Astrological Roots: The Hellenistic Legacy


astrological_roots.jpgJoseph Crane (b. 1954 Brighton, MA) is an American astrologer and psychotherapist who practiced astrology since the late 1980’s and is the co-founder of the Astrology Institute. His main interest is to understand and teach Hellenistic astrology or, even more, "to reformulate modern astrology by using methods from astrology’s traditions". The most significant results of his work are his books: A Practical Guide to Traditional Astrology (1997) and Astrological Roots: the Hellenistic Legacy (2007). The last one is the most comprehensive study about Hellenistic astrology that we have nowadays. 


In the Preface the author gives a beautiful definition for astrology:


"Astrology is one of the great adventures of human civilization and has contributed greatly to people’s lives and to our culture over time. Astrology’s purpose is to use the positions of the planets and stars in the sky to gather information on the individual and on humanity. Astrology is a system that enables us to understand the past, present and the future within a universe full of meaning."


and then starts to criticize modern astrology as being too focused on speculations, too much connected by modern astrologers with different spiritual ideologies like supposed previous lifetimes, Jungian psychology etc., resulting in difficult, fuzzy, confusing interpretations. On the other side traditional astrology, the subject of this book, has clear concepts, gives better results and is easy to apply. He wants to help us reestablish contact with, what he calls "astrology roots".  


Introduction: Astrology then and now

First, Joseph Crane makes a brief incursion in the early evolution of astrology starting from Mesopotamia in 400 BCE until 400 CE when Christianity became a fierce enemy for astrology. Then, he discusses the most important critics regarding astrology: why many astrological predictions do not pass, how the planets can scientifically influence humans, how astrology match with different religious beliefs, why ancient astrologers judgments are fatalistic etc.  


Chapter 1: Astrology’s Bricks and Mortar

The author explains that in ancient astrology the relation between the astrologer and the visible sky was much more important that in modern astrology because now we use computers, software and forget to look at the real picture, on the sky. With this idea in mind, he presents several important matters in traditional astrology like: sect, the seasons and their relation with signs, the whole sign houses system, the planetary joys, triplicities, quadrants and a little piece of practical astrology. About the houses, he mentions that in ancient tradition the houses were not associated with signs (House 1 with Aries, House 2 with Taurus etc.) like in modern astrology. This is a good point to remember. Also, he explains very well the relation between seasons and signs, for example:


"Cancer is the sign that begins with the summer equinox, and the season is hot. Hot increases activity and can also go to extremes of expression. Cancer, however, is a water sign and we tend to think of signs in the water triplicity as sensitive, emotional, and imaginative. Cancer, more than Scorpio and Pisces, has hot qualities of dramatic emotionality. Cancer wears its heart on its sleeve, despite its desire to hide within its shell. Libra, which begins with the autumn equinox, is in the dry season of the year. Dry separates and sees things as distinct. Unlike Gemini and Aquarius, the other signs in the air triplicity, Libra discriminates carefully between it and others, and defines itself by form and protocol. Capricorn is an Earth sign in the cold season. Cold is subdued and self-contained, sometimes brittle. Capricorn’s reticence, sobriety and curmudgeonly qualities are legendary, especially in contrast with the restlessness of Virgo (in the hot and drying time of the year)and the sensuality of Taurus (in the wet and warming time of the year)." 

Matheseos Libri VIII


matheseos_libri.jpgJulius Firmicus Maternus (280-360 A.D.) was a Sicilian lawyer from the upper nobility who retired from his career in order to devote himself to science and literature. He wrote Matheseos Libri VIII around 330 A.D. and dedicated to his friend, the consul Lollianus Mavortius. The material used for this book is mainly from Greek astrology sources. 



The first chapter represents a letter written by the author to his friend Mavortius, Governor of the entire East. Mavortius was an intelligent and learned person who had lots of discussions with Julius Firmicus on many subjects, one being astrology. A big part of this letter is treating the conflict between astrologers and their opponents. To all the questions rose by those who deny astrology Julius Firmicus answers by showing that people can’t control anything in life, that Fate (represented by planets in his system) governs everything. He was a fatalistic astrologer who believed people can’t change their inherent destiny. 



Here you can find a wide range of astrological subjects. The author writes about the signs, the exaltations and falls (he considers a planet is more fortunate in exaltation than in domicile), the Egyptian decans and terms, matutine and vespertine planets, duodecatemoria, houses, aspects, antiscia etc.

Matutine planets are those which rise before the Sun (oriental), vespertine are those which rise after the Sun (occidental). The duodecatemoria is a technique based on the degree a planet have in a sign to compute another position which will reveal the whole essence. But, there is a problem because the algorithm is erroneous. You can find the good one here.

The aspects between planets are analyzed like whole sign aspects, without orb, giving much importance to the direction from which are formed: a right aspect is made from the back of the sign (dexter), a left aspect is in front of the sign (sinister).



The first pages from Liber Tertius present Thema Mundi, the chart for the birthday of the Universe. This doctrine, writes Firmicus, comes by Mercury itself who transmitted to other intermediaries. Thema Mundi is a chart with all the planets in domicile at 15 degrees. I believe at least in this moment is much more mythology that science.


After that, you’ll find the explanations for the planets and luminaries in houses. I think the interpretations are quite delightful and a big part of them are matching with reality. The analyses always takes in account if the chart is diurnal or nocturnal, thus if the planets are in sect their effect is considerable better. Also, in many cases, the author introduces new aspects (very often the Moon), analyzes more than position in house, for example:


"Mercury located exactly on the ascendant in signs in which he rejoices, in a daytime chart, makes philosophers, teachers of the art of letters, or geometers […]or men skilled in sacred writings. Often he makes orators and lawyers, especially if in this house he is in his own sign or in other voiced signs. If either the Sun, Saturn or Jupiter are in aspect with Mercury in this house, he will make great men crowned with wreaths for being famous in sacred matters. […]But if Mars is in opposition or in square aspect or together with Mercury on the ascendant, the native is attacked by a variety of continual evils."

The Beginning of Wisdom


the_beginning_of_wisdom.jpgRabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra (1089-1164 CE), born in Spain, was a Jewish astrologer also known as a poet, scientist and Bible commentator. In astrology the most appreciated books wrote by Ibn-Ezra are The Beginning of Wisdom (1148 CE), The Book of Reasons, The Book of Nativities & Revolutions.


The Beginning of Wisdom is an introduction to astrology, similar with Abu Ma’shar’s The Abbreviation of the Introduction to Astrology, a book written with almost 300 years before. Presents in 10 chapters the basic notions of astrology, without to give many details. This edition is translated and annotated by Meira B. Epstein and edited with additional annotations by Robert Hand. It is an assurance that you read the original text, with an appropriate translation and useful annotations.


In Chapter 1 the author presents briefly the most important constellations and how the fixed stars are distributed.


In Chapter 2 are presented the 12 astrological signs and their characteristics like: short or long ascension, the influences on the weather, the countries and animals ruled, the letters attributed in the Hebrew alphabet, the planets dignities or degrees power (dark, medium, bright), the figures made by fixed stars which appear on the constellations, for example:


"In the first face [of Aries] ascends the figure of a radiant women [probably Andromeda] and the tail of the Sea-Fish that resembles a serpent [Cetus]",


the characteristics of the people born under those signs (separated by faces), for example:


"One born in the first face [of Taurus] will be short, with large eyes and thick lips, and he has a mark on his neck and another on his genitals. He is generous and his friend are many and he enjoys all kind of pleasure".


I observed that the author considers Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn signs changeable (cardinal) "because the time changes in it". This classification is an argument for the use of the tropical zodiac, because it keeps the relation with seasons which is not happening for the sidereal zodiac.

The chapter ends with some considerations about the nature of the fixed stars.


In Chapter 3 are presented the significations of the houses. Interestingly, is presented the system in which for every triplicity ruler (day, night and co-ruler) are assigned different matters specific for the house. For example: 


"The tenth house […]. The first ruler of the triplicity indicates the mother; the second indicates one’s rank; and the third indicates one’s profession".


The annotations made by Robert Hand presents the same system used by Alchabitius, which assigned for each triplicity ruler different attributes of the house.


In Chapter 4 are presented the planets from a traditional point of view. You can find their nature, the metals, animals, places on earth, plants, occupations, body parts, diseases they rule, the physical characteristics they give when oriental or occidental, the Firdar years.


Chapter 5 presents the situations when a planet is considered in a position of strength or weakness. Also, eleven ways which harm the Moon. These considerations can be found in many traditional astrology texts like The Abbreviation of the Introduction to Astrology.


Chapter 6 is similar with the former chapter but presents the powers of planets in respect with the Sun showing how the difference in degrees from the Sun’s position increases or decreases the planet’s force.


Chapter 7 presents 30 circumstances, based on aspects, in which a planet can be: application, conjunction, co-mixture, aspect, separation, solitary motion (void of course), feral, transfer of light, collection of light, return of light, conferring of influence, conferring of rulership, conferring of nature, conferring of two natures, directness, distortion, prevention, returning of good, returning of harmful, cancellation (refranation), the case of three planets in one sign, loss (frustration), deprivation of light, pleasantness, recompense, reception, generosity, similitude, besiegement, authority. 


Chapter 8 has 120 astrological aphorisms which are used mainly in horary. I give you two examples which are for general use: 


"27. Every planet, whether benefic or malefic, if it is in its domicile or domicile of exaltation, will always indicate good"

"108. When planets are in opposition aspect , they are like two people fiercely fighting with each other".


In Chapter 9 are presented 97 lots of the planets and houses. Those of you interested can find the computation formulas and some explanations for the most important ones. Also you can find there the lots which will tell the things that will become more expensive or cheap (water, wheat, barley, peas, beams, honey, cotton etc.).


In Chapter 10 are some rules for directions, but not the one we use nowadays.





Conclusion. It is a very similar book with Abu Ma’shar’s The Abbreviation of the Introduction to Astrology. It is a book which presents briefly many techniques used by the Arabs in that period.


I do not recommend the book for the people who just want to learn astrology because there are books written by modern astrologers which present and explain the same things. This book is for people who want to study astrology more profound.