ON MATTER AND FORM IN ASTROLOGY
[Note: The following article was published in an abbreviated form in Geocosmic Journal for Autumn 2006. This is the complete, unabridged article which covers considerably more ground than the version in the journal. - Robert Hand]
Interviewer: "Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of Western Civilization?"
Mahatma Gandhi: "I think that it would be a very good idea."
A comment of Gandhi's in response to
an interviewer during one of his trips to Britain.
This is a small contribution to the application of philosophy to astrology not only to show how philosophy can illuminate astrology, but also to show how it may have in fact been applied in the past. But the kind of philosophy is important. Astrology is a discipline which is rooted in a pre-modern, in fact pre-medieval concept of the world. It very strongly implies, if it does not outright demand, that at some level we consider the universe to be a living, conscious and sentient being, or more precisely, that we consider the universe to be an aspect of a living, conscious, and sentient being, those not being quite the same thing. However in the course of the evolution of Western thought, somewhere between St. Augustine (354-430 C.E.) (1), and St. Thomas Aquinas (1224/25-1274 C.E.), or shortly thereafter, the West took a peculiar fork in the philosophical road. No other civilization besides the West has taken that fork except under the influence of the West.The nature of that forkbecame clearly manifested in the twelfth century when the West adopted Aristotle as its premiere philosopher and spent the rest of the middle ages working out the implications of that. They did so in a way that was peculiar, and one that I suspect Aristotle would not have found acceptable. It was a way to which astrology did initially adapt, but it eventually led to the modern reality system in which astrology has become "impossible."
So for astrology to develop a proper philosophical foundation, we have to go back to philosophy as it was prior to the taking of that fork. We have to use pre-medieval Aristotle, Plato, Pythagoras, Plotinus, the Stoics, and other philosophies of that kind in order to find what might be a foundation for a philosophy of astrology. And when we do, we find that these philosophers did in fact provide the philosophical foundation of late classical astrology although it is not always clear that astrologer-practitioners were aware of as its having one. These astrologers, whose writings we have, were a practical lot and did not always have their own theoretical underpinnings in mind when practicing astrology, although it is also clear that they sometimes did, especially those who followed Stoicism. Those ancient philosophers who accepted astrology (and not all did) most definitely were aware of the relevance of their philosophies to astrology. As a result we can speak meaningfully of an ancient esoteric astrology and philosophy of astrology and not be anachronistic or historically incorrect.
The particular application of philosophy to astrology that I describe in this paper is in fact Aristotelian (as well as influenced by Platonic and Pythagorean philosophy), but it is not part of that branch of Aristotelian philosophy that took medieval philosophy down the peculiar path that it did. Nor will I deal with it in such a way that it will point down that path. The philosophical principle that we will examine here has to do with form and matter, principles very important to both Plato and Aristotle, as well as all of their followers down through the Middle Ages.
Those who have studied Plato should be aware of the fact that he is credited with the doctrine of ideas or ideal forms. Usually it is stated along the following lines: That in some place, at some level of the universe there is an ideal tree of which all actual trees are only crude approximations. An actual tree in the physical universe is the form of "tree" manifesting itself in a matter. Actually this is an extremely simple-minded and somewhat distorted view of what Plato really meant. His ideal forms were a good deal more abstract than that. This can be seen by looking at one of the first and simplest of all forms for Plato. The first form is the "Same" and the "Different," in other words, continuity and boundary, self and other, and so forth. (2) These are all different aspects of the same form. Without this particular form, there is nothing else. Everything that exists, every object, does so because there is a place in the universe where it is located and other places where it is not. If anything were everywhere in the universe at once, it would be nowhere at all because everything is defined as much by what it is not, and where it is not, as what it is and where it is. (3) So the Same and the Different as a form or pair of forms is logically prior to all other forms.
But for Plato forms existed independently of, and prior to any of their material manifestations. And this is precisely where Aristotle came into conflict with Plato. Aristotle also accepted the distinction of form and matter, but for Aristotle forms only existed in actuality in the context of material manifestations. The ideal form "tree" existed only in so far as there were material trees. Parenthetically we may note here an instance where Plato may have had it over Aristotle, at least as regard the Same and the Different, for matter itself could not exist at all unless there were previously existing the forms of the Same and the Different. So here is at least one form or pair of forms that exist independently and prior to material manifestation. Also recall that the level of abstraction in the doctrine of ideal forms is quite removed from something such as an ideal tree.
Now, what do we mean by form? The English word "form" is an unfortunate translation. The two Greek words are idea from which comes our word "idea" and eidos from which comes our word "eidetic." Both idea and eidos come from root words meaning "to see" (4) but in philosophy these words mean what one would see if one could see perfectly, in such a manner that the essence or true nature of what is to be seen is completely reproduced in the mind of the one who sees. It does not merely mean an external form or shape. (5) In Greek philosophy, when one says "form" or "idea," one should think of essence; the form or idea of a thing is the essence that makes a thing that thing in particular. So the form of a tree is what makes a tree a tree, and not a chair. Although, again I say, that is not actually an accurate representation of what Plato, Aristotle and other ancients meant by form.
Now we come to that part of Aristotle that led almost inevitably, at least at the hands of medieval philosophers, to the modern mechanist-materialist paradigm, a paradigm in which spirit and soul are nonexistent, and life and consciousness superficial and epiphenomenal, that is to say, they are surface phenomena. Where Plato held that forms could and did in some way exist by themselves, as stated previously, it was Aristotle's doctrine that forms could only exist in conjunction with their material manifestations. Then philosophers examining this doctrine in the 1300s came to the conclusion that ideal forms, which had by then become equated with what were called "universals," could exist only in the mind and what was in the mind was not real. Only what was outside the mind was truly real. Nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensu. "There is nothing in the mind that would not have previously been in the senses." By the 1300's western philosophy had arrived at the fork. With Aristotle along on the journey, it made it inevitable that we come to the conclusion, as William of Ockham (c.1287-1347) did, that there are no forms, no universals, only mental habits which imagine universals, and mental habits are not real. And despite the fact that in science we have scientific laws which are in fact examples of Platonic forms, modern science still tends to hold to this idea which is known technically as Nominalism.
So we will not look at the part of Aristotle that led to this conclusion, a conclusion that ultimately made astrology a priori impossible for later Western thinkers. We will look at the part of Aristotle that not only can be applied to astrology but was applied to astrology. And we will see that great deal of material in the structure of astrology only makes sense if one understands it in terms of the principles that we are about to discuss. In fact they come up repeatedly in discussions of astrological theory and philosophy as a central problem in astrology.
In what sense are the planet causes? This depends on what one means by "cause". This is not as simple as it sounds because the word "cause," causa in Latin, changed meaning significantly in the hands of Descartes and his immediate followers. An older idea of cause is found in Aristotle. And while we probably cannot say that planets are causes in the Cartesian sense, we can say that in the Aristotelian senses of the word the planets are indeed causes or at least signifiers of causes, but they are not causes in the modern sense.
So what are we talking about? The Greek word which we translate as "cause" is aitia. It means
a charge, accusation, a cause (in an unspecified sense), something for the sake of which, an
occasion, an opportunity. It does not mean one event or thing which makes it inevitable that
another event or thing will come to pass, or exist. Aristotle defined cause in such a way that
there were four causes. And as we will see, these four causes answer the questions that one has
to ask in order to understand what something is. (6)
Table 1. Aristotle's Four Causes.Material Cause - What something is made of.
The first cause is the material cause, what something is made of. The first thing that we must understand is that "matter" in the Aristotelian sense does not mean "material stuff" as we would think of it. It does not merely mean metal, rock, stone,or soil, water, gas; or rather, these things are types of matter, but "matter" is not limited to these things. Matter, as a technical term in Greek philosophy, means that out of which something has been made. It does not have to be material in the ordinary, modern sense at all. The matter of an expressed idea consists of the principles on which it is based, or the language in which it has been stated. (Here I mean "idea" in the ordinary language sense, not in the sense of a "form.") So the material cause of anything is that out of which it is composed. We will say more about the qualities of matter shortly.
Second, we have the efficient cause: What has made something come to be? This is the one that in a somewhat transformed condition has survived into the modern thought. When modern people say "cause," they mean efficient cause. At this point I will flatly state that the planets are not efficient causes of anything in astrology, except in so far as, and to the limited degree that astrological phenomena may be associated with physical phenomena such as tides, and I am not even sure of that. At the time of William of Ockham in the 1300's some philosophers, he being one of the leading ones, began to conclude there was no need for any cause but the efficient cause. This step made the modern history of philosophy and science inevitable. It also made confusion in astrology inevitable, because while the ancients said the planets are causes, but only in the ancient, more expanded use of the word "cause," moderns say the planets are not causes, i.e., not efficient causes. Different definitions of the word "causes" are used here.
Then we have the third cause, the formal cause, that which something really is. Formal cause is the same thing as form in Plato while material cause is the same thing as matter. The question eventually came to be whether formal causes exist at all outside of the mind. Ockham's answer was "no."
Finally we have the fourth cause, which happens to be the final cause, in both senses. It is the one that modern science and philosophy have most completely thrown out. It asks what is a thing for or what is a thing trying to, or going to become, or why does it exist. This is called in Greek telos from which comes our word "teleological." In modern science and scientific philosophy, teleology is absolutely forbidden. The reason for this is very simple. Final cause implies intention and will, and possibly meaning. If the universe is dead and random, there can be no intention and will in the universe. Aristotle may have led in some way to our modern philosophical trap, but he himself was not in it. Aristotle did not believe that life and consciousness are superficial phenomena, or epiphenomenal. Aristotle believed in a vitalistic universe, in a living universe, or at least a universe in which much that we would consider non-living, should be considered living. Aristotle believed that the motions of the planets were the movements of perfect bodies trying to attain, out of love, the motion of the One, the Prime Mover. They loved the motion of the One and were trying to emulate it as closely as possible. This is not a mechanistic idea. So the idea of the final cause suggests that there is will and intention, to say nothing of something like "foresight" in the universe, not merely in our individual minds, but in the trans-personal universe that transcends all of our individual minds. When final causes were taken out of philosophy as regards the universe, life went with it. The controversy over intelligent design in the United States has exactly this at its root. Does the universe show evidence of telos? Once the idea of final cause is rejected, God as a concept in any form, including the apparent non-God of Buddhism, or transcendent but living states of being in other mystical religions, becomes philosophically impossible. How modern humans can believe in any religion and in modern philosophy, I do not know. I think that they have divided their minds into compartments which do not communicate each other.
To sum up to this point,matter is that out of which something is made, while a form is the essence of that which is made. Consequently there is a hierarchy of matter and form. What is form on one level may be matter on another. To take a simple example, quarks are matter for subatomic particles (if one believes modern physics and I have no reason not to); subatomic particles are matter for atoms. The atom is a form; a subatomic particle is the matter. At the molecular level the atoms are the matter, the molecule is the form, and so forth. However, there is a definite top form. The top form is soul. Soul is matter for no higher form. It is the highest of all forms. But as used here "soul" stands for two things, as it does in Aristotelian philosophy. we have to be very clear about this. I will use the word "soul" only in the way that I am about to describe. I do not use it in the undefined, vague sense that people use soul in ordinary speech especially in New Age circles. I do not claim that what follows is the only correct definition of soul, but it is the one used here. There are good historical reasons for this being a somewhat more correct, or at least useful definition than usual ones, but that is unimportant. We need agreement on definition of terms, not necessarily the single, "right" definition.
The English word "soul" comes from a Germanic root which means "alive," in Gothic, sawol. It refers the quality of having life, or is that which makes a thing alive. Psyche in Greek has the same meaning. So the first aspect of soul is that it is that which is present in a living thing and is presumably not present or at least not detectable in a non-living thing. I think that it is probably better to say that life is not detectable in non-living things than to say that it truly is not there. While it is not an essential to make this distinction here, we can preserve the useful distinction between life and non-life without making assumptions about constitutes non-life. Non-life is that which is apparently not alive.
The second definition of soul that we get from Aristotle is the one we will look at in this article. It is that the soul of any living thing is that which makes it that living thing and not some other living thing. Putting this in terms that one can more readily understand, we do not have souls; we are souls. One cannot lose one's soul while alive because that would be death; one also cannot lose one's soul and remain alive in either sense of the word soul used here. By this definition the medieval Christian idea of someone selling his soul to the devil makes no sense. What one might be able to do is to become a devotee of the devil, but one is still a soul. This could be what the medievals meant. And the question of one having an immortal soul reduces to the following question: "Is what I am, what is uniquely and peculiarly myself, immortal?" I do not know the answer to this. My personal view is that in the way I have just defined it, "not exactly" would be the answer. But also it is not completely untrue.
Soul in Aristotle is given a very interesting and different role as a form; it is the form of each living entity in so far as it is alive. But only in a living entity is the following statement true: The soul is the efficient cause of the entity; the soul is the formal cause of the entity; and the soul is the final cause of the entity. (7) This tells us immediately why this kind of Aristotelianism might be useful to astrologers; it is a vitalistic philosophy. When medieval and early modern philosophers took away the final cause of Aristotle, they killed the vitalism of his philosophy. And he did pave the way for that by making forms or formal causes exist only in conjunction with their material causes. If Aristotle's doctrines are taken literally, he says that, no, the soul is not immortal. When the body dies, the soul-form collapses also. It ceases to be. (8)
So the soul, in its second aspect, is the formal cause of each individual, in other words, it is who we are, our essence. It is also the efficient cause of the individual, and this is idea which we will develop shortly. Our soul causes us to come to be. It is also the final cause, in that, the soul's coming to be within the matter of our bodies is the final cause of our growth and development both physically and spiritually. Here is an interesting fact about Aristotle; his notion of the growth and development of the individual human is that is it an actualization of the soul in matter. At least implicitly, Aristotle provided the foundation "human potential." He said this, "The soul is the entelechy of the body." "Entelechy" which comes from the Greek entelechia, means the perfect, final being, the perfected final being. (9) So the soul, if it were perfectly manifested in the body, would be the perfected final being of that body. So when it is said that the soul is the efficient cause of what we are, this immediately tells us that there is an aspect of soul, which, while not yet initially actualized in matter, is, even at the beginning, potentially present in matter, and is pulling each of us as we are at any moment forward toward itself. It is trying to make us fully realized souls in material manifestation. This sounds vaguely "New Age," does it not? So, even while the form of the soul exists only as a potential in the material realm, at some level it does exist in reality, and is pulling us, each of us individually, toward its manifestation. There are, of course, problems.
First of all, the material cause of anything must have the potential, the ability, to assume the form of the formal cause. One cannot easily make furniture out of water, unless, of course, it is frozen first. But this would produce exceedingly unpleasant furniture. So I think one can say that wood as a material has more potential for manifesting the form "furniture" than water does, and they both have more potential for manifesting the form "furniture" than oxygen does. This leads to a second point; because the formal cause actualizes itself in time within the material cause, the material cause must always precede formal cause in time, in manifestation. While at some level the formal cause must preexist, or at least coexist with, the material cause, in the material world of manifestation it only comes into being, into actualization, after the material. Remember that this does not just pertain to physical matter; the material cause is that out of which anything, not merely material objects as we understand them, is made. So let us rephrase this. That out of which something is made must precede in time that which is being made. This seems reasonable, does it not? In manifestation! So matter can potentially become something; matter is always potential; form is the essence of what something is; form is actual. Therefore, matter, the potential, always precedes the final form, the actual, in manifestation. Now what does this have to do with astrology? Much!
Ancient astrology is not especially Aristotelian, but it is somewhat Aristotelian. There is a good deal of Aristotelianism in Ptolemy. There is also a good deal of Stoicism in Ptolemy. But Stoicism retained many of Aristotle's concepts to the point that the idea of matter in form was so common in the thought of people of that time that it was assumed, not always mentioned explicitly. How do we know this since not being able to read ancient minds? If one actually reads the texts carefully, one can see this assumption being made. For example, according to Robert Schmidt one of the Greek texts implies that a sinister aspect creates the form of the outcome of an aspect and a dexter aspect creates the matter. (10) While I have not found this particular application of the idea to be true or useful, there are other aspects of the relation between form and matter, about which there will be more to say in a moment, that are indeed true and very useful.
Now, after about 800 C.E.. or in the 800's C.E., Arabic astrology underwent a philosophical revolution. This was largely conducted by one man: Albumazar (in the latinized form of his name, Abu Mashar (d. 886 C.E.) in Arabic). Albumazar took the somewhat Aristotelian science of astrology and turned it into a completely Aristotelian science. This was so much so that when Albumazar's texts were translated into Latin, the West learned its Aristotelian physics from the astrology texts of Albumazar. This has been demonstrated in a massive work written in late 60's by the late Richard Lemay. (11) I have looked throughout historical literature to see if there are any serious challenges to his thesis, but I have not found any; it seems to be generally accepted. So I think we have to accept the idea that Albumazar made astrology as Aristotelian as it became.
After his time and for the entire period of Latin astrology in the West, Aristotle is Philosophus. His name is often not mentioned. The texts just say "The Philosopher said."
I will now present some examples of the use of the Aristotelian form-matter doctrine which have been found in contemporary studies of ancient and medieval astrology:
Our first example: According to Robert Schmidt (I do not know what his current thinking is in this area [June 2012), the form-matter distinction can be applied to the doctrine of time lords. One of the discoveries that was made early on in the Project Hindsight Work was that the Hellenistic World> had almost as many systems of planetary periods and time lords as India has. (12) Several of them did survive unto medieval and early modern astrology, but astrologers evidently forgot about them in the 18th century. In the Hellenistic period there were dozens of them. Often reading between the lines, Schmidt concluded at one point (I am not, as I say, familiar with his current thinking) that the long term period ruler, the major period ruler, indicated the matter that was going to be the basis of events in the period, and that the short term period ruler indicated the form that it was going to take. (13) Now, what does that mean? Let us put this concretely in an astrological way to see how it works. Let us say that a native, (14) has the Sun in the second house ruled by Saturn. At some point there comes a time when the native comes into a major Solar period, that is, a time when the Sun rules the major planetary period. This means that the native must deal with second house issues. Now as each minor period ruler takes over, each one will assist or resist the Sun in attaining manifestation accordingly as to how those planets aspect or do not aspect the Sun, or have some other significant relationship. So the native has a major period of Sun, and a minor period of a planet that rules the first house. If there is no relationship between a ruler of the first house and the Sun in the second house, this will be a period in which the native may try to make a great deal of money and fail. The minor period ruler indicates what the form is and the form is of a first house nature because the minor period is the lord of the first. The matter (indicated by the Sun) has to with wealth, trying to make wealth, trying to achieve wealth, trying to actualize wealth. So the form actualizes the potential of the matter. So the Sun in the second house is the matter, when the Sun is the ruler of the time lord period, and minor period ruler indicates how well wealth will succeed in being actualized. Because of the first house rulership of the minor period ruler, we can say that the individual would try in this period to create wealth for himself as the result of his own exertions. The success of failure depends on the relationship between the second house planet and the first house Sun.
Here is another example of the form-matter issue in astrology. In the transit theory of a work attributed to Vettius Valens but probably the work of another, a planet B transiting another planet A is fundamentally different from planet A transiting planet B. (15) Most modern astrologers would say that both are the same mixture of energies and would have similar outcomes, although the modern astrologer would have to allow for the possibility that A might be a slow-moving planet and B a fast moving one (or vice versa). But in the pseudo-Valens work if B is transiting A, then A is the matter and B is the form. If A is transiting B then A is the form and B is the matter. The matter and form roles switch and that means that the way one deals with and how one deals with it will come out completely inverted in the two instances. So Mars transiting Jupiter and Jupiter transiting Mars would not be not the same thing at all. (16) Again, I know from experience that at some level this is true, but I do not know how far we can take this as a practical doctrine.
But there is another form-matter issue, one that I have personally noticed, and one that I am sure that others have noticed as well, but which is something I have been writing and lecturing about extensively; it has to with the relationship of the Part of Fortune to the Part of Spirit. Here is the formula for The Part of Fortune in the day and night time. (17)
Part of Fortune = Ascendant + the Moon - the Sun in Day births.
Part of Fortune = Ascendant + the Sun - the Moon in Night births.
The Part of Spirit reverses the positions of the Sun and Moon in both the day and night formulae. So the Part of Fortune in the day time is the same as the Part of Spirit at night and vice versa. The Ancients said that The Part of Fortune was lunar in nature and The Part of Spirit was solar in nature, but they said something vastly more useful. Their descriptions stated in modern terms indicate that the Part of Fortune has to do with things that were unconscious, unintentional, instinctual, emotional and physical. These are all words for characteristics of material causes in living things. Whereas, the Part of Spirit was intentional, conscious, planned, ordered etc. It is the opposite. The implications of the ancient doctrines on the Part of Spirit and the Part of Fortune are that the Part of Fortune is a point of material cause in the chart and the Part of Spirit is a point having to do with manifest soul or consciousness, a formal cause. The Part of Spirit indicates what one does in so far as one is a fully realized form or soul. Now here is something that has not been generally known. The ancients routinely used these parts and many others; they are pre-Arabic. There are over a hundred parts listed in a completely Greek text dating from about 500 A.D. Olympiodorus' Commentary on Paulus Alexandrinus. (18) Almost all the "Arabic" parts are present in Olympiodorus. And the Arabs did not do astrology in 500 C.E., not yet.
The Greeks, or the Hellenistic writers I should say, routinely placed the sign of a part as a first house of the chart, reading the chart from that sign and interpreting the chart from the point of view of symbolism of that lot. They did this most especially with The Part of Fortune, and they described it exactly in the manner I have spoken of, instinctual, emotional, unconscious, physical. The sources say less about the Part of Spirit beyond what I have indicated above. But because every part or lot in the chart is capable of use as an Ascendant, we have to assume that this would apply to the Part of Spirit as well. So here is what I propose. The Fortune chart, the chart computed from the point of view of the Part of Fortune, represents that with which the native came into this world, the potential, the un-manifested possibilities and physicality, one's materiality. The Ascendant chart represents the life as a whole which is why it is the chart that we normally use. And the Spirit chart, according to what we know about the Part of Spirit, would represent what the native will become if he or she were to become a fully realized form as a soul. In other words, in the "spirit" chart we may be looking at a chart that could represent the end point of the potential, the entelechy. Unfortunately it is very clear that most of us do not get to that point. We will come back to that shortly. But we have here, coming from Greek astrology with principles derived from Aristotle, the possibility of a radical new way of reading charts. There is probable reason why we have so little information regarding a "spirit chart." When these doctrines were developed, Christianity and Islam became dominant in the West and Middle East respectively, and astrology, where it was permitted at all, was not permitted to answer such questions as "who are you really?" That was a religious question. But in the modern era in the West religions have lost their political and social power to determine the question that may be asked philosophically. Astrology may now be permitted to ask this question again. Can we tell what a person would really be if he or she became fully realized, became who they are supposed to be according to the form of their own soul; is there an astrological technique that can do that? This might be it. But we must understand, that most of us, including myself, do not do a particularly complete job of manifesting their Spirit chart.
I have seen abundant evidence that the Fortuna chart (19) does in fact describe what a person came into this life already able to do; it is a potential to develop, but people tend to stop at the Fortune chart level. If a person's career is signified clearly in the Fortuna chart, it means that their career choice was the result of early emotional habits and inclinations, or that they have inherited a career from their family. If it is shown in the Spirit chart, it means the native has consciously chosen his or her career. For example, Princess Diana had Venus in Taurus in the Fortuna tenth and the Spirit first. The people of Britain began to call upon her as the "Queen of Hearts." This may be indicated by the Venus in the Fortuna tenth. Then she consciously chose to adopt that title; this may have been indicated by Venus in the Spirit first. So the Spirit chart shows what one consciously chooses. But it does not show this a deterministic way; it shows what one can consciously choose.
The most important manifestation of matter and form in astrology is one most readers should be familiar with, in general if not in detail, and that is in dignities. Here we refer to essential versus accidental dignities, and the rulerships that are derived from essential dignities. All readers should be familiar with the concept. But most astrologers are not at all sure about what to so with them and what the distinctions may be among the various types of dignities.
The idea of, and the distinction between essential and accidental dignities is not clearly laid out in Hellenistic astrology, although it is implicit; it is explicit in astrology after Abu Mashar. (20) One can see it in Lilly and Gadbury, and in every major medieval astrologer. And while we are asking what the difference may be between essential and accidental dignities, there is a related question; exactly what happens when a planet is highly dignified essentially? Is this good, is the planet powerful? What does one mean by 'good' and 'powerful'? We will look at this shortly.
Matter, as conceived by Aristotle and the Platonists, can have varying abilities to assume any particular form. The only matter that has the potential to become anything is the prima materia as it is called in Latin, or hyle in Classical Greek. It seems to be something like an undifferentiated gooey substance that can become anything, and is in that primitive state, nothing. Because it has absolutely no form at all, it cannot truly be said to exist. (21)
Table 2 - Properties of Matter and Form
1. Matter can have varying abilities to assume any particular form.
2. Form can have varying abilities to impose itself upon matter.
3. The ability of form to impose itself upon some kind of matter is due to its intensive magnitude.
4. Other external factors can also affect matter's ability to assume a form.
These are external to the essential nature (form) of a thing and are called Accidents.
Form can have varying abilities to impose itself upon matter. Now, what exactly is an essential dignity? What does it mean when the Sun is in Leo, especially in a daytime birth, when the Sun is not only in Leo but also in the fire triplicity which it rules in the daytime? Some may not be aware that triplicities have rulers, just like signs, and that the Sun rules the fire triplicity in daytime charts. So what do these solar dignities mean? It means the form of Sun-ness or the form of "Solarity" is very intense. Forms have what the medievals called intensive magnitude. This is to say the Sun is truly and completely solar. It is what it is to the maximum possible degree. The essence of Sun-ness is very strong. Here is an example of intensive magnitude from ordinary experience. If one takes the color red, it exists in a series of intensities, ranging from pink to a completely intense saturated red. That variation is intensive magnitude. We actually use this concept implicitly whenever we refer to any quality which is not rigorous quantifiable in comparative terms. So, for example, when we say that one crime is "worse" than another, we are really saying that the intensive magnitude of evil is greater in one crime than in another. In astrology Mars in Aries has a high intensive magnitude. Mars in Taurus has a low intensive magnitude. That is what essential dignity signifies. It means that a highly, essentially dignified planet is very good at being what it is supposed to be. But is this good for the native? Not necessarily! In many charts in which there are a number of highly dignified planets, matters signified by these often do not work out very well. The dignified planetary energies seem to compete and make it difficult for the native to focus.
Also, from the point of view of medieval astrology, a planet really should not be essentially dignified if it is the ruler of the twelfth house. If the ruler of the twelfth house is dignified and malefic, it means one's secret enemies are very good at being secret enemies. What would be more desirable according to medieval astrologers is to have the ruler of the twelfth house debilitated. This would mean that one's secret enemies are not very good at doing what they are supposed to do. In reality, of course, the twelfth house is not just secret enemies, it is also the house of the transcendence of the false self. It is enlightenment. (22) Possibly one might want a dignified malefic ruling the twelfth house from this point of view of enlightenment. But even here it could indicate that the path toward it is very intense and difficult, even though potentially very successful. From the point of view of ordinary consciousness most would prefer the ruler of the twelfth to be debilitated.
In addition to inner, essential factors we have other, external factors that can also affect matter's ability to assume a form. These are external to the essential nature (which is the same as the form of a thing). These are called "accidents." This is what an accidental dignity indicates. Accidental dignities are environmental circumstances that hinder or assist the manifestation of the planet, but they are external to it. So for example, suppose there is someone who is a brilliant singer, can sing magnificently, but there are no musicians to accompany, and nobody wants to listen. That is like an essentially dignified planet, which is accidently debilitated. For this reason it is clear that astrologers in the past who have advocated combining essential and accidental dignities to get an overall combined dignity score for a planet have advocated something which is incorrect in terms of the real meanings of essential and accidental dignities.
Before we can go any further, I need to make a brief digression concerning the nature of the categories of accidental dignity/debility. They include aspects that assist or inhibit a planet, such that for a planet to be aspected by a malefic was traditionally considered an accidental debility. Similarly, an aspect by a benefic was considered an accidental dignity. Then there is sect, whether a planet is of the day or of the night sect, and a chart is diurnal or nocturnal. (23) It is another accidental dignity/debility. Planets in angular houses are accidentally dignified and in traditional astrology at least, planets in the cadent houses are accidentally debilitated. Also, the planets have certain houses they like to be in, their "joys." These are not the ones most modern astrologers would expect. Mercury's joy is in the first, the Moon's in the third, Venus' in the fifth, Mars' in the sixth, Jupiter's in the eleventh, the Sun's in the ninth, and Saturn's in the twelfth. We also have solar phase, also known as oriental/occidental; also, whether a planet is direct or retrograde; these both depend on where a planet is with respect to the Sun. The most extreme accidental debility in the category of solar phase is combustion. Retrograde is second. Closely related to this we have the matter of how fast a planet is moving, slow is a debility, fast a dignity. These are all accidental dignity categories, each presumably with its own coloration although the old texts are not very clear about exactly what that coloring is in each case.
Returning to essential dignity, from the Aristotelian doctrines of form versus matter we begin to get for the first time an understanding of exactly what it means for a planet to be essentially dignified. It is neither good nor bad. It is simply a difference in the style of a planet's energy. But now we come to what is the most interesting and most compelling use of the form-matter distinction. I am going to propose an answer to a question that used to bother me as well as others in the study of conventional astrology. This pertains to the difference in quality or mode between a planet being in a house and a planet ruling a house. In twentieth century astrology little or no distinction has been made and many astrologers believe that a planet in a house is more powerful for the affairs of that house than the condition of the ruler. But this raises a question regarding horary. Traditional horary astrology reverses this; it does not give as much attention to what house a planet is in compared to what house a planet rules. In horary and electional astrology the "perfection," that is to say the resolution of a matter, is most completely symbolized by the actions of the rulers of the houses involved, not by the occupants. Occupants of houses making good aspects to each other is a second-rate indicator of success, although not worthless. This is one of the great differences between traditional and modern astrology; significantly greater attention is given to the rulers of the houses than to the occupants.
Let us now see, based on medieval texts what the answer is to our question. First let us look at the principle and then examine some passages that support it. This is the principle:
A planet and the sign it is in, in whatever house they may be, are the matter or the material cause of the house. They represent what the house has to work with. The ruler is the formal cause of the house as well the final cause and the efficient cause.
The ruler is the "soul" of the house. The horoscope represents something alive. The ruler of the house is what the house is trying to become, and the ruler is what makes the "house" try to become what it is to become. From this we have the following consequence which is born out in traditional astrology; if the ruler of the house does not aspect the house at least by sign, the house does not work very well. Why? Because the ruler, the "soul," has no connection with its "body;" and the "body" has little potential to assume the form of the "soul" indicated by the ruler. Now, it may seem as if this has been derived by reading between the lines of the texts and this is true to some extent, but, as we shall see, there are texts which actually make the principle quite clear.
According to all of this, here is the best thing to have in an astrological house. There is a planet in the house and that planet in turns makes a good aspect to the ruler of the house by degree. This is called "reception". It is not mutual reception, but simple reception. When a planet makes an aspect to one of its rulers, particularly the ruler by exaltation or the ruler by sign, that means the ruler is directly connected to the house and it is capable of making the affairs of that house turn out properly. The ruler assists the house. This may seem rather theoretical so what are the practical implications for astrology? One such implication is as follows: remember the principle that in temporal sequence matter always precedes the form in manifestation. That means, concretely, the signs and planets of a house indicate the early stages of the development of that house, and the rulers indicate the final outcome. This is not merely theory; it works in practice. It may happen in two ways: The planetary occupants of a house may have more impact early in life and the rulers of a house may have more impact later in life; that is one way. It can also be that in any given process that is associated with the house (the process may be repeated several times in the course of one's life) the planets in the house represent the early stages of that process and the rulers indicate the final stages. That is why horary astrologers are interested in the rulers. They care less what happens en route particularly than they do about the outcome. They want to know what the end result is going to be. So they are oriented toward the final cause. The outcome of a horary question is best designated by those things that pertain to final causes; these are the rulers. Now, let us say that someone has a planet that is essentially debilitated in the chart such as Mars in Libra. This will happen shortly in the heavens. (24) We will have Mars in Taurus opposing Venus in Scorpio. They are in their own detriments, but they are in each others' signs. Is this a mutual reception or is it not? The traditional answer is, it is a weak one at best. This is because planets in major debility cannot receive; and this in turn is so because a planet in major debility has a form of low intensive magnitude and therefore cannot offer much assistance to the material cause in its assuming the final form. This is the logic of it.
But let us take the following: Suppose we have Mars in Taurus and Venus in Pisces. Pisces is the exaltation of Venus, Taurus is the detriment of Mars. Let us now assume that they are in sextile. That means Venus as a formal cause is very powerful and through its strength can assist Mars in achieving the proper outcome of Mars in Taurus. In fact Venus can assist Mars so powerfully that the debility of Mars is effectively cancelled. We can say in general that if a debilitated planet makes an aspect to a dignified ruler, the debility is cancelled. This is a medieval doctrine, although seldom recognized now.
Traditional astrological authors seldom ever lay out the philosophical principles of their methods; they simply give illustrations and these illustrations are often rather extreme. James Holden in his introduction to The Judgment of Nativities of Abu ‘Ali Al-Khayyat has made a very important point about this. (25) The reason why traditional astrology from our modern point of view seems to be gloomy and intense is because the authors were trying to give the essential nature of the quality of a combination; but they were not necessarily trying to say what would happen in practice. So they rendered the extreme manifestation so that one could see the nature of the combination. The student was supposed to moderate the interpretation according to the circumstances of the native's life and other factors in the chart. Modern astrological texts give delineation according to a "normal" or expected manifestation. Ancient writers were not so much extremists in reality as they were simply trying to drive the point of what the combinations meant in their pure form.
Getting back to our point, the worst thing that can happen to a house is for its rulers (there are often more than one) to have no aspect whatsoever to that house and in this I mean Ptolemaic aspect (26) and I have to include aspects by sign. This lack of aspect between a house and it rules is a condition known in Greek as apostrophe which is exactly the same word is apostrophe as in the punctuation mark but it is pronounced a-po-stro'-phe and it means "turning away." It may also be translated as "aversion" and in medieval astrology is called "disjunction" or "inconjunction." (27)
Now for our illustrative passages. The first is a quotation from Johannes Schoener, written approximately 1545, in Book I of The Three Books on the Judgment of Nativities, Chapter 6 where he gives aphorisms. (Aphorisms may very well be the curse of late medieval astrology, but they do illustrate principles.
The Ascendant and the Moon are the significators of the body. The Lord of the first and the Lord of the house of the Moon are the significators of the soul. Wherefore, if the Ascendant and the Moon are impeded [afflicted or debilitated] and their lords are free from the malefics, these signify an infirmity of the body but the health of the soul. And if the Ascendant and the Moon are free from the malefics and their lords are impeded, these signify the health of the body and the sad condition of the soul. (28)
This is a direct application of the doctrine that I am now talking about. The Ascendant and the Moon are the body, but their rulers are the soul. This is a very clear illustration of what I have been describing.
Here is a more exotic application of the principle which will require a bit more explanation. It is from Montulmo's text on nativities.
When matter has been rendered out of proper proportion, and the systematic arrangements have been destroyed, the form pre- existing in it does not have the power to remain in the matter, except in a state of corruption. But the Hyleg is constituted as matter with respect to the Alcocoden, and the Alcocoden as form, and the life of the native depends upon both of these mediating, . . . because neither of these can give life to the native by itself alone; therefore if the place of the Hyleg comes to the body of the most true killing planet before the years of the Alcocoden without the aspect of a fortune, then it will kill the native, because the effect for that portion which depends upon the Hyleg, the conserving cause, will be destroyed, and consequently the total effect of both is that [the factor] by which they have been united to dwell in each other is not able to persist any longer. (29)
Let me briefly define a pair of words here which many readers may not be familiar with. These words are Hyleg and Alcocoden. The hyleg of a chart is that planet or body which does the most to determine the overall physical vitality of the native. Typically it is the Sun or Moon, but not always. Methods for determining the hyleg are a source of confusion for every traditional astrologer because all of the sources have different sets of rules. And nobody has yet figured out which are the best ones to use, although there seems to be a gradual convergence on a system taught by Bonatti.
The alcocoden is one of the rulers of the hyleg and it must also aspect the hyleg. Putting this in terms that have already defined, the alcocoden is a lord of the hyleg that also aspects the hyleg, that is, it receives the hyleg. This doctrine is important in traditional astrology for the following reason; according to these authors, if there is no alcocoden, if the hyleg is not received, the native is due to die before the age of twelve. Is this a method that modern astrologers want to know about? There is good news. In the charts of modern people who have no alcocodens, I have found that they have typically had threats to their survival in early life such that they would not have survived in the Middle Ages. But they do survive with modern medicine. So this is not a matter of unalterable fate. But this not important for us here. The important matter is what the hyleg and alcocoden are. "When matter [the material cause, indicated by the hyleg] has been rendered out of proper proportion and the systematic arrangements have been destroyed, the form [formal cause indicated by the alcocoden] preexisting in it, does not have the power to remain in the matter, except in a state of corruption." This says that a formal cause cannot operate within a corrupted material cause. The potential of the material cause to retain the actualized formal cause is weakened. And in case we have not understood the principle, Montulmo states, "But the hyleg is constituted as matter with respect to the alcocoden." The hyleg is the material cause. "And the alcocoden as form." The alcocoden is the formal cause. "And the life of the native depends upon both of these mediating, . . . because neither of these can give life to the native by itself alone. Therefore, if the place of the hyleg comes by primary direction to the body of the most true killing planet before the years of the alcocoden without the aspect of a fortune, than it will kill the native." And I will add that according to Ptolemy one must direct the hyleg to the place of an affliction by a killing planet, and that time period is one estimate of life expectancy. In addition the alcocoden is a planet whose essential dignity (along with its accidental dignities) gives it the strength to confer a certain number of years on the native. If these two systems, the first by directions, and the second by planetary periods, gave the same answer, the medieval astrologer believed that life should end at that time. That was it! From a modern point of view I would say that if this doctrine could be made to work reliably, and I am not going to say that it can be, then it would indicate a period when a native would experience a threat to his or her survival, but it is possible that the threat be overcome. It is not a fated outcome.
So again, we have the hyleg, which is a planet in a place as material cause, and we have its lord, the alcocoden, as the formal cause, and both of these must be in good condition at any time for the native's survival; the hyleg should not be directed to an affliction, and the time of the alcocoden should not have expired, or the native will die.
A last pair of quotations from Schoener will illustrate not only the form-matter connection, but also the time issue; remember that I have said the matter must precede form in manifestation, so Schoener gives these aphorisms:
The Sun in a praiseworthy place and the lords of the Sun's triplicity in evil places, say that at the time of the nativity of the child the father would be well and fortunate, but afterward he would come to poverty.
The Sun in an evil place at the natal hour, and the lords of the Sun's triplicity in a praiseworthy place and in good state, say that the father at the time of the nativity would be poorly established, but afterward he would have more prosperous success. (30)
In the first part the Sun as indicator of the father is in good condition, but the triplicity lords are in poor condition -- the reader should not be concerned as to what triplicity lords are at this point. They should just be understood as a type of ruler; that will suffice. So the good Sun means that matters for the father start out as good. The bad triplicity rulers indicate that it comes out badly. This is an expression of the matter-form and ruled-ruler relationship as a progression in time. And then Schoener reverses the situation just to drive the point home. If the Sun is in poor condition, but the triplicity rulers are in good condition, the father's affairs start out badly and then improve in the course of time.
We now have two major distinctions between the function of an occupant of a house and the function of a ruler of a house which follow logically from the Aristotelian doctrine of form and matter. This may seem a bit abstract, but I have found it to be a useful abstraction, and it has enabled me to articulate the significance of factors in the chart that I was not been able to articulate previously.
To bring this to a conclusion, it is clear that the philosophical principles concerning form and matter were not only very important for the understanding of ancient and medieval astrology, but that for us to make sense of ancient and medieval astrology we have to use the same or equivalent ideas. And we have to do this because astrology has to have a philosophical foundation which is vitalistic, which makes life and consciousness central to all being. Astrology implies this; it must be based on a philosophical system that has this at its core and the philosophical system that we have employed here is indeed a vitalistic philosophy. We cannot regard these as quaint or antique ideas but rather as different and possibly more effective ways of looking at things.
Also, we cannot just take these older philosophical principles as given. Because they are ancient, they may not entirely address legitimate philosophical concerns and issues that have arisen in the times since. It is the role of modern philosophers of astrology (and now it is clear that this is a real category) to update these ancient philosophies, to answer the objections that have been raised since, and to demonstrate in a logical manner the potential validity of a living and vital universe.
It is something we all experience in doing astrology, but if one looks about, it is not a widely held view. We are in the same position as persons who follow traditional religions. They feel, believe and may even know, that there is a living essence at the center of all being, but they have absolutely no philosophical foundation from modern philosophy to support this knowledge. They have their experiences which are very powerful indeed, I do not denigrate them, but there is no philosophical framework for their ideas. (31) It is exactly the same situation we face; however we do have a small advantage which is the fact that a vitalistic philosophy was at the center of astrology in the not too distant past. It can be put back at the center of astrology in the future and it can be brought into the twenty-first century as a living and powerful set of ideas for here and now. We have to have a new relationship to science. We cannot agree any longer that modern Science represents a complete and all-inclusive truth. The difficulty of proving astrology scientifically should not make us feel so disadvantaged. This is a problem which originates more from the limitations of Science than from our deficiencies. We must say the following: We believe that the philosophical foundations of the sciences have many deficiencies, that whatever the merits of the sciences as a set of practical procedures may be, it tells us absolutely nothing about the essential nature of true being. It tells us nothing about the essential nature of our true being. It is therefore not practically useful in regard to these questions; it is also a philosophy which exalts death above life.
1 C.E. = Common Era, equivalent to A.D.
2 The words in Greek are used by Aristotle are tautotes and heterotes, which mean "identity" and "difference." See Aristotle's Metaphysics iii.995b21.
3 The word "to exist" comes from the Latin exsisto, which originally meant to "stand out." It came to mean "to be", "to exist" in the English sense. However, the essential feature of exsisto, is that for "existence" it requires something to stand out from a background as in "figure" and "ground." Without the difference between figure and ground, the figure cannot be said to stand out from the background, i.e., exist.
4 Both words are related to the Latin video, "to see," and the English word "wit" and German wissen which means "to know." Knowing and seeing words often overlap.
5 For those who have studied Qabala, it is clear that in Qabala, forms are inferior entities. The word "form" (at least in English translations of the Qabala) is applied to the material realm as this world is described a realm of forms, that is, limiting and largely material structures. This is not the same as what is meant in Plato and Aristotle. In Greek Philosophy or at least in Platonism forms are superior entities. There is no contradiction here. Platonism and Qabala are not talking about the same thing at all.
6 Accounts of the four causes appear in various places in Aristotle, but see especially the Metaphysics, Book I and principally section 7.
7 Aristotle, De Anima, Book B, passim and especially section 415b.
8 It was this aspect of Aristotle that was adhered to especially by the Spanish-Arabic philosopher known to medieval philosophy as Averröes and his followers the Averröists. Aquinas had to create a synthesis that rejected this before Aristotelianism could become the accepted philosophy of the Church.
9 De Anima, 414a.29. The word entelecheia is translated in some translations as "actuality," in others as "entelechy." "Actuality" only works if one understands the complete meaning of the word as used in this work. Its ordinary language meaning is inadequate.
10 Personal communication. I have not been able to find the text in question.
11 Richard Lemay, Abu Ma'shar and Latin Aristotelianism in the Twelfth Century; the Recovery of Aristotle's Natural Philosophy Through Arabic Astrology (Beirut: 1962), passim.
12 Vettius Valens, Anthology, Book IV, Robert Schmidt trans. (Berkeley Springs, WV: Golden Hind Press, 1996). This contains most of the material on Greek time-lord systems. The idea behind these systems is that specific planets or signs rule specific periods of life according to system of periods allocated to planets or signs.
13 Personal communications and various lectures on the subject.
14 The term "native" is a common translation of the Latin natus. It means "the one who is born," in other words, the person whose chart is being analyzed.
15 Robert Schmidt, trans., "Material Attributed to Valens" in Dorotheus, Orpheus, Anubio, & Pseudo-Valens: Teachings on Transits (Berkeley Springs, WV: Golden Hind Press, 1995), 14-23.
16 This is never explicitly stated in the text, but one can readily see it in the delineations given in the text.
17 Ptolemy uses the same formula for day and night births, but virtually every other source from the ancient world give a separate night formula as shown here. Only later when Ptolemy came to be regarded as the ultimate authority (early modern Europe) was the night formula dropped. We have found the use of the nocturnal formula of the Part of Fortune for night births to be essential. The same is true for the Part of Spirit. For a discussion of these lots in day and night charts and other issues concerning their meaning see Robert Hand, Night and Day (Reston, VA: ARHAT, 1995), 33-30.
18 Dorian Greenbaum, trans., Late Classical Astrology: Paulus Alexandrinus and Olympiodorus with the Scholia from Later Commentators (Reston, VA: ARHAT publications, 2001), 106-111, and Appendix I.
19 The houses counted from the sign of the Part of Fortune.
20 It may even be that Abu Mashar was the first to use the term, but this has not been proved yet. See Lemay, passim.
21 One can also say that about God in the stage prior to manifestation. So are we looking at the highest aspect of existence, or the lowest aspect, or is there no distinction. The ultimate hidden aspect of God and the lowest form of matter as potential, are equally indescribable in the same way. Are they the same thing? Can one even talk about them as beings?
22 This aspect of the twelfth house is explicitly revealed in Hindu astrology.
23 A diurnal chart is one in which the Sun is above the horizon; a nocturnal chart is one in which the Sun is below the horizon.
24 The lecture on which this paper is based was given in October 2005.
25 James Holden, trans., Abu ‘Ali Al-Khayyat: The Judgments of Nativities (Tempe, AZ: American Federation of Astrologers, 1988), 18.
26 The so-called Ptolemaic aspects, used by all astrologers until Johannes Kepler in the seventeenth century, are the conjunction (also known as "conjunction by body"), the sextile, the square, the trine and oppositions (all also known as "conjunctions by aspect").
27 It is worth mentioning that if one uses the quincunx as an aspect, it should not be called "inconjunct," because the phrase "inconjunct aspect" is self-contradictory. An "inconjunct aspect" means "a joining which is not joined." We should always call it the quincunx. I am not saying it does not join two planets, but it should be called a "quincunx."
28 Johannes Schoener, Three Books on the Judgment of Nativities, Book I, Robert Hand, trans. (Reston, VA: Arhat Publications, 2001), 106.
29 Antonio de Montulmo, On the Judgment of Nativities, Part I, Robert Hand trans. (Berkeley Springs, WV: Golden Hind Press, 1995), 62-63. This edition is currently out of print and will be re-issued with substantial revisions by ARHAT in the future.
30 Schoener, 52.
31 I refer here to traditional religion in its popular forms. There are indeed philosophical systems that are still employed to support traditional religions such as Thomism in the Catholic Church, but these are not usually seriously regarded in the modern, secular, philosophy departments of academic institutions.