Thoughts on “Words of my Perfect Teacher”

Posted: September 5th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Buddhism | No Comments »

Every so often I get a little ping to read a particular book. One of these happened a few weeks ago with an introduction to Tibetan Buddhism called Words of my Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche. After browsing the excerpt on Amazon, I thought it might be useful to read so I could understand Kalagni’s Buddhist tradition better.

Buddhism has gone under some amazing shifts over the centuries as new cultures and times encountered the Dharma. The West has been doing the same thing for about 60 years or so now. Tibetan Buddhism in various forms is quite popular here, along with Zen and the Vipassana tradition. Cultural enclaves throughout the U.S. and Canada also follow their own unique forms.

I am what is known as an early Buddhist. This is a Buddhist that tries to use scholarship and linguistics to find out which texts are the earliest in the tradition, and thus closest to the Buddha’s actual words. In practice, this means I follow Theravada but hew closely to the suttas and look at commentarial literature with a skeptical view. If I can’t reference something back to the suttas, I tend to ignore it unless it’s a very useful concept (e.g. access concentration).

So why am I reading an introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, a tradition well-removed from the earliest teachings? First, I wanted to see what commonalities there were between my tradition and Kalagni’s tradition from a book that purports itself to be “A Complete Translation of a Classic Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism” according to the subtitle. Second, the Tibetan texts I’ve read, mostly hagiographies and The Way of the Bodhisattva, have a particular forcefulness that I appreciate. Third, sheer curiosity.

I knew that a lot of the book was going to be impenetrable without the aid of a lama going in. While I have some scholarly knowledge about Tantra from a Hindu perspective thanks to my college education, the details of how Tantra fits into the context of Tibetan Buddhism is beyond me with what I know. Thus, for this discussion I’m setting aside most of the Tantra stuff and focusing on the earlier preliminaries.

It was an extremely interesting read, but it left me with a lot of questions. Some things were in great accordance with the suttas. There were even some direct references. But there were also some great differences. This post is both a way to sort out my thoughts about the text and to open the floor for discussion. Expect multiple parts, and probably a number of responses from Kalagni. This one is just an introduction to the text so readers have some context.

About the text

Patrul Rinpoche, the author of the text, was a member of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. The word derives from “old” or “ancient” in Tibetan. It is considered to be the oldest school. Patrul Rinpoche was also a member of the Rime movement, a non-sectarian movement that tried to break down the barriers between the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

How texts are transmitted in Tibetan Buddhism seems to be a big thing. For instance, the Kagyu school is the “whispered transmission” school, where the emphasis seems to be on direct instructions from lama to disciple. In Nyingma, there are two lines: the Kahma (bka’ ma), or oral lineage that’s passed from lama to disciple, but there also Terma (gter ma), or spiritual treasures. These are texts that were, according to legend, hidden all across Tibet by Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tshogyal to be discovered in later ages at an appropriate time.

Words of my Perfect Teacher (Kunzang Lamai Shelung)  is an introduction to how to use one of these Terma texts. It details the preliminary practices necessary to use the instructions in the Longchen Nyingtik (klong chen snying thig), The Heart-Essence of the Vast Expanse. This text was discovered in the 1700s by Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa. According to legend, he received this text as a series of visions from Longchenpa. Jigme Lingpa taught Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu the teachings. Patrul is said to have received the preliminary teachings from Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu no less than 14 times. Patrul then wrote them down in this book.

The intro to the book from the translator says that it is a type of literature called a “written guide” (khrid yig), which “emulate and supplement the oral explanations needed to elucidate a meditation text.” Thus, we need to talk a bit about the structure of the cycle of teachings to understand how the book is laid out.

  • Preliminaries (snogn ‘gro)
    • Outer Preliminaries
      • The Freedoms and Advantages of Human Life
      • Impermanence
      • The Sufferings of Samsara
      • Karma
      • The Benefits of Liberation
      • How to Follow a Spiritual Teacher
    • Inner Preliminaries
      • Taking Refuge
      • Generation of Bodhicitta
      • Purification through the Practice of Vajrasattva
      • Accumulation of Merit through the Offering of the Mandala
      • Guru Yoga
  • Main Practice (dngos gzhi)
    • Generation Phase (bskyed rim)
    • Perfection Phase (rdzogs rim)
    • Great Perfection (rdzogs pa chen po)

Everything from the Vajrasattva practice on really starts getting into the Tantric side of Tibetan Buddhism, but each level builds upon the prior level. Indeed, each step, even the preliminaries, could be considered to be a complete path in itself. This is reflected in certain suttas. In this text, Guru Yoga is especially emphasized.

Future posts on this will take these topics in turn. Some will probably require multiple posts.

The Goal

If you’re going to practice a spiritual path, then you need to know where it is heading. The goals between the type of Buddhism that I practice and the Buddhist path pointed to in Words of my Perfect Teacher are very different. Since the goal of the book is seen as an add-on beyond the goal of my path, it would be good to share some of the doctrinal differences.

In early Buddhism, and in Theravada, practice is informed by the Four Noble Truths and is practiced by following the Noble Eightfold Path. The goal is to release yourself from the cycle of birth and death by seeing reality as it actually is (impermanent, unsatisfactory, and coreless), and finding its opposite in Nirvana, an unconditioned, perfectly peaceful state. This is done by stages, releasing various fetters along the way such as identity view or greed. The ultimate stage for the practitioner is the arahant. The arahant lives out the remainder of their life before getting released from the cycle of birth and death. The text refers to this as the shravakayana path (not gonna mess with the proper diacritics).

Mahayana takes this one step further. They think that it is improper to get yourself out of the cycle and leave everyone else behind. It is better to get very close to liberation, but not too close, and help others reach full liberation before you. Ideally, you want to generate the wish that you will liberate all sentient beings on all planes before you do. A person who follows this training is called a bodhisattva. The completion of this practice results in the creation of a Buddha. It appears that anyone with sufficient will and desire to follow this practice can do so, though how far they’ll get is another thing entirely. Especially since it takes a massive number of lifetimes to do it.

Bodhisattvas are also in early Buddhism, but only peripherally. The Tathagata (how the Buddha referred to himself) would refer to himself as an “unenlightened Bodhisattva” when talking about his life prior to full awakening. There are also suttas about the Bodhisattva-to-come, Maitreya, who will appear many years in the future to teach the Dharma again after it has decayed on Earth. Usually, they start their journey in the presence of another existing Buddha by making an aspiration in their presence and having it vindicated by that Buddha. But there’s no sutta that points out “this is how you become a bodhisattva” or “it’s better to become a bodhisattva” in the suttas that I’ve been able to find.

Vajrayana, Tantric Buddhism, takes it a step further. By using the methods of Tantra, Vajrayana practitioners attempt to do a massive transmutation of themselves so they can achieve the status of a Buddha in one lifetime, or at least as few lifetimes as possible. Tantric Buddhists practitioners are rare, as there is a very long preliminary purification process that must happen before teachers allow new students to take up those practices. The inner preliminaries section is the core of these.

I have three main problems with the Mahayana perspective:

  • A Bodhisatta makes a promise to liberate all sentient beings, yet there have been many Buddhas that have come and gone. The Buddha of this time even had to be convinced to teach. There are suttas that talk about how the Buddha is unable to save everyone if they’re unwilling to put in the effort. At a certain point, he just stops teaching them. Is there a point when they just realize they’re not going to be able to reach everyone? Does this mean they are breaking their vow to liberate everyone, or is the vow merely to have the wish to do so even if it’s impossible? Or does “liberate all sentient beings” have another meaning beyond the surface meaning?
  • There is a daily recollection that basically says that everyone is responsible for their own karma. “‘I am the owner of my actions (kamma), heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir’…” While we can provide a positive influence by being loving and compassionate, etc., ultimately it is up to each individual to generate the path and follow it by hearing about the Dharma and putting in the effort. How, then, can one person liberate another beyond teaching them Dharma and hoping it sticks?
  • The shravakayana path is seen as a “middling” path because it focuses on individual liberation rather than the “great” wish of liberating all beings. Some call it as selfish. But it makes me think of the simile of the bamboo acrobats. There’s a mutual dependence of benefiting self and other through focusing on your own actions.

I have no opinion one way or the other on Vajrayana, beyond the Mahayana arguments. I know way too little about it to have one. Hopefully, through analyzing this text and raising questions along the way, I can gain a better perspective.

Saturn’s Scythe

Posted: April 7th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

I’ve been thinking about fate and being led down roads this morning, and I had a realization. Saturn has really been at the forefront of my experience for a long time. For readers unfamiliar with Saturn in an astrological sense, he’s the planet of cutting and avoiding and solitude, of strict separation and death, the ruler of the hidden and the twisted. He is the greater malefic, and while he can have his good side there is a lot about him that’s bad about him, at least from a human conception of good and bad.

Saturn, in my chart, sits 2 degrees above my ascendant point. This means he has an extremely strong influence in my personal experience of life. Astronomically, Saturn was just rising over the horizon as I was born. I do have some attenuating factors that modify Saturn’s baneful influence, but such a placement means that it’s very difficult to escape him.

Saturn is in Virgo, not the best or worst place for him, but the symbolism of being in the sign of the sheaf makes me think of his scythe, and how planets that are middling often bring about results and then cut them down. It’s this maturation and harvest cycle that has driven me to write this piece.

When a plant is harvested, it’s the end of a long process of growth. The plant wishes it could continue, to move into the next phase, but something from outside comes along and cuts it in its prime. This isn’t always a bad thing. Let a cucumber grow too long and the fruit will get huge but bitter. Carrots grown too long will go wooden and be only good for seed. But I think if plants had feelings they’d feel rather put off that they were cut down just as they hit their high point.

Thinking back on my life, this has been an ongoing theme. Circumstances from outside rush in to cut me off from things that I considered at the time to be growth opportunities. Geographic locations, religions, interests, occasionally even lovers. My impression is that things are going great, and then they’re gone.

This has made me bitter sometimes. True to my Leo nature, I would like to make some sort of lasting achievement that gets attention. It’s rather frustrating to start to get close to being really good at something and then for reality to thrust something in the way that can’t be ignored. Attempts in the past to force old interests back to the top again usually get knocked down very fast.

But there’s a wisdom that comes from this as well, and a feeling of guidance, if you take the time to look at the things that were cut away and integrate what you were taught during that time. Saturn, at least in my chart, isn’t a wanton cutter, but more of a careful pruner in my life. He just doesn’t consult me first before stepping in.

There are some long-standing plants in my life’s garden and they’re all of a Saturnian bent. Vocal singing is one, and I must admit that I prefer to sing Saturnian songs. Gardening is another, and we mustn’t forget that Saturn is also a god of agriculture and construction. Divination on occasion, but not outright magic. Can’t forget minimalism as well. And I’ve always appreciated old things. Buddhism is also a very Saturnian religion.

I wonder what would happen if I leaned into this phenomenon?


The Gradual Training

Posted: January 29th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Buddhism | No Comments »

download (30)In the continued Buddhism conversation Kalagni and I are having, he responded to my question about what Vajrayana adds in value compared to the standard Theravada set of practices. I’m setting aside further questions on that post because I want to discuss something that I think isn’t talked about as much as it should be, especially in today’s climates of “mindfulness” brouhaha.

One of the questions that Buddhists are often asked is whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy. It’s really neither, at least in the standard ways we talk about both of these things. In my actual lived experience of Buddhism, it’s actually a set of practices that lead to particular ways of viewing the world and certain experiences that eliminate our dissatisfaction. Yes, there can be religious elements, and there are certainly philosophical tenants (and disagreements!) between the schools. But Buddhism is no place for mental sophistry. It is the actual practice that is important.

Buddhism is, first and foremost, a set of practices designed to bring you to nibbana (nirvana), a state free from dissatisfaction. At least in its ultimate expression anyway. So, what are these practices?

What I want to talk about in this post is called the gradual training, anupubbasikkha. I believe this is called lamrim in Vajrayana. The practice of Buddhism is a gradual thing. It can happen over many lifetimes. It can happen over one lifetime. But it’s a process of slow improvement through the training until the desired state is reached.

“Desired state” is also key, because not everyone wants to become liberated, obviously. The Buddha had many classes of people ask for help for their particular stage of life. In my tradition, the monastics got most of the training but that doesn’t mean laypeople or even people outside the Buddhist fold were ignored. There are plenty of laypersons who also attained certain states that guaranteed liberation as well. It depended on the individual and how well they followed the practice instructions.

One of the classic similes of Dhamma (a word with many meanings) is the slow descent of land going into the ocean until the sudden drop at the edge of a continental shelf. So too, Dhamma practice descends gradually into the depths until the sudden fall into liberation. But you have to actually walk out into the ocean to experience it.

The things that Kalagni and I have been talking about so far fall under pariyatti, theory. But you can’t attain liberation simply by knowing theory. It is an experiential practice. The gradual training teaches you patipatti, how to put the theory into practice. With enough practice and enough theory to inform it, you reach pativedha, penetration, experientially realizing the truth of the theory.

The Gradual Training for Non-Buddhists

So where does one begin then with Buddhist training? It really depends on where you’re starting from and there are several different formulations. I’ll be discussing the Theravada viewpoint. For non-Buddhists who are curious but hadn’t devoted themselves to the Buddhist path, the training goes like this:

  • Generosity
  • Virtue
  • Heaven
  • Danger of sensual pleasure
  • Renunciation
  • The Noble Truths

Each one of these is a post unto itself, but I’ll try to briefly cover them. Generosity is the grease that keeps the relationship between the monastic community, the Sangha, and the lay community smooth. The monastics are dependent upon the laypeople for everything just as the laypeople are dependent upon them for proper instruction. There are also reasons to give such as generating merit, which is a topic for another post. Generosity isn’t limited just to giving to monastics, but it is emphasized for reasons of merit. For most people, the act of giving feels very good so it’s not difficult to get this far.

The next step is virtue, which for laypeople means the practice of the five precepts. I’ll be doing a separate post on those too, but in brief they are agreements to take up the training rules of avoiding killing, taking what hasn’t been given, sexual misconduct, false speech, and the taking of intoxicants. Practicing these restraints is easy for most people, and for those that struggle it helps them start to become mindful of what is happening in their minds. Taking up the precepts for a time and seeing the change before and after brings a greater measure of happiness than generosity alone. There are also deeper levels of virtue and different formulations of additional precepts, but this suffices for now.

download (31)Next is heaven, which can be read as what can you do to help yourself get a good rebirth. Part of the Buddhist viewpoint is that rebirth is a fact of reality. A lot of Westerners get hung up at this point because of their scientism.

The Buddha was fully aware that some people had no interest in meditation, liberation, or any of the later practices. They just wanted to have a good life this time and get a good rebirth for the next life. Gaining a heavenly rebirth primarily has to do with continuing to generate merit and avoiding demerit by performing appropriate actions and refraining from negative ones. Many of the deeper levels of virtue touch upon the practices of behavior that are germane to this step.

If you want to dive in, the Brahmins of Sala sutta (MN 41) talks about why people get reborn into heaven or hell, and the ten courses of wholesome and unwholesome action, and how through following the wholesome and leaving behind the unwholesome you can attain many different levels of good rebirth.

Practices such as generating lovingkindness and so forth are also found at this stage. Thorough cultivation of the so-call brahmavihara states leads to rebirth in special heavenly realms beyond the standard ones.

Some people see that the mere pursuit of heaven isn’t really going to make them fully happy. For these individuals, the Buddha helps them to understand that, yes, their intuitions are correct, and teach about the drawbacks of sensual pleasures. It is at this point that another form of the gradual training could begin, the kind designed for those who want to reach nibbana. I’ll go over that below.

Through further practice and reflection, the trainee begins to practice renunciation to whatever extent they can. Often people who take up renunciation find that their lives become much simpler and happier. At this stage they may also decide to take up the pursuit of non-sensual pleasures, such as the bliss of meditative absorption (jhana).

It is only after this point that the four Noble Truths are taught. Here is the standard formulation of the first path in the suttas:

“Then the Blessed One gave the householder … progressive instruction, that is, talk on giving, talk on virtue, talk on the heavens; he explained the danger, degradation, and defilement in sensual pleasures and the blessing of renunciation. When he knew that the householder[‘s] … mind was ready, receptive, free from hindrances, elated, and confident, he expounded to him the teaching special to the Buddhas: suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path.”

The Gradual Training for Serious Practitioners

While all of the above steps are part of the path, it is at this stage that the monk’s path and the householder path starts to merge together. There are a number of formulations for this as well, as you can see by this complicated chart.

Instead of going through every detail of all the steps, I’m going to smash some of them together to make it easier to grasp.

  • Going forth
  • Virtue
  • Preparatory practices
  • Abandoning the hindrances
  • Jhana practice
  • Insight practice
  • Weird stuff
  • Liberation

images (7)Going forth, pabbajja, is becoming a monk. For a layperson, I would call it having enough confidence in the training that they’re willing to turn it up another notch and pursue liberation. Becoming a monk is NOT a necessary requirement to attain guarantee of liberation. It’s just an optimal environment for training, and only if the the Sangha is in good order.

Virtue, sila, is reframed in the suttas that talk about this type of gradual training in terms of the monastic rules, the patimokkha. For laypeople, much of the same areas of virtue practiced in the earlier path would be here. It would just be further refinements at this point.

Next are preparatory practices to further put the mind into a state suitable for meditation. The primary practices here are “guarding the sense doors”, “mindfulness and clear comprehension”, and contentment with little. These are very useful practices to scrub the mind throughout the day to prepare it for actual meditation. Moderation in eating and devotion to wakefulness are also recommended, though most monks living in a vihara (monastery) are already going to have these restricted. Most laypeople cannot practice these two other practices well unless on solo retreat due to social considerations.

With all that in place, the mind is primed for good meditation. Abandoning the hindrances is a process in meditation where the fundamental obstacles are learned to be eliminated. These are attraction, aversion, too much energy in the mind, too little energy in the mind, and doubt. They have more formal names, but I like these better.

When the meditator can suppress these enough, then jhana practice proper can begin. Why learn jhanas? I’ll use a metaphor that I’ve heard from my teacher’s jhana instructor. There’s a bodhisattva called Manjushri in the Tibetan tradition that carries a sword of wisdom that cuts through ignorance. Jhana practice is like sharpening that sword. The mental clarity you get when you emerge from a jhanic state is the best method for doing insight practice.

Some practice traditions eschew the jhanas entirely, but I feel this is a mistake and to go into the reasons would be a whole different post.

Insight practice, vipassana, is where you get into the deep meat of meditation. There’s lots of different methods. The goal is to see reality as it actually is, impermanent, unsatisfactory, and coreless, through the uninvolved observation of various mental and physical factors. Insight practice is the practice that actually liberates you. Everything else prior to this is foundation material so you can get a smooth insight practice.

Both jhana practice and insight practice can be done around the same time, or even before some of the other steps are in place. But it’s a lot like trying to throw a party in a dirty house.

As you practice jhana and vipassana to high levels, weird stuff can start to happen. This is where things like recollection of past lives, psychic powers, knowledge of the rebirth of deceased beings, and so forth come about. It doesn’t happen to everyone. Supposedly they can be cultivated but it requires high meditation skills that I don’t have. None of it seems to be necessary, though remembering past lives and seeing beings pass and re-arise according to their karma is brought up a lot so gaining these faculties may be necessary for full liberation.

Eventually, all the work put into the practice culminates in an experience of nibbana, the unconditioned state. I’ll set aside the question of what nibbana is for another time. For now, let’s say there’s an experience of enlightenment. Depending on the depth of that experience, the meditator will reach one of the levels of awakening. Each level is marked by an elimination or weakening of a set of ten fetters that bind us to the wheel of rebirth. If you manage to get this far, congrats! Assuming you met the absolute minimum level, you’ll be enlightened in 7 more lives and escape unsatisfactoriness completely after that.

This is Theravada Buddhist practice in a nutshell, at least according to the suttas. There are other supplementary practices, but this is the high-level overview of what you actually practice.

The Three Types of Dukkha

Posted: December 20th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Buddhism | 1 Comment »

I want to talk about dukkha, an incredibly important concept in Buddhist thought. Kalagni translates it as “suffering” in his latest post. I prefer the term “unsatisfactoriness”, but there is really no good English translation for the term dukkha. It literally breaks down into “bad space”. One of the meanings for kha is space, specifically the space inside of a wheel where an axle went. The prefix du- means bad. I’ve never ridden in an oxcart, but I have driven cars with bad wheel bearings/shocks/struts and it’s not fun at all.

And that’s pretty much what the first truth says. Life sucks. Our oxcart of samsara (“wandering”, the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth) was built on a Monday. It’s inherently unsatisfactory in all aspects, but to really understand why we need to fully unpack what dukkha means.

There is a fundamental problem with existence. Nobody is perfectly happy at all times. Even enlightened people still have unsatisfactoriness due to the nature of their bodies and from outside influences. The Buddha was slandered throughout his life. One of his chief disciples was stoned to death. He had to lay out rule after rule because his monks and nuns kept screwing up. Warring kings were always coming to him looking for advice. Even assassinations were made against him on multiple occasions.

Buddha defeating the Daughters of Mara

Buddha defeating the Daughters of Mara

Yet throughout Buddhist history, practitioners of the teachings both lay and monastic have been able to secure happiness for themselves. Why are so many Buddhist monks and nuns of all different stripes seem so happy despite a preoccupation with the unsatisfactoriness of life? It’s because they’re willing to face dukkha and understand it, as well as practicing the other three truths.

But for many people just hearing about the reality that life sucks is an thought-stopper, something people reject emotionally and refuse to hear any arguments about. But this puts us in a dangerous situation. Wapole Rahula, a Buddhist scholar, explains it like this. You’re sick and you go to the doctor. One doctor tells you not to think about your problems and that everything will be okay. This is one extreme. Another doctor says your problem is way worse than it actually is and there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s the other extreme.

A good doctor would correctly diagnose the illness, figure out the cause, give a prognosis, and then give you a regimen to fix it. This is a direct correlation for the Four Noble Truths:

  • Truth of Dukkha: Life sucks. (problem)
  • Truth of the Origin of Dukkha: Craving is the origin (diagnosis)
  • Truth of the Cessation of Dukkha: This problem is curable! The Buddha found a way to fix it. This is the part most non-Buddhists miss. (prognosis)
  • Truth of the Path of Liberation from Dukkha: Here, follow the Noble Eightfold Path and you’ll eliminate the problem. (prescription)

Each of the Noble Truths has a task associated with it. The task for the first Noble Truth is understanding. We need to have an objective view on what is actually going on uncolored by our viewpoints, especially if we are to take the medicine of the fourth truth for best effect.

Divisions of Dukkha

images (17)

Dead bodies aren’t much fun

Dukkha can be divided into three broad types. The first is actual dukkha, literally dukkha-dukkha. This is all the traditional forms of suffering that we associate with the term. Straight-up physical and mental suffering as experienced through the whole lifespan from birth to death. Basically, any experience that is painful in and of itself falls into this category.

These are the sorts of sufferings that are part and parcel of existing, and existences of all sorts, human, animal, and beyond are primarily preoccupied with getting away from this type of dukkha as far as possible. We try to arrange our lives and our minds in strategies rooted in aversion to what we perceive as pain, as well as strategies rooted in craving to get pleasure. But there is more to dukkha than just obvious pain.

The second form of dukkha is the dukkha of changeability (viparinama-dukkha). It is the unsatisfactoriness of trying to hold on to things that you crave, as well as any frustration about not getting what you want. If the first type was the suffering that you get when you contact something unpleasant, this type is what happens when the pleasurable things you like change.

This is one of the dirty tricks that reality plays on us, and it’s a lot more subtle than you might think.

Everything is constantly changing. Everything. They arise for a little while, persist for a time, and then fade away. Most people can see this over the long term, such as people and animals living through their lifespans. With enough meditation you can see it happening on a constant scale. Eventually, you come to realize that if you attach yourself to anything in your environment, body, or mental landscape, one day it will change and you will hurt yourself in proportion to the amount of clinging you had for it.

There is a story in the Mahabharata, a Hindu epic, that points to this. To summarize, a god in a lake has held a prince’s wife and brothers hostage and threatens to kill the prince if he doesn’t answer some questions. One of these questions is “What is the greatest wonder?” The answer is “Day after day, countless people die. Yet the living wish to live forever.”

Nearly everyone takes actions in their lives in the belief that it will make them better, and then believe that those changes will last forever. “If I can just get the right job, relationship, house, stuff, spell, god, political viewpoint, etc. etc. then I will be set for life and I can finally relax and everything will be o.k.”

And then the thing we want changes, as all things do, and it goes away. Or we die and we become separated from it and everything else we built up (except the results of our actions, but that’s another post.) Or some other concomitant factor involved with the complex of influences necessary to create the situation we’re craving changes and we can’t have it or don’t want it anymore.

Everything is impermanent. “All that is mine, dear and delightful, will change and vanish” is part of a set of reflections that the Buddha recommended all of his followers, lay and monastic, to reflect upon frequently both from the viewpoint of themselves and from the viewpoint of others.

And yet, impermanence is a glorious wonderful thing! It’s one of the best things about existence in fact. You may think I’m mad, but if everything didn’t change there would be no way that we could improve ourselves. What if we were born and our bodies stayed that way through our lifespan. Imagine a world full of infants! What if our brains never changed and we were stuck with those minds too. Nightmarish!

It’s not the impermanence that’s the problem. It’s the clinging. That’s why Buddhists are big on renunciation and simple living. When you start to let go of things, you really start to see a lot of your subjective experience of unsatisfactoriness lift. A fully-enlightened person would be completely free of clinging, and thus completely free of this kind of suffering, at least in the mind. Sure, their body would change and get old and all that, but can’t do much about that. Clinging for these things not to be would just generate more dukkha.

But wait, there’s more! There’s a third level of suffering underneath it all and it’s the most difficult to comprehend. It’s called sankhara-dukkha, the suffering of formations, or as I like to call it the suffering of conditionality.

This is an existential form of dukkha that arises as a reaction due to the basic qualities of existence. There are three qualities, marks of existence to use the technical term, that characterize our reality, and they correspond to the types of dukkha. The first quality is impermanence (anicca), which corresponds to the dukkha of changeability. The second quality is dukkha itself, which corresponds to the first type of dukkha above. The third is corelessness (anatta), and that’s what we’re going talk about now.

It may be easiest to understand as a subtle realization that we aren’t in control of what is going on. In Indian thought, two of the hallmarks of selfhood are permanence and the ability to control things. These are very attractive ideas. Stories all over the world talk about the pursuit of immortality. Control over our experiences in life has been a driving force in many human pursuits.

Yet everyone who has tried to lose weight knows they can’t just will themselves to their ideal weight. Nor can we sprout third arms, eyes, and other bodily features on command (or we’d have a lot of happy otherkin running around!) Nor do we have control over our minds, as anyone who has genuinely tried meditation can say. If we had selfhood over our minds, we’d have perfect control of our thoughts, right?

To lose weight, we need a lot of supporting conditions such as a body, proper food choices over a long-enough timespan, the ability to act on our desire to lose weight, good genetics, and many many others. Our volitional ability may influence things, but it’s just one factor in a host of others.

But get this. All of those sub-components are also made up of many supporting factors like the layers of an onion. And if you take away those supporting factors, the thing they were supporting will no longer exist. There’s no permanent “self” that hangs out when an object’s supporting factors fall away. There’s no real controller.

We can nudge it, sort of, by taking steps to introduce factors that support our ultimate goal. But it’s much like spinning plates. They can fall at any time and we can only keep them going for so long. This is the reason why skillful effort is one of the eight steps of the path. We have to apply enough effort build up the momentum of wholesomeness in our lives so we can achieve our goals.

Getting glimpses of this type of suffering can lead to feelings of existential angst, questions about the meaning of life, and so on. It can also lead to a deep understanding of our fundamental interdependence with reality.

An excellent dhamma talk that goes into the deeper implications of dukkha and its understanding is “Joy at Last to Know There is No Happiness in the World.” Remember, dukkha is all around us. We can continue to fight the system, or we can face it square in the eye and try to understand it.

Now to talk about Kalagni’s points:

* Re: “25 centuries of debate and peer review”. Yup.

* I’ve heard the argument that Mahayana and Vajrayana do build upon Theravada, but it reminds me of the simile of the simsapa leaves. What’s the value add, if I may use a crass biz-speak term, beyond gaining access to some really cool magic?

* “Death Match of the Kalpa”, I love that. 🙂

* Going back to Insight vs. Compassion, there’s a book by Ven. Analayo on Compassion and Emptiness in Early Buddhist Meditation that I have yet to get around to. Will wind back around to this after I read it.

* I should point out that Kalagni has been practicing Buddhism for much longer than I have. I may just not have hit a point where insight practice arouses strong compassion. Strong insight meditation tends to bring up feelings of the absolute absurdity of the world and the way people live for me at this time.

* Agree with the point about needing to define worship. Several things to pick apart here. Totally in the camp of seeing them as potentials and exemplars and giving them reverence on that front.

* “They are you and you are them” Because of interdependence? Because they are a set of factors built up in the mind that coalesce into an internal spirit a la Farber’s ATEM working? Because they operate like a persona from the Persona series? (I art thou and thou art I. From the sea of thy soul I come to thee…)

* Let’s in fact drop the idea of worship and divide human interactions with these beings between acts of reverence and acts of engagement. An act of reverence does not ask for benefits from the entity. An act of engagement does. From the Theravada tradition, I would include in the reverence category things like recollecting the qualities of the Triple Gem, daily non-paritta chanting, and basic offerings. Acts of engagement would be paritta chants (a separate post, and not quite similar since they are asservations of truth), and cultural magical traditions wrapped up into Theravada like paritta threads, amulets, sant yak tattoos, and strange things like the Jinapanjara Gatha, which assigns different buddhas, arahats and suttas to surround the chanter as a protection like a zone rite.

* While benefits can accrue from doing acts of reverence, it’s not due to any external act of an entity but from the practitioner generating wholesome qualities through the act. Then again, there are quite a number of criminals in Theravada countries who use the sangha as a guilt avoidance system by trying to balance their evil deeds with good ones.

Early Buddhism 101 and a Response to Kalagni

Posted: December 14th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

And now for something completely different than astrology.

Long-term readers of this blog know that I had a conversion experience to Buddhism that took me away from the magical path. I still throw a divination every now and then when the mood strikes me to go back to that and it’s been a resounding “not only no but HELL no, now shut up and leave the spirits alone” for several years running. Even when others do it for me I get the same result.

But I do have one Buddhist magician that I keep up with regularly, Kalagni over at Blue Flame Magick. He recently made an overview post on the three vehicles of Buddhism. Kalagni elucidates some of the main features of the three vehicles in his post, but each of these vehicles has numerous subsects. He’s a Vajrayana Buddhist and follows the (I believe) Kagyu school, and also practices other disciplines (for lack of a better term?) within that vehicle such as Chöd. I must admit I’m no expert in Vajrayana so I leave further explanations to him on that, but I wanted to compare and contrast my understanding of Buddhism to shed light on another perspective.

Early Buddhism

I’m an Early Buddhist or a Pre-sectarian Buddhist, which compares closest to Theravada but has some significant differences as well. To put it in a nutshell, an Early Buddhist is someone who tries to use scholarly techniques to find the earliest likely substrata of material that was taught by the historical Buddha, preferably those portions taught before Buddhism blew up into a bunch of different sects. The first documented split happened a century after the Buddha’s Parinibbana (final death), so we’re talking really early here.

If you’re familiar with Buddhist history, this may seem like a fool’s errand. The teachings were all originally oral, codified according to legend at the First Buddhist Council which took place a year after the Buddha’s Parinibbana. It was only after a crisis in the monastic tradition in Sri Lanka that this oral tradition was written down several centuries later.

When scholars began studying the earliest material they could get their hands on, scholars found that there was a remarkable amount of consistency across centuries of time and language in the suttas, something on the order of 90%. They also found that there are layers of linguistic strata that shows where additional material was added in, much like how English readers can know whether we’re reading 19th century English or 21st century English.

The suttas are extremely repetitive and rely on stock phrases. This is a common feature of oral traditions as an aid to memory. When there’s an abrupt change in tone, language, or content, it can show suttas or portions of suttas that were later insertions. Some of these later insertions were to defeat challenges to early Buddhist schools or to add mythology to the Buddha’s teachings that, while entertaining, are irrelevant to the Buddha’s actual message of unsatisfactoriness and how to get out of it. Through sifting through the layers of what remained consistent through time and language shifts, scholars believe we can get pretty dang close to as close as we can get to the Buddha’s actual teaching without inventing time travel and bringing along a voice recorder.

While the entire Pali Canon, the set of canonical teachings of the Theravada sect, is clearly the Theravada standard for what the Buddha taught, Theravada also has a vast commentarial tradition that in some case is elevated equal to (or even above) the actual suttas, as the texts in the Pali Canon are called. Since most of this commentarial material was written centuries after the Buddha’s Parinibbana, most of it is considered highly suspect by Early Buddhists. However, this doesn’t mean that the commentaries are useless. Just that they have to be cross-referenced with the suttas or be proven by direct experience.

My Approach

While on the surface I’m closest to the Theravada school, I would be dangerously unorthodox. For instance, I consider the Abidhamma collection to be commentarial and throw it out completely. The Abidhamma texts were developed after the Buddha’s death as a sort of ontological checklist. There are also parts of the Vinaya and the suttas that are suspect. The Vinaya is mostly for monks, but scholarly study shows that while the actual rules between the early schools do have a lot of consistency, the origin stories for each of the monastic rules can differ quite a lot. There are also individual suttas and whole (minor) subsections of the suttas that I don’t consider to be canonical. On top of all that, there are many cultural practices in Theravada-majority countries that go completely against the teachings but are rolled up into their expressions of Buddhism.

That being said, I don’t just follow the suttas and ignore other teachers. The suttas can only go so far and the Dhamma is only one part of the Triple Gem. The suttas are the teaching but it takes a practitioner to bring them to life and explain them to the new generation. There are modern lay and monastic teachers whose teachings I study due to their consistency with the suttas, notably Ayya Khema and Leigh Brasington.

There are even some non-Theravada texts and post-canonical Theravada texts that I do like. Even though Shantideva’s Bodhisattvacharyāvatāra was written roughly 1200 years after the Buddha’s Parinibbana, its descriptions of how to cultivate patience, heedfulness, and other Buddhist qualities are as excellent as anything found in the Suttas. Another text, the Questions of King Milinda, is a conversation between a Bactrian Greek king (Menander I Soter) and a bhikkhu (Nagasena) where many questions people ask up to this day are elucidated in ways that are still very close to the suttas (though not perfect.) This text is dated to roughly 400 years after the Buddha’s passing.

What a lot of this boils down to is that I do a lot of thinking about the dhamma and reading a lot of suttas. When I run into something that seems very out of place inside of the suttas, I check to see if it is mentioned in other locations. If I don’t understand it, or feel it’s a later insertion, I set it aside until my practice improves to such a point where I can come back and say that I have experience of whatever it is I set aside. Most of the time, I can just say that I’m Theravada if people want to get that specific with me and it suffices, or an Early Buddhist if I feel like explaining all the things I said above. My teacher prefers to say that he is “a follower of the Buddha’s teachings” and I can understand why too.

It also means that I’m very practice-oriented. To me Buddhist practice is just that, a practice. You’re meant to do stuff. If you’re not doing stuff, you’re not going to get what the Buddha is talking about.

TL;DR. Basically, certain suttas from the Pali Canon are my manual for enlightenment, and I choose teachers based on their strictness to teaching from the suttas, rather than wetting it down for Western audiences or adding in additional techniques.

Kalagni’s post

So, now with all that back story out of the way to explain my position I can actually get to Kalagni’s post. I totally get his feelings about people only knowing one form of Buddhism or being generally ignorant about it. It’s really not something I talk about much, unless someone shows curiosity toward it. Then I can talk ears off.

There are a few differences I learned in the story of the Buddha. For instance, I learned that he sat down at the tree, got enlightened over one night, and then spent those 49 days reflecting on his attainment to make sure he got it right. But in the grand scheme of the message little nitpicks like that don’t matter.

A bigger one is enlightenment, or awakening as I’d call it more technically. I’m not sure if Vajrayana has this, but there are four stages of awakening in the suttas. If you hit the first one you’re guaranteed to reach full awakening in at most seven more lives. Successive awakening levels cut further fetters holding you to rebirth and reduce the number of lives necessary to reach full awakening. There are stories in the suttas of laypersons reaching the first three levels of awakening, but none for the final one of arahatship. A commentarial tradition states that a layperson who did reach that level would have to ordain within a week after the attainment or die. I haven’t found a sutta to back this up, and really until I hit stream-entry (the first level) then there’s no reason to even worry about such a thing.

As far as the Mahayana vehicle goes, I have some concerns about it but I think that’s more due to unfamiliarity. Certainly later sutras that have stories about sravakas, basically Theravada monks, passing out after seeing a huge miracle so that the remaining awake ones can get special teachings doesn’t jive with me well, and I don’t get the huge emphasis on compassion. Compassion is necessary but it is insight that frees you. I don’t buy the argument that this attitude makes Theravada inherently selfish.

Yes, Theravada does talk about Bodisattvas. Rather, it talks about two specifically. One is the Buddha-to-come, and the other is the Buddha himself through his birth stories and his recollections of his pre-awakened life. Theravada commentarial stories (maybe some suttas too? Gotta read the long discourses again) talk about how these beings come about. Basically, while a Buddha is alive someone will publicly declare an aspiration to become a Buddha themselves in a distant future lifetime. The current living Buddha will confirm the aspiration and say they will become Buddha so-and-so in a future life and declare some of the features of their dispensation. Then the bodhisattva will go through MANY lives perfecting themselves until they reach full awakening on their own.

One place where Mahayana and Vajrayana definitely split from Theravada is the worship of Bodhisattvas and additional Buddhas, though reverence is given to past Buddhas. I’m not sure if there is bleedover of Buddha and Bodhisattva worship in Theravada countries near borders with Mahayana countries. Many Theravada countries do have additional gods and spirits they worship for worldly gains as a cultural accretion, but there’s not much in the suttas about interacting directly with beings from other realms of existences by and large, but there are a tiny few such as one on the benefits of ancestor worship and several protective suttas that directly involve supplications. Theravada folk-magic also abounds, though it is frowned upon greatly in the suttas.

I’m broadly familiar with Tantra from a Hindu point of view thanks to my studies in college, but Kalagni is right about the the differences between Theravada and Vajrayana being like the differences between Judaism and Islam. While we have talked theory in the past I know that a lot of the tech he knows is way beyond my pay grade to utilize.

There are some very Hindu ideas such as devotion to a guru-figure, the need to go through an abisheka (wang in Tibetan, “empowerment” in English) ceremony in order for practices to be effective, the need for extreme secrecy and special vows, and the joining of a lineage. The “between” (bardo) state gets very short shrift in the suttas (and is considered non-existent in traditional Theravada), but probably the most famous text in Vajrayana, the Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State or Bardo Thodol is about awakening during this stage.

There are techniques that encourage visualization in Theravada (e.g. contemplating the 32 parts of the body) but Vajrayana takes it to seemingly-ridiculous extremes (Just how DO you fit all the detail of a refuge tree into your head?! Is there a genetic component for visual learning among Tibetans?) Also there are MANY more magical practices. Just read the stories of Milarepa, Marpa, Naropa, and Tilopa. Or watch this video of the making of wealth vases: Incidentally, that idea of mantras traveling down a string is also used in protection chanting by some monks in the Theravada tradition.

There are several things that confuse me in Vajrayana, but to keep this post from going even further I think I’ll save those questions for another time.

Delineation of 10th House: Ptolemy’s Rank of Fame, Slavery Indications

Posted: October 25th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Astrology | 6 Comments »

In the last post we talked about fama, fame, the reputation that you can expect to receive during your life. The focus was on whether or not there will be fame. Through the strength of the planets you can tell roughly how famous the person will be, but Ptolemy has an interesting grading system that should also be taken into consideration. It’s called the Rank of Fame, and it also introduces a very old technique.

I used the word rank for good reason. Ptolemy’s rank of fame outlines a social hierarchy of persons from the meanest levels to the highest. There are six ranks in total, but he also states that there are innumerable gradations between the levels. You very rarely get the exact combinations he looks for.

The six ranks are as follows (as translated by Zoller):

1. God-men
2. Chieftans/Presidents
3. Governors
4. Civil Leaders
5. Undistinguished
6. Base

But before we can go into the details of each level, I have to introduce the concept of the doryphory (shield-bearers).


Every famous person has a bevy of close followers. They could be bodyguards. They could be agents. They could be groupies, or whatever. These people assist in generating the person’s fame. Similarly, the Sun and the Moon, the King and the Queen of the chart, also work better when they have their attendants working with them.

The way that I was taught to look for doryphory is to look to see which planets are aspecting the Sun and the Moon. Those that aspect are members of the doryphory. Ideally, we would want the oriental planets (Saturn/Jupiter/Mars) aspecting the Sun and the oriental planets (Venus/Mercury) aspecting the Moon. If they aspect the wrong one they are still participating, but at a lower grade. You can also do an almuten calculation of the doryphory participants to get a clue about what the native will be famous for.

The Ranks in detail

You will rarely ever encounter a God-man. The indications are very precise. You need to see:

* Both luminaries in masculine (active) signs and at least one in an angle.
* A doryphory of all five planets, ideally with the orientals aspecting the Sun and the occidentals aspecting the Moon
* Ideally have the doryphory planets also angular (in the MC even moreso) and above the horizon.

The most important part is to have the luminaries in an active sign, at least one in an angle, and a doryphory of all five planets.  The more ideal you can make it, the more godly the person will be. These are your Alexander the Great types, or your Messiahs.

The Chieftan/President level is described as:

* Sun in a masculine (active) sign, Moon in a feminine (reactive) sign
* Only one of them angular
* Still have a doryphory of all five planets as described above (including the ideals)

People in this level will have sovereignty and power over life and death.

The Governor level is described as:

* Assume the Luminaries are as in Chieftan/President
* The doryphory planets are not angular nor aspect the angles
* Not all five planets have to be there (though that is ideal)

The native will still enjoy eminence, but at limited dignity. Think a general, a state governor, a head priest, but will not be invested with sovereignty.

The Undistinguished level is described as:

* Neither luminary angular
* The doryphory are not angular nor aspect the angles

As it says on the tin, this is someone who doesn’t attain to rank.

The Base level is described as:

* Neither luminary angular nor in a masculine sign
* No benefics are part of the doryphory

Complete obscurity and adversity. The opposite of the God-man.

Again, I want to emphasize that there are innumerable shades between these levels, and that this is just a tool for determining social class. Most people are going to fall into the lower three ranks. It is also important to know that this is somewhat of a spiritual ranking. People at higher levels have a greater capacity to lead, but they may not gain access to the halls of power. When they do though, the outcome is very positive. Likewise, very low-level people can get their hands on the levers of power and muck everything up.

There is also cases where people aspire to get to a higher level, but are held back by forces beyond their control, and that is where we start to talk about slavery indications. Slavery may seem like a harsh word, but it is still around and I don’t just mean human trafficking. The person trapped in minimum-wage jobs unable to advance because it would threaten their home or families is just as much a slave. I know in my experience I’ve met many people who seem to have vast potential but cannot capitalize on it. Sometimes it is due to personal hangups, but other people seem to get steamrolled by life every time they get a little ahead.

Thus, we should look at those as well just to confirm that there is nothing holding the native back. My teacher draws from Firmicus Maternus to get the following six major indications of slave status:

1. Cadent luminaries, especially in 12th or 6th
2. Luminaries and benefics low in the figure
3. Malefics angular or succedent
4. Benefics cadent
5. Dispositors of luminaries cadent, in fall, in debility, or peregrine
6. Luminaries afflicted by the malefics.

If there are MORE THAN TWO of these that are complete, the native will struggle hard through their life. Partially complete ones do have a negative effect though. If they also have a high rank of fame, then they will aspire to a higher level of living but may or may not be able to accomplish it depending on other factors.

Let’s look again at David’s chart


Do we have the indications of slavery? The Sun is cadent in the 9th, but the Moon is angular. Both of them are elevated, so that indication is ignored. Both malefics have power, so that is one strong sign of slavery. The dispositor of the Moon isn’t debilitated by sign or cadent, but he is heavily afflicted by Mars and Venus. The dispositor of the Sun however is afflicted by fall. We also have Jupiter acting as a accidental malefic to both Moon and Sun. We have enough indications here to show that the native will not be able to escape their circumstances.

What about the rank of fame? We have the Sun in a feminine sign and the Moon in a masculine sign, so at least one of the luminaries is masculine, albeit not the ideal one. Moon is also angular. Jupiter attends both the Sun and Moon. Venus attends the Moon, which is good, but there are no others so it’s a small doryphory. Jupiter is angular. Both of the doryphory members are in bad shape.

I would put this into class 5, the Undistinguished. While there are indications for both ranks 4 and 6 here, I think they balance each other out. Therefore, the social class in which David operates are going to be the unknown lower classes of society, though not necessarily the criminal classes at the very bottom. He will also remain in this class for his life due to all the slavery indications.

Delineation of Tenth House: Will there be Fame?

Posted: October 16th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Astrology | No Comments »

We just finished up with the important parts of the 1st house. I was going to launch right into the second but after working on that post a bit I think I need to pivot to another topic that isn’t very popular in today’s society, at least in America where I’m writing this from. That topic is how to delineate the social status of a native in a chart.

We don’t like to talk about status much in America, the land where “all men are created equal”, the land of Horatio Alger and “Land of Opportunity.” But it’s everywhere. If we look around us without the rose-colored glasses of American myth, we can see lots of inequality everywhere. Some people are very high and others are very low.

The social position you’re born into influences much of what happens in your life, including your financial status. If you have a great financial delineation, but your fame is poor, you’re going to get less overall than the guy with a high fame. Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t change your fame (in either direction), but you need the fame before you can get the fortune.

Think of it this way. Many workers low on the totem pole may think they can do a better job running a company than their managers or upper managers. They may be completely right. But if they want to get into those positions that make more money then the signifiers of fame, of status, have to be there. Degrees, a certain social demeanor, the right connections, and other parts of the uniform of a higher status pave the way, and all of them things that may not be possible to achieve without enough money.

As I said in the beginning of this series, I see the natal chart as the hand you’re dealt with, the incoming kamma you’re bringing into this life. What you do with it is up to you, but there are always limits to what can be achieved. And, if the traditional astrologers are to be believed, you can find indications of these in the chart.

In fact, traditional astrologers have a bit of an obsession with social ranking. Through the medieval and renaissance eras anyway, finding your place on the hierarchy was extremely important, and there was little social mobility unless you took it by military conquest or married well. Only the very rare would be able to raise themselves up by their own efforts due to all the barriers in place.

Lily’s Opinion

Let’s start with what Lily has to say about finding status. From Christian Astrology Book 3 we get the following:

“First, Honour, Preferment, Dignity and Estimation is principly required from the Luminaries, wherein the Sun is most considerable; and from the Planets which within the mediety of their Orbes doe behold the Lights, especially the Sun.

Secondly, from the Lord of the Mid-heaven.

Thirdly, from the Planet or Planets constituted in the mid-heaven.

Fourthly, fixed regall Starres of the 1st or 2nd magnitude, posited neer the cusps of the 10th or 1st house.”

So we’re looking at the Sun, the Moon, the Lord of the 10th, any planets in the 10th, and any fixed stars of 1st or 2nd magnitude near the MC or ASC. I concur with this assessment for basic fame delineation.

Essential Dignity Analysis

If these significators have rulership, exaltation, or are in mutual reception of these essential dignities, the native gains “Honours, Offices of publick trust, great Commands, exceeding favour, and good esteem amongst great Persons.” In short, they have fama, fame, a good report. Note well again that Lily is describing the optimum result.

If they are only in triplicity, term, or face, they produce mediocrity or indifference. In short, the great average mass of humanity that doesn’t gain major fame or major infamy.

If they are in peregrine, detriment, or fall though, without mutual reception, then the dignity will be very small or non-existent.

Accidental Dignity Analysis

Nothing really suprising. If the signifcators are in angles, they give “ample Preferment.” If succedent,”moderate Esteem, or little Honour or Dignity.” However, if they are in the 8th or cadent houses, “very little Honour or Reputation, but doe rather argue a meane and obscure condition of life, or person of no quality… that the Native shall attaine no Estimation in this world.”

Fixed Stars

Lily would have us look to see if the following six stars are within five degrees forward or backward near any of the significators, and especially the ASC or MC:

Oculus Taurus (Aldebaran): 9 Gemini
Spica Virgo (Spica): 24 Virgo
Hercules (Pollux): 23 Cancer
Lusida Lancis (Zuben Elgenubi): 15 Scorpio
Cor Leonis (Regulus): 29 Leo
Cor Scorpii (Antares): 9 Saggitarius

The numbers in Lily’s book are now incorrect due to the precession of the equinoxes. The position of the fixed stars all move at 50.2 arc-seconds a year. This is a tiny amount, but it builds up over time. The above are rough approximates. Considering Lily gives five degrees on either side it should be good enough.

Planets in the 10th

As usual. Fortunate planets promise great preferment and dignity. Malevolent ones deny. Meane (all the rest) show moderation. What we would love to see is the Lord of the 1st in the 10th, or the Lord of 10th in the 1st. This brings honor and reputation, or at least good estimation if born of low-status parents.

Fame and an important point from Lily

Remember that all fama, fame, is is a good opinion about you. Certain positions of society have honor because they are what they are. No matter what our opinion of a president is, Americans still by and large respect the office that it represents. But when a person of low status does act in a noble manner deserving of fame, people take note of that.

I’ll let the man speak for himself, but clean up and simplify the English a bit.

“We have many Aphorisms which Antiquity gave us concerning judgments about the 10th house, and I shall deliver a few. However, do not delude yourself by delivering a positive judgment on a single Aphorism. For a beggar’s child may have a Nativity equal with a Kings, but then they are not both the Sons of Kings.

When this happens, the King will gain extraordinary honor because of the influence. The beggar, having the same signification, will fall to some course of live not so sordid as begging. A Kingly beggar might have unusually bountiful alms from good people. A Kingly beggar may perform some honorable exploit. A Kingly beggar has more than ordinary respect amongst his fellow-beggars for some neat piece of serves he has performed for the group.

So that herein the one has honor according to his capacity (the king), and the other such same as with a comparison (beggar). And in truth I hold the state of the poor and vulgar Clown far above that of any King or Prince, being almost of the learned Buchanan’s opinion, that few Kings go to Heaven.”

So when we are talking about fame and dignity, we have to keep in mind where the native started. There is only so much capacity each human has for advancement based on their external circumstances. Therefore, unless you’re delineating for a known blue-blood, it is best to say they have the capacity to attain certain levels of fame and status.

Special Rules of The Luminaries

* Sun and Moon in exaltation and free from Mars and Saturn argues the native obtaining a Kingdom, if he is capable thereof.

* Take the Sun in a diurnal chart or the Moon in a nocturnal one. If it is in the 10th in exaltation and the lord of the 10th is in the 10th or the 1st, the king will prefer this child, if the native is a child of the king. If he is not the child of a king, he shall have authority in kind, according to his birth, like unto a king.

* Take the Sun or Moon as above. If it is with the degree of the mid-heaven and surrounded by benevolent aspects of other planets, the native will have great command. But if aspects are absent, or there are no other planets near the cusp of the 10th, the native will find great favor with superiors but will not have administrative authority of the affairs of the kingdom, but may obtain administration of public affairs.

* If the Luminary is in an angle that has no other planets, the native will live in a manner as their father or ancestors did.

* If the luminaries are cadent, as well as the planets, the native will be wretched, live among vulgar persons, and live in small towns.

* Those who have neither of the Luminaries in an angle or a masculine sign, or don’t have benevolent planets with them, will be abject people of no quality.

* If the planet(s) that rule the places of the Sun, the Moon, and the Ascendant are oriental and well-fortified, the native shall raise himself to a high condition.

Lily also gives some complicated aphorisms for charts that you know belong to a king. I think we can ignore those.

More solar aphorisms

The following also promise fame and status, but not as great as the better combinations above.

* Sun, Jupiter, and Moon all Trine, ideally partile

* Sun in the 10th in Saggitarius, Jupiter in Leo or Aries with Venus or a regal Fixed Star and very well fortified.

* Sun in Cancer, Moon in Scorpio, Jupiter in Scorpio or Pisces also gives perferment, though not as good as above.

* Sun in a fire sign near the 10th in aspect with the Moon gives dignity.

* Jupiter, Venus, Moon conjunction, best in the 10th or 1st house.

* North Node and Jupiter, or NN and Moon, in a fire sign, Pisces, or Cancer, conjoined within 1 degree and on the cusp of the 10th, great Dignity.

* (A strange one.) Someone born just at noon on the Vernal Equinox shall prove a great person

More Lunar Aphorisms

* Moon in a nocturnal geniture in the Asc, in a sign she has dignity in, and opposing the Sun imports great increase of honor and preferment, and exaltation of them over their bretheren.

* Moon in 1st in opposition to Sun in the 7th, in square to Jupiter in the 4th, gives Wealth and Authoirty by Magistrates and Embassies.

* Moon in the Asc, Sun in partile conjuction with Venus, gives preference in Churches.

* Moon in Taurus in the 1st, Sun in Leo, gives great honors.

* If the Moon is with Cor Leonis, Jupiter in the 10th trine to Mars and Strong, and the Sun in the North Node, it prefers the man though he be the son of a clown.

* Moon with Jupiter in Cancer, in the 1st house or 10th, gives good fortune with people in high places. The native will be trusted.

* Moon with many aspects or joined with one of the big fixed stars proves eminent men.

* If you have an unfortunate nativity for honor, but you have the Moon conjoined with a fixed star, you’ll will suddenly come into great power unexpectedly and cast down as suddenly.

Midheaven Aphorisms

* Jupiter in the 10th in a diurnal geniture brings employment in public affairs. If Saturn or Mars afflicts, it will be lost after it is gained.

* Sun in the 10th in Aries, Sagittarius, or Pisces, makes rulers.

* Lord of the 10th applying to Lord of the 1st, both oriental and in their exaltations, brings forth a great person.

* Mars in the 10th in a nocturnal, in a masculine sign, his own or a house of Jupuiter, makes dangerous persons, often deceived. Yet they attain to power and create terrifying men.

* Saturn in the 10th never lets honor last long, but casts him down when it is least expected.

Ascendant Aphorisms

* Mars as lord of the first, if he is on the MC, the native will have power, but will be cruel and use it frequently.

* If the lord of the Asc is trined or sextiled by the Sun, or shall be oriental and near the sun, or else joined to the planet that is the Lord of the Midheaven, the native will be beloved by powerful people.

* If the lord of the Asc apply to a planet in exaltation, and is also in an angle, the native by his own virtue (ability) exalt himself. If it is in a succedent house, less so.

* Lord of the 1st in the 1st shall arise to esteem or honor by their own virtue.

Lily also adds some additional fixed star aphorisms, but this should be enough to work with right now.

Our Example



So far we are not looking at the kind of fame, but whether or not there will be fame period. First, we identify our significators. The Sun is in Taurus in the 9th. The Moon is in Gemini in the 10th. Mercury is the ruler of the 10th and is very close to the MC. Neither the ASC or the MC are near any of the fixed stars we looked at earlier, and there are no additional planets in the 10th.

We know from previous study that all of David’s planets are at least peregrine except for Mercury. Here may be a saving grace in his chart. Jupiter does aspect both luminaries, and Mars does aspect Mercury as well. Technically there is a very weak reception of Mars from Mercury because Mercury is in the face of Mars. But since we’re only looking at whether or not there will be fame, we will look into the specifics of these later.

What we have here is a mixed indication. Both luminaries are peregrine. One is cadent and the other angular. This would mean little fame. What saves David’s fame is Mercury. He is both the ruler of the 1st and the 10th in the 10th, which gives preferment no matter what. However, Mercury is a mean planet and also takes on the quality of whoever is near. That Mars opposition and the sextile from a fallen Venus shades this chart over into infamy as we’ll see later, but on the whole there will be some fame. Given Mercury’s rulership of the 1st and 10th, the native will be known for being themselves.

None of Lily’s aphorisms apply to this chart.

In short, the native will be known, at least in small way, by their own recognizance and actions stemming from Mars and Venus. Also by nature of Mercury’s involvement there will be an intelligence aspect, though given the afflictions on Mercury that knowledge for intelligence may be less wholesome than at first blush.



Delineating the 1st House: Wit and Understanding

Posted: October 9th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The next thing we’ll be looking at is wit and capacity. This isn’t a measure of raw intelligence, but more about the ability to use the capacities we have. We’ve probably all met smart people who can’t seem to get their acts together, and vice versa.

The delineation of this comes down to the positions of Mercury and the Moon, especially Mercury. Mercury is the significator of our rational minds. The Moon is the significator of our sensible minds. The first thing Lily has us look for is how these two planets are related and which may be more powerful.

The idea situation is to have both planets be in good condition and in mutual reception by a good aspect. An “excellent and strong” wit arises because of this. If they are in bad condition, or have a square or opposition to each other, or have no aspect at all, then the native has a “doltish” capacity or wit. And if the significations are mixed, you get varying amounts of wit.

Don’t panic if you don’t have an aspect between the Moon and Mercury! Quite often these books will give a list of the best case and worst case scenarios. So we would only worry if the Moon and Mercury had terrible conditions and didn’t aspect.

This may seem terribly vague, but it’s part of the art to learn how to judge these things. Fortunately, Lily goes on to add more indications. First, how can you know whether someone is more rational or more emotional? See the strengths of the planets. Is one stronger? That’s one indication. Also look at the signs they’re in, thus:

Which Side is Stronger?

Is Mercury in Cancer, Leo, or Virgo? These are signs that are said to be “long ascension”, that is the star pattern they’re based on takes a long time to rise above the horizon, and also “commanding.”

Is the Moon in Capricorn, Aquarius, or Pisces? These are signs that are both “short ascension” and “obeying.”

If this is so, then the rational mind will be much stronger than the emotional, and vice versa if they were switched. Of course, this has to be weighed as well like all other astrological judgments.

The Quality of the Wit

Lily next gives a long list of wit descriptions. When you see something that’s a cookbook like this, it’s a sign for the student to grasp the principles behind why these entries are so and then use them in other combinations. So let’s do a little of that.

First, if Mercury and Moon are conjunct in a sign, it declares an ingenious person, and the same with a sextile or a trine. The sextile is actually stronger than the trine in this case.

So it seems that the closer the rational and emotional minds can work together, the better we’re able to use our wits to act in the world.

However, if there is a square of these, and both are in angles, it shows stubborn and turbulent wits. Also, if either are in detriment, it argues “seditious wits, blockish, hair-brained councils, destructive, and impudent.”

So a square would show conflicts between our passionate side and our rational side. And if both are in angles, this would show a lot of turbulence because both planets would have their full strength. For the detriments, think about how Mercury and the Moon’s detriment signs would affect the qualities of these two planets. How would they contribute to those qualities? What if only one were so?

Another extreme case: Mercury in Taurus, he being retrograde or combust. Or in Capricorn in the 12th, with partile aspects to unfortunate planets (Saturn and Mars), make simple and rude wits even if the Moon aspects them, because these signs are very terrestrial.

So here we have Mercury in greatly weakened state in an earthy sign. Obviously Virgo, the other earth sign, would be great for Mercury since he has rulership and exaltation there. We have a nice list of the four major afflictions (retrograde, combust, aspect from an evil planet, cadency). We could boil this down to say “Mercury afflicted in Taurus or Capricorn makes someone simple and rude.”

Here’s another case: Mercury in Aquarius, no afflictions, in a good house, swift, oriental, and with the North Node, gives a wit capable of learning anything; and usually men so indued, find out admirable inventions.

So here’s significations of an inventive mind. Mercury in Aquarius makes sense because Saturn rules secret and unknown things. Mercury will want to find out secrets. The long list of qualifications are the “slot machine” of good stuff, and so you’d adjust  your judgement depending on how many you had. Lily goes on to say that generally good wits are produced when “most of the Planets” are in airy signs. I would say look he’s just referring to Moon and Mercury.

An obvious one. “Mercury in either of his own houses shows a sharp understanding.”This makes sense.

Another one “Mercury received of the Moon by house or Exaltation” gives a wonderful Fancy (imagination.) We talked briefly about mutual reception above, but reception can go one way too. So if Mercury is in Cancer or Taurus and the Moon makes a good aspect to him, then it shows a good imagination. I would imagine in the opposite case that it would show good intuition (Moon in Virgo or Gemini, with a good aspect by Mercury.)

Here’s another principle. “Mercury in Aries with reception by Mars, gives a piercing wit.” Here we have Mercury in a house of Mars and receiving reception, generally a good thing. The wit would have a piercing quality to it, maybe like Dawkins or something. The same sorts of things would apply to the other planets.

One for the Moon. If she is with the nodes, it shows an active spirits, prompt to any science, and is best so when she is increasing in light and not far from full. I get the last part, but why “shows active spirits, prompt to Science” eludes me for the reasoning. I’d have to find a chart with this and figure it out.

More Rules for Mercury, Good Stuff Version

Lily goes on to give more general rules, some of them obscure, but good for seeing how different qualities would manifest. I’ve cleaned up the language in some of these.

“If he is below the horizon and in no aspect with a planet, it frames the mind for arts. If he is above the horizon, it frames the mind for oratory.” Planets below the horizon are harder to see, and most arts are done privately in the home. A planet above the horizon wants to get noticed.

“If he’s swift, he renders men inconstant but quick of apprehension. They often change their opinions but will give good reason for doing so. If he is slow or retrograde, it argues for stuttering or people without their own ideas (no conceptions).” Speed of the planet affects the speed of the mind.

“If he is combust, or under the sun’s beams, he incites the wit to meddle with impertinent matters, or mere niceties.” The matters involved would depend on the Sun’s sign and house. In general, these two conditions cause the planet to become ineffective. Think of Mercury as being blinded by the Sun’s light. It can’t focus enough to delve beyond the superficial.

“If he is oriental, he freely expresses opinion, but if occidental he dissembles, but see Mercury’s ruler to see if this expression is for good or ill.” Oriental planets tend to show areas where we are free to act. They don’t have to follow behind the king.

“If unafflicted by Mars, of good quality, in an air sign (esp. Aquarius), and with one of the nodes, it makes him acute and witty, and able to speak many languages.” A bit of a repeat from another one above, but here again we have the principle of Mercury in an air sign makes him smart in accordance with the sign’s nature.

(There is another indication at this point in the text, but there are too many lacunae)

“If Mercury is on the Ascendant in an airy sign, and swift, it prenotes a good memory and understanding, but the person will be mutable.” Again, more principles. Mercury likes airy signs for wit, and swiftness will speed it up but cause more change in the mind.

Mercury with Saturn makes the wit wary and the man constant and preserving.
Mercury with Jupiter makes the wit more honest, learned, and upright.
Mercury with Mars more confident and presumptuous.
Mercury with Sun ambitious, arrogant, and proud.
Mercury with Venus more eloquent and lovesome (a fun word).
Mercury with the Moon more unstable.
Saturn helps the memory, Jupiter introduces honesty and humanity, etc.

This is assuming the planets are in good condition/aspect/etc! But this is a great little rubric for seeing how the other planets affect one planet.

More Rules for Mercury, Bad Stuff Version

“Mercury Peregrine, Cadent, Combust, Slow, Afflicted by the Infortunes (esp. Mars), causes a corrupt wit and a doltish understanding. The more Mercury is afflicted, the greater the misfortune to the wit and fantasy.” A classic list of bad conditions, and a clear note that the more you have, the worse it gets.

“Mercury separated from the moon and no aspect declares a weak capacity.” We ran into this above. The emotional and rational sides don’t work together properly.

“Mercury under the sun’s beams, and also retrograde, causes slow actions and dull wit.” Here we see how a compounding of afflictions causes more problems. USB alone caused superficial wits and actions, but add retrograde and it dulls it further.

“Mercury in watery signs without an aspect from the fortunes shows an Idiot, and if those signs Saturn afflicts him, the native will have a speech impediment.” This has to do with the elemental qualities of Mercury. Mercury in general is hot and dry. We read how in earthy signs (cold and dry), Mercury caused simple and rude wits. In cold and wet signs, he doesn’t operate well at all, especially Pisces his detriment. Mercury cannot express himself well at all in these conditions. The addition of Saturn would cause so much affliction that the native’s speech becomes affected. Lily states later that Phlegmatic (water) signs are “enemies to study”, and likewise we could say that people who are overly Phlegmatic won’t do well in school due to slowness.

“Mercury square or opposite Mars declares an untoward Wit, evil and malicious.” In the list of mixtures above we said that Mars causes confidences and presumputousness, but if the aspect is bad then it could cause an evil mind, and all the more so if they were afflicted (see above).

Finally he gives a bit of something about temperament. People with singular temperaments don’t study well. Too much melancholy declares “very asses”. Sanguine people don’t retain what they learned. Too much choleric shows someone who hates to study. But a combination of qualities does show good study habits. A sanguine-melancholic man makes the best student. A choleric-melancholic man creates excellent inventions.

An Example

Is it time for an example yet? I think so. Here’s David’s chart again.


Mercury is very strong in Gemini, and elevated, but has an opposition from Mars. The Moon is in the same sign, peregrine. They are not close enough for a conjunction. Both are in an air sign. There is no reception.

Mercury is in his own sign, so there is a sharp understanding. He is at his highest point, so he will be completely unafraid to express his mind through speech, but there will be dissembling too (occidental).

Mercury receives aspects from Mars and Venus, but both are afflicted, especially Venus. The opposition shows an untoward wit. How? Sagittarius is ruling Mars and Jupiter is very afflicted in Virgo in the first. Even an afflicted Jupiter will help tone down Mars a bit. Also, Mercury receives Mars (albeit with a very very weak face reception.) Thus, I can’t say it’s truly evil or malicious, but definitely quite rude.

This is a self-righetous wit, very egotistical. But the worst is probably Venus even with a sextile. His wit and expression will frequently lean toward the lewd and obscene. Indeed, he is one of the most openly obscene men I’ve known. Nevertheless, it would be far worse if this were a square or an opposition.


Delineating the First House: The Significator of Manners

Posted: October 2nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Astrology | 1 Comment »

If you thought the preceding was difficult, hold on to your butts.

The next thing to look for in the 1st house is the significator of manners. This is the planet or planets that most forcefully imprint themselves onto the native’s personality. For you sun sign astrology lovers, this is the equivalent in traditional astrology according to Lily.

In one sense, it is much like the standard delineation of the 1st house, and if you have followed the general principles there you’ll have a pretty good sense of how the native is going to act during their lifetime. However, not everyone keeps the same personality, the same “manners”, over the course of their lives. People sometimes change, and quite dramatically. The lord of manners can shift over time.

But first, we have to bring up a pet peeve of mine.

Signs vs. Houses, or why I Hate Sloppy Terms

The technique that Lily uses is derived from Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos. The problem with using this text is that the definitions of signs and houses changed dramatically in the long period between Ptolemy and Lily, or even Ptolemy and Bonatti.

In Ptolemy’s time, the houses and the signs were pretty much the same thing. If you had Virgo rising, then all of Virgo was your first house. This is whole-sign astrology. A whole bevy of techniques developed based on this system. Then some smart Greek figured out how to calculate the exact point, the horoscopus, that was rising at the time of birth, giving us ascendant degrees.

From that, people developed different quadrant house systems that divided up the sky into different sized houses. New techniques were developed based on these new houses. The houses and the signs became split. But everyone still loved Ptolemy’s work and used his terms, and this lead to sloppy writing. The words sign and house can be used with great imprecision. This leads many astrologers to tear their hair out trying to figure out which do they mean.

With Ptolemy it’s easy. He’s a whole-sign guy. But if a later astrologer uses his techinques and doesn’t make it clear that they’re using a whole-sign method with a quadrant house method, then things go weird fast. This Lord of Manners technique is one that is derived from Ptolemy’s methods, but Lily has an odd way of expanding on it. As he says in Christian Astrology:

“First, if any planet do occupy the Sign ascending, or which is intercepted, he shall be principal Significator of Manners.”

Sign ascending is very clear. It is the sign that the ascendant degree is in. But the only way that a sign can be intercepted is if it is swallowed up inside of a quadrant house. So, does Lily mean:

* The actual sign, and hang it all of 27 degrees of it are shoved into the 12th?

* Just the first house, and any sign that may be in there?

* Both of the above?

* Just the rising sign, but only the bit of it that is in the first?

Here is my opinion. I think whole-sign techniques should be used with whole-sign houses. I’d ditch the interception thing entirely. However, I would weigh planets near the ascendant point at a heavier weight than ones further away. My chart has a good example of this. My rising sign is Virgo 27 degrees. Saturn is at 25 degrees Virgo, just peeking over the horizon. Jupiter is at 14 degrees Virgo, into the 12th. Mars and Moon are in Libra in the first.

I would count Jupiter as a planet to consider, but not as strong as I would Saturn because he is so close. While I would count Mars and Moon in the general delineation of the 1st house, for the purposes of the Lord of Manners technique I would ignore them. The further away the planets are from the Asc degree, the weaker the influence. Those out of sign would be right out.

Finding the Lord of Manners

First, look in the entire sign of the first house (even the bits in the 12th) Are there any planets in it?

Yes, one planet: That’s the Lord of Manners, along with the almuten of the degree that planet is in. Congratulations, unless it is the Moon or the Sun. Unless these are very powerful then they will not be the Lords of Manners. See if there is another candidate. This applies to all the entries below. So does the almuten thing.

Yes, lots of planets!: Congrats, they’re all going to take a turn at being a part of your personality! The most powerful and closest to the ascendant degree shall be the most durable. The others not so much. Put an emphasis on planets within 3 degrees of the Asc degree.

No, my poor ascendant is empty!: Look to the Moon or Mercury. See which planets have a conjunction to one of them. Find the most powerful by dignity. Go with that one.

But that planet conjuncts both of them!/I have equally powerful planets on both!: See the entry “Yes, lots of planets!” above. There will be discrepancy in manners, but those signified by the most powerful planet shall remain the longest.

Boo, I suck! My Ascendant is empty and there are no cojunctions to the Moon or Mercury!: Find the Lord of the Ascendant and his dispositor (the ruler of the sign that planet is in). If the two planets have an aspect, then the Lord of the Ascendant is the Lord of Manners.

I still suck! They don’t aspect!: Find the planet(s) that have a partile aspect (1-3 degrees) to the Moon or Mercury. Take the most powerful as the lord. If there many that are close, again, see “Yes, lots of planets!” entry above.

Still no love, what now?: Fine, then it is whomever has the most essential dignities in the places of Mercury and the Moon.

Let’s take David’s chart again:


Here we have Jupiter in the 1st, no other planets (South Node isn’t a Planet.) Therefore,  Jupiter is the Lord of Manners in this chart, with Mercury as a sub-ruler. Thankfully, this is a simple example.

What about my chart example above? Jupiter and Saturn are in the 1st house. Jupiter in Virgo is debilitated. Saturn is peregrine, but is extremely close to the Asc. I would say that Saturn would be the primary Lord of Manners, with Jupiter participating and a veneer of Mercury over the whole thing (as dispositor).

Basics of Interpretation

How will the Lord of Manners function in a general sense? That depends:

My planet is benevolent, or in aspect with a benevolent planet, and strong: Laudable and complete manners according to the nature.

My planet is malevolent, or in aspect with a malevolent planet, and weak: Evil and corrupt manners according to the nature.

My planet is benevolent, or in aspect with a benevolent planet, but weak: Externally, good and wholesome manners, but inwardly they are obscure, muddy or very simple.

My planet is malevolent, and is strong: Good, pretty conditions, but ever mixed with poison, or with the remains of some crabbed condition or another.

My planet is Mercury: Ahh, ever-changeable Mercury. Look to see who he is conjoined with. The benevolence or malevolence of that planet will turn him toward that, or whichever one is the most fortified or dignified. If he is conjoined to the North Node, then he is Jupiterian (I would also add Venusian). If he is conjoined to the South Node, the he is both Saturnian and Martian. If there are no conjunctions, he assumes the nature of whichever planet is his almuten.

What about if the Moon is aspecting?: The Moon’s general purpose for manners is to reveal them. Some people display a strong personality early in life, or never seem to develop one. If the Moon aspects and is increasing in light, the manners will manifest earlier. If the Moon is waning or combust or under the sun’s beams, then the manners are delayed. However, you should also add in the Moon’s dispositor into your analysis if there is a lunar aspect to the Lord of Manners. Lily also notes that if the planet is maximum latitude (not longitude!) either north or south, she “declares a variety of manners”, but he goes into no further detail.

And what about the Sun’s aspect?: The Sun adds gravity, grace, pleasantness, or decency if good. But if weak, the opposite of these. Again, add the Sun’s dispositor into your analysis if this aspect applies!

Going back to the example, we see that Jupiter is very debilitated. He is retrograde and in detriment. He is conjunct the South Node, a malevolent point. He also receives a tight trine from the Sun and a square from the Moon. The Sun is very weak, and ruled by Venus. The Moon is also weak, but less so, and is ruled by Mercury.

We also have to add in Jupiter’s almuten of Mercury, which is dignified and strong by rulership and placement, but is receiving an opposition from Mars.

But What Do the Planets Mean?!

Remember that the planets give a broad spectrum of results that are filtered by the signs. You must remember when you read the following lists that they will be altered and shaded by the sign that the planet is in. Think about how a cardinal/fixed/mutable planet would act. How would the elements color that planet’s powers? You will also want to think about the houses they are involved with as well as well as the planets aspecting them. This is a very tricky art!

Nevertheless, we do need a place to start, and so here is Lily’s list of planetary manners (with some updated language):

Saturn in good condition: Grave persons, with a certain austerity, advised, thinks about profound matters, taciturn, solitary, laborous, patient, preserves his wealth, sparing and thrifty, studious for their own profit, zealous, mistrustful.

Saturn in poor condition: Men of abject spirits, ill-favored, having a low conceit of themselves (puts themselves down), repiners, negligent, timerous (fearful), lovers of solitude, suspicious, backbiting, slanderous, superstitious, deceitful, malignant, unsophisticated.

Jupiter in good condition: Honest, religious, just, liberal (free to act), magnanimous, acts like an eminent person (a govenours), performing high matters, sober, grave with a kind of moderation, prudent, living virtuously and orderly.

Jupiter in poor condition: Lovers of themselves, open-hearted innocent, manners much like in the Good condition, but obscure and imperfect, a scornful, disdainful mind, proud, superstitious, fearful, dissembling, possessing a vain candor, negligent, prodigal.

Mars in good condition: Generous men, valiant, full of courage, ireful, fierce and violent, skilled with their hands, open and possessing temerity in their speech, not fearing bodily danger, apt for government (I would assume military too), boasters, revengeful, impatient of servitude, or of receiving injures or affronts.

Mars in poor condition: Cruel men, quarrelsome and tyrranical, rash and head-strong, bloody minded, unshameful, braggers, impious, unjust, shedders of blood, impudent in provoking but fearful when it comes to action, thieves, authors of dissentions, tumults, sedition, etc.

Venus in good condition: Pleasant, cheerful, and fair conditioned people, like to look good in appearance, good, bountiful, merciful, prone to delights, prefer to be clean, takes pleasure in sports and pastimes, subtle, elegant, poetic.

Venus in poor condition: Fearful persons, given to women (I would assume the preferred sex, not just women), men of no spirits, sluggards, “great Wooers of Ladies or women”, lustful, not respecting their credit or esteem, zealous in “women’s matters”, infamous, etc.

Mercury in good condition: Men of admirable sharp fancies, extremely studious and capable of learning. Guileful or wily, wise, divining well, gives good advice, acts in all things with agility and dexterity. Poets, geometricians, mathematicians, astrologers, eloquent, learning any art, of good carriage or deportment.

Mercury in poor condition: Unconstant people, malicious, turbulent, envious, perfidious, liars, especially if Mercury is with the South node, or in square or opposition to Moon and Mars, and in Air signs, deceitful, inventive of destructive plots and machinations, infamous, meddling with everyone and in every manner, asses, dolts, pratling dotars, stammering coxcombs, good for nothings, etc.

When interpreting, the main significator of manners will be the primary color. The rest provide details. Lily provides some good examples thus:

“If Saturn be Significator of Manners and Jupiter be joyned with him by body or aspect, Jupiter then qualifies the nature of Saturn, and therefore you must not judge the Manners Saturnine, but to participate much of Jupiter; and the native shall be a very prudent, wise man, quiet, a man of great council and judgement, learned, etc. This is understood when Jupiter is pretty strong.”

“If with Saturn the gentle Planet Venus is commixed, and he well fortified, he demonstrates a man little given to women, not ambitious, or delighting in pleasurable things or persons, delighted to be in the company of aged men, austere, envious, stiff in his own opinion, desirous to know the mysteries of nature, wary, suspicious in women’s matters. If he be evilly posited with Venus, it notes an obscene companion, meddling or coveting to do so with many women, Kinswoman or other, one of no deliberation, a mere profane person.”

Lily also tosses out that the worst manners are when the infortunes are joined with one another, or with Mercury in the 7th, 8th, and 9th houses. He also says to refer to Potanus, de rebus Coelestibus, lib 6. for more information about how the planets mix together. I don’t know of an English translation, but we may go back to Bonatti to get more insight about the Lord of Manners in the next post (after I re-read that section).

The Example Explained

So let’s look at Jupiter’s nature. We know he is weak so we can start with Jupiter’s list there:

Lovers of themselves, open-hearted innocent, manners much like in the Good condition, but obscure and imperfect, a scornful, disdainful mind, proud, superstitious, fearful, dissembling, possessing a vain candor, negligent, prodigal.

Mercury is coloring this debilitated Jupiter by dispositor and he is in good condition. It would be even better if he were aspecting Jupiter but that is not the case. The mental side of this is emphasized. We can say that he has a scornful, proud, and disdainful mind, and is very egotistical, and has the vain candor.

Jupiter rules the 4th and 7th houses, so his manners appear the best when it involves his home, his family, and his partners. He wants to govern these, but his control over them is obscure and imperfect, and this weighs heavily on him. When things don’t go his way, he can be at turns violent or sullen. He will not want to have his way questioned, but he doesn’t go out of his way to be a tyrant either.

The close Sun trine in Venus also adds a lustiness and crudity to the character. Indeed, the native is fond of sexual jokes and making his partners feel a little uncomfortable. However, I have never known him to cheat on a woman.

He is, in short, a crude, vain, and boastful man but with an inner core of goodness, the proverbial “heart of gold” we talk about in seedy characters. Indeed, my friendship with him has gotten me out of some rough situations due to his reputation of defending those he found worthy of his trust. I am still always welcome to his home and his food even though it has been years since we’ve talked. Once he gives his word he does not take it back.

The native also does have an inquisitive mind. He took like a fish to water when I taught him about neopaganism (and quickly formed a strong liking around 90’s McWicca more’s the pity) and has gone back to school when he could to get his associate’s degree. He’s proud of his large library, and there is a curious mix of the Venus and Mercury sides in his great love of role playing games. In fact, we met over jigsaw puzzles.

Note that the choleric temperament we talked about in the last post shines through brightly.

Next post, discovering the wit of a person!

Delineating the 1st house: Temperament

Posted: September 25th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Our writers believed that the human body, and all other physical matter, was made up of the four elements in various proportions. Likewise, these elements had a corresponding effect upon our emotional states. These add up to a general temperament in body and soul. Lily states that there are great varieties in temperament because of the varying temperaments of our parents and the influences of the stars. However, there are four main temperaments:

Sanguine: hot and moist (Air)

Qualities: Cheerful, liberal, faithful, affable, peace-makers, open hearted, modest, religious.

Phlegmatic: cold and moist (Water)

Qualities: Cowardly, submissive (Lily uses uxorious), mutable, not capable of keeping secrets, dull, sluggards, lazy.

Choleric: hot and dry (Fire)

Qualities: Angry, quarrelsome, revengeful, ambitious, importunate, imperious, hardy, rash, involving themselves in unnecessary troubles, seditious, often ingenious, easily changing opinions.

Melancholic: cold and dry (Earth)

Qualities: Slow in resolutions, fradulent, keeping counsel close to themselves, prudent, severe, covetous, suspicious, sorrowful, fearful, forward, holds grudges, inexorable, ambitious, loving no man’s esteem but their own.

It should be noted that these are the extremes, but these are basic colors we all have. The more out of balance we are in one way or another, the more that these qualities will show up, especially if a planet that is strongly one temperament is the Lord of the Geniture, as we shall see.

It also may seem like the only good temperament to be is Sanguine, but it was thought that a too-Sanguine person would be too soft-hearted to handle the world.

This hot/cold/moist/dry division points to finer divisions of the elements. Thus, you can say that Fire and Air share a component in their heat. Each of the planets and signs have different amounts of these finer divisions. By calculating these proportions, you get a graph of which divisions are stronger and, thus, which temperament(s) an individual falls into.

The calculation of temperament can get very tricky, but like most things in traditional astrology if you take it a step at a time with the right procedure you’ll get an answer. Let’s begin.

First, we need the planets and signs that are most involved in influencing temperament. According to Lily, these are:

1. The Ascendant sign and the Lord thereof

2. The Planets or Nodes in the 1st house, and those that aspect the Ascendant.

3. The Moon and Planets aspecting her.

4. The quarter of the year the Sun is in.

5. The Lord of the Geniture (see last post)

Let’s take up the chart from last post, since I’ve already calculated the Lord of the Geniture (Mercury):



So we would be looking at:

Mercury as Ascendant Ruler
Virgo as Ascendant
Jupiter in the 1st
South Node in the 1st
Mars aspects Asc
Mercury aspects Asc
The Moon
Jupiter aspects Moon
Venus aspects Moon
Sun in the 1st quarter of the year
Mercury as Lord of the Geniture

But how much hot/dry/cold/wet do these add? Let’s take a look at Lily’s charts on the matter. The primary chart for the planet gives different proportions depending on whether the planet is oriental or occidental in the chart.

Planet Oriental Occidental
Mercury Hot Dry
Venus Hot and Moist Moist
Mars Hot and Dry Dry
Jupiter Hot and Moist Moist
Saturn Cold and Moist Dry
Moon Phase Qualities
Conjunction to 1st Quarter Hot and Moist
1st Quarter to Full Hot and Dry
Full to 3rd Quarter Cold and Dry
3rd Quarter to New Cold and Moist
Sun in this Season Qualities
Spring Hot and Moist
Summer Hot and Dry
Autumn Cold and Dry
Winter Cold and Moist
Sign Element Qualities
Fire Hot and Dry
Air Hot and Moist
Water Cold and Moist
Earth Cold and Dry

Lily also gives several additional rules:

If the Lord of the Geniture is singular (no strong planets aspecting it closely), it counts for 3x.

If the Moon is in the Ascendant, count her 2x.

If Saturn or Mars aspect the Moon or Ascendant with a malevolent aspect (square, opposition, close conjunction while weak), then they will cast their qualities over the native despite the testimony of others.

In this chart, Mars is aspecting the Asc with a square, so there will be an obvious cholerick side to the man. Mars is also aspecting the Lord of the Geniture, so I wouldn’t count the 3x bonus.

Adding all the qualities up, we get the following:

Item Hot Cold Moist Dry
Occidental Mercury as Ascendant Ruler X
Virgo as Ascendant (Earth) X X
Occidental Jupiter in the 1st X
Occidental South Node in the 1st X
Oriental Mars aspects Asc X X
Mercury aspects Asc X
The Moon in 1st Quarter X X
Jupiter aspects Moon X
Oriental Venus aspects Moon X X
Sun in the 1st quarter of the year X X
Mercury as Lord of the Geniture X
Totals 4 3 4 5

Now we look to see what opposes what. Hot opposes Cold. Moist opposes Dry. There is slight heat and slight dryness. This lends itself to a mildly Choleric personality. There is a good amount of balance. However, Mars is heavily involved and bumps up the choler.

It is quite possible for most things to be balanced, and a native will not swing widely one way or another. In these cases, other indicators that I’ll go into with later posts will show the general cast of the mind.

It may be cheating, but I know this native well and I can firmly say that he has been choleric all the years I’ve known him. He has lost many jobs due to quarreling and rushes in where fools and angels both fear to tread. He is intelligent, as discussed back in the last post, but his knack for getting into trouble or bulling his way into things has made him a very bitter man. The last I saw him, he was deep into conspiracy theories and buying heavy artillery and ammo. That being said, there have been times he has been the other temperaments as well, especially when he is around me.

Now, not all of this is due to the temperament. Think of temperament as like the background mood of the mind. In the next post, we’ll be talking about the Lord of Manners. This will add much more detail to this general temperament.

And what about myself, if you’re curious? The Lord of my Geniture is Venus. I am choleric (Hot 6, Cold 1, Moist 3, Dry 7), and I have Mars conjoining my Moon and Saturn conjoining my Ascendant. My Saturn is much stronger than my Mars, so the reserved and suppressive nature of Saturn pushes a lot of anger inward. This tends me toward depression. In those times when that is released though, watch out! I can be quite forceful in presenting an opinion.