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Oliver St. John is the author of fifteen books covering Hermetic and Thelemic philosophy, Qabalah, operative magical Theurgy, the Tarot and astrology. He is a founding member of the Thelemic Magical Collegium, Ordo Astri, and has been a member of the Typhonian Order since 2000 e.v.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Thelemic Astrology

This article forms part of the Introduction to the book, Hermetic Astrology.

Astrology and astronomy are both rooted in an empirical observation of the celestial sphere. They define the Zodiac as a circle of twelve 30-degree ‘signs’ of celestial longitude along the ecliptic—which is the apparent path of the Sun across the celestial sphere over the course of the year. The Zodiac is a celestial coordinate system that takes the ecliptic as the origin of latitude, and the position of the Sun at the spring equinox as the origin of longitude.

There are two main types of astrological systems: the Sidereal system, used in Hindu astrology, and the Tropical system, most widely used today in Western astrology. Each system uses a different definition of the astrological year. Both divide the ecliptic into signs named after the constellations to which they are associated. However, while the Sidereal system defines the signs based on the fixed stars, the Tropical system defines it by the position of the spring equinox—which is the intersection of the ecliptic with the celestial equator. Determined by the spring equinox, the Tropical system is sensitive to the phenomenon known as the precession of the equinoxes, the axial precession of the Earth, whereas the Sidereal system is not. The two systems consequently slightly drift apart from each other over time (about 1.4 arc degrees per century).

The precession of the equinoxes has a number of observable effects and these are taken into consideration by Tropical astrology. Firstly, the positions of the South and North celestial poles appear to move in circles against the backdrop of fixed stars, completing one circuit in 25,772 years (as measured in the year 2000). This means that while today Polaris reigns as the Earth’s North Star, the polar ruler will change in time and other stars will assume the heavenly throne. The South Pole is currently in darkness, but over time precession will also cause bright stars to illuminate it. Shifts in the celestial poles produce corresponding shifts in the apparent orientation of the whole star field viewed from a particular position on Earth. The North and South Stars are hidden powers that bend the destiny of the company of heaven—the star-gods or children of Nuit that are unveiled in the Thelemic transmission Liber AL vel Legis, the Egyptian Book of the Law.

Axial precession means that the position of the Earth in her orbit around the Sun at the solstices and equinoxes, or any other time defined relative to the seasons, slowly changes. Tropical astrology, adopted since Graeco-Egyptian times, portrays the heavenly metamorphoses at the heart of the Graeco-Egyptian Liber AL vel Legis. Thelema defines a type of consciousness emerging through precession. The key to its activation is the Egyptian god Hormaku, the Sphinx of Nature; its law is Thelema, the law of love under will.

Aquarius and Hormaku
Aeon of Hormaku or Aquarius

The Tropical Zodiac

The system of astrology generally in use today is geocentric and is called the Tropical Zodiac. The twelve signs of the Zodiac take their names from twelve of the constellations that have corresponding mythological and spiritual associations. The Tropical Zodiac is a picture of the heavens as seen from this planet. The picture is governed by a variety of factors including the twenty-four hours of the Earth’s daily rotation and her yearly orbit around the Sun. Over the course of the year delineated as a circle, two opposite poles correspond to the times when the Sun’s angle of declination causes day and night to be of equal length. These are the spring equinox on or near 21st March, and the autumn equinox on or near 21st September. At the equinoxes, the ecliptic path of the Sun crosses the equator. Another pair of opposite poles corresponds to the Sun’s northward and southward movement through the year:

  1. The highest point of the Sun’s declination at the midsummer solstice. At this time the days are longer compared to the nights, and the Sun is at his furthest point north of the eastern horizon.
  2. The lowest point of the Sun’s declination at the midwinter solstice. At this time the nights are longer than the days, and the Sun is at his furthest point south of the eastern horizon.

Aries the Ram is the starting point of the Zodiac. It signifies the onset of spring around 21st March, when day and night are of equal length. After the spring equinox, the length of days continues to increase, climaxing at the summer solstice. Daylight then starts to recede and, by the time the Sun enters Libra the Scales on 21st September, the year resumes perfect balance as day and night are equal again before autumn’s decline towards the winter solstice.

The Zodiac defines the solar year from the Earth’s perspective. The Sun is the central factor in the Zodiac. As he goes on his course it appears to pass through each sign—each 30-degree portion of a 360-degree circle. As spirit is the organising force at the centre of the four elements in the microcosm—as symbolised geometrically by the five-pointed pentagram—the Sun is the central and dominant force among the twelve signs of the Zodiac that are ruled by the Sun, Moon and planets. The seven astrological planets symbolise the macrocosm, the greater universe, geometrically represented by the six-pointed hexagram or the six central sephiroth on the Hermetic Tree of Life with Tiphereth, the Sun, at the centre.

© Oliver St. John 2012 (revised 2015)