and the Moon together as types of benefics. This was also why he says that the Sun and Moon’s domiciles are next to one another in the domicile scheme. So, once we have the Sun in Aries, the Moon has to go right next to him. She can either be in Pisces or Taurus. But if she’s in Pisces, she’s going under the rays, it’s not a place where the day is longer than night and she’s not visible. Well, that doesn’t work. So, we have to put her in Taurus where she’s coming out of the rays and becoming visible and still adjacent to his sign.
CB: Right. So, it says that the Sun and Moon that they’re counterparts and that they are the two luminaries that they need to be together in adjacent signs just like they are in the Thema Mundi. But like you said, if you put the Moon as exalted in Pisces, then it would be waning and decreasing in light whereas if you put it in Taurus, then it’s increasing in light and getting brighter and is on the rise. Okay. So that becomes the starting point and then that principle of like increasing and light being on the rise is basically applied across the board to the rest of the planets. So, it then jumps to Saturn and it says, Saturn indicates darkness and is therefore opposite to the Sun which indicates light and so Saturn is assigned to Libra which we’ve already established is not only opposite to the exaltation of the Sun in Aries, but also in Libra is when the Sun is in Libra, that’s when the days start to become shorter and the nights start to become longer so therefore, darkness is thought to be on the increase. And Saturn is the furthest and dimmest of the seven traditionally visible planetary bodies, so it’s often associated with darkness.
BD: Right. And indeed, among the Arabs and the Persians, Libra and Capricorn were also called the dark signs and this is probably where it comes from. So, we start with the Sun and Aries and the Moon next to him and then we put Saturn opposite him. So, that fills up two of the four signs.
CB: And it also recreates the same paradigm that we have in the Thema Mundi where you have the two luminaries assigned to Cancer and Leo and then you have Saturn assigned to the two signs opposite to that because it’s the furthest and slowest and dimmest of the visible planets so it gets assigned to Capricorn and to Aquarius. So, there’s a repetition of the same thing here in the exaltation scheme and I think that actually is one of the points, there’ll be others that we’ll come back to later that to me indicates that the domicile scheme was developed first and then the exaltation scheme was developed afterwards or secondary in some way.
BD: Before we, don’t let me forget. There’s something after we get all these planets in place, I want to show you which I think I discovered. I don’t remember us discussing it, I think I discovered it, but we’ll see.
CB: Okay, I’m excited. Okay. So, Saturn gets assigned to the sign opposite of the Sun where darkness is increasing. The other malefic, it skips over this point a little bit basically, but it gives the other malefic the other “evil doer” that represents darkness or decrease to the other dark sign which is Capricorn which is when the nights are the longest and the days are at their shortest, so then it just naturally assigns the other malefic to that sign. And then at this point, it gives the greater benefic the most positive planet which is Jupiter to the sign of Cancer which is the sign when the light is at its height, the days are at their longest and the nights are at their shortest. So, it just sets up this nice little, that really seems to be then the very foundation of the exaltations pretty much no matter what. And that’s basically what Ptolemy already introduced and says to some extent in his chapter, but just not quite as clearly. Okay.
BD: Right. So, that gives us five of the planets by an association of ideas and concepts with natural phenomena. So, that gives us five of them.
CB: And it’s cool because it means there’s actually an underlying astronomical reason for those assignments. Just like with the domiciles scheme, it means there’s a rationale from it where you can derive it from actual astronomical principles. And while those astronomical principles are being interpreted symbolically using symbolic thinking, it’s not just like developed out of thin air or something like that.
BD: Right. So, we now need to find out Venus because she’s the other benefic. She hasn’t gotten one of these signs.
CB: And this is one point that it doesn’t explain until the very end of the text because for some reason, Abu Ma’shar or the Hermes texts summarizes a bunch of points at the very end, but one of the crucial pieces it doesn’t explain till later, but this might be a good point to mention it which is all of the superior planets then are the ones that are assigned first with the Sun, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars and they’re all assigned to and then maybe it’s too soon to introduce this, but to the four angular houses in the Thema Mundi with Cancer rising. And this is a distinction that he mentions like really briefly at the end of the text, but seems to be another crucial thing and also seems to imply interestingly that Schmidt’s observation was right that the exaltations were developed with the Thema Mundi in mind and partially by superimposing the exaltation signs on the houses of the Thema Mundi.
BD: Now, there’s another point to this too. You notice that we have the Sun and Jupiter. In Arabic astrology, they talk about the good places or the excellent places, the good places, the busy places and so on, but there are three houses which they call the excellent places and that’s the Ascendant, 10th and 11th. And if we have this Hermes scheme in mind, those are the houses occupied by the two most powerful benefics which is the Sun and Moon because the Moon is in the 11th of the same luminaries and Jupiter in the Ascendant [crosstalk 01:02:58:32] whereas the two malefics are in two bad houses which traditionally show opposition and illness, that’s Mars in Capricorn in the 7th and death is one of the meanings for the 4th house where Saturn and Libra are.
CB: Yeah, I think that’s super, super crucial is this may be a secondary thing I was thinking about the other day where some significations the houses could be coming from because the 7th also, if you remember, one of the things that I talked about a lot in the houses chapter is how there were these two early books on the houses. There was one attributed to Hermes that introduced a set of significations and one attributed to Asclepius that introduced a set of significations. And in the Hermes text which is presumably the earlier one which I also believe is the text that introduced the joys, it assigned the topic of death to the 7th house and it was the Asclepius text that moved death to the 8th house based on some different rationale. But this aside from the fact that the 7th is the setting place where the Sun sets and sinks out of sight which is an obvious astronomical rationale, it’s interesting that in the exaltation scheme that Mars one of the malefic planets is associated with the 7th and then of course, the 4th house also in Hellenistic astrology was associated with death as well.
BD: And the ancestors in the sense of they’re the people who are buried and gone but it’s still an aspect of death whereas the first 10th and 11th are particularly associated with life and thriving and being on the upswing.
CB: Right. And also, it’s a good point that the first 10th and 11th in many of the lists are said to be the most positive houses or the most chrematistic houses in some of the lists of just like best house to worst house.
BD: Yeah, and so it’s like that in Arabic. The normal word they use for the good places is the suitable places [foreign 01:05:03:19] but the word they use for those three 1, 10, and 11 is the excellent places [foreign 01:05:12:20].
CB: Okay. So, moving from there, this is where and I brought that up and sorry to have interrupted but the reason I did was because then it moves on to trying to explain Venus and Mercury and what’s interesting is the statement at the very end makes that statement that all of the, not the outer planets but the word escapes me. What’s the difference between the outer planets outside of the Sun? Superior planets. That all the superior planets are assigned to angles and then it’s only the inferior planets that are assigned to houses outside of that, specifically the two cadent houses which are the third and the ninth. Okay. So, at this point, it starts with Venus and starts explaining why Venus is assigned to Pisces.
BD: And we could maybe say that the reason we start with Venus is because we still have a benefic leftover.
CB: Right. We have a benefic that we haven’t assigned and we have an issue about where to put it. And there’s actually overlapping reasons and there’s one that it maybe doesn’t explain, but the first one that starts explaining is it says that Venus is assigned to Pisces because Venus cannot get more than 47° away from the Sun, it can’t get more than two signs away from the Sun so that right away limits your options. And since the Moon has already occupied Taurus as its exaltation and it’s been established that no sign can have two planets sharing an exaltation that means Venus can’t take Taurus. So, then you would look to potentially Gemini or potentially to Pisces which are then the two signs unoccupied within two signs of the Sun. And this is where it gets really interesting to me because it ties in with the direction that I’d been researching at one point about whether this could be the origin of the exaltations and I think it does take it into account. It says specifically that since Venus is a wet and feminine planet, it should be assigned to Pisces because Pisces is also a wet and feminine sign. And that makes more sense than assigning it to Gemini which would be a masculine sign and it would also be an air sign which would be cold using the Stoic elemental theory.
BD: Yeah, she could be. If we put her in early Gemini or in Gemini, that’s possibly 47°-48° away from the Sun, but he doesn’t like the sign match. Likewise, if we put her in Aquarius, that would also like Gemini be this masculine sign depending on what elemental scheme he’s using. He doesn’t think the match is good. And it’s also farther away from Aries, I think, is part of his thinking too.
CB: Yeah. Because that’s the other thing is he has the benefic Jupiter opposing the malefic Mars, but then because the Sun is the one that’s opposing Saturn, it means both of the benefics are opposing both of the malefics. But if you put Venus in Pisces and later once we get to its degree, we’ll find out that it’s exalted right at the very end of Pisces, you almost still get the effect of having Venus at least in the opposing angular triad opposite to Saturn.
So the point though that I want to make really quickly about him treating Pisces as like a wet feminine sign is really important because it comes up again later with Mercury which I noticed at one point years ago when I was trying to figure out the exaltations and racking my brain with it, that if you took the Stoic elements where there was a difference between the Stoic qualities when applied to the four elements and the Aristotelian qualities when you apply them to the four elements, in the Stoic qualities that Valens explains, it makes the air signs cold and opposite in the zodiac to the fire signs which are hot and it makes the water signs wet in opposition to the Earth signs which are dry. So, this is really important because since the text and again, this isn’t Abu Ma’shar because Abu Ma’shar I think actually uses the Aristotelian assignments, but the Hermes text itself says that the water sign Pisces is wet which means it’s actually drawing on the Stoic qualities of the signs which is very important because that’s more consistent with early authors like Valens who do the same thing. But one time I took the Stoic qualities of the signs and I applied them to… In Ptolemy, he gives you some primary qualities of the planets and I noticed that when you took the primary qualities of the planets that Ptolemy describes, almost all of them actually match up with the sign of the zodiac and the quality of that sign using the Stoic elements.
So, for example, as we just read in the text, Venus is primarily wet and Pisces as a water sign would also primarily be wet. The Sun according to Ptolemy is primarily hot and Aries as a fire sign would be primarily hot and this would be opposite to Saturn which is said to be primarily cold and Libra as an air sign is said to be primarily cold as well. Jupiter is one that didn’t match in this because at least according to Ptolemy, Jupiter is said to be primarily hot and Cancer is supposed to be as a water sign primarily wet. Mars matches because it’s primarily supposed to be dry and Capricorn as an Earth sign is dry, the Moon is supposed to primarily be wet, but according to being in Taurus, that’s an Earth sign, so it should be dry. And Mercury was mixed, but we’ll actually come back to Mercury because Ptolemy says that Mercury alternates between wet and dry and the primary quality of Virgo since there’s an Earth sign according to the Stoic quality should be dry.
So, this is one of those things that I noticed two years ago that I thought could be it, but it didn’t fit completely but I wondered if that’s because I was drawing the planetary qualities from Ptolemy and if the earlier author might have conceptualized the primary planetary qualities slightly differently. So, when we come back to Mercury, we’ll find this Hermetic author primarily describing Mercury as dry which then completely matches with putting it in Virgo which is a dry sign, and I think that actually proves that the early Hermetic author might have had slightly different qualities than Ptolemy which would make this scheme fully consistent with the Stoic qualities.
BD: Mercury could then be opposite Venus who is wet [crosstalk 01:12:22:23] if that’s how he’s thinking. There might be a little bit of fuzzy logic involved in this, but we’re going to follow through and I think there’s more good than bad in all of this.
CB: Sure. Yeah. And that’s the other thing is that it doesn’t, this text seems to have additional pieces, but then there still seem to be some pieces that were potentially used that it doesn’t introduce or that it didn’t have, so there may be multiple things going on here. All right. So, Venus is assigned to Pisces, its primary rationale for that is that it’s a wet and feminine sign then it moves to Mercury which it says is assigned to Virgo. Mercury is where things get a little dicey. It says Mercury never gets more than one sign from the Sun, but the problem is that both of the adjacent signs at this point are taken up by Venus on the one side in Pisces and the Moon on the other side in Taurus, so it can’t assign it to either those adjacent signs even though following the logic of Venus, it would ideally like to. So, what it does then is it ends up assigning Mercury to Aries, sorry, to Virgo and that becomes the exaltation of Mercury. And did you follow part of the logic that was going on here?
BD: Yeah, he’s saying that ideally, we would put him in Taurus because Taurus is a dry sign and Mercury is a dry planet, but the Moon is already there so we can’t use that. Capricorn can’t put it there because Mars is already there, can’t use that. So, we have to look at Virgo even though it’s very far away.
CB: You just actually explained it because I didn’t understand until right now. It’s taking that assignment because it says explicitly that Mercury is dry. And I didn’t understand why it was trying to assign it to the triplicity of the Moon which is what it says. It says it has to be assigned the triplicity of the Moon which is Taurus and I didn’t understand why that was and the reason why that was is because it’s dry and the three Earth signs are the dry signs.
BD: Right. So, he’s saying, “Plus, in the season when the Sun enters Virgo, the weather is more drying.” And then he returns to his idea of daylight and he says, “Remember that the length of daylight in the days of both Aries and Virgo is the same because when the Sun is moving through Aries, the days are getting longer in exactly the same rate as the days start to get shorter when he’s moving through Virgo.” And it’s well known those two signs are called signs that share equal daylight. So, even though some of the logic seems a little like he’s pulling something out of a magic hat, he is still returning to the idea of daylight to justify putting Mercury in Virgo.
CB: Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. I think that makes a lot more sense than when I first read it. It seemed like this is the part where it was getting really dicey and we started wondering if the logic was breaking down, or either they didn’t have a good consistent reason for this one, or this later author didn’t know what the original reason was. But this is actually starting to make more sense that, again, it’s proceeding from this notion that Mercury is primarily dry and therefore should be like Venus assigned to a sign that is also dry that fits its nature. So, it has to be assigned to an Earth sign and there’s only one Earth sign that’s open at this point and that is Virgo. And then that then explains the final way that it wraps it up by saying that Mercury significations, it has to be opposite to Venus because they have contrasting qualities and meanings. And the two primary things then are that Venus is wet and Mercury is dry so they’re naturally in opposition to each other just like the opposition between the other planets between, for example, the Sun and Saturn and then indicating light versus darkness or heat versus cold.
So, Rhetorius has a similar rationale where he tries to contrast the actual significations of Venus and Mercury and he explains that that’s the rationale for the exaltations and it actually made me wonder if maybe part of Rhetorius’ rationale was also explained in this early Hermetic text where it starts contrasting actual significations of Venus and Mercury.
BD: Well, it does. He does here. He says that Mercury signifies wisdom whereas Venus signifies pleasure and he says that those two characteristics or pursuits are contrary to each other.
CB: Okay, perfect. So just like the domiciles scheme where we also see planets assigned a certain sign like the Venus signs in the domiciles like Libra and Taurus are opposite to the Mars signs which are Scorpio and Aries and they contrast the unifying significations of Venus with the separating significations of Mars that the author underlying this may have had a similar idea or scheme in mind when they were trying to put certain planets opposite to each other in the exaltations.
BD: Yeah, and it’s easy to see that. I mean, if you look at Jupiter and Mars, Jupiter accumulates things and generates more life whereas Mars kills and destroys life. And in terms of resources, they’ll say that Jupiter will accumulate resources, but Mars scatters them. And if you look at the Sun and Jupiter or actually the Sun and the Moon together versus Saturn, the luminaries signify more glory and notoriety and success whereas Saturn signifies more hard work and obscurity.
CB: Right. Or back to Mars and Jupiter, even just the difference between like Mars signifying something as basic as war, and Jupiter signifying peace.
BD: Yes, yeah.
CB: Yeah, so this is all over the place here. And maybe-
BD: And it’s all underwritten by this idea of contrasts of light and darkness and increasing and decreasing.
CB: Right. And then also secondarily, these Stoic elemental qualities that are probably being imported in through Hermeticism because the Hermetic texts adopted the Stoic qualities as a sign to the elements. So, there’s like an underlying, I’m not sure if not elemental sort of quasi elemental, but also underlying basis of what are the qualities or elements underlying things, the building blocks of the cosmos so to speak which is just straight from Hellenistic Greco-Roman Greek philosophy, basically. So, it’s like applied Greek philosophy. This is truly what some people like Schmidt, for example, were always looking for which is applied Greek philosophy, taking Greek philosophical principles and then generating astrological techniques out of them. All right, so back to our explanation. So, at that point, it’s explained the signs of exaltation and now it transitions into the other section where it starts trying to establish the degrees of exaltation and the reason for those.
BD: And before we get there, can I tell you about that thing that I said like that I think I invented? [Ben laughs] Because I don’t remember us discussing it. Show the diagram of all the planets in their exaltations.
CB: Okay, there we go. Is it showing it?
BD: There we go. So now we’re going to start at the top and we’re going to zigzag back and forth like a lightning flash starting with the Sun and watch how we start moving through all of the planets in the order of brightness. So, start with the Sun, the brightest planet, move to the Moon, the next brightest, move to Venus, the next brightest, down to Jupiter, the next brightest, over to Mars, the next brightest. You could say we moved down to Mercury, the next brightest, even though he isn’t always visible and then we end up with Saturn at the bottom. So, the brightest planets are at the top of the chart and the dimmest planets are at the bottom of the chart.
CB: Oh yeah, you’re right. Yeah, that’s really interesting. And it also maybe even groups them based on like the angular triads which were such an important piece in the joys. I mean, and at this point with the signs, I think even though the author doesn’t fully explain this, it does start talking about the Thema Mundi next which then implies that the Thema Mundi is being taken into account, but this is when we should also remember some of those other schemes like the fact that the planets when they’re in their sign of exaltation are also configured to their domiciles by trine if they’re a daytime planet or their domiciles by sextile if they’re a nighttime planet. So, I bet there are other additional reasons that were being taken into account by this author that maybe aren’t fully clarified in this text but are also probably in the background as well that could explain certain things. All right, such as Venus, for example, why Venus should end up in Pisces, for example, or other things like that.
All right, so back to the input diagram back up. So now it starts going into explaining the degrees and one of the things that it does is a little weird and it explains this somewhat quickly, but it starts out by saying that things should be measured relative to the Equator. And can you explain that point a little bit when it starts making this transition into explaining the degrees?
BD: Well, he wants a general standard for understanding, he wants to cast a chart. He wants to cast a chart in which he can associate certain ideas together. And so, he wants to cast a chart where we group together the Sun, Aries and the midheaven all together because all of those indicate increase but in different ways. He’s also going to want to cast a chart for the Equator because the ascensions of all of the signs are roughly equal at that time and it’s in accordance with rotation on the Equator that signs come to be on the midheaven. So, in order to generate the degrees, he’s going to want to cast a chart for the location of the Equator and see what happens when we start associating these signs of light with the actual Ascendant and midheaven for a location on the Equator.
CB: Right. And one of the things that’s interesting at this point when he starts talking about the degrees is, he really starts focusing more on the midheaven and the notion of the midheaven and the notion of angularity and that seems to be one of the underlying paradigms that it applies throughout the rest of this chapter for establishing the exaltation degrees.
BD: Yeah, we’ll see that as he goes through. Remember, he started at the very beginning talking about things that are increasing. Well, planets that are on are moving towards the axial degrees are increasing in angularity so that’s one reason to cast an actual chart and adjust the planetary degrees because then you can put key planets so that they’re actually advancing towards the angle.
CB: Right. What he does right at the beginning of this section is he establishes, he starts talking about the Thema Mundi like really quickly and how at the birth of the cosmos in this hypothetical chart for the birth of the world, the Ascendant was at 15° of Cancer. And so, he casts a chart saying that if you’re at the Equator and you cast a chart for when the Ascendant is at 15° of Cancer, the midheaven will be at the 18th degree of Aries.
BD: So, Jupiter will be on the Ascendant like normal, it will be at 15° Cancer, but the midheaven will be at 17 Aries.
CB: Right. And so, here, let me throw a diagram up. So, the Ascendant at 15° Cancer and that’s true because you recalculated this and Janice the other day, and if you’re at the Equator when the Ascendant at 15° of Cancer, the midheaven will be at about 17° of Aries.
BD: Yes, and this is a problem because we have assumed that the basic position of all of the planets in their signs was in the middle at 15. But if the Sun is at 15 Aries, he’s no longer moving towards the midheaven, he’s already passed it, which violates our logic of grouping the right concepts together.
CB: Right. So, at this point, the author switches to and really starts emphasizing the idea of since we’re talking about exaltation and a planet rising up or being on the increase, that the planet needs to be rising up or exactly on the exact degree of one of the quadrant angles which would be like the degree of the Ascendant, the degree of the Descendant, the degree of the IC, or the exact degree of the midheaven and it’s using the quadrant angles and basically quadrant houses and the angular houses after them as the crucial areas where a planet is rising up and increasing in power. And therefore, that is how you derive the planets have to be in those zones in order to be in their exaltation degrees.
BD: Right. Because if you’re going to move a planet, you could move it either forwards or backwards. And if you move it forwards, it will get one result, if you move it backwards, it will get another result in terms of angularity. So, by using the principle of angularity, he’s able to rule out certain adjustments.
CB: Okay. But it’s like at this point, the author wants to tie this into the Thema Mundi and so that’s why he fixes the Ascendant at 15° of Cancer and he also says that Jupiter has its exaltation there. And I think like right away, does he assign Jupiter like immediately right at the start? I think it’s in the first paragraph, right? Then he gives a little a quasi-philosophical rationale saying that Jupiter should be directly on the Ascendant of the Thema Mundi and that he says something like this is filtered through Abu Ma’shar’s paraphrase, but Abu Ma’shar says something like the world or the sphere is characterized by judgment and order and since those are also the qualities assigned to Jupiter, Jupiter belongs directly on the Ascendant there of the Thema Mundi and that is where it finds its exaltation. And that’s interesting because then it sets Jupiter as the central point for the exaltations almost like a paradigm in the same way that Mercury was set in the Ascendant right at the degree of the Ascendant essentially for the planetary joys scheme.
Yeah. So that’s interesting and perhaps relevant in terms of understanding the exaltations in general and I don’t know if we’re supposed to derive something Jupiterian from them additionally or what. So, it starts with that assigning Jupiter to the Ascendant and then it says… What it does the rationale for the Sun is basically when the Ascendant is exactly 15° Cancer like it is in the Thema Mundi, if the midheaven is at 17 Aries, that means the Sun can’t be exalted at 15° of Aries in the middle of the sign because then it would be on the cadent side dynamically of the quadrant house and it would start to decline or fall away from being at its height. So instead, it says the exaltation of the Sun should be at 18° of Aries which would be just basically on the midheaven at that time when the Ascendant is at 15° of Cancer at the Equator. Okay. And then explain there’s the cardinal ordinal number issue here, right? Because this is why the Sun is usually listed at being like 19 Aries is its exaltation, right?
BD: Right. It’s like how in the 20th century, all of the dates for the years begin with the number 19 even though it’s the 20th century, similar thing here, the 19th degree of Aries is from 1800 to 1859. So, in the Latin and Arabic and the Greek, there’s frequently confusion among whether we’re talking about say 19 or the 19th. And so, this text is very consistent in being clear and consistent about whether it’s talking about say 19 or the 19th. And so, it’s clear here that it’s an 18° Aries, that’s what the exaltation is, the 19th degree.
CB: Got it, okay. And that’s interesting. So, then it can finally settle that question both in the Western tradition where there’s sometimes like manuscript variations in some of the Hellenistic manuscripts and that maybe this is the origin of it like the cardinal versus ordinal number in some of the confusion. There’s also an issue in like the Indian tradition where some of the exaltation, the signs are the same and some of the degrees are the same, but some of them are slightly different in the Indian tradition. And Pingree speculated in his translation of the Yavanajataka that it may have been due to a manuscript error or just like a digit dropped out of the manuscript. And I think that might prove to be true here because this may actually explain the reason for those degrees and why it would be one particular degree rather than another.
All right, so back to it. So, he’s established the Sun being basically right at the height and rising up exactly to the midheaven at that point and then it just keeps repeating for the rest of the chapter these notions of angularity of rising up as being central to the conceptualization of the exaltations. Now, interestingly, at this point, it does so within the context of essentially quadrant houses and it implies that the use of quadrant houses for angularity was used very early in the tradition, which is something we already knew that it would become very crucial and very central and the development of this exaltations concept. So, it would go back to if this again if this is part of the original foundational rationale from whoever came up with it first whoever Hermes was that it would mean they were using both whole sign and quadrant houses simultaneously to some extent.
All right. So, then it assigns Jupiter, gives the quasi-philosophical rationale, then it moves on to Mars. And interestingly, when it switches to Mars, it actually gives a definition of the meaning of exaltation when he starts trying to explain Mars and it says that the meaning of the degree of exaltation is the position in the sign in which and this is from the Burnett translation, “Its nature is displayed to an extreme degree and in which its indication of good fortune arrives at its extreme limit.” Did you translate that more or less the same?
BD: Yeah, I said the meaning of the degree of a planet’s exaltation is the position of the extreme limit of its nature’s manifestation in that sign and it’s reaching the utmost of its indication for good fortune.
CB: Okay. Perfect. And then it says, “Therefore, it says, the distances in degrees should be deduced from the Sun.” Or that part of the conclusion it then makes from that point because it says many of the conditions of the planets are determined based on a planet’s position relative to the Sun and-
BD: But we’ve skipped over why he’s talking about this. He’s talking about this because we’re moving to Mars now.
CB: Right. So, we’ve done the Sun and then Jupiter and then it skips over to the planet opposite to Jupiter which is Mars.
BD: Right. So, in theory, Mars, the basic assumption is that he’s also at 15 Capricorn, exalted in 15 of his sign.
CB: Right. I guess we didn’t emphasize that enough, but the text basically, when it sets up the signs of exaltation, it’s taking for granted then that all the planets are like right in the middle of those signs of 15° as the basic starting point then for the rest of the discussion until it starts modifying them once it explains their actual exaltation degrees.
BD: Right. So, if we assume that Mars is at 15 Capricorn, well, that’s a problem because he’s exactly opposite Jupiter which means each of them is going to take away from the other planets’ power. So, we need to move him away somewhere where he can still be angular, but also symbolically represent great power and not be directly opposite Jupiter. So that’s why we need some explanation for how much can we move him by that would still symbolically indicate power. And so that’s why he comes up with the idea that when planets are about 12° away from the Sun and moving away, they’re emerging out into their own light and it shows an increase of strength. So, if we can move Mars 12°, then we can move him away from Jupiter which is what we want, but he can still be, it’s a symbolic amount that represents power.
CB: Right. And it’s like at this point, I almost feel like it should have introduced the Moon first because I feel like that 12° range is primarily coming from the Moon and it makes more sense when you go further down the paragraph when it starts explaining the Moon. And maybe should we just like jump there? Because-
BD: We could go to the Moon. It makes more sense to put the Moon here anyway, just like he did at the beginning.
CB: Right. So, we’ll skip in the text but later in the few paragraphs later, it gets to the Moon and it basically says that the Moon’s exaltation degree is based on when it first becomes visible relative to the Sun. So, if the Sun, we’ve already established that the Sun has its exaltation in the 19th degree or basically 18° of Aries, then the Moon would have its exaltation when it first begins to become visible in Taurus and that’s how you end up with the exaltation degree of the Moon in early Taurus.
BD: Right. And he says that she emerges there if you’re at the Equator. So, that’s where she becomes visible if you’re actually at the Equator. I’m not sure if that’s true. And he points out that she will be in a couple of degrees southern latitude. So, he’s using the Moon’s actual visibility, the paradigm example of how a planet comes out of the rays of the Sun and becomes visible and powerful.
CB: Right. So, it’s basically like at this point of focusing on the concept of under the beams and of a planet being hidden up or obscured and weakened to some extent when it is under the beams of the Sun or it’s too close within a few degrees of the Sun, but that once it gets away from the Sun by a certain range, it begins to emerge into its own power and to become strong. And I think one text, I want to say it’s like the Michigan Papyrus says that planets when they emerge from under the beams of the Sun are strong and vigorous. So, it’s using for some reason it introduces this 12° range at this point which is one of the things that’s a little odd to me and a little surprising because most of the time in the Hellenistic tradition, it seems like they use a more standardized range of 15° for planets being under the beams versus not being under the beams. But I know it’s tricky because there’s different astronomical values especially from an observational standpoint.
BD: And 12 is a common number for the Moon.
CB: Okay. Oh right, yeah, 12 is the range that’s used in colossus for adherence as well as for engagement which is applying aspect in Porphyry and Antiochus and all those texts.
BD: So, what he does is he says, “We’re going to use that idea of distance as our starting point for how far we can move these planets out of the way so they don’t harm each other while they’re exalted.” So, we’ve got Jupiter, the Sun and Moon and so now if we return back to Mars, we have to move him. So, we can either move him forward by 12 or backward by 12. But if we move him backward by 12 to early Capricorn, then he’ll be withdrawing or cadent, can’t have that. But if we move him forward to the end so that will end up being at the end of Capricorn and he’ll still be angular.
CB: Right. So basically, just like it added 12° from the position of the Sun at 18 Aries and this is not just like straight degrees, but it’s based on right ascension, right?
BD: Yeah, it’s not zodiacal degrees. It’s based on right ascension along the Equator.
CB: And that checks out then for the Moon having its exaltation in the 3° degree of Taurus or otherwise, the 2° of Taurus.
BD: I had a little trouble making it work out using Ptolemy’s obliquity for the ecliptic so we’re going to have to take… And remember, he’s tying this to actual visibility. There must be I’m imagining their sum Islamic table of when the Moon is visible at the Equator, that will probably give the answer. So, we have to take his word for it that if you’re at the Equator, that’s how far it will be when the Sun is in 18 Aries.
CB: Okay. But what he ends up doing then is applying that 12° role to Mars then uses the baseline of 15° and then it adds 12° to it which brings it to about 27° of Capricorn.
BD: It brings it to 26. He’s going to make another adjustment. But yeah, the basic ideas, it moves him forward by 12° of right ascension.
CB: Right, which is because it’s right ascension, it’s not 12° zodiac fully. It ends up being more like 11°. So, 26 is where Mars should end up. Let me see if I have a great diagram for that. No, that’s all right. So, brings it to 26 going back to Mars and then just pulling up my outline up. Is there anything else? So, at this point, yeah, like you emphasized, it says that like 15° Capricorn if we would subtracted 12°, it would have put the exaltation of Mars in early Capricorn. But then what it says is that this wouldn’t be suitable as the exaltation of Mars because it would be in a declining house according to quadrant houses because it would be on the wrong side of the Descendant which has been established that if the Ascendant is that 15 Cancer then the Descendant is at 15 Capricorn. Therefore, anything below that, a few degrees below that is going to be dynamically cadent and therefore falling away or declining. Okay, so puts Mars on the
BD: Now, just to be clear, he doesn’t say will be in a cadent house if you’re thinking of house topics, just so people understand. He just says it’s a place of withdrawal and weakness. And withdrawal is the word that the Arabs use for something that is dynamically cadent moving past an axial degree. He isn’t saying that it will be in the 6th house. He isn’t saying that here. He’s saying it’s in a place of withdrawal and weakness because it’s dynamically cadent.
CB: Because it’s moving away from the degree of the Descendant instead of towards it? Got it. Okay. So, it also emphasizes around this point that the idea of moving up towards the degree of an angle, it emphasizes this idea of being strong and showing its nature and that the exaltation must emphasize the strength of the planet. All right. So then, the Hermes text moves to Venus and it talks about contrasting the qualities of Mercury and Venus which have signs opposite to each other’s exaltation. It says that Venus and Mercury harm each other when they’re in exact opposition. So basically, then applies the same 12° rule and right ascension to Venus starting from 15° Pisces and then adding it up moving forward which then brings us to about the 28° of Pisces?
BD: 28 Pisces is where her unadjusted degree will be. 28, yeah.
CB: 28, okay. So, the text then says that this is problematic because then Mars is going to be earlier in degree than Venus. So, they’re configured by sextile, but Mars would be in the earlier degree because it’s at the 27th degree and Venus here is at the 28th degree, right?
BD: To our 29th degree, yeah. He’s at 26, she’s at 28 which means that he will be applying to her degree, not to her because she’s faster, but to her degree. And he doesn’t like that idea that the malefic is now applying to this benefics’ degree so I have to adjust it.
CB: Because he says that when the malefic is earlier in the order of degrees when it goes towards the benefic that the malefic is harmful towards them. So therefore, what he does is he does some interesting math here and he [Ben laughs] moves Venus to the 27th degree of Pisces and moves Mars to the 28th degree of Capricorn and says that those are the exaltation degrees of those two planets.
BD: Right, he moves Mars a little ahead so that he’ll be separating from her sextile. He moves her a little behind so that the final adjusted degrees are Mars at 27 Capricorn, Venus at 26 Pisces.
CB: Okay. And that’s just as I have that in this diagram here so that you can see that Venus while they’re both in sextile still, Venus is the one that’s in the earlier degree. And it actually gives this really interesting little philosophical justification I think it’s at this point or maybe it’s later at the very end, like reiterates this whole thing about at the end of the chapter saying that the degrees of the benefics must always come before the degrees of the malefics because the beginnings of generation belong to the benefics and corruption which is malefic follows them. So, generation must be associated in growth and creation must be associated with the benefics and corruption and degeneration or death must be associated essentially with the malefics and become later. So, it has a reason but this is the one part of the scheme where things get a little bit dicey, I think out of everything, right?
Okay. All right. So, at that point after it does Venus and everything else, it does make a statement about again, just like it did with Mars, how the text says, we could have subtracted from Venus so from 15° of Pisces and subtracted 12° in right ascension, but then that would put Venus in early Pisces, and the text makes two points. One, it says that having Venus in late Pisces makes more sense because it says it’s closer to the 10th house. And he says this agrees with Venus’ nature since the 10th indicates good fortune. So, the only way that actually makes sense to me is if he’s talking about whole sign houses because if Cancer is rising, if Venus is exalted at the very end of Pisces, then it’s almost in Aries which is the 10th sign. But here, moving that in that direction moves it more confidently from a dynamic or a quadrant-based standpoint, right?
BD: What? To late Pisces, you mean? Right, yeah.
CB: So, it does make the statement that if we subtracted from Venus from 15° Pisces and moved it earlier, it would place it at or closer to the place of a ruin and death and there it seems to be talking about the 8th house.
BD: Which sounds like the 8th quadrant house. But then again, early Pisces is close to Aquarius the eighth sign, so it’s not absolutely clear what he’s doing.
CB: Yeah, there’s this weird ambiguity in the text which is fun and doesn’t exactly help us with some of the long-standing debates about house division where there’s ambiguity about whether it’s talking about wholesale versus quadrant house again, and whatever this presumably early foundational source text was that Abu Ma’shar is drawing on which was attributed to Hermes. So that’s pretty much Venus.
BD: Yeah. You notice, I mean it does fit with whole sign houses because he doesn’t say if we move her too early in Pisces, she will be succeeded.
CB: Yeah, exactly. Like that was what it was weird to me because that would almost be more positive but it’s almost more like it’s concerned about the topical significations of the 10th whole sign house indicating good fortune and Venus almost being about to move in there versus if you move it earlier, it’s closer to the 8th sign of death.
BD: So, this is more consistent with whole signs.
CB: Well, it’s jumped into using quadrant houses again for dynamic purposes to some extent of angularity, but it’s using potentially whole sign houses for topics which is ironic because again, going back to Schmidt that was one of his early observations was it seemed like some of the early authors like Valens were using whole sign houses for topics and they were using quadrant houses for dynamic purposes. And that almost seems to check out here in this text where we can see perhaps the early origins of why that might have been the case because that’s what this author was trying to do ironically or maybe appropriately, if it’s attributed to Hermes because it’s trying to blend both worlds in some sense or trying to bring together two things that aren’t fully fitting together.
BD: But again, he doesn’t say, well, it would be better at early Pisces because then she’d be succedent. So, there’s some inconsistency and weirdness here, but this is our first approach to it. So, who knows? Maybe something will happen in the future.
CB: Yeah, it definitely will. And maybe somebody watching this will notice something that we don’t since even this is still somewhat new to us and we’re still working some of it out. But this is really similar to the process we went through eight years ago which is now the Venus retrograde return of which we noticed something about the joys and then we started noticing other things and then there’s this whole domino effect of seeing a bunch of stuff fall into place. But sometimes there were stages where I remember most of it happened in a week of us calling and talking to each other on the phone for hours about different pieces that we were seeing coming together, but then there were other things that we didn’t notice until months or even years later. Okay. So, after Venus, it switches to Mercury and says that Mercury maintains the 15th degree because Virgo is both its exaltation and its domicile and the text seems to explain that it says that it’s okay that it’s exactly sextile to Jupiter because Jupiter doesn’t harm it. And then additionally, it wants to avoid adding 12° because it would place Mercury opposite to Venus’ exaltation degree just like it was trying to avoid putting Mars’ exaltation degree exactly opposite to Jupiter as well.
BD: So, we can leave Mercury where he is.
CB: Right. So, Jupiter’s at 15, Mercury’s at 15, and then we proceed forward, then it goes to Saturn. And let me share this again so it’s on the screen. So, with Saturn again, it starts off at 15° of Libra in the very middle of the sign according to the rationale and the starting point for all of this. But it says that Saturn at 15 Libra is exactly square to Jupiter at 15 Cancer and this would be harmful towards what Saturn wants to signify or towards its basic quality. So, it’s going to do the addition subtraction thing. But what’s interesting here is it says because this is not a harmful ray or harmful aspect that’s coming from opposition, it’s just a square aspect which is half of an opposition, then we should have the normal 12° range into 6°. So, what it ends up doing is it then adds 6° to Saturn’s initial placement of 15 Libra and that brings it to the 21st degree of Libra for Saturn’s exaltation.
BD: Yeah, 21° which would be 20 Libra. But according to my calculation, it’s 21 Libra. I think that’s what I came up with.
CB: Based on right ascension?
BD: Yeah, 21 Libra.
CB: Okay. And part of the arguments that again says we can’t subtract 6° because we did that, it would be on the declining or the wrong side of the angle of the IC which is at 17° of Libra, but instead if we add 6°, it puts it in the angular side of the degree where it’s rising up to that exact degree of the angle and therefore becoming more active dynamically. And the text also notes at this point that it is not hit by an exact square or an opposition from the Sun since the Sun is exalted at 18°-19° of Aries. Okay. So, that’s Saturn, then it moves to the Moon, the Moon we’ve already explained because it’s rising relative to the Sun and coming out from under the beams. At this point, it does do one thing that’s strange that had us scratching our head a little bit is it introduces the exaltations of the nodes and it actually gives an explanation for the exaltation of the north node in Gemini and the south node in Sagittarius which is something that’s known and became common in the medieval astrological tradition that seems to have been inherited from the earlier Persian tradition, but which we don’t have references for in the surviving Hellenistic texts.
BD: And yeah, which makes you wonder how much of this was originally just Greek, how much of it might have been added on to because of this Persian exaltation of the nodes. But what’s interesting is that what he says is that if you put the head or north node at 2 Gemini, if you put it and make it be exalted at 2 Gemini, this fulfills a couple of things. First, it will be a sign away from the Moon because you can’t have two exaltations in the same sign. But also, when the head is at 2 Gemini and the Moon is at 2 Taurus, she actually is exactly as far south and latitude as he said the Moon was when she emerges from out of the rays of the Sun. So, it actually is true.
CB: The math on that actually checks out?
BD: The math on that checks out. So, that means that he or this later Persian author or whoever can make the if you want to exalt the nodes which is more of an Indian and Persian thing, you could put the head exalted in 2 Gemini and the tail at 2 Sagittarius.
CB: Okay. Yeah. So, it explains then that tradition of where that came from and it shows there was an astronomical basis of it that was like an extension of whatever the previous tradition was.
BD: And also, if we could say the head being exalted in Gemini, that’s a place of increase. Because she’s coming from southern latitude into northern latitude which is a principle of increase and Gemini is a sign that is increasing in light.
CB: Okay, because it’s in the spring right up to the summer solstice.
BD: Right. And Sagittarius is the opposite of all of that if the tail is there to 2 Sagittarius.
CB: So, does that mean then it would give the nodes it would give us a basis for the later associations of increase and decrease with the north and south node? Which I guess are already there because when the Moon passes those points in space, it’s already moving upwards or moving downwards, right? So, they already have inherent qualities like this but this adds to an additional echo of the same principle.
BD: Right, especially since, again, the Moon is at exactly the right latitude that he says she has to be. If that’s true, she’s at exactly the latitude she has to be in order to appear from the Sun and get out from the Sun’s rays.
CB: Yeah. So, this brings up an issue in terms of a textual and historical issue when we’re still trying to figure out how far back does this text or this Hermes text that Abu Ma’shar is drawing on, how far back does it go? And so here we have a question of does this mean that this is an indication that this is from a later tradition where the nodes had been introduced into this scheme? Because up till now, we’ve not seen any Hellenistic and Greek sources that talk about this exalting the north and south node, or does it mean that that concept goes back to earlier in the Hellenistic tradition than was thought previously, or does it just mean that this got inserted into whatever Abu Ma’shar is drawing on at some point even though the core of this explanation of the exaltations is from earlier Greek sources, or an earlier Greek tradition, or what have you? There’s a lot of different scenarios, I guess. Okay, so we can leave that to other people and that’s something we can continue to think about but it’s something you’ll have to keep in mind in terms of dating this if anybody wants to try to date it from a historical standpoint.
BD: But it’s also the only time I’ve ever heard anyone talk about this and explain it.
CB: Yeah, like where the exaltation of the nodes come from? Well, in a scene, it could go either way because this could be something that was there originally or it could be just somebody understood and inherited the earlier tradition and this rationale that’s embedded in this Greek text and then they just extended it and said, “Well, if you were to then apply the same concept to the nodes, what would you end up with?” And in that way, it reminds me of how in the 18th and 19th century, astrologers still understood how the traditional planets were assigned to the signs through the Thema Mundi which starts with Cancer, and then Leo, and then Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, where you get Saturn and then they basically just extended the logic basically and said, well, if another planet is discovered, then it must be assigned to Aquarius and if a planet is discovered after that, it must be assigned to Pisces because those are the next two open signs. You could have a similar thing there with this being somebody else extending the logic to the nodes or what have you. We don’t really know.
Okay. So, at this point, it’s done explaining the exaltation degrees, you end up with this just like I have it in the diagram here, all the planets in their exaltation degrees there as they’ve been in the tradition for basically 2000 years now not just in the in the West, but also in the Indian tradition, these got passed off into that tradition as well evidently. And then at this point, the text just starts summarizing some of its points and it also adds a few additional proofs. So, it makes that point that I said earlier that the degrees of the exaltation of the superior planets fall in angular houses which is true. The superior planets are Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn which are all in angular houses in addition to the Sun which is the boundary point between the superior and inferior planets, but that gets assigned to an angular house as well. And then it says that the degrees of exaltation of the inferior planets are also in positions that are suited to them which is a little ambiguous about what that means, but it’s referring to Mercury and Venus which are both assigned to cadent houses basically in the Thema Mundi but they’re in this stuff.
BD: But their natures are harmonizing with their signs which is how we explained it.
CB: Oh, due to the qualities of wet versus dry? Okay, so that’s what it’s referring to there, got it. After that, it says that when planets are in these degrees, their nature is revealed to the greatest extent and says the degrees of the benefics always come before the degrees of the malefics. And this is because the beginnings of generation belong to the benefics whereas corruption which is malefic follows afterwards and follows then. And then finally, it just reiterates or explains Mars and Venus again from a different perspective for some not really clear reason probably due to the earlier issue with having to move Venus and Mars which was the only part of this scheme where the explanation seemed a little bit inconsistent or sketchy. Do you understand this later explanation it gives at the end of the text? I’m not sure if it’s just reiterating it or if it’s trying to introduce a different perspective. Do you want to? Or we could share it, like read through it if you want?
BD: I’m not sure anything is gained from it. I’m not sure anything is gained from it. It’s not different enough to… I don’t think we should take the time. But again, it shows you that this third point about again the degrees of the fortune come to come to be before the degrees of the infortune. Again, it’s the thing he started out with was beginnings, comminutions, maturing and decline. And so, we see these same themes woven throughout a lot of these explanations.
CB: Yeah, so it’s just the idea that it’s trying to proceed from philosophical first principles that it’s establishing, first and foremost, purely philosophically and then it’s trying to proceed from that to generate technical concepts that then get used in astrology or in divination from a technical standpoint.
BD: And by the way, the reason for moving the chart to the Equator is because remember, he’s got the Sun principle of light, he’s got the midheaven so that’s the local Meridian because that’s the middle of the day. But day is created by the rotation on the axis which moves the heavens along the Equator. So, by measuring where things fall on the Equator and calculating the chart at the Earth’s equator, we are lining up all of these principles of increase and light together.
CB: Right. Yeah, I mean, that’s brilliant. It shows how whoever came up with this was trying to create this universal system and it had some underlying astronomical rationales to it. It wasn’t just purely abstract or purely mythological, necessarily.
BD: Well, it’s physics. It’s physics in the ancient sense which is how the natures of things transform and change and grow and increase and generation and corruption is the phrase.
CB: Right. So, this text, obviously, it introduces a lot of new information and there’s a lot of new stuff here that’s not present in other texts and wasn’t present in the Hellenistic tradition. And of course, one of the issues with the Hellenistic tradition is that we see traces of an authors like Valens and Firmicus is that they seem to have been drawing on this earlier Hermetic tradition that was partially shrouded in secrecy and partially shrouded in very cryptic writings that many of these authors are constantly complaining about which seems to imply that some of it was part of a mystery tradition or a hidden tradition of some sort so that Valens and Firmicus both for example make the reader swear an oath to keep the teachings secret and not share them with the unlearned or the uninitiated. So, there’s this whole other element to this in terms of so if this is such an important text, this Hermes text, why didn’t it survive and why do we only have this one report of it from Abu Ma’shar rather than having like tons of different Greek texts of it lying around? And perhaps that’s part of the reason in terms of it not being freely available or passed along everywhere. And who knows how it survived and found its way into Abu Ma’shar’s hands?
All right. So, taken together with everything else, this text presents some new things obviously and things that people are going to have to talk about and work out and there may be additional things. I think you have to combine them though together with some of the other discoveries that have already been made including the other discoveries that we made in talking about the joys and the Thema Mundi which I know we explained some of those points, but there were just a few others that maybe we didn’t. Are there any like major ones? I mean, one of them is just that the Thema Mundi itself acts as a paradigm for the assignment of the planets to their domiciles. And this will probably be a separate discussion at some point itself, but the Hermes text when Abu Ma’shar is drawing on it and explaining it has an interesting explanation of the domiciles and why each planet was assigned to two signs and everything else. But it creates this symmetrical scheme where you divide the zodiac in half between the Cancer-Leo axis and then assign each of the planets to two signs basically, right?
BD: Yeah. And as many people already know, there’s an association. But if you look at how the planets are configured to the luminaries, you’ll find out that the correct planet is associated with the correct aspect to the luminaries when they are in these signs.
CB: Right. So, the Sun and Moon are both configured to Venus and its domiciles by sextile. They’re configured to Mars by square, they’re configured to Jupiter by trine and they’re configured to Saturn by opposition.
BD: Which underscores this idea that we’ve already seen that a square is about half as bad as an opposition just as Mars is a lesser malefic than Saturn, and that’s built into the Thema Mundi. And we could also say that a trine is half as strong as a sextile, sorry, a sextile is half as strong as a trine just as Venus who’s configured by a trine is less benefic than Jupiter and so on.
CB: It was configured by a trine. That’s interesting and I wonder then if that also provides a secondary overlapping thing with our earlier observation from Porphyry about Jupiter is one of the daytime planets being configured when it’s in its exaltation to its domicile Pisces by trine and Venus when it’s in its exaltation and Pisces is configured to Taurus by sextile. So anyway, so we have that. So, the aspects then get integrated in their natures into the domiciles scheme. We have the concept of good and bad houses which is based on the notion that any of the houses configured to the rising sign are seen as positive and supportive of the native whereas any of the houses that are not configured are not seen as supportive. So, the ones not configured are like the 2nd, 8th, or 2nd, 6th, 8th and 12th. And of course, the 6th is traditionally like illness, the 8th is death and the 12th is loss and other not positive things. So, when that gets applied as we can see now that they’re clearly applying the exaltations to the Thema Mundi, then it brings in this other observation that all of the exaltation signs when applied to the Thema Mundi end up being in one of the positive houses and none of them are in any of the negative houses which even though this text doesn’t fully explain that I think is implied here or is something that could have been taken into account.
BD: And the three most benefic planets are in the three most, the best and excellent houses. Jupiter, Sun and Moon in the Ascendant 10th and 11th.
CB: Right. And I mean even Venus in the 9th the one is 9th is one of the most positive houses because it has the superior trine to the Ascendant even though it’s otherwise a cadent house. All right. And then with the planetary joys scheme where you and I had discovered a bunch of stuff like the configurations to the planets, there was a bunch of things that we didn’t go into that’s explained there which is that it turns out that the planets when they’re in their joys are actually the triplicity rulers that are grouped around the angular triads. So that part was originally Schmidt’s observation and that was the starting point that we started from that, for example, the Sun and Jupiter are assigned to the angular triad of the 9th, 10th, and 11th and those are the two planets that rule over the fire triplicity. Saturn and Mercury are assigned to the 12th and first which are the two planets the ruler of the air triplicity. The Moon and Venus over are assigned to the 3rd and 5th which is the Earth triplicity. And then Mars is assigned to the final angular triad which is the 6th and that gets assigned to the water triplicity.
So, I don’t know if Schmidt ever took it this far, but one of the early observations that we made was that this actually sets up a paradigm where the elements are assigned to each of the angular triads so that fire is at the very top associated with the midheaven, air is associated with the angular triad around the Ascendant, water by the Descendant and moving downwards, and then Earth at the very bottom associated with the IC and the angular triad that encompasses the 3rd, 4th and 5th houses. So that creates the Aristotle’s concept of natural place where you have fire on top of air on top of water on top of Earth. And then we noticed at that point that that also explains the sequence of the angular of the triplicity rulers. I’m trying to remember who first observed that, but basically, you start with the cadent house and then you move forward. And if you do that, it explains why the Sun is the first triplicity ruler of fire and Jupiter is second, why Saturn is the first triplicity ruler of air and Mercury is the second, why the Moon is the first of Earth and why Venus is second and so on and so forth.
What else? You actually made this observation because I remember the day that you were talking about it, but you pointed out how in the joys scheme, it depicts like this gradual process of the planets becoming more like their respective sect. So, it starts at the height with the luminaries being at, the Sun being at the 9th house and the Moon being at the 3rd house and then it decreases in the sect of the planets first starting with the benefics like Jupiter in the 11th or Venus in the 5th and then finally going to the malefic which is Saturn in the 12th or Mars in the 6th.
BD: Yeah, which is the least like the sect and you could and if you think of the sequence of luminary benefic malefic, you could say there’s a principle of life and then increase and decrease. There’s lots of things you can do with it. But it gives a natural order for the planets as they’re normally listed by sect, Sun, Jupiter, Saturn, Moon, Venus, Mars.
CB: Right, which is just brilliant and is very clean and it explains an ambiguity and an issue that Ptolemy had when he was trying to explain sect in his own rationale where he was like, well, Saturn is assigned to the daytime sect because that tempers its nature or Mars is assigned to the nighttime sect because that temper is its nature. But the problem with Ptolemy’s explanation was that it didn’t explain why those two planets should be inherently assigned to those sects. It just explained how they could be said to function better from an interpretive standpoint. But this actually shows in your observation about this, I think demonstrates the actual rationale which is that Saturn is firmly in the top hemisphere of the joys and therefore it’s in the diurnal side of the diagram and Mars is firmly on the bottom half in the nocturnal side of the diagram, but they both switch sides very recently. So, in terms of being in the respective sects, they’re the planet that has changed sides and therefore they still perhaps are shaking off some of the opposite qualities from having switched horizons the most recently relative to their respective sect teams.
So, the issue we finally come down to ultimately with all of this is, how much of this goes back to like a single source is one of the questions that we have right now from a historical standpoint because one of the problems is that the Thema Mundi is explicitly I think attributed to Hermes and there’s good reason to think that the joys might also be derived from the Hermes text early on, or that there was a Hermes text that also introduced the joys. The problem that we get here is that we know that the exaltations were also introduced really early on in the tradition and they seem to have probably been derived partially from the Thema Mundi. So, then the question becomes, did the same author or group actually come up with all three of those concepts which are the Thema Mundi, the joys, and the exaltations? Because if they did then, well, it doesn’t mean that the entirety of Western astrology or Hellenistic astrology was invented by one person, it does mean that a lot of major concepts were or that there was a core group of concepts that were introduced around the same time as part of this broader technical construct.
So yeah, I think that’s the discovery is that this is the first time that anybody’s found the solid rationale for the exaltations and that, as you said, most of the math checks out. So, in terms of the conclusions that we’re drawing from that, I’m a little bit more over the top that this is it, that we’ve discovered the rationale for the exaltations after 2000 years and everything’s falling into place. This is a little bit more recent for you because I’ve been sitting on it since last summer and I was waiting for somebody else to tell me if the math checks out which you just resisted for me last week. So, I’ve been thinking this was that for a while but not sure and your confirmation pushed it over the edge for me. This is a little bit newer for you and you’re still a little bit more tentative about whether we can say that this is definitely the rationale for the exaltations, right?
BD: Yeah, the way my approach to this now is it is an important contribution as the German say, [Ben laughs] so I’m trying to hold back a little bit, but it’s most reasonable explanation with the most primitive and sensible kinds of principles that are applied again and again for each of these planets. Foundational, yeah, light and darkness. Yeah, light and darkness and just like with aversion you put geometry together with ideas of light and darkness and you get the idea of configurations and aversion. And that helps you understand what the meanings of those four bad houses are. So, you start with a few principles and you start applying them pretty consistently and you get something that harmonizes with these other charts or these mandalas as we’ve been saying. So, I am excited, I think it’s great, but I’m trying to hold myself back and it’s still a little bit new for me, too.
CB: Okay. Well, we’ll see. I want to check in with you again in like a few months or maybe a year or two and see if you are sold yet. [Ben laughs] I’m like 95% sold on this, but I’m curious now that we’re putting this out there and one of the reasons, I wanted to put it out there as soon as we are is just like I did what we discovered the joys that I’d like to see if there’s anybody else that has any other observations or things that we didn’t notice or that aren’t in the text that helped to further explain other pieces of this or could provide an additional perspective. And this is part of the overall effort to recover ancient astrology which is still something that’s very new having only taken place in the past 30 years and there’s still pieces of it like this that are being discovered from time to time and that’s one of the things that makes it exciting. Because all of a sudden, these concepts that astrologers have just taken for granted for centuries and used as technical concepts, we’re actually sometimes occasionally stumbling across the rationales for these concepts by dusting off some of these ancient texts and by people like yourself actually going back and learning those languages and then translating them.
BD: Well, and my translation will probably be out in a few months of the whole Great Introduction, but it just surprises me that I mean, Abu Ma’shar wrote this in Arabic in the 800s. It’s always been there. This chapter has always been in there for over 1000 years. It was translated into Latin in the Middle Ages. It’s been there for 800 or 900 years and no one has picked up on this and tried to work it out. Even Burnett and Yamamoto didn’t try to work out the calculations to see if any of it made sense. So, it’s been sitting here for 1000 years and [Ben laughs] yeah, this could be the answer and we’re finding out now.
CB: I mean, isn’t that so much the case with so much of this stuff though? I mean, there’s so many other concepts that are in Valens or even in Ptolemy or Dorotheus or other things that we’ve been finding that provide rationales for things that have just been sitting there waiting for somebody to care about it and read these texts and then put the effort into trying to understand them. It’s just that it’s just now that people have been starting to do that over the past couple of decades.
BD: Well, I think what’s made a big difference is partly too that astrologers are getting interested in it. Because for the historians, this is not necessarily interesting or it’s not naturally interesting. It’s not the thing that a historian, a career historian would normally try to figure out and try to connect all together. It might be enough just to translate a famous text and put it out, but to try to figure out how all the pieces work together, you need a level of curiosity that astrologers have. So, I can’t explain why no one before us has bothered to try to work it out [Ben laughs] among the astrologers, but here we are.
CB: Yeah. Well, I think that, yeah, it is exciting. It’s really exciting times and I hope that it does have some effect on scholarship because I think it should affect now debates about things like the exaltations, I think now this cracks open an even wider, there was already an issue there about was the academic assumption over the past century that the Greek exaltations were the same as the Mesopotamian secret places which there’s already an issue with because in the Babylonian horoscopes, when they say secret places, it often doesn’t line up with the Greek exaltations. But the scholars were often just unsure why that was, but they still maintained the assumption that the exaltations came from the Mesopotamian tradition. I think this further cracks wide open that case and really deserves the attention then of scholars to put some serious thought into this and see if that was not a conclusion that needs to be revised. But it also brings in other broader debates that have been happening both in the academic and astrological communities recently about, was Hellenistic astrology, did part of it represent a sudden invention? Because here now we have another piece of it that seems to be based on a conceptual model that’s integrated with other pieces of the system in this very oddly clean way and it really raises some questions about if somebody is arguing against it being a sudden invention, then how do you explain all of this and what that means for some of those things?
All right. Well, thank you for helping me to unravel this. It’s been a really exciting week going over this with you and I’m glad. Thanks for sitting through this like two-and-a-half-hour discussion so we could present it to everybody. I’m really excited to see your translation of Abu Ma’shar because it’s always unique comparing your translations to the other ones. And also, the work that you’ve been doing makes some of these translations so much more accessible by having extensive commentary and footnotes. And even though you didn’t show a lot of your chapter, you’ve got like tons of footnotes and explanatory comments throughout this chapter like explaining what Abu Ma’shar is talking about and helping walk through people through the process basically, right?
BD: Yeah. And well, thank you too for bugging me about this and making sure that I paid close attention to it.
CB: Yeah, I’ve been nudging you a little bit because I freaked out last summer when I first discovered this because I was like, “Oh my god, this is the origin of the rationality exaltations.” And I’ve been bugging you since then. But I’m glad that you like slowed us down and said, “Wait, let me just translate the chapter first. It’s going to take a little while, but it’s going to be worth it.” And I think that was worth it because then you’re able to go through the language of the actual Arabic carefully.
BD: There are things that I would not have known if I had just relied on Burnett and Yamamoto. I had to go through the Arabic myself.
CB: Okay. And there’s other pieces in the Hermes texts that are scattered throughout the rest of Abu Ma’shar and I look forward to seeing your analysis of that because there’s also some interesting stuff in the domiciles chapter that we didn’t even get into here that has to do with the origins of the lots and the role that they play in the system as a whole. So yeah, that’ll be great and it’ll also be more accessible because one of the things where even though I love that they publish this and I have a great amount of respect for Burnett and Yamamoto for publishing this translation of Abu Ma’shar, it’s really expensive and it’s really therefore inaccessible. And I’m sure, even though your book because it’s going to be like a thick chunk of paper of at least like 800 pages or something like that, it’s still going to be much more accessible as a paperback to astrologers than some of these academic publications are.
BD: Well, I won’t do facing pages of Arabic and English, so it’ll be half the size of theirs. Approximately.
CB: Okay. Awesome. Cool. Well, I look forward to that and people can probably sign up for your mailing list at bendykes.com just if they want to get a notification as soon as it’s out, I’m sure, right?
BD: Yep, they’ll get a notification. I’ll also do it on Facebook too.
CB: Cool, okay. So, they can follow you on Facebook website bendykes.com. I did see an announcement recently since your last appearance in the podcast where you’re getting ready to launch a course on traditional astrology, right?
BD: Yep, traditional natal astrology course. It’s going to be A to Z, suitable both for people who have some experience in traditional but also total newbies and hopefully, people who are beginners to astrology. So, I will start sometime soon picking a group of beta testers to start going through it before the official release.
CB: Brilliant. But hopefully, we might see the launch of that by the end of the year.
BD: Yeah, I think I’m going to. The course is going to be in three parts. So, people can buy it part by part which means I can then release it in parts instead of all at once. So, I can start releasing it as the beta testers move through it.
CB: Okay, and that’s part of the reason why you wanted to translate Abu Ma’shar over the past year because you’re going to use large excerpts from that text and other actual medieval texts as part of the reading material that people get. Cool. Okay, awesome. Well, people can find out more information about that at bendykes.com or sign up for your mailing list or your Facebook just to follow and get notifications. All right, thanks a lot for joining me for this today.
BD: Thanks for having me. It was fun as usual.
CB: Awesome. And thanks, as usual and hopefully, we’ll be back again once your translation of Abu Ma’shar comes out. We’ll talk about talking about it more. All right. Thanks everybody for listening to this episode of The Astrology Podcast. Thanks to all the patrons for supporting our work here and we’ll see you again next time. Thanks to the patrons who helped to support the production of this episode of The Astrology Podcast through our page on patreon.com. In particular, shout out to the Patreon’s Christine Stone, Nate Kredich, Marin Altman, Arena Tutor, Thomas Miller, Christina Caudill, and Bear River as well as the Astro Gold astrology app available at astrogold.io, the Portland School of Astrology at portlandastrology.org and the Honeycomb Collective personal astrological almanacs available at honeycomb.co. The production of this episode of the podcast is also supported by the International Society for Astrological Research which is hosting a major astrology conference in Denver, Colorado, September 10th through the 14th, 2020. More information about that, isar2020.org. And finally, also, Solar Fire astrology software which is available at alabe.com and you can use the promo code AP15 for a 15% discount on that software.
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