This article is reproduced from issue 20 of John's highly esteemed and witty journal: The Astrologer's Apprentice.
client entered the workshop one day, gorgeously arrayed and carrying a
plump chicken for payment. "What I would like to know," he asked, as I sat
him down in our consulting room, "is, will I die?"
I had barely finished rubbing my hands together with glee in order to
set the chart when, to my disappointment, I woke up. For it is ever the
reality of horary that clients want not just predictions, but timed
predictions. There, alas, is the rub.
Finding the event itself is usually the easy bit; the timing is more
difficult, as a close reading of William Lilly makes plain. We see him
over and again fumbling towards a plausible answer, with the aid either of
inside information or a querent sat before him so suggestions can be bounced
back and forth until a feasible result is hammered out. The spectacular
answer, where the timing announces itself in trumpet tones of indisputable
clarity, does occur; but more often than not, the exact timing of a specific
event in horary is hedged around with cautions and probabilities.
This is both salutary and inevitable. On the one hand it keeps the
burgeoning egos of journeyman astrologers in check; on the other, as when we
look at time we are looking at the very stuff of which our astrology is made
- looking, as it were, not so much at the face of the clock, where the
events that mark time are displayed, but into the workings of the clock
itself - the fathoming of time is bound to be harder than the mere tracking
The conclusions about the nature of time to which the practice of an
accurate, verifiable astrology directs us are not the least of the benefits
of directing our attention to the celestial science. Two key works to which
I might direct the curious reader are 'Plato's Myth of Er', at the end of his
Republic, and Iain Mackenzie's The Anachronism of Time (Norwich, 1994),
which is hard work, but which, with a tight logic, clarifies the concepts
with which we must work. But we direct our attention here away from our
prison bars to the more immediately practical purpose of finding the answer
in the chart.
We will assume that we have set our horary and judged that there will be
an event. This will usually have been shown by an aspect between two
planets; occasionally by a planet moving to a cusp, or even, rarely, vice
versa. Planet to cusp aspects, however, are not to be relied upon to show an
event unless the planet signifying the quesited is applying to the querent's
cusp. The querent's planet applying to the cusp of the quesited, whatever
Lilly may say to the contrary, tends to show desire rather than fulfilment
and is not reliable - except when the event is more or less certain. That
is, 'Will I get the job?' with Lord of the first applying to the MC: desire; 'When will
I get the job?' with Lord of MC applying to the 1st: certainty.
The best behaved of charts show a timeable past event. These are not so
common, but are delightedly received whenever they arrive. Suppose the
question is 'When will I marry again?' and we know that our querent divorced
three years ago. The chart shows her significator separating from Mars, the
natural ruler of divorce. If it is y degrees separated from Mars, we know
that y = 3 years. So if it now applies to aspect the ruler of the seventh
house, signifying the future husband, in 2y degrees, judgment is simple: you
will remarry in 2 x 3 = 6 years. It is as if the chart carries its own scale
of calibration, as we might find the scale marked on a map. Conclusions we
reach from this are highly accurate and highly reliable.
Few, however, are the charts that show such past events. Or, as in
principle I suppose that they all should, few are they that show them with
sufficient clarity to be of use. So we need to find something else - and
this is when it starts to get complicated. For reasons which cannot be
fathomed, students invariably display the utmost resistance to absorbing what
follows, more than on any other subject. We would suggest, then, that those
who wish to work with these ideas print out this page and forcefully insert
it into their head through the left ear with the aid of a screwdriver.
We will assume that our chart shows an applying aspect. If it does not, we have no event, so there is no point in trying to time it. If we have an aspect there will be a number of degrees
between where the planets are now and where they will be when the aspect
perfects. This number is the number of time units between the time of
question and the time of the event. Getting this is the easy bit! But even
this is not so simple: usually we take the number of degrees that the
applying planet must travel before perfecting the aspect. So we look at the
degree at which the aspect happens, following the astronomical truth that
the planet applied to is not going to stand and wait while the other catches
it up. Sometimes, however, we take the number of degrees from where our
applying planet is now to where the planet applied to is now - as if the
other planet were standing still and
waiting. What we have here is in effect not an aspect, but a transit.
Let us say that our event is shown by Mercury applying to
aspect Mars, and Mercury is now at 8 deg of its sign, Mars at 12 deg of its.
From looking at the ephemeris we see that aspect perfects when they are both
at 16 degrees of their signs. Mercury has had to travel 8 degrees to perfect
the aspect, so our judgment will be that the event will happen in 8
somethings: days, weeks, months, years, whatever. But sometimes we will
assume that Mars stands still and take only the distance between the
planets' present positions, giving us just 4 degrees and so 4 days, weeks,
So how do I know when to go for the true aspect and when to go for the
transit? I don't know. I have not found any reliable guidelines in either
the texts or in practice. I would suggest that the only guide is that in
many cases one answer will make sense within the context of the question,
while the other will not. I suggest that this is what we see Lilly doing in
various of his judgments - bouncing possibilities off the client, or off his
own knowledge of the realities of the situation.
Suppose we ask 'When will the King be executed?' and find that the
transit-type judgment gives us 3 days and the perfection-type gives us 6. We
might know that the trial has yet to finish, and when it does it will take
time to build the scaffold and organise the hot-dog concessions. 6 days
would make better sense.
The golden rule in all matters of timing, as in all else in astrology,
is that we do not have to be perfect. We are allowed to judge, "It might be
in three days; but weighing all the evidence I think it more likely to be in
We have a piece of music; we must allow ourselves to play. We can swing
it or we can play it straight: we are still playing. The one vital point is
that we learn our scales, else we cannot play at all.
So: we have our number of time units; we now need to work out which is
the appropriate unit. Lilly brings nothing but confusion here. First, he
gives two contradictory scales of timing; second, he pins both to fixed
units. The suggestion that, for instance, angular houses = years is most
unhelpful. Suppose our question is "When will my boyfriend phone?"; 'years'
is not a relevant concept. So put Lilly away and listen up.
Any question carries its own time-frame, which will have a short, a
medium and a long possibility. For the love-struck teenager demanding 'When
will my boyfriend phone?' minutes as short, hours as medium and days as long
might be the options. For the older querent asking 'When will I meet Mr.
Right?' years must be the longest option, giving months as medium and weeks
as short. The three units will follow one from the other: we do not have
minutes, months and years.
"Yes, but this assumed time-frame limits the possibilities of what the
chart can tell us." No, it doesn't. We can have perfection in less than one
degree, so our decision that years, months or weeks is the reasonable range
of choice for 'When will I meet Mr. Right?' does not clip Cupid's wings. A
perfection at less than one degree on our fastest option could still give us
To decide which of our time units we shall choose, we consider the sign
and the house in which our applying planet stands. Ignore the sign and house
in which the planet applied to stands. No, I know you weren't listening:
ignore the sign and house in which the planet applied to stands. Even if you
like the look of them, ignore them!
Within our reasonable time-frame for the question, fixed signs will give
the longest time-unit, cardinal the shortest and mutable the middle one.
That is the easy bit. The complication comes when we introduce the
houses, as there is an in-built contradiction. Of their nature, angular
houses equate with fixed signs and so indicate the slowest time unit. Cadent
- as might be expected from a house that is literally 'falling' - gives the
fastest; succedent the middle. Combining house and sign will give us, for
instance, long + long, which must indicate our longest unit. Or short +
short, which is our shortest. Any other combination will give our middle
"But that's not fair, ref!" Yes, the system is heavily weighted in
favour of the middle unit. This probably says something about the nature of
things; but if the chart wishes to show us the fastest or the slowest it is
quite capable of so doing.
Now for the contradiction: angular houses of their nature are slow. But
a planet in an angular house has a good deal of accidental dignity.
Accidental dignity increases the planet's power to act. If that planet wants
to act, then, it is well able to do so, and is likely to act quickly. So
angular houses are fast.
The key is the word 'wants': the issue of volition. If things are
unfolding of their nature, whatever is in an angular house will unfold
slowly. If whatever or whomever the angular planet signifies is, within the
context of the question, in a position to act, and if (and only if) the
receptions indicate that it wants to act, it will act quickly. This inherent
(apparent) contradiction is the reason for Lilly giving two apparently
Example: I ask 'When will the cheque arrive?' and find the significator
of the cheque in an angular house. There is nothing the cheque can do to
expedite its own arrival. The angular house would suggest a slow time unit.
On the other hand, when Asian women ask the question 'When will I meet
the man I will marry?' it is common to find their significators in angular
houses. Once they have taken the decision that it is time to marry, there is
a good deal that they can do to expedite the process, in contrast to Bridget
Jones, who can only wait until Cupid squeezes himself into her life. If
these angular significators provide us with an applying aspect, and if (as
the fact that she is paying to ask the question would lead us to expect)
their receptions show that she wants the match, we can take this angularity
as showing a fast unit, because she has power and wishes to use it.
Similarly, if a would-be Napoleon were to ask 'When will I conquer the
world?' and we were to find his significators in cadent houses, even given
an applying aspect we would have to assign a slow time-unit, because he has
little power to act.
Confused yet? If not, you probably haven't been paying attention. Let us
throw a few more ingredients into the stew. What we have so far is the
number of degrees needed to perfect an aspect giving us the number of time
units, and the sign/house combination of the applying planet telling us
which time units they are. In a good proportion of charts this will work. I
would suggest using this unless common sense tells that the answer it
provides is wrong.
In some charts, we consider only the sign of the applying planet, not
its house. Which charts? The charts where we consider only the sign of the
applying planet, not its house. I would like to be able to quote a rule, but
have never found one. They just look like 'sign-only charts'. Given enough
practice, you will develop an eye for them. It may be that a preponderance
of them have the planet in a fixed sign, but as with Lilly's empirical
'rules', this suggestion should be treated with caution.
The number of time units, as shown by the number of degrees, is subject
to change. If the applying planet is moving significantly faster or slower
than its usual speed, it will take a greater or lesser time to cover the
same number of degrees. We can, if we wish, adjust the number. I have timed
predictions with an unnecessary degree of accuracy by carefully calculating
the exact proportion by which the planet is faster or slower; but while such
displays of virtuosity make an amusing party trick there is little point to
them. 'A bit' is quite accurate enough an adjustment.
NB. the speed of the applying planet will - if we are sufficiently
Virgoan to factor it in - affect only the number of time units. It will not
affect our choice of time unit. Please, gentle reader, write this out 500
times to make sure it is instilled into your head.
Double-bodied signs make things slower. Our psychologically inclined
brethren will tell us that this is because they are far too busy talking,
worrying, or going down the pub to bother acting. This too will affect only
the number of time units, not their nature.
In practice, it is not usually necessary to consider these factors, work
though they do. Striving to tell our client that she will meet Mr. Right at
3 minutes past 10 on Monday 28th serves only our ego. 'Around the end of the
month' is all the accuracy required.
If the aspect is to a retrograde planet, so that both planets are
applying to perfection, the event can happen faster than the number of
degrees would suggest. How much faster? Usually 'a bit'. In such cases it is
probably best to use the number of degrees to give an outer limit of time,
qualified by 'probably sooner'.
If the chart that shows two aspects indicating that the event will
happen, these aspects will usually - as we might expect - show the same
time. 'Close enough' is good enough. If one, for instance, shows 12 units
and the other shows 3, a correlation of 12 weeks = 3 months is sufficiently
close to add confidence to our prediction. We could, in principle, expect
them to be exactly congruent; but such an expectation ignores our place in
the cosmos. We are aware that nor progressions nor transits to the nativity
manifest exactly as they happen; so with degrees of precision in horary. If
the planets send us an angel, it takes a while for him to find us amid the
fogs of this world of generation and corruption. Our gross coporeity resists
the instant response that the chart might suggest.
When judging horaries, we do best to disregard what we might think is
real time. It is a common failing among students, no matter how hard they
are beaten, to cling to the idea that if the ephemeris shows that the aspect
will happen next Tuesday, the event shown by that aspect will happen next
Tuesday. No it won't! What the ephemeris shows us is time from our
perception, which is an illusion; what the planets show us is as close an
approximation as we may easily get to time as is. 'Next Tuesday' is rarely a
correct response to "When will I meet Mr. Right?"
When ephemeris time does become relevant is when our questions are on
general indications over long periods of time, or when we wish to look
beyond the immediate limits imposed by the question to see what may happen
over a longer period. This is often to reassure the querent that all is not
Suppose the question is "Can you give some general indications
for my business over the next few months?" and we find that the querent's
business is signified by Jupiter, which will enter its own sign in three
months' time. We might judge that things will start looking up around then.
Experience is that the querent will usually respond, "Oh yes - that's
immediately after the big trade show", or some such, and that such
indications will prove accurate.
Or, suppose the question were "Is this really the man of my dreams?" and
the chart gave an obvious judgment of "Are you insane?" We might look
further, noting that in a couple of months the querent's significator moved
out of its detriment and into some interesting mutual receptions, and so add
"But by the Autumn you'll be feeling much better in yourself, and so be able
to enter a relationship that nurtures you, rather than scraping the barrel
of humanity out of sheer desperation, as you are doing now". Or words to
When considering the longer term, a planet's passage through an entire
sign shows one of the natural time-units, usually a month or a year. So if,
for instance, the querent's business were signified by Venus, placed now at
28 Leo, in a question about long-term prospects, we might judge (other
testimonies concurring), "You may feel you have the world at your feet just
now (Venus on Regulus), but you are entering a sticky period (into Virgo).
The next year (passage through Virgo) looks set to be a story of
considerable potentials (Venus in triplicity) never quite unfolding (Venus
in fall). Overall, the downside during this period is going to be
significantly more than the up; but after that (Venus into Libra) all falls
happily into place. So grit your teeth and hang on in till then." It is
foolishness to look beyond the next sign or two, as if we do we find
everything happening to everybody. And this looking ahead does need to be
done sparingly: students show an enthusiasm for racing planets around the
chart as if it were a Snakes and Ladders board; such enthusiasm is better
curbed. For the most part, we are concerned only with a planet's next aspect
and nothing beyond that.
Lilly gives several examples where a 'real time' transit is significant.
So if Mercury applies to Jupiter he is judging not "It's four degrees till
perfection; it will happen in four weeks", but "My ephemeris shows this
aspect happening next Tuesday at 3.56; it will happen then". Our advice to
the student must be, "Don't try this at home!" Please.
We suggest that, if you really must dabble in this kind of thing, it is
best kept to side issues. Example: we have decided that boy, our querent,
will marry girl in six months' time, judging by the six degrees needed to
perfect the aspect between them. We note that both planets are in major
dignities of the ruler of her fourth house, showing that her father has a
major say in this matter. We note also that at 11.52 on Friday 28th, boy's
planet transits the twelfth cusp, there being a mutual reception between the
ruler of the twelfth and the significator of the girl's father. The twelfth
being the house of animals larger than goats, we advise that at 11.52 on the
28th he attends the market, where he will be able to purchase the very camel
that will swing the father's opinion in his favour.
On the subject of transits, let us deal with the idea that if something
in the horary chart conjuncts something in the querent's nativity, the chart
is 'radical' (whatever that may mean). I ask a question about love, and find
in the horary that Venus is right on my natal Ascendant. Does this make the
chart radical? Of course not. It shows that Venus is transiting my
Ascendant, and I, surprisingly enough, am thinking about love. No more than
that. Let us not forget that this with which we deal is a congruent system:
it all fits together, in the most intricate and endlessly remarkable of
ways. That Venus is on my Ascendant may show that I am thinking about love -
a fact that might be obvious from my going to an astrologer and asking him
'Does she love me?' - but it tells us nothing about whether this love is
reciprocated. Such considerations serve only to confuse the issue. All
charts are 'radical', and we are well advised to keep the querent's nativity
well apart from his horaries, lest they breed monsters.
A particular instance in which the 'real time' movement of the planets
can be significant occurs in lost object questions. In the chart for such it
will often be found that the significator of the object is combust: it
cannot be seen. Assuming that all else in the chart is indicative of a
recovery, we can reach down our ephemeris, note the exact moment at which
the planet leaves combustion, and judge, "You'll find it then". This may
present the odd picture of thousands of people around the world throwing up
their hands in glee as they recover cherished possessions at exactly 8.22
GMT, but it seems to work with the reasonable degree of reliability that is
all we ask.
When a date is specifically mentioned in the question, it is often of
great significance, so it is always worth checking the planetary placements
on that date against the horary chart. As a general rule, if we restrict the
querent to few words, whatever those few words are will usually be
important; if those few words relate to timing, let us look at
This querent was desperate for her son to be accepted into a school -
a prospect that was looking increasingly unlikely. Her ambitions to place
him in a private school had excluded him from the acceptable state school
options, while he had been turned down from the private school she wanted,
for reasons which she believed were unsound. The boy had an entrance exam at
another school, and an appeal at the school desired, both on named dates.
How would he fare?
His significator is the ruler of the fifth house, Jupiter. The schools
are shown by the ninth and its ruler, the Moon. The first exam was on the
18th of May. By transit, the Moon, Lord 9, was on the 5th cusp on that day.
This is a positive testimony, but there was no mutual reception with Lord 5.
At this school the boy passed satisfactorily, but with no scholarship. The
appeal at the second school was due on August 10th. On that day, the boy's
significator, Jupiter, transits the ninth cusp, where, it being in Cancer,
it is exalted - so the boy is there and is highly thought of. Would he get
the scholarship? Yes. And so it proved.
Similarly, if the question contains a given bound of time, this too will
be reflected in the chart. It can be taken that the end of the relevant
planet's present sign is the end of the given time-frame. So if I ask, "Will
I win the lottery this year?" and find my significator conjuncting the ruler
of the eleventh house (pennies from Heaven) immediately after it leaves its
present sign, I would judge, "No; but I will early next".
Robert Nunn has recently emerged from the gruelling series of tests and
tortures that comprise The Horary Apprenticeship as a fully fledged Horary
Craftsman. While indulging in that favourite astrological recreation of
bumping off members of the royal family - an amusement which would have
William Lilly's whole-hearted approval - he asked "Will the Queen Mother
live to see her 100th birthday?"
With a woman of this age we must be aware
that she is bound to die at some point; so we need to look at the birthday.
His reasoning was: the Queen is given to the 10th house, so the Queen Mother is given to the 10th from the 10th, the radical 7th, and so signified by Venus. The Moon is translating light from Venus (Queen
Mum) to the Sun (her birthday). Will it get there in time - before the
Sun changes sign? Yes, it does; so the Queen Mother gets to see her hundredth
birthday - and so,
of course, it proved.
Finally, as a little light relief, there are the questions that admit of
only one possible time unit. Yippee! Let us dance and rejoice!
Margaret Cahill, an Apprentice on the point of qualification as a Horary
Craftsman, asked at what time a certain employee with a watch purchased from
Salvador Dali might arrive at work that day. As she judged - in a chart
submitted before the event - the employee was
signified by Saturn, ruler of the sixth house; the querent herself by
Mercury (Lord 1) and the Moon.
The Moon applies to aspect Saturn in four and
a half degrees. Which planet applies to which is irrelevant: that the
querent's cosignificator applies to that of her employee does not mean that
she will have to go to the employee's house to drag her out of bed; that the
planets come into contact is sufficient, within the assumptions of the
The Moon needs four and a half degrees to perfect the aspect with
Saturn, so the timing must be four and a half somethings. Minutes were not
an option, as the question was asked at 7 am and the business did not open
till 9. Days were not an option, as the assumption of the question was 'at
what time today?' As with our example of the repairman in The Real
Astrology, the chart can show that the person will not arrive at all; but as
we have an aspect our only option must be hours. She will arrive in four and
a half hours - and so it proved.
John Frawley is the editor of The Astrologer's Apprentice magazine, and tutor of the Apprenticeship Courses in Horary,
Electional and Traditional Natal Astrology. John's first book,
The Real Astrology, was awarded
the Spica Award for International Astrology Book of the Year in 2001.
His follow up book, Real Astrology Applied is now available and a
further title The Horary Textbook will soon be due for publication. For details of John's work, publications, appearances and courses, visit his website at http://www.johnfrawley.com.
© John Frawley