Reception is one of the most powerful considerations in traditional astrology - its presence in an aspectual contact is capable of completely overturning the otherwise expected meaning. But though often talked about, the definition of reception and its practical use in judgement remains a clouded issue for many students. There is no fundamental reason for this: the significance of reception is straightforward once the sources of confusion are removed; but the problem appears to have arisen because the authors of our primary sources assumed a deeper level of understanding of the term in the broader context of life than the modern student is exposed to. Also, their terminology sometimes lacks precision, so that the intention of defining passages is left open to interpretation. It is only through a close attention to the way that reception was used in judgement that we see the clarity of the principle emerge and recognise its full importance in signification.
Most horary students are introduced to the term 'reception' through William Lilly's 17th century voluminous treatise Christian Astrology. The influence that Lilly's work has had, not only in drawing our attention back to the value of traditional techniques but also defining our understanding of them, is hard to overstate. As Maurice McCann reports in the introduction to his book The Void of Course Moon:
"…it [Christian Astrology
] is the most complete and influential book on horary today. There is no other book that does not owe a debt of gratitude to it, or can rival it. Besides, there are no other known sources where so many horoscopes can be studied for their use of rules and resolutions to questions. This book is widely used throughout the western astrological world and has a major influence on astrologers. It is generally believed that various technical problems can be solved through a study of Christian Astrology
. However, it requires skilful reading between the lines to understand Lilly as he was never a lucid writer."
The criticism that Lilly was not a lucid writer is, in many respects, a fair one. Our expectations ought to be somewhat tempered however, by the realisation that Lilly was unaware of the close scrutiny which would be applied to his choice of words by future generations; (let alone the fact that future students would be grappling to recapture the philosophical insights which were taken for granted by his contemporary readership). McCann's suggestion that "it requires skilful reading between the lines to understand Lilly" is a reminder that we should not draw our conclusions too early in any study of his work. This is particularly pertinent to the issue of reception because Lilly's introductory explanation of the term is careless, and has led many students to misunderstand its meaning, even from the moment they are first introduced to it. On page 112 he defines it thus:
Reception is when two Planets that are significators in any Question or matter are in each others dignity; as Sun
, and Mars
; here is reception of these two Planets by Houses; and certainly this is the strongest and best of all receptions. It may be by triplicity, term or face, or any essential dignity; as Venus
, and Sun
; here is reception by triplicity, if the Question or Nativity be by day: so Venus
in the 24. of Aries
, and Mars
in the 16. of Gemini
here is reception by terme, Mars being in the terms of Venus, and she in his termes.
The use of this is much; for many times when as the effecting of a matter is denyed by the Aspects, or when the significators have no Aspect to each other, or when it seemes very doubtfull what is promised by square
of the significators, yet if mutuall reception happen betwixt the principall significators, the thing is brought to passe, and that without any great trouble, and suddenly to the content of both parties.
It is true that Lilly's definition does not offer a lucid description of 'reception' because it only applies to mutual reception - a condition which requires that two planets are simultaneously receiving each other. Reception, in itself, does not require the element of planets being in each other's dignities. Although Lilly makes it clear he is talking about mutual reception, especially towards the end of this passage, he has not consistently applied the full term. Consequently, students may wrongly assume that all his later references to reception are relevant only where the criteria for mutual reception exists, leading to bewilderment in some of the important passages where to assume he means mutual reception would not make sense.
Reading on through Christian Astrology we can see that Lilly uses the term 'reception' loosely; sometimes he is referring to mutual reception but moreoften he uses it in a manner that is simply connected with his use of the word 'receiving' - to indicate that a planet is acknowledging an aspect from another that is visiting one of its essential dignities. For example, if the Moon in Leo makes an aspect to the Sun, the Moon is received by the Sun through the Sun's rulership of the sign. We can either say the Sun receives the Moon, or we can say the Sun is giving the Moon a reception. Lilly sometimes expresses it one way, sometimes the other. Sometimes he uses both expressions in the same breath:
"If the Planet so posited do receive the Moon or Lord of the 1st, the matter will be perfected, but without Reception, not". (p.446)
So, if the Sun receives a square aspect from the Moon in Leo, the Sun will be receptive to the Moon's interest, even though the aspect is a square which is normally considered difficult.
Often we are left to decide his intended meaning (reception or mutual reception) through common sense and the context of the phrase; just as when Lilly uses the word 'received' we have to distinguish when he might also mean 'accepted' in a general sense:
"It's generally received, that if the Lord of the Ascendant be under the Sunbeams …" 
Or when he means that an aspect is being received from an applying planet.
Misunderstanding on this point, that reception doesn't necessarily mean mutual reception, has led to further confusion. Modern authors, in assuming that all references to reception should imply a two-sided 'receiving into dignity', wrongly conclude that the distinction of 'mutual reception' must mean that the two planets should be receiving each other from the same level of essential dignity (ie, both by sign: Mars in Taurus, Venus in Scorpio; or both by exaltation: Jupiter in Aries, Sun in Cancer, etc). In fact, setting his incomplete definition aside, we can see that Lilly uses the term 'mutual reception' only to specify that the reception is operating from both sides - so that the two planets are offering a reception to each other. It is equally applicable to a situation where, say, one planet is received by sign and the other is received by exaltation, because the 'receiving into dignity' is being mutually performed. Modern authors expect this two-sided reception of differing dignities to be referred to as 'mixed reception' but this is not the term that Lilly used, even though he made use of planets being mutually receptive to each other from various levels of dignity. 
There have clearly been a lot of assumptions built into the prevailing view of Lilly's use of reception and because of his influential status in our understanding of traditional technique, this has led to the recent translation of older works appearing to offer deviant approaches, or at least to contradict his methods of judgement. Unfortunately, many students have placed too great an emphasis on Lilly's quick definition of terms in volume I of Christian Astrology, although we can see that he wasn't careful with his terminology here, possibly because he felt that his points of art would be better understood by way of 'some example hereafter'. Once we set our assumptions aside, Lilly's instruction and use of reception is found to be much more in line with the definitions set out and demonstrated by the authors he acknowledged as his sources.
Filling in the Gaps
Although mutual reception seems an easy enough concept to understand, it is not possible to recognise its full value and benefit (or in some cases lack of benefit) unless we build its meaning upon a clear knowledge of what reception, as a one-sided principle, represents. Lilly omits to give a definition of this in his introductory volume, but it is readily grasped by the inference of the more detailed instruction in his horary volume. Filling in the gaps, (though accepting that this is by no means definitive), the first description that any new student ought to be given on the meaning of reception would run something like the following:
When a planet aspects the ruler of the sign it is in, or the ruler by exaltation, or by two of the minor dignities of term, triplicity, or face, the ruler of the dignity is said to be giving that planet a reception. For example, if Venus aspects Mars from Aries, Mars is 'receiving' Venus into his sign of rulership and therefore gives her a reception. To be received, or to be given a reception, is akin to being 'accepted' or attended to. Authors have likened Venus's position to that of a guest who is accorded the honorable respect that a host would extend to visitors. In this position Venus gains the attention of Mars and is well placed to take advantage of what he has to offer. She can draw from his strength, and if he is generally destructive she need be less fearful of the prospect of him turning his destructive potential upon her - as a host, his duty is to cater to her needs and to safeguard her interests whilst she is under his protection.
It is generally understood that reception is only relevant where an aspect is involved. As the 12th century astrologer Ibn Ezra states:
"Reception is noticed when a planet enters into conjunction or into aspect with a planet which is the master of its house, the master of the house of its honour, the master of the house of its triplicity, its limit, or its face".
However, Ezra also notes a condition called 'liberality' where:
"each of two planets is in the house of its companion, or in the house of its honour, or in any of its influences, and, even though they do not enter into conjunction or aspect with each other, still there will be reception between them".
Hence the current debate about whether reception has significance where the two planets are not connected by aspect appears to be answered. Reception requires an aspect, but where there is no aspect the same benefits may be expected, providing the reception is mutual, as Lilly has intimated in his introductory definition.
Benefits of Reception
There are, as one can imagine, many benefits to having reception involved in the formation of an aspect. Earlier today, whilst working on this article and with thoughts of reception on my mind, a neighbour dropped by and talked about a work colleague who had been removed from his post. She remarked that his inadequacies had been apparent from the start, but everyone had bent over backwards to give him opportunities to overcome his problems. What proved to be his downfall was that he had not been receptive to these opportunities, but had blindly ignored all the chances that had been created to allow him to become more effective. The conversation brought to my mind the impeded potential of an aspect that lacks reception. Opportunities are offered but they may not be accepted. Reception guarantees that the aspect draws the attention of both parties involved, ensuring that its prospects are fully exploited.
Lilly makes surprisingly little use of reception as a descriptive factor for the significators involved, at least by comparison to the attention he gives to matters of dignity when evaluating how much or how little essential dignity a planet has of its own accord. His main use of reception is in establishing how effective the aspect between them may be. Examples from his chart judgements show that where the querent's significator is received into a major dignity (ie, sign or exaltation) of the quesited's significator, he expects the querent's attention to be welcomed, improving the likelihood of a pleasing resolution for the querent.
But one of the most important advantages of reception is the element of being protected. Although a destructive planet has the power to bring harm, the honour it is obliged to exercise within its own dignities behooves it to withhold its destructive expression when in contact with planets in those places. This is why we are told, on many occasions throughout Christian Astrology, that having the querent's significator applying to an unfortunate planet will destroy the potential for perfection, unless the unfortunate planet receives the querent's significator into its dignities. For the effect to be reliable however, a significator should be received by sign or exaltation, or at least two of the lesser dignities of triplicity, term or face.
The same principle applies where a hostile aspect is involved - the prospect of destruction is ameliorated where the querent's significator is being received, since it is offered some protection against the damaging effects that would otherwise come out of the difficult contact with the receiving planet. Where the aspect is friendly, reception is a bonus but it is not necessary to ensure a successful resolution. As Lilly states on page 186:
"If the aspect be trine or sextile, it performs the thing, whether the significator be received or not; provided the aspect be not separated but applying."
Use in Judgement
Consider Lilly's passage on "Whether or no he shall procure the money or substance from him of whom he intends to demand it?" on page 173 of Christian Astrology. We are told that in charts where the querent wishes to obtain a loan from another party, or wishes to have money repaid by another to whom it has been lent, the significators are as follows:
Lilly tells us to look for an aspect between the 1st-ruler (or Moon) and the 8th-ruler as an indication that the request or demand for money will be successful. If this exists, then providing the 8th-ruler is a fortunate planet, or the aspect is of a harmonious nature, we have an argument of perfection, regardless of any need for reception. However:
- The ruler of the 1st house and the Moon signify the querent
The ruler of the 2nd house signifies the money that the querent has
The ruler of the 7th house signifies the other party from whom the demand for money is made
The ruler of the 8th house signifies the other party's money (which is being sought).
" … if an infortunate Planet be in the 8th, or Lord of the 8th, and receive either the Lord of the Ascendant or the Moon, the Querent shall obtaine his desire; but if no reception be, he will hardly or ever procure his demands, and if ever, with so much difficulty and labour, as he would rather wish the thing had been undone."
The querent's significator contacting an unfortunate planet, whose potential for destruction is compounded by its association with the symbolism of the 8th house, (either by rulership or location), is obviously capable of suggesting a threat for our querent. Unfortunate planets bring indications of damage and the 8th house brings indications of loss. Yet where the querent's planet is received by the 8th-house ruler, even where that planet is destructive or naturally malefic, it withholds its capacity for damage and allows the 1st-house ruler to enter its domain and take advantage from it. The 1st-house ruler is seeking money; the aspectual contact allows it to take that, and the reception safeguards it against harm. Without the benefit of reception, the querent's significator would be fully exposed to the damage or loss that the unfortunate 8th-house ruler naturally signifies; hence Lilly warns that, under those conditions, even if the querent gets the money, he will wish he hadn't. Similarly, he tells us that the 8th-house ruler located in the 1st or 2nd house, without reception, will bring denial or prejudice, yet contact with an infortune can offer promise in this matter so long as the infortune receives the 1st-house ruler or the Moon.
The idea of a received planet being 'permitted access' can have harmful as well as beneficial consequences. Having the 1st-house ruler received by the 8th-house ruler may demonstrate that the 1st-ruler is permitted to take what it wants from the 8th-ruler without fear of a hostile reaction, but similarly, the 8th-ruler can take advantage of the situation when it enters the domain of the 1st-house ruler. Usually, as is the nature of the Lord of the 8th, its influence is destructive to the querent. We can liken this to the querent offering admittance to an undesirable character who enters the home with an intention to steal. Perhaps the ancient understanding of reception has wielded an archetypal influence, for the principle is perfectly demonstrated in vampire lore, where tradition dictates that a vampire may not cross a threshold to kill unless invited across by its victim. We all know what happens once the vampire has been received into the victim's home!
This is one of the reasons why mutual reception, though generally a good indication of mutual inclination towards the desire of the question, is not always preferable for the querent. As Lilly states, it indicates the mutual content of both parties involved, but there are some circumstances where such a result is not possible and we would rather see signs that only the querent will be contented. An example is offered in Lilly's passage on the possibility of death (pages 408-409), where Lilly states:
"if the Planet to whom the Lord of the ascendant is in Conjunction with, or commits his disposition unto, be Lord of the 8th, then whether he be a good or an ill Planet, he kils (for every Planet must doe his office… "
But he then explains that this argument of death is denied if the 1st-house ruler is received by the Lord of the 8th. However, as this is one of those situations where only life or death can be satisfied, and we cannot hope for the mutual satisfaction of both parties, we might argue that the benefit of this reception is negated, or in effect cancelled out, where mutual reception exists to restore the balance of the threat:
"… because if the Lord of the 8th receive the Lord of the 1st, and the Lord of the 1st the Lord of the 8th, whether Fortune or Infortune, you may justly fear the Querent's death; but if the Lord of the 8th receive the Lord of the ascendant, so there be not mutual Reception, it hinders not."
Somewhat confusingly, there are other passages on the same matter that suggest that mutual reception would still offer a little benefit, possibly because Lilly has drawn his rules from various sources which hold conflicting opinions. But if we turn to the recent translation of Masha'allah's, On Reception, by Robert Hand we can see how faithfully Lilly's treatment of "the death of the querent" given on page 408 of Christian Astrology, has reproduced the logic of this 8th century source. Masha'allah writes:
Whether the lord of the house of death is a fortune or an infortune, it signifies death because it is contrary to the lord of life unless a reception which repels death intercedes between them. Namely, [this is so] when the lord of the house of death receives the lord of the house of life, or receives the bearer of its disposition from the lord of the house of life because then the reception will be strong. And should the lord of the house of life receive the lord of the house of death, this would be a weak reception. Nevertheless, the lord of the house of death will not completely destroy [the lord of the house of life], according to the command of God.
Benjamin Dykes has also found the same sentiments expressed in the works of Bonatus and has proposed a vivid analogy of the effect of reception which is reproduced below with his permission:
I was reminded of reception when I saw a scene in the recent movie "Kingdom of Heaven," about the 3rd Crusade; and it sounded like some passages from Bonatti I have been translating. Here is the scene. Two crusader lords are captured by Saladin and brought into his tent. Saladin gives ice water to one (whom he intends to treat as a guest). The other takes water, too, which Saladin did not intend. Saladin has him killed.
So two enemies of Saladin are in his tent, but one is formally greeted, and the other not. Saladin suspends his warfare against the one he greets, but has no duty to protect the one he has not greeted.
In Bonatti's horary material on illness, he emphasizes again and again that the patient will not die if the Lord of the 1st (the sick person) is received by the Lord of the 8th (death); but he will die if it's the other way around. Why? I think the Saladin analogy helps (Saladin = Lord of 8th). When a planet is properly received, it is taken care of by the planet receiving it; normal hostilities cease, and the received planet is able to do what it normally does. Now, if the Lord of the 1st is received by that of the 8th, then the 8th will not kill him, and the Lord of the 1st gets to do what he wants to do: live. But if the Lord of the 1st receives that of the 8th, then the 8th gets to do what he wants: to kill. 
These examples of the effect of single reception involving the 1st and 8th house rulers are useful for their clarity in showing the protective effects of being received, though to some extent these illustrations simplify the matter and it shouldn't be assumed that reception can protect the querent from any degree of difficulty. Lilly tells us on page 185 that where a significator is in aspect with an unfortunate planet the matter will come to nothing unless reception intervene, which can give an argument of promise "though with weariness and much solicitation". We have much greater hopes in the matter if the planet who receives the significator is itself free from misfortune.
And whilst we might rely upon reception to alleviate the difficulties involved where the significator is aspecting a destructive planet or making a hostile aspect, we can hardly expect it to overcome the strain of a significator being weak to begin with and aspecting a destructive planet by a hostile aspect.
"… judge, if reception do intervene, whether it be by Square or Opposition aspect, for then if a Planet be evil disposed, the reception profiteth nothing; the less when he that is received is impedited: but if reception be by Sextile or Trine, you may confide the matter will be effected; or if the Planet who receives be at that time well disposed, let the reception be by any manner of aspect, the matter is performed, be the aspect Square or Opposition"
So, it profiteth nothing if our significator be 'evil disposed' and the contact is hostile, less than nothing if the planet being received is impedited, yet hopes are restored again if the receiving planet be well placed and strong. The astrologer must still evaluate and use discretion to form the judgement, bearing in mind Lilly's declaration:
"Its impossible to give such generall Rules as will hold ever certaine, therefore I advise every Practicer to well weigh the Querent his Condition, and the possibility the Figure promises, and so frame his conjecture".
That is sound advice and represents the best of Lilly as the veteran practitioner passing on his advice to less experienced students. Though it may be true that "he was never a lucid writer", the clarity of Lilly is there if you take the trouble to mine it out and don't expect him to remove the need for forming your own conclusions. Abs te & a Sceintia, remember - from yourself as well as from the rules!
I am grateful to Benjamin Dykes for permitting me to reproduce his instructive Saladin example, and for the general assistance he has given me during the preparation of this article. Details of his translations and courses are available on his website at http://www.bendykes.com
Notes & References:
Tara Publications, 1997. Details of this publication are available online at http://www.tara-astrology.com
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The original text contains typographical errors and reads: "so Venus in the 24. of and Mars in Aries, the 16. of Gemini".
The 17th century astrologers who published texts after Lilly followed him very closely in their own introductory definitions. John Gadbury even uses the same example of Venus in 24 ° of Aries and Mars in 16° of Gemini to demonstrate reception by term, leaving us in little doubt of Lilly's influence.
Genethlialogia, or he Doctrine of Nativities Together with The Doctrine
of Horarie Questions, 1658, p.43.
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Lilly may also use the word reception in its general sense, or to imply the receiving of an aspect:|
"consider what evill Planet it is who doth hinder the reception of the disposition of the Significators, viz. of the man and woman, or who frustrates their aspect" -p.305.
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"see if the more ponderous Planet of the two, that is, the receiver of the Disposition …" p.447.
- In this context the 'receiver of the disposition' is the planet being applied to by aspect.
A review of the astrological meaning of the words disposing, disposition and dispositor is included in the accompanying article "A brief comparison of the use of reception by historical authors".
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5] ||Lilly also refers to 'single reception' on page 176. Where he refers to 'mutual reception' it is usually to demonstrate the 'content of both parties'. See for example p.315 and p.372.
The French astrologer Jean-Baptiste Morin, writing a little earlier than Lilly but not acknowledged as one of his sources, more clearly states that "reception is either mutual or not". Mutual reception occurs if they "receive one another mutually in similar dignities" or "if the planets receive each one another mutually from different dignities". Morin regards the latter as less effective.
Astrologia Gallica Book 18 The Strengths of the Planets, translated from the Spanish version of Pepita Sanchis Llacer by Anthony Louis LaBruzza, (AFA, Tempe, USA, 2004); pp.39-40.
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The definitions of reception, as provided by Abu Ma'shar, Masha'allah, Al Biruni, Ibn Ezra, and others, are provided in the accompanying article "A brief comparison of the use of reception by historical authors". They can be seen to offer close agreement to the way that Lilly utilized reception once the misunderstandings that arise out of his introductory definition are removed. Steven Birchfield's recent article 'Reception' also makes a similar point:|
Lilly's statement, "here is reception of these two Planets by Houses; and certainly this is the strongest and best of all receptions", should make it clear that this is not the only type of reception but is the reception that is of the greatest degree of strength perfecting the thing quesited without a hitch. But it should be also made clear that it is not exclusively the only reception that works to perfect a matter. He does not say the only reception, but the strongest and best. I'm sure Lilly's interest was to give to his students that form of reception that would always perform. From horary examples of reception given by Bonatti and Masha'allah, it is clear that mutual reception is not the only reception that perfects a matter. A single reception where the receiver also confers virtue works quite well.
Published online at http://www.worldastrology.net/articles/reception.html. Accessed 6th September 2005.
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The Beginning of Wisdom, Chapter VII, p.214
The John Hopkins Studies in Romance Literatures and Languages, extra vol XIV; edited by Raphael Levy and Francisco Cantera. Oxford University Press, 1939. Available through Ascella Reprints.
The term 'liberality' is elsewhere translated as 'generality'.
See "A brief comparison ..." for fuller details of the passage from which this is extracted.
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This criteria is often reported by the older authors (see for example, definition of reception according Abu Ma'shar). Lilly demonstrates his recognition of it where he states on p.408:|
"Consider if the Lord of the ascendant be joyned to an Infortune, who receives him not either by House or Exaltation, or by two of his lesser Dignities, and the Moon also at that time unfortunate, it signifies the Querent's death."
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Published by ARHAT, 1998. The passage that is referred to here, and the judgement from which it is drawn, is available as a demonstrated chapter at http://www.robhand.com/recept.htm
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10] ||This comment was put forward in a discussion on the interpretation of reception that took place on the Skyscript forum. http://skyscript.co.uk/forums/viewtopic.php?t=952
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Deborah Houlding is the web mistress of the Skyscript site. The past editor of The Traditional Astrologer
magazine, and author of The Houses: Temples of the Sky
, her articles feature regularly in astrological journals. She has a particular interest in researching the origin and development of astrological technique and as a consulting astrologer specialises in horary. She is the principal of the STA school of traditional horary astrology, which offers courses by correspondence and intensive residential seminars.
© Deborah Houlding. September 2005