The Astrology of Sect
An immensely important concept in the Hellenistic astrological tradition that did not survive into modern times is the concept of ‘sect’. The term ‘sect’ is a translation of the Greek word hairesis (αἵρεσις), which has a variety of meanings outside of its astrological usage, such as the act of ‘making a choice,’ or ‘a course of action,’ but it was also often employed to refer to ‘a school of thought,’ or ‘a philosophical or religious sect.’ This term was often used to refer to a group, faction or division of people that adhere to a specific set of tenets or views. For example, in modern times Christians would represent a specific hairesis, while Muslims would represent a separate hairesis.
Within the context of horoscopic astrology the term sect refers to a scheme whereby the visible planets are divided into two factions or ‘sects’: a ‘diurnal’ or daytime sect which is led by the Sun, and a ‘nocturnal’ or nighttime sect which is led by the Moon. The Sun, Jupiter and Saturn comprise the diurnal sect, while the Moon, Venus and Mars comprise the nocturnal sect. Thus there is a distinction between a diurnal team of planets and a nocturnal team of planets.
Mercury is considered to be intrinsically neutral, as he often is in astrology, but he is usually said to ally himself with the diurnal sect when he is a morning star, or conversely he allies himself with the nocturnal sect when he is an evening star. Mercury is a ‘morning star’ when he rises before the Sun on the day of the native’s birth, and he is an ‘evening star’ when he sets after the Sun on the day of the native’s birth.
Robert Schmidt points out that the notion of sect could by likened to the concept of a two party political system, as in the case of the United States where you have two political parties who are vying for control of the White House. When the Sun is anywhere above the horizon, as demarcated by the ascendant/descendant axis, the chart is considered to be a diurnal or day time chart and the planets of the diurnal sect are considered to be the party in power, while the nocturnal planets have less power to push their own agenda. Conversely, when the Sun is anywhere below the horizon the chart is considered to be nocturnal, and thus the nocturnal sect is considered to be the party in power and it has the ability to push its own agenda, while the diurnal planets have their authority reduced somewhat.
Here is a video I made which demonstrates how to determine if you have a day chart or a night chart:
Sect as a Qualitative Measurement
An important point to note is that sect is primarily a qualitative measurement that has to do with altering the benefic or malefic status of a planet in a given chart. That is to say, a planet’s sect status alters the quality of that planet in the chart and the way that it acts as a benefic or malefic, for better or worse. The malefic planets, Mars and Saturn, tend to be particularly problematic when they are contrary to the sect in favor (i.e. Saturn in a night chart or Mars in a day chart). On the other hand the malefics can be quite benign and even beneficial or constructive when they are of the sect in favor (i.e. Saturn in a day chart or Mars in a night chart).
Note the distinct difference in the delineation that the 4th century author Firmicus Maternus provides for Saturn in the 8th house depending on whether Saturn is in a day or night chart:
Saturn in the eighth house, if by day, allots an increase in income over a period of time. If he is in the house or terms of Mars, he indicates for some an inheritance from the death of strangers. But if he is in this house by night the inheritance will be lost.
The same is true for the benefic planets insomuch as Jupiter tends to be even more benefic in a day chart, and Venus tends to be more benefic in a night chart. Conversely, Jupiter tends to have some of its more positive significations restrained in a night chart, while Venus’ benefic significations are slightly inhibited in a day chart. Again, notice the distinction that Firmicus makes in the delineation of Jupiter in the 10th house depending on the sect of the chart:
Jupiter in the tenth house (that is, the MC) by day makes heads of public businesses, leaders of important states, men on whom great honors are conferred by the people, anxious to be conspicuous for popularity. They always enjoy a good living. Some carry on the affairs of great men and emperors; others receive rewards and prizes throughout their lives. … But if Jupiter is in the tenth house by night, he makes the natives honorable in character but easily cheated, and their inheritance is often quickly wasted.
Demonstrating the Technique
So, let’s demonstrate the technique really briefly with a couple of example charts. In these examples we will illustrate the distinction between having each of the malefics in a day chart versus a night chart, and how Mars and Saturn will act differently based on the overall sect of the chart. Both natives were born in the same year, and both have Scorpio rising with Mars and Saturn in the first whole sign house, but one was born during the day and the other was born at night.
In example chart A the native has Scorpio rising with Mars and Saturn conjoined in the 1st whole sign house. The native was born in the middle of the day, with the Sun above the horizon in the 9th house, so this is a diurnal chart. Just based on this information alone we know right away that Mars is going to be the more problematic planet in this chart, since it is a nocturnal malefic in a diurnal chart, while Saturn will have some of his more negative significations restrained. Since Mars is in the 1st house we know that its significations will primarily be directed towards the body of the native, since the 1st house is associated with the health, vitality and body of an individual. And indeed, the native regularly has Mars related injuries, from constantly bumping into things, and getting cuts and burns on various parts of their body.
Now lets compare this to example chart B.
In example chart B the native also has Scorpio rising with Mars and Saturn conjoined in the 1st whole sign house. However, this person was born at night, a while after the Sun had set over the horizon, so they have a nocturnal chart. This tells us that in this person’s chart Saturn is more likely to be the problematic planet with respect to their health, body and vitality, while Mars will have his more negative significations restrained somewhat. This is in fact the case in this person’s life, insomuch as they have been more prone to developing Saturn related ailments. The native is anemic, often feeling weak, fatigued and cold, sometimes appearing to be pale. Recently, with the activation of Saturn as a time-lord, the native developed cancer, and they are currently in the process of fighting it.
These two charts are useful as examples because they show how certain planets in a chart can have their significations modified in a major way, simply due to the sect of the chart, all other considerations aside. While these may seem like somewhat negative or depressing examples to use, they do help to demonstrate the point quite clearly. The same principles can also be applied to the benefic planets in a chart, Jupiter and Venus, in order to determine which areas of the native’s life are likely to be more fortunate.
Of course, sect does not completely override other considerations related to the placement of a planet by sign, house and configuration with other planets, but it does provide a crucial starting point for the delineation of each planet in a chart, without which you cannot truly ascertain the benefic or malefic functioning of any planet.
Additional Sect Related Rejoicing Considerations
There are also two additional sect related ‘rejoicing conditions’ that are of lesser or secondary importance in the overall analysis of sect in a chart.
The first is related to the horizon, and the gist of it is that diurnal planets prefer to be above the horizon during the day and below the horizon at night. Conversely, the nocturnal planets prefer to be below the horizon during the day and above the horizon at night.
The second additional sect related rejoicing condition is simply that the nocturnal planets prefer to be in nocturnal signs, which are the same as the feminine signs, while the diurnal planets prefer to be in diurnal signs, which are identified with the masculine signs.
While in the Medieval tradition these two additional considerations were elevated in their level of importance, almost to the point where they were thought to be on par with the primary sect consideration, in the Hellenistic tradition the two additional sect considerations played a minor role as additional or separate ‘rejoicing conditions’.
Above all it should be stated that the main determination with regards to sect in a chart is simply whether the chart in question is a diurnal or nocturnal chart, and which planets are of the sect in favor and which planets are contrary to the sect in favor. The two additional sect considerations according to the horizon and according to sign play a somewhat reduced or minor role in changing the sect status of the planets.
How Sect is Useful as a Technique
The interpretive value of this technique is that in the vast majority of charts you can quickly determine with a high degree of accuracy which planets will be helping the native out and generally acting as positive ‘influences‘ in their life, and conversely which planets will be acting as particularly problematic or even destructive factors with respect to the life of the native.
As a general rule, and with other mitigating factors aside, the malefic that is contrary to the sect in favor will often act as the source of many of the native’s greatest challenges, difficulties and hardships in their life, both in its natal placement and when it is activated as a time lord or within the context of its transits. On the other hand the benefic planet that is of the sect in favor will often act as the source of many of the native’s greatest windfalls, strengths, and areas of relative ease, both in its natal placement and in its transits.
Try it out and see for yourself.
 This approach is adopted and spelled out explicitly by Ptolemy, Paulus and Porphyry, the latter of which appended a paraphrase of Antiochus to Ptolemy’s astrological work. It appears to be implicit in Rhetorius and the Antiochus paraphrase itself. Firmicus is silent on the sect of Mercury in his rather brief introductory statements on the topic (Firmicus, Mathesis, Book 2, Ch. 7), although for some reason Bram’s translation mistakenly says that Mercury is associated with the nocturnal sect, even though Mercury is never mentioned in the critical edition of this chapter. Clearly Bram has introduced a mistaken interpolation here.
 Robert Schmidt, Kepler College Sourcebook of Hellenistic Astrological Texts, Project Hindsight, Cumberland, MD, 2005, pg. 49.
 Firmicus Maternus, Ancient Astrology Theory and Practice: Matheseos Libri VIII, trans. Jean Rhys Bram, Reprinted by Astrology Classics, Bel Air, MD, 2005, Book 3, 2; 16-17, pg. 77.
 Firmicus Maternus, Mathesis, trans. Jean Rhys Bram, Book 3, 3; 18-19, pgs. 81-82.
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