The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 387, titled:
With Chris Brennan and guest Demetra George
Episode originally released on February 10, 2023
Note: This is a transcript of a spoken word podcast. If possible, we encourage you to listen to the audio or video version, since they include inflections that may not translate well when written out. Our transcripts are created by human transcribers, and the text may contain errors and differences from the spoken audio. If you find any errors then please send them to us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released February 16, 2023
Copyright © 2023 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: All right, hey, Demetra. Thanks for joining me today.
DEMETRA GEORGE: Hey, Chris, yes.
CB: All right, so what we’re gonna be talking about today is whole sign houses. A few days ago, on February 4, Deborah Houlding released this new lecture where she claims that whole sign houses is a modern invention that didn’t exist in ancient astrology, and also makes some statements about Project Hindsight and things that happened at Project Hindsight. And I wanted to talk to you today to get some of your perspective on that as somebody that was actually around in the 1990s and was there to experience and witness some of what happened firsthand ‘cause I think some of your recollections are different than what was stated in that lecture.
DG: Right. That’s exactly the case. And it’s true, we all bring our own perspectives to any event. But I was startled quite a few times in listening to Deb’s presentation with her characterization of what was going on because I remembered something altogether different, and I had spent considerable time being present at both the Hindsight headquarters and conferences and interactions where all of this was happening. So I thought I just wanted to bring those stories and that history to the community so that there is a record of other perspectives of what was going on.
CB: Sure. All right, so you had a few slides. Let me just share your slide to start this off with some of the main points that you wanted to start with.
DG: Okay, we can do that. I actually put those together just to organize my own thinking. But if the audience will excuse the roughness of this, we can certainly share it.
DG: To begin with I’d like to state my position and my conviction that whole sign houses did exist and were widely used in Hellenistic astrology, as well as traces of the practice survived into the Arabic and Medieval and Renaissance astrology. And we have spent not only recently some hours but really years of our lives going over the evidence and reasons and the transmission process and examples quite extensively, and you had and will be presenting much of this material. But what I wanted to do with this interview is just share my own observations and experiences concerning the early history of Hindsight and what I saw happen because it was a little bit different than how it’s been portrayed. At least what I saw was different than what I heard being portrayed.
CB: Right. And it’s like I’ve already outlined all the evidence for whole sign houses in this big, 50-page chapter in my book. You have used different charts and gone through different evidence and material in your book, Ancient Astrology, Volume 1 & Volume 2. And I have a lecture out where I also summarized in three hours or something the book chapter and all the different evidence there is for not just whole sign houses but the different systems of house division. Because one of the things is both of us have acknowledged that quadrant houses and equal houses existed and were also used in the Hellenistic tradition.
DG: Yes, that’s absolutely true. There was no point at which any of us, including Robert Schmidt and Robert Hand, had denied that other house systems existed. And I thought you did a brilliant job of showing how not only whole signs but equal and Porphyry were all grounded in the earliest of Hellenistic material. So at least for myself, and I don’t think for you, we are not saying that whole sign houses were the only system used—we acknowledge the existence of other systems—but we are contesting that they never existed.
CB: Right. We’re contesting the idea that whole sign houses was a modern invention, that there’s no evidence for in the text.
DG: Right. Exactly.
CB: All right, but for the purpose of this I guess we’ll focus primarily on some of your personal experiences and then maybe we can touch base on some of that other stuff later.
CB: All right, so you wanted to start by first talking about your journey with Hellenistic astrology and whole sign houses in general.
DG: Yes. And the first thing I wanted to clarify was that there was a statement in this recent recording that “many well-known American psychological astrologers, like Demetra George [myself], very quickly shifted their previous style of practice to this new wholly different style of Hellenistic astrology.” And there I want to correct the record that, for me, it was a 10-year, very involved process between first being exposed to whole sign houses and then fully adopting and teaching it. And in the course of my journey I first met Robert Zoller and Ellen Black and Robert Schmidt at a house party at an AFA conference in Chicago. This was in 1992. And Rob of course I had heard of and encountered quite often previously through the world of astrological conferences.
CB: Rob Hand?
DG: Rob Hand.
DG: And then a year later they first announced Project Hindsight at a NORWAC conference in 1993, and at that point it was such an inspiring presentation that Robert Hand made. And because of my heritage in ancient Greece and my work in mythology and the asteroids and interest in ancient history of course this was something that was close and dear to my heart, and I immediately subscribed to it.
CB: Right. You became, technically, just accidentally, the first Project Hindsight subscriber.
DG: Exactly, exactly. That’s what I found out some months later that that was the case. So that was symbolic in a certain way of a primary connection with the project and the teachings. And at this time I was indeed a modern psychological astrologer very much shaped by the humanistic teachings of Dane Rudhyar. I had published Asteroid Goddesses and was presenting a very feminist view of astrology. Astrology for Yourself, a beginning text, was written, and the two Mysteries of the Dark Moon books were written as well, so I was grounded in the modern psychological feminist tradition.
And at that time, and over the next decade, I had first learned the Placidus house system and then I experimented with Koch houses. And then after becoming friends with Zoller, he encouraged me to look at Alchabitius houses, and meanwhile, there was this notion of whole sign houses that was being put out there in the community. So I was running charts in all of the different systems and for periods of time looking at one system and then the other, and at a certain point having multiple house systems of charts in front of me as I was doing readings and looking at them with my friends. And so, there was that wide expanse of what’s going on here and what seems to correspond best with the experiences and facts that people have had relative to the placements of planets in different houses.
CB: And in the early days you learned how to calculate charts by hand, right? This was pre-computers.
DG: Exactly. This is pre-computers. And we used Placidus houses because, by and large, that was the only table of houses that was available. And I’m revisiting all of that because I am preparing a course for Astrology University, doing math calculations that will be available next summer or fall. And so, I’ve gone back into all of that early material, interpolating house cusps and the ways in which the calculations have changed since I first learned it in the 1970s.
CB: Right. ‘Cause you think that learning how to calculate charts by hand is actually an important thing for students of astrology and that’s knowledge that you hope isn’t lost, even though people can use computers today.
DG: Exactly. We know that the ancient astrologers were called the mathematicians, the mathematico, and it was because they were always doing calculations. Now in the 1970s—I started my studies in 1970—the first thing that you had to do as an astrology student was to calculate the chart, and if you couldn’t do that there was no place else to go; you could not become an astrologer. There were no computer services or computer courses. And it was almost an initiation of sorts—to the extent that there’s a suggestion that astrology is an ancient mystery school teaching—then learning to calculate the chart is initiation number one in order to be able to enter the practice. And while it’s no longer necessary I think that it’s important, especially for all of us who want to support the memory of traditional astrology—the practice of it, the foundation of it—that that essential piece of it we likewise carry forward and pass on.
But even beyond that more lofty part, by the time you’ve done all the calculations and then you’ve created the chart and set it out—I remember having blank paper and a protractor and a compass to draw my 12-circled wheel and then put the house cusps in and put the planets in—I had an embodied connection with the chart. I knew it inside of me, on a deep level, before I ever saw the client. And so, I’m hoping that current astrologers—it’s unlikely that they’ll do all their charts by hand—but for them to have that experience. I think it’s an awesome thing to be able to say, as a traditional astrologer, “Yeah, I know this.” A very exhilarating moment.
CB: Yeah, for sure. So that’s the context. So you tried different systems in the ‘80s, you were calculating charts by hand. And then in the ‘90s, with Project Hindsight, they did start to rediscover this notion of whole sign houses and it did start to come into your awareness and the awareness of other astrologers. And even though they were popularizing it, James Holden had already talked about it in a paper in 1982. And there was another book in 1989—but an AFA book, titled Houses: Which and When by Emma Belle Donath—where Holden has a piece where he talks about it. But I get the sense that it wasn’t super well-known even though James Holden was talking about it. Holden said that it was the original system of house division and that it was the most popular system. I actually have a paper from James Holden that I wanted to show.
This is from the AFA newsletter that was published in the year 2000, and it’s a little article that James Holden wrote titled “The Sign-House System of House Division.” Let me read it really quickly. It’s just the first two paragraphs. It says, “During the more than two thousand years that have passed since the invention of horoscopic astrology, many different systems of house division have been proposed, and a few of them have come into at least some use at one time or another. The system most commonly used today is the Placidian system that was published in the mid-17th century. It has largely replaced the Regiomontanus system that first appeared in 1490. That in turn [was] replaced [by] the Alchabitius system, which is named after a 10th century Arabian astrologer, but that actually goes back to the Greek astrologers of the 5th century.”
So here he gets to the important part. He says, “But the original system of house division was what I have called the “Sign-House” system. It was devised by the Alexandrian astrologers who invented horoscopic astrology in the 2nd century BC[E]. It was used by the majority of classical astrologers for half a millennium. Its system was very simple. The rising sign—all of it—constituted the first house! The next whole sign was the 2nd house, the next whole sign after that the 3rd house, etc. The 10th whole sign from the ASC was called the “midheaven.” There were no “cusps” in the modern sense of the word. Or, if you will, the cusp of each house was the 1st degree of the sign constituting that house.” So this is James Holden saying this. And this is similar, going back to 1982—and he said other things in 1989—to what he was saying 10 years before Project Hindsight and continued to say throughout his life, just reiterating the same points.
CB: But despite that it seems like the AFA wasn’t as well-known in the ‘80s and ‘90s to some extent, although you said you attended a conference. So it does seem like it was when Hand and Schmidt came along that there was some greater awareness of whole sign houses, but there must have been some awareness of it prior to that point.
DG: There was some awareness. Until the early ‘80s, the AFA was the largest astrological group in existence. And NCGR and ISAR were first being formed. It was in the early 1980s that AFAN was formed, but it was the AFA that was putting on major conferences, especially until UAC of 1986. They had certification exams going on. In their certification exams they were using Placidus house cusps and being able to interpolate those cusps. So I think they were in sync with the majority of the astrological community that was using Placidus at this time. But Holden, who was esteemed as a scholar and researcher of ancient astrology, was putting out in his publications the existence of whole sign houses.
CB: Right. Well, he was actually the AFA’s research director.
DG: Right, he was.
CB: Director of research.
DG: And in the research journal, he was publishing material attesting to their existence a whole decade before Robert Schmidt and Robert Hand landed upon it in the early texts that they were translating.
CB: Right. And he actually sent me a copy of his original article, and it was from 1982, published in the very first AFA Journal of Research, which he started. He was heading up this project so that they could have a journal in order to publish academic articles on astrology like academic scholars had been for several decades up to that point, and he published an article titled “Ancient House Division.” And this is the one where a long time I thought this was the first source that recognized whole sign houses in modern times, and I’ve since realized that there’s actually three or four earlier sources in German and French and English, including David Pingree, including a treatment by Walter Koch, the inventor of the Koch system of house division. But for our purposes the most important point is Holden has this line where he explains whole sign houses.
And this is the passage in this re-typed version. I actually have an image just so it’s clear from the original text where he puts an emphasis on a certain term. So he says, “Starting from the rising sign, the houses were numbered off in succession. In the example given above, the first house would have been Leo, the second Virgo, the third Libra, etc. This was the first system of house division. I have not encountered any name for it in the literature, so, for convenience, I shall refer to it as the Sign House system. Note that the reckoning was by whole signs. This means that if the first house was Leo, then the entire sign of Leo constituted the first house, the entire sign of Virgo the second house, and so on. This is the primitive form of Equal House division. It is found in the papyri…from the earliest to the latest, and it is still in widespread use in India.”
CB: And then finally he concludes that paper in 1982, and he then goes on to talk about the other systems of house division that were popular in the Hellenistic and Medieval tradition, early Medieval tradition, and he says, “The five systems of house division set forth above are the systems of classical antiquity. Interestingly, the two oldest systems, Sign House and Equal House, have been in constant use since their invention, thus presumably giving satisfaction to their users. By contrast, the earliest quadrant systems have fallen from favor. It would in fact seem that there is some essential difficulty with quadrant systems, since no less than five—Campanus, Regiomontanus, Placidus, Koch, and Topocentric—have gained some success since the 13th century.”
So I just wanted to clarify that because there’s been some either downplaying of James Holden saying that he didn’t recognize whole sign houses or downplaying the extent to which he did, but this is actually one of the most significant and notable things in his career that he actually keeps mentioning over and over again at different points in this publication history. But the problem with it is that it’s inconvenient for the narrative that whole sign houses was invented by Project Hindsight, which is part of the narrative that’s being put forward at this time, because Holden wrote that 10 years earlier.
DG: Yes, that’s exactly the case.
CB: All right, so it’s the 1990s, you’re the first subscriber to Project Hindsight. So you’re confronted with these different systems.
DG: Right, and I’m looking at all of them. I’m experimenting with all of them. And then by 1997, I decided to return to my education and get a master’s degree in classics at the University of Oregon.
CB: So I just wanted to clarify because according to Deborah Houlding, you immediately transitioned into doing traditional astrology, and there was virtually an overnight shift in terms of that.
DG: Right, and that’s the point I’m getting to. It took me 10 years from the first encounter with whole sign houses and Project Hindsight until I actually began to fully adopt the use of them. And in the interim, I went back to university, I got a master’s degree in reading Greek and Latin. I had a wonderful department who allowed me to do independent studies translating astrological texts from the CCAG under their supervision. And in the course of that I continued to do readings because even if we’re going to school, we still keep our careers going. And I remembered the moment at which I finally got it, so to speak. I had the chart of a person where the degree of their IC was in the 3rd house, the 3rd whole sign house, and they were having a Saturn transit over that IC degree. In my previous quadrant house system astrology, Saturn over the IC is limitations, restrictions, responsibilities with the matters of parents and home and family. But I was thinking, “The IC is in the 3rd house. I can’t exactly say parents and home and family, it’s in the 3rd house.”
And so, as I was grappling with that, the story that came out from the client was that in the previous short period of time, her parents had become ill, they passed away, and now there was an estate to settle, especially their home and their property. And there were difficulties going on between her and her siblings (IC in the 3rd house) concerning settling the parents’ estate of their home (4th house). And that point, that moment was that ‘Aha!’ realization of how the themes of the IC, whatever it represents as our foundation, our ground—traditionally associated with the 4th house—it pulled into relevance with the 3rd house factors. So it was her struggle with her siblings over 4th house matters. That was one of those big moments where it was like, “I get it after years of staring at the charts.” The outcome of my getting the master’s degree was then I became—did you want to say something?
CB: Yeah, I just wanted to clarify that. Because one of the points that’s important is that people that use whole sign houses still take the degree of the IC and the degree of the MC into account and use them as floating points that can fall in different whole sign houses and import that topics of those points into that whole sign house so that there’s overlapping topics. And that’s a technique that we all learned from Book 5 of Vettius Valens where he does that, and he demonstrates it with a chart example.
DG: Exactly. There was certainly that knowledge of how to calculate the Midheaven and it showing up in a number of historical charts. Not a huge amount of them, but enough to say they knew how to roughly calculate it. I went through Valens’ method and saw how he did it, and it wasn’t overly-difficult at all. And so, it was always considered a sensitive point in the chart. And both Firmicus and Paulus write about how sometimes the Midheaven falls in the 9th house or the 11th house. It’s not always in the 10th house. The switch that came over to quadrant was that they took that Midheaven point and made it be the beginning of the 10th house. And so, that’s where some of the differences and the discussion and the discrepancy lie there.
DG: The users of whole sign houses in ancient astrology were looking at the MC and IC degrees as sensitive points within a whole sign chart. Even within equal houses, those points had that role.
CB: Right. So part of the point then is that anybody that used whole sign houses, they’re also taking into account to a certain extent quadrant houses, and at the very least, the quadrant house angles, if not combining quadrant houses with whole sign houses, or sometimes combining equal houses with whole sign houses.
DG: Yes, yes.
CB: Okay. So that’s really important ‘cause that also means in terms of the ancient practice, we’re recognizing that all of these systems are being used at once, and oftentimes together, which they are, for example, in Rhetorius, in Chapter 1.13, where he has the nativity of grammarian. He has this example where he keeps jumping back and forth between saying, “According to the sign placement, the planet is in this house, but according to the quadrant placement it’s in this house,” and he keeps delineating both. And it seems like definitely by that point in the Hellenistic tradition, carrying on into the Medieval tradition, that there was this really attempt to synthesize the whole sign and the quadrant house approaches as much as they could.
DG: Yes, I think that that was the case. And in fact what I came to in my own process of looking at both house systems was, “Oh, yes, this is how one might view that.”
DG: If I, in the 20th century, stumbled across it through trial-and-error and effort, certainly the esteemed astrologers of the earlier centuries also experienced and went through that process of integration.
CB: Right. On the one hand, you had reluctance in your personal process of learning whole sign houses of not being sure about it and not adopting it quickly and sort of being on the fence for many years. But then eventually you started seeing how you could use whole sign and parts of quadrant houses together, and that was the moment where it sort of clicked and you started becoming more open to the idea of using whole sign houses.
CB: Okay. But this is like years after.
DG: Right. Years into the process. And then after I finished graduate school Kepler College had just opened, and I became part of the first year faculty in the teaching of the history of ancient and Medieval astrology, which was a project I had done team teaching with Nicholas Campion and Robert Hand and Lee Lehman. And in the course of that year, near the end of it, Project Hindsight were themselves getting more grounded in understanding the texts and how they related to the practice of Hellenistic astrology. And they were offering some intensives that I attended—and that was the summer of 2001—and I realized that it was very important that material be taught at Kepler College. We were going through a whole year on the history of the ancient time period, and here we had the actual practice of that kind of astrology, so it was obvious that should be included.
And it was initially a challenging process because the people who had designed Kepler College—starting in the early ‘90s before Project Hindsight—had not included a study of Hellenistic astrology in the curriculum because that notion hadn’t yet coalesced in the astrological community. That was at least three years before Project Hindsight and so there was no place. And at that point Dennis Harness had been contracted to teach a course in Vedic astrology, and Dennis had gotten his degree at CIIS where Rick Tarnas now has a program; it was about cross-cultural integration and transmission. And he said, “Well, let’s teach a Hellenistic/Vedic course together. You present the Hellenistic view of planets. I’ll present the Vedic view of planets.” And so, each week, we did this cross-cultural comparison of the two traditions. And that was the very first course in Hellenistic astrology that was taught in the United States, and Robert Schmidt gave me permission to do it. And he and Alan White—especially Alan White—helped me develop the course that was then taught at Kepler College.
DG: So by that time, as I was teaching whole sign houses, I had already adopted the use of whole sign houses in my own practice.
CB: Okay. And that’s 2002. So we’re talking about 10 years after Project Hindsight started.
DG: So I just want to make the point that it wasn’t like I heard this stuff and then immediately jumped on the bandwagon and began teaching it. And then the publication of the two books on ancient astrology—that occurred 20 years after I first encountered Hellenistic astrology.
CB: Right. In 2019 and 2022.
CB: Okay. That’s really important because the way it was portrayed was all these modern astrologers practically overnight switched from modern to traditional. And there’s something to that in terms of everybody who was an astrology in the late 20th century essentially started out as a modern astrologer because that’s what astrology was, and then everybody eventually went through a process of learning traditional astrology and adopting some of those techniques, and that was oftentimes a process that people went through slowly over time. And one of the things that’s ironic is that that was also a process that Deborah Houlding herself went through, but it was just a few years earlier; like four years earlier than I guess you did but it wasn’t that different. In the UK, there were people that were getting excited about William Lilly and the recovery of his text and going back and adopting some of his methods, which were different than modern astrology. So it’s just an American phenomenon, but it was something that was also happening in the UK.
DG: Yes, yes.
CB: Okay, so moving onto the first issue.
DG: Okay, there was a statement that “[Project Hindsight] refused to look at astrology in the context of a tradition; [and that they] did not care about other traditions,” and I found that I also wanted to correct the record on that statement as simply not being the case.
DG: And so, Robert Schmidt, certainly his skill set was in Greek language and philosophy, and his central focus was on the Hellenistic astrology that was written in Greek. And one of the earmarks of scholars delving into a topic is that they keep their focus narrow and say as much about something as small as they can rather than spread too wide and say very little about a lot of different things. So from that point of view he followed that procedure of keeping his focus on the Hellenistic material that was written in Greek for the work that he, himself, was creating. But that doesn’t mean that he was not open, receptive, and facilitating the exposure and inclusion and understanding of other historical traditions in astrology. And so, I’ll just go through a list of what I knew and saw myself of how he had interacted with other traditions. Do you want to say anything before I get into my list here?
CB: Yeah, I’m looking through my notes. It was at 13 minutes—I just want to set the context—she claims that “Project Hindsight started right from the beginning with answers to everything, as if everything was a foregone conclusion,” which is something we’ll get to which is false. But also, just the idea in this specific statement that they weren’t open to other traditions and that it was all just about the Greek material, and that it was not looking at the Arabic material or any other related traditions whatsoever.
DG: So let’s just start with the Babylonian…
CB: There it is. In one of the statements, she says, “One of the things Project Hindsight did was they refused to look at astrology in the context of the tradition.” And then she goes on, “They didn’t care what was in the Arabic texts because that wasn’t part of the Hellenistic texts that were being translated.” So it’s setting up this whole thing where they didn’t care and they didn’t look into any other traditions.
DG: And I’m saying that was not the situation that I saw. So let’s begin with the Babylonian tradition. The Babylonians had a history of astrology—of astral observations, divination—almost 2,000 years before the Hellenistic.
CB: And even before that, with the three principle translators, one of the very first translations that Project Hindsight published was Zoller’s translation of al-Kindi’s On the Stellar Rays.
DG: Yeah, I’m gonna get to all of that.
DG: I have my list that I’ve organized and I’m gonna get there.
CB: Got it.
DG: But I want to start with the Babylonian because that’s the earliest. In our layers of history that’s the earliest.
CB: And in the lecture, Deborah says that Babylonian tradition was not considered.
DG: And one of Schmidt’s closest friends was Maggie McPherson, and Maggie was a brilliant astrologer. She had a PhD from McGill University. Of all of the people who gravitated around Project Hindsight, Schmidt considered her most as his intellectual peer and equal and had frequent, extended conversations with her. And Maggie was a scholar of Babylonian astrology. She knew how to read Akkadian and was able to read the astrological cuneiform texts. And in their many, many conversations they exchanged knowledge and information. Maggie presented to him knowledge and information about Babylonian astrology that he always kept in the back of his mind as he was developing the Hellenistic.
At Kepler, he asked Maggie to teach the advanced Hellenistic class, which she did at Kepler for several terms. And so, Maggie was able to come to Kepler and taught a group of Kepler students about Babylonian astrology. Maria Mateus was one of them who then went on to develop her work in Babylonian astrology. So in that, I would say that Schmidt was very open to exchanging and discussing that and then also facilitating someone who is skilled in that in being able to present that material under the umbrella of Hellenistic astrology at Kepler that had been supervised under Schmidt’s umbrella.
CB: Right. And so, did she teach some Hellenistic stuff before you, or was that after you?
DG: It was after me.
DG: It was part two. It was advanced. I taught the beginning, and then Maggie taught the advanced. And then Maggie passed away way too soon for the person that she was, and so that didn’t happen after that point, but she taught the class. But by that time I had developed intermediate and advanced units at Kepler.
CB: Right. She passed away from cancer in 2004 or ‘05 or something like that.
CB: So it cut that off. But the point is that somebody who read Akkadian and was focused on the Babylonian tradition was, besides you, the other Project Hindsight representative that was sent to teach Hellenistic astrology at Kepler.
DG: Yes. Thank you, Chris, for putting it so concisely. Okay, so that’s the Babylonian. I’m going to get to the Arabic, but I want to put some discussions about the connection with the Vedic tradition in here because so much of that happened in 1995 that was in the very early years of Project Hindsight. And after Schmidt and Hand began translating, they had come across the notion of whole sign houses, as well as various time-lord techniques, and were in some ways claiming, “Hey, look at what we discovered in the original system.” And many of the Vedic astrologers said, “Wait a second. We’ve been using whole sign houses continuously for almost 2,000 years. It never disappeared in our tradition. Especially in the South Indian tradition, whole sign houses were used continually and still are.” And the Vedic astrologers also said, “We have time-lord systems, the dashas. Like let’s get clear here on who’s claiming what.” And so, initially, there was a little bit of tension that came up. And Project Hindsight had their first conclave in the summer of 1994.
CB: So really quickly—sorry, if you don’t mind.
CB: So one of the things is right away the very first Greek translation that they did was Paulus Alexandrinus who lived in the 4th century and wrote an introduction to astrology in Greek. And right away in Hand’s introduction to this, he notes that Paulus is using the signs as houses and that he’s using whole sign houses. And Hand notes that this is also used in the Indian tradition.
CB: I’ll see if I can put it up on the screen. I’ll try to find the file in a minute and put it up on the screen. But the point is that very early on they start finding stuff. And one of the things about Hand is Hand is characterized entirely as a modern astrologer that just went traditional overnight in Holden’s lecture. But Hand actually studied the history of astrology, and he went back and he studied different texts from people like Ptolemy. He had some awareness of Indian astrology and other things before Project Hindsight it seems.
CB: So they started recognizing early on that there’s parallels or similarities between Hellenistic and Indian astrology.
DG: Yes. And so, because of the tension that that created—initial tension between the American Vedic astrologers and Project Hindsight—at the second conclave that Project Hindsight had in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, they invited a number of Vedic astrologers as their guests, not only to attend but also to present on Vedic astrology. And so, in the morning we had Hellenistic presentations, in the afternoons we had Vedic presentations. And there was the openness to beginning to acknowledge and respond and see the contrasts and the similarities between the two traditions and a spirit of openness and receptivity.
And I remember Ronnie Dreyer, who’s a Vedic astrologer, attending, and I had a new friendship developing with Ken Irving—who would become her husband a number of years down the line—who also attended, and I queried them, “What do you remember from that time?” And one of the memories was that when Schmidt was talking about whole sign houses, KN Rao, who was a famous Indian astrologer—who was the guest of honor in the Vedic community there—began to read from the Vedic texts about whole sign houses. And there was this sense that Schmidt had a delight that things that he was seeing in the Hellenistic were also verified in the ancient texts of Vedic astrology. And so, there was this incredible sense of beginnings of cooperation and exchange that were happening.
CB: Right. So instead of being not open to cross-referencing with other traditions—which is what was stated explicitly—in fact, Project Hindsight was actively looking at and comparing the different traditions and noticing parallels, and that was actually helping them to understand the Greek material better.
DG: Yes. And I was there at that conference, so I’m reporting what I saw there.
DG: And then two months later, in September of 1995, Dennis Harness and Dennis Flaherty, who were among the leaders of the American Vedic community, had what they referred to as the ‘Sedona Summit’ where members of Project Hindsight were invited to Sedona. Dennis had rented a really big lodge kind of house. A number of Vedic astrologers went and some interested members of the community also attended. They spent three to five days in a more focused and deep discussion of the comparisons between Hellenistic and Vedic and sorting out a lot of the details that would have been too technical in the large conclave. And I was not there because I was leading a trip to Greece during that time period, but I was aware of it. And Zoller also attended, even though he was no longer formally part of Project Hindsight. We might touch on that in that a little bit, but he also attended that. So we have part two of the connection with the Vedic community.
And then part three occurred the next month, in October of 1995, when Dennis Flaherty and Dennis Harness sponsored the Sacred Astrology Conference in Seattle. And all of the Hindsight people were invited to give presentations, and they all came. Now a piece of oral history connected with that conference that I thought your listeners might enjoy hearing was that Susie Cox, who did a lot of experiential astrology at that point, was asked to create the Saturday night entertainment. And for that she, along with Ronnie Dreyer and Barbara Schermer and myself created a ritual in order to finely integrate any remaining friction between the Hellenistic and Vedic community.
Chakrapani gave the invocation and the chant that we used—that many people in the audience sang, as did the other people in the ritual—was, “Weave and mend. Gather the scattered fragments. Weave and mend the sacred circle. Weave and mend.” And there were four representatives from the Vedic community, four representatives from the Hellenistic (Schmidt and Hand and Zoller and Ellen Black), and four representatives from the feminist community that were saying, “Hey, wait a second. What about feminist astrology? Our voices need to be heard and recognized as well.”
And Barbara Schermer unraveled this ball of yarn—so we’re like the Three Fates here—and she wrapped this yarn around everyone, tying them together as the audience was singing “weave and mend.” And then when she was done, she asked the 12 people in the circle to just lower the yarn and step outside of it, and it created a perfect zodiacal circle with the 12 houses and that was like the culmination of that. But it was a beautiful experience that was a community participation in the bringing together of what were at that time somewhat fractious factions within the community and facilitating an integration.
DG: And after that a lot of the tension at least between the Project Hindsight and the Vedic community seemed to subside.
CB: Part of it is while there was a revival of interest suddenly in traditional astrology in the West in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, there was kind of like a parallel surge in interest in Indian astrology in the West in the ‘80s and ‘90s. And so, that’s why you have these two parallel groups that are comparing traditions, sometimes having tensions in terms of debates about whose tradition is older and what have you, but then also coming together in different ways at the same time.
DG: Yeah, yeah.
DG: Okay, so shall we move on to the Arabic now?
CB: Yes. So I heard in that lecture that there was no reference to any Arabic authors or interest in the Arabic tradition in Project Hindsight.
DG: Right. That’s what I heard as well. You see, Project Hindsight was never only about the Greek, reclaiming that tradition. It was also about a Latin track where Arabic authors who had been translated into Latin during the 12th century translations were now being translated into English. And Project Hindsight put out translations of Masha’allah, of Omar of Tiberias, of Abu Ma’shar, and al-Kindi. And you’re going to show some of those?
CB: Yeah. So al-Kindi was the very first translation that they published with the Latin track, that Zoller published in 1993, and al-Kindi was a 9th century Arabic philosopher and astrologer. Literally what they started with was a translation of this text, so it’s like it can’t get more opposite. And later, they also translated, as you said, Omar of…
CB: Umar al-Tabari.
CB: Masha’allah was another text that Hand translated with Hindsight and then on his own. And then also even Schmidt himself translated Book 2 of Abu Ma’shar’s text On Solar Revolutions, which was written in Arabic in the 9th century. They were actively interested in and looking at the other traditions and seeing the continuity from the Babylonian tradition to the Hellenistic tradition to the Medieval Arabic and Latin traditions.
CB: I don’t know—maybe you already clarified this later—but it brings up an important point which is that Zoller translated like five or six different texts for Project Hindsight, and according to Deborah Houlding, he was only with Project Hindsight for three months. So I’m curious how that’s possible to publish all of that in such a short time, or is that not true?
DG: He was there for several years. And certainly he was connected with him, as far as I’ve witnessed, as early as 1992. But perhaps Zoller had a connection with Robert Hand at least a decade earlier. So when Robert Hand became interested in what would become Project Hindsight, I’m sure Zoller was aware and involved in those conversations.
DG: And Zoller had been translating Latin since 1980, where he learned Latin at the City University of New York under Richard Lemay who was his teacher, who was a major scholar of Abu Ma’shar.
CB: Right. At 13 minutes, it said in the lecture by Houlding, “Zoller left within a matter of months.” But in reality Zoller was with Project Hindsight from 1992 until 1995, and he published al-Kindi, the Liber Hermetis, Part I, Liber Hermetis, Part II, Bonatti, Part I, II, III, and IV. So that’s one-two-three-four-five-six-seven different texts that were all published between 1993 and 1994. So that’s not true to say that Zoller was there for such a short time. And then there were also some things saying that Zoller left purely due to not liking what was happening at Project Hindsight in terms of Schmidt or something like that. I don’t know if you want to get into this, but I know there were also some tensions over translation styles and things like that that were much more mundane in terms of some of those reasons.
DG: Right. I had a friendship with Zoller over the last 20 years of his life. Well, maybe 15 years of his life. And at that time he was a very opinionated and fiery kind of individual that very much was independently driven—he had many interests—and his Parkinson’s disease was developing and accelerating. So there was, on the one hand, some tension with translation issues, styles, conventions. He felt he at that point already had 15 years as a Latin translator that you couldn’t really ever tell Zoller he was wrong about something; it was just the nature of his personality. But he also had many other interests that he wanted to pursue, and his physical health was becoming more fragile. And so, I think it was a combination of those three factors that all converged to lead him to separate from the project and be able to pursue what he wanted to do in his own way because that was his nature.
CB: Okay, because he’s painted as being outside of Hindsight—which is wrong since he was with them for a while, and he was one of the founders—but also, I think he’s not recognized in that lecture as actually somebody who did incorporate whole sign houses. Some of his students have told me that he taught that you were supposed to use a mixture of whole sign and Alchabitius in his courses, and I was actually able to find some passages from his handbook that was given to students in 2002, that was published in 2002, that says this. So he’s defining house systems, and he says, “A house system is a division of the space around the Earth into 12 divisions, each of which corresponds to one or more area of life. In the Medieval astrology of the Latin West, the system of houses most frequently used was that of Alchabitius. This seems to have been largely because his writing on the mathematics of astrology was so lucid. Whole Sign houses are another widely used house system [that] was used as such by Ptolemy and Bonatti. We will be using both the Alchabitius and [the] Whole Sign house systems together at the same time.”
And then he goes on, but that’s basically how he was teaching his students. And he describes the history of house division, he describes it as one of the early systems, whole sign houses. He says, “This early methodology thus equates houses…with the signs. The 1st sign, i.e., the one in which the horoscope falls, is the 1st house. That makes the following sign the 2nd house. The third sign is the third house [and so on and so forth].” So I just wanted to point that out this is due to partially his familiarity with the early and later Medieval tradition where many of those authors—like Masha’allah and Sahl ibn Bishr—were following some of the later Hellenistic astrologers, where they were trying to use whole sign and quadrant houses at the same time, so Zoller himself also was using that method.
DG: Right. Then between 2006 and 2007, Zoller returned to Project Hindsight and lived there for a year. I think you were there during the summer all of that time.
DG: His health was very difficult, and Ellen Black took meticulous care of him, and in the course of that year, he had many, many discussions with Schmidt. And in a phone conversation we had during that time, he said that he had come to thoroughly accept the validity of whole sign houses as a house system to be used in astrology. And so, that showed a development, a maturation of his own thinking about the matter over the course of time.
CB: Yeah. And in my conversations, in the year that I lived in the same house with him at Project Hindsight, he was using both whole sign and quadrant houses, and he was trying to find a synthesis of the two and was actually one of the earliest people that I saw successfully creating a practical synthesis of the two, especially with things like annual profections and other techniques like that. One of the things that was a recurring thing that bothered me in watching that lecture is there’s a lot of people in that lecture that are either now dead or incapacitated, and therefore, can’t speak for themselves, and their legacies are kind of being hijacked for something that I know they wouldn’t have approved of, and Zoller here with this I think is definitely one.
DG: Okay, thank you, Chris, for bringing that fully to the fore.
CB: All right, so the last thing I think you were gonna mention in this area, I mean, there was also the Medieval Hebrew tradition.
DG: Right. And the Western Medieval and a number of translations that were done as well. So Project Hindsight publications encompassed the Arabic, the Medieval Western Europe, as well the Renaissance and the works that they published in translation.
CB: So some of the Renaissance authors are Schoener or Raymon Lull. And the early Medieval authors are Bonatti. But then they also had Meira Epstein come in and she translated a book or two of Abraham Ibn Ezra from Hebrew into English.
DG: Yes. So then just sort of capping off that Hindsight was not open to other historical traditions, in the 2006 conclave that was held the faculty included Kenneth Bowser giving talks on Babylonian astrology and the Western sidereal tradition, Benjamin Dykes on Arabic and Medieval astrology, Kenneth Johnson on the Indian Vedic tradition. And Robert Corre gave a lecture on Morinus and the Renaissance before he was called away after one day for an emergency back home. And then Bill Johnston gave a presentation on the humanistic tradition developed by Rudhyar. And so, there was the entire expanse of the other historical traditions being highlighted and included within the conclave in 2006.
CB: Yeah, Project Hindsight hosted a conference and everybody flew out to Project Hindsight for a week. And I think that’s actually what one of the videos is from. Deb took a bunch of pictures from my video and put them in her lecture. But a lot of the pictures of people—including you and myself at Project Hindsight—come from the video that’s from that 2006 conclave.
CB: And that just reminded me when I was living there, I tried learning ancient Greek first using the Biblical Greek Workbook that you were teaching your students with, but I actually forgot that I tried to learn Arabic at the same time.
DG: Oh, okay.
CB: I learned the Arabic alphabet and was studying it because I was trying to study the history of horary and how it had developed between the Hellenistic and Medieval traditions. But that was something that Schmidt supported and he supported me in that endeavor to learn Arabic—or at least attempt to learn Arabic. I turned out to not be the greatest language scholar—compared to him or you—to learn Arabic. And it was at that conclave that he gave me one of my very first speaking positions where I got up and I presented my paper on the history and origins of horary that covered the Hellenistic and Medieval traditions. So that was also part of the cross-tradition component.
DG: Okay, so I think we’ve covered that point.
CB: Yeah, I think so. And the last one is Ben Dykes. Ben comes into the story at this point and he’s such a towering figure at this point. He was just finishing his translation of Bonatti at this point, and yeah, he was given a speaking position.
DG: Yes, actually several, if I remember.
CB: Right. Schmidt sort of embraced him with open arms in terms of Ben being an up-and-coming Latin translator who had first translated Bonatti. But then he also immediately started translating the works of Masha’allah and Sahl from the early Arabic tradition. Yes, so that was kind of important. While he was doing his stuff independently, Project Hindsight also made room for Ben and was very open to other translators who were coming in and doing their own thing, even if they weren’t publishing with Project Hindsight.
DG: Right. And now that you mention it, Kenneth Johnson had gone back to school and learned Sanskrit and was translating some Sanskrit texts. And it was within that context that he also was invited to give the results of the findings of his translations of Indian astrology.
DG: And so, again, there was a pulling from all of the different cultural and historical traditions into the larger scope of what the project was about, with Schmidt himself keeping focus on what his skill set was, Greek Hellenistic, but also having wide open arms towards other traditions.
CB: Right. Yeah, that makes sense. All right, so moving on to the second issue which is—or maybe I’ll let you phrase it.
DG: Okay. There were a few lines in the recording that from the very beginning, what they were doing—what Project Hindsight was doing—was “selling a new package of simplified astrology;” that they were marketing a product. And a few things it would be helpful to remember—there may be some listeners who aren’t aware—is that many of the Greek astrological texts, while written in the early centuries, became buried in university libraries and in private collections. And with the loss of the Greek language, the fall of the Roman Empire, astrology becoming illegal and against the Church much of this material disappeared into archives. And a number of the manuscripts—original manuscripts in Greek texts—were copied over by scribes during the Medieval time period because that was one of the meditation activities of scribes and because of that we have them. But then they weren’t put out there in the world or circulated, they were just kept in the archives.
And it wasn’t until the very beginning of the 1900s that the Belgian scholar Franz Cumont decided a great project for the academics to do would be to find all of these manuscripts of Greek astrological texts and make critical editions of them. The crème de la crème of a classical astrologer is to find 5 or 6 or 10 manuscripts of the same text and then taking the one that looks like it’s in the best condition and setting it into type and then mentioning all of the variations in all of the other traditions in the series in footnotes. And a number of other European academics joined him in this project, and it took them 50 years to create the CCAG, the Catalog of Greek Astrological Codices, which put the most important astrological Greek texts of the Hellenistic era into a print form where it accessible to be translated. But these scholars knew Greek and the footnotes were in Latin; they knew Latin. They had no interest in translating it because they were not interested in astrology, per se, for the most part. They were interested in the process of developing these critical editions.
And so, while there were some ancient astrological texts in circulation in the community, the bulk of the Hellenistic were later in their formulation. And then it was several decades later that James Holden started and then Project Hindsight started bringing them into English translation. And so, it couldn’t have been done before this time because the arrangement of the texts themselves simply was not there in an easily accessible manner. The fact that they would be translated, that vision, was so wildly exciting to the astrological community. We knew we had a long and rich history, but for the most part, with a few exceptions, most of us had no idea of what it actually entailed. And so, when Hindsight announced that they were going to bring our whole foundation into English translation, that we would be seeing for the first time in 2,000 years how it was that our astrology began, there was such a sense of excitement and enthusiasm, and in some ways this was the energy around the beginnings.
Another story I want to tell is that Project Hindsight was announced in April of 1993 at NORWAC, and then sometime that summer—I remember because it was hot outside—there was an ARC conference organized by Ray Merriman at a college campus in Michigan. We all slept in the dorm rooms and most of us were up in the dorms, and we had the doors to our rooms open because everyone was walking up and down the hallway and in and out of each other’s rooms. We were visiting and connecting and doing what astrologers do when we see each other. And I bumped into Rob Hand in the hallway, and he was so excited about what they were discovering in the translations. And so, he pulled me into the room in which Schmidt was, and Schmidt was sitting on a lower bunk bed, and he had a chair in front of him on which he had his computer, and he was busily translating Paulus and typing in his translation. And we came in and he got up with his hands upraised, “You won’t believe what I’ve just discovered in Paulus,” and began to recount it out loud.
And it was a feeling of utter and pure joy that was the energy in that room. And years later I recognized in myself the rarefied kinds of pleasure when you’re translating something that perhaps someone hasn’t looked at in hundreds and hundreds of years and you’re seeing it for the first time and the incredible emotion that took me over, and I could look back and see that in Schmidt and Rob Hand at that moment. And that was what they were riding on rather than coming up with a product that they could package and sell and make money. Now it’s not to say that they didn’t need money. It took subscriptions, they got donations, they got grants in order to support the work that had to be done. Ellen Black gave over her own whole inheritance and her family home and heritage to be able to support the project over the course of the years. And as all of us who are full-time astrologers know, we’ve got to do something to make money to survive if we’re doing astrology full-time. And so, I was offended at hearing the characterization that at the beginning it was all about packaging a product—and we’ll get into this—that they had decided upon—before they even began translating—as a money-making opportunity to simply sell.
CB: Yeah, let me actually quote it just so we’re clear what we’re responding to here. At one point in the lecture Deborah Houlding says, “Even before the first text was released they were giving us answers on ‘this is what everybody was doing’, and they weren’t asking questions. They were selling a new package of astrology. It was simplified. All the aspects. There’s no such thing as orbs. There’s no such aspects from one sign to the other. There’s no such thing as house cusps. They’re just 12 signs. You do need to know how to count to 12 and you can pretty much get on board with the system [she says flippantly].” And then she says, “The teachings, and there were teachings [and I don’t know if my transcript is good here, but it says] were set up as a translation project, but it was the community groups. It was mainly the feeling that there was a sense of everybody sits around Robert Schmidt’s feet and he, guru-like, gives his philosophical slant on things. They were not up for discussion, and this wasn’t a project set up to answer questions or even explore questions. It was set up to give absolute meaning to what was happening at a stage where I would say we don’t know what questions we should be asking at that time.”
So they’re selling a package. Her portrayal of it is they’re selling a package and it’s a predefined thing that they came up with before the first translation was published. But one of the things anybody familiar with Project Hindsight knows, the moment you pick up one of those translations, all of those translations were supposed to be preliminary, for one. They would do initial translations, and then later at some point they were gonna come back and do a final translation series once they had everything figured out. But what’s amazing about the translations if you sit down and read them is that both Schmidt (the translator) and Hand (the editor) write an introduction and commentary to each one, and then they have footnotes throughout the translation.
And you can see in these texts the evolution of their thinking and how there’s certain things that are preliminary observations or speculations that they then change later in one of the other translations later in the series, where they have some words or translation conventions bracketed as provisional and sometimes they’ll change them. Or sometimes they’ll leave just the Greek word in the text because they aren’t sure yet what to translate that term into in English and then later they’ll try different conventions. There was this whole clear process and evolution and development in their thinking that you can see throughout the translation series in print. And I feel like it’s only in the absence of the fact that so many of those translations are out of print and that most people haven’t read them at this point that that sort of statement can be made at all because that’s just the opposite of what was happening.
DG: That’s exactly true. In my own experience with translating, in the beginning you’re not always sure how to translate a certain term, a word, a concept. And I remember encountering that and asking my professors, “What does this mean here?” and they weren’t sure. And contacting Schmidt, he would say, “Let me think about it,” and go up to his room, and maybe days or weeks come back and give me an answer. But as you go on in the text and your own understanding of the larger context develops, you come across that term again, and you go, “Oh, this is what they’re talking about. Like now I get it.” And you go back to the beginning and all of a sudden like, “There it is.” It’s staring you in the face, but you didn’t have the maturation of your own thinking, your understanding to recognize it as such. And so, it’s a constantly evolving process and it was one that Schmidt was totally engaged with himself. The initial ones, he said, were always provisional, that he would go back. And when I heard that it was fixed from the beginning that they had decided ahead of time what everything was going to be, I started laughing. And for all of us who lived through those early Schmidt years, it was like how many times he changed his mind began to make us crazy.
DG: And so, there’s an understanding that the development of Hellenistic astrology was for him a work in progress and continues to be for those astrologers ahead of us, and it’s important that we, as a community, understand that process. Now the second point is that this work that he did was not done in total isolation, without continual discussion with other people.
CB: Are you moving on from the ‘product’ point?
DG: Yeah, I’m going more into the idea that it was fixed from the beginning as a product. Okay, it was not a product and it was not fixed from the beginning.
CB: Let me clarify one last thing on the ‘product’ point then before we move on ‘cause this is something I’ve been thinking a lot about the past few days after seeing that argument. One of the things I was thinking about and looking back and reflecting on was in 1992 or 1993, Deborah Houlding founded the Traditional Astrologer Magazine, which was sold through subscriptions. And she also founded Ascella Publications where she wasn’t a translator herself, but she would find translations that other academics had done or other astrologers had done of historical texts and she would reprint them through her publication company Ascella. So for example, I think it was in 1993 or 1996 she published David Pingree’s translation of Dorotheus. She got the rights supposedly to publish the English translation of Dorotheus and she published it through her company. So that was an early Hellenistic text. I think they also republished Bram’s translation of Firmicus Maternus and a number of other texts.
So part of the issue here is that Project Hindsight was kind of a competitor to her in doing the same thing. But also, to whatever extent Project Hindsight was making money from selling translations or what have you, she was doing the same thing. So there’s a certain level of hypocrisy there if Project Hindsight is being framed as a money-making venture because they’re being supported by sales of their translations and stuff when the same thing’s happening there in the UK. And I just wanted to point that out before we move on from the ‘Project Hindsight was just a product’ thing ‘cause it’s part of the historical context.
DG: Yes. And I wanted to add the inspiration and enthusiasm, the sense of excitement of uncovering the foundations of our history.
DG: That’s what I saw as being foremost in what was going on. And we all have to live and we all have to eat at the same time.
CB: Yeah, and it’s like everyone was feeling that. To be fair, Deborah Houlding was also excited about traditional astrology. And all the people in the UK that were super into horary and Lilly were taking Olivia Barclay’s course were excited about going back to the tradition, and that’s where you get figures like John Frawley and other people that also went on to have major careers as traditional astrologers. So there was just this general excitement in the air in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and everybody was kind of doing a similar thing for some reason in different parts of the world.
CB: All right, so moving on to the next part, you had this quote from her, or a summary of it. Is it a summary or is it an exact quote? Because I can pull the exact quote out, if needed.
DG: I don’t remember.
CB: Okay. Let me find it ‘cause I don’t want to misstate anything. It’s kind of a synopsis of a few different things.
CB: Basically it’s these few paragraphs. I read the first part of it where it says, “This project started right from the beginning with absolute answers to everything, even before the first texts were released,” etc. Yeah, I guess I’ve already read all of that.
DG: Right, “not asking or exploring questions.”
DG: “Teachings not open to discussion.”
CB: And your summary was, “[Project Hindsight] had decided everything from the beginning, [there was an] intent to provide absolute answers even before [the] first text was released, [and] not asking or exploring questions, [and that the] teaching[s] [themselves were] not open to discussion,” which is an accurate summary of the three paragraphs I read earlier.
DG: And we did speak, first of all, about changing one’s mind as one matures one’s understanding of astrology. The second point to that is that “not asking or exploring questions,” the “teachings not open to discussion,” that’s what I want to bring out next.
DG: While it is true that Schmidt spent a huge amount of time by himself in his upstairs room translating, he was also in a continual process of sharing and discussing it and working out the concepts with both other astrologers who lived in the house, who lived nearby, the many who came to visit and stay with them for various periods of time. There was a huge community over the years, of the welcoming of astrologers into their home, of being very gracious hosts, encouraging them to stay as long as they wanted, and the allusion to the ‘back porch’ discussions being legendary. So I spent a lot of time on the back porch with many astrologers talking into the wee hours of the night as all these different ideas that were coming up in the translations were talked about, people offering their own understanding of it and listening to what Schmidt had to say and challenging him on certain points and asking difficult questions, as collectively, there was the emergence of an understanding. And I remember Schmidt being challenged by Alan White who is very loud and in a rash voice would say, “Oh, Schmidt, you’re full of it here,” and pushing Schmidt to rethink it, to become more articulate, to go back and not contradict himself.
And so, I saw that the development of their understanding was a process shared among a community of astrologers. There was a continual inquiry of reflection, of debate and revision. And some of the people I remember seeing in the house and on the back porch—and I just put together this small list here—were of course Robert Hand, Robert Zoller, Alan White, Bill Johnston, Ellen Black, Slaven Slobodnjak from Croatia. Robert Gross—he was the librarian from the Library of Congress who lived on the same street and was a supporter of the project. Adele Nelson. Joseph Crane. Marilynn Lawrence. Curtis Manwaring. Michael Erlewine. Maggie McPherson. Kyle Pierce. Kenneth Johnson. Ben Dykes. Kenneth Bowser. Jeanette Girosky. Nick Dagan Best. Chris Brennan, yourself. Stacey and Meredith whose last names I can’t remember. And that’s just among the ones I can easily recall that are not part of people who also came for conclaves, but were part of the intense discussions. And I know that there are many others who were there when I wasn’t, so those names I haven’t included, but these are the people I saw.
And so, there was that and then there was also at the beginning of the project, as the internet first came on, the group email list where everyone would subscribe, and then someone would comment and that comment would go to everyone else on the list. And sometimes you’d get 50 emails a day of this ongoing discussion that was happening among those people who were interested and signed up for the list. So a few other things I want to say, but I want to give it back over to you to also share your impressions of having lived there and witnessed all of the people coming in and out and staying and being engaged in discussion.
CB: Yeah, I mean, there were just so many different people that were involved. I know that Schmidt incorporated different things and there were many discussions and he was open to discussion. And while he could develop very firm opinions about different things, he didn’t typically try to squelch discussions about things. But instead there were a lot of different viewpoints that were always being entertained and a lot of different people that were around contributing different ideas. And that was one of the interesting things about Schmidt is that he would always listen. He would always listen openly to people. I don’t know, it was a really important point. But that’s a really important thing that you said at the end though. They also hosted a discussion forum in the early days of the internet, in the mid-1990s, 1995-1996. So contrary to the assertion that they weren’t open to having discussions or anything like that, they were the ones that actually had an email discussion list where there were active debates and discussions about different topics taking place.
DG: I have memories in the summer of 1996 of that email group list that was going on. That summer I was staying at Zoller’s house in New Paltz because that’s where I got my undergraduate degree, and I needed these two more classes to complete the prerequisites for me to start my program at the University of Oregon the next year, so I just went there to do that. And in the course of that time, my computer was part of this list. The machine would ding every time a new email came in, so that was happening for hours everyday and evening. And we saw the discussions become increasingly contentious and adversarial and flaming, and I remember being shocked at what was being hurled back and forth. Now I have that memory that I said to Zoller, “Oh, my goodness. You won’t believe what was just said. Come look at this.” And it was very intense and some of the disagreements that are happening now were happening then, and their roots go back to the early ‘90s. So part of what we’re seeing in this debate that’s currently happening has been going on for 30 years now in different iterations at least since then.
CB: Yeah. And to be more specific—and I hope it’s okay to be—Schmidt and Houlding had some legendary blowout debates basically over that email list set up by Project Hindsight. And that’s where a lot of this goes back to. Some of those early debates between the two of them are still being reiterated and played out again today like 30 years later.
DG: Yes. And then as a result of that they closed down the list because it simply wasn’t seemly for that kind of ‘language-ing’ to be public. And as email lists often did at that time, the whole notion of flaming wasn’t a good thing for the community.
CB: Right. So that’s important context just in terms of the personal animosity between Houlding and Schmidt. I think a lot of the history of Project Hindsight that was told in the lecture was twisted and distorted and sometimes just completely fabricated in an inaccurate way partially because there’s this longstanding dispute between one of the founders of Project Hindsight and the person that gave that lecture this week. So that’s kind of a tricky thing in terms of the history of all of this because I wasn’t around for that, but I still heard legends of it from lots of different people, and then realized that I had walked into it at some point later when I do come into the community in the mid-2000s.
Sometimes younger astrologers, when they come into the community, they accidentally get caught up in some of these old disputes that have been going on between people for years. And sometimes when you don’t know that context it’s easy to end up in one camp or the other, or end up thinking one thing or another based on what people that are on one side or another are telling you. Yeah, so that is just evidence that they were open to discussion and there were discussions happening. It’s just that not everybody liked the conclusions that Project Hindsight was finding and that was sometimes creating tensions in the community. For instance, sometimes people didn’t like that Project Hindsight was saying that whole sign houses existed in ancient astrology.
DG: I remember in the early years of teaching Hellenistic astrology how horrified people were of the notion of redoing their charts in whole sign houses. And that created all kinds—well, it created two things. On the one hand it’s like, “I don’t want to hear that you’re questioning the validity of the house system I’ve been using and built my career and reputation on. I don’t want to hear that.”
CB: That’s what people would say to you. That’s what they would say to you when you tried to teach them whole sign houses.
DG: Well, that was certainly one kind of objection. The other was that it created identity crises because if you thought you had all these planets in the 11th house, and you’re like, “Yay, friends and groups,” and then all of sudden they fell into the 12th house, you’re dealing with your suffering and sorrows. That was difficult for people to take in and consider if they didn’t like the way their chart shifted in a whole sign house system. And so, there was resistance coming from that point of view as well. “I’m a 12th house person, not an 11th house person? Like who am I?”
And so, there were levels of how it was these teachings stirred up strong and difficult reactions in the community. And yet for others it was the realization, “Oh, this new chart completely puts my life into a focus; I know it’s a focus that the old chart never reflected,” so there was that kind of response as well. But in those first years you go into a lecture, and you’d say, “How many people know about whole sign houses?” and maybe one or two or three people might raise their hands. And by the end of the 2000s, you would go in and half to two-thirds of the room would raise their hands. And so, we did see the progressive awareness develop in the astrological community over the course of that decade.
CB: Right. I remember I first came across the idea in the mid-2000s from Rob Hand, maybe around 2004 or something, from reading an article online on the concept of whole sign houses. And I was like not interested at all and I thought it was a really dumb idea frankly ‘cause I was used to my Placidus chart, and my background was entirely in modern astrology. And it was only when I learned Hellenistic astrology a year or so later—and learned the full system and how the whole sign house system integrated with some of the other techniques and you could see the complexity of it—that I was more open to trying it out more honestly and then eventually liking it and ending up adopting that as my primary system. But I was still surprised how much resistance there still was to whole sign houses at that point in the mid-to-late-2000s. It really was like 1% maybe or less of astrologers that used that as their primary system. And so, oftentimes when talking to other astrologers about your approach, you would end up having to defend using such a weird system that was so radically different compared to the standard quadrant house systems.
CB: And I think in a lot of my early blog posts and other things like that, it was exciting that there was a new technique that was discovered that hadn’t been very popular in astrology up to that point; techniques like that, or like sect (the distinction between day and night charts that hadn’t been a technique in popular use up to that time) or time-lord techniques or other things like that. So there was this enthusiasm when people adopted some of that stuff to promote it in different ways. Yeah, and I know I was very enthusiastic about it at a certain point, especially when I was younger, in my 20s, and would sometimes do it jokingly or promote it much more actively instead of just passively. But I think after walking into some of the debates with this—for example, putting out my lecture on whole sign houses in 2015—and then getting some really strong accusations from Deborah Houlding at that point about it, I was a little bit more careful in my messaging from that point forward in how I talked about house division, and specifically about the history of house division from that point forward. Yeah, this is like a recurring thing that keeps coming up in the community. I mean, did you ever get into or observe debates that got that strong before this?
DG: About other astrological techniques or concepts?
DG: It’s hard to say because before that I was perhaps still in the category of younger astrologer where a lot of times you’re not fully aware of the currents that are going on in the more established community members.
DG: So I would have to think about that before I could respond.
CB: Yeah. I guess one of the points is just…
DG: Well, I could talk about the asteroids because I have a history of trying to introduce unpopular concepts into the astrological material. And the asteroids were definitely not popular at the time I took up trying to educate the community about their influence and their power and their meaning.
DG: It was like, “Oh, we don’t need all those things. We’re doing fine with the 10 planets we already have. They’re just pieces of floating gravel out there.” And I also became aware of comments in the 1930s of astrologers saying, “Why do we need Pluto for? We’re doing fine with the nine planets we already have. We don’t need something else cluttering up our chart.” So it’s not uncommon for there to be a natural kind of resistance to a new concept that challenges the status quo of what is considered to be established.
CB: Right. I guess one of my points is that while there was some enthusiasm in promoting whole sign houses early on, I don’t think people were aggressively attacking quadrant house users in order to promote whole sign houses.
DG: Exactly. No, you’re right there. It was like, “Hey, look at this,” rather than “What you are doing is wrong.”
CB: Right. Even in my lecture in 2015, what happened with that is I was talking with Adam Elenbaas recently and he reminded me actually what happened ‘cause I was curious about the title. And Adam Elenbaas asked me to do a talk on whole sign houses and their history, and he says, “What’s funny is that I asked you to give a talk on whole sign houses, and then I asked you to come up with a catchier title,” because I gave it something boring at the time which was like ‘The History of Whole Sign Houses’. So he says, “How about ‘Whole Sign Houses: Literally the Best System of House Division Ever?” And he says, “And it was totally supposed to be a joke, as a way of just spicing up the title of the talk for the purposes of marketing.”
And what’s really funny about that is that Houlding especially reacted so viscerally to that and began attacking me afterwards and shared slides from the beginning of that talk, in this one. But at the end of that talk I ended it on a completely conciliatory tone of it doesn’t matter what system of house division you use, but I’m just demonstrating some of the reasons why I choose this one and some of the historical considerations behind it. But ultimately, the Hellenistic astrologers themselves, I said, “seem like they wanted to find a synthesis between whole sign houses and quadrant, and that, I think, is what we should move towards and try to figure out today.”
And that’s something I keep repeating over and over again over the past few years anytime this comes up. But part of the issue is that the house division debates keep coming up not because whole sign house proponents are trying to dogmatically force this system of house division on other people, but because there’s this one quadrant house proponent that just hates whole sign houses and has been repeatedly bringing these debates up over and over again, so that we have to defend that this concept even existed or defend how it was recovered in the 1990s or other things like that. But I just wanted to clarify that as part of the history here.
DG: Right. I think, with that, Rob Hand was stated as being the primary promoter of whole sign houses in the talk that he took it up and turned it into an issue.
CB: He wrote a book titled Whole Sign Houses: The Oldest System of House Division.
DG: Right. But I just want to share a story about Rob that has to do with this notion of things being decided from the beginning as not actually being the case. I attended a conference and I’m thinking it had to be somewhere in the mid-to-later-1990s. My best guess is around 1996 or so. And Rob gave a lecture on aspects—a Hellenistic view of aspects—and I attended it. He was going on about the ‘hurling of rays’ and the ‘striking of rays’ and other aspect concepts. And afterwards I went up to him and I said, “Rob, to tell you the truth, I don’t understand anything you said. What does it all really mean? What I’d like to know is how to use this material in interpretation, and you didn’t mention that at all.”
And he looked at me kind of with this surprised look on his face like, “Don’t you understand what we’re doing here?” And he said, “We don’t know what it ‘means’ yet. Our job at this point is simply to translate the texts and present our findings. That’s what the subscription is for. To allow us to translate the texts and present our findings. Once we have translated and studied a sufficient amount of the material then it will take some time to articulate a system and interpretations.” So I thought that was a very important statement that should go into the record of what it is they were doing and the way that they were proceeding, and that they had not decided it from the beginning.
And then in looking at Rob’s comments on whole sign houses over the course of the period, in 1993, when Paulus came out—and you had said something about that earlier—the use of whole sign houses was mentioned as the signs themselves as counted from the rising sign, each sign counted as a place. It was simply stated in a sentence or two without much more commentary.
CB: In Paulus?
DG: In Paulus.
CB: Do you want me to share that?
DG: Do you know where it is?
CB: Yeah, if I know what you’re asking, it’s just the introduction to Paulus, and it’s on the very first page that Rob Hand wrote in the third paragraph. It says, “Paulus’ astrology is a mature horoscopic astrology with most of the features of contemporary Western astrology, signs, aspects, directions, transits, rulerships, dignities etc. But [it’s] also an astrology [that’s] still developing. Almost every one of Paulus’ techniques has a form that ranges from somewhat different to very different indeed from their modern counterparts. Some of the techniques…are closer to those of Indian than Western astrology. For example, houses in Paulus are not a twelvefold division of the local sphere as they are most systems of modern Western astrology. Houses for Paulus are not even a category separate from the signs. Houses are simply the signs, themselves, counted from the sign rising, or Horoskopos as the first “place”. The other signs follow as “places” in the normal order. The first house extends from the first degree of the rising sign to the last degree, the second house or “place” likewise and so forth, although Paulus does also refer to the actual degree of the ascendant as well. This system [is] often referred to as “whole sign houses” or the “sign-as-house” system [and] is used in India to this day.” And then he actually mentions something about the Indian tradition and says, “A horoscope so constituted is called a Rasi Chakra [in Indian astrology] to distinguish it from a chart drawn with houses as we know them in the West, the Bhava Chalitra.”
DG: Right. Then a year later, in 1994, Valens 2, Part 1, in the introduction, Rob wrote that whole sign houses is a powerful system in its own right. And he was not exactly advocating that modern astrologers stop using quadrant systems, but he thought that they should pay more attention to this old, simple, and efficacious system. Then it was not until 2000 that he wrote his book Whole Sign Houses: The Oldest House System in the World seven years after whole sign houses were first found in Hellenistic texts. So Rob also had this process of developing his position in understanding whole sign houses. It wasn’t a done deal from the very first moment before they even published anything.
CB: Right. Yeah, that’s a really important point. And also, Houlding says at some point that they’re not taking into account that there’s quadrant houses in Valens, or they’re not taking into account that there’s equal houses, but that’s not true. When they translated Book 3 of Valens, they talk about it and they have commentary when Valens introduces the quadrant house system.
DG: Yeah. Chris, I have to stop for a moment. Okay, I’m sorry for that interruption.
CB: No problem. Oh, yeah, we were just talking about how when they got to Book 3 of Valens, they talked about his quadrant house system. And then in 1996, in the introduction to Book 3 of Ptolemy, when they get to Ptolemy introducing equal houses, Schmidt wrote a full essay about the different systems of house division and what their current thinking was and citing the different authors who were using different things—whole sign, quadrant, or equal—in that. So there was an open discussion and an attempt to analyze all these different things. It’s just that the conclusions that they were coming to weren’t ones that everybody liked. So you said that Rob published Whole Sign Houses: The Oldest System of House Division in 2000, and then he also published an academic paper in 2007.
DG: Right. It was both an elaboration and revision and refinement of some of the material that he had written about in the whole sign house book. And so, he was continuing to develop his understanding and present his arguments. And again, that shows that it wasn’t like this one singular factor that was decided as a selling point for a product before the project began and remained static from that point on.
CB: Yeah, and one of the things I realize now in retrospect is that 2007 paper, that’s the one where he goes through and counts up the different charts in order to demonstrate and substantiate in an academic context that whole sign houses was the most popular system in the Hellenistic tradition. And I’m sure that he was trying to do that both in order to bring attention in the academic community to whole sign houses existing, but he was also probably doing that partially in reaction to pushback against the idea that whole sign houses existed or was popular because a large part of that paper is just substantiating that claim, which in the whole sign houses pamphlet wasn’t substantiated as conclusively even though he did show example charts and cite evidence.
DG: Right. I guess one final thing I’d like us to remember—you can find it in the paper that Schmidt wrote in 2016 on the houses where he’s looking to the equal house system, and you might help me recapitulate that—but he says near the point where he begins his conclusion, notwithstanding all that he’s talking about, most of the charts in Valens were cast in the equal house system.
CB: In the whole sign house system.
DG: You’re right. In the whole sign house system.
DG: And so, again, Schmidt himself is in the process of developing his ideas, but in the course of that he acknowledged that even if Valens had changed his mind later on in life, which he had, that has its own set of complications because Book 9 is not necessarily in chronological order but contains pieces left over that can be dated to earlier time periods. But as he’s looking at that he is also saying even if Valens did come to this conclusion at the end of his life, nevertheless, all the examples he gave during the first eight books were based on whole sign houses.
CB: Yeah. One of the things that’s being emphasized or overemphasized at this point is this notion that Schmidt changed his mind at the end of his life about house division, and Houlding is trying to portray it as if he came around to her side. And actually one of the things I’ll never forget about that is that when Schmidt died, she posted a post on Facebook kind of referring back to their house division debates, almost gloating about the idea that Schmidt had come around to a position closer to hers before he died, which knowing the context of their previous debates and how much they just didn’t like each other, it really never sat well with me at all. But to clarify exactly what happened with Schmidt, for many years, he said that only whole sign houses were used for topics and quadrant houses were used for dynamic strength or determining how busy a planet is. And you can see him outline this original speculation or observation in his translation of Book 3 of Ptolemy in 1996.
But then what happened at the end of his life is he released that house division workshop in June of 2016, and he released it partially in response to me and Houlding having our debate back in November of 2015. And in that workshop, he says that he finally figured out what to do with equal houses, and that equal houses should be integrated on top of whole sign houses for the purpose of topics. But he still said that quadrant houses, in his opinion or view, were never meant to be used for topics and were only for dynamic purposes, which means that he never actually came around to Houlding’s viewpoint as much as it’s being portrayed. She still ultimately would fundamentally disagree with that position that quadrant houses aren’t used to assign different areas of life. And despite some of his later comments, Schmidt himself recognized that whole sign houses were still used as one of the major systems of house division. All right, I think we’re at the final point.
DG: Right. I just wanted to clarify one more point that’s out there in the Twitter record. In the NORWAC of 2022, last year, Wade Caves—who has been my friend over the years, we’ve exchanged communications and conversations about looking at the techniques in the different systems. There were a few places where he helped me understand certain concepts, so I want to acknowledge that, and as a courtesy he told me of his long-term plan to dismantle whole sign houses. And my response to him, I said, “Wade, I don’t really care what kind of house system you use. What I care about is that you do good astrology and let the success of your work stand on its own merit rather than on destroying the work of others.” And he interpreted that as my endorsing quadrant house systems and communicated that on a Twitter post at some point a number of months ago, probably in the fall, as I recall.
And I’m generally not on social media, but when that was brought to my attention, I contacted Wade, and I said, “Wait a second. That’s not what I said to you. Can you correct what I actually said so that it’s in the record that that’s not what I meant?” And Wade was open to making the correction, but because of problems with one list being shut down, he didn’t have access to it, and my response was too many words to go on Twitter; the full import of what I wanted to say never actually got out there. So just for those people who may have come across the quote that I endorsed quadrant house systems or Wade’s use of them…
CB: It’s not that you don’t endorse quadrant house systems, it’s that you don’t endorse a war on whole sign houses to destroy or ‘dismantle’ it.
DG: Yes. And what I wanted to say is, in conclusion to this, that my main concern is that we, as astrologers, can best serve the astrological community and the entire discipline and tradition of astrology if we do the very best we can with the approach that we have been called to, and we present these teachings with clarity and good, solid foundations and cohesiveness and integration, and we give good astrology to the community rather than using our creative energy to attack and destroy each other. And this is what my hope is for how we can be of service to the tradition.
CB: Yeah, I hope we can move past this at some point as well. I hope this is a final point in terms of needing to push back against certain things, but also airing things out. Because I do think in the Hellenistic and Medieval traditions, like I said, they were trying to synthesize the different systems and trying to find ways to use them together. And even if a person doesn’t want to do that or doesn’t want to use different systems or doesn’t prefer them, we don’t have to be at each other’s throats about this stuff.
DG: Exactly, exactly. Yeah, we move astrology along by doing good astrology.
CB: Right. All right, so not a modern invention. Existed in ancient astrology. Everybody should get along. Are there any other final thoughts before we wrap up? I’m trying to think of anything we missed. There was obviously a lot. And I think I might still do a follow-up to this.
DG: Yeah, I was expecting that you would do a follow-up with some of the examples we saw in the text over the course of the tradition. There’s a huge amount of additional evidence that can be provided in the continuation of whole sign houses in the Arabic, and even into the Renaissance tradition; that is important. But what I wanted to do in this session here is primarily share the memories I had about what I saw and how I experienced it firsthand and to give testimony to that, and fill in pieces of our oral history of the beginnings of Project Hindsight, and in the end to acknowledge the groundbreaking work that Schmidt did. Without what he did none of us would be doing what we’re doing now, and he did provide that foundation for much of the understanding of Hellenistic astrology that’s ensued in the last 25 years, and so want to honor one’s teachers.
CB: Yeah, I really appreciate that because I feel like the story of Project Hindsight hasn’t been fully told. We focused on both of us publishing our books and doing our takes on Hellenistic astrology as best as we could over the past decade or so. But collecting some of those stories about Project Hindsight’s important because a lot of the people aren’t around anymore to tell those stories. Yeah, it might be time to tell some of those stories ‘cause there are different nuances.
CB: There’s different nuances. It’s a really complicated thing.
DG: Right, right.
CB: A lot of good things. There were some challenging things or some bad things. But getting a neutral historical analysis that’s accurate, based on our experience of being there in person I think is important. And now maybe we can tell some of the other parts of that story, the broader story someday.
CB: Yeah. All right, well, thanks a lot for doing this with me.
DG: Okay. Thank you, Chris.