As a student of the Astrological Art and particularly of the Hellenistic Astrology branch, I was truly delighted by the recent launch of Chris Brennan’s book “Hellenistic Astrology”. The book can be bought from Chris’s website ($58 incl. transport), or from Amazon ($48 excl. transport).
For those who have tried to study Hellenistic Astrology on their own, as most of us have tried so far, this book appears as a true Ariadne’s thread in a labyrinth of concepts and Hellenistic Astrological techniques framed on a backdrop of complex philosophical frameworks, where the matter is complicated even further by all sorts of discrepancies, theoretical gaps and contradictions or differences in opinion existent in the ancient texts.
It is a thorough work of over 600 pages in A4 format, first published on the 10th of February, 2017, in Denver, Colorado, that begins, almost naturally, with a quotation from Vettius Valens, one of the most important astrologers of the Hellenistic period, which I will relay in full below:
”Those who engage in prediction of the future and the truth, having acquired a soul that is free and not enslaved, do not think highly of fortune, and do not devote themselves to hope, nor are they afraid of death, but instead they live their lives undaunted by disturbance by training their souls to be confident, and neither rejoice excessively in the case of good, nor become depressed in the case of bad, but instead are content with whatever is present. Those who do not desire the impossible are capable of bearing that which is preordained through their own self-mastery; and being estranged from all pleasure or praise, they become established as soldiers of fate.” – Vettius Valens
c. 175 CE
Valens’s command, and to a certain extent, recommendation follows us throughout the entire work, constantly reminding us that the principal task of an Astrologer is to understand the mysteries of Life and Destiny so that, endowed with such knowledge, we can live our lives as free spirits.
These being said, the purpose of the work is highly ambitious even though, as Chris Brennan himself declares, it is only an introduction into the extremely complex topic of Hellenistic Astrology techniques. Even in these terms… it is the first of its kind in modern times, and it will be a reference book for all those interested in the subject for a long time to come.
For those still unfamiliar with the concepts of Hellenistic Astrology, the author offers a complete view on the evolution of Astrology, from its origins in Mesopotamia until its decline in the late Roman Empire, as well as the later rediscoveries and evolutions of Astrology throughout various periods until the present time, covering extensively the important figures and the specific literature pertaining to the Hellenistic period.
It is important to remember that the house system used throughout the treatise is the “Whole Sign House System”, and the zodiacal system represented is the Tropical one, although in Chapter 8 “The Zodiac Signs” Chris discusses about the uncertainty regarding the zodiacal system used by Astrologers in the Hellenistic period and leaves the problem of the Sidereal Zodiac open for further research.
I will further present the content of the book (highlighting some chapters, while skimming over the sub-chapters of others) in order to have an overall view of the range of topics, as well as to be able to grasp the measure and degree of detail that the author pursued throughout his work.
1. Early Astrology in Mesopotamia and Egypt
2. Origins of Hellenistic Astrology
3. Practicing Astrology in the Roman Empire
4. The Hellenistic Astrologers
5. Decline and transmission
6. Philosophical issues in Hellenistic Astrology
The Seven wandering Stars
Names of the Planets
Significations according to Valens
Benefics and Malefics
Masculine and Feminine
Under the Beams
Morning Star versus Evening Star
Planetary Speed, Retrogrades, and Stations
Ascending and Descending Nodes
8. Signs of the Zodiac
Qualities of the Signs
Tropical versus Sidereal Zodiacs
Names of the Signs
Masculine and Feminine Signs
The Thema Mundi
Exaltations and Depressions
Irregular Distribution of Secondary Qualities
Subdivisions of the Zodiac
Interpreting Planets in Signs
Reconstructing the Aspect Doctrine
Definition of Witnessing or Testimony
The Five Configurations
Qualities of the configurations
Right versus Left
Mitigations and Alternative aspect Doctrines
10. The Twelve Places
The Whole Sign House System
Names of the Places
Conceptual Models underlying the Places
The Angles or Pivots
Good and Bad Places
Busy or Advantageous Places
Joys of the Planets
Significations of the Places
Survey of each of the Twelve Places
Interpreting Planets in Places
11. The Issue of House division
12. The Domicile Lord of the Hour-Marker
13. Rulers of the Places
Interpretive principles for studying the rulers
14. Conditions of Bonification and Maltreatment
The Purpose of the Conditions
The inequities of Fortune
Definition of Maltreatment
Opposition and Trine
Striking with a ray
Mitigation conditions: Reception
15. Triplicity Rulers of the Sect Light
Sources for the technique
Identifying the Triplicity Rulers of the Sect Light
The Importance of Angularity
The Sequence of the Native’s life
Examples from Valens and Dorotheus
Integration with other Techniques
Timing the Changeover between Triplicity Lords
Calculation and Conceptualization
The use of Lots in Natal Astrology
Steps in Analyzing a Lot
The Lot of Fortune
Survey of other Lots Used
17. Annual Profections
Activation of the Places
Condition of the Lord of the Year
Activation of the Place containing the Ruler
Repetitions and transits
Advanced method of Profections in Valens
18. Zodiacal Releasing
Source of the Technique
Calculating Zodiacal Releasing Periods
Interpreting Zodiacal Releasing Periods
Interpreting the quality of a Period
Angular triads relative to Fortune
Spirit and Fortune in the Same Sign
Areas for Further Research
In the annexes there is a chapter with Chris’s personal conclusions, an extremely detailed bibliography, the birth data of the personalities used as examples throughout the book, a timeline of important events in the history of Hellenistic Astrology (covering a period of 13 centuries), a glossary of the terms discussed and their Greek equivalents and, last but not least, a very useful index.
Judging by all of the above and given the context of the publication of a series of distinct treaties from the CCAG collection (Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum), mostly within Project Hindsight under the coordination of Robert Schmidt, a project that is fundamentally important for the recovery of Hellenistic Astrology in the modern period, Chris Brennan’s work offers a surprisingly thorough synthesis of the most important concepts in Hellenistic Astrology!
As mentioned earlier, the purpose of this work is not to be an all encompassing reference source for all concepts and techniques of Hellenistic Astrology, but rather to present a fundamental framework which we can use to build a knowledge system based on original texts, depending on our various needs and interests.
Another detail worth mentioning is the fact that the treatise will be subsequently followed a second work penned by Demetra George, that will be more focused on the practical application of Hellenistic Astrology techniques. These two works appear to be thought of as a whole so you might want to keep an eye out for it.
In the outline above I would like to draw attention to Chapter 9 “Configurations” and Chapter 14 “The Conditions of Bonification and Maltreatment”, some of my personal favorite chapters, where Chris Brennan introduces us to some of the most problematic Hellenistic astrological doctrines (given the limited original texts) and then suggests a reconstruction model resulting from a collaboration with Demetra George and Ben Dykes. Given the fact that this reconstruction has already been tried before within Project Hindsight by Robert Schmidt, Chris, Demetra and Ben tried to see if they could reach the same conclusions, starting basically from the premises stated by R. Schmidt. As a result of their collaboration they eventually reached a series of different conclusions, most of which form the basis for these important chapters.
In short, the aspect doctrine covers the 5 classical configurations (conjunction, sextile/hexagon, square, trine/trigon, opposition/diameter), but it also comprises notions such as:
- Witnessing vs. Testimony Aspects and Greek theory of optics
- Bonification vs. Maltreatment
- Sinister vs. Dexter Aspects
- Application vs. separation
- Zodiacal aspects vs. Exact or partile aspects
- Aversion and co-presence
- Aspect qualities
- Mitigation and alternative doctrines of aspects
Thus, the planetary aspects are presented as configurations with highly intricate complexities. Adding to this the various conditions of bonification and maltreatment (which can considerably alter the meaning of a delineation), the Aspect Doctrine becomes one of the fundamental elements of Hellenistic Astrology.
Another chapter that impressed me greatly (although the entire work is impressive through the synthesis it offers) is Chapter 18 where Chris Brennan exceptionally treats the theme of Zodiacal Releasing. In its essence it is a very simple predictive technique, but one which illustrates the fractal nature of predictive techniques in Hellenistic astrology, where most of them rely not on the transit of planets through zodiac signs and houses, but on symbolical/ metaphorical premises.
This technique in particular uses the Lot of Fortune (Tuche) and the Lot of Spirit (Daimon) in combination with planetary periods to determine the “intensity” and “efficiency” of various life periods, using as starting point the zodiac sign occupied by the Fortune/Spirit Lot by allotting to each life period a number of years equivalent with the minor period allotted by each ruling planet following the order of the signs. This technique can be drilled to any level of detail from years to months, days or hours, using the fractal principle of temporal cycles.
The Zodiacal Releasing technique is perhaps one of the most interesting and most important predictive techniques in the Hellenistic Astrology toolset and I was pleasantly surprised by the way Chris managed to explain the basic concept with the help of logical argumentation and clear-cut examples.
Furthermore, each chapter and concept is accompanied by practical examples (mostly birth charts of personalities from the modern period) and philosophical considerations (hermetical, platonic etc.) which enlarge the general understanding and offer real support for the research and practical application of these concepts.
Being familiar with most of the concepts by searching, analyzing and compiling information from various sources over time, I understood from the first glance the added value that Chris brings to the Hellenistic tradition, which is that for the first time in modern times the fundamental concepts of Hellenistic Astrology are bound together in an unitary and coherent vision, accessible to the general public.
Moreover, throughout the work one can sense the mark of a person who has thought, weighed, compared, digested and synthesized the concepts in a way that is easy to follow even for someone who is just starting to investigate this field of knowledge. Also, the observations and supplementary remarks to the philosophical issues arising from the various concepts become real turning points for further research, usually required for an in-depth study.
Finally, what I personally appreciated was the fact that the work does not offer the reader a collection of cookbook delineations for all possible combinations, but it presents and expounds on the premises and principles we should reflect on in the act of delineation (in agreement with the “teaching” method of the Astrologers of the past). The study of Astrology thus becomes a quest for knowledge and understanding, and in this way the author adheres to Valens’s recommendation in asking those studying this art to reflect upon the various Astrological issues and to let the principles they discover be their guide in their day-to-day lives.
The “Hellenistic Astrology” by Chris Brennan has long been necessary and its publication will certainly coincide with an acceleration of the rediscovery process of Hellenistic Astrology in the modern age, on the one hand, and on the other hand with an exposure of modern Astrologers to the wealth and complexity of the techniques that some of the most brilliant minds of western and eastern cultures have left us as inheritance throughout the millennia.
It is true at the same time that this work only initiates us into a maze of Astrological thinking where the further we enter the more we discover complex issues that we need to tackle, ultimately leading us to an epic journey in search for knowledge. These being said, the book is at the same time an invitation for each and every one of us to take the initiative and contribute in any way possible, be it about practical, theoretical or philosophical research, the translation of original texts or the popularization of the Art of Hellenistic Astrology; all vital elements that are necessary to pass this momentum to the next generation of thinkers and Astrologers.
And so I circle back to Vettius Valens’ words, words coming from a bygone era, addressed to people who aspire to understand the mysteries of the universe, and essentially inviting us to pursue a quest for knowledge and self-mastery that should accompany any true understanding of the mysteries of life and destiny. It is actually an invitation to use Astrology as a living instrument, capable of offering one the chance to acquire a free spirit, a freedom which ultimately depends on on whether or not we succeed at becoming aware of our actions and their consequences by means of the knowledge and insights we can acquire with the help of this Art.
Member of Romanian Astrologers Association