Ptolemy's Zodiac Sign Astrological Lexicon - in Tetrabiblos



Definition: [Source Texts of Astrology] The magnum opus of astrology, Claudius Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos is in some ways unfamiliar to modern western astrologers. Written between 130 - 170 AD, it fully described the astrological concepts of the Classical world. However, the transmission of these ideas down to us has been incomplete in many respects, and those that have passed to us intact have normally not been properly updated for the Age of Pisces. Fortunately Ptolemy's original work still survives and is gaining wider interest again today as a root-text of astrology. Below is a lexicon of zodiac sign descriptive words in Ptolemy's astrology that are nowadays unfamiliar.

NB: In Classical astrology the most important factor was not the Sun sign but the "horoscopic point". This is what we would now call the Ascendant or Rising Sign. [See Tetrabiblos iii Chapter 2] The Sun was just one heavenly body - albeit the most important one. It is only in the last eighty years that Sun sign astrology has come to prominence in Western Astrology, with the advent of the newspaper astrology column.

The Power of the Fixed Stars:   In Classical astrology the component stars of a constellation had particular astrological properties, just as the planets still have in modern astrology. This aspect of astrology has become lost to most Western astrologers, as our astrology has become separated from the stars because of the problem of the Tropical Zodiac.
Character of the Sign:   This aspect of Classical astrology is similar to what is now known as the quality [cardinal, fixed, mutable] of a sign. In Classical astrology there were four characters:
 Solstitial Signs: Cancer and Capricornus. These were the summer and winter Solstice signs in the Age of Aries. [Modern Tropical Zodiac astrologers call these the cardinal signs.*]
 Equinoctial Signs: Aries and Libra. These were the spring and autumn Equinox signs in the Age of Aries. [Modern Tropical Zodiac astrologers call these the cardinal signs.*]
 Solid Signs: Taurus, Leo, Scorpius, and Aquarius. These signs followed the solstitial and equinoctial signs in the Age of Aries. [Modern Tropical Zodiac astrologers call these the fixed signs.*]
 Bicorporeal Signs: Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces. These signs lay between the solid and the solstitial and equinoctial signs in the Age of Aries and in Classical astrology took some of the properties of these types. [Modern Tropical Zodiac astrologers call these the mutable signs.*].
*Ptolemy's sign characters were correct in the Age of Aries. And modern Tropical Zodiac astrologers still use them. However, now, in the Age of Pisces they are inaccurate by one sign; Pisces is the Vernal Equinox sign for example and hence is Equinoctial [cardinal]. 
Planet and House:   The twelve house system of modern astrology does not feature at all in Ptolemy's astrology. [As the 'right choice' of house system is a huge problem in modern astrology it might be best if we all followed his example! ( When I say 'modern' Kepler was denouncing houses as "Arabic sorcery" four centuries ago.)]
 Ptolemy considered simply that a sign housed a particular planet. In modern terms we would call this the planetary rulership. This rulership could be by the planet's masculine or feminine side, and the five planets ruled two signs, one with each side of their nature's in a symmetrical system, the Sun and Moon ruling the other two. Neptune, Uranus and Pluto had not been discovered and so were not planetary rulers. This is an astrological invention of the last two centuries, one with which many modern astrologers strongly disagree.

  Ptolemy's planetary rulers seem to be based on Chaldean astrology from the Age of Taurus [Leo the Summer Solstice sign]. Hence, nowadays in the Age of Pisces it should be noted that they are two signs out, Gemini being the Solstice sign. 
Triangles:   There are four triangles containing three signs each in the Ptolemy's astrology. These are analogous in their groups to the four-elements concept of modern astrology [Earth, Air, Fire and Water]. However elements formed no part of Ptolemy's Classical astrology.
First Triangle - Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius: Masculine. Ruled by the Sun in day and Jupiter at night. [Analogous to the modern fire signs.]
Second Triangle - Taurus, Virgo, and Capricornus: Feminine. Ruled by the Venus in day and Moon at night. [Analogous to the modern earth signs.]
Third Triangle - Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius: Masculine. Ruled by the Saturn in day and Mercury at night. [Analogous to the modern air signs.]
Fourth Triangle - Cancer, Scorpius, and Pisces: Feminine. Ruled by the Venus/Mars in day and Moon/Mars at night. [Analogous to the modern water signs.]
Exaltations and Depressions:   Nowadays exaltations are often confused with planetary rulerships, and have dropped from view in modern astrology. In Classical astrology planets were considered strong in the signs they ruled, but high in rank in signs in which they were exalted. Similarly they were lowly ranked in signs in which they were depressed. Three signs, Scorpius, Sagittarius and Aquarius have no exalted planets. Sagittarius and Aquarius have no depressed planets. 
The Egyptian Terms:   Terms are another concept which was all but lost during the 17th century hiatus in astrology. The terms are the section of the sign within the rulership of a particular planet. Hence "Venus = 12; Jupiter = 4" etc. indicates that Venus rules the first 12 degrees, Jupiter the next 4 and so on. 
The Chaldean Terms:    Ptolemy quotes two different sets of terms, the second being the Chaldean. He recommends the Egyptian as being "more worthy of credence". 
Countries:   In Classical 'natural' or 'universal' astrology the countries of the world were said to be affected by particular signs. 
Effect upon the Weather:   Because of the Movement of the Ages, Ptolemy's weather description is now about one sign out and describes the weather of the previous Real Solar Zodiac sign - at least in the Mediterranean.
 Because of the yearly coincidence of the cycle of the seasons - and their weather patterns - and the yearly cycle of the Zodiac, all Classical astrologers firmly believed in 'natural' astrology: that the stars influenced the weather. This idea - which held sway up until the Middle Ages - was disproved by the exploration of the Southern Hemisphere, where it is winter when the Northern Hemisphere is in summer, and vice versa, though both of course have the same Zodiac stars. Instead it was realised that the Earth's tilt controls the yearly weather cycles.
 Hence, we western astrologers have dropped the link with the cycle of the seasons, except for in one key aspect - that the Zodiac should be tied to the seasons, i.e. it should be a Tropical Zodiac. Unfortunately, this just isn't true, the Solar Zodiac is not tied to the seasons, any more than the weather is caused by the Zodiac. This fallacy is one of the largest problems in Western astrology.
Powers of Fixed Stars and the Starts of Signs:  To expand on the statement above, Ptolemy's writings provide we modern astrologers with a dilemma. Ptolemy was convinced of the Powers of the Fixed Stars, but he was also convinced of the Powers of the Spaces of the Zodiac. There doesn't seem to be any problem here until it is also realised that Ptolemy held that it is reasonable to reckon the beginnings of the signs ... from the equinoxes and solstices, [See Tetrabiblos i Chapter 22], and not from the heavens.
 In the second century AD this was acceptable, as the Tropical Zodiac signs [signs which start with the Equinox] were reasonable approximations to where the stars of the constellations actually were. But they aren't now. Because of the Movement of the Ages, they are off by almost a whole sign.
 Over the centuries since Ptolemy, this dilemma has been solved in two different ways. In the West we have kept the connection between the signs and the Equinox and so completely thrown away the Powers of the Stars. In the East, notably India, astrologers have thrown away the connection between Equinox and the start of a sign and hence kept the Powers of the Signs and Powers of Stars.
 Of the two, the Indian approach has to be the better one. Ptolemy was convinced seasonal Zodiac signs governed the astrology of the weather. He thought he could see the evidence for this in the yearly cycle of the seasons and the yearly cycle of the Zodiac. He was wrong, it was just a coincidence. But thinking this, Ptolemy would have thought himself perfectly justified in tying the seasons to the Zodiac by deciding that the Vernal Equinox marked the start of a Zodiac sign closest to the Equinox, Aries. He was wrong about this too. It doesn't. The Vernal Equinox is now in Pisces, and in a few hundred years will be in Aquarius. Unfortunately the Tropical Zodiac is an outmoded mistake just like Zodiac weather. [See the Real Solar Zodiac for the accurate Sun Sign dates.]

© Dr Shepherd Simpson, Galactic Astrologer


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