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Astrology by Hand Week 5

The Challenge of Horary

Last week I said that we would examine a branch of astrology that truly challenges the scientific paradigm. Here goes!

For those who do not know, horary astrology is the ancient art of answering specific questions through astrology. And what makes horary a challenge to the scientific paradigm is not just that it attempts to answer specific questions, but how it tries to do this. After all, conventional natal  astrology also sometimes tries to answer specific questions, such as if a person will marry, or what their talents are. Even humanistic astrology will attempt to answer questions, but it asserts that the most likely answers given by the chart are not irreversibly fated, merely probable.

What makes horary astrology seem weird to those who are not used to it is that it attempts to answer questions based not on a birth chart or the chart of an event but on a chart erected for the moment of the asking of the question. I was among the number of skeptics for years. I thought that horary astrology “worked” in some strange manner, but that it consisted of an arbitrary set of principles that practitioners could bend at will to get either whatever answer they personally wanted out of the chart, or whatever answer they needed in order to reinforce a conclusion they had already come to psychically.

(Stop and think about this for a moment. In how many fields of study would you ever find “psychic powers” used as a “rational” explanation for results that seem impossible? We do this all the time in astrology. It means that strange as psychic powers may seem to people outside of astrology, we astrologers regard psychic powers as being ordinary compared to some astrological effects. And we wonder why astrology seems strange to scientists?)

Throughout the history of astrology, but especially in the years in which astrology was most on the defensive, would-be “scientific” astrologers regarded horary astrology as an embarrassment and bordering on charlatanry. I never regarded it as charlatanry, but I did regard it as a different case altogether from natal astrology. Needless to say, I have changed my mind.

Horary astrology is not arbitrary; one cannot derive anything one wants from a chart; and it does not require psychic ability. (All of this assumes that horary is done well and according to some kind of rules.) The normal degree of intuitive ability to put together combinations of symbols is all that is required in horary, not special psychic talents.

My friends who had been practicing horary for years before I did, who know my old attitude and how it has changed, love to rub my nose in it. Well, consider my nose rubbed! Horary works, and may very well be more indicative of what astrology really is than natal astrology, with its alleged greater, although I think specious, claim to be scientific.

The “Birth” of the Question

There is a book on this topic that I think everyone who is interested in the philosophy of astrology should read. It is by Geoffrey Cornelius, and is entitled The Moment of Astrology.* It is an exhaustive discussion of the whole issue of astrology and causation, and with regard to horary in particular. It is a book that every serious student of astrology and philosophy should read and confront, even if one may not agree with everything in the book. Regrettably, it is out of print, although the author is planning to produce a new edition of it on his own. I cannot go into all of the issues Cornelius raises in this column, but let me raise ones that I think are especially important.

Some practitioners have tried to fit horary into the framework of natal astrology by saying that the horary chart is the chart for the “birth” of an idea. If we could accept that, then we could say that horary is at least no worse than natal astrology in challenging the scientific paradigm. (Before I get too many letters on this point let me say that I know that there is more than one scientific “paradigm” and that it is difficult to generalize about all of them. Yet there are certain things that are common to all of them to which I have already alluded in previous installments. This is what I refer to as “paradigm” in the singular.)

However, I don’t think that this “birth of an idea” concept holds much water because of rules that are associated with the asking of a question. These rules vary somewhat from school to school, but all schools of horary hold to enough of these rules to make the “birth of an idea” theory really hard to defend.

Next week we’ll look at these rules and begin to see just how bizarre their implications are.

*Cornelius, Geoffrey. The Moment of Astrology, Origins in Divination. London: Arkana Books, 1994.



Rob Hand, author of Planets in Transit and other works, is now involved in the translation and publication of texts regarding ancient and medieval astrology through ARHAT Media Inc.
View the entire Astrology by Hand Library.

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For more information about Rob Hand, click here.

Other StarIQ articles by Rob Hand:

  • Astrology by Hand 13   7/3/2003
  • Astrology by Hand 1   4/10/2003
  • Astrology by Hand 14   8/11/2001
  • Astrology by Hand 13   8/4/2001
  • Astrology by Hand 11   7/21/2001
  • Astrology by Hand 46   5/5/2001

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