history and philosophy of astrology

The Katarche of Horary

The Katarche of Horary (click for larger image)My article on the origins of horary astrology titled The Katarche of Horary just came out in the latest issue of the NCGR Journal.  Most NCGR members should be receiving their copy of the journal right about now, and for those who aren’t a member of the NCGR the journal should be available for purchase individually through their website.  (Update: The entire article is now available on my website as a PDF file here:  The Katarche of Horary.)

The subject of my paper, as I said earlier, is the origin of horary or ‘interrogational’ astrology. Interrogational astrology is the study of determining the answer to a specific question through the examination and interpretation of a horoscopic chart cast for the moment that the question is posed to an astrologer. The point of my paper was to dispel a persistent historical myth about this major branch of the astrological tradition that has been rather prevalent over the past 20 or 30 years now.

Basically, to summarize, in almost every single historical or practical book that has been published over the past few decades that touches upon the subject of horary astrology there are these statements to the effect that horary astrology is one of the oldest branches of astrology which dates back to at least the 1st century CE in the work of Dorotheus of Sidon. That is to say, it is almost universally agreed upon at this point that horary astrology existed in the Hellenistic and Roman traditions of astrology. In my paper I dispute this common historical assumption, and point out the fact that horary astrology actually doesn’t appear to have existed as a concept in the Hellenistic tradition.

Some of the main points that I make in the article include the following:

  • The translation of Dorotheus’ work that survives today is an English translation of an Arabic translation of a Persian translation of Dorotheus’ Greek text that was original written in the form of an instructional poem. Thus, it is not entirely reliable partially due to the fact that it is so far removed from its original form.
  • The Dorotheus text as we have it today contains a number of interpolations from the Persian and Arabic translators. For example there are additional charts that were inserted into the text that do not date to Dorotheus’ era, references to additional authors who lived after Dorotheus, references to techniques from other traditions, and, most importantly, scattered references to interrogations in the very last book which appear to be later additions to the text as well.
  • When the Arabic translation of Dorotheus is compared with the lengthy quotations of Dorotheus by the 5th century astrologer Hephaistio of Thebes the references to interrogations are not present.
  • The leading scholar on the history of astrology, the late David Pingree, was originally of the opinion that horary astrology existed in the Hellenistic tradition, but towards the end of his life his opinion changed and he argued that horary astrology was an Indian invention that was introduced sometime around the 2nd century, probably in the Yavanajataka of Sphujidhvaja.
  • I pointed out that the original conceptual basis which probably gave rise to the later development of interrogational astrology was a specific practice which I call the ‘consultation chart framework’. This is similar to the modern practice of casting a chart for the moment that a consultation between an astrologer and a client begins in order to determine the topics or thoughts on the mind of the client ahead of time.
  • This ‘consultation chart framework’ is present in both the Indian and the Hellenistic traditions, although it it does not constitute interrogational astrology proper- that is, the determination of the actual outcome of a question that is posed to an astrologer at a specific moment in time- but rather, it appears that the augmentation or application of this framework in order to create interrogational astrology was a later development which took place in either the Indian or the Persian traditions, perhaps as late as the 6th century CE.
  • Theophilus of Edessa is probably the first author who wrote in Greek on interrogational astrology, although he flourished towards the end of the 8th century, right at the beginning of the heyday of Arabic astrology, and his works show signs of influence from the Indians and the Persians, as well as the more traditional Hellenistic sources.
  • The only other earlier Greek source that we have for interrogations are a few 5th century charts attributed to ‘Palchus’, but these charts seem dubious since ‘Palchus’ was the pseudonym of a 14th century Byzantine scribe who is known to have rewritten and altered a number of other astrological texts that came into his possession. Thus the two or three interrogational charts collected in Neugebauer’s book Greek Horoscopes cannot be relied on in order to argue definitively in favor of the existence of horary astrology even in the late Hellenistic tradition.

There are a few other points that I made in the paper as well, but those are the main ones. I should note that the paper that was published in the NCGR Journal was only the first part of what is supposed to be a three part paper that is still in preparation. The second part of the paper surveys the modern literature on the subject in order to contrast the current historical consensus with my own argument, as well as in order to determine how the whole myth surrounding the origins of horary astrology got started and then was perpetuated in the first place. The final part of the paper is a comparison of the sections in the Arabic translation of Dorotheus’ work that contain references to interrogations, with the excerpts from the same work by Hephaistio of Thebes in order to demonstrate the disparity between the two texts. I hope to have the other two portions of the paper finished and published in the near future.

Update: The summer issue of the NCGR Journal is available for individual purchase for only $10 on their website here.

Update: Ben Dykes’ recent translation Works of Sahl and Masha’allah basically confirmed the thesis of my paper.  See my review of Works of Sahl and Masha’allah for more information.

Update: I uploaded a PDF version of The Katarche of Horary to my website.

Update: For more on this topic see my video on the origins of horary astrology.

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