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John Frawley

John Frawley

Books by John Frawley:
The Real Astrology

The Real Astrology Applied

How to Beat Time by John Frawley

This article is reproduced from issue 20 of John's highly esteemed and witty journal: The Astrologer's Apprentice.

A 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 of events.

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.

Method to remember these rulesFew, 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, months, etc.

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 six."

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 'This afternoon!'

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 unit.

"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 contradictory tables.

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 lost.


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 that effect.

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 them.

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 question.

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
© John Frawley

Horary Astrology
The Tradition as it Lives