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The Wheel of the Zodiac

The diagram below illustrates a number of the divisions applied to the Zodiac in astrology:

In the center are the elements, Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, as they are assigned to the signs of the Zodiac.

In the next circle outward are the planets which rule those signs; the original classical rulers are shown, not reflecting the later assignments of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto to rule Aquarius, Pisces and Scorpio respectively.

Then the signs themselves are shown.

The next circle outwards shows the ancient assignment of rulers to the decans. The spaces in this circle are colored to provide a key to a color code to be used later. Note that here the sequence of seven planets consistently repeats:


Then, the modern system of decanate rulership is shown. As the decan rulers are derived from the other signs that share the same element ruler as the sign within which they are located, the signs, rather than the ruling planets, are shown.

The older system of decanate rulership is called the Chaldean system, and was the one traditionally used in Western astrology. The system based on the triplicities originally came from India, but was introduced to Western astrology by the influential astrologer Alan Leo as a result of his background in Theosophy, and was considered the authoritative one in the mainstream of astrology in the English-speaking world at least. Today, astrology is more eclectic, and it may well be that astrologers consciously returning to mediaeval astrological practice outnumber those who make use of decans among conventional astrologers.

Now, the color code established previously is used to indicate the rulers of the individual degrees by the system known as monomoira. The same repeating sequence of seven planets as used for the decanate rulers is also used here, but beginning anew in the first degree of each sign with the ruling planet for that sign.

Then, the Egyptian Terms are shown. Two other systems, the Ptolemaic and Chaldean terms, which were less frequently used, are not illustrated here.

The outermost circle indicates the planet that is exalted in each sign. The specific exaltation degree for that planet, within that sign, is enlarged within the monomoira circle to extend into the circle of terms.

Astrology's Year Zero

As it may be a bit awkward to see the exaltation degrees in the diagram, here is a table of them:

Sun        19 Aries
Moon        3 Taurus
Mercury    15 Virgo
Venus      27 Pisces
Mars       28 Capricorn
Jupiter    15 Cancer
Saturn     21 Libra

North Node  3 Gemini
South Node  3 Sagittarius

In the volume Zodiacs Old and New, the astrologer Cyril Fagan proposed a theory of the origin of the exaltations of the planets. This theory has gotten garbled in some accounts of it.

While Venus is exalted at 27 Pisces, which is close to 19 Aries, Mercury is exalted at 15 Virgo, quite a distance away. Thus, one naïve theory about the exaltation degrees, that they represent the positions of the planets and luminaries for one particular date, is untenable.

Despite that, he searched for a year when as many of those bodies as possible would be near their exaltation positions on Nisan 1, the Babylonian New Year's Day, and he found that the positions of the planets on April 3, 786 BC were, in the sidereal zodiac, the following:

Sun        18.8 Aries
Moon       29.4 Aries
Mercury    29.2 Aries
Venus      26.7 Pisces
Mars        1.3 Cancer
Jupiter     0.2 Cancer
Saturn     17.1 Libra
North Node  0.5 Aries

The Sun, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn, at least, are somewhat close to their exaltation positions.

From the inscription on one Babylonian cuneiform tablet, he found the statement that Perseus and the Pleiades are the "hiding places of the Moon". Based on this, he concluded that what he should look for is when, during the year beginning on April 3, 786 BC, the various planets were hidden, between their heliacal setting and heliacal rising.

Of course, this could not apply to the Sun itself. Its position on Nisan 1 corresponded to its exaltation degree, so that could be taken as the explanation for it.

He gave the following dates for the heliacal rise or set of the planets during that year:

Mercury     S 16 Elul       September 14 786 BC   16.3 Virgo
Mars        R 11 Shebat     February 4   785 BC    0.8 Aquarius
Jupiter     S 21 Sivan      June 22      786 BC   15.3 Cancer
Saturn      S 25 Elul       September 23 786 BC   20.6 Libra

And so the positions of the Moon and Venus on 1 Nisan, as well as that of the Sun, were used instead.

Before that year started, on March 18 786 BC, there was a total eclipse of the Moon; and this year was significant in Babylonian history because a temple at Kalakh was dedicated to the god Nabu who was the god of astrology, replacing his former temple at Nineveh.

Degree Meanings and Symbols

This diagram illustrates the various items of information about the individual degrees of the Zodiac that are hallowed by astrological tradition, although admittedly monomoira have not been that commonly used.

As some of the major systems of degree symbols originate from individual psychic sessions, this poses a difficulty of giving them credence for some astrologers. Other systems are felt to be unusable today on the ground that the prognostications given are too fatalistic in nature.

Some of the older systems of degree symbols are:

Theban Calendar
The term "Theban Calendar" refers to the set of degree symbols that appeared, along with house cusps, in the Astrolabium Planum of Johannes Angelus. An English translation of these symbols, which include symbols and interpretations for the decans (called faces) as well as for the degrees, was prepared by William Lilly, and was later made available by Raphael in a book entitled A Description of the Faces and Degrees of the Zodiac.
Charubel obtained, through psychic means, a set of degree symbols and meanings for them, which were published in a work entitled The Degrees of the Zodiac Symbolized, as well as appearing in the British magazine "The Astrologer's Magazine", also titled "Modern Astrology". (Actually, it appears that only Charubel's meanings were given for half the degrees of the Zodiac, with only Sepharial's meanings being given for the degrees in the other half of the Zodiac in the series of articles in "Modern Astrology".)
Sepharial prepared a set of degree meanings, accompanied by descriptive keywords, which were published together with Charubel's symbols and meanings. These were stated to have been translated from an old Italian work, La Volasfera by Anton Borelli, but apparently no copies of this work have ever been found.
The Sabian Symbols
These symbols were also obtained through psychic means in 1925. Mark Edmund Jones and Dane Rudhyar have published different interpretations of those symbols.
Alan Leo
Later editions of Alan Leo's Astrology for All included a set of degree meanings. Each meaning applies to the area beginning and ending on the half degree.
Firmicius Maternus
In his Mathesos, Firmicius Maternus included a set of meanings for each degree of the Zodiac. Some have been lost, and as several of the descriptions refer to fixed stars, the meanings apply to the sidereal Zodiac rather than the tropical Zodiac.

Given that there is no single set of degree meanings that can be viewed as the automatic, natural choice for an astrologer, this area is problematic.

But before it can be considered a real problem, another question has to be asked: does astrology need individual degree symbols, and if so, why?

Since there are so many degrees in a circle - 360 of them - if degree meanings were a basic element of astrology, there would be a temptation to rely on them rather than to do a proper chart analysis, as those meanings would suffice to give each enquirer an apparently unique interpretation of his horoscope.

Also, even in a rationalized astrology of the type Kepler dreamed of, where signs, decans, terms and degree meanings were discarded as arbitrary, but planets and their aspects were counted, one could obtain the equivalent of a meaning for every degree of the Zodiac these days simply by taking into account enough asteroids.

Heliocentric aspects between Mercury and the Earth are known to influence the amount of radio interference that we receive from the Sun. One book on astrology, Sky Diamonds, suggested that Ganymede, the largest moon of Jupiter, be placed in astrological charts. But, as it is very close to Jupiter itself in our sky, how would one do that?

Jupiter also emits radio waves that can be detected on Earth. Thus, one could argue for supplementing the normal astrological chart with a Heliocentric chart to show factors affecting the influence of the Sun, a Jovicentric chart to show factors affecting the influence of Jupiter, and so on. Since Uranus and Neptune have very long periods, the motions of their moons would allow them to play a greater role in the more individual factors of a chart in this way.

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Copyright (c) 2012 John J. G. Savard