Hellenistic astrology is the form of astrology practised between 1st century BCE and 7th century CE (approximately) in the area surrounding the Meditteranean.
It’s the basis of techniques that are still used today, such as the core approach of using zodiac signs, house, planets, degree based aspects aspects, quaduplicites, triplicities, and gender. However some of the theory and techniques were lost over time only to be rediscovered in the early 2000’s through efforts such as Project Hindsight, which translated a number of ancient astrological texts and brought to light some of the lost techniques.
How is Hellenistic astrology different to modern astrology?
Use of the 7 traditional planets
One of the main distinguishing features is the use of only the 7 traditional inner planets in delineations. The outer planets Pluto, Neptune and Uranus were not originally incorporated into ancient techniques as the planets hadn’t been discovered. However a number of modern Hellenistic astrologers do incorporate them but only as a secondary considerations or in transit work. Core natal delineations will primarily use the 7 planets: Sun and Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
This means that each zodiac signs has only one planetary ruler. Scorpio, Aquarius and Pisces have one ruler each, rather than the modern assignation of two (one traditional and one outer planet).
|PLANET||ASSOCIATED ZODIAC SIGN(S)|
Houses and House system
Another difference is the house division system as Hellenistic astrology uses the whole-sign house system, whereas the most common system in modern usage is Placidus (other quadrant systems are also used, although whole sign house appears to be being used by more astrologers now). In this system each zodiac sign concides with one house so that all 30 degrees of a sign are present that house. The Ascendent degree will be located somewhere within the first house.
The whole-sign house system is one of the oldest. There were other house systems in existence, for example the equal house and Porphyry, but it has been argued by astrology historians such as Chris Brennan and Demetra George that the majority of charts discovered appeared to use the whole-sign system. Quadrant based house systems seem to have been used for specific timing techniques or to determine the dynamic strength of planets. Some astrologers today are trying to integrate the two systems, for example by looking at whole sign houses for topical interpretations, and the quadrant house chart to assess planetary strength.
There are also some differences in the topics assigned to houses. For example sex is assigned to the 5th house rather than the 8th house.
The concept of the12 letter alphabet doesn’t exist in Hellenistic astrology. This is the correspondence of a zodiac sign to a house and ruling planet, for example Aries corresponding to the 1st house and Mars, making them essentially interchangeable rearding significations. In Hellenistic astrology significations of the houses are derived from their configuration to the rising sign, the concept of angularity, and an association with the planetary joys.
Hellenistic astrology utilizes sign based aspects in addition to degree based aspects, whereas modern astrology only uses degree based ones. This is founded on the concept of the ability of planets to ‘see’ each other, which can be by sign or by degree.
Modern astrology uses a wide variety of aspects, for examples the quixunct, semi-sextile, bidecile. Hellenistic astrology only uses the five major ones, shown in the table below.
|Hellenistic Astrology Aspects|
|Sextile (60 degrees)|
|Square (90 degrees)|
|Trine (120 degrees)|
|Opposition (180 degress)|
|(Conjunction, 0 degrees)|
The conjunction wasn’t technically viewed as an aspect as the planets are co-present rather than seeing each other in a line of sight, but for convenience it’s generally included under the term ‘Aspects’. The modern semi-sextile was not recognized as an aspect but was a condition called ‘Aversion’.
The concept of sect, benefics, and malefics are core to Hellenistic astrology, and are different to modern western astrological concepts. Planets are assigned to either the Dirunal or Nocturnal sect, which affects the way they function in the chart, depending on whether it’s a night chart or a day chart. The criteria determines how malefic or benefic a planet is likely to act in addition to other considerations such as dignity and angularity.
|Diurnal Sect||Nocturnal sect|
|Sun, Jupiter, Saturn||Moon, Venus, Mars|
Mercury will be of the Dirunal sect if it’s a morning star, and Nocturnal if an evening star.
The idea of labelling planets as malefic or benefic is often rejected by modern astrologers, but the underlying premise is to reflect the human condition which includes both positive and more challenging experiences in the life.
The chart as the life (not the psyche)
Modern astrology uses the entire natal chart as a psychological map of the native. Hellenistic astrology treats the rising sign (1st house) and ruler as indicative of the character and psychology of the native, with the remaining planetary placements and aspects signifying events, situations, or people that occur in the life. The zodiacal sign the Sun is in doesn’t speak to the personality or character in the same way as you find in modern Sun Sign astrology, unless the Sun is ruling the first house or is in the first house at the time of birth.
For example in a natal chart with Gemini rising on the 1st house, and Mercury in Aries, we would look at both the significations and condition of Mercury in Aries to indicate the personality of the native. Any planets placed in Gemini would add further colour to this.
Hellenistic astrology also utilises various techniques such as length of life technique, annual profections and zodiacal releasing, which are not generally part of the modern western astrological tradition.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Hellenistic astrology, both it’s history and techniques in depth, I recommend Chris Brennan’s book ‘Ancient Astrology, The Study of Fate and Fortune’ or Demetra George’s ‘Ancient Astrology in Theory and Practise’ volumes I and II.
Image by ha11ok at Pixabay