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The Astrology of Sect

An important concept in the Hellenistic astrological tradition that did not survive into modern times is the distinction between day and night charts, which is associated with a technical concept known as “sect.”

In this article I will provide an introduction to concept of sect, and demonstrate how it is used in astrology.

The term “sect” is a translation of the Greek word hairesis (αἵρεσις), which was often used in the Greco-Roman period to refer to a “group,” “faction” or “team” of people that adhere to a specific set of tenets or views, like a philosophical or religious sect. For example, in modern times Christians would represent a specific hairesis, while Muslims would represent a different hairesis.

Within the context of western astrology the term sect refers to a scheme whereby the visible planets are divided into two groups 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. This results in 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.[1]  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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4]

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.


[1] 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.

[2] Robert Schmidt, Kepler College Sourcebook of Hellenistic Astrological Texts, Project Hindsight, Cumberland, MD, 2005, pg. 49.

[3] 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.

[4] Firmicus Maternus, Mathesis, trans. Jean Rhys Bram, Book 3, 3; 18-19, pgs. 81-82.

2017 Video on the Astrology of Sect

I recently made a video on the concept of sect in ancient astrology:

18 replies on “The Astrology of Sect”

Hi Chris

Did really sect had only that “qualitative” streak? There are some passages where sect is employed also as a “quantitative” indicator, as in the judgement of monies, in which benefic planets out of sect give less than if they were in sect.

Its not to you (as you have a defined position), but I think some contemporary Astrologers who practices hellenistic concepts changes the role of sect when it is convenient to them, sometimes in quantity, sometimes in quantity. An irritant behaviour who is responsible for the insecurity of Astrologers like me to put into practice this doctrine.

In a occasion, an Astrologer who I admire said, when he was delineating a diurnal nativity, that Saturn was Strong in afflicting because he was a sect malefic. Isnt that ambiguous? If Saturn is less malefic in diurnal nativities, he would afflict less… Strange.

My chart is diurnal and I have Saturn in the seventh sign, but my problems has a mars nature: fall from a height and a broken tibia, suceeded by an osteomielitis… All in Mercury-Mars Firdaria.

(My chart is another example of malefics out of sect: 27/03/1982, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 7:00 AM).

There is a passage on Dorotheus where he says that “if the lord of the lot of the fortune aspects a benefic out of sect, there will be delay and despair in finding prosperity” (more a paraphrase of mine than a quotation, I guess).

Hi Chris – Excellent to see sect in the picture

In early days of hellenistic ‘rediscovery’ Project Hindsight commented on sect being perhaps one of the ‘most important’ ancient astrological features they had come across – I agree. So much, I did an in-depth paper on it (“The Lost Doctrine of Sect”…). This explored the entire (known) history of sect, questioning why it became ‘lost’, it also addressed deeper informing principles related to ancient history, philosophy, and mythic aspects. After undertaking and completing this exercise, I consider sect to be a most fundamental factor, both as an applied technique and for the philosophical/metaphorical thinking it promotes. Sect opens a door to increased depth of thought on the primary components constituting horoscopy – especially the most important, the lights/planets. It is significant that ancient authors have applied sect doctrine laced through their commentary.

Sect may be considered an elementary ‘contextual bedrock’ (I also use the analogy of an ‘ecosystem’), from which to proceed with further delineation, as you have alluded to. Certainly, a layering of mitigating symbolism follows, which is the true ‘art’ of full astrological ‘judgment’. But we have to really start somewhere in unfolding the overall delineation process. Often, a difficulty is displayed in ‘how to begin’ chart analysis. Sect doctrine supplies a clear point of discipline for commencement.

What else may support why this ancient awareness is worthy? (of course, whilst always remaining aware of the further mitigating astrology)
Well, it is supremely elegant in honouring duality, a bottomline symbolism in astrology and life. Sect particularly honours the principles of the two Lights, offering much fodder for exploring a lot of baseline questioning, (here’s a simple example, a ‘Sun’ not appearing so strong, or a ‘Moon’ seemingly more dominant – not to mention the ‘presence’ other sect-mates enhanced,or not). Additionally, no Sun, no Moon, equals no astrology (or life) as we know it!

Then, there’s the obvious – the actual rhythm, or ‘breath’ (to the ancients) of Night and Day! In our modern world we see how out of touch humanity is becoming with this fundamental experience. Especially the shifting ‘light’ factore contained in this cycle. ’24/7′ just wasn’t part of originally structuring the astrological system. For what it’s worth, there’s a relationship here to what Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are really about – (which I class as ‘grand malefics’, as far as my current thinking goes), but I won’t digress too much. Suffice to say, doctrine and extension regarding sect may aid in giving these so-called modern planets a certain context (among other things in the ancient history of astrological tradition).

Sect, as subtle and old as it is, I believe, is a crucial doctrine to keep exploring. As with all of astrology’s ‘heritage’, it is the reality of time, deep reflection and proper application, which is vital. A return to astrological elegance is promised in such a rediscovery.

Cheers, again, from Oz.

Re Rodd:

I would still argue that sect is more of a qualitative measurement, in altering the quality of a planet’s significations so that they are more positive or negative, rather than making a planet ‘stronger’ or ‘weaker’.

In the example you cited with Jupiter I would still argue that the distinction in the delineation is more about whether or not Jupiter is able to express his more positive significations, or if those significations will be somewhat inhibited or downplayed in the chart.

That is to say, one can have a perfectly strong and prominent Jupiter or Saturn placement by having them in their own signs and in an angle, but the nature of the types of significations those planets are able to express in the chart will largely depend on sect.

I know that there are some people who practice Hellenistic astrology nowadays who say that sect is more of a quantitative measurement, or they will sometimes simply say that a planet is stronger or weaker according to sect, but I would simply have to disagree.

Re Donna:

Is their a copy of your paper on sect available somewhere? I’d be interested in checking it out.

Hi Chris

Thanks for your interest in my paper. The story is, it has actually been ‘shelved’ for quite a few years and greatly needs rework. It’s technically two ‘papers’ to date, where some repetition is obvious (likely a bit tedious?). Although, I am now galvanized to give it the ‘phoenix’ treatment (if I can manage time, also embarking on study in ancient Greek and ancient Greek history amongst other things). I am just soooo glad to see some applied serious sect consideration continuing. I’ll see what I can do.

Re your follow-up on the qualitative/quantitative (strength) point – yeah, I lean to the qualitative argument. Although I know I gave an example regarding the likes of a ‘Sun not appearing so strong, or a Moon seemingly more dominant’. I guess I mean qualitatively/essentially dominant, or ‘present’. Seems with sect it is the typos of the concerned body’s action that has to adjust, aside from it’s actual power.

Like, imagine a nocturnal predator having to get about in the day. It may be out of base context but it still has legs, claws and teeth, it can still naturally do it’s thing and is perhaps on the burdened/aggravated side, thus active/reactive in temperament – but not necessarily weakened. Hence the tendency in the texts for any planet to be presented likely of more benefit when ‘in sect’, or in it’s most natural of contexts to begin with. Hence, vice versa generally stated about less benefit likely when in unnatural ‘out of sect’ context. With ‘extreme’ malefics, it’s significant Saturn is ‘more comfortable’ in diurnal context (the ‘warming’/light brings ‘balance’) and Mars best in nocturnal context (the ‘cooling’/dark brings ‘balance’). Reflecting on core assignation already belonging to a body, or not, gives subtle understanding.

There has been the thought that sect may have been an alternative/more primary kind of essential dignity – it certainly is of a core qualitative nature. Perhaps more essential with the major point being that each of the lights/planets are considered to intrinsically possess their own sect. Having said that, this can become curly. For a question arises as to what really defines astrological quality over quantity (strength)? Could not strength (quantity), in itself, at times be a quality? The factors of the essential and the accidental are obviously to be pondered upon. This aside, I currently think that sect ‘quality’ remains a good orientating guideline from which to realise greater horoscopic symbolism. Of course, the ‘art’ of then building delineation, with skill, remains the exciting aim.

Seems the more elegant and simple a principle appears the more we humans have to complexify it, or just overlook it.

Even though sect has it’s simple elegance, I think it is important not to settle on viewing it as too black and white in application. Therefore cultivating an artfulness of weaving in other astrological considerations seems very much part of using this doctrine. Ancient astrologers appear to have taken sect as given basic knowledge (Maternus does mention it as being such, plus this is also demonstrated by where it is placed in many texts), as basic as knowing the likes of essential dignity, triplicity and so on.

Nonetheless, in the spirit of demonstrating that sect application isn’t necessarily always about going from one extreme to the other – here’s a guideline example from Dorotheus, of the Sun in trine to Saturn, “If the nativity is diurnal, then he will be wealthy, famous, and praiseworthy. It is also favourable for his father, especially if they are in masculine signs. But if the nativity is nocturnal, then he will be well off but have to support his parents.”

Also, it cannot be avoided, Dorotheus does include an ‘especially’ about the ‘masculine’/diurnal zodiac sign and there is also the factor of Saturn, of intrinsic diurnal sect, in a diurnal nativity, being in positive aspect to the prime diurnal body, the Sun, its sect leader. All symbolism layers off the primary sect factor as holding great positive potential. The delineation then adjusts upon the situation being off a nocturnal base. In this case it is still quite positive, but has a sense of burden put upon it. I don’t think all Sun trine Saturns are to necessarily be ‘wealthy, famous’, etc. What this example demonstrates most of all are clues to the action of sect consideration. Certainly, the interpretive shift seems essentially qualitative.

So what about transiting planets? Saturn has been moving above and below my ascendant for months wrecking havoc. Will it’s influence change as it is approaching and will be moving below my ascendant?

No, that doesn’t really change anything. The general rule is just that people with day charts tend to have a harder time with Mars transits during the course of their life, while people with night charts tend to have a harder time with Saturn. Conversely, Jupiter transits tend to be more favorable for people with day charts, whereas Venus is more favorable in her transits for people with night charts.

Hello Chris,
I am confused, in example B the sun is in the 7th house above the horizon line or descendant. I thought that meant, though late in the afternoon, it is still a daytime chart. How can I positively know if the chart is diurnal or nocturnal.
Thank you for clearing up my doubt.

Hello Bernardette,

In the example charts I’m using whole sign houses:

In whole sign houses the Sun can be below the horizon, but still in the 7th “house”, since it is in the 7th sign from the ascending sign.

In example chart B the ascendant is at 28 Scorpio, so then the descendant must be at 28 Taurus. Since the Sun is at 5 Taurus, it is already below the horizon, and thus it is a night chart.

[…] The first step in this process is to determine whether Saturn tends to function in an easier or more difficult manner in your chart.   While ancient astrologers generally referred to Saturn as a “malefic” planet, since it often tends to coincide with events in our lives that we experience as not very enjoyable, there is actually a wide spectrum of ways in which the events that Saturn indicates can work out.  One of the principal ways to determine whether you will tend to experience Saturn as being more positive or negative in your chart is through the astrological concept known as “sect.” […]

Thanks for your clarification on chart B being a nocturnal chart even though the Sun is above the horizon; one actually needs to look at where the Sun fell if the actual ascendant degree (as opposed to the whole sign ascendant) were used ie if above or below the actual ascendant degree. Thanks! I am trying to understand Hellenistic astrology from the articles you wrote for The Mountain Astrologer. I am glad to see some of the older techniques revived, as they definitely add more information and meaning to the chart. I have studied astrology for many years, but will now incorporate more Hellenistic methods. Thank you again Chris!

Audria Gebhardt

Given the maximum distance Venus can be from the Sun, and that she favors the opposite sect that the Sun occupies, does this mean that most people have a unfavorably placed Venus as far as sect is concerned, save for some of those born around sunrise or sunset? Has this been your experience?

By the way, thank you for all of the great information you put online. I have enjoyed reading your blogs and hearing your podcasts, and have gotten quite a lot from them. I’d love to set up a reading sometime in the near future if you’re free.


I was recently having a discussion with John Halloran (creator of AstrolDeluxe software) about what constitutes rising and setting. In terms of programming, this is important because in the space of a second a planet or Light can move from set to risen, or vice versa.

In the determination of sect, how the the rising or the setting of the Sun defined? Does one go by the center of the sun or by the boundary of the disk of the sun? (There are various definitions of twilight: civil, nautical, astronomical.) Does one correct for refraction? Is there any reference which indicates how the period around twilight was dealt with in Hellenistic times when determining sect? For clients born very close to sunrise or sunset, this would be an important consideration in judging their charts. Or is there a period around the change from day to night, and vice verse, when the use of sect becomes ambiguous and not strictly determined?


Hi Tony,

Usually it is defined as the moment that the exact degree and minute of the Sun, which I believe is in the middle of the disc, hits the exact degree and minute of the Ascendant or Descendant. There is some debate about this though since it isn’t really stated clearly in the texts. Curt Manwaring of Delphic Oracle calculates it to within a degree I believe, based on when the disc of the Sun starts to broach the horizon.

When it comes to ambiguous client charts I usually look to see which planet is acting more as a malefic and more as a benefic, and then determine whether it was day or night based on that.

There is still a lot of room for debate here, and I don’t feel like anyone has fully worked it out. I’ve been researching some official ranges for what constitutes “twilight” recently, and I’ve been wondering of those might be helpful in establishing some sort of standard for sect. Unfortunately this is still a work in progress.