The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 324, titled:
With Luis Ribeiro and Chris Brennan
Episode originally released on October 26, 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 Christine O’Connor
Transcription released October 27, 2021
Copyright © 2021 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 Luis Ribeiro about the life and work of astrologer Helena Avelar. So, hey, Luis, welcome back to the show.
LUIS RIBEIRO: Glad to be here, Chris.
CB: Yeah. So, we’ve been meaning to do this episode for a few months now to talk about your partner, Helena, who passed away unexpectedly earlier this year on March 9th and who you had collaborated with for a few decades now in your work on astrology and she actually had a book that came out which was the published version of her PhD dissertation that came out just a few months ago as well as a paper that actually just came out a few days ago. So we were going to do in this discussion an overview of her life and then in the second part discuss her work and especially her book that just came out which is titled “An Astrologer at Work in Late Medieval France: the Notebooks of S. Belle.” So, how are you doing, just first off?
LR: OK, I’m great, I’m doing fine.
CB: So, you’ve continued the work, a lot of the work that you guys were doing since that time.
LR: Yeah, I assumed the teaching of our school and some of the projects that we had together, some of the academic projects, so these works that we are going to discuss today were the last ones where Helena – that she wrote directly and now for in the future there will still be a few works that we were doing together which I will finish at some point.
CB: OK. So previously the two of you had done an episode with me on the podcast actually that was released almost two years ago exactly which was Episode 225 titled “Helena Avelar and Luis Ribeiro on Traditional Astrology” so people can go back and listen to that for some of our previous discussion where we talked more about your thoughts on traditional astrology but here I thought it would be good to give more of a chronology of Helena’s life from you since you knew her the best out of anybody and can maybe provide more insight into just the significance of her contributions to astrology and how she grew and developed as an astrologer during the course of her life.
LR: Yes, well, Helena always had an interest for astrology which came from mythology. She would always tell this tale that her grandfather used to read her bedtime stories with the ancient Greek myths — of course tailored for a child, of course, without the more adult bits. She grew up on that and when at some point she started to be interested in astrology, that was there, that interest on the myths and on the stars and on the meanings of the constellations. That was always there. So she had an interest in astronomy as well, you know, observing the sky, she liked that a lot and from there, the interest grew. She then became a reporter, a journalist for some years and at some point she decided to start studying astrology and she tried to seek out — first, I think she got a consultation which was not that good [laughs].
CB: Right, I think she said she had some familiarity with sun sign astrology in her teen years but I was watching an interview with her that actually goes into her life quite a bit that was published in November 2020, just last year by Volker Schindel on his Youtube channel and it was titled “Dr. Helena Avelar – Astra Project Traditional Astrology” and she said she had some basic exposure to sun sign but she had this sense that there must be more to this, or that there must be something else there, and eventually she did discover real astrology and birth charts.
LR: Yes, and then she found a school here and she got finally — after that one unsuccessful attempt at having a proper reading, she found then a proper astrologer to give her a reading and then she wanted to study and he advised her of the school that existed in Portugal many years ago which was basically the school where many of today’s practitioners here in Portugal studied. And that’s where we met.
CB: That’s kind of interesting that her first reading actually wasn’t very good — it’s kind of funny because you hear that sometimes from different astrologers where you know on the one hand it’s really good to get consultations from other astrologers to see how other astrologers practice maybe especially early in your studies but on the other hand sometimes the experience is not always necessarily — because you don’t know who you’re having a consultation with if you’re new to astrology, you don’t usually have the skills to figure out who’s a very good or well-respected astrologer versus who isn’t, so sometimes people do get a bad reading and most of the rest of their astrological career partially becomes, you know, learning how to do a better job than that person did, in some sense.
LR: [laughs] Exactly. Well, she caught something that we have and still have to some extent in Portugal back then – it was very common – is that people who call themselves astrologers were not exactly astrologers. They were, you know, tarot readers, psychics, whatever, and sometimes not good at all. And that’s what she got, so he didn’t even make her a proper chart, he just read a few things about her Sun sign and that’s it. [laughs] So it was a really, really really bad one.
CB: But she was getting into real astrology at this point and wanted to learn more. What timeframe was this? This is in like the 1980’s when she is in her 20’s or 30’s?
LR: Probably later. I don’t know. I know that she had already studied by then. I’m not recalling because the timeline is a bit blurred. But she had already studied and she had started with a book that was published long time ago by a friend of ours in their pseudonym at the time which was an introduction to astrology, that was basically the book that everyone here in Portugal started with because it had the tables to calculate charts, it had all the basic instructions for interpretation so she started there and she calculated her own chart, she did all the work and I think it was a little bit off and so she wasn’t exactly sure of the Ascendant back then because the tables were approximations – it was not a huge book so it didn’t have all the dates but she started there and then at some point, if I’m remembering correctly, she then sought out an astrologer to really understood what she was doing, the first attempt didn’t work very well but at the second try she found a proper astrology who then led her to a school and that’s where she started to train and to organize her knowledge as an astrologer.
CB: It’s interesting that this was during a period – because she was born in the mid-1960’s – and so the period we’re talking about when she really starts getting into astrology would have been in the 1980’s and by the 1990’s, so it’s a little bit before the rise of the personal computer and certainly before the advent of the Internet where you can – everybody nowadays can just go to various websites and get their chart calculated in 5 seconds but this is in a stage where you needed to calculate your chart by hand using tables and books and other things like that if you really wanted to practice astrology.
LR: Yeah. Exactly. She, as a journalist, for example, she still used a typewriter and it was during her period as a journalist that the first word processors started to show up and then the computers. So she witnessed all of that. But at that time, you would calculate it by hand. There was no other way. There were no personal computers, as we were saying, so you couldn’t really do much. And the problem sometimes was that you didn’t have tables of conversions of time zones, you didn’t have the daylight savings and people sometimes made huge mistakes, one hour or two hours off of their proper chart because they didn’t have the correct tables. Or they didn’t have the information to apply them. And I’m thinking of someone who is just starting with no instructions, no teacher who can orient them so people just experimented. Yeah. So she went through that. And myself, at the beginning.
CB: So maybe some of that background as a journalist helped her investigate for herself or at least help her find resources for some of these things because I can see in her later career as an academic that she has an ability to research sources and to look things up that’s really necessary for that kind of investigate work but I can imagine that early on in her 20’s or 30’s that that would have come in handy as she’s trying to get into the field of astrology and figure out where to go and how to learn the subject.
LR: Yeah, yeah. And she was – she had a very good sense of discernment, so she knew when things were working out and when she was learning something much more significant that she didn’t know or when there really wasn’t good quality in sources or the people teaching so she had quite a good way of recognizing that and really doing that separation.
CB: OK. Eventually she found a school and what was the school that she learned at and that’s the point where you crossed paths with her as well?
LR: This was the Chiron School of Astrology. It was one of only two schools at this time. There were just two official schools let’s say, if official is the correct word, but larger, let’s say, and then other than that, there was private tutors, you know, there were teachers who had small groups but those were less known. Almost everyone would go to this school at some point or another and it was there that we both had our first training on astrology.
CB: And this was in like early 1990’s?
LR: Yeah, yeah. I went in – let me think – sometime around 1996/95, something around those dates and she was more or less at the same time. We were not in the same year of school — because the school had at least three or four years – I don’t recall – of teaching but we were not in the same year exactly but we were very close, yeah. So this would be mid to late ‘90’s.
CB: And how long had you been studying astrology at that point yourself?
LR: When we started. Well, I started almost from scratch, I had one year of independent study, you know, reading books and trying to understand how it works [laughs] before I went to a school that was recommended at the time, yeah.
CB: OK. And you’re a little younger than she is, you’re about roughly a decade younger?
LR: Yeah, 10 years, yeah, roughly, almost a decade, yeah.
CB: Got it, OK. And the Chiron School – I can hear almost by the name – would you say more of a modern school of astrology or New Age-influenced school? Or like when I think of astrology in the mid-1990’s and what it was like from English-speaking sources when I started in 1999/2000, it was more psychological and character-based and Jungian and also with many sources a very strong New Age focus. Was it the same with this school or in Portugal at the time?
LR: Yeah, yeah, the school, as most of astrology in Portugal at that time had strong French influences so you had karmic astrology, you had all the New Age stuff, the psychology, of course, Dane Rudhyar, all of that was included there. But this was more toward the New Age – it depended on the teacher because there were several teachers but most of them were inclined for the New Age Movement so it was Modern Astrology certainly, you know, with all the works we began studying astrology, Modern Astrology, yeah.
CB: OK. And you two connected and did you hit it off right away or did you start talking or studying together or what was your connection at that point when you both met at this school?
LR: Well, Helena came and talked to me at some point because I was drawing. I used to draw my diagrams and stuff in my notebooks.
CB: Because you are an illustrator – that’s one of your skills is illustrating.
LR: Exactly. So I was drawing something and she came and asked me how I was doing it and we talked and then I – there were a lot of months when I didn’t cross paths with her because we were in different time schedules at the time and then I crossed paths with her outside the school at least twice, if I recall correctly, and we said “Hi”, “Hello”, and then at some point where we had already – at least, I had already finished my studies of astrology and I was starting to go independent on my own, starting my first readings and all of that – there was this mutual friend who wanted to open a center which would have courses, workshops, and she invited me and mentioned that Helena would be there and at the time, I didn’t know Helena that much so the name didn’t ring a bell and she told me “Oh, she knows you” so I thought OK, perhaps I know her, but I didn’t know the name and then we met and there it was, Helena, and since then – this was ‘98, since then, we were talking and we started to be closer and closer until we decided to get together and, well, at the beginning of ‘99.
CB: OK. So that was over 20 years ago at this point.
LR: Yeah, it’s 21 years last year, so, yeah.
CB: So, you’re both doing Modern Astrology and practicing – are you both starting to see clients at this point?
LR: Yes, by ‘99, I was already teaching astrology. I had a small study group and then Helena came in as well and we started what would become The Academy at this point, our school, and it began in ‘99 and we began to teach together Modern Astrology, of course, and – but we had already some books and a notion of Traditional Astrology because differently from the English-speaking countries, we had access to books from Spain which were translated in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s and ‘70’s, so a little bit earlier than the translation wave that happened in England and the United States. So, there were the Arabic authors – Ezra and al-Rijal — were already circulating then and we had access to them. Helena had some and then a friend of ours also showed us – who was also an astrologer – showed us these books and we borrowed them and started studying them.
CB: These translations – were they in Spanish or were they translated into Portuguese?
CB: OK. Both of you could read Spanish.
LR: Yeah. It’s similar enough to Portuguese so we can understand it quite well.
CB: OK. And there had been works translated into Spanish from Traditional astrological texts and al-Rijal is one of the largest – he had a huge compendium which is a massive text from the medieval period on different branches of astrology.
LR: al-Rijal has perhaps one of the most successful books of astrology in Europe, although we do have Ma Sha Allah and Abu Ma’shar and all the other Arabs. The complete set of the areas of astrology were coming from al-Rijal. And he’s, I believe, the main link of transmission of many of the techniques that we see in the Arabs, especially Abu Ma’shar coming to the Latin world. And this book is translated first into Spanish directly, into Old Castilian and then later from Old Castilian into Latin. So, the version we had was a modern edition of the Old Castilian version that was circulating at the time. So, that’s where we started to learn a little bit but only when we started to learn with Robert Zoller – this was 2001/2002, I don’t recall exactly, the year was sometime around 2002, that we had a more structured approach to Traditional, through his introductory course and then through his diploma.
CB: Right. Because you had access to some of those translations but sometimes if you don’t have any training in Traditional Astrology, it can be very hard as a modern astrologer to just pick up a translation of a Traditional text from in this case al-Rijal from the 11th century and it’s been translated through a few languages before you’re reading it in the version that you’re reading and it can very hard to fully grasp as much of the information than you might if you had an introduction to Traditional first.
LR: Yeah. I think it’s like all — I think it’s the same as for any Hellenistic or Medieval sources. They’re not usually — with a few exceptions – it’s not easy to start with that. You need a little bit of basics to start to extract proper information from those sources. It’s only later in the early modern period and the most well-known is Lilly because it’s in English that you already had a more didactical approach on the topic because in the older sources, older than early modern period, it’s not built for our minds. [laughs] We no longer think and structure knowledge that way so it’s more difficult to enter it, yeah.
CB: Sure. So you, the two of you, came across the work of Robert Zoller by, what, by 2000/2001 or so?
LR: Yeah, I think it was when – early in the beginning of the new library initiative, I think, where he was involved, Sue Ward was involved at the beginning and that’s how we met them both.
CB: Through his – Zoller initially partnered up with somebody who was going to start offering his courses online which was probably a very innovative thing at that point, circa 2000-2001 before online learning and online teaching had really taken off so you came across his work because it started being promoted where you could study through online and through a correspondence course with him.
LR: Yeah, exactly. And later we came in contact – we took the course and we came in contact with him and Sue Ward through someone we knew who had an astrological journal so she had made the contact, and then through her we also got the contacts and we did the course with Robert and then Sue Ward was here as well teaching. They both came to Lisbon to teach, we organized some workshops for them. At the time, we also organized the first meeting, astrological meeting/congress in Portugal ever done, first with Portuguese speakers and in the second edition it was 2001 and in 2002 we already had foreign participants. I think Sue came to the 2002 congress and then we still made one in 2003 and that was our last. I think I’m recalling the dates correctly. 2003 was our last attempt at a congress. And then by 2004 Helena had entered university and we had other interests to attend to.
CB: Right. So you started going through a transformation at this point in terms of your practice of astrology and your focus and maybe if we could expand on that point a little bit because, you know, probably Traditional Astrology has become so normalized these days that it probably seems like less of a big deal or will as time goes on further and further but I think starting to study with Robert Zoller, in particular – Zoller had been studying Traditional Astrology since the ‘70’s or ‘80’s and he was one of the first English-speaking astrologers that really went back and tried to revive some of the older methods of especially Medieval Astrology through the work of Guido Bonatti and other astrologers so he took a much more hard line, sort of traditionalist approach where he would say “The old ways are the good ways” and he had developed one of the first courses, where it was kind of a comprehensive course on how to do astrology according to the older Medieval methods. What was that like for the two of you as modern astrologers to start studying Traditional Astrology together?
LR: Well, I remember being very excited because we had all these components that we had already heard about in our source books but didn’t know exactly how to work them out and suddenly we had the system. And I think what struck us immediately was the way that Traditional Astrology organized knowledge and information and really taught you how to extract information from the chart, how to do a proper interpretation, and that was what hooked us on it immediately because we were at the time – and I think people nowadays don’t realize this as much – at that point astrology had become something very nebulous because you had all this symbolical, archetypical, psychological approaches that almost didn’t need a chart to do their things. So astrology was kind of disassociated from itself and what most people called astrology involved very little astrology. And then this new wave of Traditional Astrology kind of grounded this into proper knowledge and we loved that immediately, you know, and we still do. And we dedicated, then, to studying and recovering all that tradition and working it out properly and really understanding how to think in terms of astrology. Because I think — and I know many people don’t agree with this — but I think most of modern astrology makes it up as it goes, you know? It relies too much in symbolic associations and I have nothing against symbolic associations or mythology or archetypes or whatever. All that is very interesting knowledge. But it starts to fill itself with it and forgets about astrology. You see when people delineate planets or talk about the symbolism of the planet. They get over-excited about the symbol, they fly directly into the symbolic and then astrology is lost in the way because you’re talking about the symbol and you’re not talking about the planet astrologically speaking. And I think that’s a sin that’s still around very much and Traditional Astrology makes you go back to the real. In the sense what Zoller said “The old ways are the good ways.” It comes back to reality. OK, all that is very pretty but how does this work exactly?
CB: Sure. Just in terms of being able to ground it, to be able to make statements about concrete events that will or will not happen in a person’s life.
LR: Yes. Even if you’re just talking about psychological behavior, you know, you can do psychological analysis with Traditional Astrology. And it has wonderful tools to do that, I think, much more in-depth than any other system of astrology that’s out there. Because it’s more concrete so you’re talking about things that the person can immediately identify, you know, it’s not just generic things that can be applied to a greater number of people. They’re very specific and that’s the charm [laughs] that Traditional Astrology enveloped us in and we haven’t left it since, yeah.
CB: Right. For over 20 years now. So you would have learned natal astrology, then, primarily from Zoller and then you also started studying with Sue Ward at this point who specializes in horary astrology and especially in the work of William Lilly from the 17th century that is one of the earliest English-speaking astrologers or at least that wrote a major textbook on astrology in English in the mid 17th century so you started studying horary with her.
LR: Yeah, yeah. Helena dedicated herself more to horary and I to natal with Zoller so we kind of split that a little bit at some time but we were both learning at the same time. And then we started to expand. We didn’t stay there. We had sources so we started to expand our knowledge of Traditional Astrology and one thing that we did was, once we had the structure, the backbone to lie on, we started to go to as much sources as we could and at that time there weren’t that many available. So, anything that we could read on Project Hindsight, these Spanish translations, and all of that were quite helpful and gave us a broad range view of astrology from let’s say the Greek-speaking world to the later early modern going to that core of the medieval period and that allows us to reconstruct and to give more substance to that core of astrological doctrine and practice that is incredibly valuable to work and to extract real information from charts.
CB: Right, and through some of those Spanish translations and sources like al-Rijal, you would have had access to something that was unique, that most of the just purely English-speaking world of Traditional astrologers didn’t have access to because even though Ben Dykes eventually started translating some works from al-Rijal, that was 10 or 15 years later, but this was a source that the two of you had been working with since the early 2000’s.
LR: Yeah, yeah, And one of the things that al-Rijal has that you couldn’t find – only recently this has come up – is the techniques of prognostication, you know? How to work the fidaria, how to work the profections, the solar returns, and how to combine them all. So we learned that early on by studying al-Rijal’s work which isn’t easy, I must say, because he has a very convoluted, medieval way of explaining things so you really need to read those passages 10 times until you can extract exactly what he means. And we learned a lot from that. So things that came out recently like Dykes on Abu Ma’Shar, the translation of the predictive work, we already knew from al-Rijal because al-Rijal is sourcing most of his material on Abu Ma’Shar, and expanding a little bit more into it with his ideas and opinions so we had access to that very early on. That was valuable.
CB: Yeah, that’s super important and put you ahead and still ahead which we’ll get to in terms of why the two of you became leaders in the field of Traditional Astrology and became very influential around the world with some of your later publications once you started writing books on the topic. So, something happened, though, around that point where it seemed like the early phases of like you two got swept up a little bit in a trend that I noted started in the 1990’s with astrologers and continued in the 2000’s where some astrologers decided to go back to school in order to get advanced degrees and training, studying the history of astrology and I know for some of the astrologers in the mid-90’s, some of their motivation was to make astrology more respectable and to make inroads in Academia for different reasons, like there were things going on with Kepler College or different things like that and there’s a whole list of astrologers that went back to school. When did that process start happening for you and how aware were you of other astrologers doing that and what were your motivations?
LR: Well, we knew that things were coming up, you had the Bath Spa already in place but –
CB: That was Nick Campion’s program?
LR: Nick Campion’s program was already working, Kepler College as well, but those were a bit inaccessible to us at the time but what happened really and focusing on Helena, at one point, I had been in university until ‘99 to early 2000’s and I took Chemistry, which I didn’t appreciate that much, and then I went into Geology.
CB: And you’re only in your mid-20’s at that point, right, because you’re born in ‘74?
CB: OK, so, 1999, you’re 25.
LR: Then I stopped and dedicated myself to astrology and I met Helena so that’s more or less coincidental in time. But at some point, Helena who only had – she had done all her high school and she then went to a technical – she started working, she had some technical course at some point, I don’t recall exactly the details, and at some time she wanted to go to university.
CB: Yeah, I’d read that it was like 2004 is when she went back to get her bachelor’s degree.
LR: Exactly. She went through all the exams, all the admission exams, and she started and she selected history. She decided to go to history because it was a topic that she loved, and she did her whole bachelor’s degree. But at the time, she wasn’t thinking of an academic career. She just wanted to complete her university degree, she wanted to have the university studies, have her degree and go through that process and that was it, so we weren’t at the time thinking of reaching where we are right now where we are really researching at high level in Academia. The idea for her initially was to make the course and at the time she asked me if I wanted to go back to study again and I said well, not yet. At some point in the future, maybe, but not yet. And so she completed her degree.
CB: So the way it works with the bachelor’s degree, she was able to focus entirely on history for her bachelor’s somehow. I was watching the interview with the German astrologer and she seemed to say that she could focus just on that without doing a lot of other studies like science or math. Is that correct?
CB: So it’s almost like a master’s degree, her bachelor’s, at that point in some way.
LR: Yeah, yeah. It’s history. It’s a general history, and in the M.A., she specialized in medieval history. It was one of her options. She loved two periods: Assyria, so antiquity, and medieval. And at the time, the branch, the M.A. for the Assyrian period didn’t open that year and she decided then on medieval. Or else she would have done work on some cuneiform tables or something like that.
CB: Wow. That’s a really interesting split there, then, where she could have gone either way, one of two ways.
LR: Yeah, she loved languages, you know. She knew a little bit of Egyptian, she studied hieroglyphics, she did a little bit of Assyrian, she knew a little Hebrew, she knew Arabic a little bit. She was very gifted for languages. She studied a lot. And she already had a knowledge, you know, she could read Greek very well, although she didn’t speak the language fluently but she could read and understand a lot, you know, perhaps not be able to translate but she could understand it. And, so, she had that interest.
CB: That’s a major asset as an historian and also as an astrologer being able to have that facility with languages and to be able to speak or at least to be able to read so many different languages.
LR: Yeah, yeah, it is. It is something that helps. It helps a lot. Sometimes even having the ability to read multiple modern languages because then you can access books – Spanish, French, German, Italian – that otherwise you aren’t able to read and that is good. And of course, ancient languages is wonderful if you can. Yeah, she had that gift, she didn’t develop it too much, or as much as she would like. So, she took her B.A. in history, she finished in 4 years at the time it was 4 years to finish, now they are 3. That shifted when she was mid – completing the degree. There was a reformation in the education system and she caught that, she did it in 4 years and then she decided to attempt the M.A. which was a big jump because she wasn’t – that was not in her plans at first.
CB: What changed or at what point in those 4 years does she get really dedicated to history and decides to make this a much more serious commitment and long-term project if she decided to get her master’s degree in history as well.
LR: Yeah, she decided that she could study and that was the point where she understood that she could go and use — now that she had done the basic training of her B.A., she could do an M.A. on the history of astrology. And this was an important key point where she got the idea, “OK, now I can do something interesting regarding astrology, you know, and develop and contribute something interesting in the history of astrology. Because at this time, since early 2000’s, we had been researching, you know, on the libraries and on archives whatever existed of astrological material and by 2002, we already had a copy of the manuscript that she would be studying on her PhD. We already knew about it, and by reading history books and history research here in Portugal where they mention astrology and that clicked, you know, once she had the course done, that clicked and she said “I’m going to do something also on astrology.” And I remember her asking me, “Do you think that’s possible?” And I said yes, that’s an excellent idea, and so she went and did her master’s.
CB: That’s amazing that you have – in Portugal, there are many libraries that contain manuscripts from the Renaissance and from the medieval periods and sometimes older, so the two of you since 2000 had been going and starting to familiarize yourselves with these manuscripts and what books survived and trying to read them and working with them and probably learning the skills that are necessary in order to read those older source texts.
LR: Yeah, yeah. So, as we were structuring our learning of Traditional Astrology, we were also accessing and seeing these direct sources in Portuguese. That was quite valuable as well to our practice because then it’s not only theories in books — you can also see practice.
CB: Right. And I find that’s a really interesting thing that the astrological motivation for astrologers becomes like an underlying, driving force and a reason to learn ancient languages or to learn paleography, how to read ancient manuscripts and handwriting in manuscripts and different skills like that. The two of you must have had a really good reason, then, to have the practice of astrology to actually learn all these skills.
LR: Yeah, yeah, well, it was our main drive, you know, to go into Academia and Helena had been searching for sources for some time and when she decided to do the M.A., she was quite a pioneer here in Portugal so her M.A. which was completed in 2011, was the first academic work on the history of astrology in Portugal. People had talked about it and there are a few papers mentioning it briefly but hers is the first official, let’s say, a proper history of astrology M.A. in Portugal, so she did the first work and she did it already in English and that was fortunate because that opened her research to the wider world. If she had written in Portuguese, as it was usually at the time — they wouldn’t encourage people to write in English, nowadays it’s normal but at the time it wasn’t still the current practice — and she insisted and I think she did well because then she made known what materials we have in Portugal by studying something — and there aren’t many studies on it — which is the Chronicles on the king, the king and the noblemen, you know, in high praising, all the narrative of their glorious lives and effects, is supported by astrological arguments.
CB: Right. So her master’s degree was in astrology in the Portuguese royal court.
LR: Yeah, exactly.
CB: What did that consist of, or what time period was she — what was the scope of it?
LR: That is late 14th but mainly 15th century. So, late medieval because that’s where we have the Chronicles coming in, Second Dynasty, and by then, you have astrological narratives in the court. They connect eclipses to the winning of wars, they connect certain planetary positions to the great abilities of rulership of the kings, and so on. You have enormous quantity of this narrative in the Chronicles that had been ignored since. People knew it existed but it was put aside and considered as, you know, nonsense of the time, as we sometimes say. And she proved that that was a very important part of the narrative.
CB: Right. So she was part of one of the early groups of people that were going back and looking at astrology as a legitimate historical subject to study in history because of the influence that it had on society and culture and science and philosophy and all these other things but there hadn’t been a lot of work done necessarily especially on this particular area in Portugal yet.
LR: No, nothing. In Portugal, there was almost nothing. As you say, today, to understand the middle ages — that was her focal point – or even the early modern period or ancient classical world, you know, without the element of astrology, it’s doing the puzzle with a big chunk of it missing because that is part of their cosmological narrative, you know, the way they see the world, and to ignore that because it’s superstitious nonsense of the past as older historiography used to do. It’s absurd. It’s completely absurd. It’s like doing the history of Europe and ignoring religion, the Catholic religion. It wouldn’t make sense. The same with astrology and you still have a very strong resistance in Academia still today in seeing that. Older historians, I think, are very resistant to it.
CB: Right. It’s tricky because it’s still a popular thing that exists in culture and that people talk about in terms of pop astrology and it has current cultural meaning and relevance but not typically in a good way especially from an academic context or a scientific context, for that matter, where it’s usually seen as, you know, superstition and something that’s looked down upon and therefore in an historical context, even though it’s playing such a big role in history, it’s something where up until recently, and to some extent still historians look down on it still, even historically and don’t necessarily want to treat that as a serious subject to dedicating their lives to studying.
LR: Yeah, it’s one of the wretched sciences, [laughs] as they call it. It is knowledge that was expelled, extracted from science and from what is considered today high knowledge. To us, if it doesn’t make sense today, you’re not going to study it in the past, you know. “Why are you studying that?” Which is absolute nonsense. Helena used to say that it’s easier to talk about the history of cannibalism, which is a very shocking topic whenever we speak of it, it’s easier than to talk about the history of astrology. Because if you are talking about the cannibalistic practices of – I don’t know – the 3rd century BCE somewhere, no one is assuming that you might believe that and do it yourself. If you talk about astrology, even if you’re not a practitioner, you have no interest in practicing it, just studying it as a subject, people will assume that you’re giving it credit, you know?
LR: So it’s very strange, and she would say this, and she had a good perception of this, astrology is a subject towards which Academia and science, modern science, has a very strong emotional reaction. You know? When you try to discuss astrology, the reaction is not a logical, cold, logical one, it’s an emotional reaction against it. So, it’s a bit odd.
CB: Right, where even famous academics that have done a lot of respectable work sometimes have been put in the position of having to defend studying astrology in an historical context. You mentioned it as a “wretched subject” which is referring to a famous paper or article from 1951 by Otto Neugebauer titled “The Study of Wretched Subjects” where he had to respond to this other historian that complained that people were doing historical work on the history of astrology.
LR: Sarton, yeah, George Sarton, which is one of the monoliths of the history of science. And Neugebauer goes against him. Quite an interesting – it’s one of the most famous papers in the history of astrology and mathematics, perhaps, but the history of astrology, and it’s only one page in length, you know. [laughs]
CB: Right. It’s very concise but it’s also very pointed and very powerful and it set a standard, it seemed like, for later historians to be able to defend the study of this subject as a legitimate subject for history because of the influence that astrology exerted over all other areas of society and culture and history.
LR: Yeah, exactly. And now that we are talking about this, this reminds me that one of our motivators for our starting to study astrology in Academia was a 2004 conference in Amsterdam “Horoscopes and History”, which Zoller attends and a lot of the major names still in the current history of astrology which I attended — Helena at the time decided one of us will go and I was the one who had the chance of going there — and it was very interesting, it was a very interesting moment to see applied to historical examples and it was a wonderful conference. I loved it and when Helena at the end of that year decided to do her M.A., I suggested her to contact one of the organizers Kocku von Stuckrad to be her co-supervisor because when she proposed this topic, the first reaction was a bit negative. Her supervisor-to-be was a bit apprehensive with the topic, she didn’t know what to do with it, she wasn’t especially up on it, there weren’t any here in Portugal and what she said to Helena is, “OK, please bring me sources. Bring me a layout, your plan, what sources you are going to use” and Helena did the homework and she had already a lot of things aligned and she went there and said to her, “OK, you have enough material to go through. She herself says this and tells us this story, how Helena changed her perspective on the topic and then she got her as her supervisor and then Kocku von Stuckrad as her co-supervisor and he’s not exactly an historian of astrology but he has dealt with it in the context of the history of religion, he has dealt with astrology enough to know exactly how to evaluate someone’s work in that field so he was a good asset also to her work, you know, as a supervisor.
CB: So that’s a really major turning point, then, that conference, the “Horoscopes and History Conference” that happened in 2004. I guess that makes a lot of sense because that was a big deal because it was probably one of the first times a conference had been put together like that where a group of different international scholars on the history of astrology got together to present papers on the topic and they actually — that one was interesting because I heard about it, Demetra George attended it and she invited me to go, I was only like a year into my Kepler studies and couldn’t attend but it had this amazing line-up of scholars and they also invited two astrologers who also had a background in the history of astrology, Robert Zoller and James Holden. They did end up publishing a collection of papers afterwards, it came out I think in 2005 from that conference which was titled “Horoscopes and Public Spheres” but they didn’t end up publishing Holden’s paper or Zoller’s paper but it was at least an interesting crossing point between work on the history of astrology and also a little bit of involvement from astrologers.
LR: Yeah, yeah. That was a key point. There are a whole lot of little stories surrounding that conference [laughs]
CB: [laughs] I heard a little from Zoller’s perspective that his talk didn’t go well when I spent a year living with him a few years later when he was at Project Hindsight. Just thinking of that line-up: you have James Holden there presenting a paper, you have Robert Zoller as two astrologers but also major academics such as David Pingree was at that conference and that would have been one of his last events where he presented a paper or published a paper. I think he ended up with a paper in that collection so that’s amazing because I think he passed away maybe a year or two later in 2005- 2006.
LR: Yeah, it was 2005, I think, the year after. Yeah, I met him and exchanged a few words with him, it was very nice.
LR: A vice man.
CB: He is the towering figure in the work on the history of astrology in the late 20th century just in terms of his output and he was a polyglot that knew like a dozen ancient languages as well as several modern ones and who else was at that conference?
LR: Let me think. There were several people. You had Pingree, you had Zoller, James Holden, you had Nick Campion was also there. You have Patrick Curry …
CB: I know the three main organizers were Kocku von Stuckrad, Darrel Rutkin and Gunther Oestmann, right?
LR: Yeah, Gunther Oestmann was there. Darrel, I’m not sure if he was there, I don’t remember but he might have been. I don’t recall. Who else was there? Stephan Heilen, as well, and several others whose names I cannot recall at this time but they part of that – they authored several papers. There was also this historian who talked about Rome and some Roman charts…
CB: Wolfgang Hubner?
LR: Hubner was there, yes, but it wasn’t Hubner, it was a lady, I think she passed away, as well. I don’t recall her name.
CB: I’ve got the the collection, the contents of the published papers…
LR: Josephia-Henriette Abry…
CB: Yeah, so she was a major historian on the history, had done some major work on the history of astrology. Yeah, so that’s a major conference and you made a choice and you ended up being the one to attend but then Helena did decide to go back to school later that year. Did that influence that at all or had she already been trending in that direction?
LR: She had already been trending because we had just published before the conference one of our first research books which was called “Royal Astrology”, translating the title from Portuguese, which was a collection of charts of Portuguese kings.
CB: Wow. OK.
LR: Before that, we needed to go to not only the Chronicles but also the archives. We had to research the archives for that where they had the description of the births of the princes. And we ended up almost having all of them. And that was published early in 2004. And then I went to the conference after that, the book had already been published so there were a lot of things already happening back then that were motivating us to study further, especially her because she was already on track at that time. And so that was the main motivation for her degree and then the M.A. Because she started in 2004 and by 2010 she was doing her M.A. And that was the time when I suggested why don’t you contact Kocku von Stuckrad because I recalled him from the conference, “Why don’t you contact him, perhaps he can be your supervisor?” and he was. He invited her to go to – what’s the name, it wasn’t Amsterdam, it was up north in Holland. The name escapes – I’m terrible with names. But it’s a big university, north, very famous, where John North lectured for many years…
CB: You’re not talking about the Warburg Institute?
LR: No, not the Warburg, he was in Holland. It will come to me. [laughs] She went there and presented her project for a group of teachers, and to Kocku von Stuckrad, and he accepted to be her co-supervisor which was very nice. He gave a lot of substance to her work and also motivated her to really do a good work.
CB: And he was one of her advisors, and she had two advisors for her master’s, right? Who was the second one?
LR: The second one was Professor Maria de Lurdes Rosa. She studies, her line of studies is mainly medieval documentation and archives. She now has a very important ERC project exactly on that, the archives of families and legacy of families, throughout the medieval period to the early modern, that’s her specialty. She had been a teacher of Helena’s, one of the teachers of the B.A. so she went with her. She liked her a lot. I think it was a mutual agreement between them, you know, in terms of talking, she liked her as a teacher, and she liked Helena as a pupil so she was the main supervisor and then Kocku was the second supervisor.
CB: I want to ask more about this but I just remembered something, an anecdote, because you mentioned the 2004 Conference and there being stories. I heard that Zoller presented kind of a weird paper and I didn’t mean to say earlier that they were left out and that was negative, like maybe there was a reason that some of the papers didn’t end up in the final compilation but the way that he had conveyed the story was that he had given a paper saying that astrology was the only true way of knowledge or knowing something for sure or something to that effect, does that sound like it, like, not an academic position to take at an academic conference.
LR: Now that I’ve been in Academia for some time, his paper had a lot of problems. The first one, the most important one: he prepared an hour and a half length paper to what was supposed to be a 40-45 minute presentation. So he was completely out of proportion. I don’t know if he was confused about the time duration or if he thought that he would be allowed to speak for that time but these conferences are very strict because everyone has to talk and you have to obey the time limit – that happens in any conference.
CB: There’s so many people and there’s such limited time that in order to get them all in, you have to have very strict time limits.
LR: Exactly. And that was one of the first problems because he had to interrupt the paper in half so he couldn’t do the whole thing. It wasn’t possible, you know. That was one mistake. The other was the argument he was putting forward. He was arguing, along the lines of what you were talking, that astrology be used as a tool to uncover unknown historical events. Astrology as a method for historical research itself. And that caused a lot of reaction.
CB: Yeah, because that’s something an astrologer might take for granted or astrologers would do frequently, that’s not an acceptable, academic historic practice.
LR: Yeah. It’s like extracting — I say just as a joke — it’s like doing historical interviews with ouija board. [laughs] No, you can’t say something like that and expect a favorable reaction. And this is a history of astrology conference, it’s not an astrological conference. There’s a huge difference there. While, for example, Holden’s paper was perfectly OK and no one had a reaction at all in terms of negative. I don’t think it was published. I’m not sure exactly what happened – I think what he did was he more or less recycled something that he had already written so he wasn’t adding anything new. He was just making a compilation of stuff he had already published in the Horoscopic Astrology book, I think, so that’s probably why it didn’t wind up being published. I’m not sure. But I know his relationship with the organizers was very cordial. There was never anything problematic with him. The problem was just Zoller, really.
CB: Yeah. I think Holden’s paper was titled “What Will Happen Next?” and — because he sent me this paper and I think we actually had him present it at an AFA Conference in 2011 or so, maybe it was a little bit later, the one that Ben, Demetra and I did on Traditional Astrology and it was one of his last talks, was just presenting this paper that was kind of an overview of the history of astrology and especially ancient astrology. Here’s the paper in case anybody wants it. So Zoller’s didn’t go over well. There’s just an interesting crosspoint between astrologers doing some work on the history of astrology and academics that are starting to do some work on the history of astrology especially given the direction that you and Helena would end up going, which ended up more and more going more in the academic direction. Well, I mean, it was both because I think a few years later, you published your first major instructional book in 2007, right?
LR: Yeah, so by 2004, let me think, we were already starting to write that book, because that book took three years to write. It was out by 2007.
CB: So you felt like by 2004, that you knew enough about Traditional Astrology and you’d been practicing it long enough that you decided to write an instructional manual that’s an introduction to astrology from a Traditional standpoint.
LR: Exactly, exactly. We spent three years researching and carefully planning how do you explain this to someone who doesn’t know a thing about astrology. It was quite the challenge. Yes, especially how to begin the book.
CB: Because there literally were not any books like that up to that point because even though there’d been earlier astrologers that had gotten into Traditional Astrology, or had started lecturing and teaching on Traditional Astrology, like Zoller. Zoller only had his course which was more of a private publication in some ways. It wasn’t like a published book that was in bookstores and others like Project Hindsight had private little translations and taught courses but they never published really a big book that was an introduction to astrology and even somebody like Robert Hand ended up going back to school which pre-empted him from doing that and publishing a book, so yours was one of the first and you published it in 2007 and what was the Portuguese title?
LR: “Tratado das Esferas”. So, “The Treaties on the Spheres”, which at the time the English publisher didn’t think it was right for the English [laughs] so it became “On the Heavenly Spheres” for the English version which came out in 2010.
CB: OK. So, “On the Heavenly Spheres” is the name of the English translation that was published by the American Federation of Astrologers in 2010 and that became a really influential book, I have to say, over the past ten years and that was actually translated, or Maria Mateus helped with that translation, helped you translate that book into English, right?
LR: Yeah, she basically did all of it. She was fabulous, her work was fabulous, she translated basically the whole thing. There is no credit to her in the book, unfortunately, for some reason but she should be credited. She translated that book and she did a wonderful job because it is a large book. She should be credited for all the help she gave us.
CB: Yeah, that was one of the books that was published during this 10 year period where the AFA – there was a change in leadership and one of the things that they started doing was they started publishing a lot of books including all of James Holden’s books where he’d been translating all these texts for years and then he finally – they published them all of a sudden in this very short span of time in the last decade of his life but your book was also one of the ones that they published. Some of the really good things about that that put it into circulation even though there were some drawbacks about things and things you would have done differently but I think you did do differently in the Portuguese version and are planning on doing a revised version, right?
LR: Yeah, yeah, at some point. We were planning that and at some point, we will do that. And there’s more to come out: we have the draft of a second book which could continue this one, let’s see how it goes. Yeah. It was a very pleasant surprise for us – I remember Helena saying this lots of times, that the book had the impact that it had because here in Portugal at the time it was published, it didn’t have a very good reception.
CB: Yeah, in 2007, I can’t imagine that it would have because there wouldn’t have been an overwhelming – there wasn’t an appetite for Traditional Astrology yet.
LR: No, not at all. There was at the beginning a very strong resistance to Traditional Astrology, sometimes very aggressive from modern astrologers, not here in Portugal but also abroad. I think nowadays, many astrologers, many mainstream astrologers, had sort of swallowed Traditional Astrology as something they have to incorporate or at least recognize and talk about in their practice were very, very aggressive towards Traditional Astrology especially if you stopped using the so-called modern planets.
CB: Right, yeah, that was a big sticking point because in the book, you, the two of you, outline a system of astrology that just uses the 7 traditional planets and this is drawn from, if you’re writing it from 2004 to 2007, from those especially medieval and to some extent the Renaissance sources like Lilly and the sort of synthesis that the two of you had put together at that point.
LR: Yeah, exactly. Also stuff that we had learned by reading manuscripts, you know, where you have practical examples and suddenly OK, that’s how they apply it and that’s very valuable. So, yeah, we decided to do a book and one of the things that we decided very early on – at first, the idea, this was my idea, to do a small book, just sort of a glossary, a small book just outlining the main principles of Traditional Astrology. But then Helena was more of the opinion that it should be larger, it should be more explanatory, it should include much more and that’s the version that came out.
CB: She was more ambitious.
LR: Yes, she was. No, we should do it bigger, not just a simple thing but much bigger with good — explaining every single little bit of the doctrine and how it’s applied, everything and that’s what it became. It’s a synthesis. My idea of Traditional Astrology – when I say my idea, our idea – was always to create the synthesis. There are people who are period-specific or author specific.For example, Sue Ward is an example of this. She works within a very concise, structured methodology and that’s her line of approach. We were of the idea that what you need to understand is what is the core principles that do not change throughout time and that are always consistent and that is your “go to” for any kind of traditional practice. And so that was one of the ideas, the driving forces behind the book was to go to those things which are really, really important and emphasize them. And also we wanted to write something that didn’t rely on constantly quoting sources from the past. Because most of the books that existed then, and we were coming from Zoller’s work and he’s constantly quoting Bonatti – which is helpful – but we wanted a book that just explains the doctrine with no footnotes, not keep going back to sources, just outline the principles and then you go to the sources, once you have them.
CB: Yeah. Just looking at the book on Amazon because it has 134 reviews and if you open up the Table of Contents, you really get a sense for the scope of the book which is amazing: giving an overview of the history of astrology, and going into the broader philosophical and cosmological principles underlying Traditional Astrology and then really breaking down all of the traditional concepts underlying an astrological chart in terms of planets, the signs of the zodiac, the essential dignities, the houses, aspects and everything. So that was a major undertaking and the final book here is almost 300 pages, looks like 278 or so. So it wasn’t initially received super well in Portugal. Did it take off eventually at some point later on?
LR: It did, it did. Nowadays, it’s impossible to find the first edition and for some years it was almost impossible to find it. And then we decided to do a second edition at some point. And now it’s on the third revised edition. At this point, it can be found on Amazon. But now it sells and it’s one of the books that people have and there are a lot of things – and I think we talked about this before in the podcast – people are knowing the book from its English version and sometimes we have Portuguese people who are introduced to the book in English. So they are taking some courses with tutors outside of Portugal who then recommend the book that is written by two Portuguese and people are like “Wow, I didn’t know that existed.” It’s funny. It comes around. And I remember when we spoke the first time on the podcast in 2018, Helena was quite moved when you told us that it has been an influential book in today’s learning of astrology. She was very moved by that. Because it’s good to know that the work is being read, accepted, and there is a contribution to the learning of astrology because that was something that we’d always had in our minds to contribute to better astrology, to really consolidate the knowledge in astrology.
CB: Yeah, well, I mean, I was always aware of it since 2010 and I actually remember being at a United Astrologers Conference in Denver in 2008 and I was going to meet with the president or the head of the AFA or maybe she wasn’t the president but Chris Riske who was — and I saw her actually right before I had my meeting with her sitting and talking to Maria Mateus who was handing over the manuscript for the translation and pitching the book in some sense and then it was published with them two years later but I was always aware of the book in the early 2010’s because it was the only book for such a long time that gave an introduction to Traditional Astrology that I could refer that was understandable and accessible and also not just comprehensive but also incredibly well illustrated with diagrams from your illustrations and stuff so I put out a Top 10 beginners’ astrology books in 2017 on my Youtube channel when I started doing this channel and actually trying to put videos out once I finished writing my book in early 2017 and your book was on that list actually. I think that’s one of the reasons because it’s been on my list of the best books that it influenced, then, some of the younger generations of astrologers where there’s less resistance to Traditional Astrology compared to some of the older generations where they were more used to doing things a certain way for enough decades that they’re not as inclined to change midstream but it’s become very popular with the younger generations.
LR: Yeah, sometimes I’m surprised to see it in these “Top 10’s”, yeah. I remember seeing yours and I’ve seen a few a few months ago, it appears, you know, “Top 5” books that people use in their learning process and it’s wonderful to have that feedback, of course.
CB: Right, yeah. I have some “B roll footage” that I shot somewhere that I’ll need to put up.
So, that was a major influence in terms of the history of the astrological community and I remember in the late 2000’s the two of you also were launching a bunch of other projects including the Tradition Journal which was a journal that ran for 4 issues that was for astrologers but it was meant to be very well-designed and very high-level discussion and articles about astrology and you also had a website for that where you were running different projects like at one point there was a House Division research project and other things like that.
LR: Yeah, we had the website, we had the Tradition which was those 4 issues that are now available online and we have also the Tradition Library which had original texts and transcriptions of texts, mainly early modern sources, that was mainly the work of Sue Ward and Peter Stockinger and they published a lot of interesting sources on Lilly or Lilly’s period which was quite interesting and that ran as a charity so the profits of all those sales went exclusively towards animal welfare and managed to help a large group of animals at the time with the money gathered from the sale of the Tradition and that was quite nice.
CB: Right. That was a major thing that was very important to both you and Helena, deeply caring about animals and doing charity work.
LR: Yeah, especially for her. She was very driven to animal welfare and recognition of sentiency in animals and she was a very active member of rescue groups that promoted animal well-being. She was not – she would go to places and she would do things – she was always in the background helping people, giving ideas, giving support and she has been missed terribly because people would search her for advice on how to deal with difficult situations. So, when she passed away, I created a fund to… The idea initially was – Helena never liked to receive flowers because that meant the flower would die, you know. A plant or something, a potted plant, it was OK but not flowers, so I told people not to hand out flowers for her, not to buy flowers but to contribute to this fund and fortunately the fund has been working and we have been able to help, you know. It’s not something huge but it’s to help associations that sometimes have difficulties with neutering animals or paying vet bills, difficult cases so we lend help as much as we can with that.
CB: What’s the URL of the website for that?
LR: It’s in Portuguese: fundohelenaavelar. (https://fundohelenaavelar.weebly.com) This was a page I built up very – That photo, that black and white photo is of Helena in her journalist years and she did a lot of pieces on animals and that’s her at the zoo petting tigers. There’s a lot of pictures of her with lion cubs on her lap and dolphins and she has quite a collection and I thought this one was interesting.
CB: That’s great.
LR: Yeah, the tiger. This was a page I did very quickly to promote the fund so if people want to contribute whatever they wanted, they can. I can guarantee that it’s going to be used to help whatever comes by in terms of assistance: food, the vet bills mainly for associations that sometimes struggle with the amount of animals that are abandoned or get run over or something like that.
CB: Yeah. I remember that as a really notable thing when you two were doing all of your astrological work just that the funds were being donated – I think it was the subscriptions for the Tradition Journal were being donated to different animal causes.
LR: Yeah, exactly. We helped. I remember one in particular was – we helped – two that I recall — one was a large animal shelter in the Algarve in the south of Portugal, there was an English lady who ran that. She picked up strays and abandoned dogs and tried to re-home them, most of them outside of Portugal and she did an amazing job so we contribute for her to pay bills, to be able to take the animals to the vet and have funds to go over that process and to spend money getting licenses and everything and there was also a charity in another Portuguese town, Evora, which has done amazing work recovering animals, cats and dogs. They also got a big chunk to help them recover from all the vet bills again. That is usually the problem for these associations which are basically run by the people, by the group. There’s very little official assistance here in Portugal for those cases. Nowadays it’s getting better but still. A lot of the costs come out from the people, the volunteers that work with this.
CB: So I think at this point, we reach a crossroads, from my understanding of Helena’s story and your story, to some extent as well, where even though you – from my perspective – were very prominent in the astrological community around the late 2000’s and early 2010’s through publishing that book and through starting to publish a journal for astrologers that went through 4 volumes of the Tradition Journal as well as the website and an online library, at that point there was shift where the two of you kind of disappeared at least from my perspective from the astrological community and I would realize later when you re-emerged that what happened is that the two of you really went deep into your academic studies at this point and for her that would have been the point where she started working on getting a PhD and doing a PhD thesis.
LR: Yeah. That coincided with her master’s.
LR: The Tradition stopped being published in 2010 or 2011, I don’t recall exactly. That was when I then started to go again into the university and Helena was finishing at that time her M.A. so when both of us were at the university, it became a little hard to maintain the publications and especially the Tradition. The Tradition also suffered from something which was there weren’t enough people producing Traditional work to feed the Tradition so it could maintain the rhythm so we decided to stop because it was becoming too strenuous and we had to write also pieces just to keep the journal functioning so we decided — and then the Traditional Library came in that sort of replaced that for a while but at that time I was starting my B.A., my third attempt [laughs] at the university. I went to art history and then she was doing her M.A. and then going to the PhD.
CB: So for her PhD, she actually went to the Warburg Institute in London, which is a very famous institution that was started almost a century ago for studying topics that are normally a little bit outside of the scope of history, typical history topics, right?
LR: Yeah, exactly. She asked for advice at the time where she could do a PhD on astrology because she could have done it in Portugal but it wasn’t really aligned with those studies here so a lot of our friends and teachers at the time advised her to contact the Warburg Institute and she did and Charles Burnett accepted to talk to her and to look at her material and to consider her as a possible student under his supervision. So she went there and they got along very well. He liked the topic, he thought the topic was promising and at this time and this is where it gets interesting, at this time, Helena wanted to do something on astrology but she wasn’t sure exactly how to approach it, what to do exactly. There were many possibilities and then I remembered this manuscript that we had found in the National Archive long, long, long ago and we had reached that by reading – it was Helena who found it – by reading a footnote on a work by a Portuguese historian who said something like “This manuscript contains charts, astrological charts.” At the end, it was tables, and he was more interested in the tables, and “astrological charts that could have been done for any date or time.” Which was sort of an absurd remark to be done, and we were very curious. “What a minute – horoscopes?” And so we went to see the manuscript and after flicking through — and this was a microfilm – many, many screens of tables which are interesting in themselves but you know there’s a limited interest to seeing tables [laughs], suddenly horoscopes and charts started to appear and we were amazed at the amount of material that was there. I remember jumping up and down almost in the library. Wow, fabulous, because there was no record of anything like that in the Portuguese archives by that time. And we got a copy and we kept that for a number of years. We couldn’t read it at first because this was in Latin and we didn’t have enough paleography to read it. And as time progressed, we learned how to read it and so I suggested to Helena “Why don’t you try this one?” This one has enough material there to become a start for doing something, making a connection between Portugal, France, what’s happening here, how the manuscript came to be, etc. And so she advanced with that project.
CB: So the manuscript is actually available online from – is it from the Portuguese library that actually has it in Lisbon?
LR: It’s the National Archive in Lisbon, yeah.
CB: OK. So, and it’s this old manuscript from the 15th century so this is before the printing press and this is the private or one of the private notebooks of some astrologer who wrote in his own hand and it’s written in Latin.
LR: It’s an amazing manuscript because he copied by hand a set of tables that he was using himself.
LR: This archive browser is not very good. There it is: MS 1711. Here you have that table part, there are several pages of tables which he was using in his practice with the positions of the planets and then he has a collection of horoscopes at the very end of the manuscript of famous people of France, [laughs] the rich and the famous celebrities of France, of 15th century France at that time: the kings, the dukes, the major political figures, and surprisingly his own children and family, and people he knew, probably, which is amazing because what Helena later found out is that this is the largest known collection before the early modern period, so it’s the earliest, larger, earliest collection of charts known. There’s nothing as big of this period, as large.
CB: So, from prior to the 17th century, it’s the largest collection of charts.
LR: 16th because by the 16th century, we have those collections by Cardano and authors of that period who published these collections of famous nativities. That becomes a genre in itself, in the printed version. This is the earliest collection.
CB: Could you show an image from Helena’s book of one of the charts? Did we pull up a page for that earlier or do you have one that you could show just to give people watching the video version just an idea what these charts are looking like. I’m trying to click through it in the manuscript but it’s kind of slow-loading on this website.
LR: Yeah. Let me get a good one.
CB: Like this one does have, for example, one of the almanacs that lists planetary positions and..
LR: Yes, exactly. That’s the almanac. So there you have the Sun, Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury and the North Node. That is not the South Node but the North Node.
CB: Right. I posted this image from her book on Twitter and I was surprised that nobody noticed that – everyone commented on the other glyphs but everyone thought it was really interesting seeing the symbols, some of them were the same as now but some of them were very different but one everybody overlooked so far was that the nodes are reversed from how they usually are in modern astrology.
LR: Exactly, because it depends on how you see North because nowadays we tend to see North as “up” because we’re used to that position in the chart. If you think about it, for a long time, astrologically, the North was down because in the northern hemisphere, we’re looking at South when we’re talking about the MC and the culmination point of the planets. So, the South Node is presented going up, so south, while the North Node is represented going north or down. And that’s very tricky, you need to be very careful. Yeah, here it is, the table.
CB: Yeah. So this is a table from Helena’s book and it shows all the symbols for the signs of the zodiac and the planets, and then the aspects and other things and some of them look very similar, like exactly the same as symbols today like Aries is very close, Gemini and Cancer are very close but there’s some of them..
LR: Yeah, I think the strangest one is Taurus, which looks like Scorpio.
CB: Yeah, it looks very close to Scorpio: it’s just got one little leg in addition that sets it apart.
LR: Exactly. The only way to set them apart is the number of legs so Taurus has more for some reason. Sagittarius is also odd, that’s a very, very, very stylized arrow. And Capricorn which is drawn strangely from what we’re used to.
CB: Yeah, and then the symbol for Mars looks like the modern symbol for Sagittarius..
LR: Yeah, exactly.
CB: And the symbols for Saturn and Jupiter just look completely different.
LR: Yeah. The symbol for Saturn is very close to the symbol for Capricorn that we have now, very close to the actual symbol for Capricorn and that’s a very common symbol for Saturn during the middle ages and Jupiter – it’s the same symbol we used now but instead of having the curve outwards, it’s inwards so it’s more or less the same symbol but with an extra leg and crossed.
CB: Right. And then most of the aspects are very similar. The sextile is the only one that’s odd because it looks like a hashtag.
LR: Yeah, exactly, it looks like a cardinal glyph. Strange, I don’t know why he didn’t do the star. i have no idea.
CB: Then there’s the nodes..
LR: Yeah, the nodes are reversed which is something people should pay attention to when they are looking at older charts, especially medieval charts but by the early modern period, that’s no longer an issue. But earlier than that, it is. They’re reversed. For example, the Arabs – their cartography – has South pointing upwards.
LR:….like in an astrological chart. So, the nodes are also reversed and we need to be attentive to that.
CB: So this is something that Helena and you had to learn was how to read the symbols within the context of their time period and how to learn paleography which is reading the handwriting of authors who are writing in manuscripts prior to the invention of the printing press.
LR: Exactly. Which sometimes is abbreviated and there are methodologies of abbreviation specific to certain periods so you need to know that and if you don’t, you look at that and it looks like gibberish but then once you learn, you can always read something, even if it’s a tough hand but you can always read something, once you’ve crossed that frontier.
CB: So the first part of the book contains a bunch of tables of planetary positions, like an ephemeris for a certain range of years, but then the end of the book contains a bunch of charts, different types of astrological charts.
LR: Yeah. It has mostly natal charts, but it has some coronation charts and what they would call in the old days the “entrance of the king in the city” because that would be ceremonial, something important. Once the king would enter the city, that would mark a certain power that the king would acquire so that was also a chart that you see erected and you see that a lot in old, elective sources, selections for elections where how to enter a city and that’s usually to be used in this kind of situation where the king or nobleman, whoever has power, is going to assume power over that city.
CB: OK. So, that’s the “ascension to the throne” basically, or “ascension charts.”
LR: Yeah, yeah, it’s an equivalent.
CB: OK. So do you want to show an image of one of the charts?
LR: Yes, let me just pick a good one, one that has enough information.
CB: On the website, which I’ll put a link to in the description on the podcast website so you can click through but I’m just having a hard time making it big enough to read too much but you can see these diamond-shaped charts which are his style.
LR: Yeah, exactly, yeah.
CB: Did you find one?
LR: Yeah, I did. Let me share that. This is a good one. OK.
CB: Wow. OK, so this is a diamond-shaped chart and then it has notes written around the edges of something.
LR: Yes, exactly, for he says, for example, he says “Et fuit die Saturni, ora Solis, Almuten Saturni.” So, “the day is Saturn, the hour is Saturn and Saturn was the Almuten.” Then you can see the calculation of the Almuten here in the side where he’s adding the different qualities, the different dignities that the planets have and Saturn pops up with the greatest number of dignities.
CB: OK, so he’s calculating the strongest or the most powerful planet in the chart which is the Almuten, or I guess Ben Dykes calls it the “victor” of the chart.
LR: Yeah. The Almuten, the “lord of the geniture”, the “lord of the figure”, there are many names for this. And here, then, in this small bracket, you have the calculation of longevity, in which he says that Moon is Hyleg. And if I’m not mistaken, in this case he says the Moon is both the Hyleg and the Alchochoden of the chart and this is because the Moon is exalted, it’s in Taurus, so we see Gemini here, and the Moon is in Taurus so because it’s exalted, it’s one of the rules that you find in most sources on longevity, the Moon or the Sun if exalted, they can be their own Alchochoden.
CB: OK. So he is calculating things like the overall ruler of the chart, then he’s also trying to calculate different points to use like longevity or the length of life calculation.
LR: Yeah, exactly. Here you have the year of the chart – 1423 if I’m not mistaken – yes, exactly.
CB: OK. And where’s the Ascendant in this diamond chart?
LR: It’s here. So this is the first house so the Ascendant degree is here on the left. So it’s going to be 19 degrees and 10 minutes of Sagittarius.
CB: Got it. OK. And then we can see some of the symbols for the planets and he’s written the degrees and the minutes next to most of them.
LR: Let me amplify this a little bit more so we can see it easily. So we can see — and this is important – you see for example here the Pars Fortunae or Part of Fortune here. Here you see Vultur Cadens and Vultur Volens so these are fixed stars. This is the Part of the King and the Kingdom. What does he have here…The Part of Death here. This is the Part of Death according to Hermes. So, “Pars Mortem secundum Hermetum.” So Cor Scorpi – so Antares.
CB: Right. The “heart of the Scorpion.”
LR: The “heart of the Scorpion” and then he does this very interesting thing which is he highlights in red planets which he thought for some reason were important. He doesn’t do a delineation of the chart so we don’t know exactly why he’s selecting these particular planets but he sometimes does that, highlights, and you see that a lot in his workbooks. They highlight. You’re looking at a chart – imagine today, the equivalent is that you’re going to have a consultation, you print out the chart, you have the page there and you just with a pencil or a pen you just highlight and mark things that you think are significant. So he’s doing the same.
CB: OK. So, let’s back up then and tell the story about this. So, Helena – 10 years earlier in the 2000’s, the two of you had come across this notebook, this text that was anonymous in the library in Lisbon but then 10 years later in the early 2010’s when she’s thinking about what to do her PhD thesis on, that’s when there’s a decision to focus on this text and she ends up going to the Warburg Institute and working with Charles Burnett who, to give some context, is probably the leading scholar, the leading historian on medieval astrology in the world especially at this point definitely but especially after the death of David Pingree in 2005 or 2006, it seems like Burnett is one of the leading historians on astrology in general in the world.
CB: She’s studying with him, which is a major deal just in and of itself, but then she decides to start focusing on this text that the two of you had only looked at a little bit earlier.
LR: Yeah, exactly. We did transcribe most of the charts – the charts are transcribed in her book, those charts are things that we did early on to have a more clear view of the chart. And she does, so, what she does is at the time she applies for a grant from the Portuguese government and at first she didn’t obtain it due to a clerical error. Which is the most frustrating thing that can happen. You know, you’re almost there, the evaluation is positive but then there’s a mistake which you’re not to blame and you don’t get the grant but then she reapplied again and they attributed it to her. She got a high position in the scoring.
CB: And that’s a big deal because she was given a full grant from the Portuguese government to do her PhD dissertation which allowed her to move to London and study at the Warburg Institute and I think for 4 years, right?
LR: 4 years, yeah, during 4 years, and have the wonderful opportunity of being at the Warburg. The Warburg is – I didn’t have it directly as she had but a lot of people were colleagues which I know and the Warburg is an experience. I’ve been there myself couple of times and it’s this fabulous library where you have a whole corridor on the history of astrology, books and papers that you had no idea that existed. It’s absolutely amazing.
CB: Yeah, so probably every – it’s probably the best or one of the best libraries for the history of astrology in the world having just about every book you would want to find both in terms of like critical editions of texts in their original language or translations or books on the history of astrology and other things like that.
LR: Yeah, and it has this huge collection of very obscure papers, sometimes important, have sources or discussion of sources that you had no idea existed because the Warburg is organized in a very peculiar way. So it’s not like a regular library where things are catalogued as they come. In the Warburg library, things are catalogued by theme. So when — and you have access, direct access, to the books — so when you get to the shelf where the book you are looking for is, it’s most likely that the surrounding volumes will be about the same subject.
CB: Right. So, that’s amazing. So immediately once you are looking for a book and you find it, you immediately find 10 other books that are on the same subject that you didn’t know existed.
LR: Exactly, exactly. There are a lot of topics that are good in the Warburg Library but the main ones are the history of astrology, history of magic, and history of art in general. As when I was doing my B.A. in art history so I went there a few times and the corridors of art history are of course also fabulous. The whole library is amazing. But you have a very strong collection and, as you said, the largest collection on the history of astrology and also on the history of magic, which I cannot evaluate because I don’t know what collections there are on that topic but certainly it’s huge.
CB: For example, David Pingree did his critical edition of the Picatrix in the 1980’s and I think that was published through the Warburg Institute in 1980-something just to give some idea in terms of the history of magic and there have also been other major books that have been published on the history of astrology like J.D. North’s “Horoscopes and History” which is on the history of house division was published by the Warburg Institute in 1988 or something like that.
LR: Yeah, exactly, which we mentioned last time we did the podcast, that’s the seminal work on the history of house divisions and that’s also a Warburg Institute edition, so there are a number of things. It’s an amazing place. And she had the opportunity and she was very lucky and she was very fortunate to be there and she loved it. She loved London, she loved the Warburg Institute, she loved the people, you know, she really liked that period of her life. And she was in love — like most people at Warburg — she was in love with the place.
CB: Because she was an astrologer and she was a researcher and then she was able to combine those two things into — because from her previous career as a journalist, she was good at investigating things and combining those two things and be able to do that as a primary focus and sometimes people don’t understand that until you get caught by that feeling or that bug that draws you into studying the history of astrology, it can be a fun thing to study just in and of itself for its own sake and actually if you have a subject that you are interested in researching more and a place like a library that has all sorts of resources to do that, it can be a very all-encompassing thing to focus on.
LR: Yeah, yeah. And astrology was definitely Helena’s passion, as it is mine. And she felt very privileged to be able to study there and to obtain this scholarship, because it’s not easy, especially at the age she was in, you know. She didn’t start young. Most people are doing their PhD’s by their late 20’s or early 30’s and she was doing it much later in life. So she felt she had to take advantage of this opportunity that life had brought to her. She had to fight for so she did the best work possible.
CB: Right. So she was in her late 40’s, early 50’s at this point.
LR: Early 50’s.
CB: She also would have been one of the first astrologers to have the honor or privilege of studying the history of astrology and working on a PhD in the history of astrology at the Warburg Institute. I think there was maybe one other before her, or contemporary, which was Dorian Greenbaum.
LR: Yes, Dorian Greenbaum. I think Dorian Greenbaum – I don’t know everyone who studied there but as far as I know Dorian Greenbaum was the first astrologer, practicing astrologer to go to the Warburg and to be able to be there as a PhD researcher and to be accepted there. As Helena said many times, Dorian opened the door for other people to do serious research because the Warburg Institute is very selective in terms of its students. You really need, along the process, to prove that you are able to do the proper academic research. You’re not accepted as a PhD student until your second year of study. You have to pass through a period of proof in which you have to prove that your research is worthy, that you are able to uphold the standards that the Institute demands. So, it’s quite an accomplishment, I have to say. It’s quite an accomplishment. And Dorian opened that door. Helena was next. I don’t know of other people, probably there were more but not that I know of.
CB: Yeah, so she had to prove herself and perform at or above a certain level so that despite her otherwise interest in astrology privately or the fact that she had been a practicing and teaching astrologer and had actually published astrology books, that wasn’t going to interfere with or in any way make her work less than other historians who are not astrologers but in fact it seemed like part of what she also wanted to prove was that there were some things that she could bring to the table that were actually assets as a result of her background in astrology.
LR: Exactly, exactly. And that was something that Charles Burnett recognized in her, the ability to bring her knowledge of astrology as a practitioner – and she was a practitioner of that tradition by then – to the academic research and so to get a new insight into the reading of the documents that you are studying. And that is quite valuable but you still need to perform at an academic level. For example, she had to pass a Latin test, a medieval Latin test, and a medieval French test before she was admitted into the PhD. Because she has, again, she has to prove – knowing Traditional Astrology is not enough, she has to prove that she has the academic skills to perform and do proper academic research. And she did.
CB: So part of that as a classics scholar and a historian of science is having high-level language skills.
LR: Yes, it is. You need Latin, at least, working with European sources and it’s always good to know a bit of Greek or Hebrew or Arabic, depending on what kind of sources you are working on.
CB: Right. Which is no small thing. I mean, if languages come easily to somebody, because it’s partly a skill and partly a gift, it’s still learning a new language and especially ancient languages requires some work.
LR: Yeah. And it’s not easy. It’s not something that you learn in a year or two, even if you dedicate full-time. It’s difficult and then you need years to develop the skills to translate, to understand the difficulties of language. It’s not just reading it, you have to understand the nuances of languages to really be able to understand and to translate the content. It takes years of work, yeah. You need a lot of effort. I still struggle with Latin sometimes and I’ve been working with Latin texts for quite some years now. It’s an ongoing skill that you have to develop especially if you don’t come from a language background.
CB: Yeah, languages, picking up new languages is not something that comes easily to me so I’m always in awe of people like Helena who have multiple languages and can read multiple languages and able to do work in them at that level is really impressive and is a huge asset for any astrologer or any historian. She had a bit — there was a stroke of luck that happened somewhere around this point that set up the rest of her story and made her PhD thesis even more interesting and this happened at the Warburg and I think it was Charles Burnett who initially sent her down this path, right, where he said she should talk to this other scholar since she was looking at this notebook that was anonymous and they didn’t know where it came from that you two had found 10 years earlier, and he said he recognized something and he said she should talk to this other scholar about it.
LR: The thing was that her document, this document, was good but they were a bit afraid that it was not enough, there either had to be more documents to give a good view of the practice at that period. This was the first year so they were still exploring how to approach the topic and how to approach the document. So, and suddenly, and then Charles remembered “Why don’t you speak with Dr. Juste?” And Dr. Juste is a scholar who in the last decades has been compiling the list of the 16th century manuscripts in the libraries and he had just studied the astrological manuscripts and published a book, a catalogue of the astrological manuscripts of the National Library of France.
CB: Latin manuscripts specifically, right?
LR: Yes, exactly, Latin manuscripts. I think this was in the Christmas party of the Warburg Institute, you know, the end of the semester and David Juste was there and Helena went and sat with him and she opened her computer with the PDF of the manuscript. He opened the images that he had from the manuscript and suddenly it was the same script. Same hand, same symbols, the same way of drawing the charts and better yet, there were charts that were repeated in the two manuscripts. And so suddenly, she said she just ran up to Charles and said, “We found it! It’s the same author!” [laughs] She was very happy about that.
CB: And in her telling of it in the other interview, she’s exclaiming and she’s so excited that initially Charles Burnett thought that something was wrong or that she’d gotten into a fight with David Juste or something like that but she had to clarify, no, we found out there’s another manuscript that exists by the same author so now we have two of his works and one just came from some library in France so it had been moved to a completely different country.
LR: Yeah, exactly. And how it was signed so it is signed by S. Belle, which is assumed by some historians that it is Simon Belle but we’re not sure. There’s no way…. It’s a possibility but not a certainty. And suddenly you had more charts, you know, already a good collection of charts she had added to another collection of charts and texts: excerpts of work of several authors, the delineation of three different charts, some copied from elsewhere, another one that Helena has more or less proven or assumed or proposed with good evidence that it is done by Belle himself because t’s done in French, not in Latin like the other ones. And so the two together are – they complement each other. When the almanac is missing a few notations, it’s the time when the other book is being written so there is a strong connection between the two so they are parts of the same workbook and that is amazing. From there, she could build a whole thesis out of it, and she did.
CB: And now she had a name to give to this person, S. Belle, who might be Simon Belle but you’re not sure and she had now two of his works instead of just one. So here’s – this one is also available online through the French library and it’s a very old looking book and – do you know what page his signature is on?
LR: No, not by heart.
CB: And so it’s a handwritten manuscript and most of it is in Latin, again. So, that then becomes enough so that she could start working on a PhD thesis on this previously unknown astrologer and he uses enough dates, he writes dates sometimes, like what date he was writing a passage so that she was able to date it to the middle or second half of the 15th century and that he was living in France.
LR: Yeah, exactly. The core of the work – and she would love to be here explaining this to you – is to demonstrate the practice of an astrologer of that period. Because most of what we know about astrological practice comes from primers, source books, not from practical examples of the application involved.
CB: Yeah, so we have a lot from the last 2000 years of instructional texts where somebody like Ptolemy sits down and writes four books to outline the theory of astrology and these are all the techniques and this is the theory of how this works but sometimes they don’t even have chart examples, like Ptolemy, for example, doesn’t have any chart examples but this for the first time was actually two private notebooks from a practicing astrologer and you could get insight into his actual practice.
LR: Exactly. And we have those kinds of examples from later, you know, from the 17th century, some from the 16th century, we do have that. We have Kassell’s work on Simon Forman, for example in which they are studying their workbooks but that’s much later. This is very early. It’s very rare that you find such a manuscript from this time period. It’s like 500 years from now, an historian being able to read your book on Hellenstic Astrology but having the luck of finding the notes from your consultations, or from your personal studies, etc. and although the book is important, even more valuable is the more direct testimony of what you were actually doing because most of the time – people forget this when we study the history of astrology – is that what we see in the books, it’s doctrine. It’s theoretical knowledge. We really don’t know if they applied all of that into practice. Even when they give examples. Because even when we see what they do in their daily astrological practice, it’s quite different. So they don’t use the whole spectrum of techniques, they specialize on this one – it’s a whole other universe that opens up. And this is the strong core of Helena’s book and Helena’s thesis: she explores as much as she can what is he doing, what is his knowledge, what is his approach to practice. And it’s fabulous. It’s fabulous. You have calculations of longevity, examples of the calculations of the Almuten, which is something you’d see in books but you rarely see living astrology applying that. Other stuff: predictive techniques, horaries, elections, so you have a rich idea of what is he studying, what is he thinking is important, what is he considering so that’s a strong point. For example, one of the things that is amazing in these books is the Lots. He uses a lot of them. For example, in the mundane charts and a huge section where he has mundane charts and he makes notations about that, he uses a lot of those weird Lots, the Lot of wool and the Lot of meat and the Lot of sugar or sweet things and stuff like that which we think “Well, they’re not really going to use that.” Well, apparently they did.
CB: OK. So, did he use the Lot of lentils? That was my favorite of the obscure Lots.
LR: I’m not sure about the Lot of lentils but he does use the Lot of beans, I think. I’m not sure it’s the same but it’s close. [laughs]
CB: Close enough. [laughs] I’ll take it.
LR: And they used that to understand the quality, the amount of that produce in a certain year, the prices — are they going up? Are they going down? Is it going to be accessible? Is it going to be more expensive because it’s rare? And that’s very interesting because we do not have many examples of that application.
CB: Right. So, one of the manuscripts contains the table of planetary positions that’s dated 1469 through 1480 so that’s roughly his time period and that places him — just to give people a context – that’s 200 years after the time period, roughly, of Guido Bonatti, but about 200 years before the time period of William Lilly. So, that’s really an interesting middle ground period where sometimes somebody says 15th century and you think well that’s Renaissance or early modern astrology but it’s not, and that’s seems like something that Helena was clear about, it’s actually medieval or late medieval astrology still.
LR: Yeah, it’s still late medieval. So this is more or less contemporary, a little later than Regiomontanus, for example.
LR: OK? So it’s around that time. So it’s mid-15th century to late 15th century. It’s a period of which we do not know that much. We know a lot about the late early modern period, the late 17th century we know a little bit more, especially the British authors. We know something about the medieval period: with the Arabs and all that transmission to the Latin world. But there are huge gaps in our knowledge of the late medieval period and the early modern, the late 16th century. The 16th century is a black hole in terms of our knowledge of what is happening with astrology in that period. That’s the area in which I am studying. Because we usually do a jump from the middle ages to Lilly because those are the more available sources, of course, for everyone, but to make that jump, it’s quite a huge jump. So a lot of things have changed in between.
CB: We usually jump from Bonatti who was c. 1300 to Lilly who was 1647 and that’s a long gap.
LR: Yeah, yeah. A lot of things changed in astrology back then. Perspectives, philosophies, points of view, applications – which are not mapped.
CB: So this author shows up during that time period and he was previously not known and hadn’t been studied and those two notebooks that survive, one in a library in Portugal and one in France and had not been recognized as being by the same author until Helena had this discovery with David Juste at the Warburg Institute and then she sets out to study it and make that the focus of her PhD thesis which she eventually completed in what year?
LR: She completed it in 2018. The date of her grant, the last day of her grant is the last day of 2018. That’s the official date of her PhD thesis. She did her evaluation in October or November of 2018, that’s when she passed her viva. And this French manuscript was known, it had been described, it had been addressed by some known historians first by Jean-Patrice Boudet, a huge historian of astrology in France, and he had delved into it but when suddenly this other manuscript comes by, then it makes that even huger, it’s much larger than expected because what was an interesting collection of charts becomes a fabulous collection of charts. And that is amazing.
CB: Right. Once she recognized that the book from the Portuguese library was by the same author. So how many charts are in it? One of the collections, one of the books contains something like 40 or 50 charts.
LR: Yeah. I don’t know the total, I don’t recall the total charts but it’s huge.
CB: And one of the things you mentioned earlier is that one of them contains birth charts for all of his children or at least 5 children who are born one after the other in succession one year after another.
LR: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I remember that was one of the first charts that we managed to read and he said “Marta, filia mea” so “Martha, my daughter.” And we thought “Oh! That’s interesting!” We have the French kings and then – wait a minute! [laughs] It’s his daughter. And he had also two boys or three – I don’t recall – yeah, two boys who died at a very early age and then there is this Marta and then I think there’s a third boy that apparently survived because he doesn’t make note of his death. And that is quite interesting. And he also has cousins and uncles and that kind of family nearby along with his charts and that is quite interesting.
CB: Some of the earlier authors like Hephaestio of Thebes or Manetho, David Pingree thought that even Vettius Valens, there was one chart that Valens kept using over and over again that Pingree suggested might be Valens’ own chart. Did Helena ever think that there was one chart in there that could have been S. Belle’s chart? Or did he never mention one that’s close?
LR: No. There’s none that leads us to suspect that. Nothing.
CB: That’s too bad. I noticed in her list in the book there’s one that’s listed like — because there’s names or the owner of the birth charts are known and stated in a bunch of them but there’s one that’s like “encoded”, I think is what she said.
LR: Exactly, exactly. There are several which are encoded. There’s one in the Lisbon manuscript and I think several in the other manuscript and he replaces the vowels by numbers so A equals 1, and so it goes until U to mask the name. And what she suspects and that’s her argument is that these were sensitive people, you know, very important people who were in a sensitive position so to be doing their chart could mean that you had specific political allegiance so if someone would get your notebooks, if those names were there, you might be in trouble because they might suspect that you were allied with this one or with this one. And this is a period in France where there’s a lot of internal wars for power. So this is the time of King Louis XI – there are a lot of forces against the king, and alliances against the king, so that’s very interesting. So he was probably wary of certain charts so they were not visible, directly visible, in the notebook, which is quite interesting.
CB: Yeah, that’s really fascinating, that even though it’s his private notebooks, his collections of charts and notes, he still had to be careful to mask or hide the identity of the owner of that chart.
LR: Yeah, exactly. And another interesting thing about this is also the tables because in the tables, several notations, side notations in the tables and some of them are important events of the time. You know, wars, usually wars, or comets or heavy rains, earthquakes – notable events that he notes on the side of the tables and the planetary positions and sometimes the Ascendant at the time, he calculates the Ascendant, the Moon position, something like that. And that is also very interesting. So he’s accompanying the politics of his time, noting it in his ephemeris.
CB: Right. He’s noting the correlation between celestial movements and earthly events.
LR: Yeah, exactly.
CB: In one of the books, I think it was the one from France, he has some actual excerpts from some texts where he was copying down from different texts from earlier astrologers, right?
LR: Exactly. So, he probably didn’t have the books, he didn’t have those manuscripts so he’s copying the parts that he’s interested in. This is pre-printing. Printing is just coming up at this point in time so it’s very recent technology, probably not one he has access to at this time so he has to copy manuscripts so if you have a book that has an interesting segment, you’re going to copy it because you’re going to read it later on. It’s a lot of work. He copies a table, several years of a table so he can work. Imagine having to copy by hand an ephemeris!
CB: So, he’s copying planetary tables so he knows where the positions were for some specific period that he wants to study.
LR: Yeah, exactly. Probably because he doesn’t have access to library, or easy access to a library where he could go and consult it. He has to have his own copy.
CB: Right. Who were some of the sources that he drew on in terms of earlier medieval astrologers?
LR: I think Masha’allah he does, he does John Ashenden who does a very important work on mundane astrology and is one of the major sources on mundane astrology for the early modern period. He’s an English author. Who else?
CB: One of them was a commentary – there was a section on the signification of the houses where Helena says that he writes a date after he finished writing that which was February 1, 1473 and she said it was from a commentary on Al-Qabisi.
LR: Probably, probably. I don’t recall exactly who all the authors were but yeah. He has a lot of Arabic authors, you know, the traditional ones we still today quote in Traditional. He has also some others of his time so he has connections with astrologers of his own time, French and German astrologers, and so he’s part of a larger network and this is something also important, a network of communication between astrologers very early on. But it’s the kind of documents that never survive or very rarely survive. And he quotes them like sources of his time – there are certain charts where there are several times charts of kings or princes and he notes “This is from..” a certain astrologer. He gets the source who gave him that time.
CB: So they were exchanging birth data of some of the kings and events and other things.
CB: Nice. OK. There’s an underground network of astrologers exchanging information with each other for in ways — I guess that’s kind of similar with what happens today actually, astrologers exchange charts or you know if you were there or witnessed or saw on the news this chart or you wrote down the time and somebody might get that from you at some point.
LR: As you see for example in the Hellenistic sources when they have these charts where they don’t say who it is but it’s obvious who it is, it’s the Emperor and they know exactly who it is but they never name it so they don’t get in trouble. “This one was born, you know, at a certain point” and you know perfectly well who it is by the dates, by the description but they’re not naming it but still it circulates, you know, the charts of the Emperor, the charts of the main generals. I remember a couple of years ago there were still a lot of charts from Vettius Valens to identify because certainly those are important political figures, you know, important figures in society of that period but who are they? Some are obvious, some are not. [laughs]
CB: I think James Holden identified one of them as Nero that hadn’t been identified previously or in Hephaestios some of the modern historians had identified one of the charts as the Emperor Hadrian.
LR: Exactly, yeah. And here you see the same thing. I remember someone, there was a lady, a certain famous lady which probably by that period everyone would know who she was but we don’t know anymore. It’s difficult to know unless, you know, very particular events in the society of that time, perhaps you can identify it but Helena couldn’t. She was always very frustrated because she couldn’t identify all the charts that she had.
CB: How many of the charts that were identified are ones where the – you don’t have to give an exact number – but it seems like there are many where there are a number of kings and stuff and their charts – are they named in the manuscript? Or how many was Helena herself, was she able to infer or figure out who they are based on the date that was given?
LR: I suppose that a lot of them – she probably identified around 5, 6. She was able to know exactly who that person was. Or had a strong suspicion of who it was. Others, she makes some suggestions but she wasn’t sure. She wasn’t sure who they were. She had suspicions because of the position of the chart, the way he dealt with it. I remember there was one which they were unsure if it was a man or a woman because of the way the title was given and it gives out as the way the Part of Marriage is calculated. Because the Part of Marriage changes based on if it’s a man or woman, inverts, so she was able to infer, yeah, confirm from that that it’s a woman because the Part of Marriage is calculated as if it were for a female chart. So that is interesting, and that’s where astrology can come… Another thing that very early on she noticed figures which are identified and whose date of birth is not historically known. If you go to a history book about that figure, it says “Oh, she was born about this year, some time in this year.” And then there’s an astrological chart! It has the exact date and time! So certainly then you have biographical data which can come from these documents that can give you more historical details about this person: what year exactly was this person born? And from that, from there, you can infer other historical consequences of that, you know? Which child was born first, what was happening in the life of that important figure when the first born or the second born came to be – sometimes it’s important data for people studying the period.
CB: Yeah, so it’s actually providing really valuable historical information for historians that’s coming from being able to study and analyze the astrological content of these texts.
LR: Yes, exactly. For example, there is a couple – I think they didn’t have children, I don’t recall exactly the details because at this time that Helena was writing it, I was already involved in my own PhD so I accompanied it but I don’t know the details. [laughs] Sadly I haven’t been able to read the book since I got it, you know. I did all the indexing, and all of that because it was required. Charles Burnett, which I have to thank him a lot because he was extremely kind and helpful with the revising of the book for printing. He did a lot of the work. So, I haven’t read it again since Helena passed away. So, I don’t recall the details but I was remembering this couple: they either had difficulty in conceiving or they didn’t conceive at all, they didn’t have children and it’s interesting because he goes in the chart and he studies the Part of Children. The Part of Children is there in both and they are just in one page, one is on the front and one is on the verso, same folio, and husband and wife and he’s studying the Part of Children and it’s known historically that they had problems having an heir. And there it is, you know, he is studying that at the time they are alive and it’s possible that he is one of their advisors.
LR: Because he has a lot of detail on those people because he was accompanying the life of those people so he was one of their physicians, something, we don’t know the details but that’s very interesting to know, to have all these details about a colleague from far, far in the past. [laughs]
CB: Right, and there’s one actual physician, there’s one tantalizing clue that Helena mentions which is that there is one physician in France in the 15th century whose name was Simon Belle and so there’s the suspicion even though there’s no direct evidence there’s at least a question of whether that could be the author of these two astrological texts.
LR: Exactly. Probably it is because there are not many names that with S in the period. Simon is a very high probability so all historians agree that most likely, this is Simon Belle, a physician. And he appears to have medical knowledge, so that points to him being a physician, surely. But again you cannot say for sure that it is Simon Belle, you can only make that possibility, you raise that possibility. There’s a strong possibility that this guy is called Simon Belle but we really don’t know for sure.
CB: Right, and this is in a period where in the 15th century, many doctors had some astrological training for diagnostic purposes.
LR: Yeah. Well, astrology and medicine are always connected, you know. There are a large group of physicians which are astrologers as well. And in France, you have a long history in the 15th century of astrologer physicians and this is one of them most certainly, most certainly.
LR: Yeah. One of the other interesting charts is an horary that comes at the very end of the French manuscript upside down. So he had the book upside down when he wrote it. And what does it say? It’s an horary on the general fortune, it’s a universal question, what is going to be the fortune or destiny of that person. And by the date, Helena thinks that it’s one of his patrons who is involved in a political coup in which one of them, one of the leaders, is killed by the king of France. And so they’re very afraid for their lives at this point so possibly this is the time when he does this question, what is going to happen to me. It’s incredible.
CB: Sometimes astrologers were dealing with very serious matters of life and death. In addition to medical things, I think, not too long after this time period, there was another doctor – was Jerome Cardan also trained in medicine?
LR: Yes. Cardan was a physician. He was a mathematician, a doctor – so a doctor of medicine – and an astrologer.
CB: Or even actually Nostradamus was also trained in medicine, a doctor as well as an astrologer.
LR: Yeah. A lot of the astrologers, the well-known astrologers are court physicians. Usually, not all of them, but usually when you say, “Oh, he was a court astrologer” that means he was the court physician and he knew astrology. And that’s why sometimes they have good information on the birth of princes because they are there for the delivery, so they know when it happened, what time it happened. They are on top of it.
CB: That’s a really good reference point for people who are maybe not familiar with the time period, that Nostradamus would have been born, would have lived a few decades after S. Belle.
LR: Yeah, yeah. He’s in the 16th century. By the time Nostradamus is born, Belle would be in his old age, if he’s still alive. We don’t know exactly his age. We estimate but we don’t know, we don’t have his birth date unfortunately. It’s rare to have the astrologer’s own birth date in this period although there are these incidences where they would repeat a certain chart which leads historians to suspect “Hmm…” This probably is their own chart.
CB: Yeah. The one with Valens is funny because he knows a little bit too much about this one person’s life including that the guy was involved in a ship wreck when he was 35 or 36 and that he happened to have the birth charts of 8 other people who were on the same ship, which is a little suspicious.
LR: Suspicious, yeah, exactly. [laughs]
CB: So, one of the things I think that Helena mentions in the book was that there’s a little bit of a generational shift in astrology at this period as well and there’s a little bit of tension he seems to be a part of, a tendency to sometimes value older sources like Ptolemy that he thought were more tied in with older or more authoritative in some way even though he also draws on the medieval Arabic tradition.
LR: Yeah, and this is something that she noted early on that is very important, that we are seeing what we call today the “Return to Ptolemy”, that shift into a more Ptolemaic approach that will characterize the 16th and 17th centuries.
CB: The “Back to Ptolemy Movement.”
LR: Yeah, yeah. And that’s a very interesting line of work because we see a lot of evolutions on that. Within that movement later on in the 17th century, we see a return to Tradition, where they’re rejecting a lot of what Ptolemy said and they’re going back to the Arabs. And that’s a very interesting line in itself to study. But here what we observe is that he gives Ptolemaic terms in the table so he has one of those standard tables of dignities where he has Ptolemaic terms. But then at the end of the table, he has the sum of the Almutens so adding all the dignities what Almuten, you know, which planets have the most dignity in which degrees. And those calculations are not made according to the Ptolemaic terms that he’s putting in the table but Egyptian terms. So, he’s mixing systems there. And you see them also in the practice, sometimes using Ptolemaic terms and sometimes using Egyptian terms. So, he’s in between two systems. Again, in the Part of Fortune in the certain charts, you’ll see the Part of Fortune and then the Part of Fortune according to Ptolemy. So he doesn’t know, or sometimes other Parts, one normal and the other one according to Ptolemy. So they already at this period he doesn’t know, should he invert the formula or not. Because if Ptolemy’s not doing it for the Part of Fortune, should they invert it for the other Parts as well. So you see this coming in and this debate coming in. Should you use the Ingress chart or should you use the previous lunation? There’s a whole debate: which one is more correct. And Ptolemaic-inclined astrologers tend to use the lunation, the previous lunation. Other astrologers would tend to use the Ingress itself. So there is this debate going on. We don’t see him debating because he doesn’t write texts of his own but you can see that it’s in his practice, you know, the doubt or the experimentation exists in the charts themselves which is fabulous, absolutely fabulous.
CB: Right. You can see the tension in the practice and what he’s actually doing between those two different streams of the tradition and it was something that becomes much more openly debated in subsequent centuries like in the 17th century with Lilly and some of his decisions of when to incorporate Ptolemy versus when to go with other astrologers, and a tendency to favor Ptolemy in issues of disputes but it’s interesting seeing that tension because for this author, S. Belle, he would have inherited on the one hand knowing that Ptolemy was the oldest text that survived to him at that time but that it’s approach to astrology is a bit different compared to the tradition of astrology that was inherited from the Arabic stream and the early Latin stream which in terms of some of its procedures was much different because of its being influenced by Dorotheus and the Dorothean stream of the tradition. It makes me think of, when I think about this issue in the astrological community, it makes me think of the difference between – there’s some historian who said – or maybe it was Nick Campion or somebody that said all Western philosophy is either Plato or Aristotle for many centuries, and different people playing off either the Platonic stream or the Aristotelian stream for a 1000 years or 2000 years. It’s kind of similar here in the astrological tradition where for a very long time you have the Ptolemaic stream and the Dorothean stream playing off in some ways and being passed down in the tradition and then this fundamental tension between the two of them.
LR: Yeah, exactly, and you see that going on because Ptolemy is a very incomplete and unclear source if we look at it. It’s a very interesting book. Anyone interested in astrology should at least have a copy of Ptolemy and just read it a little bit o know our own origins, as with Dorotheus. These are the two main sources that built the whole tree of tradition. But Ptolemy – the Tetrabiblios is a very incomplete book and Ptolemy is confusing in the way he explains things, you know, he goes about them in a very strange way. Houses – that’s one of the main problems with Ptolemy, he doesn’t give a normal listing of the houses and the meaning of the houses, the use of the houses, as we see in the Dorothean tradition so you cannot rely on Ptolemy to practice astrology. You would have a very incomplete way of looking at things so you need more meat there, you know, to make it more consistent and that’s what we see throughout. The astrologers recognize this, you know, the good ones, the ones that are really well educated in their sources know the limitations of Ptolemy. What they do is – because Ptolemy describes things in such a coherent, philosophical Aristotleian system, you know, of natural philosophy, he tries to structure astrology within the concepts of natural philosophy, he’s a “go to” source for explanations. But not a “go to” source if you really want to practice astrology because he’s not going to give you the things you need. He doesn’t have the basic tools for chart interpretation, for elections, for horary, for mundane, it’s incomplete. You need other ones and this problem, you can see it throughout the history, from early on, to the Arabs, to the Latin world, then to this period and to later on also to the 16th and 17th century. It’s a very interesting.. [laughs] The debate or the dilemma is transversal historically in any tradition that you’re studying.
CB: Right. And this is one of the earliest and best instances of seeing that tension in an astrologer’s own internal dialogue or monologue with himself with, as you say, putting both positions in the same chart and maybe then in some sense experimenting or trying out different ones to see what worked best in practice.
LR: Yeah, exactly, and that is the value of these charts because we see they are experimenting. It’s not just a theoretical debate that’s done in books and texts. It’s something they are experimenting with in practice and trying to figure out which one works better. This is the prelude of that “Return to Ptolemy” and the rejection of the Arabs which is more typical of very late 15th century, the last decade of the 15th century, and the early part of the 16th century, that’s when all of that is really coming onto public debate in printed books with of course the famous “Disputationes” of Pico della Mirandola being a catalyzer for that debate but it’s already going on decades before his work.
CB: Right. So, Helena took it on herself to become the world expert on this book and on researching everything possible and becoming an authority not just on this text but also all of the sources surrounding it and all the time periods surrounding it and everything else and that’s what she spent the greater part of that last decade of her life focusing on and eventually she successfully defended her PhD thesis at the end of – you said 2018?
LR: 2018, yeah.
CB: OK. What was that like, or can you describe for those that don’t know what it’s like to defend a PhD thesis, what that’s like or what that might have been like for her?
LR: Yeah, well, the process is that you have to write it down. It varies a little bit from country to country but in her case, she submitted the final document after being approved by of course Charles Burnett who is her supervisor. After all the things were correct and everything was OK, she submits and then she has to go through a viva, so an evaluation in which are present the supervisor, which cannot intervene, two outside evaluators and then a neutral party who is only there to assure that everything is going to occur with the correct proceedings. And so what happens is these two evaluators have read your thesis, have read your arguments and are going to ask you questions or making comments – is your argumentation correct? Have you forgotten something crucial? Is the argumentation well done? So they are going to ask questions to see if you can really defend your own arguments and that’s the process. Once that is done satisfactorily, several things can happen. You can pass without any corrections being done to the document – that would be the top. Or you can pass with suggestions for corrections before the final submission or they might fail you. It’s very rare that you reach this point and they fail you because for someone to fail a PhD, or have to completely rewrite it, that means it’s not a good job and that means that the supervisor didn’t do his work because a supervisor has to be the one who says OK, now it’s good enough to be evaluated. If it’s not, you just get it back, write it again.
CB: Nobody goes into defending it for the most part not being prepared or ready to defend it. Once you’re fully ready and you’ve written everything exhaustively, then you go into this process.
LR: Exactly. If it’s properly done. It can happen, yeah. People fail. It’s very rare nowadays but it does happen, unfortunately. That’s not only the student to blame but the supervisor who didn’t do his job. Most of the time they suggest corrections. It can be minor things. In Helena’s case, it was minor things. And then: submission.
CB: It looks like because it was defended in the UK, I think all the PhD theses are available publicly online and somebody had sent me the link. Is that OK if I show that? Is that true?
LR: Yeah, yeah, it’s public.
CB: I was just making sure. So here’s the actual thesis which is titled “The Making of An Astrologer in Fifteenth-Century France. The Notebooks of S. Belle: Lisbon, MS 1711 and Paris, NAL 398 and University of London Warburg Institute 2018. Dissertation submitted in fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy on Combined Historical Studies. Supervisors: Charles Burnett and Sara Miglietti.” And there’s her signature on April 12, 2018.
CB: So, and then it’s just this super comprehensive treatment…
LR: Not April 12. It’s the 4th of December.
CB: Sorry about that. [Both laugh.] Yeah, thank you for pointing that out: 4th of December 2018. So there’s a super comprehensive table of contents for just every aspect of these two documents, everything that is known or could possibly be known and all of the cross-referencing of all the other historical sources that are relevant in understanding this document so that she became the world’s leading expert on these two documents and the surviving works of this astrologer from the 15th century.
LR: And it is a very good work she did. There aren’t a lot of academic works on the practices and the techniques of astrology and hers, I think, to date, is one of the largest because she’s really looking at it from the point of view of practice, of the astrological doctrine he’s using. It’s very technical. We sometimes compared it — and I still do — to the history of mathematics. If you want to study how, let’s say, logarithms were discovered and applied in a document, you really have to apply the mathematical doctrine of logarithms, how are they used, examples of their uses, etc. The same thing with astrology. That’s a very technical book and it’s a very expert book, you know, not all historians are going to read a book on the history of logarithms. And not all historians would be interested in the history of astrological techniques. But still, it’s a very important work to be done. And I think she does it very well here. It’s a good example to follow, I’d say.
CB: Yeah. It’s a major contribution to our understanding of the history of astrology and just history in general. So, once she defended her thesis in late 2018 and she was awarded the degree of a doctorate, she then edited the dissertation and turned it into a book which just came out this year, came out in July of 2021, right?
LR: Yeah. She submitted the book around this time in 2020, then it was re-evaluated – you have the peer-reviewing process that goes always with academic publications – and then she made the adjustments that the peers were asking and then she did the final version and she had submitted it. She saw the cover, I think, one week before she passed away.
LR: Yeah. And the proofs arrived one week after.
CB: So you received the proof copy just a week after she passed away unexpectedly and that was her work finally out there, completed in that way. What were the changes that she made in between the dissertation versus the book?
LR: I think she described more the manuscript and she consolidates a little bit more some of the argumentation and she cleans up a little bit more of the structure of the book, from the pieces of the book. Because you know, there is a difference between a thesis and a book. There is an adjustment that needs to be done. And that’s what she’s done. You can find the main argumentation on the thesis online, it’s there. It’s just better outlined and polished in the book format. It’s a more mature version of the PhD. It took her one year and a half to do this. The restructuring, correcting errors that passed unnoticed, stuff like that, it’s… adjusting and restructuring. I can’t tell you the whole difference because at that point I was completing my own PhD so I wasn’t on top of what she was doing at the time. But what you have in the book is a polished version of the historical argumentation of the thesis.
CB: OK. So here is the book. It’s published by Brill, which is basically the main academic publisher of works on the history of astrology. And it says the publication date was either June or July of 2021.
LR: Yeah. It shifted around a little bit but it was in July, in June. Because the PDF comes a little later than the printed version.
CB: OK. The printed version is the one that’s dated 10th of June 2021 and that’s the earlier one. So, you received the manuscript for the book the week after she passed away and she did get to see at least the cover which is pretty amazing. Then you had to put together the index because it wasn’t quite finished yet, right?
LR: Yeah, yeah. Charles Burnett made most of the English revision, you know, he wrote the adjustments because he’s the native speaker, I’m not an English native speaker, so some of the obvious things .. he had a lot of work on that. And I corrected anything to do with tables and mistakes in the graphics and also composed the index once we had the final version. And I did the index and Helena had already left a lot of instructions, you know, on how to do the index because she had been thinking about it, so she had compiled a list of terms that she thought the index should have. And what I did, I picked those terms and I – there are several indexes but it’s the index of astrological terms and concepts which is on page 416 that I did. It was hard, it took me a week to do. And I tried to do it if you are an historian of astrology or someone interested in the history of astrology and you want to find a certain term, a certain concept, the index is built to make your life easier. And I tried to do it as if I was looking for astrological concepts, astrological terminology in the book, how would I like it to be laid out. So, I did my best. It was very difficult for me at the time to do this because I had to do this weeks after she had died and I could work half an hour on the book and then I would have to stop.
CB: Right. Yeah, well, I mean, to what extent – because it was something that happened unexpectedly, it was not something that was anticipated. To what extent was that something that helped you to get through it, or to what extent was that useful in terms of the grieving process, being able to bring her work to completion for her?
LR: Well, it helps, you know. It honors her memory. This is her legacy. And I wanted to be as perfect as I could make it and contribute to that. I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to work on this immediately so that the book was published on time. No delays at all, because this was very important to her. So I made sure that this was done quickly and in time.
CB: And you were able to mention that you updated some of that in the introduction, which is good. Publishing the book was one of the last major things that she did but I notice that after she completed her PhD thesis, the two of you also launched the Astra Project, right? There were other long-term plans that both of you set in motion pretty quickly over the past couple of years and I should actually mention before I get into that, you, in the past few months, also successfully defended your own PhD thesis.
LR: Yeah. It was the week before she died and I defended it on the 28th of June?
CB: OK. So that was just a few weeks after her book came out.
LR: Well, I received the copies, the first copies of her book on the exact day that I defended my thesis. I had just defended my thesis in the morning and the books came afterwards.
CB: Wow. That’s amazing. Yeah, sometimes things happen like that and I don’t know if that felt a little reassuring or – how did you feel about that?
LR: Well, it’s meaningful for me. Two major things are accomplished in a single day. Finally I have the physical book, the final step in the process and it’s the same time that I’m completing a huge step for me in that I’m completing my own work. And also the accomplishment of the last 4 years of my life around my own work and all of that coming together.
CB: Yeah. What was the title of your thesis?
LR: Let’s see if I can remember it. [laughs] It’s “Transgressing Boundaries: Jesuit Astrology in Portugal.” So what I’m studying there is the use and teaching of astrology by the Jesuit order in the early modern period.
CB: OK. That’s more like 16th, 17th century?
LR: Yeah, 16th, 17th century. So, a little later.
CB: So with that, both of you completed that journey into Academia that you’d both started about a decade or more earlier.
LR: Yeah, exactly, so this is a peak, the accomplishment of a PhD, it’s a peak in your astrological studies and now you become officially an expert or at least someone who has the proper credentials to research the topic properly, you know, academically and that’s a high point. This would be her high point. It became her legacy. It’s a pity, it’s sad, but…
CB: Well, it’s a major contribution and it’s great that she was able to finish it and make that contribution because then it’s not only that academic side of her work that she was able to bring to completion in addition to all of the astrological work and the practical work she’d done in teaching hundreds or thousands of astrologers and influencing but also setting a standard in showing the way for many astrologers for many generations in the future of what you can actually accomplish through dedication and skill and hard work.
LR: Exactly, and also she would say by respecting astrology. Recognizing astrology by what it is, what it has to offer, and not by our own standards, not by fitting astrology into your own limited perspective but expanding your perspective to encompass a much larger thing that you can never perceive.
CB: Right. So for her it was about rising to the occasion in order to improve, raise your own standards to meet up to what you need to be in order to do it right for the sake of the astrology and for respecting it.
LR: She has this huge respect for astrology and she had felt astrology should be respected. It’s to astrology that she owed her life passion, one of her main life passions, and she would always respect astrology and try to make it clean, clear knowledge both from the practical point of view and the academic study of astrology, the historical study of astrology.
CB: Right, and one of the things that you two started working on in the last couple of years was the project for the academic study of astrology and for recognizing the contributions of different scholars both in the present as well as in the past that had made major contributions to that and this was the Astra Project which is academic conversations on the history of astrology.
LR: Yeah, well, that’s the podcast. Or, let’s say, that’s the public face of the Astra Project. What the Astra Project was , it was an idea, or the project to do that, by the time that Charles Burnett launched the Abu Ma’shar “Great Introduction.” There was this huge conference with the pre-conference workshop in explaining the fundamentals of Traditional Astrology, in the sense of what would you need to understand in terms of techniques and doctrines to understand and to be able to read properly the “Great Introduction.” So, we were giving a sort of a workshop on basic astrology for academics. And that was quite an experience. And that was the official time when the Astra Project came into being. And it was very good because we had the chance to invite in person a lot of the academics that were there to join and participate as advisors to the project. And Helena had this very good skill of connecting people and talking to people and so one of her great contributions to the project was establishing a network and we have a lot of advisors, we have a lot of people connected to the Astra Project at this point and we had this huge conference planned two years ago but then Covid came and that was not possible to do. And I hope by next year I am able to accomplish that. And in August, then, because the conference was not happening, we decided everyone was at home, locked in, we decided to launch the “Ad Astra” podcast in which we make these conversations. Well, they’re not really interviews, they’re conversations, casual conversations on the history of astrology with these academics or researchers that are doing their work in this field and we gathered quite a good collection of videos this past year and now I … after Helena passed away, I stopped, of course, and I still published a few videos that I had on archive to be published which still feature her, and now I regain again the momentum. So it’s huge. So if you want to hear about – for those listening to this podcast – if you want to hear the researchers speaking about their work and their research in their own words, that’s the place to go.
CB: Yeah. So it’s at youtube.com/theastraproject and I’ll put a link to it either below this video on Youtube or on The Astrology Podcast website on the page for this episode for those listening to the audio version but it’s just this amazing collection where you’ve been going through and you’ve been interviewing or having these dialogues with some of the leading historians on the history of astrology at this point and also one of the things that’s shown is just the scope of areas that these historians are working on in different ways in terms of ways that astrology can be studied in terms of history.
LR: Yeah, exactly. The project itself, it’s very focused on the history of astrological techniques. The research project we advise to study how the techniques developed throughout time, so it’s very specific but with the podcast, we widened up a little bit more so we are talking with people who are doing research, historical research on astrology on topics which are not technical. It can b philosophical, it can be social, it can be several periods of time, some are outside the scope of the original Astra Project but still which are interesting to know, the whole universe of research that’s out there and I hope to continue to do this at least once a month I would like to launch an episode, where I talk with one of these researchers and present what they’re doing and how they got there and now we’re also organizing and this is the first time I’m going to announce this publicly a workshop on the history of astrology and the dilemmas of the discipline of the history of astrology academically with some of these scholars which is it will be, if everything goes well, on the 6th of November, it will be an online event and I should have those details soon. And of course people can attend. I’m not sure directly via Zoom like in a big conference or a Youtube broadcast but it will be available publicly.
CB: Nice. That’s amazing, that sounds great.
LR: And I hope it will be a prelude to a big in-person conference to happen in mid-2022 so let’s see. Let’s see if all goes well. [laughs]
CB: Yeah, I know the last one had an amazing line-up and that was scheduled for April or May of 2020 originally, right? But then Covid happened in March and April and you had to cancel it. But I think you’ve been able to show with the Astra Project and with those conversations, you know, how much interest, the sheer amount of work that is being done on the history of astrology by different scholars around the world. There’s a need for that and there’s a need for those conversations and there’s probably people listening to this podcast now that didn’t know that they could get a degree or get a PhD or master’s focussing on the history of astrology but that might be interested in that, so this might give people some different ideas or insight into that process. I mean, having completed that yourself over the past decade and doing this work with Helena, what would you recommend to people if they did want to go to school or if they’re currently in school or they wanted to go back to school like the two of you did, I mean, do you have any advice or is that something that is doable or that is possible?
LR: Yes, it is. I always say to people that it is never late to go back to school and do what degree you want. It depends on the scope of your objective. You can do an M.A. if you don’t have one, and I always recommend, if you really like research and you really want to contribute with your research, try to do it in an academic degree because it will validate your work. It will give substance and consistency to your work. That doesn’t mean you already have but it does give because even if you are a good researcher, with the academic process you learn the troubles and the lights of peer review. [laughs] You have someone evaluating who says “This argument is not consistent and you need to work on this or you need to prove this..” and this is very important, because unfortunately for those who like astrology, astrology nowadays doesn’t have peer review at all. Almost anything is accepted and tolerated and people don’t really put others into – I wouldn’t say judgement but don’t evaluate their work. Not judging people but judging their work. And this is a profession that needs to be done otherwise anything goes. And with the process of Academia, at least you have that process of learning how to research and to give a good foundation to your argument and to your conclusions. That’s very important. So if you have a degree, you can do an M.A. and depending on what approach you want to do to astrology, you can go to by any historical subject. History of culture, for example, is a huge area where astrology has a good place to be explored. You have the history of science which is my area where I am exploring from the point of view of scientific knowledge of its own time, of course. But you can go to social studies, if you want to work on, for example, the history of astrology in either today’s world or the 18th century onwards that the history of science would not be the area because it’s no longer science by that era but the history of culture, social history, that can be… Literature – that can be an area where you could do an M.A. or a PhD. It really depends on the focus of your research. And then those who want to do the more ancient areas, then you would need language skills, paleography skills. That’s a whole learning curve that you need to do this work. But you can always find it. Why not?
CB: Yeah, and it’s never too late. I know in one of my early biographical interviews with Demetra, she went back in the 1990’s to get a master’s degree in Classics and that required her learning ancient Greek and Latin, which was not easy but it was something that she was able to do.
LR: Yeah. You could use your own skills, you know? For example, we have tons of Arabic documents on astrology that need to be researched. For example, this enormous collection that Helena explored, who knows if we don’t have an Arabic document with even more charts? If you already know Arabic, you know, if it’s your language, why not attempt to explore this avenue? It’s much needed, there’s a lot of answers to be found in Arabic manuscripts being medieval or even early modern, there’s very little about the early modern Arabic practice of astrology. You have so many examples so explore your own country’s history of astrology. Why not? And do a good work researching on who were the astrologers, what did they practice, what did they publish. And you can do that even in the modern period where 20th century or late 19th century – that’s a very good era to explore. There are lots of things to be done. [laughs]
CB: So part of the point is that even though there are more scholars doing work on the history of astrology than ever before, there’s also still a huge amount of work that needs to be done and so there’s plenty of work and plenty of areas where people could set up entire careers that could be a focus for the rest of their lives.
LR: Exactly, and do a good contribution. You just need to make sure that, well, you’re in the right place in terms of Academia and that you’re doing good work. And doing good work has to do with your own inherent skills, of course, but you can also learn how to do that. You learn how to research. No one is born knowing these things. You learn how to research – that’s why M.A.’s have orientation classes to teach you how to do the proper research, how to handle sources, how to make quotations, how to read other people’s work so you can sustain your own argument, that whole process that people can engage in and learn. Why not? If you like to study, sure, go ahead. We need good work. [laughs]
CB: Right. So, I know we did the Astra Project. I know that Helena had other academic papers that were in the works or that she finished. One of them was just published a few days ago, or came out a few days ago, right?
LR: Yeah, exactly. That’s her last paper. There is one more — it will be published at some point. That’s done, that’s been done for years but you know sometimes publications delay. That is a very simple paper but an interesting paper that I did with her and another colleague that should come out at any time, probably next year. But this last one was her last paper. It was the result of her stay in the Erlangen University in Germany for a postdoctoral position in the IKGF which studies prognostication in western and eastern medieval environments so they study a lot of divinatory arts, divinatory practices, so her proposal for them was to study how the ideas of longevity and calculating of the length of life would change throughout time. And there was a reflection on the philosophical approach and the practical to see if there was some sort of correlation and she was exploring that. So it was a paper that it was still being explored and she had submitted by the time she died for peer review but the results came several weeks after she had passed away. I have to thank Dorian Greenbaum who helped me a lot in the revising of the paper because she’s more familiar with Greek and Hellenstic sources than I am and she was able to make sure that all the citations were properly done and everything was the best that it could be. There were certain improvements that could have been made to that paper but Helena would have had to have done that. If we had added a few things, it wouldn’t be her paper. It would be ours so we decided very early on just to make the necessary corrections and leave the paper as is.
CB: Yeah. That was probably a good approach to take so it’s published in the “International Journal of Divination and Prognostication” which is another Brill publication. The title of the paper is “Who Wants to Live Forever? Astrological Methods for Calculating Lifespan in Western Culture and Perspectives on Determinism in Astrology.” So that’s another really weird but meaningful thing in terms of that being her final paper. I was reading it yesterday and today and part of it is a comprehensive review of the technique for determining the length of life that astrologers used for 2000 years.
LR: Exactly, exactly.
CB: And she compared that with how that changed and how views of it changed in different eras based on changing philosophical trends and how sometimes astrologers’ philosophies influenced how they used the techniques.
LR: Yeah, exactly. Because she saw it in Belle’s work, and she has an example of Belle’s there. There are several others calculating longevity and there are ones which are very touching in which he is calculating the longevity of his own children and he’s coming to the conclusion that there isn’t a good sign that the child will survive. This is a time when infant mortality is very high. He’s making all these attempts to assure that the child will live and that the chart has signs that the child will live but you see clearly he’s reaching the limits of interpretation the rules allow and then very sadly he’s noting that the child died a few weeks afterward or something like that. And that’s a hands-on testimony of an astrologer who is practicing on his own children and living the desperation of possibly losing a child, just born, you know, and sometimes he even goes off in strange tangents, bends the technique a little bit towards the awkwardness to try to get a good – a benefic that would somehow save the day but then he cannot and you see that he’s not trusting his own judgement on that. And that’s quite fascinating and from that kind of testimony, she had this idea of exploring how this is handled because he has these other examples because he’s making natal delineations on people and he says, “Well, there we have longevity but we do not have aspects until much later on, there is no direction that is dangerous after the time of the Hyleg” but then he says a good diet, a good life, a pious life, you know, life can be extended and this idea in which you have a Christian approach to piety in which piety can extend your life, your fate, or what is determined by the chart, she had this idea of making this research and seeing how having this overview of this changes through time and in different cultures and different philosophical approaches. In its way, it’s a derivation of her PhD.
CB: Right. What were Helena’s own thoughts or views on things like fate and determinism or the extent to which astrology indicates it or used it to find meaning in life?
LR: It’s difficult to reproduce exactly her thoughts but she had this idea that there’s no absolute determinism, there’s no absolute freedom, there’s a balance between these two things. So within certain parameters which you cannot change, you can move around those and make choices freely through them. But there are things which are apparently determined. You are raised – we can think of examples outside astrology – you are raised in a specific environment that’s going to mould your own perception and views of the world with certain parents, a certain gender, certain social norms, religious norms – all of that is going to affect you. And that, somehow, locks you into a system but within that, you can move and make choices, you can change, you can change your mind, you can go outside, so within our own field of limitations, we can be free. This is more or less her approach. There is an equation here, a balance between how free you can be, how determined things are. That is more or less her personal view on the matter.
CB: Did her views change over the course of her career as a professional astrologer or were they largely consistent?
LR: I think they were largely consistent.
CB: So, I guess, as we’re getting close to the end of this, one of the questions, I guess, was to what extent — your focus was obviously still going to be on the history of astrology but to what extent were you still teaching astrology or going to teach in terms of the astrological community or in terms of the practice? I know that when I had you on last, two years ago, it was to talk about your follow up book, a course that the two of you were teaching on astrology and I know she had had some classes that she was teaching online on specific topics on the practice of astrology, right?
LR: Yeah, yeah. All throughout our academic careers, you know, in the past, we never stopped teaching astrology and practicing it. We have been teaching and practicing all this time, we never stopped. We focussed a lot here on Portugal, we didn’t go outside Portugal too much but we have been consistently teaching astrology for all these years. And in the last 3 years we started to expand more or less the time we last spoke, we started to expand outside of Portugal to teach in English which was something that we hadn’t done for quite a while so now I have several courses running and there are still courses by Helena and thankfully because it is online work with recordings, I have a lot of recordings of Helena’s lessons which are here also as her legacy. People can – later on, I’m going to reorganize that and offer those as courses if you still want to have the experience of her teaching, you still can. She taught an advanced course, an introduction to the approach to the chart in a more advanced manner. She taught a whole course on chart comparison, on relationship astrology and part of our introductory course on astrology. So those lessons will be here for some time. I’ll keep them alive in the next year so people can experience Helena now that she is gone because she had a very special way of teaching astrology and she was very passionate when she taught and I think people should experience that and have the chance to see her.
CB: It’s one of the things that’s different in terms of comparing S. Belle’s legacy of just having these two books survive versus having much more output in terms of Helena’s academic work and the practical work on astrology, the classes and the workshops that the two of you authored together. What’s the website for your school?
LR: It’s academyofastrology.eu. That’s the English site. And then there is also the Portuguese site.
CB: And here’s the website for those who might be looking for it: academyofastrology.eu. What else – as we’re thinking about this – were there things that you wanted to say or we should say as we wrap up about her legacy and what her contributions were in the end both in terms academics as well her practice of astrology. I mean, you’re at a point in your career where it’s somewhat nice that you see the influence – and she got to see some of the influence that she had on the astrological tradition although I suspect that that might just be the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, that we’ve seen pieces of over the past half a decade or so but going forward that might end up becoming even larger than we can tell now, in some ways.
LR: Yeah, yeah. Well, what can we say to sort of wrap up our conversation: Helena was a very strong person. She had a very acute intellect. She was able to perceive people and people’s dynamics very easily. And she was an excellent counselor. She was not only a good astrologer, in a sense, a good interpreter of charts but she was also very good at counseling and transforming the astrology into something that was useful for the person who was in front of her. And she was very good at that.
CB: So, that was important to her or a core piece of her practice of astrology, that counseling dynamic.
LR: Yeah, the way that you transmit the astrological information to the other person, you know, to be aware of how to do it. That was something that was always on her mind when she was teaching, not just teach the doctrine but also how you are going to say that to someone who doesn’t know astrology and just searches for advice.
CB: Was it meant to be useful, was that the goal in terms of astrology for her at least when it came to clients or what did she hope that they could get out of it and also in terms of her presentation of it, I know Zoller, for example, your first teacher with Traditional, that his bedside manner, as they call it, was legendarily direct and kind of brusque and he did not pull any punches so to speak when it comes to delineating a person’s chart, sometimes saying things that could be either off-putting or just very stark when it came to interpreting the chart in the old way. How did she deal with that when it came to the consulting setting?
LR: She wouldn’t hide anything from you. She would not avoid talking about your problems and your defects and the things that you were doing wrong and wrong choices and things that were incorrect. It was very straightforward. And she would put you against the wall if you were doing something that didn’t make sense. But at the same time, she was very caring in doing that, so she wouldn’t be blunt, you know, she would be forceful, she would be direct but not menacing or doing that in an abrupt way. That was not her object. Her purpose was that the person would get out of the consultation with a good reflection on what was happening, their behavior or an event that was happening at that point and having chosen to really work that out in her own life. She was not into that very “You are like this” or “This is going to happen” – that was not her approach to Tradition at all. It’s not mine. I think people sometimes mistake that to be a good Traditional Astrologer you have to be very harsh – that’s Zoller’s point of view: “We have straight things, straightforward, we have to map a person’s life” – well, that might work for the medieval age or early modern but nowadays you’re in a different cultural setting so you’re not going to give that kind of deterministic or very rigid line of interpretation. And if there’s something that I’ve learned through all my years as an astrologer, it’s that the tradition has very good tools to make psychological analysis of a person, very accurate, and that was our approach, that was something that we developed very early on and to which Helena had a very keen eye. She could immediately see through the configurations and she would very well translate that into behavior and habits and mechanisms that the person would have.
CB: To what extent – was some of that the good pieces that she took from her earlier career in modern astrology?
LR: Perhaps. She didn’t base in modern astrology, she was always very concerned with counseling. I think in another universe, she would be a very good psychologist, you know? She could have been a very good psychologist because she would be able to understand people very well and to perceive how people were very well. And it could have been a career for her but she didn’t want that. I don’t know if she got that from modern astrology, I think she got that from her own perception of things. She used Tradition to enhance because I remember her saying a lot of times that Tradition was giving substance to her delineations and her ability to interpret them for people and was giving them consistently tools that worked to give valuable information. So modern counseling with Traditional Astrology which is something that people don’t think that it exists but it does.
CB: Were there ever any major incidents where the two of you disagreed on something in astrology and later she turned out to be right? Anything you can think of that were notable instances of differences in technique or approach or observations or initial theories that sometimes especially early in one’s studies an idea that somebody has maybe one of you goes in one direction and the other one isn’t sure about that but then things work out in a way.
LR: I can’t recall any incidents like that. We dialogued a lot so we were always discussing things and learning together. We did all of this together, always. Talking with each other and debating our views and trying to understand. And sometimes she had very good insights and sometimes I had good insights for her. It was kind of a half-half thing. And we did have our own approach. We don’t do the same approach. My approach is different than hers. I’m perhaps a bit more technical in some aspects and she was more technical in other aspects but…
CB: I guess one of them that you mentioned earlier just in terms of differences was that you ended up focussing more on natal and going the natal route material whereas she ended up getting more into horary with Sue Ward’s material at one point.
LR: Yeah, at one point, we did do that because we couldn’t be studying the whole thing at the same time. But for example, I ended up doing horary consultations. Helena didn’t like to do that alone. She would use horary in the context of a regular consultation. She would never do it by itself.
CB: And she didn’t like to share the details of her birth data or her birth chart, right?
LR: No, she didn’t, she didn’t.
CB: What were her reasons for that?
LR: Well, she didn’t want – it’s private, you know. The chart is private and I share that feeling with her. The chart is private and I think also we were fed up with people talking about their charts and learning astrology only by their charts and their charts being the measure of everything. So, early on, we stopped telling people our charts and also not putting people’s charts into the class context. That’s something I avoid all together. I always say to my students, “If you want to ask something about your chart, be clever about it.” Ask about a configuration but not “Oh, my chart has this…” Don’t ask me that. I’m not going to answer that. [laughs]
CB: Yeah, that’s a good tip for any new students of astrology that if you’re going to go that route, at the very least it should be of a very specific thing although then sometimes that can not work because it will be overly specific of like five….
LR: You can always have the chart of a friend, like “i’ve seen this chart with this configuration…” [laughs]
LR: Because people when they start astrology they tend to get very obsessive about their charts. Some more than others. And at some point: let go of your chart. You won’t learn with your chart, you’ll learn with other people’s charts. Of course, if you’re learning something, you’re always going to see it in your chart, more than natural that you do it. But you don’t have to show it around to everyone, I don’t like that. Or justify your choices, your likings or dislikings by your chart. It sometimes gets too much.
CB: Like, house division or rulerships or any of the other debates that happen in astrology.
LR: Not really that, no. What I mean is – and I’m going to make something up – “Oh, I like cakes a lot and I eat a lot because I have Venus in” whatever. Or “I’m like this because I have this trine or this square or whatever.” Don’t do that. [laughs] You can do that occasionally in an astrological conversation but people do it all the time constantly. And students emulate that and then they’re always talking about their charts. I have seen people do synastry, extensive synastry with their clients before a consultation. Come on! Get over it. Forget your chart. [laughs] It’s the other person’s chart that you need to be dealing with, it’s not about you. It can be excessive and that’s one of the points. And also for example, when you’re teaching and students know your chart, they tend to think that you’re saying certain things about certain planets and certain planetary positions because you have them in your own chart. So, it’s better to be as neutral as one can be about these things.
CB: Sure. That makes sense. And in terms of what ended up happening it was just unexpected but it wasn’t otherwise something that you wanted to go into so that’s one of the reasons why we’ve deliberately – not for the purpose of this but I just wanted to say that in order to avoid questions about those two topics: one, the birth data and two, the other details.
LR: Sure. What I can say about her death is that it was sudden, unexpected. The condition that suddenly popped up and it was fatal and I can clarify that it was not Covid-related because indeed it occurred at the time that I had to say this to people, it hadn’t to do with the current pandemic whatsoever. It was another thing. It’s one of those bombs that falls into your life, you know, and….
CB: Yeah, and has astrology – a listener to the show asked me at one point recently he was struggling with grief, to what extent astrology has been helpful or not or helpful for you in terms of the grieving process? I know different astrologers deal with grief and cope with things in different ways. Different things might feel appropriate for one astrologer that are not appropriate to another and maybe the same astrologer may go through different phases where some things feel appropriate or not appropriate. How has that been for you, not just as a person but as an astrologer?
LR: I won’t go into personal details but grief is something that is very personal. It’s very intimate and changes with time and if you are an astrologer and you have something like this, whatever explanation you might try to search for in charts or movements or whatever, in the end, you just have to go through the grieving process and live it, no matter what can explain it or not explain it. My advice in terms of as an astrologer is don’t get too obsessed in grief.
CB: Sure. That makes sense.
LR: Let things go their own way and exist as they have to.
LR: And that will be different for each person.
CB: Right. My last question is what is your favorite memory of Helena from her life or from the experiences the two of you had together, what is the most notable thing that stands out as a good memory as you think back from the past 20 years?
LR: That’s a difficult one.
CB: Because it sounds like you had a lot of really great moments together and you encountered a lot of amazing turning points in your life during the course of your time together and were able to be there at such crucial turning points in each other’s lives and to help each other in so many ways.
LR: Yeah, yeah, all of that is good. It’s difficult. The being together was good, was excellent, the studying together, the sharing you know – it was good to share my life with her. But perhaps I would say her smile. You know, when facing all of this, and living all of this. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. She had a great smile and she had a great way of – like you said earlier – it seemed like she really cared about people and when she had direct conversations with people, she was very present and you could tell that she was very present in every conversation that she had and that comes through in all the conversations that the two of you recorded on the podcasts, The Astra Project podcasts together.
LR: Yeah. And perhaps it’s that joy she had – it’s her.
CB: Right. Well, thanks for doing this with me tonight and sitting down to talk about her life and work in order to remember her and to give other people some idea of what she accomplished with her life with everything that she did and how hard she worked on this and how much she lived up to a high bar and set a high bar for every other astrologer and every other researcher who either is or wants to get into this field.
LR: Yeah. And that’s something she would probably say, you know, set your bar high and go for it. Follow it and try at least to be the best you can. Be the greatest you can, be the best that you can. Aim high and do something that‘s noticeable, that’s visible. But do it good. Do it properly, do it respecting astrology, respecting that which is guiding you. Respect your passion.
CB: And that which sometimes the work that we do accomplish and carry out sometimes over even when we’re not around but then still having a lasting legacy and an echo of our lives for a long time afterwards and sometimes paying that forward in the astrological tradition by recognizing other astrologers that came before us in the way that she did with her PhD thesis on this astrologer from the 15th century.
LR: Yeah, exactly. I think perhaps if we had to name two and this might be a bit – I don’t want to leave anything out but it will be this book of her PhD and “On the Heavenly Spheres” will be her two greatest achievements, one in astrology and one in academic study of the history of astrology. Those two are high points, focal points of her work.
CB: Right, yeah, definitely. Well, here’s the book and it’s an amazing accomplishment. I hope people check it out either the PhD thesis itself is available online and contains so much of the research and the core of the research if they can’t afford the book or you can get a copy of the book from Brill or check out one from the library. It’s really worth checking out.
LR: Yes, it is.
CB: Well, thanks a lot for doing this. I’m glad that we were able to record this conversation and to talk about this, just I know a lot of people in the community when the news first came out were both really shocked and sad to hear of Helena’s loss and wondering how you were doing since you are another respected leader in the community and everyone appreciates your contributions so I hope that’s something that you know as well and if there’s anything that you need or anything in terms of the community to support you, just let us know so that you can keep producing your own work and everything in the future, which is very important.
LR: Well, the work will go on, you know, it’s going on. And I’m here not only to continue our legacy, you know, our work and continue to be here for astrology, and also to represent her as best as I can.
LR: And thank you for the opportunity to present also her work to the astrological community. I have done that within the academic community in the past months. Her book is going to be presented here next month officially, you know, a launch, of course it’s been there, but there will be an official launch which probably I’ll tape if I can transmit it for those interested in attending but this was a good opportunity to address her astrology, astrological facet that she also had beyond her academic work. And she always respected that and she always stand by it.
CB: Yeah, it makes me think of how Mercury was the traditional ruler of astrology and how it’s always playing that role of bridging and bringing together those two opposite areas of everything in life and she seems like almost an embodiment of that in bridging those two worlds of astrologers and the academic community.
LR: Yeah, yeah. Indeed, indeed. And she had the ability to bridge people and groups.
CB: Yeah. All right, well, thanks a lot for joining me and having this discussion tonight.
LR: I’m glad to be here and thank you for this time as well.
CB: And thanks everyone for listening to this episode of The Astrology Podcast. Be sure to check out the websites that I’ll link to the description below this video or on The Astrology Podcast website to check out the resources that we talked about in this episode but otherwise that’s it. Thanks a lot for listening and we’ll see you again next time.
Special thanks to all the patrons who supported the production of this episode of The Astrology Podcast through our page on patreon.com. In particular, thanks to patrons in our Producers Tier including Nate Craddock, Thomas Miller, Catherine Conroy, Kristi Moe, Ariana Amour, Mandi Rae, Angelic Nambo, Sumo Coppock, Issa Sabah, Jake Otero, Morgan MacKenzie, Kristin Otero and Sanjay Sreehari. If you like the work that I’m doing here on the podcast and you would like to find a way to support it, then please consider becoming a patron through my page on Patreon.com and in exchange you’ll get access to bonus content such as early access to new episodes, the ability to attend the live recording of the month-ahead forecast each month, access to a private monthly auspicious elections report that we put out each month, access to exclusive episodes that are only available for patrons, or you can also get your name listed in the credits at the end of each episode. For more information, go to Patreon.com/AstrologyPodcast. The main software we use here on the podcast to look at astrological charts is called Solar Fire for Windows which is available at alabe.com and you can use the promo code AP15 to get a 15% discount. For Mac users, we use a similar set of software by the same programming team called AstroGold for Mac OS which is available from AstroGold.io and you can use the Promo Code ASTROPODCAST15 to get a 15% discount on that as well. If you’d like to learn more about the approach to astrology that I outline on the podcast, then you should check out my book titled “Hellenstic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune” where I traced the origins of Western Astrology and reconstructed the original system that was developed about 2000 years ago and in this book I outline basic concepts but also take you into intermediate and advanced techniques for reading a birth chart including some timing techniques. So you can find out more about the book at HellenisticAstrology.com/book. The book pairs very well with my online course on ancient astrology called the Hellenistic Astrology Course which has over 100 hours of video lectures going into detail on teaching you how to read a birth chart and showing hundreds of example charts to really demonstrate how the techniques work in practice. So find out more information about that at TheAstrologySchool.com. And finally special thanks to our sponsors including the Mountain Astrologer Magazine which is available at mountainastrologer.com, the Honeycomb Collective Personal Astrological Almanacs available at honeycomb.co, the Portland School of Astrology at portlandastrology.org, and the Astro Gold Astrology App which is available for iPhone and Android – you can find more information about that at astrogold.io.