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Astrological Roots: The Hellenistic Legacy
Astrological Roots: The Hellenistic Legacy, by Joseph Crane, The Wessex Astrologer Ltd, 4A Woodside Road, Bournemouth, BH5 2AZ, England, 2007. Softcover—314 pp.—$42 (£22.50) (ISBN 978-1-902405-24-7). Available from: www.wessexastrologer.com and many other Web sites
A study of what remains of the ancient origins of Western astrology, herein referred to as “Hellenistic astrology,” takes a modern astrologer into a vastly different world. Although not an unbroken written tradition, the astrology of this earlier world is generally agreed to have centered in Egypt and what we now call the Middle East; it flourished from the first or second century B.C.E. until around 400 C.E. This was an intricate and sophisticated astrological system, and most of it was lost to modern astrologers until recently. For the past 15 years or so, some dedicated astrologers — including Robert Hand, Robert Schmidt, and others — have gone back to the primary sources (mostly Greek and some Latin) and translated them, to our great benefit. Joseph Crane’s Astrological Roots: The Hellenistic Legacy is the first extensive compilation of the techniques from this earliest chapter in Western astrological tradition.
To begin to understand the gulf between ancient and modern astrological practice, it is important to recognize that early Western astrology “was embedded in contemporary philosophical traditions — Platonic and neo-Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic and Hermetic.” Astrology was part of the rich tapestry of meaning and cosmology of the ancient world, and that integration produced many evocative ideas. Consider, for example, an astrology that offers formulas for determining “the qualities of soul in a natal chart” (as in Ptolemy’s system).
Joseph Crane teaches many methods from various sources. He relies primarily on Dorotheus of Sidon, Manilius, Vettius Valens, Ptolemy, Firmicus Maternus, and 9th-century Arabic astrologer Abu Mashar. His emphasis is practical, and his intent is to offer suggestions for modern astrologers to try for themselves.
In this very impressive book, the author contrasts ancient and modern practice and describes much of what is known of Hellenistic astrology. He extensively covers “bound” rulers (later known as “terms”), sect, the planets, triplicities, the signs (here called the “zoidia”), the lots (also known as Arabic Parts), and fixed stars (including ecliptical positions, paranatella, and parallels of declination) in natal interpretation. He also explains some predictive methods, such as planetary time lords, ascensions, and directions.
At the beginning of the book, Crane describes sect (the distinction between a day and a night birth), and thus he establishes how important it is for contemporary astrologers to look at the night sky. Observing the sky and understanding the planets’ movements are recurring themes in the book. Crane also clearly explains how the horoscope is actually constructed — how the movements of planets in the sky are depicted in the chart. This basic information, which is often overlooked or misunderstood by modern astrologers, is invaluable. Even readers who aren’t particularly drawn to ancient methods can learn a lot from this book. And readers who have an interest in the history of astrological technique will certainly be enthralled.
The book also offers indices of Names and Topics, a bibliography (of Primary Texts and Secondary Sources), and many chart wheels and examples.
Although the author writes well, he offers a prodigious amount of information, and I think it could have been better organized. As I mentioned previously, Astrological Roots: The Hellenistic Legacy takes the modern astrologer into a new world with distinctly different ideas. The book is not easy to follow, but it is a treasure trove of astrology that will be a resource for the serious student’s continued deepening study.
— reviewed by Mary Plumb
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