by Hand Week 32
Beneath the Surface of the Interpretation
Let me repeat
the aphorism from Schoener from last week for easy reference.
infortunes (Mars and Saturn) in the Sixth House with Venus, the native’s
wives will be women of ill-repute.”
As I said
last week, this is a typical medieval, Greek or Hindu style of one-liner
that often leaves modern and Western astrologers breathless with a “where
did they get that?” kind of response. And does this really mean that and
to the second question is easy. No! This combination can mean all manner
of things, but the texts do not give the principles behind the text. They
only give the zippy one-liner.
modern astrologers, the presence of these three planets (Venus, Mars and
Saturn) would represent a loaded Sixth House, but modern astrologers would
not be really interested unless they were closely conjunct each other.
For medieval astrologers, the presence in the same house would have been
significant by itself. What would it have meant?
Is a Malefic?
all, Mars and Saturn were both considered malefics, as they are still
by some modern astrologers. In fact, even I do not object to that classification
as long as we really understand what we mean by a malefic. For years I
have been giving the same definition of “malefic.” To wit: a malefic is
a planet that, statistically speaking, most people do not handle very
well! In this I am actually in accord with some of the ancients. Many
of them believed that no planets were inherently evil, but rather that
most of us do not know how to respond to them properly. To me, a malefic
is a planet that we need to be careful with in how we react to it. And
certainly I agree that both Mars and Saturn, difficult as they may be,
are both planetary energies that are useful and necessary.
In any case,
Mars and Saturn were not only regarded as malefic, but also as having
very incompatible natures with regard to each other. Specifically, Mars
was supposed to be very hot and Saturn very cold. Both were also supposed
to be dry, although Saturn was often also associated with things that
were very wet. But Mars’ dryness was supposed to be very destructive,
as was Saturn’s cold. Putting them into the same house was supposed to
make the affairs of that house torn between heat and cold, and so dry
as to not be able to sustain life.
Now we add
Venus. Venus is variously described by the ancient and medieval astrologers
as being moderately warm (Ptolemy) and moderately cool (most medieval
astrologers) and by all as moist. Venus’ moisture puts it at odds with
both Mars and Saturn. And Venus has its qualities in moderation and balance,
so in this way it is also at odds with Mars and Saturn, which have their
qualities to an extreme degree and out of balance. This very extremeness
of quality is one of the things that was supposed to make them malefic
Now we add
another factor. All things being equal, in any pair of planets, the superior
(farther from Earth) of two planets was supposed to be stronger than the
inferior (closer to Earth) planet. Saturn is superior to Mars and Venus,
and Mars is superior to Venus. This makes Venus low on the totem pole
here. Then we also have the struggle between the heat of Mars and the
cold of Saturn. Mars with Venus was supposed to stimulate sexual desire
and passion. Saturn with Venus was supposed to make Venus cold and calculating.
And Venus of course in a man’s chart, along with the Moon, represents
his experience of women. (Actually the medievals would have said that
it represents the actual women, not the experience. This is a modernism
on my part, but one I am reluctant to part with.)
Now we add
the symbolism of the Sixth House as representing, among other things,
social inferiors. Putting this all together we have the symbol of a woman
who is both flagrantly sexual, and cool and calculating, and who is also
a social inferior. I think that you can see how the interpretation was
derived. And actually it may have also been the result of observation,
but we do not know that.
understand the logic of an aphorism in theoretical terms, it is obvious
that the combination could have many meanings, and so it was in traditional
astrology. One frequently finds aphorisms with the same or nearly the
same combinations of factors with quite different interpretations. This
is proof that the contents of aphorisms were not intended to exhaust the
possibilities of the combination.
So one might
ask, if they never gave theoretical statements about how things worked,
where am I getting the stuff that I referred to in my explanations above?
The answer is that to some extent they did present theory. It is just
that after presenting theory they tended not to show its logic in explaining
aphorisms. Theory and application in the old texts tend to occupy different
portions of the text. Even in Ptolemy, who was the first to try to expound
the theoretical bases of astrology, we see this gap. How theory applied
to the individual aphorisms was an exercise largely left to the student.
We will talk more about traditional astrological theory next week. But
for now the main point is this: the theoretical foundations of traditional
astrology are quite elegant and can serve, as we shall see, to bring about
an intelligent use of traditional methods in modern times.