This article is an extracted chapter from John Frawley's widely acclaimed book The Real Astrology
From horary, the next step in our astrological hierarchy is the art of elections, of
choosing the best moment to act. "Oh goody," we think; "Can you elect the
moment for me to buy a winning lottery ticket?" "Probably not," is the disappointing answer; for we can elect nothing the possibilities of which are not
shown in the birth-chart, so if the potential for acquiring sudden wealth is not
in your nativity, no elected chart will bring you a winning lottery ticket. This
response invariably brings disparagement upon the astrologer's head, as if it
were a failing in astrology. But none of us would quibble if told that the lack of
a body capable of running exceptionally fast excluded us from the possibility of
breaking the world 100 metres record, at no matter what moment we chose to
make the attempt. If some shyster were to tempt us, "Buy a ticket, enter the race
- you too could break the record," we would rightly ignore him; that we
misplace our hopes is a failing in ourselves, not in astrology, and a prime
purpose of the art is to reveal such illusions to us for what they are.
Electional astrology would be well described in the same terms as politics: it
is 'the art of the possible'. What is not possible cannot be done, no matter how
much attention the astrologer might devote to his calculations. Any action I
wish to undertake brings together two groups of things: my potentials and the
realities of the situation; only insofar as they accord with each other can
anything be achieved. Electional astrology aims to bring these two groups
together in the most productive way. My potential cannot necessarily be
realised. My nativity may indicate that I am potentially the greatest general who
has ever lived, yet if there is no war to fight this potential will rust unused;
similarly, if my country's army consists of two men and a dog I cannot elect a
moment at which to display my talents by winning the battle.
Consider an attempt to build a house. I have a pile of materials: this is the
potential contained within my birth-chart. Some of these materials are of the
very best; some are shoddy; some of finest are of excellent quality but of no use
whatever in building a house. I also have a variety of sites from which to choose:
this is the reality of the situation. If I build on the hilltop, the views are
wonderful but it's a long way to the shops; if I build in the valley, I'll be close to
the shops but the materials I have don't accord with the local building regulations. Then there are constraints of time: if I start work in winter, the ground
will be too hard to dig my foundations; but if I don't start before March, the house will not he ready when my baby is born. Juggling these various factors to produce the optimum situation is exactly the challenge of electional astrology.
When selecting the materials I am to use for my house, however, I must exercise caution. If I build my house of sticks, it will not transform itself into a house of bricks when the Big Bad Wolf appears; and so with electing a chart. The upwardly mobile young couple may be adamant that they do not want children; if the astrologer who elects the time for their marriage is foolish enough to build this desire into the chosen chart, he has a good chance of seeing them again in ten years time, requesting an election for the commencement of fertility treatment. As in the fairy stories, if we have our wishes granted we are apt to be left desperately begging that the sausage might be removed from the end of our nose and circumstances put back as they were. The cold, clear light that horary astrology casts on our wishes makes it quite plain that most of the time we are far better off without whatever it is that we are convinced that we want; by electing a chart we have the real danger of building these ephemeral intoxications into our lives and having to live with their consequences. This alone is a compelling reason for adhering to the traditional hierarchy of astrological practice, by allowing ones eyes to be opened to the random nature of human whim through the practice of horary before advancing to the practice of elections. It is also a persuasive argument for trusting our actions to God in confidence that He will provide what we need rather than electing the moment in an attempt to create what we think we want. We cannot, of course, remove ourselves from the sphere of God's providence by electing a chart; we can, however, remove the protective layer of incompetence that usually shields us from the results of our desires.
But act we must, and in any action we will elect a time, although rarely astrologically. If I want to sun-bathe, I will not do it when the Sun is below the horizon, though I will not usually figure this in astrological terms. I may be naive enough to think that I can comprehend all the qualities of the situation through my own clear thinking; if I feel this is beyond me, I might choose to avail myself of the wider viewpoint offered by the stars. If I do elect a chart, however, the result is likely always to be somehow unsatisfactory, leaving nagging doubts that the election was of no avail. I do not have a spare life that I can run as a control group. I cannot marry Judy at a random moment in this life and at an astrologically elected moment in that one, so I may compare the outcomes. There are rare occasions when we are dealing with a specific goal that is either achieved or not: buying a jackpot-winning lottery ticket, for example. The majority of elected events, however, have no such clear-cut outcome. No matter how happy my marriage or successful my business, maybe it would have been even better had it started at a different moment; no matter how disastrous, maybe it would have been even worse.
For all the reservations about its use, electional astrology has been widely employed to determine the optimum moment for an immense variety of activities, from major events such as founding cities or crowning emperors, to trivia
such as cutting one's hair (depending on whether it was required to grow back quickly or stay short) or putting on new clothes for the first time. Henry Coley gives an anecdote of the great astrologer William Lilly, who failed to check the position of the Moon before putting on a new suit, 'the Moon being in Leo, and ill dignified, and tore many holes in the Suit going a Nutting, within a fortnight after; not did that Suit ever do him any service.' 'Yet,' as Coley continues, 'We must not be superstitious, but modest in our Elections, only use them as natural helps.' Matters of particular importance were the investing of cities to ensure they were quickly captured, the timing of surgery, and 'venereal sports' to ensure the maximum delight for both parties, with or without conception as required. Nowadays, it is a rare client who requests advice on besieging cities - and a Foolish one who asks a modern astrologer to choose a time for sex: with the modern ascription of sex to the eighth house, the traditional house of death, following such advice could have the direst of consequences.
Rough and ready elections can be taken just from a knowledge of the planetary rulership of the hour, or of the phase of the Moon, as is still practised by gardeners around the world. Proposing marriage in a Venus hour is likely to be more successful than in a Saturn hour; for founding a city, just the opposite would be the case. Even the scientists grudgingly admit that surgery is more bloody at full Moon, though this has, of course, nothing to do with astrology. But a full election is a more detailed process, as it demands attention to the birth chart of the person or people involved. The Moor or hour-ruler method is the equivalent of thinking "Red sky at night: shepherd's delight," while the full election would compare to a careful analysis of all the meteorological variables. The ideal situation for electing a chart was that of the royal astrologer. With nothing else to do other than study every tiny nuance of the royal family's birth-charts, he would be totally familiar with all the possibilities contained within their nativities; he would have found electing a chart comparatively straightforward.
From the birth-chart we will determine which planets must be particularly well-placed in the chart of the moment chosen for the election. These will vary depending on what the desired action is, and the exact nature of the outcome required. It is important to know what this outcome should be: just saying "I want to start a business" is not enough. What do you want from that business? To make a fortune? To enjoy your work? To change the world? To employ all your cousins? As the emphasis varies, so will the points that the astrologer must bring out in the chart he is electing. From the birth-chart, we will determine which planets are thus involved. We will always want to have the ruler of the Ascendant in the birth-chart (ie the person himself) as strong as possible, together with both the luminaries, as they are the conduits of energy into the chart: with both luminaries weak, there is unlikely to be enough oomph to make anything happen. Then we would look to other planets depending on the subject at hand. If electing a wedding, we would strengthen the ruler of the seventh house (the partner), as we would also in choosing the moment for the start of a business partnership, though then we would be careful to make the seventh house ruler strong, but still slightly weaker than the Ascendant ruler: we want our man on top. For a business, we would strengthen the rulers of the tenth and second houses (career and money); to build a house or sink a mine, the ruler of the fourth; to throw a party, the ruler of the fifth (fun). Finally, we must strengthen the planets naturally associated with the task at hand: Venus for a wedding, for example, Saturn for founding a city.
This will give us a list of usually five or six out of the possible seven planets that we want strong in our elected chart. On top of that, we would also like the Ascendant ruler of the elected chart, and the relevant house rulers, to be strong. Achieving all of this is an impossible task. Invariably, if we take the time when this planet is strong, that one will be weak; if we wait until that one is stronger, a third will have lost what power it had. The task usually boils down to avoiding the most unfortunate possibilities and making the best out of what is left, for although we conventionally speak of 'making planets strong' or 'putting them in a powerful position' we can do no such thing - we can merely watch as the planets arrange themselves, as if we were looking through a kaleidoscope, our only power being to seize the moment when the picture is at its prettiest.
The need to strengthen the planets ruling the appropriate areas of the natives life - that is, those ruling particular houses of his birth-chart - shows why an election cannot be done without reference to the birth-chart, and why modern attempts at electional astrology are usually so misguided. We must know which planet rules which area of the life, which is something that cannot be known without studying the nativity, and is beyond the ken of the moderns, who regard planets only as innate principles and disregard or, at best, diminish, their importance as house rulers. If we do not know this, we are fighting in the dark. Suppose we are electing a chart to start a business. Other things being equal, one of our main priorities is to ensure that the malefic planets, Mars and Saturn, are safely out of the way. So we would gratefully seize an opportunity of putting Saturn in the twelfth house, from where it will find it hard to act. But if Saturn happens to rule the tenth house of the birth-chart, the native's career, sticking it into the twelfth is the worst thing we can do. By not judging the nativity first, we have done more harm than good.
Other factors with which we can work include the selection of appropriate signs. For things that we hope will last, we would choose fixed signs on the Ascendant and other appropriate places. If our aim were, for instance, to start a business which would make a quick million and then be liquidated, cardinal signs would be more appropriate. Similarly, if we were starting a farm, earth signs would be best; a television company, air signs.
We are not limited to strengthening planets by essential dignity, but can manoeuvre them into helpful places in the chart. As we have seen, it is always of benefit to have the Sun strong, but by essential dignity this is usually not possible; placing it on an angle, usually the Midheaven, will do just as well.
What we cannot achieve by juggling planets, we may well be able to make up by the judicious placement of fixed stars. Each fixed star partakes of the nature of one or two of the planets, so if we must choose a time for marriage when Venus is weak, stars of Venus nature on the angles will work as well. Regulus, the Heart of the Lion, a brilliant star of worldly success, is prominent in many charts elected for affairs of state: the birth of Alexander the Great is said to have been artificially delayed until Regulus was appropriately placed. Spica, the bright star in the constellation of Virgo, is often emphasised in charts where happiness rather than success is the goal desired.
Although we might wish to keep the malefics out of the way, we are often impelled to incorporate them as they rule one or other of our required houses. Even if they do not, they may on occasion be useful: the Centiloquium, or 'Hundred Aphorisms', attributed to Ptolemy advises that we "make use of the Malevolent Planets, Saturn and Mars; for even so doth the expert Physician use poison moderately for cure of man." Within these words lies the great possibility of electing a chart, that we might choose the time wisely to balance our innate imperfections. Perhaps our client wishes to start a business, but our assessment of his birth-chart has revealed a strongly phlegmatic (watery, emotion-centred) temperament; other indications show that, while a charming individual, he lacks any of the qualities needed to maintain a competitive edge in the market-place. If he is determined to go ahead with his plans, we must make the best of what we are given: placing Saturn strongly in the elected chart will give him some backbone, bracing him to endure the difficulties that will come; placing Mars strongly will make up for the vim that he by nature lacks, giving him the ability to wield the knife when necessary. Were our elected chart to he dominated by benefics, the business would flounder on his good intentions. Similarly, a chart elected for an operation should not resemble that elected for a party: the operation chart will be bloody and unpleasant, no matter how successful the outcome might be. In our election we are providing, from the limited array at our disposal, the tools with which the enterprise must be carried out; we must be sure that the ones we provide are those that are most appropriate for both user and function. Electional astrology will not work miracles: no chart will make a success of a marriage between two fundamentally incompatible people or of a business selling ice-cream at the North Pole. But if there is potential there, a well-timed electional chart will bring out its best qualities and smooth over the faults.
Good Queen Bess
Showing what can be achieved with only 'the body of a weak and feeble woman' and some smart astrology is John Dee's election for the timing of Elizabeth I's coronation.
Dee did not leave us his rough papers, but following the traditional principles of electing a chart enables us to come close to the path his thinking must have taken. As always with an election, his two constraints are the possibilities of the natal chart with which he has to work and the practical time-frame within which the event must take place. Had Elizabeth's birth-chart shown an early death, no election could have given her a long and glorious reign; had he waited for the ideal moment for the coronation, he would be waiting yet.
As the Sun is the natural ruler of kingship, his first thought would have been to make it strong. He would no doubt have liked to have the Sun in Aries or Leo, in which signs it has powerful essential dignities; even the spring sign of Aries, however, would have demanded too long a wait. Constraints of time gave him the choice of the Sun in either Capricorn or Aquarius. In the last ten degrees of Capricorn the Sun has some very minor dignity; in Aquarius it is badly debilitated: this must have tempted Dee to hurry the coronation, holding it during the first ten days of January, before the Sun left Capricorn. But although the Sun is weak there, Aquarius does have one appropriate virtue: it is a fixed sign. As Dee's overriding aim was evidently for a long period of stability, Aquarius, despite the Sun's debility in that sign, was to be preferred. It is also the most humane of the signs, and other indications suggest that the furtherance of the humane graces was an important secondary consideration, in which he most gloriously succeeded. By placing the Sun in the Midheaven - holding the coronation at noon - it could be strengthened by position if not in essence. If other variables refused to fall into place, he might have to think again and revert to Sun in Capricorn; but so far, he no doubt thought, so good: "Sun in Aquarius on the Midheaven - OK, let's see what options that gives us."
Looking at the relative positions of the planets during the time available, he would have been deeply concerned by the opposition between Saturn and Mars. This is one of the most malign indications in the heavens and would have to be handled with the greatest care to avoid building insurmountable difficulties into the elected chart. Both Mars and, most particularly, Saturn move slowly, so this was not a configuration that would go away if he waited a couple of days: it had to be dealt with, turned to his advantage if at all possible, or neutralised if not. He would immediately have ruled out all dates after around 22nd January, as by then the Sun (symbol of the new monarch) would itself have entered a difficult square aspect to the two malefics. By the time it was free from their influence, it would probably have been too late for the coronation and would certainly have meant losing the stability of an Aquarius Sun. So he has now reduced his window of opportunity to January 10-22.
Later versions of Elizabeth's birth-chart, attempting to idealise her as "a most Masculine spirited Princess" adjust the time of her birth to give her a
Sagittarius Ascendant. Dee was almost certainly working from a chart showing a Capricorn Ascendant; this means that Saturn, ruler of Capricorn, has particular importance, signifying Elizabeth herself He would have found it imperative, then, to ensure that the warlike malefic Mars was not applying to this difficult aspect with Saturn, but that it was safely past it. The effects of the opposition would still linger: the reign would not be a quiet one (as it would have been unrealistic to have expected); but holding the coronation after January 14th would divert the worst of the troubles onto other heads. The necessity of avoiding this applying opposition to Saturn would have confirmed that he was right in waiting until the Sun had left Capricorn.
By now, Dee had determined that the coronation should be held at noon on a day between January 14th and, at the very latest to keep the Sun safely away from difficult aspect to Saturn, January 22nd. He would then have noticed two fortunate occurrences. With the Sun on the Midheaven, as he wanted it, the two troublesome malefics would have been confined to the twelfth and sixth houses, the houses of their joy and by far the best places for them. Also, the Sun on the Midheaven in the dates available gave a Gemini Ascendant and Sagittarius Descendant for the coronation chart. With Sagittarius on the Descendant, its ruler, Jupiter, would signify the country's open enemies. During these dates Mars was separating from Saturn, the great malefic, and applying to a difficult square aspect with Jupiter: Mars, planet of war, picks up all the unpleasantness of Saturn and throws it straight at Jupiter, the open enemy. With Jupiter falling in a sign ruled by Saturn, this can only be to the great discomfiture of England's foes. How delighted Dee must have been to find this.
He now needed just to fine-tune the date. The 14th or 15th placed Jupiter, the enemy, in minor dignity of Mercury, Ascendant ruler and therefore significator of England, slightly strengthening England's position. More importantly, the earlier the coronation was held the closer was Mercury to the Sun, keeping the country (Mercury) under the power of the monarch (Sun). Dee would probably have wished it closer still, but that was not possible without falling foul of the Mars/Saturn opposition. Choosing the 15th would place the powerful fixed star Rigel (the brighter of the two stars at the base of Orion), on the Ascendant. Suitable fixed stars in prominent places are of the utmost importance in an elected chart for any long-term matter; Dee would have liked to have been able to place his Midheaven on one, but this was not possible in the time available. Rigel, a strong benefic, on the Ascendant was a very acceptable alternative.
Following simple astrological logic, making the most of the predominant celestial configurations of the time, had suggested noon on the 15th as the best of the available times for Elizabeth's coronation. So far, Dee had been working largely by constraint; he would now have checked to see what possibilities this chart offered, and to make sure there was nothing untoward that he had overlooked. He would have noted other helpful fixed stars on Mars, the Moon and, most importantly, the Part of Fortune. This fell conjunct Regulus, one of the strongest of the stars. It would have been preferable, he no doubt thought, to have this conjunction above the horizon, especially in the tenth house; but its position here would do quite nicely and would ensure the nation kept tolerably solvent.
He would have been particularly pleased to note the favourable connections between his elected chart and Elizabeth's nativity. The Sun and Moon in his chart fall in close favourable aspect to the two benefics, Jupiter and Venus, in Elizabeth's. The luminaries are, in the chart as well as in the sky, the source of light; so looking back years later Dee may have seen this as the source of the prominent artistic cult of the Queen's virtues. In the election, benefic Venus is closely bound to Saturn (because each rules the sign in which the other falls); it is exactly opposed to the position of Saturn (Elizabeth herself) in the nativity; this natal Saturn, being in Cancer, is very weak. Venus rules the ninth house of piety and learning in the natal chart, and is placed in that same house in the election. Dee would have seen this as a useful way of curbing Elizabeth's more unsavoury personal habits; as the court's resident sage, he probably saw this Venus, apart from its general fortunate significance, as signifying himself and so built his own influence over the new queen into the chart. As the preceding eclipse was a solar eclipse in Libra, Venus's sign, Venus was lord of that eclipse. By placing Venus in the elected chart in a close trine to its position at the
eclipse, Dee, as it were, 'plugged in' the elected chart to the power-source provided by the eclipse, allowing Elizabeth to catch, and indeed embody, the spirit of the time in a way her predecessor, Mary, never could.
The history of Elizabeth's reign is, at least in outline, well enough known to suggest that Dee's electional work was not wasted. He did not create anything of what followed, but by choosing an inceptional moment to take advantage of the prevailing conditions he enabled certain possibilities to flourish while other less desirable ones withered away. Elizabeth's reign was not a story of uninterrupted success and happiness for queen and country; the astrologer cannot choose a perfect moment, for the perfect moment is not there to be chosen. As a trivial, but nonetheless true, example, Dee's chart promises great artistic achievement; he could not have elected a chart showing great breakthroughs in the development of nuclear power: the one was there to be elected, the other was not. The inherent limitations of electional astrology reflect nothing other than the inherent limitations of life; for all that this means we may fall short of our aims, he who wishes to set sail is foolish to do so against the tide.
Notes & References:
|Key to the Whole Art of Astrology, p.318, London, 1676; reprinted Ascella.
The Centiloquium is reproduced online at http://skyscript.co.uk/centiloquium1.html
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|The Centiloquium, one of the most influential texts in astrology's history, can be found in Coley, op. Cit. pp. 315-328. This quotation from p.316.
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January 15th, 1559, 12.14 pm, London gives a close match to Dee's chart. He would also have paid much attention to the appropriate mundane charts.
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| John Gadbury, Collection of Nativities, p.13, London, 1662. Ascella reprint.
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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
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This was followed up by Real Astrology Applied
. His latest title The Horary Textbook
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