Thursday, May 8, 2008

An Intro to Traditional Hellenic and Roman Astrology

Tropical vs. Sidereal Zodiac or: "What do you mean the astrology chart doesn't match the stars overhead?!?!"

The first - and most important way that the ancient astrology practised by the Greeks and Romans (as well as the systems practised by the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Hindus) differs from typical Western modern astrology is that we look at the skies overhead in two totally different ways. We each divide the sky up differently, which is important. The systems use two different ways of dividing the skies - or zodia. This is a difference between what I call zodia and topoi in the Classical Pagan system, and what you would call "signs" and "houses" in your zodiacal system.

So what is the difference between the two systems? Let's find out!

First, if you look at an astrological ephemeris or table with the positions of the planets according to the tropical zodiac division system of the sky for today, 7th May, 2008, this is what you would see:
  • Sun 17 TA 18
  • Moon 15 GE 39
  • Mercury 07 GE 22
  • Venus 08 TA 32
  • Mars 28 CN 45
  • Jupiter 22 CP 22
  • Saturn 01 VI 42
  • Uranus 21 PI 40
  • Neptune 24 AQ 09
  • Pluto 00 CP 50

Hmmm.... now let's see what is in the sky overhead. Since most of us probably live in cities - where light pollution is a problem - or even in regions far, far apart from one another, let's find an applet to use to illustrate this point! Head over to SkyView Cafe Astronomy - an online Planetarium - if you wanna check out the positions of the planets in relation to the skies above.

Here are the planets in their actual locations in the sky above:
  • Sun 21 AR 57
  • Moon 13 TA 12
  • Mercury 11 TA 47
  • Venus 13 AR 04
  • Mars 03 CN 37
  • Jupiter 27 SA 30
  • Saturn 06 LE 50
  • Uranus 26 AQ 47
  • Neptune 29 CP 17
  • Pluto 05 SA 59 R
Whoah! There's a BIG difference there! Before you think something like "THIS IS HUGH!! I'M SERIES!!!!!" and run amok, let me explain what's up with the stars and planets - and the two zodia systems.
There are two main types of equal-sign solar zodiac. The one used by most modern Western astrologers, the Tropical Zodiac, and the one used by Classical Western and most Eastern astrologers which is called the Sidereal or Vedic Zodiac. (Oh, and this is'nt the same as the different ways of dividing the houses and topoi, one of which is called the Fagan-Bradley version... which I will discuss in a future lession).

Soooo, "what's the difference between these two zodiac systems?" you ask... Well, there's only one difference really, and that is where they begin. The Tropical Zodiac begins in the "sign" of Aries on March the 21st whilst the Sidereal systems currently start with the zodia of Aries about a month later (the actual dates can be found in form here, at a nifty sidereal astrology site). This one point makes for a HUGE difference - according to the Tropical zodiac system you may be a Sun-Sign of Sagittarius and under the Sidereal zodiac system, an Ophiuchus*! This is the effect that a simple disagreement over the zero point of Aries can cause.

Here is a graphic that illustrates the difference between the zodiac systems: The Tropical and Sidereal Zodiac Systems comparedThanks to "Vedic Astrology Helpline" @ (This graphic is not meant to be offensive to farmers, ranchers, or others who might use the term "cowboy" or "vaquero" to describe themself... I just liked this because I imagined the illustration being of me telling Prez Bush about sideral astrology.)

So now you are probably wondering how there can be TWO places in the sky called "Aries"... Well, the Sidereal zodiac system's Aries corresponds to where Aries is in the sky overhead. If you use a sky map or astronomical ephemeris, there will be agreement between where the planets are in the chart and where they are on an Sideral astrology chart. There is no disagreement between astrology, astronomy, and the stars overhead when using a sidereal zodiac system.

The Tropical zodiac system's sign of Aries corresponds to where Pisces is in the sky - and to where Pisces is in the Sidereal zodiac system. This is important, because (for example) the Sun is seen to be in the constellation Pisces when the Vernal Equinox occurs around March 21st each year. This is why Classical Astrologers and other people say that this is the Age of Pisces. The Sun is in Pisces at the beginning of Spring - which was the beginning of the year on some ancient calendars. The Tropical zodiac system can be seen to be from the Age of Aries since it expects the Sun to be in that constellation at the beginning of Spring... and this shows us that astrology is very, very, VERY old.
So... now that you see the difference between the two types of Zodiacal Systems, let's talk about another difference between Classical and Modern Astrology - the "zodia" or "signs" of astrology.


The next most important concept to understand when studying or using Hellenic Astrology is that of the zodia. Zodia are what are called "signs" in modern Astrological systems - the 30 degree divisions of the Tropical Zodiac which are named Aries, Taurus, Gemini, etc. I will give their full characteristics in another post, but for now it's enough to just know that "zodia" are the same as "signs".
Hellenic Astrology uses house=sign chart design. This is different from many of the house systems used in most modern Astrology. In Hellenic Astrology, the houses are called topoi or topos in the singular; this is Greek for "place" and has the same connotation as "house" does in modern Astrology... for example, the second topos is the topos of land, material goods, and talents. Because each topos = a single zodia, it becomes very easy to see the relationships between planets based upon the relationships between their polarity, modalities, and elements. It is the interactions between these qualities of the planets that provide the key to understanding and interpreting an aspect pattern within a chart (either personal or mundane).
The major difference between aspects as used in Hellenic Astrology and aspects used in Modern Astrology is that aspects are determined according to topoi and zodia as opposed to individual planets. For example, all planets within a single zodia and topoi are considered to be aspected to all of the planets in another zodia and topoi. The aspects that are discussed within Hellenic Astrology are often referred to as the "Platonic Aspects" as they were first outlined and described in Ptolemy's work Tetrabiblos.
The Ptolemaic aspects are:
The Opposition:
  • the planets are separated by six zodia (or 180 degrees)
  • the planets share the same polarity and modality
  • this aspect represents the Platonic form of the line
The Trine:
  • the planets are separated by four zodia (or 120 degrees)
  • the planets share the same element
  • this aspect represents the Platonic form of the triangle
The Square (also known as Quartile):

  • the planets are separated by three zodia (or 90 degrees)
  • the planets share the same modality, but have different elements
  • this aspect represents the Platonic form of the square
The Sextile:
  • the planets are separated by two zodia (or 60 degrees)
  • the planets share the same polarity, but have different elements and modalities
  • this aspect represents the Platonic form of the hexagon
The Conjunction:
  • not an "aspect" as such in Hellenic Astrology, but rather a sharing of the same Zodion by two or more planets.
  • this aspect represents the Platonic form of the point
The conjunction is important (even more important than all of the other aspects!) in that the planets that share the same zodion or "sign" are seen to work together and will influence each other within the life of the individual or during the event being studied.
The planets within the shared zodion may work together so well and with such a common mind that they combine their energies. Because the two planets (like the two Gods that represent them) are united in their goal and motivation - differing only in their personalities - they can become intimately connected. The closer that the two planets are to each other (based upon the number of degrees between them) added to whether or not they are applying (moving closer to each other) or separating (moving apart from each other), can cause the two planets to actually fuse into one force within the chart. This is especially important because even when the two planets separate later, they will still be acting in one force - just in two different places in the chart. (For example, consider an individual who has Venus and Neptune in the same zodia at birth... for their entire life, where ever Venus or Neptune are in their chart, it will act as Venus+Neptune. This means that they will often be feeling the influence of Venus+Neptune in two different topoi! In a future post, I will discuss polarity, the elements, and modalities - which will help to illustrate the different dynamics that each aspect will produce within a chart.
* - What? What the heck is this "Ophiuchus" you speak of? Well, that is what my next entry will be about... the 13th sign of the zodiac that you've prolly never even heard of!

'Till next time...
Peace, Blessings, and may you and yours be in Harmony with the Skies!

--Claudia Iuliania Minervina

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