The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 304, titled:
How to Read an Ephemeris
With Chris Brennan and guest Patrick Watson
Episode originally released on May 20, 2021
Note: This is a transcript of a spoken word podcast. If possible, we encourage you to listen to the audio or video version, since they include inflections that may not translate well when written out. Our transcripts are created by human transcribers, and the text may contain errors and differences from the spoken audio. If you find any errors then please send them to us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released February 2, 2022
Copyright © 2022 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
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 Patrick Watson about how to use an ephemeris and some different tips and tricks for using one. Hey, Patrick, welcome back to the show.
PATRICK WATSON: Hi, thank you so much for having. I’m honored.
CB: You were a frequent early guest. It’s been a while. It’s been like a year or two since your last appearance, right?
PW: Yeah, yeah, it has been a while.
CB: You’ve been busy doing 20 or 30 consultations a week or something crazy like that?
PW: No, not quite as many. But yeah, I’ve definitely been busy and struggling to grow a beard. So yeah, that’s about the extent of my accomplishments in that time.
CB: Nice, I like it. It looks very rugged. All right, so let me get the date in. So today is Sunday, May 16, 2021, starting at 2:32 PM in Denver, Colorado, and this should be the 304th episode of the show. So as I said in this episode, we’re going to be talking about the ephemeris. And let me show a picture of a page from one, just to give people an idea of what we’re talking about.
An ephemeris—to define our topic—is a table of planetary positions, or like a book of planetary positions that’s arranged so you can quickly look up the positions of the planets during different points in time. And most commonly it comes in the form of a book, but you can also download a PDF ephemeris or other things like that. Does that define things correctly? Or how do you define an ephemeris when somebody mentions it?
PW: You know, I think a certainly more, I guess, profound way that I’ve heard an ephemeris described was by a common link, Nick Dagan Best, who’s also known as the ‘Human Ephemeris’. He describes the ephemeris as his favorite book and that it contains the story of every person who’s lived for that period of time, and it contains every event that has happened in that period of time. And so, it’s a book of all the stories of every soul and every event that’s occurred, which I think is kind of profound when you think about it like that. It’s a book of time and everything that happened within it.
CB: Right, because if a birth chart is just two-dimensional diagram that lists the positions of the planets on the date and time that a person was born, those positions are calculated based on an ephemeris which calculates the positions of the planets, where they were on different dates in different years in different eras. So basically all of those birth positions are in there, as well as all of those transits that either have occurred in the past or will occur in the future.
PW: Yeah, I like to think of it as a book of days, a book of months, a book of years, a book of time.
CB: Definitely. So here’s a little video—for those watching the video version—of just sort of visually what you mean by that. Because you can literally pick up the ephemeris and flip through it and look at the positions of the planets on different days and different months and different years pretty easily, so it’s a little handy thing to have.
All right, so let’s go to our outline here. So the term is ‘ephemeris’. Sometimes there’s different questions about how to pronounce it, especially like the plural. But I think we were talking about it and our working pronunciation is ‘ephemeris’ and the plural is ‘ephemerides’. Although I’ve also heard ‘ephemerides’, but I don’t think that’s the correct pronunciation. How do you pronounce it?
PW: I pronounce it ‘ephemeris’, and then I’ve been tending towards ‘ephemerides’, but I’ve also in my mind kind of said it as ‘ephemerides’. What was the alternate pronunciation that you’ve heard of ephemeris?
CB: I mean, there’s many because astrology is something that’s learned in book form; it’s often an isolating profession. You were just joking before this how I mispronounced—and you also evidently mispronounced—the asteroid Chiron, and I called it ‘Ki-ron’. And so, the first time I actually met an actual astrologer was like two or three years into my studies, and he very quickly set me straight and said, “It’s pronounced ‘Chiron’, not ‘Che-ron’.”
PW: So the alternate pronunciation I think you said was ‘ephemeris’.
PW: Putting the stress on the ‘me’. ‘Ephemeris’.
CB: A friend of mine, a younger astrologer—who I’m not going to name—often pronounces it something like that, like ephemeris or something like that, but I don’t have the heart to break it to him.
PW: Well, I don’t think there’s anyone out there putting the stress on the last syllable ‘ephemeris’. But yeah, I think ephemeris—with the stress on the ‘phe’—seems to be the most common way of saying it.
CB: Right. So it comes from a Greek term we were just looking up that means ‘pertaining to day’ or something like that.
PW: If you think of the word ‘ephemeral’, that means something which is sort of momentary or fleeting. So that’s kind of interesting to see it pop up in the English language in a slightly different way.
CB: Right. So there’s many different types of ephemeris—because if it’s just a listing of data of planetary positions, there’s many different ways you could look at that. But the most common one for our purposes, for astrologers, is a listing of the longitudes of the planets, which is another way of saying what sign of the zodiac and what degree of each sign of the zodiac each of the planets is placed in for each day of a given year basically, right?
CB: And there’s a version of that—there’s a free version, there’s many different versions of the ephemeris. But there’s a free version that you can get online, which is the most common one that people use—let me know if you can see this—the ephemeris from Astro.com.
If you go to Astro.com, then their ‘All About Astrology’ tab, they have a whole ephemeris section. And if you click the ‘9,000 Years Ephemeris’, it’ll pull up this page that lists all the different free PDF ephemerises that they provide.
If you scroll down to the ‘21st Century’ and then scroll down to the one we’re going to be using this year—which is the one for 2021—it’ll pull up a PDF that’ll give you an ephemeris for all 12 months of this year, and you can look at individual days within this.
So today is, what, the 16th of May. So we can pull that up—Sunday, 16th—right here and it tells us all of the planetary positions. So that might be a good starting point maybe, just breaking this down. Are you seeing this clearly on your screen?
PW: Yeah. Yeah, I am.
CB: Okay. So—go ahead.
PW: So I imagine the first thing that you would need to do if you want to understand what this says is you would need to be able to recognize the glyphs or the signs and the planets.
CB: Right, prerequisites.
PW: The planetary glyphs are located at the very top of each month, so you can tell what planet you’re looking at. And the zodiac symbol is usually written for when the planet first ingresses into that sign, so it won’t be present on every single day.
But you can see, for example, if you look at the very top of the Mercury column, the Taurus symbol is there showing it’s at 24°8’ of Taurus. And then you can see on May 5, it entered Gemini, so you see the Gemini symbol there. So that sort of tells you where in the zodiac the planet is on that date very simply.
CB: Yeah, so you’ve got to know the symbols for the planets, you’ve got to know the symbols for the signs of the zodiac. But reading an ephemeris or learning how to read an ephemeris can actually be a good way to kind of learn the symbols for the signs and the planets because this is where that information becomes really useful and really handy to know.
PW: Yeah, I mean, there’s a few other things that you’ll want to keep track of as well. For the most part, you can assume when you’re looking at a given planetary column that the planet is direct, unless you see the letter ‘R’ indicated next to the number.
So this is tricky in the Swiss Ephemeris. It’s a little more helpful in some other versions of the ephemeris where it’s shaded when a planet is retrograde, but otherwise, you kind of have to make sure that all of the planets which can go retrograde—which are essentially all of them except for the Sun and Moon—that a planet is direct versus retrograde.
So for example, in the Mercury column, again, you can see that there is an ‘R’ next to the glyph on May 30. And so, that means that Mercury has reached its retrograde station where it begins moving in the contrary motion through the zodiac. And then if you were to scroll down, you could see it has ‘D’ next to it, which would indicate that it would be on the 23rd that Mercury would station direct.
CB: Right. So let’s back up a little bit…
PW: Yeah, I was getting a little into it, sorry.
CB: …on the planetary phenomenon. And just for basic orientation, you mentioned the planets are listed in the top column. Sort of horizontally, on the far left, we have the days listed. It lists the day of the week—Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday—which interestingly and consequently is also connected to astrology, since the seven days of the week are connected with the seven traditional planets, right?
CB: And that’s not as clear in English, which is a little annoying, but it’s a little clearer in some other languages, like French, I think.
PW: Yeah, like ‘Mardi’. ‘Mardi’ is ‘Mars Day’ for Tuesday in French. And then I think Wednesday is like “Mercredi’, which sounds more like Mercury. So yeah, it is a little more straightforward in some of these other languages.
CB: Yeah. So we have the day of the week and then we have the day, and that’s how you can locate what day you’re trying to look up, just looking up the date. So we know today is Sunday, the 16th, so we just look up Sunday, the 16th here in the left column, and we’ve identified what day to look at. The next column lists sidereal time. What is that used for?
PW: That’s a really good question.
PW: I don’t pay attention to it. I’m usually only paying attention to the tropical longitude of the planets indicated by the degrees and minutes.
CB: Yeah, we’ll skip that one. The next column is the Sun column. It tells us that at the start of the day—at midnight—the Sun started out the day of Sunday, the 16th of May, at 25°21’35” of the sign that is listed first at the top of the column, which is Taurus. So it’s still in the sign of Taurus, but it’s halfway through the third decan of Taurus at 25°.
So that brings up one point right away, which is this ephemeris, which is what’s called the Swiss Ephemeris or the Astrodienst Ephemeris for 2021—it’s for the tropical zodiac, programmed by Dieter Koch and Alois Treindl based on the Swiss Ephemeris—is set for midnight, I believe; for 12 o’clock midnight Universal Time, which is like Greenwich Time.
And there’s different ephemerises that can start at different times. There’s basically usually two choices. There’s usually a midnight one—one that starts at midnight—and then there’s one that starts at noon also in a version of The American Ephemeris, which is like the print ephemeris that we use most commonly and that we’ll switch to here in a minute.
So that’s one of the most common questions that people have, is just what ephemeris to use—whether you should get the ‘midnight’ version or the ‘noon’ version. Let me show a picture of that, if I have one. So which one do you use?
PW: I mean, I’m not always looking in the ephemeris anymore because I use software to just find where the planets are on a given date. But if I were to pick my ephemeris, I would probably pick the one for ‘noon’ time, especially if I happen to be living closer to Greenwich Mean Time. Because then the actual degree and even minute positions could potentially be more relevant because you’re more likely to be awake in the middle of the day than late at night in terms of just practical use.
Now if you were using an ephemeris for calculating a chart by hand, then I guess it doesn’t matter so much which one you use as long as you are aware of what point of the day you’re calculating from. Perhaps it would be easier in some ways mathematically to use one that begins from midnight for calculating a chart by hand, because then you could basically just use 24-hour time to be sure of how many hours you’re adding on to midnight basically.
CB: One of the things I forgot to look up is The American Ephemeris—I’m showing a picture of different versions of that right now. But is The American Ephemeris—there’s the midnight version—set for midnight Greenwich Time or is it set for New York or something?
PW: It would probably say so somewhere on the cover or on the inside. I imagine if it’s being published in America for American readers that it might be using Eastern Time or something like that.
CB: Yeah, you would think so, but I’m not sure if that’s true. So let’s talk about really quickly—let’s digress about the different versions of the ephemeris or different types. So there’s the Astrodienst one—which is what we were showing—which is free and you can download as a PDF and you can even print it out; which is super useful for getting a handy ephemeris on the cheap.
If you want to get a print version—most astrologers I do know eventually do get a print version. And pretty much everybody I know in the US uses The American Ephemeris because it’s the one that’s been around the longest and it’s the most widely-available.
I pulled this off my shelf—I found this yesterday—my first ephemeris, which as Kelly Surtees would say, “has been very well-loved” and is basically falling apart just through use. That’s one of the downsides of the ephemeris—they tend to be kind of flimsy and they tend to fall apart pretty easily through just frequent use. That’s one common complaint I’ve heard a lot.
PW: Yeah. Well, I mean, that’s why I kind of moved away from using my old ephemeris. I don’t even know if I still have my old ephemeris. I’ve just become so used to using Solar Fire or other digital resources to get to it.
CB: Yeah, I mean, maybe we should mention that. So it used to be that an ephemeris was really crucial. Because when people used to calculate charts by hand—like 30 or 40 years ago—an ephemeris was one of the things that you needed in order to calculate a chart by hand because it would tell you the positions of the planets on any given day of the year.
And there’s an ephemeris that you used to have to get to calculate this, which was The American Ephemeris for the 20th Century, which lists all planetary positions from the year 1900 to the year 2000. So if somebody came and gave you their birth data—for example, me, I was born November 1, 1984—you’d have to whip that open and look up November 1, 1984 and figure out where the planets were, and it would tell you where the planets were at the start of the day.
And then what you end up doing is looking at where the planets are the day afterwards, and then based on the speed of the planets and how fast it’s moving, you can actually infer where it was at the exact hour and moment of the person’s birth just based on that because the planetary movements are so fixed and sort of regular or sort of reliable.
So the reliability is probably something worth mentioning here at the start. The planetary movements—we have them down so well in astronomy and mathematically that all of these books can be calculated just based on knowing where the planets have been in the past and what their trajectory is; you can sort of plot that out and know where they’re going to be in 50 years or 100 years. Or you could look back and you can calculate where they were a thousand years ago relatively accurately, right?
PW: Yeah, on Astro.com, they have the ephemeris up to 2199, and on Solar Fire, I mean, you can go past even the year 3000, maybe up to 4000. And I think one time I tried to see how far it went, and I think I got up to maybe around 4000-5000 AD.
But you can also see you can go backward in time, too. They also have these really big files at the top going back 5000 BCE. So the math is fairly precise that we can actually accurately calculate the positions of the planets for basically anytime you could really want to see.
CB: Right, which is cool to think about, just the fact that the planetary movements are so fixed. Because we’re talking about these huge bodies out there, and we’re talking about mathematical laws—that you can calculate them that reliably that far in the past or the future.
Now I’ve heard in passing that there is a certain point where if you go too far in the future or too far in the past, there are some gravitational things which can throw things off that they can’t fully account for. So I think some ephemeris-makers do warn if you’re going a certain distance out that it could start to become a little bit unreliable. But at least for relatively close distances within a century or a few centuries it’s pretty solid.
PW: Well, and I imagine a siderealist might also say that precession throws off the position of the tropical placements 1° every 72 years or something. But we’re using tropical astrology, which has its own consistent form of measurement.
CB: Yeah, that’s different, tropical versus sidereal zodiac, and both of those are still actually very fixed. If you calculate the planetary positions tropically that’s reliable for centuries, and if you calculate them sidereally that’s reliable; it’s just that they shift relative to each other.
PW: Yeah, that’s right.
CB: Yeah, so one of the things that’s funny about that of course—I meant to do an episode on this Sunday—is that because the planetary positions are so reliable, historians and archeologists have found birth charts from starting in the 4th and 5th century BCE in Mesopotamia, all the way through Greek birth charts and then Arabic birth charts.
In the Hellenistic and then the Roman and eventually the Medieval periods, you’ll find birth charts where astrologers calculated planetary positions for different things in a chart or in a table. And you can date some of those if you just get an ephemeris and then start looking up positions for when that person would have had to calculate that chart; you can kind of like back-form when that chart must have been calculated.
And hundreds or almost thousands at this point of horoscopes have been dated through that method, through using an ephemeris basically and looking up where the planetary positions were and then narrowing down when that birth chart was cast for.
PW: Historians can also date past historical events more precisely if there’s ever a mention of where a solar eclipse happened or something. You know, there have been several events which have been able to be kind of astronomically-verified or dated through the math of planetary motion.
CB: Right. And I originally actually got an ephemeris because I got into astrology through studying Nostradamus, and in some of his quatrains or predictions, he would date them by planetary positions supposedly and say when Mars is in Sagittarius, and Saturn is in Capricorn, and something else, this event will happen. And so, you can pull out an ephemeris and look and see what time periods that will take place in the future. So I kind of moved away from that, but interestingly one of the first astrology books was an ephemeris.
And I’m glad that I sort of stumbled into it through that way because being able to use an ephemeris is actually very useful, and it gives you a different access point for understanding the astronomy underlying these astrology, by getting a more intimate feel for the planetary motions and how the planets move and station retrograde and move into alignment with each other.
Or even using that to study transits to your own birth chart by sort of having memorized what signs of the zodiac and what degrees your own planetary placements are located in your birth chart, you can see by looking at the ephemeris when those will line up with certain placements in your chart.
PW: Yeah, I mean, that’s definitely the number one use I have for an ephemeris these days. Not just for myself, but also for clients, etc.
CB: Right. So that being said, in terms of the books, as you were saying, an ephemeris is basically what most astrology software programs are running off of. So on The Astrology Podcast, we commonly use the software program for Windows called Solar Fire, and we commonly use the ‘Animate Chart’ feature.
This is the chart of the moment that it’s calculating for right now, but you can change it and move it backwards or forwards in days, and it’ll just like automatically do the calculations on the fly and tell you where the planets will be, for example, on June 16, 2021 at 2:56 PM. It says the Moon will be at 9° of Virgo, the Sun will be at 25 Gemini, and Mercury will be at 17 Gemini.
So what it’s actually doing under the hood of this program is it actually has a version of the Astro.com ephemeris, where they’ve digitalized it and turned it into a program that computer software developers can integrate into their program. And Solar Fire is basically just looking up the ephemeris placements on the fly, in the background, and that’s what’s underlying this.
So even when you’re using an astrology software program, you’re kind of using an ephemeris, but you’re just using an ephemeris that’s looking up the positions exactly much quicker than you can flip through the book.
PW: And even calculating, yeah, for the exact time and place that you’re looking at. I mean, really, there’s never been a better time to be an astrologer in many ways in that respect—for being able to just instantly get the chart of any given moment, from any given place, just in a few clicks.
CB: Yeah, I always think about like if you could go back in time to the 2nd century, what you would show a 2nd century astrologer like Vettius Valens or Claudius Ptolemy. And I think that would be the coolest feature that would blow their socks, just animating the chart and showing how you can move forward and backwards or just calculate charts on the fly really quickly. Back then they had to sit down with an ephemeris—which would have been in a scroll on papyrus—and look up the planetary positions.
PW: You know, they’ll crank up the Antikythera mechanism.
CB: Right, the Antikythera mechanism—which I still need to do an episode on—which actually calculated planetary positions using a mechanical calculator. Another interesting thing actually I want to do an episode on, I’ve been researching a lot lately, is astrolabes, which may have been invented during the late Roman Empire or sometime during the Greco-Roman period, but became really popular in the Medieval period under the Arabic-speaking astrologers.
And I’ve been looking at astrolabes lately, and you can calculate a lot of things with them. So not only can you calculate the Ascendant degree relatively precisely, but you can calculate the Midheaven and all sorts of other things. I also saw recently that there’s some astrolabes that have a dial that’ll calculate house cusps for you.
And I actually have a working theory that I’ve been working on recently that the proliferation of astrolabes and the easy calculation of house cusps with them in the Medieval period may have been part of the reason for the shift away from whole sign houses because when astrology gets ‘re-inherited’ by the European astrologers from the 12th century onward, they inherited also this weird technology of astrolabes that can calculate cusps. And there may have been this presumption or this sort of premise that those are more important than calculating just houses by sign or something like that and that could have been why whole sign houses was lost.
PW: That’s interesting. That would make you wonder then about how the computer is changing—how astrological software is changing the way people practice astrology. Yeah, it makes sense. It would be like the way that all the tools you have at your disposal kind of affect the kind of astrology you can do.
CB: Oh, yeah, totally. And that happens a lot in terms of just the technology. And astrologers are often early adopters of new technology. So computer software for personal computers and stuff, some very early programs were written for astrology very early in the 1960s and ‘70s. Here’s a picture of some astrolabes just to show. And they have different dials that can calculate different things, which is just really cool.
PW: Yeah, pretty cool.
CB: Yeah, I’ll have to do another episode on that at some point for both astrolabes and the Antikythera mechanism, which is like a whole other topic. All right, so we talked about the Astro.com ephemeris, we talked about the Swiss Ephemeris, and the Swiss Ephemeris is also like a program that people can license.
And actually most astrology software programs and most astrology software apps license the Swiss Ephemeris from Astro.com, where they have two options. You can do a free version, where if you’re not charging for your program, they’ll let you use it for free under a certain license.
Or if you are going to try to make money off your program, I think you have to pay them like a few hundred dollars or something like that to purchase or license the Swiss Ephemeris, and then you can do whatever you want with it and build a program or an app. And I know most astrology software programs like Solar Fire or other things like that use the Swiss Ephemeris, and then also probably many software apps on phones and stuff at this point use it as well.
So there’s computerized ones, but there’s also print ephemeris. Like I said, most astrologers I know use The American Ephemeris because it’s the most widely-used in the US. In the UK, I know there’s some other ephermerises that are popular, like Raphael’s Ephemeris. I’m not sure if there’s any others. Are there any others that you can think of?
PW: No, not off the top of my head. The one that I used was always like my Mom’s copies, which were The American Ephemeris.
PW: So yeah, that was my first one. It was also well-loved.
PW: Well-loved. Sticky pages, you know, the whole bit.
CB: Right. So there’s The American Ephemeris; so it’s the 20th century. It used to be that there were basically two versions: there’s one for the year 2000 to the year 2050, which is basically The American Ephemeris for the 21st Century, and then there was the 20th century one, which is an entire hundred-year span from 1900 to 2000. So The American Ephemeris for the 20th Century, from 1900 to 2000.
More recently—maybe it was 5 or 10 years ago—they came out with a new version, which is probably the one that most people should get at this point, which is The American Ephemeris—they call it the Trans-Century Edition—and it’s from 1950 to 2050.
So that’s great because it actually covers both the present year—like 2021 that you’re going to be looking up—as well as the next 25-some-odd-years into the future. So you can look up planetary positions in the future—but also it covers most people that you’re going to be looking at—planetary positions in the past. Basically, it will cover anybody that’s born after 1950.
PW: I remember back in like 2003-2004 having to switch back and forth between a 20th century ephemeris and the 21st century because it ran out of years. When I was looking at things that happened in the past, I’d want to see things that were happening in the future or at the present moment. I remember I was still having to switch between the two, so I probably at that point would have really liked having a trans-century ephemeris.
CB: Yeah, honestly, that was really annoying in the past. You couldn’t just buy an ephemeris—you’d have to buy two different books in order to cover the time periods. Because of course I started studying astrology in like 1999 and 2000, so I was like right on the line of the annoying period where you kind of needed both.
CB: So yeah, a trans-century ephemeris. I have the ‘noon’ version. And let’s just quickly recap, so we can give people a strong recommendation. It’s hard because it’s really a point of preference. I do have the ‘noon’ version because I believe they are calculating it for Greenwich Time. I’ll actually look that up.
But the difference is just basically, do you want the start of the day to be at midnight, do you want it to give you planetary positions that start at midnight, or do you want it to give the planetary positions starting in the middle of the day, like noon basically, right?
CB: So let me look that up really quickly to see what their reference point is, if they’re using Greenwich Time—which is basically UK, London time—or if they’re using some American city as the reference point, like New York. Which I don’t think they do, but I could be wrong. Are you finding anything?
PW: Uh, no. I was investigating the mystery of sidereal time and what that actually refers to in the ephemeris.
CB: It’s something that actually does become relevant in calculating charts, but it’s been so long. It’s been 15 years.
PW: Yeah, so I’ve never really had to do that.
CB: So we were talking about that. There’s some certification programs where—well, even certification programs aside, let’s take it back 40 or 50 years, let’s say, mid-20th century—you needed to know how to calculate a chart, an astrological chart by hand using books and tables like the ephemeris in order to calculate a birth chart or a natal chart.
So that used to be like a gate or an entryway into astrology. You used to need to do some math basically in order to calculate birth charts in order to study astrology. And that could be a bit of a stumbling block for people, but it was like a necessary requisite to doing astrology for centuries and centuries or thousands of years prior to the past 20 or 30 years basically.
PW: Yeah, like I said, it’s the best time to be an astrologer. It’s definitely made it more accessible.
CB: Yeah, so even let’s say 20 or 30 years ago—even now I think there’s still some certification programs where one of the things—in order to get certified as a professional astrologer—is knowing how to calculate a chart by hand. And I know when I went through Kepler College in the mid-2000s that in order to get one of their actual degrees, you had to take a chart calculation test, so I actually learned how to calculate charts by hand when I was at Kepler.
There’s this amazing book that was put together by a couple of Kepler students who graduated, and I think it was their senior project for their bachelor’s degree. I have the spiral-bound version that they originally put together, but they later put it into a print book that teaches you how to do chart calculations. It’s actually a really great book if anyone wants to learn how to calculate charts by hand. It’s titled, Simply Math: A Comprehensive Guide to Easy & Accurate Chart Calculation, by Lauran Fowks and Lynn Sellon.
So this is the book that I learned how to calculate charts at Kepler. Unfortunately, I remember sitting in Seattle in 2005, learning how to calculate charts, and I actually learned it well enough to calculate a half-dozen—like five or six charts—and I was pretty good at it. But then I think I took a semester off of Kepler, and then I came back, and they had me do the test, and I had forgotten all of this.
I actually failed my chart calculation test. And I actually just remember the look of disappointment in Lee Lehman’s eyes when I turned in this test, and just being like, “I don’t know what I’m doing here at this point. It’s been six months, and I forgot what I’m doing.”
It’s not actually as hard as some people think it could be. It’s actually rather doable, especially with a book that kind of holds your hand walking through it like that. It’s just repetition and getting the steps down in order. Were you saying earlier that you had learned how to do it?
PW: No, I never had to. I did consider trying to do it, but eventually I got a hold of astrological software and it just wasn’t necessary. It was interesting, though, when I would read through my Mom’s old astrology books, I would see that she had calculated the charts by hand. She didn’t have any printed charts. She’d actually even done my own chart, she calculated it by hand. And she did it correctly, it all matched.
So yeah, probably it’s not too hard to do, but I just haven’t gotten around to actually learning all the steps myself. I’d imagine that you just the positions at midnight and add whatever arc would have passed according to the speed of the planets at that time, and you’d probably get a pretty accurate estimate of where they were at that moment.
CB: Yeah, it’s just like the ephemeris is one of the crucial tools. So if you know the person was born on let’s say Sunday, the 16th of May, 2021, we see at the start of the day—or at noon—that the Sun was at 25°50’ of Taurus, and then the next day, at noon, it was at 26°48’. And then you sort of just divide how far through the day the person was born—and also based on knowing the speed of the Sun—and you can end up calculating pretty precisely where it was at 1:20 PM that day or what have you.
CB: Basically, you do the same thing with all of them. So to calculate a chart, you need an ephemeris, you also need a time zone atlas. Because one of the more frustrating things about astrology birth times is that due to Daylight Savings Time—whether that’s in effect or not—it can offset and can really change the Ascendant, and the rising sign, and rising degree because Daylight Savings is in effect or not in effect in different ways, in different locations.
I think you’re in a state where it’s kind of weird, right, or there is no Daylight Savings?
PW: Yeah, in Arizona, they do not have any Daylight Savings Time. So half of the year, we’re synced with Pacific Time, and the other half of the year, we’re synced with Mountain Time, and it’s very, very frustrating.
I know that Florida wants to have Daylight Savings all year round. So this is just really, really frustrating and confusing. And I’m always hoping that basically there’s someone out there keeping track of all this for astrological software to make sure these changes are being accounted for in the software.
Because it’s kind of terrifying that you might be an hour off basically putting in a chart, and I always try to be aware of those sorts of changes, especially when I’m doing elections or something and I’m just zipping through dates. I just want to be aware I’m not accidentally overlooking those times and changes. So yeah, that’s a huge headache.
CB: Yeah. Well, luckily, in the past 20 or 30 years since some of that’s become computerized, it’s documented much better. If people were born from the 1980s onwards, it’s usually pretty reliable—the digital records—of whether Daylight Savings was in effect or was not in effect.
But prior to that, it gets a lot more dicey. So that’s why in order to calculate charts by hand, you needed another book—this one is The American Atlas, Expanded 5th Edition, U.S. Longitudes & Latitudes, Time Changes and Time Zones. The most important thing that it does is you can look up the location and the city that the person was born in, and it’ll tell you whether Daylight Saving was in effect or not in effect at that time.
And some of those are tricky because there’s like some weird ones in the 1940s where astrologers have had to research them very thoroughly. If you were born in Chicago in the 1940s, they had some rule about whether Daylight Savings was in effect but that you didn’t write it down on the birth certificate, or maybe it wasn’t in effect but you write it down as if it was. I forget what the specific rule was, but there’s some really bizarre things that happened in different years that astrologers have had to spend a great deal of effort to try to document in order to make sure the charts are calculated correctly.
And this is another thing where this was up until recently just available as a print book that you had to get as one of the tools in order to calculate a birth chart by hand. But nowadays, the ACS—that atlas, and other atlases—have been programmed and are in programs that are underlying chart calculating software like Solar Fire or Astro Gold or even Astro.com. I think they use the ACS Atlas for historical timezone lookups and things like that.
CB: All right, so that’s it. And the last thing is, also, you used to need a table of houses…
PW: Oh, yeah.
CB: …to calculate the Ascendant and Midheaven and the intermediate house cusps, depending on if you’re using Placidus or other forms of house division that require that information. So that’s another book that you would need to have on hand in order to look it up, to calculate a chart by hand.
PW: Yeah, I remember when I was first telling my Mom about whole sign houses, and she was like, “Oh, do you need the tables of houses for that?” I’m like, “Nope, you don’t.”
PW: She’s like, “Oh, but I have all these tables of houses.” And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s nice. You can keep them.”
CB: Yeah. And one of the things that was funny that Holden—James Holden—said in his book at one point (The History of Horoscopic Astrology), he said one of the reasons why Placidus is the default at this point that most astrologers use is just because that was the only table of houses in the early 20th century that was still in wide circulation.
And so, most astrologers just defaulted to what was available or what they learned when they first got into astrology, which I always thought was really interesting. And we see a little bit of a continuation of that where Placidus still tends to be the default for most people because it’s the default in most astrology software programs like Astro.com, for example. Whenever you go to Astro.com, when they calculate a chart, it’ll default to Placidus. So most people are used to seeing their chart in that and will tend to stick with that as their default.
CB: So that’s an interesting side thing in terms of the availability of things. All right, so let’s go back to our ephemeris and our how-to. One of the things that you brought up and mentioned is retrograde motion—and let’s start talking about that.
Because one of the things that’s useful and one of the reasons we’re doing this episode is even though you can calculate charts just using the ‘Animate Chart’ feature, and there’s nothing wrong with that and that’s fine, there is a different perspective that the ephemeris can give you by having all the planetary positions and starting to get a sense for how the planets move and what their speeds are and different things like that. And while you can see that and get a perspective on that by animating the chart, there’s just a slightly different perspective that you can get by seeing it laid out in an ephemeris over a period of time at a glance.
So I’m going to show The American Ephemeris—the trans-century ephemeris—for May of 2021. And as you were saying earlier, one of the things that you can see is retrograde stations and retrograde periods. And one of the things I like about The American Ephemeris—and actually makes it a bit superior to the Swiss Ephemeris, the Astro.com free ephemeris—is that it actually shades the retrograde periods, which I think is a great feature that I really like.
So here’s the month of May 2021. We can see Saturn—the Saturn glyph—in the top-right corner. Saturn started out on May 1 at 13° of Aquarius and 7 minutes and 6 seconds. And it starts moving forward a little bit, but Saturn’s already moving very slow at this point. On the 2nd of May, it gets to 13°9’ and then the next day 13°11’.
So it’s only moving forward very slowly, and the reason for that is no just because Saturn is a slow planet, but also because we see later in the month Saturn is getting ready to station retrograde on the 22nd of May at 13°31’ of Aquarius. Up to that point, we can see that it’s increasing in minutes—so it’s moving forward in Aquarius—but after that point, it starts decreasing and going backwards in the sign of Aquarius.
PW: So if you’re looking at this and you know someone has their Sun, for example, at 13° Aquarius, then you know that, okay, May going into June 2021 is maybe going to be a heavy time, to put it lightly, since Saturn will be bearing down and spending so much time on that one degree really scrutinizing whatever is at that degree in people’s charts.
CB: Right, so that’s one thing that you can do with an ephemeris. One of the tips and tricks for an ephemeris is you can use it to study your own transits by just knowing in the back of your head—or having a picture of your chart next to you—what degrees your planetary placements are. Once you have those memorized, when you look at an ephemeris, one of the first things I think that most astrologers do is they start thinking of some of those degrees or some of those sign placements within the context of their own chart.
So I know, for example, because I have Aquarius rising, I know Saturn and Jupiter are going through my rising sign, or my 1st whole sign house. Or for example, we see here that Jupiter had moved into Pisces on the 14th of May when it moved into 0° of Pisces. So I know that Jupiter moved into my 2nd whole sign house on that day, for example. What house is that for you?
PW: Jupiter moved into my 8th whole sign house because I’m a Leo rising.
CB: Okay. So one really basic thing is an ephemeris allows you to see sign changes—so when the planets will change signs—and you can immediately relate that back to a person’s chart in knowing, for example, what house a planet will transit into at different times based on that information.
But then the next one that you were mentioning was if you know what degree—and not just sign, but also degree—the planets are placed in, you can know when you’re going to have exact transits at different points in time. So you mentioned, for example, if your Sun was at 13° of Aquarius, then you would know that Saturn is stationing right on top of it in May of 2021.
PW: Exactly. I mean, this is when the magic happens. This is when these glyphs just turn from being marks on a page and an incomprehensible morass of numbers into sort of real, actionable, and in some cases, exciting or dreadful moments when you realize what may be coming up or whether that should be something to be kind of more excited about or something to be a little more wary of. So yeah, it’s when it becomes exciting.
CB: I wish I could show this, but in my old ephemeris, the first one that I got—let me see if I can show this. But I would go through and mark and I would use a highlighter to highlight different dates when stuff was happening, and when it would be hitting my chart in certain ways.
So it’s kind of fun now because I got this in 2000-2001 as my second astrology book. And I had gone through and I had highlighted different years in the future, and circled certain transits that I knew I would be having at that point that I was curious about or that I thought would be big transits.
CB: So it looks like I was curious six years in advance about what Neptune conjunct my Moon in May of 2008 would be…
CB: …which is fun.
PW: Yeah, you just can’t do this with a PDF. This is such an interesting, kind of retro. It reminds me of, yeah, my earliest days in astrology. It’s made me realize just how much of my use of an ephemeris is really digital now.
CB: Right. Yeah, and it’s like you can highlight—and I think I’ll do that in a minute—in the Astro.com one, but it’s a little different. There’s a little difference having a printed one. I was curious in 2002 as a 16-year-old astrologer—20-year-old astrologer—what Pluto conjunct my Mars would be like in January of 2018 and various other future transits.
So that is one of the cool things that I will argue that you can do with a print ephemeris—you can write notes and you can highlight it pretty easily, and there’s something useful about that just in terms of watching your own transits. Once you know, let’s say, a partner’s transit—what their placements are—you know that when certain planets get to certain degrees that that’s going to be a sensitive spot in their chart, for better or worse, and different things like that.
PW: Or you can go to Honeycomb who sort of does it all for you. But you want to know how to read an ephemeris so you can understand anyone’s transits that you’re trying to look at.
CB: Yeah. Another thing, in addition to just looking at transits, you can look at transits and also that’ll tell you when the transits happen, but it won’t tell you what the transit’s going to be about. So that’s when you get a book like Rob Hand’s Planets in Transit, for example, which gives delineations for all of the major planet combinations.
And that was published back in the 1970s, so it’s a little bit dated at this point. He’s been supposed to publish a new version that represents an updated version of Planets in Transit for a few years now, and I hear it’s going to come out at some point, I don’t know when. It seems like it’s been about to come out for several years now, but hopefully, that’ll come out before too long. And I’m sure there’s other books out there that do something similar as well.
PW: Yeah, for sure.
CB: One other thing that you can do with the ephemeris, also, that you should keep in mind is that it will tell you and allow you to spot at a glance when different configurations between the planets will happen in the sky, and that’s actually super useful. So for example, what I mean by that is we can see here in May of 2021—with Saturn at 13° of Aquarius—any time another planet gets to like 13-something of another sign, it’s probably going to be making an aspect with Saturn at that degree.
So one of the aspects that happened earlier this month in May is that Mercury was kind of zipping through Gemini, and it came up to 13° of Gemini here on the 12th of May. So on that day, we know that when Mercury hit 13° of Gemini, it would have formed—and it did form—an exact trine with Saturn at 13° of Aquarius. So looking up things like that—like aspects in the sky or when different planets form aspects with each other is an incredibly useful piece of what you can do with an ephemeris as well.
PW: Absolutely. Well, yeah, I won’t go into the other things we had sort of planned to talk about in terms of recognizing connections across time as well with the planets. Because I think one thing that can be tricky, especially if you’re first starting out looking at your transits, there might be a tendency to attach a lot of importance to all of these transits. But I think it’s important to understand which ones happen more commonly and which ones are more rare.
So obviously, outer planetary transits—just because those planets are so slow—it is kind of more significant when an outer planet makes a significant aspect to one of your personal planets because there may only be one of those that happens in your lifetime. So it’s sort of helpful to know how regular some of these aspect patterns can occur because it gives you an idea of how common or how unique a given aspect or transit is.
CB: Yeah, so that’s a great advantage of an ephemeris, and a good thing that it teaches you as an astrologer is the speed of the planetary movements and how fast or slow different planets are. So for example, the Sun takes a year to go through the entire zodiac, and it spends about a month in each sign, and it moves at a rate of about 1° each day.
So we can see at the top of the May ephemeris that on the 1st of the month, it was at 11° of Taurus, then on the 2nd of the month, it was at 12° of Taurus, then on the 3rd of the month, it was at 13 Taurus and so on and so forth. So it’s literally just moving through about 1° per day.
The Moon—because it’s so fast—it’s a little bit harder and more annoying to track with an ephemeris because the Moon will move through a sign of the zodiac in like two or three days basically. It kind of zips through them pretty quickly. And so, the ephemeris is not as useful for tracking the Moon necessarily, except roughly what sign it will be in on a given day. But the ephemeris—oh, go ahead.
PW: Oh, I was just going to say, yeah, you’re right, it is kind of harder to use the ephemeris for tracking the Moon. But one thing to kind of be aware of is when the Moon is in the same sign as the Sun, generally speaking, you know that that’s close to a New Moon. And if the Moon is in the sign which is opposite to the sign of the Sun, then you know that that transit is actually a Full Moon.
So it might help if you’re looking at the ephemeris to sort of circle those dates because that isn’t just a case of the Moon transiting through that sign, but it’s the one time of the year where it might be a New Moon in that sign or a Full Moon in that sign.
While those are annual events, the Moon might go through Taurus 12 times in a year, but it’ll only be a Full Moon once in the year, maybe twice, if it’s one of those Blue Moons. But yeah, so it’s less useful for tracking the Moon, but I think it helps to kind of know generally, okay, is this when the Moon’s brightest, or is this when it’s at this renewal point with the Sun in that sign.
CB: Yeah, that’s an excellent point, and that’s actually, again, another advantage of The American Ephemeris and why I still recommend getting it. So one, you’re right, you can’t approximate when the New and Full Moons are going to take place just by glancing at the main part of the ephemeris.
So here in May of 2021, we know the Sun in the first-half of the month is moving through Taurus. So then we know that when the Moon catches up to and goes through that same sign—when the Moon goes through Taurus—that that’ll be a New Moon, because the New Moon happens when the Moon conjoins the Sun. And that’s both the end of the lunar cycle and the start of a new one-month or 30-day-long cycle.
So here we can see that the Moon moves into Taurus on the 10th of May—it goes into Taurus there—and then it moves out of that sign a few days later. It’s in Gemini by the 13th of May. So we know that sometime in that two- or three-day period that the Moon would have conjoined the Sun and created a New Moon.
So one of the things that’s very useful about The American Ephemeris is down at the very bottom of the page, it actually has a very handy section where it lists tables for the lunar phases and eclipses. So this is down in the bottom-right. And we should kind of give an overview of this entire section, but let’s, for our purposes, jump right to the one we’re talking about now where it says ‘Phases & Eclipses’. And it says the day, hour, and minute on the left, and then it says what the lunar phase is and what sign it happened in.
So the one that we’re talking about right now, the New Moon in Taurus, it says that will have occurred exactly on the 11th of May at 19:00 hours—which is like 7:00 PM—at 21° of Taurus and 18 minutes. And then it gives the symbol, which is a circle that’s dark or filled in, which is the symbol for a New Moon. So it’s actually telling you exactly what degree if you just look at the bottom of the ephemeris—the exact degree of the New Moon—as well as the day and roughly the time that it will occur. Which is pretty handy information to have at a glance, right?
CB: So each month it will show the New Moon, and then the Full Moon is a circle that’s white or is not filled in, because that’s when the Moon is at its brightest and it’s giving off light. And we see that will happen on the 26th of May at 5° of Sagittarius and 26 minutes.
And of course what’s important about this one is that it is not just going to be a Full Moon—which is when the Moon is exactly opposite the Sun—but it’s also going to be a lunar eclipse because that lunation is taking place very close to the nodes. And that’s what that symbol just below that is. It’s like an opposition with two filled in dark circles, and that’s the symbol—at least in The American Ephemeris—for a lunar eclipse. And then there’s also a solar eclipse, which looks like a conjunction symbol that’s filled in, and that happens just below that on the 10th of June at, what is it, 19° of Gemini.
PW: Yeah. I’m curious. I’m not sure what the ‘T’ and ‘A’ mean, next to those eclipses.
CB: It’s like ‘total’ versus ‘annular’, I think.
PW: Oh, okay. Yeah, that makes sense.
CB: Yeah, so another handy thing that you can do and approximate with an ephemeris is also just remembering in the back of your head that if a New Moon or a Full Moon takes place in the vicinity—I think it’s within 15°-18°—depending on different definitions, but around that range. If a New Moon or a Full Moon takes place within those degrees, then it will be an eclipse as well.
PW: Yeah, I think if a New Moon happens within about 17° of the North or South Node, then it’s a solar eclipse. Obviously, the closer that a New Moon happens to the node itself, then the more total that solar eclipse would be. If it’s further away, then it’s a partial.
And then the lunar eclipses happen if a Full Moon is within about 11° of the North or South Node. I’m not sure why they’re different. But yeah, it’s about 17 for a solar eclipse and about 11° for a Full Moon to be a lunar eclipse. Like generally, yeah, if it’s close enough you can be reasonably sure it’s going to be an eclipse.
CB: We have debates about this all the time, Austin and I do on the forecast episodes, because he tends to use a tighter orb than I do, in terms of eclipses as a visual phenomenon versus is the Moon actually eclipsing the Sun or is it just barely eclipsing it, and I tend to use a wider orb.
Because sometimes, for example, we get questions like, “The lunar eclipse that happened in Sagittarius last June (on like June 5 or 6), was that actually an eclipse, or was it too far away?” And sometimes I start seeing major stuff happening around those times that does seem very ‘eclipsey’ to me, so that I’ll take it to be an eclipse. Whereas somebody that uses a tighter orb might not think that that eclipse series starts until later in the year. Last November and December was when that eclipse series really got going.
PW: Yeah, I mean, I guess there probably is some layer of interpretation you can give to whether something is a total eclipse versus a partial eclipse. I would think that, yeah, it would be…
CB: Yeah, different levels.
PW: …consistent with the level of the eclipses happening.
CB: Yeah, so let’s look back at our ephemeris, though, because that’s another thing you can eyeball and approximate by looking at where the node is.
PW: I like this. They put the node right there. Sometimes in an ephemeris, they’ll put the nodes at the end, after Pluto.
PW: But it’s nice that they put it next to the Moon because that allows you to see more at a glance.
PW: Okay, you know that eclipses are going to happen somewhere between 0 to…
CB: Let’s just use 15°.
PW: …20. Yeah, if you just used a standard like that, then you know, okay, eclipses can either happen in late Taurus or late Gemini, or a lunar eclipse could maybe happen in late Scorpio perhaps. But yeah, I think this time it’s just a lunar eclipse in Sagittarius and a solar eclipse in Gemini.
CB: Yeah, so we’ve got the Sun glyph in the top column, we’ve got the Moon glyph, then we’ve got the True Node here, and it starts out the month at 11° of Gemini. The True Node is kind of weird because it’ll go retrograde and direct at different points pretty frequently every week or couple of weeks.
But it’s going through Gemini, so we know then that when the Sun goes into Gemini—which happens by the 21st of May—and when the Moon catches up to and either conjoins or opposes the Sun and creates a New Moon or Full Moon, when both of the luminaries are also in the same sign as the node or opposite to the node that’s also going to create an eclipse.
So we see the Moon go into Sagittarius around the 26th and 27th of May, and so, we know then that it’s going to be transiting through the sign opposite to the Sun, which is Gemini. And because the True Node is in the sign of Gemini that means there’s going to be an eclipse in that range of days, right around there, when the Moon is transiting through Sagittarius.
PW: And you can use the degree of the Sun to know approximately what the degree that should happen. We know that it would be a lunar eclipse in Sagittarius approximately around 5°-6° of Sagittarius.
PW: So it’s kind of nice to just be able to see that at a glance.
CB: So let me show people what that looks like in Solar Fire in an actual chart because I know this is probably sounding or looking a little bit abstract. But here’s the chart for now and then let’s move it forward.
So we see the Sun move into Gemini here around May 20. The Moon is moving through Virgo, then it’s moving through Libra, then Scorpio. We see the South Node there already in Sagittarius, and we see the North Node in Gemini, so the Sun is coming up on the North Node and conjoining it.
And then here, when we get to the Moon going through Sagittarius—when it hits about 5° of Sagittarius—it exactly opposes the Sun. And when the Moon opposes the Sun exactly that’s an exact Full Moon, when the Moon is at its brightest.
And because that Full Moon—that opposition with the Sun—is taking place within 5° of a conjunction with the South Node, between the Moon and the South Node, or you could also say between the conjunction with the Sun and the North Node that that is a lunar eclipse. So it’s like a special Full Moon; it’s not just a normal Full Moon. But because it’s happening with the nodes, it’s a special one.
CB: All right, so that is visually what it’s looking like. And then if we keep moving that forward a couple of weeks, we see the Moon keeps moving through Capricorn, then Aquarius. Then it spends two or three days in Pisces, Aries, Taurus. And then eventually the Moon catches up with the Sun in June and conjoins it at 19° of Gemini.
So the Moon conjoins the Sun at 19° of Gemini on June 10, and the North Node is at 10° of Gemini at that point. So the North Node is only…
PW: So it’s within 17°. Yeah, so it’s going to be a solar eclipse.
CB: Yeah, so a solar eclipse whenever the Sun and Moon conjoin each other within roughly the vicinity of the North or South Node. So visually, if you were to calculate the chart, that’s what it looks like in the chart.
But just going back to the ephemeris, we kind of showed how you can eyeball that just by looking it up or by using that really handy lunar table that’s at the very bottom of The American Ephemeris, which I always loved as a little feature. Just the ability for it to tell you exactly when and what degree and what sign and date certain eclipses are taking place in.
PW: And one other thing that’s kind of useful to remember about eclipses is that they happen very close to the same degree—almost very close to the same date every 19 years. So presuming you’ve lived long enough to be able to go back, if you want to know what a given eclipse might be about for you, it might help to look back 19 years almost to the day, and there should be an eclipse which happens very close to that degree and approximately that same date. It might be a little different by like a degree or so, but it’ll be very, very close.
It’s useful to know that because then you can just think, “Oh, I wonder what this lunar eclipse will be about?” Well, all right, take the year, subtract 19, and you can flip back through your ephemeris to go right to that same lunar eclipse and see what else was happening at that time, and try to think of what themes related to the houses it’s happening in to get some insight into what that could be about for you. You know, it’s not just math and numbers—it’s about something real in your life.
CB: Right. Yeah, so that’s pretty useful for individual months. So this is The American Ephemeris, the main one that lists planetary positions for different time periods. There’s also other types of specialized or specialty ephemerides which list different things. One of the ones that I really like is a book by the same company—I believe it’s by ACS—that’s titled, Tables of Planetary Phenomena by Neil F. Michelsen, Revisions by Rique Pottenger.
And one of the things that it has—I don’t have a picture of this, so I’ll just show it on the video on my webcam—is it has a several-page thing that lists all solar and lunar eclipses from the year 1700 through the year 2050, so that you can look at a century of eclipses and what sign and degree they take place in, as well as what date basically at a glance. So let me see—for those watching the video version—if I can show this. Can you see that?
PW: Yeah, yeah.
CB: Yeah, so pretty cool as a secondary little book that you can get. This lists all sorts of other little miscellaneous, useful ephemeris things. Because if an ephemeris is just a table of planetary data, there’s many different ways that you can show the data or show different things, different planetary alignments, and different things that you want to focus on in different date ranges.
Even though, typically, when an astrologer mentions an ephemeris, it’s exactly what we’re looking at with The American Ephemeris, like a monthly and yearly and daily listing of the data by the months. There’s different ways to cut the data and an ephemeris can be many different things depending on what you want to look at.
PW: Yeah, I was also going to say that I think Solar Fire, you can also look at eclipses going back thousands of years. You can also filter through those solar eclipses to find ones which maybe aspect a particular point in your chart, or isolate the solar eclipses and lunar eclipses which belong to the same Saros cycle. So the software you can also kind of use in this way to look at those solar eclipses kind of at a glance.
CB: Yeah, and I think Astro.com or Solar Fire actually allows you to generate your own ephemeris for different things. And there’s a little part of it that’ll allow you to generate depending on what data you want to list and what frequency and things like that.
PW: And Astro-Seek.com also allows you to generate your own ephemeris, according to whatever specifications you want. Yeah, it has many different options on there. And you can even use the tools on Astro-Seek to find when a particular planet returns to a degree, a certain degree.
There’s also an ephemeris search engine. So if you wanted to find a time when this planet was in one sign and another planet’s in a different sign, it’ll tell you the periods of time where, in the ephemeris, your search parameters match the planetary positions at that time.
CB: Yeah, which is really good for electional purposes…
CB: …if you’re like, “I need to pick a chart when Mercury is in Gemini and Venus is in Taurus. Show me when that’s going to happen in the future.” Unfortunately, some alignments you’re going to have to wait for like a decade or something like that, so it may be a ways out. But sometimes there’s ways you can use that more profitably for short distance things.
PW: Right, right.
CB: Solar Fire also has a feature that was really useful in my research over the past decade for searching different planetary placements in birth charts. So it can look through all your saved files, and I would have it show me all charts where Mercury is in Scorpio in the 9th house or where Mercury is in Scorpio and Saturn is in Aquarius, and it would show all charts that have those placements in my files—in whatever files I had saved.
CB: So in Episode 215, when Leisa Schaim and I did an episode on interpreting solar and lunar eclipses in your birth chart—transiting eclipses based on which house they fall in—I actually created a little ephemeris of solar and lunar eclipse dates, which you can pull up that’s super handy as a single page reference for just where eclipses will fall, if having a single-page eclipse ephemeris is something that you’d like to have. So it pulls up a little PDF and then it just shows all eclipses for a relatively long time frame.
PW: I’m surprised you haven’t plugged your calendar, Chris.
CB: The calendar? Oh, right.
PW: Right. That’s sort of like a cliff notes version of an ephemeris for a given year, if you get The Astrology Podcast yearly calendar.
CB: Yeah, I guess it is kind of an ephemeris, the way that we present the data. For example, on the forecast episodes, we show the month of May, and then we show when different planets will move into the signs, like that Mercury goes into Gemini on the 3rd or Venus into Gemini on the 8th. New Moon in Taurus on the 11th or that solar eclipse on the 26th.
We’re using basically like an ephemeris to calculate that data and then just presenting the ephemeris data in this different visual format. So yes, that is from the calendar that we do sell on The Astrology Podcast website.
PW: Available now.
CB: Available now at fine astrology calendar stores everywhere. All right, so let’s get back and focus. Where are we at? We talked about eclipses. There’s other data at the bottom of The American Ephemeris that is maybe worth mentioning really quickly to talk about what other things you’ll find on an ephemeris page and what other handy guides it gives you.
So let me share, again, my screen to show the bottom. Because I know we mentioned the lunar phases, and we mentioned how it shows the New Moon and the Full Moon. It also shows the First Quarter Moon and Third Quarter Moon. So here it says on the 3rd of May, the Third Quarter Moon occurred at 13° of Aquarius and 35 minutes. So it’s showing basically the halfway point between New Moon and Full Moon as well.
So that’s all under the ‘Phase & Eclipses’ section. Other stuff that is shown—over on the far left, it has a section for ‘Astro Data’. What is the first number? Declination?
PW: Oh, that should be for declination, yeah, when it’s at its northern—actually that would be at 0 North I think that’s when it would be. Yeah, it’s 0 declination going north and then 0 declination when it’s going south.
I’m surprised, though, that they wouldn’t show the dates when it’s at its maximum or minimum, but I guess that’s still useful. If you want more declination data, this is available on Astro.com. They have a specific section for looking at the declination or latitude of a given planet.
CB: Like a declination ephemeris.
PW: Yeah, that’s available on that same page you were showing.
CB: Okay. Yeah, that’s more of an intermediate/advanced concept, but also there under ‘Astro Data’ it shows the dates of any planetary stations. So it shows that Saturn stations retrograde on the 23rd of the month and that Mercury stations retrograde on the 29th of the month.
Then below that it’s showing Moon 0 North declination. It shows Saturn squaring Uranus; it’ll go exact on the 14th of the month. Elsewhere it shows Jupiter stationing retrograde on the 20th, Mercury stationing direct on the 22nd, Neptune stationing retrograde on the 25th. So in the data section, it’s showing stations and some aspects between outer planets that are rare.
In the next section, it has a section on planetary ingresses, and it’ll tell you the day, the hour, and the minute when certain planets change signs. So for example, it says that Mercury goes into Gemini on the 4th of May at 2 hours and 49 minutes; so that’s like 2:00 AM—2:49 AM.
It also lists Ceres goes into Taurus. That’s actually one thing I don’t like about the more recent versions of The American Ephemeris. It used to just be planets in the main section, but now it has squeezed Ceres into the very middle, in between Mars and Jupiter, which if you don’t use Ceres this is a little bit annoying.
There it is in that version. I guess, for people that do use asteroids that’s super useful to have right there. But the only thing that annoyed me is it made all of the other planetary sections smaller because they had to squeeze in one additional body.
PW: Right. Yeah, Ceres just shouldn’t exist.
CB: I guess it is the biggest asteroid.
CB: That’s one thing I was surprised about is just how massive it is compared to all the others.
PW: I mean, it’s a little strange almost that it got left out, but I mean, it was only first even observed like in the 1700s.
PW: But it is pretty big.
CB: Yeah, so there’s Ceres, and going back to that it shows other ingresses of the planets. The next section, it shows ‘Last Aspect’ I think of the Moon.
CB: So the last aspect that the Moon made was a trine with Mercury in Aquarius—or from Aquarius, right? Is that what it’s saying?
PW: Yes, because Venus is in Gemini at that point and it’s sextiling from it. So the sign is the sign of the Moon, and it’s showing the aspect that it’s making with the planets. So it’s not telling you the sign of the planet, it’s telling you the sign of the Moon.
CB: Got it.
PW: I think.
CB: And then here it says the ‘Last Aspect’.
PW: Oh, wait a second, wait a second. No, no, no. So wait—oh, no, I got that wrong. This must be at the ingresses of the Moon because it’s not conjunct Pluto.
CB: Oh, okay. It’s showing the sign that it’s ingressing into, and then it’s showing the last aspect that it made before it ingressed into that sign.
PW: That is correct. That makes sense because it would have conjoined Pluto just before entering Aquarius, because Pluto’s in Capricorn.
CB: You mean Jupiter?
PW: That was confusing. It really should be more of a boundary between there.
CB: Yeah, so I guess that’s more useful for more modern astrologers that really focus on the last aspect of the Moon for some electional things or things like that.
PW: Right. Well, I would also think that would also indicate when the Moon is—not out of bounds—void of course according to that definition.
CB: Okay, right. By, what, the last planet that it aspected?
PW: Exactly, yeah.
CB: Got it. Okay, so that’s good to know. And then finally, on the far right of The American Ephemeris, it has a section for ‘Astro Data’. On the very first of the month, it lists the Julian Day. What is the SVP?
CB: I forget.
PW: I don’t know. The Galactic Center—that’s kind of funny to put. It doesn’t change over very long periods of time. It’s been at 27 Sag for like decades and decades and decades. It’s really not going to move that much.
CB: So GC is Galactic Center; so the center of our galaxy, 27 Sag 08.2. Although look at this—it does change in June. On June 1, a month later, it’s at 27.08.3. So I guess it’s moving extremely slowly.
CB: So Galactic Center. Then it lists a bunch of asteroids, including Eris—which it says is at 24.17 Aries—Chiron, Pallas.
PW: Vesta. Is that Juno?
CB: Well, Pallas is at the top—the diamond-looking one.
PW: And the Vesta’s like the arrows pointing down. What’s that one? I don’t use them enough.
PW: I bet a bunch of more modern-oriented astrologers would probably be really laughing at this right now. “Look at the ‘trad chads’ stumbling on their symbols for the asteroids.”
CB: Yeah. So for some of these, this is how you used to look up some of the asteroids, and then it also gives the position of the Mean Node in case you wanted to use the Mean Node instead of the True Node.
There’s also a whole separate asteroid ephemeris. I couldn’t find mine, because I actually bought one really early on in my astrological studies. So I don’t have a picture of that, but that’s another specialized ephemeris you can get for asteroids.
All right, so let’s go back to our outline. What have we not covered at this point? We’ve talked about planetary cycles.
PW: We’ve kind of dotted around here and there.
CB: Yeah, this is a little meandering. But that’s okay, we’re trying to throw in some of the important points as we go. One of the things you can look up and that an ephemeris is useful to give you is a sense of planetary cycles—giving you a sense for how long it takes for a planet to complete a cycle.
If you have an entire 50-year span in time or like a hundred-year span in time, you can flip forward and backward by years, and you can see that the Moon moves relatively fast, and it takes a month to go through all 12 signs of the zodiac; or that the Sun takes a year to go through all 12 signs of the zodiac; or that Jupiter takes 12 years; or Saturn takes between 27-30 years, for example. So getting a sense for the longer-term cycles of the planets is a really useful thing.
PW: Absolutely. And even with the faster planets, there are those more long-term cycles, like we mentioned that eclipses are going to happen very close to the same positions every 19 years. A given Moon position is also very close to where it will be every three years.
Every three years and subtracting three days will give you the Sun and Moon very close to where they were originally. Which can be interesting if you’re trying to think about what a given New Moon might be like or a given Full Moon might be like; then you can think about those three-year intervals as well.
With Mercury—Mercury only takes about 88 days to go around the Sun, heliocentrically, but zodiacally, it takes approximately a year, and it’s important to know that there’s three Mercury retrogrades a year. So in some ways, you can see how people in some ways overblow the importance of Mercury retrogrades because there’s three of them in a year, so it’s a pretty common kind of retrograde.
But it is kind of important to know when a retrograde in the given sign will take place, like the Mercury retrograde happening in Gemini, for example, where it will be later this month in June 2021—rather May 2021 into June. There was also a Mercury retrograde in Gemini just like it 20 years ago in 2001, and there will be another one a lot like it in 2041 because there’s this 20-year cycle with Mercury and the Sun where they come back pretty close to the same positions they were at in their sort of 20-year intervals.
You can even break it down a little further. Every 6-, 7-, 13- and 14-year intervals as well, the Sun and Mercury end up coming back to the same positions that they were. So it’s sort of helpful to know that within a given 20-year period, there are about—one, two, three, four, five—five to six retrogrades of Mercury that will be taking place in that same sign, in that same area.
So that just gives you a bit of context. If you’re looking at a given Mercury retrograde, you can immediately think, “Oh, the soonest one that happened in that same area would be either the year before or six years before.”
So just knowing those numbers—having some of those numbers in your head just helps you identify the connections across time with Mercury knowing, okay, the same sorts of things that happened in this previous one may have a tendency to come back around the time that Mercury makes the same sort of phase.
CB: I think some of those—you were talking about recurrence cycles or synodic cycles…
CB: …when the planet’s position coincides with the Sun’s position.
CB: And that happens with Mercury in the 20s—that’s a really reliable one.
CB: Even what you were saying at the beginning of knowing, for example, basic astrology really early on is just learning and knowing the frequency of Mercury retrograde periods and seeing how relatively—not just common—but regularly they are.
So for example, pulling up the Astro.com ephemeris and seeing Mercury—that’s not Mercury—seeing Mercury go retrograde at 24° of Gemini at the end of May, and then the fact that it’s going to be retrograde for about three weeks—which is about how long it’s always retrograde for—and then eventually stationing direct on the 23rd of June.
And then if we scroll, we see Mercury go direct, and it starts picking up speed again from 16 to 17 to 18 Gemini. And then if we jump forward a few months, we’ll eventually see Mercury station retrograde again here at 25° of Libra in September. And then it’s retrograde for three weeks until it stations direct here on the 19th of October. So it’s relatively a thing that happens three times a year, always for about three weeks.
PW: And I think it might be helpful too—because I think there’s some people who tend to kind of meltdown when they see these Mercury retrograde periods coming—and I think it’s important to remember, “Oh, wait a sec, I have actually been through this particular one before.”
Like someone might see that Mercury stations exact on their Mars or something. Well, you know, check back six-seven years ago, and it would have been a Mercury retrograde pretty close to your Mars before. Maybe that will give you some insight that could be reassuring—or maybe not reassuring depending on what happened—but it gives you something to sort of automatically look back towards. Okay, six years ago, 2015, in May-June, it would have been a retrograde fairly close to this current one.
CB: What are some other recurrent transits?
PW: So probably the simplest and most reliable and closest and most, in some ways, beautiful one is probably Venus. Venus is really, really reliable, has a very very reliable cycle of about eight years. Eight years exactly, it will be removed by about 2° in two days.
I mean, it’s so reliable that it’s almost kind of funny. Like if you see Venus is retrograde, for example, in a given sign, then you know that it went retrograde in that same part of the zodiac—very close to those same degrees—eight years prior. Oftentimes, there is a kind of connecting thread between those successive Venus retrogrades that recur in the same part of the zodiac. And there’s also kind of a four-year division with Venus as well.
CB: Yeah, let’s not overcomplicate it.
CB: Let’s stick with the basics.
PW: Sorry, yeah, stick with the basics. Yeah, so eight years is the main one you should be aware of for Venus, absolutely
CB: So let’s actually show that.
CB: Because being able to look that up in an ephemeris is a really good, tangible, again, predictive technique that you can do with an ephemeris. So Venus is actually going retrograde this year, isn’t it?
PW: Yeah, December 2021 through January of 2022.
PW: That’ll be your Venus retrograde in Capricorn.
CB: Let’s pull up our Astrodienst ephemeris for December of 2021. We pull up Venus, we see it starts off the month at 20 Capricorn. We scroll down and we see it’s stationing retrograde at 26° of Capricorn on the 19th of December. So 19th of December stationing at 26° of Capricorn in December of 2021.
So your basic principle that you just introduced is that Venus will do approximately the same thing in eight-year intervals. Which means if we subtract eight years—if we go back eight years earlier—we should see Venus stationing very close to the same degree offset by about 2°, around 26° of Capricorn. So eight years earlier would have been 2013.
PW: December. Yeah, so approximately around December 19 of 2013, Venus should go retrograde.
CB: Let’s see if that’s true. Let’s see if your math checks out. So I pulled up the Astro.com ephemeris for 2013. Here’s January—I’m going to scroll through to the very end of the year to December. And let’s see if Venus did in fact go retrograde in Capricorn eight years earlier.
So we see that the year started off with Venus, again, at 21° of Capricorn at the start of December. And if we go down that column, we see it’s stationing retrograde at 28° of Capricorn on the 22nd of December.
PW: So they’re two days and 2° removed from 2021.
PW: And remember it goes backward as you go forward in time.
CB: Right, so it was at 28° in December of 2013, and then it moved 2° eight years later and stationed at 26° of Capricorn here in December of 2021.
PW: Yeah. And that’s kind of interesting to know too because that means eight years prior to 2013—in December of 2005—it would have occurred at 0 Aquarius. That would have been the last time that Venus went retrograde at the 1° of Aquarius—so knowing that all of the Venus retrogrades past the end of 2005 are occurring solidly in Capricorn and are no longer going from Aquarius into Capricorn.
So there are some people who might have had a recurrence with Venus going through their 7th house or something when it was still in Aquarius, but now will no longer have that past 2005, and the Venus retrogrades in that time would be more relevant for 6th house matters for the foreseeable future.
So yeah, the eight-year return of Venus is a really simple, but also really amazing recurrence cycle just because of its closeness and how relevant it seems to be for people’s lives, especially in terms of their social lives or romantic lives. And you can use it not just with the retrogrades, but also the Sun-Venus conjunctions as well.
In fact, in the US Census, the average length of time a marriage lasts is eight years. So statistically, the average length of time of a union is a Venus cycle. You know, once you’re aware of that you start seeing that number pop up everywhere when it comes to studying the lengths of people’s relationships. Or you see people getting divorced or something after 16 years, or 24 years, you know, oh, yeah, it’s Venus.
CB: Let me see if your math checks out for 2005. So here’s the Astro.com ephemeris for 2005. Scroll to December, and we see Venus start out, again, in Capricorn at the beginning of December. And there it is—stationed at 1° of Aquarius the 24th of December. So two days and about, again, 2-ish degrees.
PW: 2-ish degrees, yeah.
CB: Yeah, so that’s really nice and that’s one of the things you can do with the ephemeris is track recurrence. Am I using the right term, ‘recurrence’? It’s a synodic cycle actually.
PW: Yeah, it’s a synodic recurrence. Because technically, a synod would just be when the Sun meets up with Venus, which it does five times every eight years direct, and five times every eight years retrograde.
But this particular eight-year unit we’re using is really a recurrence of a particular Sun-Venus synod, so it’s a little ambiguous. But I would think that the most accurate term would be like a ‘synodic recurrence’. I just call it a Venus period, a Venus cycle.
CB: And I’ve done episodes on that before, one, with Nick Dagan Best, which was Episode 39, which is titled, ‘Venus Retrograde: Challenging Consensus’. And then there was another one I did last year with Arielle Guttman, which was titled, ‘Mythic Astrology and Venus Retrogrades, with Arielle Guttman’.
That cycle is so regular of a recurrence, you can time things with it. And sometimes for certain people it can be so important in their lives when their lives are really tied into a certain Venus retrograde cycle—that every eight years can be like a major event for them that takes place in their lives or a major turning point. Some astrologers have specialized in that cycle as a major part of their career.
PW: I mean, I don’t want to say some planets are more important than others, but I think that particular cycle is pretty amazing how much it can do with just that.
CB: All right, so jumping back in from our break, we talked about the eight-year Venus cycle; there’s also other synodic cycles. There’s roughly a 15-year period for Mars. It’s not quite as exact as Venus, but it’s good to know that exists and there’s other synodic cycles as well. So yeah, we have the 12-year cycle of Jupiter, which is relatively straightforward, Saturn 29-year cycle, Uranus 84 years, Neptune 165, Pluto 248, and so on and so forth.
CB: I don’t know if we need to break all of those down.
CB: I guess it’s just a matter of using the ephemeris, you can get a good sense for the speed and motion of the planets, and sometimes there’s other deeper cycles that are sort of built into some of that as well.
PW: Yeah, I think one thing that people should know about the outer planets in general is you often see in a similar way that people kind of freak out about the Mercury retrogrades, people also seem to make a lot of hay about, “Is it bad if my outer planets are retrograde?”
And it’s important to know that those planets are retrograde for almost a third of the year or more, and that once the Sun is far away enough from any of the superior planets—those are the planets which are further away from the Sun than the Earth is (Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto)–those are always going to be retrograde once they’re past a certain number of degrees from the Sun.
So basically, once planets are about a 100-110 or so degrees away from the Sun, they’re going to be retrograde, and they’re always going to be retrograde when they’re at opposition with the Sun. They’re going to continue to be retrograde until they reach, again, around 110 or so degrees from the Sun.
And I think that’s important for people to remember because I think especially when you’re first learning astrology, it can seem like the positions of the planets are kind of erratic or they’re just sort of random.
Really, it helps to know that, oh, a Sun-Jupiter opposition is always going to happen during a Jupiter retrograde. A Sun-Jupiter opposition will mean that Jupiter is necessarily retrograde—it has to be. You’re never going to have a case where Jupiter’s direct and opposite the Sun—it doesn’t make any sense.
CB: Yeah, I did an episode with Demetra—I think it was two episodes before this one—on the Sun. And we focused a lot on the solar phase cycle and talked about those things, like the outer planets—besides Mercury and Venus, but any planets from Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn outwards—and some of those things and about how if the planet is opposite the Sun, it’s always going to be retrograde; or Jupiter, for example, whenever it stations retrograde or direct, it’s usually pretty closely trine the Sun at that time, and some of the other outer planets a little bit more approximately.
PW: I would think one other thing that you’d want to know—one of the other visual components or one of the other visual features of a planet’s cycle is it’s heliacal rising or setting into the beams of the Sun, and traditionally, that span is about 15°.
So if a planet is within 15° of the Sun, applying or separating, it’s obscured. And so, there’s something about the activities of that planet we’d say is somehow covert or unseen or internal or something like that.
And it’s important to remember that that 15° separation is more of a rounded number. There are more precise figures technically for when planets actually make the heliacal rising and setting. If you use the Planetary Cycles ephemeris on the Astrodienst page, they actually have individual files for each planet to show when planets are actually making the heliacal rising or heliacal setting. So I think in the PDF files it says evening rise/evening set, morning rise/morning set or what have you.
So for Mercury, it actually seems to be closer to about 10° from the Sun that it says it’s heliacally rising or setting from the Sun, and then for Venus, it seems to be about 10° or so. For Mars, it seems to be about 15, so closer to the traditional amount. For some reason, Jupiter, they have it heliacally rising and setting when it’s about 10° away from the Sun, and then for Saturn, it’s 15°, so there’s slightly variable amounts.
And obviously, the 15° rule is a good rule to still basically use, but it’s also kind of nice to know that we actually do have ephemerises which tell us, more or less, a more precise figure for when a planet actually makes its heliacal rising or setting.
And for Mercury and Venus, another thing that can be kind of hard to spot when you’re just reading through the ephemeris is when Mercury and Venus have reached their maximum elongation from the Sun. Like Mercury can’t go more than 28° from the Sun, Venus can’t go any more than I think 48. Is that correct?
CB: Yeah, 48.
PW Yeah, 48. So sometimes it can be kind of hard to just see that in the ephemeris, so it’s kind of nice that we do have other ephemerises which show you the dates that those planets reach those map points and maximum elongation.
It’s important to remember that when Mercury or Venus are at their maximum elongation, they’re at their greatest brilliance, they are most visible in the sky, they’re at their greatest extent from the Sun. So theoretically, you might link that to maybe the power of that planet to bring forth its significations, to shine at its most brilliant.
CB: Right. So some of those other ephermerises you were talking about on Astro.com, if you just go to their ‘All About Astrology 9000-Year Ephemeris’ section and then scroll down to the bottom of the page, you’ll see some of this other stuff.
PW: Yeah, that one.
CB: Planetary Cycles and Sign Ingresses. Solar and Lunar Eclipses. Moon Ingresses. Midpoint Ephemeris. Heliocentric Ephemeris. Tables of Houses. And it even has a Hypothetical Planet Ephemeris for Uranian Astrology or the Hamburg School, although it has like a funny comment about that, talking about fictitious…
PW: “Also contains the fictitious celestial objects.” Oh, I hope you don’t have too many Uranian, Hamburg School followers—they might be a little mad. But yeah, they do have an ephemeris for those hypothetical bodies.
CB: Yeah, somewhere it has a derisive comment about some of them not going retrograde or something like that, saying that it’s not astronomically possible, which is funny. Anyways, that’s a whole separate episode—but yeah, lots of other different types of ephemeris and different things you can look at depending on what you want to find. Most ephemerises that we’re talking about are just showing planets moving through the signs of the zodiac, the degrees of the zodiac, but there’s different things you can look at as well.
One other interesting thing I wanted to mention you can do with an ephemeris is you can do some quick and dirty secondary progressions as well if you just look up the month of your birth and the month afterwards, because secondary progressions just equates each day of your life after you were born to one year of life.
And it says that wherever the planets were, let’s say, five years after—or five days after you were born will be the experience you’ll have for the entire year of when you’re five-years-old, or wherever the planets are 20 days after you were born will be your experience when you’re 20-years-old. Does that make sense?
PW: Yeah. I mean, actually I think back in college or something, I maybe had a few drinks in me and somehow the conversation turned to astrology. And I only had an ephemeris on me at that point, I didn’t have any kind of apps on my phone or anything.
So I remember doing kind of a quick secondary progression-type analysis on her chart, and I asked her about this year where Saturn had stationed retrograde by secondary progression. And it turned out that that was the year that one of her parents had passed away and that a lot of things in her life had kind of gone the wrong way after that happened. And so, it’s a great party trick.
CB: Remind me not to take you to parties.
PW: Yeah, I asked what happened when their secondary progressed Saturn stationed and one of the parents passed away. So yeah, there were some tears, and I slowly slinked out of the room in shame and regret. But you know, it’s great. It’s a great technique to use.
CB: Yeah, that’s one of the funniest things of why astrology is not a good party trick. Because people will sometimes do that, like, “Read my chart,” or “Tell me about this,” and…
PW: It got too real.
CB: Yeah, things can get really real really fast. And that’s one of the reasons when people do ask for quick delineations or are like, “Read my chart, I don’t do that usually, partially just because it can be kind of a serious thing.
CB: And people sometimes aren’t expecting that or can be caught off guard.
PW: Now obviously, I had no idea what that Saturn station was going to be about. I just asked, “Oh, what happened at age 17?” or whatever it was. Yeah, I had no idea that it was going to be so serious. But it was also really compelling because I was like, “Wow. Damn. I just counted in a book and it came out to this age that was kind of relevant for some of the themes of that planet.” So yeah, I thought that was impressive, even if it was also a bad situation. But yeah, it was back in college. It was back when I was young and foolish—more foolish.
CB: I’m sure she’s forgotten at this point. Yeah, but secondary progressed stations—when a planet stations retrograde or direct by secondary progression—that’s one of the most impressive parts of secondary progressions for me because it often shows an important turning point in the person’s life that you can kind of tell at a glance by secondary progression.
So Kelly Surtees and I did an episode on secondary progressions at one point. Oh, yeah, it was Episode 144, titled, ‘Secondary Progressions: Every Day Symbolizes a Year’. One of the examples I always liked to use was Alan White who’s our mutual friend from Project Hindsight.
He had this crazy year in his life where two or three planets stationed retrograde or direct at the same time, and that ended up being the year that he found Project Hindsight and discovered Hellenistic astrology, which ended up being a major turning point for him that really characterized a major part of the last 20 years of his life. And you can really see turning points like that sometimes by zooming in on secondary progressed stations.
So just to show how that works with secondary progressions, I pulled up the ephemeris for my year of birth, for November of 1984. And if you look at November 1, which was when I was born, it gives most of the basic planetary placements in my birth chart, and then you basically just count forward one day for each year. So November 2 would be when I was like a year old, and November 3 would be the year after that, and the 4th, and so on and so forth.
One of the cool things that you can do then is you can try to look for when certain planets station retrograde or direct and know that that will be an important year. So I had a progressed Mercury station retrograde not that long ago in the past few years at 0° of Capricorn.
Or one of my favorite ones—another thing that you can do with secondary progressions that you can eyeball in an ephemeris is when will any planets go exact or form exact aspects by secondary progression and sometimes that can signify a really major year as well.
So for example, transiting Venus came through Capricorn. So natally it’s in Sagittarius, at like 15 Sagittarius in my chart. But about 12 years ago—12-13 years ago—transiting Venus came up and conjoined my secondary progressed Jupiter—or secondary progressed Venus conjoined secondary progressed Jupiter here at 13° of Capricorn. And that ended up being the year when I met my partner, Leisa.
CB: Yeah, when secondary progressed Venus conjoined Jupiter. So you can kind of see that in the ephemeris by just eyeballing it, and the fact that Venus would conjoin Jupiter in that year and equating that to when I was—however old I was. 23 or 24.
PW: Yeah, I think my Mercury went direct by progression when I was about 13 to 14, which was when I moved to the United States. Which was significant because being born with Mercury retrograde, I had a lot of speech issues growing up and as a very young child.
And in the years prior to moving to the United States, I had moved to Germany, and that’s where I had really struggled with learning the language. I mean, just after barely conquering my own speech issues in English, I had to just learn this whole other language.
So really, moving to America was the biggest relief because I was finally in a new place where I was able to speak my own language again, and that was the year that Mercury stationed direct by progression. So it was like finally moving forward after a lifetime up to that point of being sort of set back in a way.
CB: What year were you born, again?
PW: I was born 1987.
CB: ‘87, right.
PW: October 23, 1987. So Mercury stationed direct about 13-14 days later, and I was 13-years-old when I moved to the United States, so I can see how that sort of makes sense in terms of Mercury. And this also made me wonder—because Mercury goes retrograde so often—I imagine that a lot of people kind of have some sort of Mercury-type of story by progression, if they’re born just prior to a retrograde or perhaps in a retrograde.
PW: I would think that those moments of Mercury stationing direct or going retrograde by progression would have these more common life themes that people go through around those time frames in life or something.
CB: Yeah, definitely. So what was your birthday, again?
PW: October 23, 1987.
CB: Right, so there it is. Mercury’s around 10°, natally, of Scorpio.
PW: Mm-hmm, that’s right.
CB: But it’s stationed retrograde. So you can also see it in the ephemeris that it stationed the week before you were born at 13° of Scorpio. So then we scroll down and we see Mercury stationing direct at 27 Libra here. So that means you were 12-13, you said?
PW: I was 13 when I moved. So it’s about 8+6, so it would have been around 13-14. It would have been stationing direct basically in that year.
CB: Yeah, so that’s pretty crucial and that makes sense. And you can see a sign ingress where Mercury would have moved direct back into Scorpio, here on the 12th of November 1987, in whatever progressed year that coincides with.
PW: You know, that’s kind of funny actually. I was around 20-21 when I started writing for the Celebrity Astrology Blog.
CB: You mean 2011? What year? Oh, yeah, 20-years-old.
PW: Yeah, I was 20-years-old. Yeah, I was 20-years-old when I started working for the Celebrity Astrology Blog. That was when I first started doing astrology blogging basically.
PW: Because then it was 2009—just like at the very beginning of 2009—that we started the Political Astrology Blog. So really that progressed Mercury ingress almost coincides with the beginning of my activities in writing astrology, blogging and things like that.
CB: I mean, essentially, your activities of writing as a professional astrologer.
PW: Right. Yeah, basically, at age 20 or so.
CB: That’s cool. Let’s see if you have anything else. Looks like Venus will change signs at some point—or Mars will change signs and move from Libra to Scorpio here, around 25. That’s still a while in the future, right?
PW: Yeah, it’s still ways to go.
PW: But yeah, that’s how you can kind of use it.
CB: Yeah, a fun, interesting way of using secondary progressions using an ephemeris. And that’s really easy because you can animate the chart and just eyeball when different planets station retrograde or direct by secondary progressions.
But this is actually the easiest way for me to see those important turning points—just looking at an ephemeris and then seeing in the month or two after a person was born. That’ll show the first 30 to 60 years of their life essentially and help you to narrow down and zoom in on really important turning points in their life when a planet stations retrograde or direct.
PW: Or ingresses.
CB: Or ingresses, right.
PW: Or makes an aspect, yeah.
CB: Or forms a major aspect. In my case, a conjunction that looks really good. Yeah, so that’s a cool thing you can do with secondary progressions using an ephemeris. Are there any other things like that that are techniques that we meant to mention? Are there fun, little tricks and tips for ephemerises?
PW: I know it’s worth mentioning, but basically it’s also pretty easy to see—just by looking at an ephemeris—when a planet enters its pre-retrograde shadow and exits its post-retrograde shadow.
CB: That’s crucial.
PW: Which it’s actually a little easier to see that in an ephemeris than it is by animating the chart. Because you have to kind of go back and see, “Oh, where will it eventually station direct?” and then go back again to, “Okay, when did it first reach that degree?” Whereas when you just have it on the page, you can kind of just refer to it—it’s all laid out.
CB: Let’s use right now as an example of that because we know Mercury’s getting ready to go retrograde. And I remember it was like a few days, Jupiter ingressed into Pisces, right? But in the back of my head, I was realizing that the day after that Mercury would also enter into its shadow, which is the degree that it will retrograde back to later the following month.
And so, it was a little bittersweet because I was seeing things like Jupiter ingressing into Pisces and the CDC announces that people that are vaccinated don’t have to wear masks anymore inside or outside. But then seeing Mercury also enter its shadow degree that it’s going to come back to like a month later made me a little nervous about whether that might need some backtracking at some point.
PW: Right. Well, if Jupiter represents trust, I feel like just going by the honor system basically is sort of interesting. We know Jupiter eventually will have to go out of its ‘trusting’ sign into its more doubtful or skeptical sign of Aquarius.
So I think the optimism that Jupiter sort of represents will eventually have to be kind of reined back in a little bit longer in the year. And when it finally re-enters Pisces again, hopefully, it’s at a time when we really will be more free to be more trusting, more open of other people and their adherence to the vaccine and other public health measures.
CB: Yeah. So here’s the ephemeris again for May of 2021. We can see that Mercury will station retrograde at the end of the month at 24° of Gemini. And then if we scroll down, we see that it starts going backwards from 24 Gemini to 23 Gemini to 22–20, 19, 18, 17, 16—then it slows down again and it stations direct at 16° of Gemini on the 23rd of June.
So that means that if we back up, we want to see when did Mercury first pass 16° of Gemini, which is the degree that it will eventually retrograde back to. Because when it first passed that degree, that’s the start of what we call the shadow period, which is like the pre-retrograde buildup phase. And if we scroll back up, we see that Mercury first passed 16° of Gemini on the 15th of May. And like I said, that was the day after Jupiter ingressed into Pisces.
CB: So that’s another thing that you can see with an ephemeris that’s really helpful, you can see the coinciding of two important astronomical or astrological phenomenon; in this case, Mercury entering its shadow degree almost on the same day—or very close to the same day—as Jupiter changing signs. And sometimes noting important parallel lineups like that can end up being important.
So here, we would say that Mercury entered its shadow period—which is the degree that it will later retrograde back to—here on the 15th of May. And what that usually means in tangible terms is something that was initiated or started that you thought should be one action and then you’re done.
Because Mercury will later retrograde back to that exact degree, it means that there’s something that was initiated at that time that sometimes you’ll come back to or you’ll have to revisit, even though you may not have anticipated or expected to have to revisit that action that was taken at that time.
So that’s the start of the shadow phase. And then the shadow phase lasts all the way up until Mercury actually stations retrograde on the 30th. The retrograde period ends at 16° of Gemini on the 23rd. And then you enter into the post-retrograde phase—post-retrograde shadow period—which is that Mercury is still retreading the same degrees of 16° of Gemini, 17° of Gemini until it passes the degree that it went retrograde at, which in this case is 24° of Gemini.
So then you actually have to scroll all the way down into July to see when Mercury passed 24° of Gemini, and that would have occurred right here between the 7th and 8th of July. So it’s not until the 7th or 8th of July that Mercury finally passes and leaves the degree that it went retrograde in. And at that point, it’s sort of fully free of the retrograde phenomenon and some of the themes and situations that will coincide with the retrograde period.
PW: Also worth identifying or remembering that Mercury goes retrograde over approximately 8°. So knowing that span of degrees kind of helps you remember that, okay, any planets within that span, those are the ones which are going to be potentially most affected by this particular Mercury retrograde in Gemini; because then it also kind of just helps to visualize, okay, it’s really just these 8° that are kind of being scrutinized by Mercury.
CB: Right, definitely. So sometimes I’ll go through and I’ll highlight. Can you see that highlighting? I don’t know.
PW: Right, yeah.
CB: I’ll highlight the shadow degree and maybe the direct station degrees or the retrograde degrees as well just to really highlight that as something that’s important and that I need to pay attention to. And that’s one of the useful things you can do with an ephemeris to keep in mind, some of those degrees. What were our other degrees?
CB: Okay, so let me just highlight 16 here, and then your shadow degree is now noted. So if you’re trying to do a forecast, you can kind of keep that in your mind as the starting point of that shadow period. Pretty cool.
PW: Yeah, that’s pretty cool.
CB: Yeah, so that is another thing you can do. Shadow periods also apply to other planets, like Venus and Mars and other retrograde periods. It happens most frequently and is most obvious with Mercury, but it also applies to other planetary retrogrades as well.
All right, I think we’ve covered this pretty extensively. We’ve talked about different types of ephemeris. We’ve talked about the fact that software programs essentially can animate the ephemeris. So they have an ephemeris built into them, so it just shows you the data visually instead of in this more numerical, tabular format.
The American Ephemeris is the main print one that we use. Otherwise, you can get free ones from Astro.com. I see you have a note here that there’s also graphic ephemerises on places like Astro-Seek.com.
PW: Yeah, that kind of look like squiggles or spirals. I don’t know if you want to grab that up, so you can see what it looks like.
CB: That’s more of like a chart though. Because when I think of a graphic ephemeris, I think of…
PW: Oh, like the way it looks in Solar Fire.
CB: Yeah, exactly. Like here’s one from Astro Gold. So I just did a search for graphic ephemeris and what came up was—let me know if you can see this—it looks kind of like this. So that’s one from Astro Gold.
PW: Oh, look. There’s the Astro-Seek spiral down there on the right.
CB: Here’s a graphic ephemeris from Cafe Astrology. So that is a type of ephemeris, I guess. It’s more of like a visual chart, ephemeris-type of presentation.
PW: Yeah, you can see Mercury’s three retrogrades over that year in 2019.
CB: Right. I have a poster that shows a circular version of that, of just where the planets will go over the course of a year. I guess that is a type of visual ephemeris now that I think of it. Yeah, so there’s many different ways of presenting the data visually, or there’s different data that you can show, but the underlying thing is just getting a feel for and getting an intimate understanding of planetary movements.
And the more that you do that, the better you’re going to be as an astrologer, because that’s all astrology is—it’s the study of planetary movements and how those coincide with earthly events or events in our lives.
And if that allows us to make statements or predictions about people’s future or about their present or about their past, the more familiar you are with those planetary movements and the more of a command that you have over those movements and the mathematical or astronomical understanding of them, the better you’re going to be as an astrologer.
So I think that’s really the most important thing. It doesn’t matter what type of ephemeris you use or how you harness this data, it’s just that you should do your best to try to become proficient at using it in some different ways, so that you’re really working with the underlying astronomy that’s underlying your astrology, and you have some sort of understanding of how those planetary movements work.
PW: And eventually, if you become familiar enough with certain—I mean, there are certain years now where I can actually remember the positions of the planets. And using some of those recurrent cycles just from memory, I can now begin to recall.
It’s obviously easiest with some of these, like Venus. But if you know the major cycles of the outer planets and Jupiter and Saturn, eventually you’ll be able to get to the point where you might hit a year, and you’ll know a Mars retrograde happened that year in this sign, or I know Saturn and Uranus and Neptune and Pluto, and I know their general positions in that year.
You know, it’s kind of funny, our common friend, Nick Dagan Best, people call him the ‘Human Ephemeris’ because of his ability to recall general planetary positions for any given date, and I kind of aspire to get that level of mastery.
It’s not just a trick, it’s really useful. Because when you hear about these numbers in the news or when people are talking about certain years when things happened, it’ll help you make connections. In a way, you’ll almost be able to transcend the ephemeris by making these connections between different periods of time that kind of let you know how things are linked from things that happened before to how they apply in the present or in the future, and so it’s useful.
But obviously, the ephemeris is where you get a start, and it really is that ‘book of time’ that contains all the stories and events and people who’ve lived in that time. I think that’s just, yeah, super profound.
CB: Yeah, a book that literally contains everything that has happened or will ever happen or is happening now, to the extent that astrology correlates with all those things and describes it in some way.
So yeah, that was a good point. Also, just if somebody mentions that they were born in a certain year, like if somebody says, “I was born in 1985,” I automatically know they have Saturn in Scorpio and Pluto in Scorpio, for example, so you already know some basic things about their birth chart. Or if they say they were born in 1992 or 1993, I’m like, “Oh, you have a Neptune-Uranus conjunction in Capricorn in your chart,” because I know that’s when that major outer planet conjunction took place.
PW: And a few decades from now, when you have a young person coming to you to look at their chart, and they say they were born in 2020, I bet you’ll probably remember for sure what planetary placements they had. You’ll be like, “Oh, my God. You’re one of those kids. You’re one of these scrappy, survivors.” These are just indomitable ‘corona’ kids.
CB: That’s already happening to me because my first ephemeris that I was showing—that blue ephemeris that’s all in tatters—I bought this in 2000. So my ephemeris is literally older than some of the astrologers these days, which is a funny thing.
And I have marked down some transits for different days, like in 2001, 9/11 happened, and I was marking up in my ephemeris what different alignments were that day. And of course we know some astrologers who were born around then.
PW: Yeah, I know. The young clients that I have—I actually remember the transits that I was experiencing at that time of their natal placements and that’s been a bit of a trip.
PW: We are getting old, Chris.
CB: I know. I’m starting to—that’s bizarre—like remember the transits I was having—the experiences I was having when somebody was born. That is a bizarre territory that we’re now firmly entering into and I guess everybody will experience at some point, but yeah, that’s been a new experience.
PW: Yeah, absolutely. The whole point is it’s not just numbers, it’s not just math, but it’s also people and things that really happened—and life.
CB: Yeah, and knowing some of those cycles. For example, we’ve mentioned Cam White, and Cam White was born 12 years before me. So I know automatically he also has Jupiter in Capricorn, which is similar to my chart placement of Jupiter in Capricorn.
Or recently in the news, for example, there was that announcement that Bill and Melinda Gates were getting divorced, and the headlines all said, “After 27 years of marriage.” So every astrologer that read that headline automatically knew, “Oh, that’s a Saturn cycle. That means their marriage must be having a Saturn return right now.” And that’s true. If you go back and look at when they were married, they were married when Saturn was in Aquarius in the 1990s, and now Saturn has returned back to Aquarius 27 years later.
PW: Also, a good call, Chris. When the news first came out that they were going to be divorcing, I saw a comment of yours on Facebook where you said something like, “I think this probably started when Saturn was actually going through Bill Gates’ 7th house.” And then those articles came out about how this has actually been in process for the past couple of years while Saturn was in Capricorn.
So yeah, that was a good call. It makes a lot of sense. And that’s a really great example of how just being familiar with these numbers and cycles allows you to automatically clue in to things that are happening.
I mean, 29 is probably one of the biggest ones. You know, when someone reaches the age of 29 and they do something big, you’re like, “Oh, okay, this is probably to do with the Saturn return.” There might be other things going on, but there are some really interesting connections like that.
And then looking at when wars break out and things like that. You can often connect what Mars was doing 15 or 17 years prior to some way that it kind of contributes to what’s happening in that current climate. So it’s a very powerful kind of tool to have. It starts with just getting familiar with the ephemeris.
CB: Yeah, and giving you a mastery especially over transits. So mastery over transits is a predictive and a timing technique, and also just familiarity with birth charts and different eras. For example, I did an episode with Kirah Taburn on generational astrology and different generational signatures, for example, different decades when Pluto was in Scorpio versus when Pluto was in Sagittarius, or different few-year time spans when Saturn was in Scorpio versus when it was in Sagittarius, or Capricorn, or Aquarius, or what have you.
And when you start to think about things in terms of those broad spans of time, which you can study in the ephemeris, you can—not categorize people—but at least block out different frames of time, different time spans that you know have certain planetary signatures.
PW: Yeah, it’s wild.
CB: Yeah, I guess that’s basically what Richard Tarnas’ book was, Cosmos & Psyche, where he’s doing that for much longer spans of time of looking at different planetary alignments, like Uranus-Neptune conjunctions or the Saturn-Pluto conjunctions. Actually that was one he had a whole chapter about, Saturn-Pluto alignments, and bad stuff that’s happened under those, and he was looking at ones like 1980-1981 and the AIDS pandemic, for example.
But then of course looking at that historically and having looked at that in the past ended up becoming relevant in the future after he wrote the book, when we had another Saturn-Pluto conjunction last year in 2020, and then all of a sudden, we have the outbreak of the COVID pandemic.
PW: No, exactly. I mean, this is absolutely why knowing how to use an ephemeris really gives you—it’s a lot of power really that you’re holding in that book. It’s giving you a way to figure things out that really you should be able to know. So yeah, it’s sort of what makes astrology amazing. I mean, that’s why we sort of do this, right?
CB: Yeah, definitely. And there’s a lot of different things you can do with that information and a lot of different ways you can use it. So yeah, I guess use it wisely. I guess we didn’t have a recommendation. I still think everybody should get a print version of an ephemeris.
And Leisa and I actually joke about it, but it’s not too far of an exaggeration, that we kind of almost have an ephemeris in every room of the house, because you never know when one of us is going to be like, “Where were the planets on such-and-such day?” and we’ll have to really want to immediately pull that up. And so, we’ll reach for a handy ephemeris on the shelf and look up when that actually happened.
So I’m a very big fan of print books, so maybe that’s part of my bias. But I think there’s something useful about having a print ephemeris still, and the way that you can flip through pretty easily very large spans of time, so I recommend getting one.
I don’t think it matters if you get a ‘midnight’ versus ‘noon’ one. I do have the ‘noon’ version of the trans-century ephemeris just because then I know that it’s starting in the middle of the day. Therefore, I know that in the middle of the day, the planets will be approximately where it’s saying they are for each day.
CB: But it’s just going to be like seven hours off or something like that—six hours off—or a ‘midnight’ version, so it’s not a huge difference. All right, so American Ephemeris, Astro.com ephemeris. I think that’s it. So thanks for joining me today for this. This was fun.
PW: Oh, thank you so much. It’s a pleasure as always.
CB: So you’re staying busy with consultations and other things. You do birth chart consultations and also electional astrology and rectification.
PW: And horary.
CB: Is there anything else I’m forgetting? And horary astrology.
PW: And tutoring.
CB: Okay. What’s your website?
PW: And you can follow me on Twitter, @PWatsonAstro, and on Facebook at PWatsonAstro.
CB: Cool. So people should check you out. I’ve been referring all my clients to you for years, ever since the podcast took over my life and I stopped having time to do consultations. So you have the approach that’s like the closest to mine, so I refer most of my clients to you and Leisa. So people should definitely check out your work if they’re interested in also some of the things we talked about here, including recurrent cycles and other things like that.
PW: Yeah, those are indispensable. I find those can sometimes form some of the best insights I can sometimes make into people’s lives and what to expect from future ones by looking at those recurrences. Yeah, it’s definitely a part of my toolkit.
CB: Cool. All right, well, people should check out your website at PatrickWatsonAstrology.com. I meant to mention really quickly the software that we use for casting charts is Solar Fire because everybody always asks me what software we use. So it’s Solar Fire from Alabe.com. And you can use the promo code ‘AP15’ for a 15% discount on that.
Or there’s a Mac version of a similar program called Astro Gold for Mac OS available from I believe Esoteric Technologies. And the promo code for that is ‘ASTROPODCAST15’. And that should be working sometime in the next week or so for a discount on that. So you can find out more information about that program at AstroGold.io.
All right, that’s it for this episode of The Astrology Podcast. So thanks everybody for listening or watching. Thanks to all the patrons for your support. And let us know if you have any questions in the comments section below this video on YouTube, if you’re watching the YouTube version. And please give it a like and a subscribe to help us on YouTube.
All right, thanks for watching, and we’ll see you again next time.
Special thanks to all the patrons that supported the production of this episode of The Astrology Podcast through our page on Patreon.com. In particular, thanks to the patrons on our Producers tier, including: Nate Craddock, Thomas Miller, Catherine Conroy, Kristi Moe, Ariana Amour, Mandi Rae, Angelic Nambo, Sumo Coppock, Nadia Habhab, Issa Sabah, Morgan MacKenzie, and Jake Otero.
For more information about how to become a patron and get access to exclusive subscriber benefits such as early access to new episodes, go to Patreon.com/AstrologyPodcast.
Also, special thanks to our sponsors, including: the Northwest Astrological Conference which is happening online May 27-31, 2021; find out more information at NORWAC.net. The Mountain Astrologer Magazine which you can find out more information about at MountainAstrologer.com. The Honeycomb Collective Personal Astrological Almanacs which you can find out more information about at Honeycomb.co. Also, the Portland School of Astrology; more information at PortlandAstrology.org. The Astro Gold Astrology App available for both iPhone and Android, available at Astrogold.io.
And finally, the primary software program that we use on episodes of The Astrology Podcast is called Solar Fire Astrology Software which is available at Alabe.com. And you can get a 15% discount with the promo code ‘AP15’.