Book review: Astrological Roots: the Hellenistic Legacy


Joseph 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).” 

Chapter 2: Astrology’s Planets

In the first part, the author describes quickly the planets Saturn, Mars, Jupiter and Venus in an original manner, but keeping the line of traditional astrology. Then, he shows how the ancients used the planets to determine the occupation, the body attributes, the character and quality of soul. The techniques presented are interesting, unusual in modern astrology: for the occupation ancient astrologers selected one planet between Mercury, Venus and Mars, for the body they looked at the position of the Ascendant and the Moon, for the soul they analyzed the position of Moon and Mercury.

In Chapter 3. Kinship of Planets and the Zodiac Joseph Crane presents the planet’s system of rulership and exaltation, triplicities, bounds, decanic faces and dodekatamoria. One can find here tables and examples for every technique.

Chapter 4. Triplicities

The author shows the important place that the system of triplicities have played in ancient astrology. Triplicities is a system of dispositors based on sect, as you can see in this table with the triplicity lords:

 Triplicity Day Night Participating
Aries, Leo and Sagittarius Sun Jupiter Saturn
Gemini, Libra and Aquarius Saturn Mercury Jupiter
Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn Venus Moon Mars
Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces Venus Mars Moon

To judge a question about love, for example, an ancient astrologer, would look at the position of Venus and her triplicity lords. The first one (day in a diurnal chart, night in a nocturnal chart) would tell about the first period of life, the second one about the middle years and the participating one about the latter years. The importance of triplicities in Hellenistic astrology is expressed by Dorotheus of Sidon:

“I tell you that everything which is decided or indicated is from the lords of the triplicities, and as for everything of afflictions and distress which reaches the people of the world and the totality of men, the lords of the triplicity decide it.”

Crane gives many examples about how to work with triplicities using the charts of Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, Tony Blair, Muhammad Ali, Eva Peron, Amy Fisher, Woody Allen, Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Sade.

Chapter 5. Planetary Lords and Determination of the Soul

In this chapter the author explains what an oikodespotes (Hellenistic astrology term) and an almuten (medieval astrology term) mean. Both represent the planet which has more power in a certain part of the zodiac, power measured using not only the ruler, but all the dignities: rulership, triplicity, bound, face. For example, at 2 degrees in Libra in a daytime chart, the lord of the house, Venus, is surpassed by Saturn which is the lord of exaltation, triplicity and bound, so become the almuten. Then, Joseph Crane writes about the determination of the soul in ancient astrology, which was realized by analyzing the oikodespotes of the Moon and Mercury. He gives some detailed examples for this technique using the charts of Wolfgang Mozart, Sigmund Freud, John McCain, Emily Dickinson, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Jerry Garcia, Carl G. Jung.

Chapter 6. The Hellenistic Lots

The author writes from the beginning that “I have found that using lots greatly enhances our understanding of the natal chart” and presents the most important formulas for Hellenistic lots:

Lot Daytime chart Night-time chart
Lot of Fortune Asc + Moon – Sun Asc + Sun – Moon
Lot of Spirit Asc + Sun – Moon Asc + Moon – Sun
Lot of Eros Asc + Venus – Lot of Spirit Asc + Lot of Spirit – Venus
Lot of Victory Asc + Jupiter – Lot of Spirit Asc + Lot of Spirit – Jupiter
Lot of Courage Asc + Lot of Fortune – Mars Asc + Mars – Lot of Fortune
Lot of Nemesis Asc + Lot of Fortune – Saturn Asc + Saturn – Lot of Fortune
Lot of Necessity Asc + Lot of Fortune – Mercury Asc + Mercury – Lot of Fortune

The most important lots are the Lot of Fortune and Lot of Spirit. The difference between them is that the Lot of Fortune:

“pertains to the natural flow of events in our lives. […] It describes the influence of the world on us, not of ourselves on our world.”

while the Lot of Spirit:

“describes the change that occurs because of our intention. […] If the Lot of Fortune describes our overall health, the Lot of Spirit describes how we try to keep our bodies healthy. The Lot of Spirit is a place of will more than circumstance.”

So, the Lot of Fortune is more about luck and events that appear independent from our desire while the Lot of Spirit represents what you consciously want, objectives we want to achieve and for which we struggle. Then, the author gives some practical examples with famous people charts. In the analyze he uses another unusual technique for modern astrology, casting houses not only from the Ascendant, but also from lots and planets. Hellenistic astrologers cast houses for planets to gather information for the specific area governed by that planet, for example, Venus for love. Unfortunately, the interpretation becomes too complex, even fuzzy because we have too many possibilities. For example, Venus is in the 6th house from the Ascendant, which is bad, but, in the same time, is in the 10th from the Lot of Fortune which enhances her position. I think this kind of judgment can become dangerous for an accurate interpretation.

Chapter 7. The Twelve Places

This chapter starts with a lesson of etymology where Crane explains why he chose to replace the word house with place and sign with zoidia. Then he presents the house system used in Hellenistic astrology, Whole Sign Houses system, the best in his opinion. Also you’ll find some brief descriptions for each house, the planetary joys and, in the final, an interesting commentary about religion, spirituality and their relation with the 3th and 9th houses.

Chapter 8. Aspects and other Connections

In Hellenistic astrology were used aspects from sign to sign, not dissociated aspects. Also, they were using only the big aspects (trine, square, opposition and sextile), not new aspects like semi-sextile or quincunx. It was more simple and more clear for the astrologer, although near those simple rules they had few other concepts like spear bearer, looking ahead, hurling rays, signs which equally ascend or signs of equal power. Other things good to remember about aspects are that the nature of the planet involved (malefic, benefic) is more important than the nature of the aspect (trine, square etc.) and the planet that looks ahead in an aspect (example, from Virgo to Sagittarius) has superiority over the planet that casts rays back. All this is explained in a piece of simple, natural astrology lesson.

In Chapter 9. The Planets and when You See Them the author analyzes the Moon phases in relation with the visual evolution of the Moon on the sky. In the same manner are explained the planets relations with the Sun and other concepts specific for Hellenistic astrology like morning riser planet, morning setting planet, evening rising planet or evening setting planet.

In Chapter 10. Representing Love and Parents the author analyzes significators for love (Moon, Venus, Sun, lots) and parents (Moon, Sun, house 4, lots) using the charts of Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, Marilyn Monroe, Elisabeth Taylor, Chelsea Clinton, Prince Charles. I think it is obvious which charts are used for love and which for parents. But, again, like in Chapter 6, it seems to be too many lots and the reader may become confused. Joseph Crane finds a Hellenistic lot that explains love in one chart, another lot that explains love in another chart, etc., but, the question is: can the same lot explain love in every chart or he uses only the one who fits with the specific chart?

In Chapter 11. The Non-Wandering Stars are presented shortly the most important fixed stars in astrology: Aldebaran, Castor, Pollux, Regulus, Zosma, Denebola, Spica, Zuben Elgenubi, Zuben Eschalami, Antares, Rukbat, Capella, Deneb Adige, Algol, Wega, Alpheratz, Alphecca, Arcturus, Altair, Procyon, Betelgeuse, Alnilam, Rigel, Alphard, Sirius, Fomalhaut, Canopus, Achernar and Rigil Kentaurus (Toliman). Then, the author explains how we can determine their influence in natal chart using ecliptical positions, parallels of declination and paranatella.

In Chapter 12. Transits and Profections one can find how ancient astrologers made predictions using both transits and profections. Actually, this unusual technique, profections, is the main instrument while transit is a secondary one. The procedure is pretty simple: the Ascendant, MC and the planets are advanced with one zodiacal sign in every year, thus, in the first year of life all the planets keep their natal positions, in the second year move with one sign forward (example, the planets in Virgo will move to Libra) and so on. The author writes that he has very good results with this technique.

In Chapter 13. Planetary Time Lords System the author explains how to compute time lord systems or chronocrators like decennials, quarters and zodiacal releasing. These systems were used to predict events and trends within a person’s life by associating a planet for each time division. Decennials are presented extensively in this chapter.

In Chapter 14. Ascensions and Directions are presented other predictive techniques like secondary progressions, solar arc directions, ascensions, circumambulations and a formula used to compute the lenght of life.


Conclusion. Announced by Joseph Crane’s first book A Practical Guide to Traditional Astrology (1997), Astrological Roots: The Hellenistic Legacy (2007) it is the fundamental book of traditional astrology that we have nowadays. Warned by the fact that the author is the co-founder of the Astrological Institute, one realize quickly, from the first pages, that the book can be associated easily with a school textbook. Written clear, methodical, the book is easy to understand, has well organized chapters, explains in detail every concept and exemplifies often using famous people charts. It succeeds to keep the attribute “practical” from his first book.

As you can understand from the book title, the author tries to give us an accurate image about the first complete astrological system, the Hellenistic one, and comes in front of us with a whole bunch of unusual, strange techniques like triplicities, oikodespotes, Hellenistic lots, planets which determine the soul, body, love, hurling rays and looking back concepts, dodekatamoria, decennials etc. I can’t guarantee that all the techniques presented here are working well, neither the author does, but, good or bad techniques, working or not working, you’ll find in this book the methods and interpretations as they were in the original writings of Hellenistic astrology. In my opinion, the reality is that if we want to fully understand and develop astrology we must understand how she was at the beginning. Then, we can build more appropriate theories and efficient techniques, but only if we have the foundation which is Hellenistic astrology, the first assembled system of astrology. This book gives us a big help in this matter. My evaluation is 9,3.