Priming up for Primary Directions

In the epoch of the whizz-machine one only needs to click a few buttons in a computer programme to generate a chart. This is tremendously convenient. It also has one side-effect. It is easy to forget the mathematics that underlie the chart.

A chart generally is a projection that simplifies navigation. In the case of an astrological chart it is a projection of a number of factors combined to give the best possible overview. It can in a sense be described as a planetary seal whose very 2-dimensionality provides a window to grasping both a complex astronomical as well as metaphysical reality. It is a navigation tool.

What is it a projection of? Here we need to look closer at the three-dimensional reality and must resort to spherical geometry. Have no fear! I am not going to present the theoretical geometry. Instead I will try to help you envision the geometry.

Place before your minds eye a transparent sphere. This sphere will represent the earth. Next imagine that this sphere is divided into two equal halves by a circular section. The section is the equator and the halves are the north and south hemisphere.

Next imagine another circular section that is perpendicular to the first. This section divides the sphere into an eastern and western hemisphere going thorough its north and south poles. Let us say that this particular section bisects a point that has been established, by convention, to be the starting point of 360 sections that equally bisect our imagined equator. This is the meridian that passes through Greenwich, England. All 360 equal sections are also called degrees of longitude. You still awake? Yes? See, it’s easy!

But what if we want to exactly pinpoint the position of Greenwich, which is a little more than halfway the distance from the equator to the North Pole? Here we have to imagine 90 increasingly smaller sections that are parallel to the equator. These are degrees of latitude. And so we can exactly define the position of any place on earth, not only Greenwich, (51N28 latitude, 0E00 longitude), with two coordinates. I won’t go into detail here, but the parallel of latitude also helps define the horizon.

But we are not finished yet. Let us take another position east of Greenwich, say Berlin which is roughly 13 degrees east of Greenwich and 52 degrees north of the equator. But why do we used the term degrees? Well, the distance from Berlin, let us call it point B, along the same meridian, to a point on the equator, let us call it E, is the arm of an angle that runs from B to the centre point of the earth and from there to point E. (Point E can be said to be a projection of point B onto the equator) This is a 52 degree angle. The 13 degrees of latitude longitude are also an angle between the projection of B on the equator and the projection of Greenwich to the equator. You can see here that our reference is always to the equator. This is important because this same principle is used elsewhere. We’ll get to that later.

Now these 360 degrees are special because they can also be converted to time. How’s that possible? Well if we imagine that our imaginary sphere rotates around its axis in one day then we can divide the 24 hours for one revolution into equal divisions of time. There is just one tiny catch, when applied to the earth the revolution is 4 minutes shorter than clock time. We speak of a sidereal time to make just that distinction. If you are calculating a chart the old-fashioned way, this will be one of the first conversions you will make. From clock time to sidereal time. This revolution of the earth around its axis in one day is also called primary movement and it is reflected in our chart by the houses, whose movement is also clockwise. Primary movement is also what underlies what is known as primary directions. (I’ll discuss these in a followup article). Up to here, with the aid of a Table of Houses we have the first set of calculations needed for our chart. We have an empty chart with the house divisions.

Now there are two other spheres that we consider in our calculations. These are the celestial sphere and also a sphere whose “equator” is formed by the path of the Sun in its yearly revolution around the earth. This is the ecliptic. The ecliptic is not divided into 24 hours but into 12 Celestial Signs of 30 degrees each. The beginning point for both the ecliptic and the celestial sphere is where the ecliptic crosses the celestial equator at 0 degrees Aries.

The celestial sphere shares the same equator as the terrestrial sphere. But instead of describing the position of a planet on the celestial sphere in terms of longitude and latitude we speak of right ascension and declination. The angle of projection of a planetary body to the celestial equator is the Declination. The angle on the celestial equator formed by this projected point to 0 degrees Aries is known as Right Ascension.

And now to the ecliptic. This can be considered as the equator of a sphere that is tilted roughly 23 degrees away from the terrestrial and celestial spheres. Now a planet’s position can also be defined in terms of the ecliptic. Here again we speak of a planet’s longitude and latitude. This is the second set of calculations needed to cast a chart. This is done with the aid of an ephemeris. This second set of calculations are for the secondary movement of the planets which is counter clockwise. Secondary Progressions are based on this movement of the planets. That is in fact the origin of the names for Primary Directions and Secondary Progressions.

There is just one last point to be made. When we calculate our planetary positions and place them in the chart, we reduce their three dimensional position to two dimensions. When I say a planet or a fixed star is at 29 degrees Leo I have projected its real position to the ecliptic. For example we read in our ephemeris that Mars and Jupiter are conjunct at 27 Gemini. If the sky is clear, and both planets do not have the same degree of latitude we will see that one is above the other. Astrologically we say that the planet with the higher latitude is stronger. What we are saying is that when we project their position in the celestial sphere to the ecliptic they both share the same ecliptic point.

Dear reader. If you could follow all of this then you should have no difficulty in understanding primary directions in particular and I haven’t mentioned such creatures as sin., cos., tan., cot., semi- diurnal or nocturnal arcs until now”! 🙂 You have been primed! You see the general confusion about directions is such that even most programmer’s of astrological software get them wrong and should the rare programmer get them right they are presented in an unusable form!*

*If you are a purveyor of astrological software please do not solicit your software here. You may of course send me a message in the “Reply” section provided at the bottom of the home page. If you are convinced that you have the primary directions programme then you may certainly send me a usuable demo version! 🙂 or :-(?

Another Question, Another Answer

This is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate what I consider one of the first rules of horary astrology:

“Each chart has its own story”.

Naturally there are rules and examples given by such notable astrologers as William Lilly. These are important and they should also be learned. But we should be more interested in how William Lilly judges a chart than in the rules he gives. What he says is secondary to “how” he uses the rules. Once rules are internalised they must be applied according to art and discretion.

Let us look at the next chart.


The question was, “What sex will my grandchild have?” Again semantics are important. You will note that in the previous chart the sex of the child is incidental, the chart shows it, but that was not the question asked. In this case we look first for the Significator of the grandchild. Here we come to a second rule:

“Let the chart lead you.”

In the first chart one glance at the 5th house was sufficient to answer the question.
The daughter was the focus of the question. So we looked to the 5th house. We saw that there was a planet in the 5th house. Which planet? The Lord of the 5th but also of the 9th (grandchild). Question answered. In the second question the child is the focus. If we let the chart lead us, then it is impossible to ignore Mercury on the MC. What is Mercury the ruler of? He is Lord of the 9th house which in this context is the grandchild (child of the child, 5th house from the 5th house). True, Virgo is a feminine sign, but Mercury is in a masculine sign and elevated on the Midheaven. We know that Mercury can be both feminine or masculine depending on position and influence from other planets. So here Mercury’s gender ambiguity is resolved. He is definitely masculine. This is sufficient testimony. But if we need more, we notice another planet on an angle. This is Jupiter, a masculine planet in a masculine sign prominently placed close to the Ascendant. Jupiter is Lord 1, but the querant doesn’t interest us, as he is not part of the question. This would be different if he had asked, “Will my grandchild love me?” The chart emphasises the angles, which are masculine and coloured by masculine planets. I might note here that this sort of question is not unlike asking whether news or information is true or a rumour. The only difference is that in the question of gender, the gender of the sign is important and in the question of true or false it is the quality of the sign (fixed is a testimony for truth, mutability for falsity). But don’t take this as a general rule; let the chart lead you. If the angles are given the spotlight, as in this chart, this means something. They might be the only testimony you need. Another chart might have feminine angles but the spotlight may be focused on strongly masculine elements that again shouldn’t be ignored.

Question and Answer: Dignities

I am very impressed about the origin of the dignities you have been exposing here in your blog…Would you please show me some texts on how to find that issue?


The dignities of the planets are integral to astrology. You will find a description of them in almost all of the older texts, where they are for the most part described with sometimes more sometimes less detail about their origins. If you take the “Tetrabiblos” of Claudius Ptolemaeus as a starting point you can easily see this. Ptolemaeus more or less gathered the astrological knowledge available to him in Alexandria (the book was written between 139 – 161 AD). There is an interesting passage in the 1st Book where he presents the terms or boundaries as used by the Egyptians and then another set he found, “…in an old text that came out of some gray past…the book was so much in tatters that I had some difficulty to bring the content together…but at the end of the book there was a table of boundaries, which was entirely legible” From there he analyzes the table and then presents it. I would suggest you read this as one source. At the same time it is clear that the dignities are much much older and indeed if you have read the articles here on “The Horoscope of the World” (just click on the category “Horoscope of the World”) and the series “On Exaltation” by Andrew Carter (he mentions not a few authors whose texts you can follow up) then you will find that they can already be found in the Bundahisn, the Zoroastrian Genesis. I think one can generally say that an understanding of the dignities is as old as astrology itself.

What Andrew Carter and I have tried to do, not unlike Ptolemeus, is to understand the texts and present our findings. You will find that the Bundahisn is not an easy text.

It is my opinion that the older texts are important because they show us what astrology was, but it must always be remembered that in the course of time texts can be corrupted and that it is just as important to rethink and try to understand how the older authors understood astrology and came to their conclusions. This is probably where William Lilly’s “Christian Astrology” is important as his text is the most transparent of them all. I hope this has answered your question and wish you much success in your study of astrology.


A Dash of Salt?

Recently Hazel asked in a comment to “Cardinal Dragon, Mutable Dragon and Fixed Dragon” about where the equivalent of alchemical Salt could be found in Astrology. Here are a few thoughts on this .

If you have ever grown salt crystals you will know that you have to “seed” your salt solution. This is a simple alchemical situation. Your Mercury is the solution, your Sulphur the “seed” and your Salt the crystals formed. These three principles can also be seen in the astrological qualities. The Cardinal or inceptional quality, is Sulphur. The changeable and many-faceted Mutable quality is Mercury. The Fixed or stable quality is Salt.*

The verse in the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the salt of the earth…” (Matthew 5-13 ) is often associated with alchemical Salt. But this is only half of the story. The succeeding verse, “You are the light of the world.…” must also be included. Why? Consider the following. Look at a grain of salt. It is crystalline, translucent and able to “receive” light and warmth without changing its form. Salt is an image of both our Physis and the world in purified form. We have an expression of the the hermetic principle, “As above so Below”. Salt/microcosm is able to receive and carry the Light of the World/macrocosm in itself. Salt that is sullied is not able to do this.

So at a basic level Salt is the Physis. The Physis is our body seen not as mere matter, a bundle of complex chemical reactions, but as the door to both the microcosm and macrocosm. It is not surprising that in traditional astrology we find the human body not only signified by the mundane houses but also the celestial houses. Only here and with nothing else do the significations coincide. This is an astrological expression of “Salt”.

Mundane houses are what nowadays are called “houses” and the celestial houses the “signs of the zodiac”. For example both the first house and the sign Aries signify the head. We can say that the mundane houses correspond to the microcosmic aspect of the Physis and the celestial houses to the macrocosmic aspect.

The houses are subdivided into the three positions of angular, succedent and cadent while the signs into the three qualities of cardinal, fixed and mutable. Here they begin to diverge from one another, A cardinal sign is not always angular, etc. It would be stretching it to want to try to label the three positions with the three alchemical qualities. At most they are an expression of “Salt” as they are fixed and never move, while the three qualities of cardinal, fixed and mutable have a “Mercury” aspect as they are constantly moving in respect to the mundane houses.

I have found a plausible candidate for the fixed dragon. More later. The constellation Draco might also be fixed but the fixed dragon of the nodes is something entirely different.

*John Frawley uses the metaphor of a day at the beach. The journey there with all of its expectations expresses the cardinal. The day itself with all of its experiences is the fixed. The journey back with its review of the day is the mutable. At the moment I can’t find the exact page. When I find the reference I will add it as a comment!