The Narrative Mode of Horoscopic Interpretation
Timothy P. Grove, Biola University
Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness
29th Annual Conference
3 April 2009
“The Narrative Mode of Horoscopic Interpretation”
(Timothy P. Grove, Biola University)
Mediaeval astrological texts are replete with characterizations and similitudes of various kinds, which were used to describe and understand various astrological relationships. For example, when Saturn is posited in the last 20 degrees of Taurus, “he is an old man with feeble members, a ruined body, worn-out, sapped of strength, and wailing aloud about his misfortune,” (Albohazen Haly filii Abenragel libri de iudiciis astrorum, I.4). Passages like these present an attractive alternative to the aphoristic mode of horoscopic analysis according to abstract rules. Instead, many of the old writers employed what we may call the narrative mode, where the details of the horoscope are allowed to generate a kind of story. Here, the planets are personified as men and women interacting in various ways (friendly or unfriendly). These interactions and conflicts work themselves out in a complex and colorful environment which arises organically from the traditional descriptions of the signs of the zodiac and their subdivisions. Examples of this narrative material can be found in many of the early astrological texts, most notably Haly Abenragel (11th century), Abraham Ibn Ezra (12th century), William Lilly (17th century), and Chaucer’s astrological poem, “The Complaint of Mars.”
Four Modes of Horoscopic Interpretation
I. The Aphoristic Mode
A. Example: “If . . . [Saturn and Jupiter] . . . both are in aspect to the ascendant, this indicates infinite riches and great good fortune, especially if one of the two is also in aspect to the waxing moon.” (Firmicus Maternus, Mathesis VI.iii.2)
B. Most Hellenistic astrological manuals are collections of such aphorisms.
C. Developed from Babylonian omen texts.
II. The Descriptive Mode
A. Example: [Mercury in Pisces]: “the party Stutters, or is very slow of speech, of small Stature, pale Visage, sickly, careless; much Hair everywhere on his body, given to mirth, dancing, drunkenness.” (William Thrasher, Jubar Astrologicum, 1671, p. 53).
B. Common in Hellenistic and later sources.
III. The Arithmetic Mode
A. Planetary strengths (dignities and debilities) are analyzed using a point-system.
B. Developed by the Arabs, used by Renaissance-period European astrologers during the Renaissance.
IV. The Narrative Mode
A. The details of the horoscope are allowed to generate a kind of story.
B. Example: “In . . . [the last 20º of Taurus, Saturn] . . . is an old man with feeble members, a ruined body, worn-out, sapped of strength, and wailing aloud about his misfortune,” (Albohazen Haly filii Abenragel libri de iudiciis astrorum, I.4).
C. Components of the Narrative Mode
1. Personification of the Planets
2. Characterization of Planetary Relationships.
3. Description of Zodiacal Places, e.g. Scorpio: “Gardens, Orchards,
Vineyards, Ruinous Houses neer Waters; muddy, moorish Grounds, stinking Lakes, Quagmires, Sinks, the Kitchen or Larder, Wash-house” (William Lilly, Christian Astrology, 1647, p. 97).
D. Any horoscope could easily generate many pages of narrative material!
E. The Narrative Mode enables the astrologer to clearly visualize and
understand all sorts of astrological relationships and combinations.
F. Found in mediaeval and Renaissance texts (11th-17th centuries).
Geoffrey Chaucer’s astrological poem, “Complaint of Mars” (circa 1385), is a notable example.
[complete PowerPoint to be posted later]