Monday, 18 September 2017

The Square Art: A Quick Guide to the Square Horoscope

In recent times a friend requested - not for the first time - that the present author provide a quick guide to the square horoscope, a device that he insists on using even though it is unfamiliar to almost everyone. The astrology of the modern era uses the circular horoscope; today the round chart is almost universally accepted. A. T. Manne named his widely read study of modern astrology The Round Art; he regards the circular horoscope as integral and paradigmatic to the whole art itself. 

In fact, though, up until the XIXth century, and going back thousands of years, and extending beyond just Western astrology to Indian and Chinese astrology as well, astrological charts were always cast as squares, not circles. In historical terms, astrology is the Square Art, not the Round Art. Traditionally, the data of an astrological calculation, made at a nativity or for whatever other purpose, was illustrated upon the structure of a square design, and anyone familiar with astrology would be able to read such a chart with ease. The modern chart displays exactly the same information, but modern tastes prefer to display it upon a circular structure rather than a square one. Modern people cannot make sense of the square design since they are comfortable with the circular one. This is not insignificant in itself, and bears some reflection. The modern embrace of the round chart and rejection of the square symbolizes a shift from a Realist to a Nominalist cosmology. The round chart depicts the open universe of astronomical space whereas the square chart depicts a concrete cosmology in which the sub-lunary world is itself a symbol.

So, how does one read or make sense of a traditional square chart? We will use a chart ascribed to Plato as our example and will go through it step by step. The ultimate origins of this horoscope of Plato are unknown. It is reported in the Mathesis of Firmicus Maternus. We can best describe it as 'traditional' too, bearing in mind that we have not the slightest clue of the actual date of Plato's birth, let alone the time of day! Most of what we know of the life of Plato comes from biographers writing several hundred years after his death. as horoscopes go, this one is particularly fanciful. 

First, a general remark. The geocentric world is traditionally conceived as rectalinear. This is why we demarcate four directions: north, south, east and west. This fourness is the explicit visual basis of the square chart but is largely lost in the round chart (which posits a world without corners. As if!)It is a truism of traditional symbolism that circularity is a charactetistic of the heavens. The planets and the stars, the whole sky, moves in circles. The Sun and Moon are circles. But terrestrial (sub-lunary) symbolism is square. Our buildings (our temples) are essentially boxes. There are circular buildings, certainly, (usually architectural references to the sky) but there is something inherently earthly about the right-angle. We use a square horoscope because it depicts a traditional cosmology. It shows the transposition of objects in the circular heavens onto the rectalinear frame of the sub-lunary realm. Sacred architecture often shows exactly this: a dome upon a square base is a depiction of the traditional, geocentric astrological cosmos. See here. The square horoscope is a two dimensional view of this symbolic structure. You can think of the square chart as like the floor plan of a temple. 

Nevertheless, just like the round chart, it is of value only because it allows us to see what the heavens were like at a particular time and place. The square chart may be a symbolic device, but it is also accurate enough to be of practical use. It shows the positions of heavenly bodies as seen from within set terrestrial coordinates at a particular time and place. To read a square chart one just needs to know the coordinates that provide the frame in which to place the planets and other heavenly bodies. 

The eastern and western horizons are located on the square chart as follows:

The Ascendant is in the east, the descendent in the west. 

The Midheaven (and the Immum Coeli) - corresponding to north and south, up and down, a vertical axis - are marked as follows:
These four points are the essential coordinates of a square chart which depicts them set at right-angles to each other. These denote risings, settings and culminations. 

The greatest advantage to the square presentation is that one can see, at a glance, planets that are rising, setting or culminating. Planets in the First House are rising. Those in the Seventh House are setting. Those in the tenth are culminating in the heavens, and those in the fourth are culminating in the underworld. In all traditional astrology, planets in these houses - the 'angular' houses (such planets are said to be 'on the angles') - are magnified in power. 

In Plato's case, we see that Venus, Mercury and Mars are rising in the First House (Ascending). (Venus as morning star!) Jupiter is setting in the Seventh House. The potency of these planets is amplified. This follows from an astrology based in direct observation. Objects in the sky on the horizons (east and west) tend to be enlarged by certain optical effects. The rising moon is bigger than a moon fully risen. And objects at culmination seem brighter (because we see them without the dust and humidity in the atmosphere nearer to the horizons). In traditional astrology, risings, settings and culminations are the crucial factors. The square chart emphasises them accordingly. The closer planets are to these points the stronger they are and conversely the further planets are from these points the weaker they are. 

This is the basis of the House system which is what is being depicted in the divisions of the square. There are twelve Houses, thus:
 With the square chart, we can see these strengths and weaknesses at a glance. We can instantly see what planets are on the angles, and we can very easily assess the potency of a planet by seeing its House position. The Houses are the important divisions in this system. In modern times, there is much confusion about Houses. In the traditional system, the Houses are a way of showing how close a planet is to rising, setting or culminating. 

Where the Houses are ascribed zodiacal signs - say, in Plato's chart the sixth House is assigned to Cancer - this designates the zodiacal sign on the cusp of that House. The House is therefore coloured by this zodiacal influence. The zodiacal signs, in fact, are somewhat less important than they tend to be in modern astrology. Their influence is mediated through the Houses. It is the Houses that are important. 

Note, especially, that not much emphasis is placed on planets in zodiacal signs. What is important is the zodiacal influence mediated through the House (i.e. via terrestrial symbolic space.) In Plato's chart, for example, it does not matter (very much) what zodiacal sign Jupiter may be in; what matters is that the Descendant (the 6/7th House cusp) is in Leo. Jupiter is to be seen through that filter. We say: Jupiter, in the Seventh, with Leo on the cusp. (It is quite possible that Jupiter may not be in Leo. No matter. What matters is that Jupiter is in a House with Leo on the cusp.) 

In modern times, too, there is much confusion about so-called 'aspects'. Modern astrology - it follows from the world-view of the Nominalistic round chart - uses what are properly called "bodily aspects". Traditional astrology does not, or rarely so. Instead, in the traditional method as it is built into the square chart, "aspects" are a series of "faces" or relations between Houses. The square chart enables seeing such relationships at a glance. At most one merely needs to count how many Houses the planets are from each other. "Aspects", of course, are views, like the several views that one might have of another person, such as, for instance, the 'aspects' used in portrait painting... 

Above is Van Dyck's triple portrait of Charles I. The subject is seen from three aspects. In astrology, these are measured in increments of thirty degrees: 30, 60, 90, 120, 150, 180. When two planets are in opposing Houses, they are at 180 degrees, which is to say they are looking at each other face to face. At 90 degrees they are in profile. And so on. (One of the best ways to appreciate the traditional 'aspects' is to make a study of portrait painting, an especially rich area of European art.) The question is not the exact (bodily) angular relation of planets in the (circular) heavens, but rather their relative positions vis-a-vis the cardinal points of rising, setting and culminating. This is what the traditional aspects are about. 

As for reading Plato's chart:

As already mentioned, Venus, Mercury and Mars are together in the First House. They are rising/ascending. This makes them very powerful. Indeed, Venus is on the Ascendant rising ahead of the Sun (in the Second House) as the morning star and is the most powerful object in the chart. 

In the traditional method, the seven planets are considered in certain important pairings:

Luna - Saturnus
Luna - Sol
Sol - Saturnus

Mercury - Jupiter
Venus - Mars

In Plato's case we see that Mercury - Jupiter and Venus - Mars are all found on the angles, making these pairings stronger. Whereas the pairings of Luna, Sol and Saturnus are more subdued because they are not on the angles. (Luna and Sol, though, are at 90 degress (3 x 30 deg.), regarded as a constructive aspect.)More importantly, the planets in the First House form triangular relations (4 x 30) with Luna and with Saturnus. 

This, at least, is the beginning of interpretation. The square chart allows us to see what is important immediately. The relative powers of the planets is determined, in the first instance, by the risings, settings and culminations. The traditional chart is designed with this in view. 

For more on Plato's horoscope, see Aaron Cheak's pages on philosophical nativities here.  


H. M. B.

No comments:

Post a Comment