In the first edition of The Moment of Astrology this study of a death prediction appeared in the final chapter 15, pages 299-308. It has not been included in the revised 2003 edition because of the need to completely rework the final chapter to bring forward the important new material from Pontano. Furthermore, even at the time of the first edition it seemed too insular as a demonstration, a private matter of my own experience. Nevertheless, this case raises a fundamental problematic of astrological ethics, and it illustrates the astrologer's participation. It was for me something of a revelation (although that does not mean I expect it to be a revelation for anyone else).

Violent Death Prediction

I will now give a case from my own practice which raised for me the issues of judgment and resolution, and ethical and unethical astrology. It is a curious case, and not at all like most of the things that happen to me in astrology, but it is a perfect demonstration of the issues I have been discussing. It is complicated, and the reader will need to follow its nuances closely, but the point it makes is, I believe, important. One of its striking features was that for me the ethic shone through the symbolism.

In the early morning of my birthday in 1982 I received a communication that I would rather not have had. It was a registered letter from a woman who had gone to 'some considerable trouble' to locate me as an astrologer who would be able to take on the request concerned. It being my birthday, I did feel rather singled out. She was enquiring on behalf of a 'close and trusted friend', at her suggestion and with 'his complete approval'. This friend

  ..recently had a Horoscope drawn up by a Student of Astrology. This reading caused him considerable distress. Knowing my friend I could not dismiss the importance of his need for a qualified reading. In doing this Chart yourself it may well confirm that this man will have a 'Violent Death'. Either way your professional knowledge in drawing up a fresh chart for him will put the whole matter in the proper perspective.

There were curious resonances in the letter. Along with several colleagues, I had been working on Lilly in the recent period, and his approach to judgment was very much in mind. The woman's letter had a formal and even old-fashioned style, and everything referred to, especially the aphoristic fragment of the prediction, sounded as if it had popped out of the seventeenth century. Lilly is well known amongst traditional astrologers for his epithet, 'Student in Astrology' - it is how he refers to himself on the title page of Christian Astrology.

'Afflict not the miserable with terrour of a harsh judgment', instructs Lilly in his Epistle to the Student. [1] Yet here is some idiot of an astrologer, lining up a title to Lilly, and turning the ethic upside down with a most malevolent prediction.

Apart from the man's birth data, no other details were given. I had before me the bare facts of the letter, the time the postman had banged on the front door, and a difficult decision about what I should do.

I do not believe there is a simple rule to apply to such situations. Each occasion is different and has to be considered on its merits and according to the capacities and the conscience of the astrologer. Nevertheless, I hope it will be interesting for you as the reader to ponder what ethical stance you would take - or have already taken - in a similar case.

In dealing with clients, we are often faced with a Chinese box of ethical decisions, one within another. The very first of all decisions, and never to be skipped over, is whether one should in fact be doing any astrology at all. This piece of work certainly seemed to be 'for me' - arranged by the daemon, let us say. There were no symbolic indications in the coincidence and the chart that I should not take it on, and plenty of indications that I should. It was for me to resolve in one way or another and responsibility, like the Saturnian placings, could not be shirked.

With that out of the way the next decision was how to proceed with the client(s). If, for instance, I was going to launch into interpretations on the man's birthchart, then I would need to satisfy myself that this was really his wish - and not just his friend interfering. After that decision there would be a decision that was even more crucial here than it is most other cases. What would be the goal of my interpretation, and what resolution was I seeking? This would dictate the sort of technical method to employ. At the end of all this, further choices might still be required concerning how any interpretation could be fruitfully brought back to the client.

Often enough we flash over these decisions in a moment and get into the astrology, which anyway steers us in its own direction when it needs to, but here, because of the issues involved, I took care to think through the options.

Here is the dilemma. It concerns the nature of the resolution, which in turn determines what I shall choose to search for in the symbolism. I happen to recognise that, in the 'unique case' in which it is required, traditional astrology has it within its power to frame a likely prediction of death. If I take this stance here, then to deal with the question put to me I have to work out the symbolism of the client's death. I might find myself agreeing with the original astrologer. But on no account do I wish to take this stance. I do not intend to investigate the symbolism of this man's death, and I would not ordinarily undertake such a request. To study death symbolism where it is not called for risks breaching the most fundamental of all considerations in astrological ethics. Interpretation should not resolve in misfortune. It would be just as unethical to be led by the other astrologer into this foolish error as if I had committed it directly myself.

Yet the alternative is hardly attractive. To achieve anything useful for the client I would have to do some professional dissembling. Doctors often feel they have to do this when they disguise from their patients the true seriousness of an illness, and there is an ethical place for it in astrology when the 'terrour of a harsh judgment' would prove too much. Dissembling in the case of the violent death prediction would be to take the line, which I do not believe, that such judgments simply have no possible real- world validity. I accept that some modern astrologers with a humanistic and psychological orientation do believe this and put the whole meaning of the horoscope down to 'trends and potentials'. For them there is no disguise in such a position, and if they managed to help the client, then all well and good. But that is not what astrology is for me.

I would have been ready to dissemble if that was all that could be done to retrieve the situation, but I was far from happy with this possibility. I felt the woman had sought me out as a traditional astrologer, and the client might not be wholly convinced unless her expectations were met. More important, the image evoked by the original astrologer's words would still be active, haunting the client, whatever reasonable platitudes were employed against it.

With all these things in mind I decided I would not even look at the natal horoscope. Instead, I would see if I could find a way through the ethical bind guided by the symbolism itself. I decided to study the horoscope for the moment of receiving the registered letter. This turned out to be highly radical and allowed me to move to a resolution for the client.

day fortuna: 25 Leo 55

My manner of moving on this was soon dictated by the most striking symbolism. The rising Sun was afflicted by both the South Node and a recent square from an exalted strong Saturn in the 9th. This being my birthday, I immediately saw in this my own condition, aroused from my slumbers to answer a call of duty concerning astrology. The other significations rapidly fell into place around this core symbolism.

I had not been asked a direct question in the horary form, and I realised it could be validly taken as what I would term a 'situational horary'. The real question was: 'How should I move with respect to this situation?' With this move, the symbolism of the horoscope falls perfectly into place. This move places me on the Ascendant, with my significator on the 9th cusp. I am having to decide on a matter of astrology. Saturn and Pluto afflict the 9th: the actions of the other astrologer have led to the evocation of the fear of death.

The woman is the Moon, lady of the Descendant, worrying in Virgo in the 8th house of death. The Moon applies by trine to the Ascendant as the woman writes to me. The man is the Sun, lord of the interception in the 7th. She is bracketing him and caring about him. After the Moon's trine to the Ascendant, the Moon applies unhindered to the trine of the Sun as the woman moves to help the man. His situation is brought to light for me, with him as the Sun in the 1st house, the house of the querent. He had been to see an astrologer, and note how the Part of Fortune is on an astrologer's degree area.

The Sun (the man) is besieged by squares from the 9th house of astrology. He is under the power of fate, a deterministic judgment from the stars. This is indicated by the Sun separating from the square of Saturn, Lord of Fate and Time, with Saturn dispositor of the Sun. The Sun applies to the square of Pluto in the 9th. The lord of the Underworld waits for him: the man is obsessed with the prediction of death, hanging like a doom over him. His vital spirit is weakened by a fateful contact with the South Node. He is 'fated' to die a violent death.

By derived houses, his death will also be shown by Jupiter, Lord of the 8th from the 7th. Jupiter has failed here. As Lilly remarks, Jupiter in Scorpio is 'not to be trusted'; his wise counsel - the benefit of astrology - is corrupted. The Moon, just separating from the sextile of Jupiter in the sign of death, shows the nature of the unwise judgment which the man's friend has responded to.

Three of the four principal parties have now been located in the Sun (the man), Moon (the woman) and Saturn (myself). These involve three of the four signs occupying the first and seventh houses across the horizon. So where is our friend and colleague, the Student of Astrology? He must be shown through Aquarius, the fourth sign tenanting the horizon. His primary significator is therefore also Saturn in Libra in the 9th - the astrologer who gave the judgment that gave birth to this situation which I, an astrologer, now ask about!

The details of the other astrologer's judgment are now revealed in a clear symbolic light. It is shown to be both untrue and unethical. Separating aspects indicate the past in horary. Jupiter, which has been picked out by the Moon's last aspect, is the actual bad counsel offered by the astrologer. The movements of Venus and Mercury in the first house become significant, as they are both separating from the square of Jupiter. The Mercury-Jupiter affliction shows the untruth of technique in the judgment that was made. Even more important, Venus is ruler of the 9th of astrology, and her retrograde square to Jupiter shows the unethical nature of the judgment.

The other astrologer, whether he knows it or not, has set into motion an image that would be resolved in the violent death of the man. Secular language and conventional admonitions of common sense carry little weight against such images. On the other hand, we must hope that this image might not have much efficacy, and there are strong counter-movements in a healthy individual that will easily overcome it. Perhaps it would be completely eroded and forgotten within a year. But, however feeble, this sort of image is a lingering poison that the soul can do without.

The realisation of the astrologer's prediction is in the movement of Mercury to Mars. Mercury and Mars are Lords of the 3rd and 8th, a speaking of death. Mars the slayer is in the 8th and is the dispositor of Jupiter, so it his influence that dominates the astrologer's judgment.

The intricate and interlocking radicality of the major symbolism made me fully sure that it was showing everything I needed to find a resolution. Before I discuss this there is an important detail concerning the context in which this chart arose. When I came to this current situation, somewhere not too far back in my mind was Lilly's 'Presbytery'. I shall be discussing this marvellous judgment further on in this chapter. It suffices here to remark that Lilly's masterly turning of a principal significator in the chart, Saturn, through three integrally linked orders of signification formed the core of his judgment. I am fairly sure that if I had not begun to appreciate this move in Lilly, I would never have been able to see the possibility of the move I did in fact make in this current horoscope. Just to make the point, the nominal IC of the Violent Death Prediction horary falls just 3' arc from the Saturn in the Presbytery chart (see MOA 2nd edition page 313). Saturn in Taurus was the ancestor, the solid foundation on which I constructed my own judgment. In the current horary, I turned Saturn, Lord of the figure, through two orders of signification to arrive at a judgment. Saturn in the 9th was the other astrologer, and it was at one and the same time me, challenging him on behalf of astrology.

This connection with Lilly's horary illustrates a context principle of the greatest importance in understanding how our tradition builds up. It involves a 'conversation in the tradition', and it is manifest in the curious serendipity where the unique case one is currently working on matches the level of technique one has just recently been taught, or explored in the textbooks. As an example of this, I have often noted that beginners in horary get the most beautiful simple perfections, but as they go further into the subject they are prompted towards more and more technical subtlety. There can be no clearer indication of the daemon running through a tradition of astrologers. However, we have to make the conscious effort to converse with that tradition for this happen, and for the tradition to evolve its form.

Traditional astrology is always changing, in the same way that language changes. It is not a fossilised set of rules dating no later than Lilly. This change is not an evolution into something better, nor is it the loss that many traditionalists fear, but more a continual adaptation to the needs of the time. One of the sparkling little pieces of modern method that has emerged in twentieth century horary, beautifully consistent with older methods, is the technique of 'mutual reception by degree', introduced by Ivy Goldstein Jacobsen and applied to great effect by Derek Appleby. [2] Planets in mutual reception are symbolically moved to their own sign, but they keep the same degree. The new structure of aspects and horary perfection is thereby created. It is a strongly katarchic method because, provided both moves in the symbolism can be properly interpreted, it almost invariably indicates a possible choice in the situation. So as if to make the point that modern horary can indeed be founded in Lilly but can also take on modern creative technique, once I have turned the Saturn through two significations it turns out to be mutual reception by degree that is the key move in the resolution of this matter.

Returning to the chart, therefore, notice the Saturn- Venus mutual reception. If I move Saturn from the 22nd degree of Libra to the 22nd degree of Aquarius, and likewise I move Venus from the 6th degree of Aquarius to the 6th degree of Libra, the complexion of the horoscope is considerably changed. The unethical judgment is undone as the Venus-Jupiter square is dissolved. At the same moment, the affliction from Saturn to the 9th is lifted, removing at the same time the burden of Saturn's square to the Sun. To do this Saturn must be brought into the 1st house, destroying the judgment of the original astrologer. This requires at the same time my symbolic participation to bring the desired result. Once Venus as ruler of the 9th is put right by going into her dignity, free of the square of Jupiter, I believe that it will exercise calm over both Pluto and Mars, removing their threat by her power of disposition.

Yet the applying Mercury-Mars trine still spells trouble, and has to be dis-spelled. I decided on the basis of all these factors to turn the situation-horary judgment I have given above into a written reply, pulling all the authority I could into a declaration that the original prediction had not been founded in a true understanding of astrology (bad ethic). As the Mercury comes off the Jupiter by square, this means that it is equally unsafe (bad technique). I knew that by writing decisively about this (Mercury to Mars) I would take over from the original astrologer and my written authority would displace the effect of his prediction.

Through this move, explaining the ethical failure of the original prediction and showing from this that it was essentially erratic and unreliable, I was able to make an effective statement which the woman would see was based on 'serious' astrology. The essence of what I had to say was brief:

It is my understanding that the judgment made by the astrologer which indicated violent death from the horoscope of your friend is erroneous and untrustworthy. The prediction has not been made in accord with a true knowledge of astrology.

I then explained carefully the original dilemma in non-technical language, and I also explained the principle of making a horary rather than falling into the trap of reinterpreting the natal chart. Playing on all the authority I could muster (to get the Saturn to move the mutual reception) I appended a two-page technical judgment so that the client could take a second opinion with another traditional astrologer about my judgment. I knew this would not be required but the act of showing my hand in this way was in itself authoritative. In effect I am saying 'This is a real traditional astrology judgment you've got here and it can stand its ground with any other astrologer'. Having done all that I then - and only then - made some notes on the probable line of interpretation the student had taken on the natal chart and sent these also for the client. I hoped to sew up the original astrologer's judgment as a mere appendage to my more authoritative horary.

As an appendage, therefore, we can look at the natal chart. I imagine the Student has gone straight for the difficult Saturn-Pluto-Uranus T-square, with Pluto co-ruler of the Ascendant in the 8th, and the Moon on the 8th. This Pluto at 22 Cancer is opposite the rising Sun of the horary chart at 22 Capricorn - life and death. What with Mars in the 1st house this is quite a Scorpionic signature. It is certainly futile to ask what this means about death. What is far more interesting is how the horoscope shows the possibility of a bad astrological judgment. There is an unmistakable symbolism in the Venus-Jupiter square, with Jupiter in the 9th of astrology and Venus ruler of the 7th, the other astrologer, detrimented in the 12th. We might even say that the good daemon (Venus ruler of 11th) has turned bad (Venus detrimented in the 12th). Even Mercury as part- ruler of the 7th repeats the theme. More significant however, is the recurrence here of the fairly close Venus- Jupiter square in the horary. It is the same affliction in both charts. [3]

This brings me to a minor conclusion on the signification of 'ethics', where this becomes specifically questioned. I believe this has a special relationship with the two traditional benefics, Jupiter and Venus, especially through their rulerships of Sagittarius and Libra. It is the ethical decision that secures good fortune in all that we do.


A typographical error appeared in the Sun position in the original published horoscope 'receipt of a registered letter' (fig.24), where the Sun is given as Capricorn 27°47'.

(1) William Lilly Christian Astrology (1647 and 1659; reprinted Regulus, London, 1985): see the 'Epistle to the Student in Astrology', which follows the Table of Contents at the front of the book.

(2) Derek Appleby, Horary Astrology (Aquarian, London, 1985) especially pp. 35ff. Receptions may be by rulership, or by exaltation, or 'mixed' - that is by rulership and exaltation.

(3) Even the Jupiter transit of natal Sun at the time of the horary ties the theme in to Jupiter.

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