I’m just about done with Chris Brennan’s Hellenistic Astrology (Amazon), his magisterial summation of all the major techniques that we know today from ancient astrological material that’s recently been translated. Brennan worked on Project Hindsight, an effort to translate most of the major first and second century Greco-Roman astrologers for astrologers (as opposed to for classicists and historians). And then Chris wrote this book, in part so those of us who are interested in astrology don’t have to read primary sources to get to the technique.
Which is where I am now. I have no real desire to read a lot of classical writers in their entirety to learn astrology, though I do think it’s important to scaffold what I know, and to build some frameworks around my knowledge. I’m already doing that with William Lilly, and with Picatrix. I am interested in picking up some additional techniques for my own practice.
The last few chapters of this book are about two techniques related to timing. These are known as kronokrator or “time-lord” techniques, and they’re designed to take the birth chart of a person, and subdivide it in various ways to determine how fate plays out over time.
Lord of the Year
One of the techniques is called Annual Profections. In this technique, the planet ruling the Ascendant is called the Lord of the Ascendant. This planet rules the year between the moment of birth and the first birthday. A second planet rules the era that begins at the Second House, namely, that planet is lord of the period of the second year of the person’s life; the time between first and second birthday. This pattern returns around the signs until it reaches the Ascendant again, when the first planet takes over again as the Lord of the Year.
In this way, the native’s life is divided up into twelve year-long compartments. In one year, the themes of family may dominate; in another, questions of sex or friendship may rise to the surface; in still others, a relationship may be the principal preoccupation. Chris cites an Indian astrological proverb, to the effect that what the planets promise in the natal chart, they deliver in the years when they act as Lord of the Year. Transits of that planet, to that planet, and other planets’ aspects with that planet all become more significant in those years.
Initially, I’ve had some luck analyzing my own chart with this kind of framework. I’m 47, and I feel like I’m wrestling with some 12th house matters — questions about the unconscious, the roots of our failures, and the seeds of our future successes. Last year, friendships and associations (like Toastmasters) took a turn on the front burner. It means that next year I’m going to be spending some time determining who I am, and the year following that, “what I have” may become important. And so on.
But it’s not a perfect match, by any means. And “a major theme” of my life doesn’t mean that I spent the whole day, every day, thinking about it or wondering about it. All eleven of the other issues represented by the Astrological Houses continued to manifest throughout the year, of course. Did one issue remain at the fore for most of each year in question? Forty-seven years in, it’s hard to be sure. But some themes seem clear.
So, all in all, I rate this technique pretty useful.. I’ve summarized it here, but there’s more in Chris’s book.
Which brings us to Zodiacal Releasing (ZR). I really don’t know what to make of this technique. It’s clear that it’s powerful for understanding the lives of eminent people. Many of Chris’s examples come from those of eminent folks, like George W. Bush and Al Gore. Using various calculators, I’ve sort of been able to make it work on my own life, but not perfectly, and not with the kind of reliability that I usually expect. Still, there’s something to it.
The basics of the technique are these: A person’s life is chunked into multi-year periods depending on the Ascendant Sign. Depending on whether the multi-year periods are calculated from the Lot of Fortune (body issues, health, or physical self), or the Lot of Spirit (career, what you do, intellectual growth), a person may find that ten or twenty years are given over to one astrological sign (e.g., Cancer or Leo or Virgo), and its ruling planet (i.e. ,the Moon, the Sun or Venus). These multi-year periods are then sub-divided into multi-month periods, and then multi-week periods, and then multi-day periods. There are usually twelve of each sub-period… so in a 25-year level-one period, there would be twelve periods of about 760 days or not quite two years (or slightly over two years since the Greek-ish 360-day calendar is used). These 760-day periods are then divided into 12 parts, for periods of about 2 months apiece, and sub-sub-divided into ‘weeks’ of about five days, maybe a bit more. I’m summarizing the calculation, because the book contains handy charts for more easily calculating this stuff; and links to online calculators that make it especially easy.
Why calculate these time-frames? In modern natal astrology, the birth chart is assumed to calculate something like personality, and there’s no such thing as destiny. In the Hellenistic concept, though, the birth chart represents something closer to destiny or fate, and a person’s whole life is somehow encapsulated in the moment of his or her birth. By examining the course of life through ZR, certain windows of time can be analyzed or guessed at, as being particularly conducive to wealth-building, or romance, or networking, or introspection. As the signs of the birth-chart get broken down into smaller and smaller sections, certain issues appear reliably — the part of my chart dealing with siblings and family seems to activate regularly whenever it’s Thanksgiving; and the part of my chart dealing with my relationship activates at about Christmas. Guess which families I spend time with at which holiday? Hmmm!
There’s also a built-in twist, as there is in many people’s lives. To prevent things from getting too predictable, when the normal pattern hits a specific target date, there’s a “release” or a “loosing of the bond” as it’s called. Instead of things continuing predictably, there’s a shift to a new story, a radical result of some kind.
How does it work on my own life? This is more difficult to determine. There is the Thanksgiving/Christmas thing going on, which appears to have applied for the last half-dozen years at least. But I’m using an online calculator to determine ZR periods; on the one hand, the calculator hits some points exactly right. Yet it misses other big things. And when I do my own “hand calculation” double-check, the online calculator and my own pen-and-paper math don’t really align. Is it me that’s wrong? Or the calculator? I’m not sure yet. I have to do more study.
A fairly typical example exists in the last month.
When I apply this technique to other people’s charts and lives, I have gotten some big points for accuracy… and some information has been completely off. So I haven’t found that this technique works reliably for me, with the charts of people that I’ve analyzed. In essence, I have to lay out the ZR program, calculate a few “loosing of the bond” windows, and then ask, “did anything important happen to you during this time period?” If something did, then it’s possible that the technique will continue to be valuable for that person. If nothing comes to mind, it seems to be an invisible story playing out in the background of a person’s life.
Again, as with Annual Profections, I rate this tool as somewhat useful, maybe slightly less than Profections, with the caveat that a lot of people don’t want to think of their lives as being this programmed. I have to keep reminding myself of that idea from Marsilio Ficino, that the stars don’t rule our destiny so much as move in time with some of the same invisible forces that guide our lives; just as they move in response to gravity, so do we; and astrology is very much like that (at least for me). At the same time, the notion that you could apply the birth-chart’s logic to a person’s entire life, and ‘unroll it’ and ‘repeat it’ over time in various ways, to achieve a complete story about a person’s life, seems alternately both unrealistic and more than slightly frightening.
Possible Implications and Analogies
On the other hand, it’s an outgrowth of an idea from music, to which astrology is related as a discipline. I’ve read that the Quadrivium of the liberal arts consists of arithmetic (number), geometry (relationships in space), music (number and relationships unfolding in time), and astronomy (number and relationships unfolding in time and space). When we consider music as the introduction of a theme, and then harmonization on that theme, then Annual Profections resembles a concerto of twelve themes — those themes play out in different ways in the 11th, 23rd, 35th,and 47th years. But all of those years are twelve years apart, and they’re all likely to be critical times in a person’s life for the formation of friendships and alliances: one as a kid moves into the turbulent tweens, one as an adult begins to formulate a plan for several years of living, one as career choices narrow, one as a career nears its end. Chances are good that at 59 years of age, and at 71 years, I’ll also be thinking about friendships, too. The theme will be recurrent, but maybe the theme will have special relevance or poignancy in those years.
Zodiacal Releasing seems to have some of the same concert-like scenarios woven into it. But perhaps, instead of it expressing itself as a concerto or as a symphony, it’s a Wagner-like operatic saga of twelve characters. The multi-year periods are each individual operas; the multi-month periods are acts; the multi-week periods are scenes that emphasize a single character; and the multi-day periods are recitatives and arias by the twelve characters. The high points are the major protagonists; the low ones are the villains of the piece; various supporting characters run to and fro, providing comic relief and sideline cruelty, and thus advancing the overall plot.
I have a sense of how to read this score, but I’m not yet proficient at it; I get a sense that there are stage directions, too. What happens, for example, when a given sign is on stage, so to speak, singing its part, but a planet is presently in that sign? Does that have an effect? What does the Lord of that Sign have to say about the present actions of that Sign and Lord in the life of the native? How do these things fit together?
I don’t know yet. But I’m interested to learn more.