Book Reviews

The Real Astrology by John Frawley (London: Apprentice Books, 2000)

Judgment: essential for beginners interested in traditional or medieval astrology and tired of modern astrology's fluffiness. Desirable for experienced students, especially if interested in debating the merits of modern vs. traditional approaches.

The Real Astrology is both a Martial and Jupiterian book: Martial, because it is a powerful and educated broadside against the most questionable beliefs of modern psychological astrology; but it is Jupiterian due to its constructive and educational contributions. Plus, it's often very funny.

Frawley is one of the leading public figures in recent efforts to explain and promote what he calls "real" astrology, i.e., the genuine tradition of systematic and predictive astrology practiced in the West until roughly 300 years ago. Since that time, "real" astrology has been whittled down, changed, parts ignored, and had new social and political agendas injected into it, so that it barely reflects its origins. Frawley hopes both to expose modern astrology's flaws and show the internal coherence, spirituality, and predictive ability of "real" astrology.

Frawley's "real" astrology (usually called "traditional") is more or less the Western tradition as interpreted and handed down by William Lilly (1602-1681). It is a later and more pared-down version of medieval astrology. And since Lilly is an acknowledged master of horary astrology, much traditional astrology is put in the context of horary. But to his credit, Frawley's presentation of traditional astrology includes chapters on electional, natal, mundane, and medical astrology, along with astrological meteorology and astrological magic.

The major strength of Frawley's book is his devastating combination of humor and exposing the flaws of modern psychological astrology. Modern astrology tends to be flattering, avoids speaking of evils or flaws, has a pollyannish view of freedom and self-transformation, and treats the natal figure as only reflecting the native's personal feelings. Frawley shows how real astrology, with its emphasis on concrete, objective thought and real events, can help us both understand our real lives and develop spiritual humility.

The Real Astrology is not a textbook. It uses traditional techniques to illustrate real astrology for people who have little knowledge of it. But Frawley's presentation is effective, entertaining, and educational. Schoener says that when Mars and Jupiter rule the mind of a native, they make someone good and wise in disputes: such is the nature of this book's message.

The Real Astrology Applied by John Frawley (London: Apprentice Books, 2002)

Judgment: Valuable for the student of medieval/traditional astrology, but too advanced for most beginners.

This book is a companion and sequel to John Frawley's popular The Real Astrology, which was both a general attack on modern psychological astrology and an introduction to traditional or "real" astrology, especially the astrology of William Lilly. This work is an edited compilation of previously-published articles and essays.

The chapters still exhibit Frawley's charming humor, but aim more at educating the reader on various concepts and techniques in traditional astrology. There are chapters on reception; one called "Let's Get This Straight," offering Frawley's take on issues like the Moon's Nodes and timing in horary astrology; a biographical chapter on Lilly; a major chapter on traditional meanings of the houses; and others.

The major strength of this volume is Frawley's devoted attention to issues which students of traditional and medieval astrology often have questions about and need to know -- students will appreciate his experience and approach to synastry, calculating temperament, the houses, and other interesting and vexed topics.

The two quibbles I have with this book are related problems shared by most treatments of "traditional" astrology: their reliance on Lilly leads them to neglect natal figures and rely almost exclusively on his (Lilly's) interpretations of issues. Most modern astrologers and their clients are used to natal astrology, and the ability to predict events from the natal figure is not only an impressive feature of genuine Western astrology but clear proof of its main claims to objectivity and reality. But since Lilly's book on nativities is sometimes hard to follow, has few example charts, and neglects certain medieval practices, most traditional astrologers like Frawley tend to favor horary. The result is that if you do not understand the myriad rules of horary, explanations of horary charts can go by too quickly, seem too slick, and natal interpretations are in danger of seeming boring because of their absence in comparison with the sexier, more numerous, and immediate horary question.

A related problem is Lilly's use of his predecessors. Usually he is a good reporter and interpreter of the tradition. But on some issues he does not represent the "real" astrology of his predecessors. An example is Frawley's use of Lilly's definition of reception. Frawley/Lilly understands reception as being in a sign or degree where another planet has dignity (e.g., Mars in Aquarius is "received" by Saturn because Saturn rules Aquarius). And Frawley has interesting and helpful things to say about how to interpret such a situation in a horary chart. But this is not the truly traditional definition of reception. Traditional reception usually required that (a) the two planets aspect each other, and that (b) reception had to be by domicile, exaltation, or two of the minor dignities. What Frawley is really describing is disposition, which is very important but not the same as reception. For example, if you are in my house while I am away, you are subject to my house, its rules, and what is in it. But I am not "receiving" you as a guest unless I recognize you or invite you. Aspects between the planets are like an invitation or recognition. That is different from you simply being there while I am gone (disposition). This is more than a merely academic point: if we are dealing with a mundane chart and the issue is whether or not there will be a war, true reception between key planets may avoid the war. But mere disposition will not.

Apart from these quibbles, The Real Astrology Applied is a valuable and interesting book.

The Beginning of Wisdom by Abraham Ibn Ezra, trans. Meira Epstein (ARHAT Publications, 1998)

Judgment: A good reference source for universal astrology, including information and aphorisms that are hard to find or otherwise not available.

Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089-1164 CE) was a medieval Jewish scholar who wrote (among many other things) a number of well-regarded astrological treatises. The Beginning of Wisdom is the second of a projected series of translations of Ibn Ezra by Meira Epstein.

Apart from the biblical reference in its title, this book forms a "beginning" because it is primarily devoted to universal astrology, i.e., basic principles of astrology relevant to all branches: signs, fixed stars, houses, planets, weaknesses and strengths of planets, the relationships of planets to each other, Arabic Parts, and a short section on mundane astrology. It does not contain any systematic treatment of horary, natal, or mundane astrology. It is therefore similar to Alchabitius's Introduction and Abu Ma'shar's Abbreviation of the Introduction, both of which were written in the same Arabic tradition. But Ibn Ezra goes beyond those other works by incorporating material that is useful for magical-spiritual practices as well as techniques in specialized fields. For instance, of interest is his exposition of the decans, their magical images and application in medical astrology and physiognomy (as it was handed down from antiquity).

But even more compelling is the lengthy chapter devoted to aphorisms for judgment. Although students of astrology (and especially medieval astrology) know that Mars and Saturn are malefic, or that retrogradation is not a good thing, it can be difficult to weigh these factors when trying to make a judgment on an actual chart. Medieval astrologers developed a number of vivid analogies, metaphors, and aids to help one do just that. Even more than Morinus, Ibn Ezra provides handy and thorough lists of what planets in the houses and in relation to each other really mean. For example, "A planet in the 6th house is like a weak man running." Or, "When Jupiter aspects the malefic, it changes its nature into benefit, yet Venus cannot change the nature of Saturn, except with the help of Jupiter. Therefore, Jupiter removes the harm of Saturn, and Venus removes the harm of Mars [even] more than Jupiter [does]." These sorts of comparisons and analogies are of great help when trying to figure out what a planet is actually capable of in a nativity or horary question.

I would recommend The Beginning of Wisdom as a good reference source that is handy and thorough, and often prevents one having to consult several sources to get clear guidance.

The Morinus System of Horoscope Interpretation [Astrologia Gallica Book 21] by J.B. Morin, trans. Richard S. Baldwin (Washington, D.C.: American Federation of Astrologers, Inc., 1974).

Astrologia Gallica Book Twenty-Two: Directions by J.B. Morin, trans. James H. Holden, 2nd ed. (Tempe, AZ: American Federation of Astrologers, Inc., 1994)

Astrologia Gallica Book Twenty Three: Revolutions by J.B. Morin, trans. James H. Holden, 2nd ed. (Tempe, AZ: American Federation of Astrologers, Inc., 2003)

Judgment: Book 21 is absolutely essential for traditional/medieval astrologers, and is recommended for beginners; Book 22 will probably be more of help to everyone due to its many tables of associations; Book 23 is a powerful source of guidance in technique for solar returns, and is more suitable for intermediate and more experienced astrologers.

If we had to rank the astrologers of history in terms of their known, individual contributions to technique and information, Jean-Baptiste Morin de Villefranche (1583-1656) would undoubtedly be in the top 5, joining Ptolemy, Abu Ma'shar, Bonatti, and William Lilly. It is a shame that few English-speakers study him, but fortunately individual books of his massive Astrologia Gallica are slowly being translated.

Long-winded and often preoccupied with defeating real and imagined foes through argument, Morin (Morinus) is admirably clear, concise, thorough and pedagogically helpful when explaining interpretive techniques. He clearly thought his work would be the end-all, be-all of astrology, and he was ironically correct: he produced his work at the end of the era of true, traditional astrology (which was all but dead by 1700), and he was able to synthesize the techniques and principles of the astrologers before him in an admirable way. But Morinus must also be approached with some caution. Any thinker who sees himself as Morinus did also feels totally free to accept and reject elements of received tradition. Morinus was a reformer, trying to bring a kind of rationality and symmetry to what he thought were confused areas of astrology, and in the process he cast away certain Greek and medieval elements that he disagreed with. In this sense he is like Ptolemy, another systematizer. Morinus rejects terms, decans, the Dorothean triplicity rulers (substituting his own), numerous minor dignities, and pretty much anything he thought was invented by Arabs. Still, in my view Morinus's work (or what we have of it in English) forms an essential part of the traditional/medieval astrologer's education.

Book 21 (Baldwin translation) is a lovely book that deserves careful rereading. Some of the material in the first 1/3 of the book will be unfamiliar to most readers because of its preoccupation with contemporary developments in astronomy. But the book has both a negative and positive argument. First, Morinus criticizes and often seems to ridicule the reliance on "universal" or "natural" significators in astrology. Universal significators are planets that are used to signify matters regardless of their placements or rulerships in a figure. For instance, the Sun is often taken to signify the father. Morinus agrees that the sun has a certain analogy with fathers, but criticizes the tendency to look to the sun first and foremost when delineating the father -- in this he is criticizing Ptolemy, and his criticism extends to modern psychological astrology as well. Instead, Morinus explains how to use rulerships and house location to go beyond universal significators. In the subsequent chapters Morinus shows, with a number of examples, how to judge the following: single planets in a house; multiple planets in a house; interpreting a house when its ruler is somewhere else; how to weigh the combinations of malefics and benefics in good or bad states (dignities and debilities) in the various types of houses; the various types of aspects, especially between the various types of planets. He is also very helpful when he repeats key phrases in multiple situations or gives multiple examples of the same principle. By doing this, he helps the student learn the sort of language and phrasing that aids in judging a chart. He follows up with short sections on synastry, debilities, and other matters. This book gives the technique and principles that allow a student to read someone like Lilly or Abu 'Ali and understand why they say what they do.

Book 22 is devoted to primary directions, an elite technique with an awe-inspiring reputation. Most systems of primary directions claim that they have the true version, and especially that they have decoded Ptolemy's controversial passages on them in the Tetrabiblos. Morinus uses the Regiomontanus system, which is less well-known than the Placidean (but more well-known than the so-called Alchabitius system of medieval times). Holden helpfully provides the tables and commentary on calculating them. In Book 22, Morinus often spends most of his time arguing against other astrologers and astrology skeptics, or answering possible objections and questions, although that has a value in itself. One learns, for instance, that skeptics of old actually studied astrology and knew its jargon; and after reading Book 21, one can instantly see where they go wrong before Morinus unleashes devastating arguments against them. Holden also includes a number of tables of planetary associations, passages on triplicities, transits, reception, and solar revolutions (among other things) in appendices.

Book 23 is another translation by Holden, this time of Morinus's work on solar and lunar returns (or "revolutions," to use the traditional term). This is a valuable addition to astrological technique. Some astrologers of old are content to provide a few examples and general advice, but Morinus provides dozens of delineated solar and lunar revolutions from his own and others' lives. Contrary to his usual verbose style, the delineations are extremely concise. This has its downside, because in a revolution one must really delineate two figures: the natal and the revolution -- and then compare them. There is a lot of delineation and technique behind Morinus's clipped discussions. Fortunately, Morinus then provides a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to delineating revolutions in the final chapters. These rules, combined with the rules in Book 21, pretty much give an astrologer all he or she needs to know about delineating revolutions!

All three of these books are valuable, and I recommend them all. Book 21 is highly recommended for all readers. Book 22 is valuable for its appendices and the Regiomontanus techniques (difficult though they are). Book 23 is recommended for students who have already digested Book 21 or know how to delineate a natal figure.

Temperament: Astrology's Forgotten Key by Dorian Gieseler Greenbaum (Bournemouth: The Wessex Astrologer, Ltd., 2005)

Judgment: Very valuable for traditional/medieval natal astrologers.

It is with great pleasure that I read and can recommend the long-awaited book by Dorian Gieseler Greenbaum, Temperament: Astrology's Forgotten Key. This book ought to rejuvenate the use of temperament in the astrological vocabulary and enhance traditional practice.

Traditionally, astrologers and doctors viewed health risks, bodily physiognomy, and personality as being closely related. A native's temperament lies somewhere between the physical characteristics of the body, and the personality. It relates to the level, style, and social expression of a native's bodily energy - which impacts outlook, behavior, and values.

Greenbaum's book would be valuable enough if she had merely provided the translations of rare astrological texts on temperament. But she goes much further. Even in terms of understanding traditional texts, she does the Art credit by relating post-temperamental views of personality back to the tradition - instead of trying to update it. For example, her discussion of Jung, while faithful to Jung, tries to show how it reflects traditional notions of temperament, instead of trying to make temperament more Jungian.

Traditional astrologers disagreed on whether and how to count certain features of a natal figure when computing temperament. Should we count both the Moon's phase and the sign it is in? Or one? Or both? Many contemporary astrologers who use traditional methods are familiar with William Lilly's method (from Christian Astrology Book III), but Lilly himself finds that his method does not quite work on the example he provides. Therefore he cautions students to be careful.

Lurking behind these practical difficulties are conceptual concerns. Should the subelemental characteristics of these features should be counted separately, or should the integrity of each be maintained? For example, suppose that the rising sign is hot and wet (Aquarius), the ruler is cold and dry (Saturn), and so on. If we add up all of the "hots," "wets," "colds," and "drys" separately, we could discover that "cold" and "wet" have the most points, but that only one of the features was actually cold and wet all by itself. Whereas if we counted everything already hot and dry as choleric, and cold and wet as sanguine, we could get a different result.

Fortunately, Greenbaum goes beyond these theoretical concerns and applies the temperament methods to the natal figures of several dozen children. In addition, she provides analysis as to how each feature should be weighted so as to yield the best results. The result is that she provides a new, weighted method that employs the best and most accurate of the traditional views. Returning to Lilly, she shows how her method correctly delineates the temperament that Lilly believed the native had, but could not prove astrologically.

If all of that were not enough, Greenbaum then provides insightful and lively descriptions of the temperaments, both individually and in every possible combination. Usually, one reads descriptions from traditional authors like the following: choleric people are irascible, violent, and so on - can one-fourth of people really be like this? Instead, Greenbaum catalogues what motivates the temperaments, how they relate to other people, what temperaments get along with one another, what excites them or bores them - even whimsical but informative information, like what position on the student council they would have run for. Every temperament and every combination is accompanied by a natal figure and biographical sketch highlighting the role of the temperament in the native's life. I do confess I don't understand why Greenbaum included the three outer planets in each figure, when they have no place in the temperaments - but that is a minor point.

Greenbaum's book is a wonderful new addition to the ever-growing list of translations and interpretive works on Hellenistic, Medieval, and Traditional astrology. Let us hope that greater numbers of students and practitioners reclaim temperament as an authentic fruit from the tree of Western astrology.

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