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What is Traditional Astrology?

Many people believe that traditional astrology is anything that is before the mid 20th Century. What most don't realize is that modern astrology actually began in the 19th Century when Alan Leo created psychological astrology. He stripped astrology of its predictive abilities after being arrested twice for fortune-telling. Leo shifted the focus of astrology from what happens to and around us to what happens inside us, making it more palatable to the Church, and thus rendering it legal. The thousand years of history of the Art before him was lost for many years. In recent years, though, we have recovered the works of William Lilly, considered a master of the Art at a time when it thrived, and through him and his extensive publications, we have been introduced to Ptolemy, Guido Bonatus, Manilius, Abraham Ibn Ezra, Abu Mashar and many, many others, dating from as early as the 4th Century BC.

Traditional astrology encompasses so much more than just what makes a person tick. There are different levels of the art, and it is wise to master each step before attempting the next. Horary, the first step, is the answering of specific questions that are of importance to the querent. These can range from "Will I bear a child this year?" to "Where are my keys?" to "Who stole my fish?". This last is an actual question that William Lilly includes as a sample chart in his primer Christian Astrology. Horary looks at the conditions of the planets to see how a particular problem will conclude, and shows what has already happened, where the querent stands now, and the most likely outcome.

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The next step, elective or electional astrology, is just the opposite of horary. With elective, you decide what end result you wish to achieve, and choose a time to begin based on the relative strengths of the planets. This technique is useful for things like starting a new business, writing a novel, or setting out on a voyage, just to name a few.

The third step is natal astrology, but not the same as it is in modern practice. In traditional astrology, the natal chart is used to determine such things as the client's life expectancy (barring major accidents or other disaster), how many children he will have, how many times he will be married, whether those marriages are likely to be happy or not, his financial outlook, his physical appearance and temperament, and his prospects of fame, to name a few.

The fourth rung on the ladder, so to speak, are the natal charts of kings and world leaders. It is but a short step from the natal charts of the everyday man, but they are more powerful because a king affects a lot more people than the baker on the corner.

Fifth, we come to the charts of dynasties and families. These encompass more than just one person or generation. One such example would be the chart for the Windsor family of Britain, or for the Ming Dynasty.

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The pinnacle of traditional astrology is the charts of the nations themselves. These, of course, are very difficult, especially when you consider that for most nations, the "birth" time is unknown. Even for as young a nation as the United States, there is much debate as to the time and even the date that one should use for predictive work.

Each level of chart affects the ones below it. A particular natal chart may indicate that a woman can live to be 80 years old, but if the national chart where she lives indicates a massive earthquake with huge death tolls when she is 35, the only way she can reasonably expect to reach 80 is to move out of the area, for her natal chart is subject to the national chart.

It is not only the subjects covered that separate traditional astrology from modern astrology. Modern astrology looks at the signs that the planets rule (adding a few new ones in the process) and where they are second strongest, called their exaltation. Traditional astrology has many more ways of assessing a planet's strength. The visible seven planets (including the sun), are all tied together in a simple but elegant pattern of dignities. Beyond sign and exaltation, each planet rules over a group of signs called a triplicity, which are signs of the same elemental nature. Each of the planets (except sun and moon) rule over a portion of every sign, which is called a term. Finally each sign is broken down into faces or decanates, based on the ancient Egyptian practice of dividing the year into 36 ten-day periods, each of the decanates being ruled by a particular planet, following a particular repeating order, called the Chaldean order, which begins with the slowest planet, Saturn, and ends with the fastest planet, the Moon.

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The outlook on life is different as well. The long standing debate between free-will and fate plays out here as well. In order for astrology to predict anything with any accuracy, one must believe that there is an order to the universe. Unfortunately, many people seem to believe that if there is one, the other cannot exist. My personal view is two-fold. First, you have a destiny set out for you, but there are many choices within that destiny that you can choose to make. Secondly, once you choose an action, some free will is gone. For example, when you purchase a car, you exercise free will. Free will has nothing to do with whether or not that car is going to blow an alternator. That is fate. But it was our choice that brought us to this fate.

Prediction is the goal of traditional astrology. Whether it is predicting when and where you can find your fish and who stole it, or predicting events such as the Great Fire of London or 9/11 doesn't matter. The techniques are basically the same and it is thus that the astrologer can aid his client. Having a solid understanding of the planets and their intricate dance lets us guide our clients through the steps of their intricate dance of life because everything is interconnected.

©2003 Judy Anderson, known in the Society for Creative Anachronism as Lady Temair of Stonemarche. Used by permission.