If you’ve been here long you know that horary astrology is my bread and butter. I absolutely love utilizing it as a means of getting the “lay of the land,” so to speak, on given situations and challenges, and the level of insight it can provide even to budding practitioner can be mind-bending. So I’d like to offer a couple of thoughts on how to get started learning horary astrology for those new to the practice.
One, as with coding, learning horary is a long apprenticeship. Even at the end of the STA practitioner’s level course, you are at a position where you know enough to be dangerous—and you also know enough to continue your learning process. I suppose this is the case with any profession; you’re able to practice, but you have to be open to constant evaluation and growth. That to say, just as is the case with natal astrology, one can’t expect a single article, book, or course to give them full subject mastery. It’s a discipline that you live with long enough for it to become part of your DNA, in a manner of speaking.
Two, just as with coding, you need to have a certain level of facility with the various moving parts that go into reading and judging a horary chart before you can soldier on by receiving questions and casting charts willy-nilly. This includes, in addition to the ability to draw a chart and navigate it, a solid understanding of house rulerships, the natural significations of planets and signs and aspects, and some decent knowledge of planetary motion (e.g., knowing that if Mars and Jupiter are coming to a conjunction and one of them is retrograde, the other is probably retrograde too, since they’re both superior planets and have similarly structured synodic cycles).
I don’t say any of this to be discouraging; quite to the contrary, learning horary is one of the best ways to level up your competency and skill in astrological practice. And even if you are a modern natal astrology practitioner, you can safely “sandbox” horary practice away from your natal practice without a need to reconfigure your entire astrological schema out of the gate (though that’s liable to happen the longer you spend with Mr. Lilly). Which brings me to my third point: as with coding, in horary, one must learn by doing. It will not do simply to take a class or to read a book without having a living practice of attempting to judge charts and get feedback on their interpretations—which is the express reason why I commend everyone to the STA’s horary practitioner course as a starting point.
So where do I start?
The equivalent of the print(“Hello, World!”) code in horary, I suppose, would be to be able to determine the houses germane to the question itself, and then to identify the ruler of those houses. That’s to say, in order to be able to render the most basic of judgments, you need to know first off what places of the chart of the question you’re going to look at in order to determine who the players in this scene are—and there are a LOT of shades of nuance and “exceptions to the rule” to be kept in mind here, but we can start very simply. The players in the scene are determined by the planets that rule the houses in question in the topic.
By way of summary, here are the most basic significations of the houses. If you’re familiar with the houses in natal astrology, many of these will feel familiar:
- First House (Ascendant): the querent, their health, status, livelihood, state of mind, etc.
- Second House: the querent’s financial, physical, and sometimes emotional resources
- Third House: the querent’s siblings; communication, short journeys; the common people & the neighborhood
- Fourth House: the querent’s home, parents, land, and legacy
- Fifth House: the querent’s children; the querent’s paramours (in a question where there is also a spouse); sex, games, luxury, fun, feasting
- Sixth House: the querent’s diseases, distress, burdens, employees, and pets
- Seventh House: the querent’s love interest, spousal partner, business partner, open enemies; the place to which a querent wants to move in a relocation chart
- Eighth House: the querent’s debts, inheritance, or the other person’s (7th house) money; death, fear, suffering
- Ninth House: philosophy, spirituality, religion; teachers, clergy, lawyers, advocates; distant travel
- Tenth House: jobs, bosses, careers, honors, awards, judges
- Eleventh House: friends, “the company you keep,” good fortune, hopes, dreams, recovery
- Twelfth House: sorrow, isolation, suffering, ascesis; jails, prisons, hospitals; hidden enemies, secrets, sabotage
For further reading on the houses, get thee to Amazon and buy a copy of Deborah Houlding’s book Houses: Temples of the Sky, and take a look at William Lilly’s description of each of the houses in Christian Astrology, pages 50-56.
Suppose we have a client come to us with a question about a love interest: is my person cheating on me? After verifying that they’re being sincere in asking you the question—and the mechanics of asking questions is another article in its own right!—we know that we are looking at the 1st house as the querent and the 7th house as the “quesited,” what the querent is asking about. We are also always, always, always going to look at the Moon and her condition, aspects, speed, and placement, as the Moon is the co-ruler of all questions and will have a lot to say about the origin and the trajectory of the unfolding question itself.
Let’s take as an example a chart I judged for a friend of mine last autumn. I’ve written it up before, but this time, I’m going to slow my judgment down to walk you through it. She came to me with a concern that her boyfriend of several months was lying to her and wanted to know if she was being cheated on and whether there was any significant future in their relationship to one another.
So, right off, we are looking at a 1st and 7th chart, with the Moon being part of the story as well. Notice in this chart the Moon’s placement immediately on the 7th cusp: this tells me that the question itself is focused intensely on this other person.
Once you’ve identified the houses involved, you then figure out which planets are involved in those houses. As it happens, the Anglo-Italo-Arabic tradition of horary doesn’t work as well with whole sign houses. You need mundane house cusps for this branch of astrology as it is practiced in the tradition*; most quadrants system will do, but Lilly used Regiomontanus. I use Placidus in my own practice. Look at where the cusp of the house falls; the planet that rules the sign in which the cusp falls is the ruler of that house.
A sidebar on house systems.
*My friend Gabriel Rosas makes the compelling argument that quadrant house cusps are inextricable from horary because they are part of the mantic system described in the tradition of horary astrology. I am aware of some practitioners who have experimented with using whole sign houses to judge or to reverse engineer horaries in some instances, including Rob Hand, with varying results. I’m also aware of the use of whole sign or equal sign-adjacent house systems in the Vedic horary tradition (prajna), but, again, that’s not what we’re dealing with here.
My own theory is that the mundane house cusps generated when the chart is drawn are the points of power that are semantically relevant for the astrologer’s judgment and vantage point. These cusps have a meaning that is more than just the definition of the beginning of one house and the end of another; they are to be considered points of power, not boundaries proper. In the Anglo-Italo-Arabic tradition, a planet within five degrees of either side of a cusp is extremely significant to the matters signified by that house, because that planet is on the seat where the power to signify lies.
Please don’t email me to start a house system fight; I don’t understand the question and I won’t respond to it.
In our example chart, we have 15º Sagittarius 08’ on the ascendant (1st house), and 15º Gemini 08’ on the descendant (7th house). So, that means the significator for the querent, who has asked the question, will be Jupiter, because Jupiter rules Sagittarius; likewise the significator for her boyfriend, the quesited, will be Mercury, who rules Gemini.
Next, we look at where the planets involved are placed. See that the 1st ruler Jupiter is on the cusp of the 11th house: friends, groups, allegiances, but also “hopes and dreams” in that kind of optimistic sense. Because the significator here is Jupiter, the natural significations of Jupiter are in play—everything that Jupiter naturally is: magnanimous, trusting, generous. Put a pin in that.
Mercury, on the other hand, is in the 12th house, the house of sorrow, isolation, sadness, and also secrets and deceit (since the 1st house cannot make an aspect with the 12th house). So right away, we have some indication that something fishy is going on: a planet in the 12th can be constructive but it’s going to be the kind of constructive that is good for cross purposes. For example, if we asked a question about a fugitive and their significator were in the 12th, it’s great for the fugitive—they’re not going to get caught. They’re gone.
Now, we can do one of two things, that both need to be done as we’re approaching an answer to our question: we need to ascertain the condition of each planet, and likewise we need to look at the aspects that are being made by and to the planets involved. To keep it simple, let’s first look to the aspects. To the point of the question, we first want to see if there is any motion that is bringing Mercury or Jupiter together at all. With Mercury at 1º Sagittarius 10’ and Jupiter at 5º Scorpio 53’, there’s no possible way they can make an aspect with each other. Is all lost? In this case, yes.
There are a couple of special cases that can happen in a horary where an intervening planet can either help or hurt the situation. For example, it can happen in a horary that a faster moving planet is bringing two planets together that ordinarily wouldn’t have a chance to interact with one another. The Moon is the only planet faster than Mercury, so we must look to her to see if she is able to catch up with Mercury and “transfer light” from Mercury to Jupiter. In this instance, that’s a no; at 17º Gemini, the Moon is quite far separated from Mercury and nowhere near Jupiter (as Gemini and Scorpio are averse to one another anyway—they don’t make an aspect).
If, however, the Moon were at, say, 4º Pisces, this would be a different story. The Moon would then be transferring light from Mercury via square to Jupiter via trine, which would promise a different outcome for my client (for a number of reasons I won’t get into here). Dr. Lee Lehman refers to this as the “Yente Effect,” whereby a third party brings two together in a match—if this were the case, you would even hear her calling “Oh Zeitl! Oh Zeitl! Have I got a match for you!”
But on that Yiddische note, we remember that we haven’t yet judged the condition of the planets involved in this arrangement yet, either. I would much rather Yente be bringing to my querent’s significator Jupiter the light of a Mercury in Virgo in the ninth house versus a Mercury in Sagittarius in the twelfth. I’d also rather that Mars in Libra in the midheaven not be having so much say over the whole situation. Why is that?
The answer is the delicious mélange of symbolism we get when we consider essential dignity and accidental fortitude, which are an absolute sine qua non of the Anglo-Italo-Arabic tradition, and indeed, the Hellenistic tradition whence they come. You must learn the dignities, debilities, fortitudes, and enfeeblements in order to draw a picture for your querent that is richly accurate.
So, let’s touch base on what we can get by way of planetary motion and house placement considered alone, as this is how you get the “skeleton” of a horary judgment: Mercury is in a bad house and we can suspect that something shady is going on, Jupiter is in a good house. There’s no applying aspect between them and there’s no planet bridging them by translating or collecting their light. To the point of, “is there a future here,” the answer is simply no. But that’s just the very beginning of what we can do with a horary judgment. The real meaty magic is in the significations of the planets’ condition and the signs in which they are.
In the next part of this series, I’ll address the matter of essential dignities and accidental fortitudes and how they flesh out in spectacular detail the very basic significations that this chart has presented. I’ll also look at the other planets involved in this configuration so that we can continue to peel back the layers on my client’s conundrum.
Recommended Sources for Horary Neophytes
- Deborah Houlding, Houses: The Temples of the Sky
- Dr. J. Lee Lehman, The Martial Art of Horary Astrology
- ibid., Learning Classical Horary Astrology: Examples and Workbook
- Helena Avelar & Luis Ribeiro, On the Heavenly Spheres: A Treatise on Traditional Astrology
- Dr. Benjamin Dykes, Traditional Astrology for Today
- Anything and Everything on Skyscript, to include Deborah Houlding’s own free introductory articles
What I would not necessarily recommend for the beginner to horary is starting right off with Christian Astrology because of the nature of Lilly’s 17th Century English that requires about as much work to understand as the material itself—but it must eventually make its way to your library anyway. The re-typed editions available on Amazon are well-produced.
And because you are all dear to me, I have uploaded a 1.5 hour lecture on the material I’ve touched on above, as well as some of the philosophical underpinning of the horary process, for your viewing pleasure on Vimeo.