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John Frawley

John Frawley

Books by John Frawley:
The Real Astrology

The Real Astrology Applied

Horary Astrology - an extracted chapter from The Real Astrology - by John Frawley

Not only in the structures by which it seeks to comprehend the universe, but also in the structures of the science itself, astrology is remorselessly hierarchical. That well-known tenet of Hermetic doctrine, so carelessly bandied by so many who flee screaming from the very thought of cosmic hierarchies, 'As above, so below,' implies quite clearly that there is an above and there is a below. This understanding runs throughout astrology; there is no astrology without it: no matter how attached we may be to our egalitarian social beliefs, they will not work when applied to the cosmos.

The traditional authorities laid down a strict hierarchy of 'subjects fit to be judged', matters into which astrologers might usefully pry. The subjects are as follows:

  1. States and great nations
  2. Dynasties and families
  3. Kings and potentates
  4. Individual nativities
  5. Elections
  6. Horary questions
In the hierarchy of importance, the traditional texts always start from the top and work downwards; this can be seen in any description of the planets, which will always start with Saturn and work in through the celestial spheres to finish with the Moon. We might contrast modern texts, which typically start with the Sun and then work in exactly reverse order from the Moon outwards, noting that this order conforms neither to astrological theory nor to the modern model of the structure of the solar system and is thus totally arbitrary. The beauty of astrology is that it gives a completely coherent intellectual model; the modern mockery of astrology is nothing but a random pastiche.

As might be expected, traditional didactic texts start the student from the bottom and lead him gradually upward. So the first subject to be covered is the lowest on the list: horary astrology, which is the art of answering specific questions by judging an astrological chart for the moment at which the question is asked. The traditional teacher has a careful belief that it is better to start with what is easier and work towards what is more difficult. The study of modern astrology invariably begins with birth-charts, which is akin to confronting children in the first year of elementary school with the differential calculus. A few of those who master natal astrology will find their way to a study of horary, as if that small proportion who study maths at university were finally to be introduced to the multiplication tables. This might not be unconnected with the lack of mastery prevalent today.

From horary, we come to electional astrology. This can be seen as horary back-to-front: while horary takes the moment and judges the likely consequence, in electional astrology we take the desired consequence and look for the moment most likely to produce that result. Only then do we come to the thorough study of natal astrology; for only through having attained mastery of horary and elections will the student have acquired sufficient knowledge to be able to soundly judge the infinitely more complex matter of a human life.

But even natal astrology, the be-all and end-all of the craft today, is but a stepping stone on the path to the three highest sections in our list of subjects, which together comprise 'mundane' astrology: the astrology of the world, traditionally considered the flower and the crown of astrological learning. The lowest branch of mundane, kings and potentates, is but a short step from natal astrology. Here, we judge the life and reign of individual monarchs. With dynasties and families we take a longer view, watching the rise and fall of royal families; from there we pass to judgement of the fall and swell of history as empire follows empire and dominance passes from nation to nation. As we might expect, we see here not just a hierarchy of meaning, but also a hierarchy of technique: in horary, we are much concerned with the movements of the Moon, the lightest of the planets; in mundane, we deal primarily with the 'great chronocrators', the time-keepers of the cosmos, the outermost planets, Jupiter and Saturn. Following the traditional pathway we shall start our ascent with a consideration of horary.

Of all the forms of traditional astrology, it is horary that falls most strangely on the modern ear. The idea that a question can be asked, a chart of the stars drawn for that moment and the answer to that question deduced from what it shows, sounds bizarre. It stretches the theories of planetary causation that are foisted onto astrology somewhat beyond their reasonable limits, implying as it does that, for instance, Saturn should suddenly find itself responsible for someone's lost ear-ring and have to dash around the cosmos deciding what shall happen to it. To the modern mind, horary makes no sense at all, even less so than tarot or I-Ching, where the questioner does at least have contact with the cards or the coins: the stars are immutable and are not to be shuffled to match the state of the querent's unconscious. Yet work it does, and with great accuracy, providing verifiable, concrete answers to the questions asked, whether these questions be on public issues, the major business of a person's life, or even day-to-day trivia such as "Where is my watch?" or "Have I got time to have a bath before the repair-man arrives?"

Horary was the staple of most astrologers' business in the past, for a variety of reasons, only one of which is the material fact that few people knew their date and time of birth with any accuracy (even today, the accuracy of most given birth-times is doubtful: almost everyone lacking the dubious privilege of being born into a family of astrologers seems to be born on the hour or on the half-hour). When the king summoned the court astrologer to find out if he should marry the princess or invade the next kingdom, horary is what the astrologer would almost invariably have used. Quick, precise and efficient, it provides more bang for the astrological buck than any other form of the craft, and hence, as it allows for quick turnover and impressive results, found favour with skilled professionals. One sets the chart and finds the answer 'instantly', according to William Lilly, one of the masters of the craft. Instantly is perhaps an exaggeration, but in his day (the Seventeenth Century) the norm was for an astrological consultation lasting some fifteen or twenty minutes. This brief time would include social niceties and payment, the asking of the question and explanation of the situation, the astrologer adjusting his daily chart for the exact moment at which the question was asked, his telling the client -- if a 'convincer' were necessary -- where on their body they had warts, moles or scars (all deduced from the chart), and finally judging the chart and giving the answer. Quick, precise and efficient.

If we liken the conventional idea of the birth-chart reading to general medical practice, horary is like surgery: it cuts straight to the point. By concentrating on one issue alone, it gives a close and detailed focus on that issue, in a way that is not possible from a birth-chart, without - the exercise of greater amount of subtlety than most astrologers possess and a greater amount of work than most clients can afford. A birth-chart reading, for instance, may suggest that the native is likely to marry this year; it will not, however, say whether Bill or Tom is the man in question, or that it is unwise to plan the reception outdoors because it is going to rain on that day .Similarly -- and this is perhaps the most immediately impressive use of astrology -- it will not reveal the whereabouts of your lost cat/ring/handbag/whatever. From the practitioner's point of view, the client, even if asking for a birth-chart reading, will usually have some specific issue on their mind; it is far simpler to deal with that issue than to attempt to unravel a whole life-time of specific issues - - most of which do not concern the client at that moment.

The assumption behind horary is that the question is an existent thing in its own right. It is conceived when it enters the mind, and born when it is understood by the person who is in a position to answer it: in this case, the astrologer. So the astrological chart cast for the moment at which the astrologer understands the question is, as it were, the question's birth-chart. This holds true even if the question is understood at what is, apparently, a completely random moment, such as the moment at which the astrologer picks the letter containing the question from his door-mat, or when he returns a message left on an answerphone: logically a request for information is born only when it reaches the ear of the person who can provide that information. The relevance of even these supposedly chance moments to the issue at hand can be seen from the frequency with which the charts cast for them show verifiable events in the past which are datable from the chart. In fact, even though it is not done consciously, the querent exercises precise control over the moment of the question. Often, if the question is being asked by phone, the querent will hesitate, make small talk, change his mind, change it back again, ask the question, decide not to ask it, change its form -- and then finally decide "OK, this is it: here is the question." This can invariably be shown as a quite unconscious process of fine-tuning, often waiting for the moment when the Ascendant of the chart (which always represents the querent), moves from one sign to another. In the traditional cosmos, there is nothing random; there is no pure chance. Everything is connected and everything has meaning.

That the querent chooses this particular moment to ask this particular question is a consequence of absolutely everything that has happened in his life up to that point. There is a reason why this querent phones the astrologer while working, while that one waits until her lunch-break; why this one boldly picks up the phone and dials, while that one hesitates and puts it off. The differences - - far more plentiful and mostly far more subtle than these examples reveal --are directly pertinent to the question asked; thus also the differences in the astrological chart consequent upon these pertain to the judgement of that question.

The great majority of horary work is predictive, for which it has incurred the wrath of both the churches and modern science to a greater extent than any other form of astrology; many astrologers, indeed, both past and present have condemned horary for just this reason - and not only the ones who lack the knowledge to make it work. Alan Leo denounced it as 'THE CURSE OF THE SCIENCE AND THE RUIN OF THE ASTROLOGER', [1] although it had been the making of many abler than he. The desire for prediction does usually betray a lack of trust in God, and as such is not to be encouraged; we are reminded again of the warning given with what was revealed to the angels Harut and Marut in Babylon: 'We are only a temptation, therefore disbelieve not (in the guidance of Allah)'. [2] Yet the very possibility of being able to predict from the stars, and the intricacy of the structure of the universe, can also be a light on the path to God. For this, however, both artist and querent must always be aware that all is subject to the Will of God. This statement, so stressed by the traditional authorities, seems to the sceptical modern as a 'get-out clause'; but it is an intrinsic part of the whole attitude, without which judgement is impossible. In our astrological hierarchy, the lesser is ever contained within the greater; the fate of a man is contained within the fate of his country, and since there is no greater than God, the spheres of the universe are enclosed by His will. Judgement is also evidently always subject to the fallibility of the astrologer, though even the traditional authorities emphasise this rather less.

Finally, in this section, it must be said that since the republication of William Lilly's classic text-book, Christian Astrology, in 1985, horary, understood or misunderstood to varying degrees, has begun to establish a beachhead for itself in the modern world. Within modern astrological circles, indeed, the words 'horary' and 'traditional' are more or less synonymous, however much this misrepresents the vast depth of traditional astrology. By seeing the tradition as offering only horary, which the moderns lack the techniques to perform, they can avoid having their own strange ideas of natal astrology challenged by other ideas that actually work. Horary cannot be done at all with modern methods - as those text-books which attempt to demonstrate such a method make perfectly clear.

Notes & References:
  1 ] Alan Leo, Modern Astrology, II/Vll:10 (1896), pp. 434-7; quoted in Patrick Curry, A Confusion of Prophets, p.165 Collins & Brown, London, 1992. Leo's capitals.
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  2 ] The Holy Qur'an, 2:102.
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John Frawley is the editor of The Astrologer's Apprentice magazine, and tutor of the Apprenticeship Courses in Horary, Electional and Traditional Natal Astrology. The book from which this work is extracted, 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 [2006 update: this book is now available]. For details of John's work, publications, appearances and courses, visit his website at
© John Frawley

Horary Astrology