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Electional astrology in Hellenistic times

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Joined: 11 Oct 2003
Posts: 945
Location: Australia

Posted: Wed Jun 23, 2004 10:58 pm    Post subject: Electional astrology in Hellenistic times Reply with quote

I was reading an article on Hellenistic astrology in the latest Mountain Astrologer magazine and came across something I found interesting in regard to the fate versus free will debate that crops up on this forum from time to time.

Again, the very existence of electional astrology side by side with natal from the earliest Hellenistic period, should call into question the contention that ancient astrologers embraced a complete predestination of human actions… (TMA June/July p51)

The point was not whether there was such a thing as fate but that the Hellenistic astrologers didn’t appear to believe in fatalistic determinism to the same extent that has often been assumed by modern astrologers.

I’ve been trying to track down the earliest times that ancient astrologers might have started ‘electing’. I know that Dorotheus (1st century) talks about it in Carmen Astrologicum but without examples of charts. ‘Greek Horoscopes’ has an example of an election chart ‘gone wrong’ from 484CE, commented on by Palchus (whose earliest horary example Deb mentioned recently). But there have been suggestions that Nigidius, who lived in the 1st century BCE, also used electional astrology.

Augustine, who became a strong opponent of astrology after his conversion to Christianity, wrote very disparagingly in his book City of God (written around the second decade of the 5th century) about katarchai and the supposed opportunity it gives to interfere with the course of fate. He argues against people who believe that katarchai may be used to determine a particular hour to do something thereby making someone a fate that might not have otherwise been theirs at their birth. Augustine is basically saying something along the lines of how can so much emphasis be placed on a natal chart (which he doesn't believe in either) if you can just change the course of fate that is shown in that chart. He also asks that even if someone was to fix a time for something can’t some other power then come along and interfere?

So I guess my question would be how widespread was the use of electional astrology in Hellenistic times and by whom, and would it presuppose a belief that fate is not predetermined but is able to be exploited in some way?
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Joined: 11 Oct 2003
Posts: 4130
Location: England

Posted: Wed Jun 23, 2004 11:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Sue,

I can’t imagine that you’ll be able to track down the earliest time that astrologers started ‘electing’. The evidence of electional astrology is present in the oldest sources we posses. The omen literature from which we trace the most ancient rules of astrology is riddled with it – “if you want your voyage to be successful, set sail when such and such a constellation is rising; if you want to avoid shipwreck, don’t set sail under such and such constellation”, etc, etc.

Although much of it was creating a reference to seasonal events or lunar cycles, The Venus Tablets of Ammisaduqa from ancient Babylon are the oldest records we possess of astrology being practiced with applied logic – and these would justifiably be taken as an early source for electional technique, since they are largely about recognising the best time to engage in certain activities.

Astrology must have evolved out of electional techniques - if we consider that the first purpose of astrology was to regulate society and use recognisably repeatable celestial cycles as indicators of times to engage in or avoid certain activities.

I’d argue that electional astrology was the root of all subsequent techniques and there has never been a time when it hasn’t been heavily utilised. Even today some astrologers might think they don’t use it very much, but watch how quickly they start playing around with charts when they have to organise an event or plan something important.

The fate issue is complex. The Stoic philosophy that supported the rise of astrology in the Hellenistic era was about as fatalistic as you can get, so you find some astrologers like Valens making very strong arguments that you can’t change the fate your horoscope shows you to be born with, regardless of how much you pray, be of good character, or plead with the gods. But there were a lot of philosophies, and shades of philosophies floating around, and individual views varied then no less than they always have. Underneath the respected academics, there were the street-level astrologers. I sometimes think that taking someone like Ptolemy as a representative of your everday, jobbing, classical astrologer is about as accurate as using Kepler as the best example of a 17th century practicing astrologer. How the philosophy was argued didn’t always equate with how it was used in every day life.

However, through the trail of Plato, Aristotle and others, the theory was developed that the celestial influences upon the elemental (sublunar) world were predictable and unalterable, but because the soul of humankind contains a fragment of the divine spark, we are capable of raising ourselves above the pre-destined through connection with the god-head. Stoic faith would doubt this but classical astrology wasn’t always practiced in an extreme form and of all cultures they were most open to the fate v freewill arguments and buffeted by opinions from both sides. I’m sure that whilst they were exploring this philosophically, most would have been very happy to use astrology in the way that served their interests best. And even Valens, I’m sure, looked to his charts when arranging matters of importance.
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