Horary Astrology

Also found in: Wikipedia.

Horary Astrology

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Horary astrology is one of three branches of the general category of interrogatory astrology, literally, the astrology of questions. The other two branches are electional and event interpretation.

Horary astrology requires a question to be posed by a querent; and the simpler and clearer the question, the better. The purpose of horary method is then to provide a means to answer the question.

As a technology for answering a specific question using astrological methods, horary can also be considered a type of divination. As such, it is akin to I-Ching, tarot, geomancy, and many other divinatory practices.

The horary process can, for simplicity’s sake, be divided into three components:

Defining and asking the question

Describing the circumstances surrounding the question, i.e., proving the question

Providing an answer to the question

Defining and Asking the Question

A good horary question is clear, answerable, and can only be asked once. In order to avoid the consequences of asking the same question twice, it is possible to limit a question to a particular time interval. Thus, one may encourage the querent to prefer the wording, “Will I get married within two years (or another time interval)?” to “Will I ever get married?”

Taking the time and noting the place of a horary question are important. The clock time taken for a horary question is when the querent finds it almost impossible to not know the answer any longer. This is called the moment. Deciding which location to use if the querent and the astrologer are separated by distance varies depending on the educational lineage of the astrologer. Schools deriving primarily from classical methods favor using the astrologer’s location, while schools deriving from Ivy Goldstein-Jacobson prefer the querent’s location.

Describing the Circumstances Surrounding the Question

By the medieval period, astrologers had begun to notice certain general chart configurations that portended specific answers. These came to be called the “considerations against judgment.” While it seems that every astrologer had a somewhat different list, the concept is simple: if one of the considerations is present, there is a problem related to the asking of the question. This is where the astrologer decides whether the question can and should be answered.

In the twentieth century, it became common to use the considerations as a reason not to answer the question, but no evidence exists showing this being done consistently before the modern era. In most cases, the considerations themselves become part of the delineation of the answer.

The main considerations are:

The placement of Saturn: If in the first house, the querent may be lying or misleading. In the seventh, the astrologer may not be properly placed to answer this question unless it is of a seventh house nature, in which case Saturn simply becomes part of that delineation. (For example, if the question concerns marriage, and Saturn is in the seventh house, then it may become a significator of the quesited or tell something about the potential marriage partner. Since seventh-house questions include marriage, buying and selling, and theft, it is very common for this consideration to not apply. It is then not considered to be a warning concerning the astrologer. Also, if Saturn is dignified, these house placements may not qualify as true considerations, because then Saturn is not considered so malefic.) In the tenth house, the querent may damage the reputation of the horary astrologer.

Ascendant or Moon in the Via Combusta (the zone from 15° Libra to 15° Scorpio: This is considered to be a malefic section of the zodiac. As there have been other degree spans mentioned by the ancient astrologers, it is unclear exactly what the Via is. It is also not known whether the reference is tropical or sidereal.

Ascendant too early or too late: An early ascendant of 3° or less may mean either that it is too early to ask the question, or that there is much free will in place to presume to give an answer. A late ascendant, generally 27° or later, means that there is nothing that the querent can do to change the outcome: other plans and events have happened rendering the question moot.

Moon void-of-course: As the Moon traverses a sign it (usually) makes aspects to the Sun and other planets. It is as if the Moon still has work to do. After the Moon has completed the last aspect to a planet, its condition is said to be void-of-course, or vacua cursus. The aspects in use were the five ptolemaic aspects and the bodies, the Sun through Saturn. In classical times, the Moon was not void-of-course if occupying four signs: Cancer, Taurus, Sagittarius, and Pisces (i.e., the Moon’s own sign and exaltation sign, and Jupiter’s two signs). There are multiple interpretations to what this means in practice. The simplest starting point is to be aware that most timing in a horary comes from the Moon: when void-of-course, there are no events being recorded by the Moon.

The planetary hour matches the ascendant ruler by triplicity (i.e., their signs are in the same element). The use of planetary hours in modern times has dwindled, but traditionally, these were supposed to match, sharing an affinity between the question and the moment.

The traditional purpose of the considerations was to look for issues that would make judgment difficult.

Providing an Answer to the Question

Generally, the astrologer needs to be able to do the following things to delineate the question:

  1. Describe the querent.
  2. Describe the quesited (that which is asked about).
  3. See if there is any relationship between the two.
  4. Provide some detail on how the querent does or does not attain the desired end.

The querent is always given by the first house. The possible significators for the querent are:

The Ascendant itself

The Ascendant Ruler

Planets in the first house

The Moon, occasionally, but this is problematic, because what the Moon really shows in the chart is the sequence of events

A similar list can be drawn up for the quesited, but which house rules (if any) the quesited must be decided first. The quesited is shown by:

The House represented by the nature of the Question

The Ruler of that house

Planets in that house

The following list shows house rulerships for various types of questions, done in the classical style.

First House: Longevity, health (disease is sixth), happiness, moving vehicles (planes, trains, and automobiles), best period in life, the visiting team in most sporting events.

Second House: Money, financial instruments directly convertible into cash (bank accounts, CDs, guaranteed bonds), salary, moveable objects (things you can pick up and carry by yourself), lawyer acting in your behalf in a lawsuit (i.e., barrister).

Third House: Neighbors, siblings, cousins of the same generation in age, primary education, short trips, religious matters, whether the rumor is true, writing.

Fourth House: Your father (usually), property (whether land or buildings), hidden or buried treasure, your home, inheritance of land, the home team in many sporting events, gardeners or other workers who do landscaping or other outside work.

Fifth House: Entertainment, sex, pleasure, gambling, ambassadors, bribery, gifts, the stock market and other riskier investments, alcohol and recreational drugs, children, procreation.

Sixth House: Pets, disease, accidents (e.g., car accidents), employees or day laborers, small animals (i.e., smaller than a sheep, but also includes large but domesticated dogs such as St. Bernards), birds, labor unions (the unions themselves, not labor actions).

Seventh House: Marriage and marriage partners, partnerships of all sorts (business as well as intimate), open enemies, thieves, the other party in a buying and selling transaction, a contract labor or subcontractor situation, the default other person, the other side in a lawsuit or negotiation, the other possibility for the home team in a sporting event, removals (or moving house).

Eighth House: Death, taxes, wills, insurance, your partner’s money, inheritances other than of property, lawyer representing the other side in a lawsuit.

Ninth House: Travel, long trips, philosophy, religion, prophetic dreams, lawyers, higher education.

Tenth House: Your mother (usually), honors and awards, promotions, high managerial jobs, judge in a lawsuit, arbiter in a negotiation, bosses higher up in the corporate ladder, perks given out at the whim of someone higher up.

Eleventh House: Friends, associations, organizations, funding bodies of government agencies, hopes and wishes.

Twelfth House: Witchcraft, hidden enemies, imprisonment, all institutions of confinement, hospitals, self-undoing, large animals (horses, elephants, whales).

Having defined querent and quesited, the astrologer has three steps left. First, there may be specific rules that apply to the particular type of question. For example, there are specific rules for determining whether an object is lost or stolen that are considerably more complex than simply determining the house rulership of the object.

Second, the astrologer needs to decide whether the question is resolved through perfection or emplacement. A perfection horary requires that some sort of action(s) or event(s) happen in order for the result to be brought about. An emplacement horary relies purely on where the planets are positioned at the time of the horary, not where they will be sometime later. Lost items, and missing people or animal horaries are the emplacement type horaries. Most other horary questions require the significators’ perfection.

The most common perfection is an approaching aspect of the querent’s planet to the planet symbolizing the quesited. Usually, only the ptolemaic aspects (conjunction, sextile, square, trine, and opposition) are allowed, but differing horary systems may include the parallel or quincunx. In a perfection, the faster-moving body must catch up to the slower, generally, without the planets changing sign.

Many authors also allow for perfection by mutual reception between the significators of the querent and quesited.

The next most common means of perfection is translation. In translation, a fast-moving body (generally the Moon, but occasionally Venus or Mercury) separates from one of the significators, and applies to the other one.

There is one very rare means of translation, which is very powerful: collection, which occurs when the faster moving body is separating from the slower moving one, but both are applying to yet a slower body. The slowest one then “collects” the other two.

In addition to these means of achieving perfection, there are also other ways to thwart a perfection. These include:

Refranation: In this case, the two bodies are moving toward perfection, but before the aspect becomes exact, the faster-moving body turns retrograde, and the aspect never happens until after that body goes direct again, if at all in the same sign. This is one of the most frustrating scenarios, because everything appears to be moving in the right direction until things suddenly veer off.

Frustration: In this case, again the significators appear to be moving to perfection, but this time the slower-moving planet achieves a partile aspect with a different body before the faster moving body catches up. Again, this scenario shows hope until the person represented by the slower-moving significator goes off in a different direction.

Prohibition: The significators are moving to perfection, but a swifter body intervenes and completes aspects with both bodies first.

Besiegement: If a significator is between two malefics, it is besieged. It is not at all clear how large an orb should be allowed for this. The concept for besieged is: between a rock and a hard place. A besieged planet is not free to act as it is hemmed in on all sides.

If the outcome of the question is negative, the horary astrologer is finished at this point. If the outcome is positive, then there is one more job: attempting to determine the timing of the events leading to the result, or determining the spatial relationship to the object in question in the case of a lost object.

Timing comes from looking for a degree separation between any of the following:

The significators of the two parties in a simple perfection

The Moon and one of the significators

A significator and a nearby house cusp

The number of degrees until the Moon changes sign, especially if the Moon is in the late degrees of a sign.

There are actually two scales of time: symbolic and ephemeris. Symbolic time (a difference of degrees between the two significators applied to produce time units through the following table) is used most of the time, unless some significant ephemeris event itself may impact the outcome. If, for example, a significant planet is about to go retrograde or direct, it is common to refer to the actual station date as the critical timing date. The units of time to go with these numbers are given in the following table.

Units of Time Based on the Qualities of the Significators
Angular Succedent Cadent
Cardinal = days Cardinal = weeks Cardinal = months
Mutable = weeks Mutable = months Mutable = years
Fixed = months Fixed = years Fixed = unknown

Of course, much of the time one gets mixed indicators: for example, one significator will be cardinal cadent, while the other is fixed succedent. In these cases, an adjustment of the units of time may be in order. The units of time also vary according to the nature of the question itself.

Direction is not always so obvious, in part because of the frequency of having mixed indicators. The general idea is to take the major significators in the chart and examine their location by sign and by house. If the bulk of the planets are either in one house or one sign, then one can translate this into compass location using the cardinal points of the chart: the ascendant as east, etc.

Horary was already well developed by the first century c.e., as demonstrated by the work of Dorotheus of Sidon. In this remarkable work, Dorotheus presented interrogatory methods for such questions as building or demolishing a building, buying and selling, requesting a gift, marriage, whether a pregnancy will come to term, debt, travel, buying or building a ship, imprisonment, lawsuits, theft, fugitives, illness, and bewitchment. While a modern horary astrologer would not likely follow all of his methods, his presentation is quite readable and logical to modern eyes.

The viewpoint that infused Dorotheus was that all forms of interrogations are interpreted with the same methods, except where the type of interrogation forces a change in usage. Furthermore, there is a hierarchy among the three branches, which applies to deciding upon the appropriate time to use for a question. For example, when it comes to theft, if the time of the theft is known, then a chart for the event is drawn. A horary is used only if that time is not known. While the differences between reading an event chart and a horary are often not explicitly mentioned, the most important is that in a horary, the ascendant gives the querent, while in either event interpretation or electional, the ascendant gives the event itself. Event interpretation is generally for a past event, horary for the present, and electional for the future.

Most likely, horary is much older than the first or second century in which Dorotheus lived. This is because Dorotheus’s work looks too sophisticated to be a firstgeneration codification, and because Vedic astrology has an absolutely equivalent branch called prashna, which is probably equally ancient. At this time, it is impossible, based on manuscripts and artifacts alone, to decisively nail down the exact nature of the cross-fertilization of Western and Hindu methods. It is clear that there was extensive sharing of knowledge between the two cultures. For example, the words used by Vedic astrologers for the planets are transliterations of the Greek planet words. It was easy to postulate that the major source of “sharing” occurred when Alexander the Great invaded Western India in 327 c.e. However, it now appears that sharing between cultures was far more extensive and over a far greater time period than had been previously thought possible.

There are several extant katarche (the Greek word for interrogation) from the fifth-century astrologer Palchus. Mixed in with questions about taming lions and ships at sea, Palchus included charts of political events: a disastrous crowning of a king and the time when a prefect entered Alexandria.

Horary was passed on as one of many techniques when large numbers of Greek manuscripts were translated into Arabic in the period around the eighth century c.e. Because the Islamic expansion extended into India, this was another period of technique-sharing between East and West. Dorotheus was one of the authors translated into Arabic, so his methodology became generally known and influential on subsequent generations of astrologers. Later authors expanded on the Hellenistic authors. William Lilly, the great seventeenth-century horary astrologer, cited Zael, one of the ninth-century Jewish horary astrologers. The tenth-century astrologer Al-Biruni (973–1048?) also included horary as part of his work.

Just as the eighth century represented a bonanza for Arabic-speaking intellectuals, the twelfth century was the same for Latin-speaking ones, as that marked the watershed for the translation of Arabic materials into Latin. To fully understand the significance of this transmission, it is important to recall what actually happened to astrology in the Arabic period:

Hellenistic (and Persian, i.e., Babylonian) methods were translated into Arabic and studied.

Vedic methods were also translated in Arabic.

Hellenistic (Western) and Vedic methods could be combined and synthesized.

The Arabic-speaking practitioners themselves added and modified the inheritance they received.

The influx of material into the Latin West was even more extensive than that experienced by the Arabic scholars four centuries before. Thus, when Guido Bonatti wrote on horary in the thirteenth century, the tradition he built upon was already rich.

The medieval horary astrologer practicing in the West navigated turbulent waters since the very essence of horary astrology—divination—was at best an uncomfortable topic for the Christian church, and at worst, a mortal sin. Church philosophers postulated that if one can really predict human behavior, then the individual is not “free” to choose Christ and salvation. While other branches of astrology can adopt the position that the stars incline, but do not compel, doing so for horary would destroy its very substance, which is the prediction of human behavior. The church had effectively restricted prophesy as its own perquisite, banning and anathematicizing it in other quarters. So despite brilliant individual horary astrologers like Bonatti, most portions of horary apart from medical usage were outside the pale of acceptable astrological behavior for much of the Middle Ages. Yet somehow, its rules continued to be transmitted to future generations, and no doubt individual astrologers continued to answer their own questions.

The survival of horary astrology is due in no small part to the fact that people continued to ask the kind of questions that are the grist for horary astrology: Will I marry X? Is she a virgin? Where is my brother’s ship? Will my son die in the war? The people wanted the answers, while the church said it either was not possible to have them, or the answers were from a demonic source. This hardly represented a stable situation.

Ultimately, every town had its own cunning man or woman. He or she would either “fix” the problem, or at least explain what was going to happen. These people were often the targets of the Inquisition in Catholic countries, but they flourished in Protestant ones, as long as they kept a low profile. How they did their job might vary, with prayer a frequent accompaniment, but there were herbalists, palmists, readers of bird lore, physiognomists, scryers, talisman makers, psychics, and some astrologers. The astrology practiced might have been primitive by the usual standards, but as literacy increased and books became more available, astrological technique became increasingly available.

The Renaissance had opened the door on classical learning, and it was never completely closed again after that. Part of what this opening represented was an alternate source of knowledge, one not controlled by the church. Distracted by the rise of Protestantism, the Catholic Church was never able to regain the keys to knowledge. It was in this heady mix of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that horary once again flourished. The foremost practitioner of this period, who still influences horary, was William Lilly (1602–1681). His 854-page masterwork, Christian Astrology (1647), is one of the most significant works on the subject. What made Lilly’s work both great and enduring was that he not only covered the theory, but he also provided sufficient examples so that the reader could really work through his method.

By the time of Lilly’s death, unfortunately, horary astrology had gone increasingly out of fashion. Lilly had been involved in producing political propaganda in the form of almanacs and broadsides for the Parliamentary faction in the English Civil War. While that side “won” the war in the sense that they ousted (and beheaded) the king, after a relatively short period, the monarchy was restored. In this new social climate, prophesy that could have religious and political implications was frowned upon. In addition, the “new” scientific (i.e., secular) paradigm had asserted itself, and all forms of the occult became suspect. Astrology went into decline.

Fortunately, astrology was revived in the eighteenth century. Ebenezer Sibly’s large work in 1817 on astrology, which went to many editions both before and after his death, included a substantial section on horary technique with his own chart examples. Sibly’s technique was on a par with late-seventeenth-century astrologers, an observation that unfortunately does not hold true for the next generations. The nineteenth-century environment in which astrology again flourished was one in which matters of the occult generally had become increasingly popular, in part as a reaction to excessive reason in the century prior.

Zadkiel (Richard James Morrison, 1795–1874) is today the best known of the nineteenth-century horary cohort. Zadkiel thought highly enough of Lilly to produce an abridged version with his own material tacked on, a work that still confuses modern horary astrologers, who often mistake it for the original Christian Astrology. Zadkiel and his contemporary Raphael (Robert Cross Smith, 1795–1832) both substantially simplified the astrology of their ancestors, with Zadkiel going in a “scientific” direction that would have been frankly unrecognizable to Lilly.

Many, if not most, astrologers dabbled with horary, even if it was not the bulk of their practice. For example, The Astrologer’s Magazine featured a regular horary column by “E. Casael.” This magazine was published by Alan Leo and his wife Bessie.

In the early part of the twentieth century, Leo substantially changed his astrological method to emphasize character analysis over predictive technique. It was from these changes that both psychological astrology and esoteric astrology were ultimately based.

In the wake of these new forms of astrology, it is not surprising that one of the major trends of twentieth-century horary was to add natal methods to horary delineation, and to combine horary with natal method.

Among the significant twentieth-century horary astrologers were:

Marc Edmund Jones (1888–1980): While Jones’s method is often opaque, in great part because of a lack of examples, his philosophical discussion of “Phrasing the Question” and “Locating the Question” are useful reading even to classicists.

Ivy Goldstein-Jacobson (1893–1990) practiced in California, writing a number of books. She adapted some classical methods, adding the use of the word “cautions” for the considerations against judgment, and was adamant that the horary had to be calculated for the location of the querent, not the horary astrologer. She was inadvertently the originator of the idea that planets in mutual reception “swap” or “exchange” places. She also popularized the use of the parallel and added decanates to horary delineation.

Barbara Watters (1907–1984) allowed the quincunx as an aspect, brought back the use of eclipses in horary delineation, and used the word “strictures” for the considerations against judgment (thereby allowing later horary astrologers to refer to the “cautions and strictures” and to attempt to distinguish between them).

Olivia Barclay (1919–2001) was largely responsible for the current popularity of William Lilly and the revival of classical methods in horary astrology. Originally trained in Goldstein-Jacobson’s methods, Barclay switched when she accidentally found a partial original copy of Lilly in a used-book shop.

—J. Lee Lehman, Ph.D.


Al-Biruni, Abū’l-Rayhan Muhammed ibn Ahmad. The Book of Instruction in the Elements of Astrology. 1029. Translated by R. Ramsay Wright. London: Luzac & Co., 1934.
Barclay, Olivia. Horary Astrology Rediscovered. West Chester, PA: Whitford Press, 1990.
Chevalier, Jacques M. A Postmodern Revelation: Signs of Astrology and the Apocalypse. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997.
Cornelius, Geoffrey. The Moment of Astrology. New York: Penguin, 1994.
Curry, Patrick. A Confusion of Prophets: Victorian and Edwardian Astrology. London: Collins & Brown, 1992.
Curry. Prophesy and Power. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.
Dorotheus of Sidonius. Carmen Astrologicum. Translated by David Pingree. B. G. Teubner Verlagsgesellschaft: Leipzig, Germany: 1976.
Goldstein-Jacobson, Ivy M. Simplified Horary Astrology. Alhambra, CA: Frank Severy Publishing, 1960.
Jones, Marc Edmund. Horary Astrology. Santa Fe, NM: Aurora Press, 1993.
Lehman, J. Lee. The Martial Art of Horary Astrology. West Chester, PA: Whitford Press, 2002.
Lilly, William. Christian Astrology. London: T. Brudenell, 1647. Reprint, London: Regulus, 1985.
McEvilley, Thomas. The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies. New York: Allworth Press, 2002.
Neugebuaer, Otto, and Van Hoesen. Greek Horoscopes. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1959.
Rupertus, Stella. An Astrologian’s Guide in Horary Astrology. London: Simpkin and Marshall, 1832.
Sibly, Ebenezer. A New and Complete Illustration of the Celestial Science of Astrology. London: W. Nicol, 1784–1797.
Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.
Watters, Barbara. Horary Astrology and the Judgment of Events. Washington, DC: Valhalla, 1973.
Zadkiel. An Introduction to Astrology: By William Lilly with Numerous Emendations, Adapted to the Improved State of the Science; Also a Grammar of Astrology and Tables for Calculating Nativities. 1852. Many editions.
The Astrology Book, Second Edition © 2003 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Find my latest book Horary Astrology Re-Examined at Wessex Astrologer and Amazon.
and his doubt will be instantly resolved." - William Lilly, the father of horary astrology, born this day in 1602.
Horary astrology is the most predictive of all and is a very ancient art.
He has followed the university course but concentrates on horary astrology, a divinatory mode by which he predicts the weather and answers questions put to him.
My latest book Horary Astrology Re-Examined is at Wessex Astrologer and www.Amazon.co.uk
Find my book Horary Astrology Re-Examined at Wessex Astrologer and Amazon.
Find my book Horary Astrology Re-E xamined at Wessex Astrologer and Amazon.