Exegesis Issue #10

Michael has also posted essays concerning Giordano Bruno and the Art of Memory on Joanna's Astrological Literature Web site. You can get there from the Exegesis page and it is well worth the visit, Bruno's "Images" are wonderfully evocative.


Return-Path: freedman@ihug.co.nz
Date: Wed, 24 Apr 1996 11:05:58 +1200
Subject: Exegesis - submission



by Michael Freedman, SG, DQS, MA [pprs Psychology], Dip.TMR, LMASNZ, FNZApS.

Introductory note: This essay has been prepared with such resources as I had to hand in our own library here at the Sanctuary in New Zealand. I would very much appreciate hearing of any necessary amendments from those who have access to the much larger resources in the northern hemispheres. Michael Freedman SG.



When astrologers examine a horoscope chart, they consider two main areas: (a) Where each planet is situated, described as the Dignity of the planets; (b) What the angular relationships are between each planet and each of the other planets, described as the Aspects of the planet.

The word "planet" throughout this paper includes not only the planets and asteroids circling the Sun, but also the Sun itself, the Moon and other points used by astrologers, such as Midheaven and Ascendant.

Although astrology has had more or less the same general shape during the past couple of thousand years, there has been a slow shift in emphasis from Dignity as the major factor in interpretation towards an increasing emphasis on the importance of Aspects.



The Babylonian astrologers, as astrological tablets from the 18th to the 16th centuries b.c.e. attest, paid no attention to any aspects except the conjunctions. [1] Nor does it seem that this attitude changed significantly over the next 1500 years among the astrologers of the Middle Eastern area. [2]

In this article, I will be briefly surveying how the attitude of astrologers towards Aspects has changed since the earliest systematic description of astrological theory and practice a little more than 1800 years ago by the Greek astrologer Claudius Ptolemy.



In around 160-170 c.e., Ptolemy set down the astronomical and astrological wisdom of the previous several centuries in his two books "The Almagest" [3] and "Tetrabiblos". [4]

The only aspects recognised by Ptolemy are now usually called the Major Aspects. Sometimes they are called the Ptolemaic aspects. There are four Ptolemaic aspects as well as the Conjunction: Sextile, Square, Trine, Opposition. It is important to understand that ancient astrologers thought about aspects in a very different way from the astrologers of later centuries. Nowadays, aspects are measured by the number of Degrees between two planets. Ancient astrologers measured them by the number of Signs of the Zodiac they were apart.

When Ptolemy discusses aspects in Book I of Tetrabiblos, he does not talk about aspects between planets, but about aspects between the Signs of the Zodiac. Ptolemy begins his discussion of the Aspects with these words:

"Of the parts of the Zodiac, those first are akin or familiar one to another which are in aspect. There are those which are in Opposition, enclosing two right angles, six signs and 180 degrees; those which are in trine, enclosing one and one third right angles, four signs, and 120 degrees; those which are said to be in Quartile (Square), enclosing one right angle, three signs and 90 degrees; and finally those that are in Sextile, enclosing two-thirds of a right angle, two signs, and 60 degrees."

Ptolemy justifies his use of only these particular aspects in terms of terms of the Pythagorean description of the intervals in the modes of Greek music. Although Ptolemy does not include the Conjunction among the aspects in his formal definitions, he treats it, along with the sextile and trine, as a harmonious aspect elsewhere in the Tetrabiblos. For example, in Book III.4 of the Tetrabiblos, Concerning Parents, Ptolemy says : "With regard to the length or shortness of life: In the father's case, if Jupiter or Venus is in any aspect to the Sun and to Saturn, or if Saturn is in a harmonious aspect, either conjunction, sextile or trine, both being in power, we must conjecture long life for the father."

To summarise, the ancient aspects were between Signs not between planets. If planets were in aspect, it was because they were in particular Signs, not because of how many degrees apart they were. The result was that virtually every planet was in aspect to all the other planets.

The only exceptions were if two planets were one or five Signs apart; in modern terms, 30 degrees. or 150 degrees. apart. Then they were said "not to face one another", or they were described as being "not connected" or "alien".

The Greek word Asunsetos and the Latin word Inconjunctus, refer to both the 30-degree Semisextile and the 150-degree Quincunx. Both words literally mean "not connected". The Latin word Inconjunctus is the modern word Inconjunct, commonly applied to the Quincunx, but also applicable to the Semisextile.


Over the 1500 years following Ptolemy, astrologers gradually shifted from measuring the angular relationships or aspects between planets by Signs to measuring them by the number of degrees of the circle between them. In the 8th century, the Arab astrologer Masha'allah [5] is still using Signs as the measure for aspects. In his commentary on the horoscope for the Year of the Deluge, Masha'allah refers to a sextile from the Sun to Jupiter; but the Sun is in Aries 00:01 and Jupiter is in Gemini 14:36. The planets are 74:35 degrees apart, an extraordinarily wide orb for the 60-degree Sextile, unless you are measuring by Signs rather than by degrees. Orbs for aspects were not necessary as long as aspects were measured by how many Signs apart planets were situated. None of the ancient astrologers, including Ptolemy, make any references to orbs.

In the middle of the 12th century, the Jewish philosopher Abraham ibn Ezra wrote an astrological treatise "The Beginning of Wisdom" [6] which was translated into both Latin and medieval French. Abraham ibn Ezra measures aspects by the number of degrees which separate them, but he does not count an aspect unless the planets concerned are also in signs of the Zodiac which are in aspect.

By around the year 1300, Guido Bonati [7] is referring to aspects most often in terms of Signs, but he does make some reference to them in terms of degrees. Bonati also refers to orbs. For example, to be in the same Sign as another planet is to be conjunct, but if a planet is within 15 degrees before or after the Sun, it is combust. Another example: "The 5th [way in which the Moon is ill-affected] is when she is the Dragon's Head or with the Dragon's Tail, that is, within 12 degrees of either of them.


Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), the world famous astronomer and astrologer who first discovered the nature of the orbits of the planets around the Sun in the solar system, suggested the use of many more than just the Ptolemaic aspects. [8] Kepler clearly thinks of aspects in terms of how many Degrees apart the planets are, not how many Signs they are apart. Some of the aspects that Kepler suggested were formed simply by subdividing the major aspects, for example, the semisquare and the Semisextile. Kepler also recommended the use of aspects formed by dividing the circle by five and its multiples.

It was not long before most astrologers adopted Kepler's recommendations concerning the Semisextile, Quincunx, and the Sesquisquare; but it was a long time before astrologers paid more than passing attention to the Quintile series of aspects.

When the Signs in which the planets are situated determine whether planets are in aspect to one another, if Jupiter is in Gemini and Saturn is in Virgo, then Jupiter is square Saturn, regardless of whether the actual angle is as small as 61 degrees or as large 119 degrees. However, when what is important in deciding whether two planets are square to each other is how close to 90 degrees they are and not whether they are three signs apart, the orbs become important. It should be noted that, at first, orbs varied according to which planets were involved and not according to which aspect was involved. The orb of a planet was thought of as being like a sheath within which the planet travelled.

By the mid-17th century, it is clear that astrologers are consistently measuring aspects in terms of degrees and have developed a system of orbs. In 1647, William Lilley [9] was recommending the following orbs:

SUN15 degrees
MOON12 degrees
MERCURY 7 degrees
VENUS7 degrees
MARS7 degrees
JUPITER9 degrees
SATURN9 degrees
CUSPS5 degrees

When two planets had different orbs, Lilley used half the sum of their orbs. It is interesting to notice that Lilley regarded the Parallel of Declination as the most powerful and important of all the aspects. By the time Lilley wrote his influential books, astrologers were beginning to look at more than just the Ptolemaic or major aspects. Certainly, what are now called the minor aspects [30,45,135,150 degrees] were used by most astrologers after the 17th century.


In his late 19th century Textbook of Astrology [1879], A.J. Pearce [10] says there are 18 aspects. Pearce defines the aspects by both their size in degrees and in terms of how many signs apart. Pearce sets out the following aspects:

"Major aspects are conjunction, parallel of declination, mundane parallel, rapt parallel, sextile, square, trine and opposition. Minor aspects are Vigintile (18), Quindecile (24), Semisextile (30), Decile (36), Semiquartile (45), Quintile (72), Tredecile (108), Sesquiquadrate (135), Biquintile (144) and Quadrasextile (150)."

Although Pearce lists 18 aspects at the beginning of his book and defines whether each is favourable or unfavourable, elsewhere in his book when interpreting charts, he uses only the Major Aspects and the Parallel of Declination. He never uses Minor aspects in his interpretations.

James Wilson refers to six Major aspects in The Dictionary of Astrology [11], published in 1880. hE prefers to use the term "Familiarities" rather than "Aspects". The sixth Major Aspect is the "antiscion or zodiacal parallel". He lists the same ten Minor aspects as Pearce. Wilson discusses the Kepler aspects, but disagrees with Kepler's assessment of their importance. He does not follow the ancient tradition that the conjunction is favourable, but says that the nature of a conjunction depends on the nature of the planets involved. Elsewhere in the Dictionary, he discusses only the effects of Major Aspects and does not interpret parallels. Pearce's Textbook makes no reference to orbs, but Wilson's Dictionary still treats orbs as relating to planets rather than to aspects. His orbs are as wide or even wider than those used by William Lilley 230 years before. The orbs assigned to the planets by Wilson are:

SUN17 degrees
MOON12 degrees
MERCURY 7 degrees
VENUS8 degrees
MARS7 degrees
JUPITER12 degrees
SATURN8 degrees
FIXED STARS1 1/2 to 7 1/2 degrees according to magnitude

No orbs are assigned to the CUSPS, which indicates that somewhen between the time of Lilley and the end of the 19th century, astrologers had begun to think of planets in houses, that is, connected to the cusp that they follow, rather than to the cusp to which they are nearest [as in Hindu astrology, for example]. Lilley assigned an orb of 5 degrees to cusps. Hindu astrology, by placing the house boundaries midway between the cusps effectively assigns an orb of 15 degrees [assuming the Equal House cusp system].

Until 1900, astrology was still effectively in the Middle Ages. Kepler had had some influence and other great astrologers, such as Placidus, had played considerable roles in developing the craft. Nevertheless, to read even such recent astrological books as those by Wilson and Pearce is to move out of the modern world back into ancient astrology.



Two people are largely responsible for modernising astrology and giving it the shape it has in the second half of the 20th century: Alan Leo (1860- 1917) and C.E.O. Carter (1887-1968). This is not to overlook the valuable work done by various astrologers of specialist schools of thought, but the astrology of Leo and Carter is essentially that of the vast majority of conventional or mainline astrologers today.


In 1901, Alan Leo [11] lists the ten aspects which he uses: Conjunction; Semisextile; Semisquare; Sextile; Square; Trine; Sesquiquadrate; Quincunx; Opposition; and the parallel. This list of aspects is one with which many late 20th century astrologers would feel reasonably comfortable.

Even though modern astrologers would modify the language used by Leo when interpreting aspects, the general ideas are much the same as used today. Leo comments on the Kepler Five-series of aspects: "The following minor aspects are taken into account by some astrologers, but in reality their influence, if they have any, is so slight as to be negligible: Semidecile (18); Decile (36); Quintile (72); Biquintile (144); those who pay attention to them believe them to be slightly good. Ancient astrologers ignored them, and the modern astrologers may safely do the same."

Leo's system of orbs combines both ancient and modern elements. Although, for the first time in any astrological textbook, orbs are related to the aspects rather that to the planets, the orbs of the Conjunction and Opposition are modified according to which planets are involved in the aspect:

Conjunction and Opposition: Sun/Moon 12 degrees. orb Luminary/planet 10 degrees. Between two planets 8 degrees. Planet/cusp 5 degrees.

Square & Trine (regardless of planets involved) 8 degrees. Sextile 7 degrees. Semisquare; Sesquiquadrate 4 degrees. Semisextile; Quincunx 2 degrees. Parallel of Declination 1 degree.

These are, by current standards very wide orbs, but they are narrower that those recommended by Pearce and Wilson only a couple of decades before Alan Leo published his books. A principal development of astrological practice during the 20th century has been the narrowing of the orbs used by astrologers.


Most of Charles Carter's astrological textbooks [13] were written in the 1920s and revised many times over the succeeding decades. Most are still in print and all are still worth studying. His approach to aspects is even closer to late 20th century practice than that of Leo.

Carter says "Dividing the 360 Degrees of the Zodiac by 2,4 or 8, we obtain the so-called malefic, obstructive, disruptive aspects; dividing them by 3,6 or 12 we obtain the so-called benefic, harmonious or facilitative aspects ... For a conjunction or opposition, 9 degrees (orb) can be allowed; for trine or square, 8 degrees; for a sextile, 7 degrees; for a semisquare or sesquisquare, 4 degrees; for a semisextile or quincunx, about 1 degree... The opposition is regarded as not necessarily evil, but as indicating two complementary forces which can be harmonised."

Of the Quintile series of aspects, Carter says: "The aspects derived from five, which are the quintile and its cognates, are considered to be weakly benefic. I as not sure that their value is not greater that generally supposed, but they may not be obvious in the effects. Five symbolises man as the potential master of Nature and natural forces."

Carter became the President of the Astrological Lodge of London [now The Astrological Association of Great Britain] in 1922 and later Principal of the Faculty of Astrological Studies. Most contemporary English astrologers have been trained by either Carter himself, his immediate successor Margaret Hone, or their pupils. Carter throughout his career used the five Major Aspects and four Minor Aspects of conventional modern astrology.



During the second half of the 20th century, there has been a huge upsurge in public interest in astrology and a large increase of practising professional astrologers and astrological research workers. By the 1980s, a wide range of astrological schools had come into being. I will look at only three of them in this article.

(a) Cosmobiology, developed by Reinhold Ebertin in Germany [14, 15];
(b) Robert Hand, as a typical representative of mainline astrological practice in the United States [16];
(c) Harmonic Astrology developed by John Addey in England. [17]


There are three distinctive features in the astrology of Cosmobiology.

  1. It does not use house;
  2. It uses Midpoints extensively;
  3. It pays more attention to "hard" Aspects (those obtained by dividing the circle by 2,4 or 8) than it does "soft aspects (those obtained by dividing by 3,6 or 12).

Although Ebertin did not reject the influence of Sign position on the planets as vigorously as he did the influence of the Houses, the various Cosmobiology texts pay vastly more attention to Midpoints and aspects than they do to the influence of the Signs of the Zodiac on the planets.

Cosmobiologists seem to think of midpoints as having some intrinsic existence in themselves, rather than like a node. They do not only interpret the planetary picture formed by three when one is on the midpoint of the other, they also interpret any aspects formed by other planets to a midpoint. The concept of interpreting the planetary picture formed when a planet falls on the midpoint of two other planets is fairly straightforward. It is a way to investigate the relationship between three planets, whereas ordinary aspects normally only point to a relationship between two planets.

It is not easy to find a theoretical basis for using aspects to Midpoints, without granting Midpoints some kind of existence in themselves, independently of the planets which form them. This is not to reject the use of aspects to Midpoints, merely to point out the theoretical implications of using them. Later, we shall see that Midpoints might be significant, not only in themselves, but as pointers to special aspect relationships between the three planets involved.

The basic concepts best known through Cosmobiology were earlier used by the Uranian school of astrology developed by Alfred Witte. In both schools the principal emphasis is on Midpoints and hard Aspects.

Modern Mainline Astrology - Robert Hand

Robert Hand is representative of modern mainline conventional astrology. He works in the United States. Here is the system of aspects and orbs recommended by Hand in Horoscope Symbols, published in 1981:

Conjunction 5 degrees
Opposition 5 degrees
Trine 5 degrees
Square 5 degrees
Sextile 3 degrees
Semisquare 1.5 degrees
Sesquisquare 1.5 degrees
Semisextile 1.5 degrees
Quincunx 1.5 degrees
Quintile 1.5 degrees
Biquintile 1.5 degrees
22.5 degrees multiples,
not covered by above
1.5 degrees
All others 1 degree or less

There are a couple of things to be noticed about Hand's list:

(a) The aspects include not only the Ptolemaic Major Aspects and the four conventional Minor Aspects, but also two of the Quintile aspects recommended by Kepler. It also makes provision for "other aspects", whatever astrologers might like to use. Here. apparently, there is no limit to how many aspects an astrologer might decide to use.

(b) The orbs recommended are very narrow, perhaps narrower than most conventional astrologers would use. They are extraordinarily tight when compared with the 17 Degree orbs recommended by James Wilson just over a hundred years ago.

Hand acknowledges the influence of Harmonic Astrology on his orb and aspect thinking. So does Martin Seymour-Smith, an English astrologer whose outstanding textbook, the New Astrologer, was published in the same year (1981) as Robert Hand's Horoscope Symbols.

Seymour-Smith adopts even narrower orbs that Robert Hand. He also sets out interpretative comments on all the aspects generated by dividing the circle by any number between 1 and 13, a much wider range of aspects than ever was thought of before the second half of the 20th century, even by Kepler. Like Hand, Seymour-Smith acknowledges the considerable influences of research by J.H. Nelson [18] into the effect of planetary aspects on radio transmission, as well as the influence of John Addey's Harmonic Astrology. There is no room to go into Nelson's research, except to note that it supports the use of both hard and soft aspects.

In the widely accepted astrological system of Robert Hand and recently published texts such as that by Seymour-Smith, we begin to see the end towards which astrology has been moving during the past 2000 years.


The Harmonic Astrology of John Addey, which can be said to have begun in 1958, [19] almost gets there. I believe that, quite accidentally, it has gone off on a side-track, which I have discussed in another paper.

John Addey began with a very important premise, that every planet is in aspect to every other planet. The technique of Harmonic Charts that he developed was a way of examining as many as feasible of those aspects, without the intensely laborious mathematical calculations by hand otherwise required in an era before hand-held scientific programmable calculators and desktop computers became the everyday tools of most professional astrologers.

A harmonic is the number by which the zodiac circle is divided to get a particular aspect. Oppositions are 2nd Harmonic aspects, because 360 degrees divided by 2 is 180 degrees. A semisquare, 45 degrees, is a member of the 8th Harmonic Series, because 360/8 = 45. A sesquisquare [135 degrees, i.e., 3 times 45 degrees, or 3/8ths of the circle] is also in the 8th Harmonic Series.

Note that a Square, for example, is in the 4th Harmonic Series; and it is also in the 8th [2/8]; the 12th [3/12]; the 16th [4/16]; the 20th [5/20] Harmonic Series, and so on.

By using the methods described by John Addey to draw up a 5th Harmonic Chart, and looking at the Conjunctions in that chart, astrologers could see, at a glance, all the quintiles and biquintiles in a chart. Furthermore, all the deciles and tredeciles would appear as oppositions, while other multiples of 5th Harmonic Aspect series, 24 or 18 degrees aspects, etc., would appear as trines or squares, and so on for any harmonic.

Soon, Harmonic Astrologers with their bulging files of Harmonic Charts, became a common feature of astrological get-togethers. I am in no way critical of the work of John Addey, nor of the immense amount of valuable hands-on astrological investigation done by those who follow his method.

John Addey also made another important contribution. As he began to uncover all sorts of aspects that had never before been looked at by astrologers, he was confronted with the problem of how to interpret these "new" aspects.

He decided, in order to 'get a handle' on aspects never before examined that he would use the traditional number symbolism of Western esotericism. If he had stayed there, this might have been a poor solution, but having got his handle, he and his followers over the past 40 years have proceeded to observe aspects in hundreds of charts and verify, modify and extend the original premise for each harmonic aspect series. The work done by Harmonic Astrologers has been very valuable and, with the work of the Cosmobiologists on Midpoints, points the way to the future of astrology, I believe.



Ancient astrology considered only aspects between Signs of the Zodiac and only those aspects which could be fitted to the notes of the Greek musical modes, for astrology had been influenced by the Pythagorean esoteric theory of the universe being based on number and harmony. As time went by and Pythagorean influences faded, astrologers began to pay more regard to the actual angles themselves and how they related to the 360-degree circle.

By the beginning of the 17th century, astrologers were using all those aspects derived from dividing the circle by Twelve. In Harmonic terms, astrologers were using only the aspects of the 12th harmonic [conjunction 12/12ths; opposition 6/12ths, etc.].

The effect of Kepler's ideas, published early in the 17th century, was to add those aspects which were derived from dividing the circle by eight (the 8th Harmonic); and, later, those aspects derived from division of 360 degrees by fives (the 5th Harmonic).

From 1958, John Addey and an increasing number of his students were doing research into all kinds of harmonics, and the resultant relationships between planets, considering them in pairs.

Meanwhile, the use of Midpoints as developed by Witte and Ebertin had provided a ready means for astrologers to assess the nature of the relationships of the planets considered three at a time.

By 1981, Martin Seymour-Smith in The New Astrologer was able to provide interpretative comments on all series of Aspects from the first (conjunction) to the 13th. Altogether, there are 30 aspects included within the first 13 series. This is a considerable advance on the five used by Ptolemy.

If you use the first 36 series of aspects, as I sometimes do, then there are a total of 216 aspects. At this level of the use of Aspects, every planet is always in aspect to every other planet. As near as I can judge, the point at which there are no more gaps, that is, where every planet is in aspect to every other planet, is probably when you start examining all the aspects series out to the 18th Harmonic.

The result of such a huge increase in the amount and diversity of material available for analysis and interpretation is either to confuse the astrologer hopelessly or to force on him or her the need to develop new methods of discovering what are important, significant patterns within the horoscope.

The thrust of my own research for the past ten years has been into ways of effectively assessing the comparative strengths of aspects, planets, cusps and signs. Combined with the use of a full range of harmonic aspects, it does seem possible to uncover the significant patterns in any astrological chart, both the obvious or surface patterns, such as are shown by the 12th and 8th Harmonic aspects (the Major and Minor Aspects of conventional astrology), and the often very powerful underlying patterns which can affect an individual or situation, such as are shown by other Harmonic Aspects.

At this point in this paper, I can be said to have completed my historical survey. In other paper, called Harmonic Aspects and Behaviour Chains, I point to a way for the future that, in my opinion, will enable astrology to progress towards ever more accurate and richer interpretations of astrological charts, whether for individuals or events.



[1] From the Omens of Babylon: Astrology in Ancient Mesopotamia, Michael Baigent, Penguin Arkana, 1994, gives an excellent and detailed discussion of the most ancient era of astrology.

[2] Encyclopedia Brittanica [1976, Volume 2, pp.219-223] article, Astrology has a brief and reasonably accurate outline of the history of astrology generally.

[3] Almagest, Mathematical Composition, or The Great Astronomer, Claudius Ptolemy, trs. R. Catesby Taliaferro, Enc. Britt, 1948.

[4] Tetrabiblos, A Mathematical Treatise in Four Books, Claudius Ptolemy, trs. F. E. Robbins, Harvard University Press, 1948.

[5] The Astrological History of Masha'allah, Trs. E. S. Kennedy and David Pingree, Harvard University Press.

[6] The Beginning of Wisdom, An Astrological Treatise by Abraham ibn Ezra, An edition of the Old French version of 1273 and an English translation of the Hebrew original, Raphael Levy, University of Baltimore, 1939; bound together with: The Beginning of Wisdom, An Astrological Treatise by Abraham ibn Ezra, An edition of the Hebrew original of 1148, Francisco, Cantera, University of Madrid.

[7] Anima Astrologiae [The Astrologer's Guide], Bonati, Guido (c.1300). Trs. H.Coley; edited by W.Lilley, 1675 (reprinted), American Federation of Astrologers, 1970.

[8] Kepler is discussed in detail in all histories of astronomy and astrology, e.g., The Copernican Revolution, T. S. Kuhn (1959)

[9] Introduction to Astrology, William Lilley [1647], Newcastle, 1972

[10] The Textbook of Astrology (1879), A. J. Pearce, American Federation of Astrologers, 1970 (2nd edITION)

[11] Dictionary of Astrology [1880], J. Wilson, Samuel Weiser, 1978

[12] Astrology for All - Part I (How to Judge a Nativity, Alan Leo, 1901.

[13] The Astrological Aspects, C.E.O. Carter, 1930.

[14] Applied Cosmobiology, Reinhold Ebertin, 1972.

[15] The Combination of Stellar Influences, Ebertin, 1935-72.

[16] Horoscope Symbols, Robert Hand, Para Research, 1981

[17] Harmonics in Astrology, John Addey

[18] Cosmic Patterns, J. H. Nelson, 1974.

[19] Article by Addey in: Harmonic Anthology, compiled by John Addey, 1976.

[20] Harmonic Charts: A New Dimension in Astrology, David Hamblin, [1983]

Copyright © 1989, 1996 Michael Freedman.


Unless otherwise indicated, articles and submissions above are copyright © 1996 their respective authors.

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