The Grounds of Sect in Traditional Astrology: A Philosophical Account

The Grounds of Sect in Traditional Astrology: A Philosophical Account

Sect (αἵρεσις) is a crucial concept in Hellenistic astrology, forging a fundamental contrast between two groups of planets. One group, the diurnal, is led by the Sun and contains Jupiter as a benefic and Saturn as a malefic. The other, the nocturnal, is led by the Moon and contains Venus and Mars respectively as its benefic and malefic. And Mercury, as expected, plays an ambiguous role, sometimes joining one sect and sometimes another.[1] Yet, though astrologers agree that this distinction is essential, they are unclear both about what it amounts to and why planets should be grouped in this way rather than another. Valens, Paulus, Hephaistio, and Rhetorius, for example, simply set forth the distinction without providing any reason to adopt it.[2] Indeed, only Ptolemy and Porphyry, two philosophers, attempt to furnish a justification for the distinction. Ptolemy grounds sect membership in the gender of planets, and, ultimately in their powers of heating, cooling, moistening, and drying.[3] Porphyry, in contrast, grounds it in the motion of planets and how frequently they are overpowered by the sun’s beams.[4] Yet, both of these accounts are underdeveloped and face significant philosophical problems. In this paper, I articulate a modified Porphyrian account of the philosophical grounds of sect capable of overcoming the problems facing standard accounts. In the process I develop a theory of sect that can explain (i) what the fundamental distinction between diurnal and nocturnal consists in (ii) what makes a planet a benefic, malefic, or sect-light and why sects should be triadically organized in this manner, (iii) why each of the planets belongs to the sect that it does and why Mercury is said to be common, and (iv) why each of the planets possesses the diverse significations attributed to it in the Hellenistic tradition.

The argument of the paper proceeds as follows. In section one, I examine the standard accounts of sect membership and point out some serious problems with them. Then, in section two, I set forth a philosophical account of sect membership using the Platonic distinction between Being and Becoming and the Hegelian triad of the in-itself, for-itself, and in-and-for-itself. In section three, I apply this model to the diurnal and nocturnal sects, showing how it explains the key definitions and significations of each of the planets. And, finally, in section four, I explain why Mercury is said to be common between sects.

1. The Standard Accounts and Their Problems

Ptolemy’s Account: Sect and Gender

According to Ptolemy, sect membership is determined by planetary gender, which is itself reducible to the qualities of hot, cold, moist, and dry. He sets forth the distinction in the Tetrabiblos as follows:

“Similarly, since of the two most obvious intervals of those which make up time, the day is more masculine because of its heat and active force, and night more feminine because of its moisture and its gift of rest, the tradition has consequently been handed down that the moon and Venus are nocturnal, the sun and Jupiter diurnal, and Mercury common as before, diurnal when it is a morning star and nocturnal as an evening star. They also assigned to each of the sects the two destructive stars, not however in this instance on the principle of similar natures, but of just the opposite; for when stars of the same kind are joined with those of the good temperament their beneficial influence – is increased, but if dissimilar stars are associated with the destructive Ones the greatest part of their injurious power is broken. Thus they assigned Saturn, which is cold, to the warmth of day, and Mars, which is dry, to the moisture of night, for in this way each of them – attains good proportion through admixture and becomes a proper member of its sect, which provides moderation.”[5]

Ptolemy here claims that a planet’s masculine or feminine gender determines its sect membership, with masculine planets falling under the diurnal sect and feminine the nocturnal. He then reduces planetary masculinity to heat (θερμός) and active force (δραστικός), and femininity to moisture (δίυγρος) and rest (ἀναπαυστικόν from ἀνάπαυσις). Thus, in light of their corresponding powers, the Sun (heating) and Jupiter (heating) fall under the diurnal sect and the Moon (moistening) and Venus (moistening) under the nocturnal.[6] Mercury is neutral because it alternates between moistening and drying (which, I suppose, he takes to be synonymous with “active force”).

The malefics constitute an obvious problem for such an account, since, according to Ptolemy’s criterion, Saturn should belong to the nocturnal sect because it cools (which, I suppose, he takes to be synonymous with “resting”) and Mars to the diurnal sect because it heats. But this is not how these planets are traditionally categorized in ancient astrology. Saturn should be diurnal and Mars nocturnal.

Ptolemy attempts to solve this problem by stipulating an additional criterion for sect membership. To the first criterion, (1) sect is determined by gender, which, in turn, is reducible to (1’) Sect is determined by quality,  Ptolemy now adds a second, (2) sect is determined by the attenuation of quality. According to this second criterion, Saturn should now fall squarely under the diurnal sect, since it would weaken Saturn’s power to cool, and Mars under the nocturnal, where its power to heat would be diminished. Thus, through this pair of principles, Ptolemy takes himself to have explained the theoretical grounds of sect membership. 

Yet, there are several problems with Ptolemy’s account. First, such an account will likely appeal only to those who have already adopted Ptolemy’s causal theory of planetary influence.[7]  If one is uninterested in his larger project of explicating planetary significations through their physical effects of heating, cooling, drying and moistening, then he or she will have little interest in this particular characterization of sect.

Second, his attempted reduction of planetary gender to physical qualities remains tenuous. Presumably, he takes “active force” to correlate with drying (lest his justification for Mercury’s inclusion be rendered a complete non sequitur).[8] Yet, one might wonder why this should be so. Why not, given the speed with the moon travels through the zodiac, consider it to be endowed with more active force than the sun? And, if so, should not the Moon belong to the diurnal sect and the Sun to the nocturnal?[9]

Third, the categorization remains arbitrary even under the terms Ptolemy does define. For Jupiter not only heats but moderately moistens and so has grounds for being included in the nocturnal sect, and Venus not only moistens but moderately heats and so has grounds for being included in the diurnal sect.

And, finally, Ptolemy’s solution to the problem of the placement of the malefics is unsuccessful.  For, his positing of an additional criterion itself leads to problems. First, the solution is ad hoc, proposed only to solve the problem of accounting for the malefics. There is no independent theoretical motivation for adopting it. Second, and more importantly, the solution is no solution at all, since it concedes that the original account of the grounds of sect is inadequate. Sect is not determined by quality as criterion (1’) stated. Indeed, by adding criterion (2) Ptolemy appears to endorse a contradiction in that sect would be determined both by quality and the attenuation of quality.

The defender of the Ptolemian interpretation might attempt to save the position by stipulating a third criterion implicit in Ptolemian account, (3) sect is determined by the balance of contrary qualities. Yet this strategy also fails, since it does not determine proper sect membership. For example, if harmony determines sect membership as criterion (3) asserts, should not the Sun and Moon constitute a single sect? After all, they are traditionally called the God and Goddess, why not marry them and harmonize their conflicting qualities? Worse yet, criterion (3) conflicts with the original motivation for sect. For sect was built on the principle of opposition, conveying the idea of division, separation, and conflict.[10] The distinction between sects is built on the principle of opposition—sects are rival parties that divide the whole. They are thus not intended to emphasize harmony but division. Hence, Ptolemy’s account of the grounds of sect membership appears to be incoherent.

Porphyry’s Account: Speed and Power

According to Porphyry, sect membership is determined by planetary motion and power. He sets forth his account as follows:

“Whenever they say diurnal stars, they are signifying Saturn and Jupiter, declaring them to be of the Sun’s sect because they do not make many settings (πολλάς δύσεις ποιοῦνται) or [other] configurations (σχήματα). For they rejoice by day when they are effective and in the domiciles of diurnal [stars]. But when they say nocturnal stars, they are referring to Mars and Venus, establishing them to be of the Lunar sect. In fact they have many configurations (πολύσχημοι), often going under the setting (ὑπό δυσίν ἐρχόμενοι) and being obscured (ἐπισκοτούμενοι).

            However, they declare the [star] of Mercury to be common (ἐπίκοινος), for which whichever one it happens to be in configuration, to that one it is related–oriental, to the Sun; and occidental, to the Moon.”[11]

Porphyry here claims that planets are nocturnal if they make many configurations and settings, and diurnal if they do not. Porphyry’s criterion is thus grounded in the fact that some planets appear to move more rapidly through the zodiac than others. For example, of the luminaries, the Moon moves more rapidly than the Sun. Hence, since Venus and Mars move more rapidly about the zodiac than do Jupiter and Saturn, they share a kindship with the Moon in this regard. Furthermore, Porphyry correlates this notion of speed of zodiacal motion with the concept of power. The faster planets will approach the sun more frequently, and thus fall under its beams more often, “going under the setting and being obscured.” When a planet approaches the sun, it becomes invisible to the naked eye. Hellenistic astrologers called this phenomenon “falling under the beams” and took it to signify that a planet was rendered “impotent” and “ineffectual.”[12] So, sect membership is thus also determined by the relative power of planets. Jupiter and Saturn fall under the beams less often than Venus or Mars, and so would be stronger and more able to clearly convey their significations in the world. And, since the Sun is the one who overpowers the other planets, it is the primary signifier of strength in this context. Thus, Jupiter and Saturn will have an affinity with the Sun, and Venus and Mars with the Moon.

Though this account is, in my opinion, more plausible than Ptolemy’s, it nonetheless faces some serious difficulties. First, it is not obvious why speed and power should be inversely correlated as Porphyry asserts. Indeed, it seems to conflict with our commonsense understanding of the relation. For example, we think that a bullet travelling at a high velocity would shatter a stationary bottle if the two were to collide. This would seem to suggest that the bullet was, in this instance, stronger than the bottle. And so, it seems that speed and strength are positively, not negatively, correlated. The faster something moves, the more powerful it is. Even if a planet’s speed caused it to fall under the Sun’s beams more frequently, would not that speed still be a sign of strength? Don’t we take a young athlete to be stronger than a sedentary old man, even if the former works himself to exhaustion more frequently on account of his training?

            Second, Porphyry’s criterion for sect membership fails to account for Mercury. Though he asserts that Mercury is common, sometimes being of the diurnal sect, and sometimes of the nocturnal, Mercury would clearly fall under the nocturnal sect by the criteria Porphyry sets forth. For Mercury is both a rapidly moving planet and frequently falls under the Sun’s beams. Porphyry thus needs, at minimum, to posit some further criterion to account for why Mercury should be considered of as common between sects.

Hence, both of the standard accounts of sect membership face significant problems. Ptolemy’s account requires one to adopt his causal interpretation of astrology and ultimately gives an incoherent account of the placement of the malefics. And Porphyry’s account seems to conflict with our commonsense understanding of the relation between speed and power and fails to account for why Mercury should be considered common between sects.

2. The Philosophy of Sect: Being vs Becoming and the In-Itself, For-Itself, In-and-For-Itself.

In the remainder of this paper, I will set forth a philosophical account of sect capable of filling in the gaps in Porphyry’s account.[13] In this section, I articulate the basic model, and, in the next, I apply this model to each of the planets to explain their sect membership and traditional significations.

The Meaning of Sect (αἵρεσις)

Let’s begin with the very idea of sect (αἵρεσις). Etymologically, αἵρεσις is derived from αἱρέω, a verb meaning to grasp or seize, and so took on the meaning of a taking or choosing.[14] A king, for example, might take a city or a duke might take power. This came to be specifically associated with the choice of a worldview or philosophy. Thus, the historian Josephus speaks of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essences as Jewish αἱρέσεις (Bel. Jud. II.viii.1; Ant., XIII.v.9), and the author of Acts reports that St. Paul was accused of being a ringleader of the Nazarian αἱρέσεως before governor Felix (Acts 24:5). [15] Later on, it came to be associated with the concept of a heretic, one who willfully breaks away from universal (καθολικός) truth to promulgate a false sectarian system.[16]

This etymology suggests that whatever sect is, it will concern forming groups which are both limited and antagonistic. Consider the example of taking associated with the root concept of αἱρέω. Suppose I’m at a farm and I reach up and pick an apple from a tree. In taking this particular apple, I am, of necessity, selecting one thing rather than another, and thereby differentiating them. I pick this apple, rather than another. And in picking this apple, I am thereby not picking a leaf, pulling down the tree, or embracing a horse. Some philosophers have even, in light of such considerations, gone on to assert that all determinacy is a matter of negation–Omnis determinatio ist negatio.[17] Neo-Platonists, for instance, believed that though the ineffable (and hence indeterminate) One was unlimited, all subsequent realities emanating from it are subject to limitation. For example, Proclus in his Elements of Theology, claims that all that participates in unity is both one and not one:

“For inasmuch as it cannot be pure unity (since participation in unity implies a distinct participant), its ‘participation’ means that it has unity as an affect, and has undergone a process of becoming one. Now if it be nothing else but its own unity, it is a bare ‘one’ and so cannot participate in a unity but must be pure unity. But if it has some character other than oneness, in virtue of that character it is not-one, it is both one and not-one. It is in fact unity with something added, and is in virtue of the addition not-one, although one as affected by unity. Everything, therefore, which participates unity is both one and not-one.”[18]

The nature, then, of any determinate entity will thus need to be distinct from pure unity, and thus must include difference within itself. Consider again, the example of an apple. The apple contains a manifold of properties: it is solid, red, sweet, and juicy. But these properties are also unified in the apple. When I pick the apple and take it with me, those properties follow along. Its redness does not stay on the tree, while its solidity comes with me. Rather, the properties of the apple stand together as a unity in this particular apple. This is what Proclus means by saying that things that participate in unity are both one and not one. The apple is one in virtue of participating in unity, but it is also a manifold in virtue of the fact that it is a unity of many properties.

Now, for the Neo-Platonist, such considerations would also apply to what is represented in a natal chart. To the extent that the chart represents a determinate unfolding of things and events, it must consist in unifying a manifold.

This is, then, the basic framework with which we must approach the concept of αἱρέσεις in ancient astrology. In attempting to capture the quality of time, astrologers appeal to one of the most basic distinctions in human experience, the distinction between light and darkness. Indeed, the primacy of this distinction is conveyed in the Biblical story of creation where God’s first act is to speak light into existence (Gen 1:3-5). And, in our everyday life-world, this basic distinction between light and darkness is interpreted as the distinction between day and night. This is likely why astrologers in the Hellenistic tradition took αἱρέσεις to be such a fundamental concept.

In most contemporary depictions, natal charts represent this distinction through a circle divided by a horizon indicated by the AC and DC points. If the Sun is above the horizon, then daylight suffuses the quality of the time and the diurnal sect is in favor. If, however, the Sun is below the horizon, then the quality of time is characterized by darkness and the nocturnal sect is in favor.

Being vs Becoming

I contend that, from a Platonic perspective, the distinction between Being and Becoming is the most natural metaphysical correlate to the astrological division between day and night. Indeed, this ontological distinction Being and Becoming is so important that it is placed at the very outset of Plato’s myth of creation in the Timaeus:

“As I see it, then, we must begin by making the following distinction: What is that which always is and has no becoming, and what is that which becomes but never is? The former is grasped by the understanding, which involves a reasoned account. It is unchanging. The latter is grasped by opinion, which involves unreasoning sense perception. It comes to be and passes away, but never really is.”[19]

The fundamental ontological distinction for Plato, then, is between Being (“which always is and has no becoming”) and Becoming (“which becomes but never truly is”). The former is grasped by the understanding (νόησις), and the latter through sense perception (αἴσθησις) and opinion (δόξα). For example, consider the arithmetical fact that 1+1 = 2. The fact that 1+1 = 2 held true before you were born and will remain true after you die, since it is grounded in entities that always are, viz. numbers. The number one will always be one, the number two will always be two, and one added to itself will always be equivalent to two. Contrast such arithmetical knowledge with the opinions formed through sense perception. For example, you might look across your table, see a couple of red and round objects, and, as a result, form the opinion that there are two apples on the table. Here, the entities in question belong to the realm of becoming. These apples did not exist a year ago (when they had not yet grown from their respective trees), and they will soon cease to exist (once you have eaten them). Likewise, given that your belief that there are apples on the table is formed on the basis of fallible sense-perception, it remains an uncertain opinion. It is possible, for example, for you to have misinterpreted the red round objects before you. They might, after all, be wax apples rather than real ones, sophisticated holograms, or the contents of a dream.

Plato illustrates this distinction in The Republic by means of the image of a divided line (509d).[20] Take a vertical line and divide it. On one side will be the realm of Being, and, on the other, the realm of Becoming. He likens the relation between these realms to that of shadows and reflections to the objects that ground them. Imagine looking in a lake and seeing the reflection of an eagle flying overhead. As the image of the bird moves across the water, this reflection might be captivating in its own right, yet it has only a derivative form of existence. The reflection of the eagle exists only in virtue of the real eagle flying overhead. The same holds true, claims Plato, for what exists in the realm of Becoming. It possesses only a derivative reality, one grounded in the higher realm of Being.

Argument 1: Platonic Context

When faced with the task of correlating this fundamental metaphysical distinction with the experiential distinction of day and night, the Platonist would naturally assign the day to Being and the night to Becoming. We see in the day, and its light allows us to form true opinions about our surroundings.  Whereas in the night we stumble in the dark, unable to discern what is before us. The day would thus resemble knowledge and would thus be more closely aligned with Being than night would. Indeed, Plato even uses the image of the Sun as an illustration of the ultimate source of Being, The Form of the Good. Plato takes the realm of Being to consist largely of what he calls “forms”, the intelligible essences that make things what they are. And, according to Plato, these forms are hierarchically related. An apple, for example, is what it is by participating in the form of appleness, but this form is what it is by participating in the form of fruit, which is what it is by participating in the form of plant, etc. Plato claims that at the very apex of this hierarchy lies the Form of the Good. From it, all other reality flows. Plato likens this Ultimate Form to the Sun, calling the Sun the Good’s offspring in light of their similarities (508a). Just as the Form of the Good provides the intellectual light in which our minds see the forms, so too does the sun cast its physical light on our senses (508b). And, just as the Form of the Good is the source from which all other reality emanates, so too is the Sun the source of all earthly life and growth (509b). The Platonist would thus naturally associate the Sun with the realm of Being.[21]

Argument 2: Evidence from Astrological Texts

And evidence for such a correlation can also be found within the astrological texts themselves. Consider, for example, Porphyry’s account of the Sun’s primacy in our life-world.

“The sun was assigned to be just like a most powerful king (κράτιστος βασιλεύς) among the celestial stars, clearly governing and arranging and setting in order the things that exist in the air, and those that exist on earth. And the rest of the stars, presiding over the smallest change in their joint combination with, work with [him], and work against [him]. Naturally, therefore, the Sun is called to enumerate the seasons; since, according to its own declination, spring, and summer, and autumn, and winter hold sway; and, when they are being forecast in the seasons, hot spells and cold spells.”[22]

Here we have a clear hierarchy in which the Sun stands at the top. It is the king that governs and arranges what falls beneath its sway in earth and sky. The operations of the other stars are defined by their relations to it, either working with it or against it, and it is the determiner of the seasons. Given such an understanding of the sun as “a most powerful king among the celestial stars”, it would be natural to associate it with the realm of Being, since the realm of Being stands higher in the ontological hierarchy than the realm of Becoming. Furthermore, we can see that Hellenistic astrologers did, in fact, make just such an association when we look to their lists of planetary significations. Valens, for example, describes the Sun as “all seeing” (παντεπόπτης), “subsisting as (ὑπάρχω) fire-like (πυρώδης) and intelligible light (φως νοερόν),”[23] and associates it with “the organ of the perception of the soul (ψυχικής αισθήσεως όργανον)”,  “kingship (βασίλειος)”, “rule (ἡγεμονία)”, “mind (νόος)”, and “form (μορφή)”. This set of significations falls clearly within the realm of Being. In contrast, Valens describes the Moon as having a derivative existence, “begotten from the reflection of the sun’s light (γενομένη μεν εκ της αντανακλάσεως του ηλιακού φωτός)” and “acquiring a baseborn light (νόθον φώς)”, and associates it with “the body (σῶμα)”, “physical conception (σύλληψις)”, and “appearance (πρόσωπον)”.[24] Again, these significations would clearly fall within the realm of Becoming.

Argument 3: Explanatory Power

The fundamental division between sects will, on this reading, be a division between Being and Becoming. The diurnal sect will indicate a revelation of and approach to reality as Being, and the nocturnal as Becoming.[25]  Not only is this metaphysical interpretation (a) historically likely given the prevalence of a broadly Platonic conception of reality in the Hellenistic world and (b) evinced within the core texts of ancient astrology, but it also (c) allows us to explain Porphyry’s account of sect membership. Porphyry had claimed that planets belong to the diurnal sect in virtue of moving less quickly and falling under the Sun’s beams less often. Yet, this claim looked puzzling since it appears to conflict with the commonsense view that things that move quickly are more powerful than those that do not.

Correlating the distinction between the diurnal and the nocturnal with the Platonic distinction between Being and Becoming allows us to solve this puzzle. For, what falls within the domain of Being is eternal and unchanging. Since it does not come into being or pass away, it does not move but remains forever stable. Platonists would conceive of this realm as the ground of the world of becoming, standing as its unmoved first mover. What comes to be in the world of Becoming is a mere reflection of what is in the realm of Being. This framework allows us to explain why stillness and strength should be correlated. For, since the unmoving realm of Being is the ultimate source of derivative forms of reality, it is more powerful than them. And, since it is eternal and unchanging, it is not subject to motion. Hence, in the realm of Being stillness and strength are naturally correlated.

And similar reflections explain why motion would be correlated with weakness. What falls under the realm of Becoming is born and dies. The Platonist would view this lack of stability (ultimately resulting in death) to be a sign of weakness, since what can maintain itself forever is stronger than that which cannot. Therefore, the adoption of the Platonic distinction between Being and Becoming allows us to fill in the gaps in Porphyry’s account of sect, and thereby to refute one of the major objections to it.

I’ll continue to develop this largely Platonic account in the next few subsections. Once the basic elements of the account have been elaborated, I contend that we can use it to solve the second problem for Porphyry’s account, viz. explaining why Mercury is common between sects.

The Triadic Structure of Sect.

We thus have a division between two sects, the diurnal and the nocturnal. The diurnal is correlated with Being, and the nocturnal with Becoming. Yet, despite this fundamental division, both sects share an identical triadic structure. Each has a sect leader, the sect light, a benefic, and a malefic. In this sub-section, I will set forth a philosophical account of this structure that can explain why a sect light is thought to lead, and why benefics and malefics have the characters that they do. This account turns on the broadly the broadly Hegelian distinction between the in-itself, the for-itself, and the in-and-for-itself. Stated abstractly, the distinction runs as follows.

In-itself: a relation of exclusion. Something is what it is and not something else. It is considered as standing alone, isolated from other things. And, because it is considered as independent of its relations to other things, it is implicit and indeterminate.

For-itself: a determinate relation, something relates to something else and manifests its own nature in the relation. In such a relation, what is merely implicit is rendered explicit.

In-and-for-itself: a reflexive relation, something grasps its essence by seeing itself and others as related in a higher context. In such a relation, something is fully revealed as what it is by being grasped as an outworking of a larger whole of which it is a part.

These distinctions are admittedly abstract and difficult to pin down, so let’s explicate them through some examples.

Example 1: Ontological–Neo-Platonic Metaphysics

According to Neo-Platonist ontology, all reality flows from The One (τό ἑν) which transcends all thought and being. Plotinus, for example, declares that “The one is all things and not one thing. For it is the principle of all things, but is not those things, though all things are like it, for they did, in a way, find their way back to the intelligible world, or rather they are not there yet but will be.”[26] The One is absolutely simple, and so cannot be adequately expressed by any concepts or properties, since these necessarily involve distinctions. If you said, for example, that the One is great, then there would be a distinction between the substance “the One” and the property “being great”, and the One would not be absolutely simple. The One, then, on this viewpoint, would be considered as something in-itself. It stands apart from all beings as their ultimate ground and unitary source.[27]

Reality flows from The One in a series of emanations. The first emanation from The One is Intellect (νόος). According to Plotinus, Intellect flows from the One as an indefinite Dyad. “Before the Dyad is the One; the Dyad is second, and having come from the One, the One imposes definiteness on it, whereas it is in itself indefinite.”[28] Considered as in-itself, the Dyad would, like the One, lack content. We could say it was distinct from the One, but could not say how it was distinct, since, considering it only as an in-itself, we would be unable to distinguish between them. But the Dyad is rendered determinate when it is considered in relation to the One. It is not the One, but depends upon it. Specifically, Plotinus maintains that the Dyad takes on the determinate character of intellect by considering the One and schematizing its powers into a realm of possibility, identifying this conceptual space with the Platonic realm of the forms. Plotinus explains,

“We are saying that Intellect is an image of the One…. In fact, by reversion to it, Intellect saw the One, and this seeing is intellect….There is unity here, but the One is the productive power of all things. Intellection observes those things of which the One is the productive power, in a way cutting itself off from that power. Otherwise it would not have become Intellect—since as soon as it is generated, it has from itself, in a way, its self-awareness of this power, the power to produce Substance. For Intellect, by means of itself, also defines its own existence by the power that comes from the One.”[29]

It is in its determinate relation to the One that the Intellect is what it is, viz that which beholds the One and schematizes it into a space of conceptual possibility. Thus, the Intellect can be described as for-itself. It manifests its nature through its determinate relations to something else. The intellect is in its contemplation, a contemplation that comes to fruition by considering the infinite power of the One.

The final member of the Neo-Platonic triad is the World Soul (ψυχή). Just as the One, in its perfection, had to overflow out of itself and generate the Intellect, so too must the Intellect generate Soul as a subordinate reality. The soul, as “the offspring of the Intellect is an expressed principle and a real existent, that which thinks discursively. This is what moves around Intellect and is a light and trace of Intellect, dependent on it, on one side attached to Intellect and filled up with it and enjoying it and sharing in it and thinking, and on the other side, attached to the things that came after it, or rather itself generating what is necessarily inferior to Soul.”[30] Whereas intellect thinks all at once, grasping the entire space of possibility at a single glance, the soul thinks discursively, sequentially entertaining one content at a time. In other words, the Soul schematizes time, determining its contents as past, present, and future. And, in its own overflow out of itself, the Soul generates the physical world. Now, when Soul not only externalizes itself in a created world, but also through that process turns back to its source in the Intellect and the One, it can be said to be in-and-for-itself. For when the Soul, in its self-externalization in matter, sees itself as separate from the Intellect and the One, but also, in its discursive reasoning, as identical with it, it grasps itself as both an in-itself and for-itself.

Example 2: Phenomenological–Love

Following the example of St. Augustine’s reflections on the Trinity, we can look to the experience of love as displaying the triadic structure in-itself, for-itself, and in-and-for-itself.[31] In the experience the lover loves the beloved. The beloved exists apart from the lover, having their own independent existence. When the beloved is, in this manner, considered as cut off from the lover as an in-itself. This can be a cause of great distress for the lover.[32] The lover, in contrast, is considered as a for-itself. The lover is defined by their determinate relation to the beloved. Dante, for example, is the lover of Beatrice, Tristan of Isolde, Undine of Huldbrand, etc. The lover’s life and experience is defined in reference to the beloved. Finally, if the beloved reciprocates, then the love they share functions as an in-and-for-itself. Each sees themselves in the other, and both understand themselves and the other in light of the love that draws them together. Each retains an independent existence as an in-itself, yet is also determinately related to the other in love as a for-itself.

Example 3: Logic–Thinking as Understanding, Dialectic, and Speculation.

Hegel worked out the distinction between the in-itelf, for-itself, and in-and-for-itself most clearly in the domain of logic. According to Hegel, thinking begins with the understanding (Verstand). The understanding represents objects in terms of their allegedly fixed and determinate properties,[33] thus constituting thought’s in-itself moment. He explains:

“Thinking as understanding stops short at the fixed determinacy and its distinctness vis a vis, other determinacies, such a restricted abstraction counts for the understanding as one that subsists on its own account, and [simply is].”[34]

The understanding seeks to provide a fundamental analysis of objects and their properties each of which is conceived as existing on their own account. For example, I might look across the kitchen table, see an apple, reflect upon this experience, and come to form the belief that there is a red round apple on the table. I might then conceive the apple as an individual, and the properties of redness and roundness as existing in themselves. In this manner I would take them to be simple units of analysis that have their own intrinsic meanings. Redness is what it is in itself apart from all of its relations to other properties, and so is roundness, and so is this particular apple.

As the process of thought continues it enters its dialectical or negatively rational moment. Here Thought transcends the realm of the understanding (Verstand) and enters the domain of reason (Vernunft), but does so only negatively. It comes to see that the allegedly fixed determinacies of the understanding, when meditated upon at greater depth, are not fixed at all but lead to their opposites and prove to be indeterminate rather than determinate. Or, in Hegel’s own terminology, “the dialectical moment is the self-sublation of these finite determinations on their own part, and their passing into their opposites.”[35] Consider again the judgment, there is a red round apple on the table. When I further reflect upon these allegedly self-standing contents, I see that they are essentially related to their opposites. What makes, for example, this apple, this apple and not another? One might point to a unique set of properties that it exemplifies, but, in so doing, one is grounding the particular nature of the apple in its properties, properties that can be shared by other things. Or, one might try to distinguish this particular apple by pointing to its particular coordinates in space and time. But, again, one would thereby have to relate this apple to other thises. For, to locate something in space and time, is to place it in a manifold of many times and places.[36] The same holds for the properties of redness and roundness. Redness is only perceived as red within in a particular visual context. A shade of red appears as it does only because of its relations to other colors in one’s visual field.[37] Likewise, the roundness of the apple appears round only because of how it relates to the rest of the perceptual horizon. If there were no space around the apple, it could not appear as round. So, rather than being self-standing determinacies, each of these contents is essentially relational. Hence, this dialectical moment can be understood as thinking’s for-itself moment. Each content is seen as determinately relating to its opposites.

Finally, Hegel claims that thought ascends to its speculative, or positively rational, in-and-for-itself moment. From this perspective, one can see how each determination relates to the others within a larger whole. He explains, “the speculative or positively rational apprehends the unity of the determinations in their opposition, the affirmative that is contained in their dissolution and in their transition.”[38] By perceiving the larger context through which given determinations relate to each other, thought can grasp their positive significance. Consider, again, the representation of a red round apple, only this time, as depicted within Cranach the Elder’s painting Adam and Eve. Now the apple is still depicted as a red, round individual, whose determinacies stand in relation to others. Yet, now, by seeing the aesthetic whole of which they are a part, one sees that these relations are not abstract negations, but stand together as expressing a coherent meaning, both aesthetically as they exist within the self-contained world of the painting and conceptually as the painting mythologically presents the story of humanity’s fall from the Absolute.

Now that we have a sense for the basic triadic structure of the in-itself, for-itself, and in-and-for-itself, we can use this framework to build a philosophical account of sect in Hellenistic astrology.

3. The Core Model

Recall that sects, in Hellenistic astrology, contain a malefic, a benefic, and a sect light. I contend that malefics can be understood as a sect’s in-itself moment, benefics as its for-itself moment, and the sect lights as its in-and-for-itself moment. Because the in-itself moment is a moment of exclusion, it will be felt as something that denies. It is unrequited love, the thing-in-itself forever beyond the knowledge we crave, and nature in its rage. Benefics, in contrast, can be understood as a sect’s for-itself moment. Because the for-itself moment is one where entities actualize their natures through their determinate relations to others, it is felt as something affirmative and harmonious. It is the loving glance, the scope of human knowledge, and nature in its serene and caring aspect. Finally, the sect lights represent a sect’s in-and-for-itself moment. As sect leaders, they synthesize the two previous moments into a larger meaningful whole. As Paulus put it, the benefics and malefics are spear bearers of the sect light.[39] The sect light is the rational whole from which we can see both the life giving transformative power of love and also its destructive results, both the triumphs of human understanding and its limits, and nature in both its sheltering and raging aspects.

Given our correlation of diurnal and nocturnal with Being and Becoming, this results in the following sect divisions.

Diurnal (oriented toward Being): Malefic = Saturn (Being-in-itself). Benefic = Jupiter (Being-for-itself). Sect leader = Sun (Being-in-and-for-itself).

Nocturnal (oriented toward Becoming): Malefic = Mars (Becoming-in-itself). Benefic = Venus (Becoming-for-itself). Sect leader = Moon (Becoming-in-and-for-itself).

In what follows I’ll examine each of these planets in more detail and show how this model captures the diverse significations assigned to them in Hellenistic astrology.

The Diurnal Sect

Malefic (Saturn): Being-in-itself.

On this model, Saturn signifies Being-in-itself. As such, it is Absolute Being as it stands apart from us, Eternity in contrast to time, and the Creator in contrast to creation. This mode of Being is expressed by what religion calls “the Holy”, that which withdraws from profane human existence, and by what Rudolph Otto labeled “the numinous.”

“The truly ‘mysterious’ object is beyond our apprehension and comprehension, not only because our knowledge has certain irremovable limits, but because in it we come upon something inherently ‘wholly other’, whose kind and character are incommensurable with our own, and before which we therefore recoil in wonder that strikes us chill and numb.”[40]

This is a mode of Being sui generis, standing completely apart from our own finite existence. As a result, it bears an awful and terrible aspect. Yet, though it can be destructive to us, it need not be viewed as malevolent.[41] This is seen, for example, in the biblical story where Moses asks to see God’s face, and God responds that “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Ex 33:20). The idea here is not that God wanted to harm his servant Moses, but that His immediate presence would annihilate him. A similar picture is presented by Dante in the Paradiso when he and Beatrice ascend to the realm of Saturn. In Saturn’s sphere, Beatrice, Dante’s guide, does not smile as she had previously. Dante recounts:

“She was not smiling. ‘If I smiled,’ she said, ‘you would become what Semele became when she was turned to ashes, for my beauty, which you have seen flame up more brilliantly the higher we ascend the stairs of this eternal palace, is so resplendent that, were it not tempered in its blazing, your mortal powers would be like tree limbs rent and scorched by lightening.’”[42]

This aspect of Being is well represented by Saturn, since, to the classical mind, it stands furthest from us, thus marking the boundary between time and eternity.[43] Saturn’s association with Being-in-itself also explains why it was said to preside over a golden age from which we are now excluded.[44]

This account also explains many of the various significations attributed to Saturn by Hellenistic astrologers. For example, Valens identifies Saturn with “the star of Nemesis”, a goddess associated with divine justice and the punishments following from it. Saturn is thus the fury of Being unleashed upon those violating its eternal law.

Likewise, Saturn’s association with the Holy explains the cluster of significations having to do with “having many anxieties” (πολυμέριμνος), “those who throw themselves down” (εαυτούς καταρρίπτοντας), the “solitary” (μονότροπος), the “unwashed” (αυχμηρούς), those “bowing down” (κατανενευκότας), the “sullen” (καταστυγνους), the “suffering” (κακοπαθείς), “abasement” (ταπεινότητας), and “uncleanness” (ακαθαρσίας). Here one throws oneself down in fear and trembling before the deus absconditus[45] recognizing oneself as something unclean, mere dust and ashes before the Absolute.[46]

And this interpretation can also explain why Saturn is associated with darkness (signifying those “clothed in black” and what is “dark brown in color”[47]) and water (signifying those “given to seafaring”, “practicing waterside trades”, “tears”, “the watery parts of the body” and “death by water”). For just as light signifies knowledge, so too does darkness depict ignorance (ἄγνοια), another signification of Saturn. Similarly, water was often associated with primordial chaos in the ancient world. Water is fluid and lacks shape, eluding reason’s grasp. We see both of these concepts come together, for example, in the creation story in Genesis where “the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2). In Saturn, we thus have a representation of Being as the dark primordial waters that elude reason’s grasp.

And this interpretation also allows us to account for some of Saturn’s more obscure significations. For example, it can explain why the planet is associated with “sorcerers” (βασκάνους), “demon possession” (δαιμονισμού), and “unnatural lusts” (κιναιδίας).[48] In yearning for transcendent Being-in-itself, one, in a sense, desires something unnatural, longing for that which is wholly other. That which is merely human yearns for what surpasses it, and thus for what exceeds its natural bounds. Furthermore, when this yearning is thwarted, it can lead to sorcery and an obsession with the daimonic. For example, consider Goethe’s Faust who laments:

“I have, alas! Philosophy/ Medicine, Jurisprudence too,/ and to my cost Theology,/ with ardent labor, studied through. / And here I stand, with all my lore,/ poor fool, no wiser than before”[49]

Because he has devoted his life to study yet is still no closer to gasping the Absolute, Faust devotes himself to magic and attempts to conjure an elemental spirit.

“Therefore myself to magic I give,/ in hope, through the spirit-voice and might/ secrets now veiled to bring to light/ that I no more, with aching brow,/ need to speak of what I nothing know; that I the force may recognize/ that binds creation’s inmost energies;/ her vital powers, her embryo seeds survey,/ and fling the trade in empty words away.”[50]

And it is this desire that ultimately brings Faust to make his pact with Mephistopheles, the ultimate spirit of negation.[51]

Benefic (Jupiter): Being-For-Itself

Jupiter signifies Being-for-itself. It thus indicates Being insofar as it determinately relates to us. Perhaps the most obvious way it does so is in grounding our existence. Hence, Jupiter carries the signification of “child-birth” (γονήν), and “the begetting of children” (τέκνωσιν), “abundance” (ευπορίας), “large gifts” (δωρεάς μεγάλας), “vigorous fertility” (καρτών ευφορίας), “inheritances” (κληρονομίας), and “entrustments” (παρακαταθήκην). Plotinus explains this generative aspect of Being as follows:

“A radiation of light comes from it [Being], though it reposes, like the light from the sun, in a way encircling it, eternally coming from it while it reposes. And all beings, so long as they persist, necessarily, due to the power present in them, produce from their own substantiality a real, though dependent, existent around themselves directed to their exterior, a sort of image of the archetypes from which it was generated. Fire produces the heat that comes from it, and snow does not only hold its coldness inside of itself. Perfumes especially witness to this, for so long as they exist, something flows from them around them, the existence of which a bystander enjoys. Further, all things, as soon as they are perfected (τέλειος), generate (γεννάω). That which is always perfect always generates something everlasting, and it generates something inferior to itself.”[52]

It is the nature of perfected things to flow out of themselves and generate subordinate levels of existence. Just as the sun gives light, fire heat, and perfume scent, so too does Being eternally Beget a subordinate order of reality. This generative aspect of Being also explains why Jupiter is said to be “the lord of semen” and “the womb.”[53]

Similarly, this interpretation can account for why Jupiter is associated with “desire” (επιθυμίαν), “love” (έρωτας), “bringings together” (συστάσεις), “friendship with great men” (φιλίας μεγάλων ανδρών), “justice” (δικαιοσύνην), “brotherhood” (αδελφότητα), “fellowship” (κοινωνίαν), and “adoption” (εἰσποίησις, lit. “creating-into”). As a for-itself Being is conceived in its determinate relations, and these harmonious relations can be thought of as love or desire. In Jupiter, Being takes on the determinate character of Being-with. Here we no longer tremble before the deus absconditus, as we did with Saturn, but embrace the deus revelatus, the revealed God, God with us (Isaiah 7:14), reaching out in love and desire, justifying and adopting us, and bringing us together in friendship, fellowship, and brotherhood.

Because Jupiter’s Being-with grounds a rational order, it signifies legitimate “authorities” (αρχάς lit. “sources” from ἀρχή), “governments” or “citizenship” (πολιτείας), and the “arbitration of disputes” (lit. μεσιτείας κρίσεων “mediation of separating”). Likewise, rather than representing the Holy, as Saturn did, Jupiter signifies the ritual approach to the Holy, the way the Holy humanizes itself so that we can bear to interact with it. Hence, Jupiter signifies “the heads of temples” (προστασίας ιερών).

Cognitively, Jupiter represents Being insofar as it can be known by the understanding. Hence, it is associated with “faith” (πίστις), “opinion” (δόξα), and “knowledge” (γνῶσις). And, in light of such cognitive liberation, it is associated with the “determination of good things” (αγαθών βεβαίωσιν), “relief from bad things” (κακών απαλλαγήν), “release from fetters” (δεσμών λύσιν), and “freedom” (ἐλευθερία). Here, the primordial chaos is beaten back and we are delivered from darkness to light.

Sect Light (Sun): Being-in-and-for-itself

As sect leader, the Sun would represent the mediation between Being’s in-itself and for-itself moments. It would mediate Being’s moment of immediacy, standing apart from all relations, and its moment of mediation, embracing the determinate eternal order that it grounds. As noted earlier, this mediating role of the Sun would have been familiar to Platonists. Plato’s analogy of the Sun plays a crucial role in explicating his doctrine of the forms in the Republic, and this analogy turns on the Sun’s mediating power. Plato observes that sight involves both our visual faculties (viz. our eyes) and visual objects in our environment. Yet he notes that their mere co-presence is insufficient for sight. Through the character of Socrates, he notes:

“Sight may be present in the eyes, and the one who has it may try to use it, and colors may be present in things but unless a third kind of thing is present, which is naturally adapted for this very purpose, you know that sight will see nothing, and colors will remain unseen.”[54]

For example, your eyes may be functioning normally, and you may be sitting directly in front of a red apple, yet, without light, you will fail to see it. Light, for Plato, is the mediating third that makes vision possible. And, according to Plato, the Sun is the bestower of light in the physical realm. He thus asserts that “it isn’t an insignificant kind of link that connects the sense of sight and the power to be seen—it is a more valuable link than any other linked things have got…” (508a) and identifies “the cause and controller” (κύριος) of this visible light with “the Sun.” (508a). As a mediating third, “the sun is not sight, but…the cause of sight and seen by it.” (508b).[55]

            Later Platonists retained this concept of the Sun as a mediating agent. For example, Emperor Julian in his Oration Upon the Sovereign Sun observes that the Sun, in running its course, harmonizes both creation and destruction:

“This deity [the Sun], as he revolves with a defined and regular motion, by kindling this nature, stimulates and renews the same, whilst by his receding to a distance he weakens and destroys it, or else animates its nature by impressing motion upon it, and transfusing life out of himself; whilst when he deserts the same objects, and turns his influence in another direction, he occasions the destruction of things that are destroyed—the good effects that emanate from the same source are equally diffused upon the earth.”[56]

The sun’s cycles thus create an order mediating life and death. Furthermore, Julian maintains that the Sun plays this mediating role not only in the visible world, but also in the intelligible. He explains:

“But, further, the other intelligible powers exercise a by no means imperceptible influence upon our earth—but what of that, for we do not exclude them when we give the first rank to the deity in question? In fact, we endeavor to draw conclusions from things evident concerning things that are abstruse and not apparent. For which reason, in the same way as the Sun perfects the influence and virtue which descended upon the earth from the other powers, and modifies and applies the same to himself, or rather to the universe, so have we good grounds to infer the existence of a similar arrangement and co-partnership of the same powers in the things that are not apparent to the sense—namely, that the influence of the sun holds the chief place amongst these also, whiles the rest act in concert with him. But as we have laid it down that he holds the middle place amongst the intelligible Powers (which are themselves intermediate), I pray the Sovereign Sun himself to grant me ability to explain the nature of the station he holds amongst those in whose middle he is placed! By the term ‘middle’ we are to understand not what is so defined in the case of things contrary to each other, as ‘equidistant from the extremes,’ as orange and dark brown in the case of colours; lukewarm, in that of hot and cold, and other things of the sort; but the power that collects and unites into one things dispersed, like the ‘Harmony’ of Empedocles, from which he completely excludes all discord and contention. What, then, are the things that the Sun unites into one, and in the midst of which he holds his station, as we have defined it? The answer is, the Sensible Powers that revolve around him as their center, and the immaterial and intelligible powers that are with the ‘Good’ whose essence also is intelligible and divine, and multiplied in a manner of their own, without either passion or accession.”

Here, Julian argues that since the intelligible word above and the visible world below are correlated, the sun must play a mediating role in both worlds. He observes that such mediation does not consist of being a literal mixture, as when one mixes cold and hot water to make it lukewarm or black and white pigment to make gray. Rather, it stands for a kind of harmonization, the schematization of a manifold into a unity.

This interpretation is born out by the Sun’s significations in Hellenistic astrology. For example, in his initial characterization of the Sun, Valens describes it as “the all seeing Sun, consisting of fiery and intelligent light, the instrument of perception of the soul” ([ὁ] μεν ουν παντεπόπτης “Ήλιος , πυρώδης υπάρχων και φως νοερόν , ψυχικής αισθήσεως όργανον). Note how the Sun’s all seeingness (παντεπόπτης), is constituted by the fact that it comprehends the realms of both νόος and ψυχή. Remember, for the Neo-Platonist, the realms of νόος and ψυχή were different orders of emanation. Νόος emanates directly from the One, and ψυχή emmanates from νόος. Hence, because the Sun constitutes both the fiery light of νόος and the organ by which ψυχή perceives, the Sun sees all. Valens thus appears to share the Neo-Platonic conception of the Sun as a mediating agent.

This reading is also consistent with the Sun’s additional significations. For example, Valens lists several sets of contradictory significations, thereby indicating that the Sun brings these contrasting properties together under his domain. The sun signifies the intellect which grasps the eternal realm of the forms νόος, but also the practical wisdom with which to live one’s earthly life φρόνησις. It signifies not only unmoving form μορφή, but also motion κίνησις. Not only fortune τύχη, something associated with material embodiment, and thus something from the world below,[57] but also, paradoxically, the sublime heights of fortune (ύψος τύχης). This synthesizing function is also seen in its association with “friendship” (φιλίαν), “negotiation with the gods” (θεών χρηματισμόν), and “leadership of mobs” (προστασίας οχλικήν,).

Likewise, the cluster of meanings surrounding kingship would also have carried the idea of mediation in the ancient world. Valens claims that the Sun signifies “kingship” (βασιλείαν), “hegemony” (ηγεμονίαν), “father” (πατέρα), “despot” (δεσπότην), and “high priests of the fatherland” (αρχιερατείας πατρίδος). To the classical mind, kingship and its associated concepts would have been inextricably connected to the mediation between worlds, for kings ruled by divine right. Earthly rulers ruled because they had some kind of connection to the world of the divine. For instance, philosopher Julius Evola notes:

“Every traditional civilization is characterized by the presence of beings who, by virtue of their innate or acquired superiority over the human condition, embody within the temporal order the living and efficacious presence of a power that comes from above. One of these types of beings is the pontifex, according to the inner meaning of the word and according to the original value of the function that he exercised. Pontifex means ‘builder of bridges,’ or of ‘paths’ (pons, in ancient times also meant ‘path’) connecting the natural and supernatural dimensions. Moreover, the pontifex was traditionally identified with the king (rex).”[58]

These kingly associations, then, would have been connected to the idea of mediation and the bridging of worlds.

Finally, the Sun’s mediating role can be seen in its cognitive signification of “judgment” (κρίσις). For judgement is a synthesis of Being’s in-itself and for-itself moments. Hӧlderlin, a Romantic Philosopher well versed in the classical tradition, explained it as follows:

“Judgement (Urteil) is, in the highest and strictest sense, the primal separation (die ursprüngliche Trennung) of the object and the subject that are most intimately united in intellectual intuition, that separation, by which object and subject first become possible, the original division (die Ur-Teilung). The concept of division itself contains the concept of a reciprocal relation (der gegenseitigen Beziehung) between object and subject, and the necessary presupposition of a whole of which object and subject are the parts. “I am I” is the most apposite example of this concept of an original division, as a theoretical division, since in the practical original division I is opposed to the Not-I, not to itself.”[59]

Hӧlderlin here notes that judgement essentially involves separation. For even if I grasp something under the form “a is a”, the same content will need to be presented in two different ways. If I judge, for example, that “the apple is the apple”, the first presentation of the concept of <apple> must be distinct from the second. If they were not, I would not have the judgment “the apple is the apple”, but the immediate intuition of the apple. I would simply confront the object without attempting to explicate its logical structure. But this separating is also a relating. For example, when I judge that “the apple is the apple”, I’m not merely experiencing two random modes of presentation of the content <apple> but am bringing the two together into a unity, viz. the judgement that the apple is self-identical.

Hӧlderlin claims that this is seen most primordially in the judgment “I am I”, a judgment which conforms to the diurnal triad of Being-in-itself, Being-for-itself, and Being-in-and-for-itself. The In-Itself moment of the judgment would be represented by the mere intuition of the I. The I is what it is apart from everything else. This intuition is indeterminate and immediate. Indeed, it cannot have conceptual structure or else it will lose its immediacy. The for-itself moment corresponds to the judgment I ≠ ~I. Here, the I relates to what is different from itself and is rendered determinate in the process. For example, a parent could judge “I am not my child”, and, through that very judgment determine his or her identity as a parent by relating benevolently to the child. And finally, the judgment’s in-and-for itself moment would correspond to I = I. Here one explicates one’s own self-identity, but in a way that essentially involves difference. It is, what Hegel would call a “mediated immediacy”.

Nocturnal Sect (Becoming)

Malefic (Mars): Becoming In-Itself.

As the malefic of the nocturnal sect, Mars would signify Becoming-in-itself, the realm of time, change, and materiality as it stands alone, excluding all relations. Mars is Nature in its inhospitable aspect, “red in tooth and claw.” It is thus fitting that Mars should be traditionally associated with “blood” and “the color red.”[60] This interpretation can also straightforwardly account for Mars’s other significations. As Becoming-in-itself, Mars signifies “violence” (βίας), “battles” (πολέμους), “robbery” (αρπαγάς), “screams” (κραυγάς), “wanton violence” (ύβρεις), “adultery” (μοιχείας), “ruin of women” (φθοράς γυναικών), “abortions” (έμβρυοτομίας), “sexual intercourse” (συνηθείας), “violent thefts” (βιαίους κλοπές), “robbery” (ληστείας), “plundering” (συλήσεις), “anger” (οργήν), “fighting” (μάχην), “railing abuse” (λοιδορίαν), “hatred” (έχθρας), “violent slaughters” (φόνους βιαίους), “cuts” (τομές), and “bloodshed” (αιμαγμούς), “attacks of fevers”( πυρετών επιφοράς), “hunting” (κυνηγεσίας), “beasts of prey” (θήρας), and “falling from four footed animals” (πτώσεις από τετραπόδων). Here, the predator approaches the world to satisfy only its own desires. Under the sign of Mars, beings step forth with what Nietzsche described as “the artless consciousness of the beast-of-prey” (die Unschuld des Raubthier-Gewissens). Nietzsche likens these beasts of prey to “jubilant monsters (frohlockende Ungeheuer), who perhaps come from a hideous sequence (einer scheusslichen Abfolge) of murder, arson, rape, and torture, in high spirits (Übermut) and with equilibrium (Gleichgewicht), as though they had merely performed some student prank, perfectly convinced that the poets now have something to sing and celebrate.”[61] Such beasts of prey think only of actualizing themselves, and care nothing for the other beings around them. Whereas our response to Being-in-itself was to fall on our faces in reverence, our response to Becoming-for-itself is to be knocked flat on our backs by its assault (υπτιασμού).[62]

Understanding Mars as Becoming-for-itself can also explain the kinds of vocations it signifies. Its association with “warriors” (οπλιστάς) follows from the associations with violence and warfare noted earlier. Similarly, “those who concern themselves with fire and iron” (διά πυρός και διά σιδήρου πράσσοντας), “those who work with hard materials”[63] (σκληρουργούς) are those who work with nature at its most recalcitrant. Fire burns with impunity, and rock resists our effort to mold it.

Benefic (Venus): Becoming-For-Itself.

Venus represents the realm of Becoming as a for-itself. Here Nature constitutes itself through its determinate relations to us, as that which shelters, nurtures, and preserves. Venus is Nature become art, inspiring painters, poets and musicians. Instead of a zone of predation, Venus represents land as landscape, a place fit for human dwelling, shimmering in its excess of beauty and joy. It is both the spirit of landscape around Tintern Abbey enfolding Wordsworth in “beauteous forms” and filling him with “sensations sweet”[64], and the morning glow infusing Goethe’s Ganymede with the holy feeling of eternal warmth and infinite beauty.[65]

This interpretation explains many of the primary significations Valens attributes to Venus. For example, “desire” (επιθυμία) and “love” (έρως) both indicate harmonious relations between entities in the realm of Becoming. “Mother” (μητέρα) and “nurturer” (τροφών) present Nature as a sheltering and nourishing agent. And “friendships” (φιλίας), “intercourse” (ὁμιλίας), “alliances for the good” (συναλλαγές επί το αγαθόν), “marriages” (γάμους), “giving” (δόσεις), “receiving” (λήψεις), and “the order of Nature” (κόσμον) all emphasize the essentially relational character of Venus.

Venus’s relation to art is also explicit in Valens. Venus signifies “wearing golden ornaments” (χρυσοφορίας), “the wearing of laurel wreaths” (στεμματοφορίας), “purchasing of decorations” (αγορασμούς κόσμου), “refined arts” (τέχνας καθαρίoυς), “euphony” (ευφωνίας), “music-making” (μουσουργίας), “sweetness of melody” (ηδυμελείας), “beauteous forms” (εὐμορφία), “the art of painting” (ζωγραφίας), “blending of colors and embroidery” (χρωμάτων κράσεις και ποικιλτικήν), “purple dying” (πορφυροβαφίαν), “perfume making” (μυρεψικήν), “artistic and commercial works involving emeralds and precious stones” (τέχνας ή εμπορικές εργασίας σμαράγδου τε και λιθείας), “ivory working” (ελεφαντουργίας), and “those who spin gold thread” (χρυσονήτας) and who “adorn with gold” (χρυσoκoσμήτας).

Furthermore, Venus’s association with the for-itself can also be seen in many of its bodily significations. Unlike Mars, in whom our recoil from Nature is signified by “walking backwards” (ἀναποδισμός), Venus rules “the front parts from the foot to the head” (των εμπροσθίων μερών από ποδός έως κεφαλής). Venus thus reigns over the approach of Nature. Similarly, the essential relational nature of Venus is conveyed by its significations of “face” (πρόσωπον), our primary mode of social interaction (e.g. speaking face to face), and of “the parts of intercourse” (συνουσίας μορίων), literally rendered “the being (οὐσία)-with (σύν) of parts”, parts associated with pair bonding. And this relational character is also seen in Venus’ internal bodily significations, since Venus rules “the lungs” (πνεύμονος). The lungs, unlike other internal organs, bear an immediate relation to what is outside the body, taking in air from the surrounding world. Indeed, the division between what is within and without here becomes blurred, since air resides both outside the body and within the lungs.

Finally, it is worth contrasting some of Venus’s particular significations with those of the malefics. Instead of Saturn’s representation of Being-in-itself as primal and chaotic waters, Venus represents “watery beasts” (θήρας εξ ὑγρῶν). Here, rather than the dark oceans of eternity, we have the play of various animals nourished by Nature’s waters. And, instead of Mars’s representation of Becoming-in-itself as recalcitrant iron and stone, Venus signifies “stones of much honor” (λίθων πολυτίμων). Here, we encounter not stones in themselves, but stones subsumed under a social order. Recall, for example, the importance of honor “τιμή” in Homer’s Iliad. It is the threat of losing honor that occasions the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles, setting in motion the central conflict of the poem. Venusian stones are thus not mere stones, but stones as they exist within a human world. They are Nature become Art.

Sect Light (The Moon): Becoming-in-and-for-itself.

As with the Sun, the Moon conveys a mediated immediacy, but this time in the world of Nature and time. The Moon’s association with the realm of Becoming is conveyed at the very outset of Valen’s description when he observes that the moon “is born”, “comes into existence”, or “becomes” (γίγνομαι). Unlike the Sun which was associated with an eternal noetic light, the Moon exists in the world of becoming, as a mere reflection (ἀντανάκλασις) of that light.[66] It is in this sense that the moon is said to possess a “baseborn light” (νόθον φώς), since it has only a derivative form of existence. And the mediating character of the moon is also conveyed in this concept of reflection. For, reflection involves both receiving light from a source and sending it in a new direction. It receives the light from the in-itself and gives the light to the for-itself. Similarly, the Moon’s unifying function is also displayed in significations such as “living together or lawful marriage” (συμβίωσιν ήτοι γάμον νομικόν) and “the gathering of mobs” (όχλων συστροφήν).[67]

And, like the Sun, the Moon’s mediating character is also conveyed by the contrary significations that it synthesizes. For example, it conveys both one’s “human life” (ανθρώποις ζωήν), mortal “mother” (μήτηρ) and physical “conception” (σύλληψις)[68],  and the immortal “goddess” (θεά). It signifies both the homely as “nurse” (τροφόν) and “housekeeping” (οίκουρίαν), and the regal as “queen” (βασίλισσαν)  and “mistress of the house” (δέσποιναν), both “gains” (λήμματα) and “expenditures” (αναλώματα), and both “home” (οἰκία) and “city” (πόλις), and “living among foreigners” (ξενιτεία) and “wandering” (πλάνη).

Yet, I contend that the Moon’s mediating function as Becoming-in-and-for-itself comes out most clearly in its association with the “body” (σῶμα). The body, after all, seems like a natural candidate for the mediation of Nature’s in-itself and for-itself moments. The philosopher Merleau-Ponty, for example, has argued that the world is mediated through what he calls the body-schema (schéma corporel). Here, he speaks not of the physical body, something that can be weighed and measured by the scientist, but of what he calls the phenomenal body, that which provides the horizon of orientation and action in the world. He explains:

“Let us first of all describe the spatiality of my own body. If my arm is resting on the table I should never think of saying that it is beside the ashtray in the way in which the ash-tray is beside the telephone. The outline of my body is a frontier which ordinary spatial relations do not cross. This is because its parts are inter-related in a peculiar way: they are not spread out side by side, but enveloped in each other…. My whole body for me is not an assemblage of organs juxtaposed in space. I am in undivided possession of it and I know where each of my limbs is through a body schema in which all are included.”[69]

Merleau-Ponty here observes that the kind of spatiality experienced when you rest your arm on the table is distinct from the objective spatiality investigated by scientists as they plot the relations between things. The way your arm is “on the table” is not the way in which the ashtray is on it, as an abstract relation between one thing and another. For your arm exists as enfolded in the interrelated totality of your body. It, for example, rests calmly on the table, ready to be called into action when needed. As soon as you decide to take a sip of coffee from the mug in front of you, your arm will effortlessly reach out and grasp it. Merleau-Ponty elaborates:

“The word ‘here’ applied to my body does not refer to a determinate position in relation to other positions or to external co-ordinates, but the laying down of the first co-ordinates, the anchoring of the active body in an object, the situation of the body in face of its tasks.” [70]

The body is our primordial anchor point in space, not merely one space among others. It sets the horizon from which we draw something towards ourselves or push it away and marks the boundaries of advance and retreat. Our experience of “here” will thus always be primarily the “here” of the body.

Note how the body, considered in this primordial manner, would mediate the Nature’s in-itself and for-itself aspects. For, on the one hand, Nature, and the entities that live within it, is experienced as something external. It is something to which we must adapt. The hungry tiger, for example, thinks nothing of us, but only of its empty belly. Our body must thus be forever receptive to how the world impinges upon it. We must run when a hungry predator approaches and seek shelter from the raging storm. But, on the other hand, the body also constitutes the horizon from which Nature is experienced as for-itself, expressing itself through its determinate relations to us. For, precisely by reacting in particular ways to the entities surrounding us, we come to stand in determinate relations to them. It is in the moment between the tiger’s dread approach, and our body’s apprehension of it (preparing to approach it in battle, to run from it in fear, or simply to stand in frozen terror) that the tiger is manifest as tiger in all his “fearful symmetry.”[71] Or again, the raging storm appears as sublime, precisely because our bodies feel overwhelmed by it. The moon, then, in signifying the body, entails a mediation of the in-itself and for-itself, and hence should be represented as an in-and-for-itself.[72]

Mercury: Mediating Being and Becoming.

“One, two, three; but where, my dear Timaeus, is the fourth?”—Plato, Timaeus, 17a.

We have thus provided a philosophical account of Sect membership that grounds it in the distinctions between (i) Being and Becoming and (ii) the in-itself, for-itself, and the in-and-for-itself. As a result, I believe that we have thus provided an elaboration of Porphyry’s account of sect that renders explicit what was previously only implicit. Yet, the problem of Mercury is still outstanding. How, on the account of sect offered above, are we to understand the claim that Mercury is neutral, sometimes belonging to the diurnal faction, and other times to the nocturnal? I will attempt to answer this question in this final section.

On the Limits of Sect.

Note first that while the hierarchical distinction between Being and Becoming was familiar in the ancient world, the way this distinction is construed in the diurnal and nocturnal sects would not have been viewed positively. For Platonists, though Being is of a higher order of reality than Becoming, Becoming is nonetheless good because it emanates from Being. Likewise, part of Being’s goodness consists in its overflowing out of itself to constitute the realm of Becoming.[73] Though these two levels of reality are distinct and form an ontological hierarchy, they are not related to each other as adversaries as represented in the concept of sect (αἵρεσις).

Sect presents the distinction between Being and Becoming as two rival factions jockeying for power. This can be seen in the etymology of αἵρεσις discussed earlier. The concept is tied to the ideas of faction and tribal bias and is the root of the later Christian notion of the heretic. This essentially divisive understanding of sect is seen, for example, in Paulus when he declares:

“Since the whole (ὅλα) is being distributed (διοικεῖται)[74] from the Sun and Moon, and nothing in the cosmos (ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ) comes into existence (γίνεται) apart from the despotism (δεσποτείας) of these stars, we are constrained (ἀναγκαῖον) to teach the solar and lunar sects, both what has been allotted (κεκλήρωται) to them and how, through them, the All (παντᾶ) has combined (συνέστηκεν[75]).”[76]

Here Paulus distinguishes the primary whole, which we may identify with the Neo-Platonic One, from a derivative All formed by reuniting what sect had divided. The Sun and Moon thus operate as despots, constraining how the realms of Being and Becoming reveal themselves to us. Indeed, one might, in a Hegelian manner, interpret Paulus’s claim as contending that the Absolute externalizes itself through the operations of the Sun and Moon so that it can eventually reconcile itself to itself. The division of sect, then, does not track Being and Becoming as such, but Being and Becoming as they appear in opposition to each other.

The divisive and antagonistic character of sect can also be seen in the popular view that sect plays a qualitative role in chart interpretation,[77] making benefics more benefic when they are of the sect in favor, and malefics more malefic when they belong to the sect out of favor. To use a contemporary example, naturally angry people (the malefics) will behave more angrily when working for a cause they ideologically oppose. Imagine, for example, a fervent democrat attempting to work at Fox News. Likewise, naturally friendly people will be even more friendly when working for something with which they ideologically align. Imagine an ardent Republican working at CNN. Even if he is a naturally friendly person, he will likely be less friendly than he would be if he were to work with others for a common cause.

And just as zealous commitment to a political ideology can lead people to focus on only limited aspects of the world, thereby forming a distorted picture of reality, so too does a rabid attachment to sect distort our perceptions. Thus, to the classical mind, sect rivalries are something that must ultimately be overcome if we are to form an adequate picture of reality and grasp Being and Becoming as they are. This overcoming, I contend, is achieved by Mercury.

Mercury’s mediating role (aufheben and contradiction).

Mercury’s mediating role follows from the fact that it alone is designated as common (κοινός or ἐπίκοινος) between rival sects.[78] As the common planet (κοινός), Mercury is the most likely to bring the sects into communion (κοινωνία).

Furthermore, Mercury’s role as mediator can also be seen in its identification with reason. For example, Valens associates Mercury with “education” (παιδείαν), “letters” (γράμματα), “elenchus” (ἔλεγχος), “logos” (λόγον), “hermeneutics” (ἑρμηνείαν), “thinking things through” (διάνοια), “practical wisdom” (φρόνησις), “arguing dialectically with paradoxes” (ἐπιχειροῦντας τα παράδοξα), and “thinking systematically” (μεθοδικός) through “calculation” (ψῆφος) and “paralogism” (παραλογισμός). Given its rational function, Mercury would be uniquely situated both to internally challenge the perspective of each sect and to bring about their ultimate unification. Mercury, like Socrates, would act as a gadfly to whichever sect it belongs, provoking it with unrelenting questions. Hegel thus observed that Reason’s primary activity was to “sublate” (aufheben). He defines sublation as follows:

“At this point we should remember the double meaning of the German expression “aufheben“. On the one hand, we understand it to mean “clear away” or “cancel”, and in that sense we say that a law or regulation is cancelled (aufgehoben). But the word also means “to preserve”, and we say in this sense that something is well taken care of (wohl aufgehoben). This ambiguity in linguistic usage, through which the same word has a negative and a positive meaning, cannot be regarded as an accident nor yet as a reason to reproach language as if it were a source of confusion. We ought rather to recognize here the speculative spirit of our language, which transcends the “either-or” of mere understanding.”[79]

On the one hand, reasoning, through its incessant questions and demands for rational grounds, cancels many of the claims it encounters. One might, for example, upon reflection come to renounce many of one’s beliefs acquired merely by living in a particular culture and sharing its presuppositions. By demanding reasons, one can see that many claims simply do not hold up under scrutiny. Yet, on the other hand, reason also plays a positive role. Through it we philosophize and build a rational system. By reasoning, we form a coherent worldview that retains and explains much of what we previously accepted only on faith. Thus, Hegel claims that reason provides us with determinate, and not merely abstract, negation. Reason does not leave us with the empty assertion that one’s prior belief is false, but provides us with an explanation for why it it false, and a positive account that can explain what that original belief was implicitly aiming for. Take, for example, the case of an unreflective religious belief. Suppose that one is taught as a child that God is a proud and petty tribal deity that hates all who do not scrupulously obey his decrees. One might, through the process of reasoning, come to see that there is insufficient evidence to substantiate the claim that God has such a character. But rather than simply abstractly rejecting one’s prior belief and accepting an empty atheism, one learns, by critical reflection, why God, a maximally perfect being, could not have the kind of petty character attributed to him by one’s childhood religious community. [80]  One might, in this manner, forge a more positive conception of God—one that holds up under rational scrutiny and which can explain why one’s previous beliefs were defective. In this manner, through its identification with reason, Mercury can sublate the distinctions between sects, showing how they internally contradict themselves yet, in that very contradiction, open the way to a higher framework that harmonizes them.

Finally, Mercury’s mediating role can be seen in its unique connection to astrology.[81] For Mercury is said to signify “philosophers” (φιλοσόφους), “prophets” (μάντεις), “interpreters of bird omens” (όρνεοσκόπους), “interpreters of dreams” (ονειροκρίτας), and “those experienced in the heavens or who seek to become researchers of them” (των ουρανίων έδριας ή και ερευνητές γινομένους). And, according to the Planetary Joys schema, Mercury rejoices at the Helm, having a special resonance with the first house, the house constituted by the meeting of heaven and earth at the horizon.[82] Paulus, for example, observes “of the twelve places which are taken in relation to every drawing up of the effects (ἀποτελεσματογραφία), the origin (ἀρχή) and foundation (πρωτοστάσιον) is the Horsocopos (ὡροσκόπος), through which the All (παντᾶ) concretizing (συντείνοντα) the fortunes (πράγματα) of man is grasped (καταλαμβάνεται). For, the Horoscopos is the giver of life (ζωή) and spirit (πνεῦμα), whence it is called the Helm…. Only the star of Mercury, among all the stars, rejoices (χαίρει) in this place.”[83]

Here Paulus notes that the All, the reconstituted unity of the whole after it has overcome its self-alienation through sect, is grasped in the Helm. At the Helm, the convergence of heaven and earth, man’s fortune is concretely determined. And, claims Paulus, Mercury is the only star that rejoices in this place of human dwelling. Mercury is thus the star most significantly associated with reconstituted unity, a unity achieved when living spirits return to the source from which they came and of which they are as the self-externalization. Hellenistic astrology, in this manner, presents Mercury as the psychopomp leading the self-alienated Whole back to itself as the All.

Mercury’s role, then, as common between Sects, is to mediate between them, and through this mediation to reconcile the Whole with itself in its self-sundering.


If the argument of my paper has been successful, we now have a philosophical account of sect that can overcome the problems plaguing the standard models. The contradictions of the Ptolemean account are avoided by abandoning it entirely, and those of the Porphyrian by developing and refining its basic Platonic model. By correlating the distinction between diurnal and nocturnal with that of Being and Becoming, we can explain why Porphyry would associate stillness and strength. Furthermore, by identifying the sects not with Being and Becoming as such, but Being and Becoming as they oppose each other in the self-externalization of the Whole, we can account for why Mercury would be categorized as common between sects. Mercury was conceived as common so that it could bring the otherwise antagonistic sects into communion, thereby bringing the Whole back to itself as the All. And, in addition to solving the problems of the standard view, this philosophical account can also explain why sects have a triadic structure, why each element of this triad acts as it does,[84] and why each planet has the traditional significations that it has. I thus believe that there is much to recommend this philosophical model of sect and that it warrants further investigation and development.

Peter Yong, Ph.D.

[The image used in the thumbnail of this video is an illustration of the battle between Guelfs and Ghibellines from the Chronicle of Giovanni Sercambi and is in the public domain. It can be found here: ]

[1] Chris Brennan, Hellenistic Astrology, 190-191.

[2] Valens, 3.5; Rhetorius, 2; Paulus, 6; Hephaistio, 1.2 (though he does mention the gender and physical properties of the planets before setting forth the distinction).

[3] Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 1.7.

[4] Porphyry, Introduction to the Tetrabiblos, 4.

[5] Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 1.7. Trans. Robbins.

[6] For his charactization of planetary powers, see Ptolemy Tetrabiblos 1.4.

[7] Brennan, Hellenistic Astrology, 146-153.

[8] Mercury is said to be neutral between genders because it can be both “dry” and “moist” (see Tetrabiblos 1.6), yet “dry” is never explicitly stated as a criterion for inclusion in the diurnal sect. Rather, Ptolemy lists heat and “active power”. So, the most charitable interpretation appears to be to read “active power” as a synonym for “drying”.

[9] A similar case can be made for Jupiter and Venus. Venus travels more quickly than Jupiter, and so, why would Jupiter not convey rest and Venus activity?

[10] Without such contrast, sect would fail to explain why benefics are rendered more benefic when they are of the sect in favor, and malefics more malefic when they are of the sect not in favor. See Brennan, Hellenistic Astrology, 192-195. Brennan makes a similar contention in his paper “The Planetary Joys”. I also discuss the etymology of αἵρεσις in more detail in the next section. 

[11] Porphyry, Introduction, 4. Trans. Holden.

[12] Brennan, Hellenistic Astrology, 200-202, citing Paulus, Dortheus, and Valens.

[13] I have chosen to elaborate Porphyry’s model since I am not sympathetic to Ptolemy’s causal approach. I’ll thus leave it to others to try to work out his position in a more coherent manner.

[14] See the entry on αἵρεσις in the LSJ Lexicon.

[15] For more on these references and to find further ones see the entry “Heresy” in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

[16] So, for example, Irenaeus in the Preface to Book I of Against Heresies maintains that “Inasmuch as certain men have set the truth aside, and bring in lying words and vain genealogies, which, as the apostle says, ‘minister questions rather than godly edifying which is in faith,’ and by means of their craftily-constructed plausibilities draw away the minds of the inexperienced and take them captive, [I have felt constrained, my dear friend, to compose the following treatise in order to expose and counteract their machinations.] These men falsify the oracles of God, and prove themselves evil interpreters of the good word of revelation…. By means of specious and plausible words, they cunningly allure the simple-minded to inquire into their system; but they nevertheless clumsily destroy them…, and these simple ones are unable, even in such a matter, to distinguish falsehood from truth.”

[17] In the modern era, this principle was articulated most clearly by Spinoza, and was later refined by Hegel.

[18] Proclus, Elements of Theology, Prop 2. Hӧlderlin makes a similar argument from a purely logical perspective in his fragment Urteil und Sein.

[19] Plato, Timaeus 27d-28a trans. Cooper.

[20] For more a more elaborate account of Plato’s theory of forms and illustration of the divided line see: and

[21] Further evidence can be found in Emperor Julian’s Oration upon the Sovereign Sun. Julian was a Neo-Platonist ruler, often labeled “the apostate” because of his commitment to traditional philosophy in opposition to the newly emerging Christian religion. In his oration he claims: “That divine and all-beauteous World, which from the highest vault of Heaven down to the lowest Earth is held together by the immutable providence of God, and which has existed from all eternity, without creation, and shall be eternal for all time to come, and which is not regulated by anything, except approximately by the Fifth Body (of which the principle is the solar light) placed, as it were, on the second step below the world of intelligence; and finally by the means of the “Sovereign of all things, around whom all things stand.” This Being, whether properly to be called “That which is above comprehension,” or the “Type of things existing,” or “The One,” (inasmuch as Unity appears to be the most ancient of all things), or “The Good,” as Plato regularly designates Him, This, then, is the Single Principle of all things, and which serves to the universe as a model of indescribable beauty, perfection, unity, and power. And after the pattern of the primary substance that dwells within the Principle, He hath sent forth out of Himself, and like in all things unto Himself, the Sun, a mighty god, made up of equal parts of intelligible and creative causes. And this is the sense of the divine Plato, where he writes, “You may say (replied I) that I mean the offspring of the Good, whom the Good has produced, similar to itself; in order that, what the Good is in the region of intelligence, and as regards things only appreciable by the mind, its offspring should be the same in the region that is visible, and in the things that are appreciable by the sight.” For this reason I believe that the light of the Sun bears the same relation to things visible as Truth does to things intelligible. But this Whole, inasmuch as it emanates from the Model and “Idea” of the primal and supreme Good, and exists from all eternity around his immutable being, has received sovereignty also over the gods appreciable by the intellect alone, and communicates to them the same good things, (because they belong to the world of intelligence), as are poured down from the Supreme Good upon the other objects of Intelligence. For to these latter, the Supreme Good is the source, as I believe, of beauty, perfection, existence, and union; holding them together and illuminating them by its own virtue which is the “Idea” of the Good. The same things, therefore, does the Sun communicate to things intelligible, over whom he was appointed by the Good to reign and to command: although these were created and began to exist at the same moment with himself. And this, I think, was done, in order that a certain principle which possessed the “Idea” or pattern of the Good, and exercised the principle of Good towards the intelligible gods, should direct all things according to intelligence. And in the third place, this visible disk of the Sun is, in an equal degree, the source of life and preservation to things visible, the objects of sense; and everything which we have said flows down from the Great Deity upon the intelligible gods, the same doth this other visible deity communicate to the objects of sense.”

[22] Porphyry, Introduction, 2. Trans. Holden. See also Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos 1.2 from which it was derived.

[23] Valens, Anthologies, 1.1. Most translations come from Brennan but many have been modified by me.

[24] Valens, Anthologies, 1.1

[25] Demetria George seems to endorse such an interpretation, though she limits her speculations to the realm of individual character analysis. (In contrast, I’m arguing for the more ambitious claim that this division characterizes both the manner in which Being objectively reveals itself to an individual and the way that an individual approaches Being). George observes “on the broadest level of interpretation, the illuminating power of the Sun represents the mind and realm of thought, while the reflective power of the Moon represents the body and realm of sensation. The sect of the chart helps the astrologer determine which of these two faculties predominates in the life of the individual, where a soul animating a body incarnates into time and space with a physical destiny to unfold. We might speculate as to whether this implies that the native is more of a solar type or lunar type, and which luminary directs the course of the life. The ancient texts do not give an explicit definition of what the sect of the chart means in the interpretation of the native’s character, only that the planets which belong to the sect have more beneficence.” (Emphasis mine) George, Ancient Astrology: In Theory and Practice Vol.1, 75-76.

[26] Plotinus, Enneads, 5.2.1. Trans. Stones, Dillon, Gerson, King, Smith, and Wilberding.

[27] The One, though it is posited as necessary through discursive reason, e.g. as a necessary principle in accounting for beings (See, for example, Proclus’s Elements of Theology Prop 1), it cannot be known this way. It must be beheld directly in spiritual vision. “The One is certainly absent from nothing and everything; it is present without being present, except to those who are able to receive it, and who are prepared for it, so as to be harmonious with it and in a way grasp it and touch it through their likeness to it, that is, the power in themselves akin to what comes from it. When one is in the state one was in when one came from the One, at that moment one can see, insofar as the One is such as to be seen.” (Plotinus, Enneads, 6.9.4).

[28] Plotinus, Enneads, 5.1.5.

[29] Plotinus, Enneads, 5.1.6.

[30] Plotinus, Enneads, 5.1.7.

[31] See, for example, his psychological model of the Trinity set forth in Book IX of De Trinitate. Similar reflections can be found in the Hermetic tradition. For example, a passage in the Poimandres states “This is what you must know: that in you which sees and hears is the word of the lord, but your mind is god the father; they are not divided from one another for their union is life.” Corpus Hermeticum I.6, Poimandres, trans. Copenhaver. Here, we have an example derived from consciousness. The mind itself would be the in-itself moment, the representational state of seeing or hearing would be the for-itself moment, and the apperceptive awareness of consciously having that representational state would be the in-and-for-itself moment.

[32] For a plethora of examples see Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.

[33] Upon closer examination, however, Hegel argues this alleged determinacy proves to be indeterminate. Hence, falling under the definition of the in-itself provided earlier.

[34] Hegel, Encyclopedia Logic, trans. Geraets, Suchting, and Harris. §80. “Das Denken als Verstand bleibt bei der festen Bestimmtheit und der Untershiedenheit derselben gegen andere stehen; ein solches beschraenktes Abstraktes gilt ihm als für sich bestehend und seiend.”

[35] Hegel, Encyclopedia Logic, §81. “Das dialektische Moment ist das eigene Sichaufheben solcher endlichen Bestimmungen und ihr Uebergehen in ihre entgegengestzen.”

[36] See the Sense Certainty chapter of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

[37] Consider, for example, the perceptual illusion here: There is a uniform gray rectangle, but it appears as different shades of gray to the viewer relative to the values of grays which surround it.

[38] Hegel, Encyclopedia Logic, § 82. “Das Spekulative oder Positiv-Vernünftige fasst die Einheit der Bestimmungen in ihrer Entgegensetzung auf, das Affirmative, das in ihrer Auflösung und ihrem Übergehen enthalten ist.”

[39] Paulus, Introductory Matters, 1.6. “The Sun, then,… has the stars of Saturn and Jupiter as spear bearers. The Moon….has the stars of Mars and Venus as spear bearers.”

[40] Rudolph Otto, The Holy, 28.

[41] Recall C.S. Lewis’s description of Aslan the lion in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. “He isn’t safe, but he’s good. He’s the king I tell you…He’s wild, you know. Not a tame Lion.”

[42] Dante, Paradiso, Canto XXI.

[43] See, Charles Obert, Saturn Through the Ages, 44-48.

[44] For example, king Evander recounts to Aeneas in the Virgil’s Aeneid that “These woods the native fauns and nymphs once held and a breed of mortals sprung from the rugged trunks of oaks. They had no notion of custom, no cultured way of life, knew nothing of yoking oxen, laying away provisions garnering up their stores. They lived off branches, berries and acorns, hunters’ rough-cut fare. First came Saturn, down from the heights of heaven, fleeing Jove in arms: Saturn robbed of his kingdom, exiled. He united these wild people scattered over the hilltops, gave them laws and pitched on the name of Latium for the land, since he’d laid hidden within its limits, safe and sound. Saturn’s reign was the Age of Gold, men like to say, so peacefully, calm and kind, he ruled his subjects. Ah, but little by little a lesser, tarnished age came stealing in, filled with the madness of war, the passion for possessions.” Aeneid, VIII. Trans. Fagles.

[45] The distinction between the hidden God (deus absconditus) and the revealed God (deus revelatus) was central to the Protestant reformation. Luther, for example, contrasted the theology of glory, one that sought the hidden God, with the theology of the cross, one which found God where he deigned to reveal himself. For example, he asserts in sections 19 and 20 of the Heidelberg Disputation that “”That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the »invisible« things of God as though they were clearly »perceptible in those things which have actually happened«….He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest

things of God seen through suffering and the cross.”

[46] See, for example, Kierkegaard’s penetrating psychological reflections in Fear and Trembling and The Concept of Anxiety.

[47] See, Brennan, Hellenistic Astrology, 173 n.63 for the debate surrounding translation of the word καστορίζων.

[48] See Brennan’s explanation of the etymology of the term in Hellenistic Astrology, 172 n.58.

[49] Goethe, Faust Part I, Night. “Habe nun, ach! Philosophie,/ Juristerey und Medicin,/ Und leider auch Theologie!/  Durchaus studirt, mit heißem Bemühn./ Da steh’ ich nun, ich armer Thor!/ Und bin so klug als wie zuvor.”

[50] Ibid. “Drum hab’ ich mich der Magie ergeben,/ Ob mir durch Geistes Kraft und Mund/ Nicht manch Geheimniß würde kund;/ Daß ich nicht mehr mit sauerm Schweiß,/ Zu sagen brauche, was ich nicht weiß;/ Daß ich erkenne, was die Welt/ Im Innersten zusammenhält,/ Schau’ alle Wirkenskraft und Samen,/ Und thu’ nicht mehr in Worten kramen.”

[51] Goethe, Faust Part I, Study. “The spirit I, which evermore denies!/ And justly; for whate’er to light is brought/ deserves again to be reduced to naught; / then better ‘twere that naught should be./ Thus all the elements which ye/ destruction, sin, or briefly, evil, name,/ as my peculiar element I claim.”

(Ich bin der Geist der stets verneint!/ Und das mit Recht; denn alles was entsteht/ Ist werth daß es zu Grunde geht;/ Drum besser wär’s daß nichts entstünde./ So ist denn alles was ihr Sünde,/Zerstörung, kurz das Böse nennt,/

Mein eigentliches Element).

[52] Plotinus, Enneads, 5.1.6.

[53] See also Plato’s account on the relation between childbearing and the drive for immortality in the Symposium.

[54] Plato, Republic VI, 507d.

[55] ἆρ᾽ οὖν οὐ καὶ ὁ ἥλιος ὄψις μὲν οὐκ ἔστιν, αἴτιος δ᾽ ὢν αὐτῆς ὁρᾶται ὑπ᾽ αὐτῆς ταύτης;

[56] Julian, Oration Upon the Sovereign Sun.

[57] Note, for example, how the Hellenistic tradition located the places of good and bad fortune in the lower hemisphere in the Planetary Joys. See Brennan, Hellenistic Astrology, 336-340.

[58] Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World, 7.

[59] Hӧlderlin, Judgement and Being, trans. Adler and Louth. “Urteil ist im höchsten und strengsten Sinne die ursprüngliche Trennung des in der intellektualen Anschauung innigst vereinigten Objekts und Subjekts, diejenige Trennung, wodurch erst Objekt und Subjekt möglich wird, die Ur-Teilung. Im Begriffe der Teilung liegt schon der Begriff der gegenseitigen Beziehung des Objekts und Subjekts aufeinander, und die notwendige Voraussetzung eines Ganzen, wovon Objekt und Subjekt die Teile sind. »Ich bin Ich« ist das passendste Beispiel zu diesem Begriffe der Urteilung, als Theoretischer Urteilung, denn in der praktischen Urteilung setzt es sich dem Nichtich, nicht sich selbst entgegen.”

[60] Valens, Anthologies, 1.1.

[61] Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals, I.11 trans. Samuel (but significantly modified by me).

[62] See Brennan, Hellenistic Astrology, 176 n.105.

[63] See Brennan, Hellenistic Astrology, 176 n.100

[64] See Wordsworth’s Line’s Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.

[65] See Goethe’s Ganymed. See also,

[66] Again, note the Platonic nature of such an account. The world of Becoming is a shadow or reflection of the world of Being.

[67] Note the root τροφή here which will occur again below.

[68] A literal bringing together of one’s physical elements.

[69] Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 113-114.

[70] Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 115.

[71] See, for example, Blake’s poem The Tyger.

[72] Note how this philosophical account of the luminaries not only accounts for their Hellenistic significations, but also for their later modern meanings. The Moon, in modern astrology, is associated with the unconscious. This association can be explained by the fact that the body schema is largely a matter of unconscious habits and natural dispositions. It’s the visceral interpretation of reality, rather than the more rational reflective approach of the Sun.

[73] See, Plotinus, Ennead 5.1.6. And, for an introductory discussion of the Platonic conception of cosmos see Charles Obert’s Saturn Through the Ages, 117-120.

[74] Alternately, “is caused to live apart from itself”. See LSJ entry διοικέω citing Plato’s Timaeus 19e.

[75] Lit. to stand(ίστημι)-with(συν ). It can also have an antagonistic meaning, as when two enemy forces face each other to join in battle.  LSJ entry συνίστημι B.II.

[76] Paulus, Introduction, 6. The Schmidt translation was consulted but significantly revised.

[77] See, for example, Brennan’s account in Hellenistic Astrology, 192-195.

[78] Paulus, Valens and Porphyry refer to Mercury as κοινός, and Rhetorius and Hephaisto as ἐπίκοινος.

[79] Hegel, Encyclopedia Logic, § 96 (Zusatz).

[80] See, for example, Plato’s argument in the Republic regarding misery inherent in being a tyrant. and

[81] See also Charles Obert’s insightful essay “Mercury, As Above So Below” in The Divine Dimension: The Spiritual Roots of Western Astrology (forthcoming) where he further spells out Mercury’s central role in astrology. Whereas I have been highlighting Mercury association with Reason from the perspective of transcendental (in the Kantian sense) subjectivity, attempting to account for the structure of reasoning as such, Obert calls attention to the ways in which Mercury could be correlated with the empirical subject. On this reading, Mercury, as empirical consciousness, mediates our experience of both the external and internal worlds.

[82] See Brennan, Hellenistic Astrology, 336-340.

[83] Paulus, Introduction, section 24. Trans Schmidt, modified by me.

[84] I.e. as malefic (in-itself), benefic (for-itself), and sect-light (in-and-for-itself).

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