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Star Lore of the Constellations: Bootes the Herdsman - by Deborah Houlding

Notable stars in Bootes: Epoch 2000
Longitude Name Nature Mag. Position Lat. Dec.
17 Li. 40 Seginus MercurySaturn 3.0 Left Shoulder 50N 38N
24 Li. 14 Arcturus JupiterMars -0.04 Left knee 31N 19N
03 Sc. 09 Princeps MercurySaturn 3.5 Spear shaft 49N 33N

The constellation Bootes is represented by the figure of a herdsman, commonly said to be herding bears, though some report him driving oxen. He has been variously known as 'the Bear Keeper', 'the Wagoner', 'the Ploughman', the Shepherd' and 'the Driver (of the Wain)', and is situated in the heavens near Ursa Major - the Great Bear whom he is said to pursue around the Pole. Manilius, in his description of Bootes, emphasises the role of custodianship and responsibility for the safekeeping of assets (as symbolised by the herd):

To folk born in this hour Fortune herself makes bold to entrust her treasure, so that the wealth of monarchs and temple finances will be in their keeping: they will be kings under kings and ministers of state, and be charged with guardianship of the people; or, as the stewards of grand houses, they will confine their business to the care of another's home.[1]

Firmicus follows Manilius, adding that if malefic planets are in aspect, the native is reduced to being a door-keeper, admitting and saluting guests. [2]

Ptolemy attributes a mercurial-saturnine nature to the constellation as a whole, but notes the principal star Arcturus (from Arktouros 'Bear Guard': arktos, bear + ouros, guard - from its position behind Ursa Major) to be like Jupiter and Mars. [3] This is a 1st magnitude, golden red star, located on the left knee of the figure. It is the 4th brightest star in the heavens and was one of the few stars to be assigned a name by Ptolemy and Manilius. Albiruni informs us that it was sometimes called 'the Guardian of the Northern Heavens', once again alluding to a role of safe-keeping. [4]

Arcturus was well known among ancient seamen and farmers for bringing stormy weather with its rising, for which Pliny called it horridum sidus: a star which is almost always accompanied by a hail storm. [5] Being such a bright and prominent star its astrological influence naturally includes the potential for riches and honour, whilst the martial element - implicit in its tawny colour - bring ties to calamity and conflict (no doubt reinforced by the unfavourable agricultural conditions it presented). Lilly gives a good illustration of its interpretation when he says that the ascendant, directed to it:

denotes unto the Native good Fortune, which he shall enjoy in this world with comfort and content, yet notwithstanding he shall be engaged in many troubles, discontents and feares, rather occasioned by his owne temerity, than any just occasion.[6]

As the principle star of 'the Driver' modern authors have recognised the symbolism of organisation: the 'behind the scenes' planner whose strong energies are capable of driving events forward. According to Robson, Arcturus is said to give "riches, honours, high renown, self-determination and prosperity by navigation and voyages". [7] Ebertin and Hoffman claim that it makes the native "belligerent and quarrelsome" with an "enterprising spirit" [8] whilst Noonan writes of it:

Its influence was always dreaded in mundane astrology, being unfavorable to the farmer's work. However, when rising in a natal chart it indicates an individual who will be loyal to his friends, guarding their secrets in faithful silence. Such a native will be confidante to heads of state or be entrusted with public funds, but when setting and aspected by Saturn and Mercury the native may betray his trust and end in disgrace. [9]

Lilly claims that Arcturus can signify death by suffocation if prominently placed and conjunct Mars, with the Moon with Ras Algeti. [10] He regarded both Arcturus and Seginus, the star on the left shoulder, as capable of offering "ample Fortune and great Honour" when conjunct the Sun, Moon or Jupiter in the 10th house. [11] However, lacking the direct and open Jupiter / Mars nature of Arcturus, Seginus is said to bring succession to honour through indirect means, often accompanied by disgrace. When the Moon is directed to it, Lilly warns that the native may be questioned for foule acts and committed to Prison therefore, and may receive some inheritance though one of his wenches must suffer death. [12]

Another star of astrological note is Princeps (from the Latin 'prince'). This is a pale yellow star in the spear-shaft of Bootes. Robson draws upon its Mercury-Saturn nature in claiming that it gives "A keen studious and profound mind with the ability for research" but otherwise shows a lack of originality in mirroring Lilly's description of the effects of the ascendant directed to Arcturus or Princeps. When rising, Robson claims, Princeps gives "Good fortune but troubles, discontent and fear occasioned by own temerity rather than circumstances." [13]

To view Arcturus first locate the most easily identifiable asterism in the northern sky - the 'Plough' or 'Big Dipper'. The handle of the Plough is bent into an arc. Follow the projection of this arc and it will lead you to the bright star Arcturus ("follow the arc to Arcturus"). Bootes as a constellation is kite-shaped, with Arcturus on the bottom at the kite and Seginus above it towards the west.

Finding Bootes

The Sun crosses Seginus around 11th October; Arcturus around 17th October, and Princeps around 27th October each year.

Notes & References:
  1 ] Manilius, Astronomica, (c. 10 AD) trans. G.P. Goold, 1997, published by Harvard Heinemann, Loeb classical library, London. 5.85, (Loeb p.307).
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  2 ] Firmicus, Mathesis Libri VIII. Translated by Jean Rhys Bram, Noyes Press, 1975; VIII.XIV.1 (p.278)
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  3 ] Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, (1st cent. AD), trans. Robbins, published by Harvard Heinemann, Loeb classical library, London. I.9 (Loeb p.55).
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  4 ] Al Biruni, The Book of Instruction in the Elements of the Art of Astrology, 11th century, trans. Wright, republished by Ascella, v.163, para.8, (p.78). Back to text

  5 ] Pliny, Natural History, II, XXXIX. (Loeb edition p.251). A reproduction of Pliny's 1st century text is available online at Bill Thayer's site.
Elsewhere we find similar comments, such as "Half of Arcturus is visible, a portent of boisterous weather on land and sea for five days" (18.74).
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  6 ] William Lilly, Christian Astrology, London 1647, (John Partridge & Humph. Blunden), p.666. This interpretation was given for the direction of the ascendant to Arcturus, Princeps (note Robson's similarity in his description of the influence of Princeps), or the 'Taile of the Lyon' (Denebola in Leo).
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  7 ] Robson, The Fixed Stars and Constellations, 1923, republished by Ascella, p.139.
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  8 ] Ebertin & Hoffman, Fixed Stars and their Interpretation, trans. Irmgard Banks (Tempe, AZ: The American Federation of Astrologers, 1971), p.63.
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  9 ] G. Noonan, Fixed Stars and Judicial Astrology, 1990, AFA, p.52.
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  10 ] Lilly, p.649.
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  11 ] Ibid., p.621.
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  12 ] Ibid., p.702.
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  13 ] Robson, p.190.
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© Deborah Houlding. First published in The Traditional Astrologer Magazine, issue 15; October 1997. Published online Nov 2004.

Stars & Constellations