Many of the predictive techniques of Hellenistic and medieval astrology seek to time out specific major events indicated in the natal chart. A focus on specific years is particularly prominent, as exemplified in a suite of annual techniques from profections and planetary years to solar returns and secondary progressions. However, there also existed time lord techniques which sought to characterize larger spans of time and broader life developments. These include the use of triplicity rulers to show shifting support, and longer term time lords like decennials, firdaria, and distributors.
The Ages of Man
One such time lord technique which describes the life in broad strokes is known as the Ages of Man. As far as I know, our earliest reference to it is found in Claudius Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos (2nd century CE). It is one of the time lord techniques explored in the last chapter of that work, Book IV, Chapter 10, “Of the Division of Times”.
In that section, Ptolemy first discussed how astrological indications must be couched in terms of context. Context includes what is normative of the culture, race, age, etc. of the native. He then went on to discuss how the ages of the individual are characterized by the planets.
“For in the matter of the age-divisions of mankind in general there is one and the same approach, which for likeness and comparison depends upon the order of the seven planets; it begins with the first age of man and with the first sphere from us, that is, the moon’s, and ends with the last of the ages and the outermost of the planetary spheres, which is called that of Saturn.” (Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, IV, Ch. 10, Robbins trans., 1940)
Ptolemy concluded the section with a look at his predictive suite combining primary directions, profections, and ingresses.
Upward to the Stars
The simple scheme has each of the seven planets rule a set number of years from birth to old age in order of the spheres of the planets.
The Moon rules the pliable infant and toddler (ages 0-3). Note that by age 3, I mean until the 4th birthday. Therefore, the Moon rules the first 4 years of life. Mercury rules the flexible mind of the young school child (ages 4-13). This is the next 10 years of life.
For Venus, the Sun, Mars, and Jupiter, the number of years they rule correspond with their minor planetary years. Venus rules the passionate pubescent young adult (14-21), according with her planetary years (8 years). The Sun rules the prime of life (22-40), according with his planetary years (19). Mars rules the crisis of passing one’s prime (21-55), according with his planetary years (15). Jupiter rules the wise years of renunciation, rest, and reward (56-67), according with his planetary years (12).
Saturn then rules the declining years of bodily breakdown (68-death), regardless of how long this period may last.
The Ages of Man does not appear to have been a popular approach among Hellenistic astrologers. Ptolemy may have even made it up himself. It is simple. Also, it is unclear whether Ptolemy intends it as a serious time lord technique or simply as an instructive teaching tool, showing how human development mirrors the spheres of the planets. It was mentioned by some later medieval astrologers. It was even alluded to by Shakespeare (see below). But its overall impact on the practice of astrology has been slight.
All the World’s A Stage
We can read the poetic description of the seven stages as given by Shakespeare. The division of life into seven stages was commonplace in the arts by Shakespeare’s time (16th century). This was Ptolemy’s legacy as it had been more common to divide life into 3, 4, or 5 stages in the classical world. It is found in the famous “all the world’s a stage” monologue of Jaques in Shakespeare’s comedy “As You Like It” (Act II, Scene VII):
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the bard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
Note that Shakespeare associated the 4th stage (Sun) with the soldier, which we would associate more with Mars. Though he did associate it with seeking reputation, which is solar. He also associated the 5th stage (Mars) with the justice, which we may associate more with Jupiter. Still the use of seven stages and their seeming correspondence with the ages noted by Ptolemy belie the antique origins.
My experience has been that most traditional astrologers don’t put much stock in the technique. It is used more often as a metaphor for describing development than as a type of developmental time lord. However, Ptolemy clearly intended it as a type of time lord. He noted that particular qualities can be gleaned from the natal chart, in addition to the fact that the planets naturally reflect the developmental stages.
“And in truth the accidental qualities of each of the ages are those which are naturally proper to the planet compared with it, and these it will be needful to observe, in order that by this means we may investigate the general questions of the temporal divisions, while we determine particular differences from the special qualities which are discovered in the nativities.” (Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, IV, Ch. 10, Robbins trans., 1940)
In other words, the planets in the chart have “something to say” about each life stage.
Ptolemaic View of Astrology
Some psychological theories perhaps are doubly indebted to Ptolemy who not only associated the first 4 years of life with the Moon, but also associated the Moon with the irrational mind. Modern psychological astrology also owes a huge debt to Ptolemy for his emphasis on the significations of planets. Ptolemy took the planets as causative of their indications, which is similar in practice to the more prominent view of the planets indexing the underlying causes. In either case, a planet shows the roots of the situation.
This view was at a variance with more typical Hellenistic and early medieval astrology. Typically, many factors had similar indications and would be examined together. Planets, houses, lots, twelfth-parts of planets, and so forth could all say something about a topic. They would have their indications compared and analyzed.
The focus on a planet as the locus for the topic, with the corresponding de-emphasis of houses, lots, and other such symbolic redundancies, was a Ptolemaic reductive simplification that accorded more with the scientific worldview. It became more popular in the late Renaissance, becoming dominant with the rise in esteem for Ptolemy’s astrology. Morinus, in the 17th century, was criticizing it in favor of greater consideration for the combination of house and planet significations.
I note some of these issues with the Ptolemaic view, as well as the indexical view, which it helped foster, in my 8th Lesson, on signs. There I point to how a symbolic view, in which the factors “talk about” matters rather than index them, and indications come about compositionally, is more consistent with ancient astrological practice. I raise these issues here because oversimplification toward natural significations runs into issues in delineation.
It is important in such techniques to consider not just the planet, the context of time and place, and the chart context as Ptolemy would judge it. We want to also include the greater chart context that includes the houses and lots occupied by and ruled by the planet. Additionally, we should consider the twelfth-part of the planet, aspects by antiscia, and possibly other similar matters.
Is it Useful?
The Ages of Man is certainly compelling as a planetary representation of the stages of life. For one, it nicely ties together a number of other planetary significations, naturally relating them to life stages. The stage of the infant and toddler are signified by the same planet that can signify the mother and body. Those of the young school child are signified by the same planet that signifies language, learning, and siblings. And so on. The later years are less obvious but still intriguing. Newly elected US Senators and Representatives (see Table 1) tend to be in their late 40’s to early 50’s (Mars years). The breakdown of the body tends to accelerate after age 68 (Saturn years).
I have also found the Ages of Man to be a useful time lord technique. However, it has its own peculiar features which set it apart from many other time lords. It has a distinct emphasis on the individual and their developmental experience. It talks of their development and the distinctness of the stages of their life. I’m not saying it is only psychological, but it does seem to be particularly close to character and identity.
When looking at your own chart, you may want to consider how you changed and developed as a person during the period. How is this reflected by the planet in the chart?
Now, I’d like to take a closer look at each period. We’ll examine the periods with some brief notes about Maya Angelou’s life and chart. I will also include what Ptolemy said about each period.
Angelou’s life is instructive when it comes to this technique because she has an accurate birth time, lived to old age (86), and wrote 7 autobiographies encapsulating different stages of her life. These autobiographies don’t follow the 7 Ages of Man but are instructive in understanding it.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings covers up to age 17, the complex years of the Moon, Mercury, and the start of Venus.
Gather Together in My Name covers ages 17 to 20, some particularly trying Venus years.
Singin’ and Swingin’ … covers ages 21 to 27, the end of Venus and the beginning of solar years of travel and discovery.
The Heart of a Woman and All God’s Children, covering ages 29-33 and 34-37, deepen the journey of the solar years.
A Song Flung Up to Heaven ends the exploration of the solar years. The solar years end with Angelou’s transition from traveling entertainer and activist to author of her first book at age 41.
Her final autobiography Mom & Me & Mom is about her relationship with her mom throughout her life. Unfortunately, none of her autobiographies deeply explore the years after the solar years. However, those are also some of the most publicly well-documented years of her life as she became increasingly well-known as a writer.
I have only read her first autobiography, and that was about 20 years ago. I’ll be largely relying on online sources for details of the stages of her life.
Maya Angelou was born on 4/4/1928 at 2:10 pm CST in St. Louis, MO (source: birth record). She was born with the Mercury bound of Leo rising, during the Mercury hour of a Mercury day. Her Sun is in the 9th house, Aries, the sign of its exaltation, conjunct the sect benefic Jupiter, in the bound of Mercury.
The Moon: 0 thru 3
“For up to about the fourth year, following the number which belongs to the quadriennium, the moon takes over the age of infancy and produces the suppleness and lack of fixity in its body, its quick growth and the moist nature, as a rule, of its food, the changeability of its condition, and the imperfection and inarticulate state of its soul, suitably to her own active qualities.” (Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, IV, Ch. 10, Robbins trans., 1940)
Maya Angelou was born with a Full Moon in the 3rd house conjunct the twelfth-part of Jupiter. Its significations are very important, and mostly beneficial, but also mixed. The Moon has her twelfth-part with Mars in the 7th house. She also has her rulers (Venus and Mercury) in the 8th house severely afflicted (dominating square from Saturn).
Angelou’s first four years were quite mixed. On the one hand she admired her mother’s beauty and was close with her older brother bailey from whom she got her “Maya” nickname. This may be reflected by the Moon ruled by Venus and in the Mercury bound of the 3rd house of siblings. However, her parents marriage was also combative and they divorced near the end of the period. Sun-Moon opposition (father-mother conflict) and Moon’s twelfth-part in the 7th house of marriage ruled by Saturn and occupied by Mars.
To Grandma Momma
She and her brother were sent to live with her grandmother at the end of the period. They were sent by train without their parents at only ages 3 and 5 (the Moon in the 3rd being strongly connected to journeys, here with the brother). Angelou felt abandoned by her mother.
The trip however brought her under the care of her grandmother (paternal) who was a very Jupiterian figure. She prospered during the Depression due to her store and her wise investments (Moon-Jupiter connections). The father’s mother may also be indicated by the twelfth-part of the Moon (mother) in the 4th house (parent) from the 4th (father), in the Jupiter bound of Aquarius, with the Lot of Fortune but also Mars.
Mercury: 4 thru 13
“In the following period of ten years, Mercury, to whom falls the second place and the second age, that of childhood, for the period which is half of the space of twenty years, begins to articulate and fashion the intelligent and logical part of the soul, to implant certain seeds and rudiments of learning, and to bring to light individual peculiarities of character and faculties, awaking the soul at this stage by instruction, tutelage, and the first gymnastic exercises.” (Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, IV, Ch. 10, Robbins trans., 1940)
Interestingly, Maya lived was under the care of her grandmother thru about age 13, the Mercury years. These were particularly formative years for Maya’s relationship with literature and sense of identity. We see the importance of Mercury in the chart by the bound of the Ascendant, planetary day, and planetary hour. These are elements that pertain to self-identification and character. These are pivotal times of high highs and low lows explored in her first autobiography.
Angelou’s Mercury is very complex. It is quite afflicted being in the 8th house, closely squared to Saturn. However, it is also conjunct Venus and ruled by Jupiter. It has its twelfth-part in the 4th house. This period sees Maya laying down new roots in Stamps with her grandmother. While her grandmother is a woman of means and takes good care of her, she also comes face-to-face with the racism in the region. Mercury is illustrative here, as Maya grows up in the store and her brother (Mercury), with grandmother and her disabled son (Venus-Mercury in 8th square Saturn), but in the bound of Mars (violence, racism).
At age 7 (sometimes reported as 8, but Maya says 7 in interviews), she was taken away by her father and brought to live with her mother. Soon after this she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend, who briefly jailed and then beaten to death by Maya’s uncles. The trauma of the rape and the violence which she felt she caused by telling her brother of the events, led her to virtually stop talking for the next 5-6 years. She spoke only sparingly to her brother.
So much of the Venus-Mercury conjunction in the 8th house is symbolic of the events. Mercury in a water sign (mute), in fall (hidden, suppressed), and square Saturn (obstacle) all point to the time of silence. The closeness with Venus, aspect of Saturn, and rulership by Mars (especially in twelfth-part) pertain to the rape.
She went back to stay with her grandmother again for most of the remainder of the period. The period ended positively (rulership by Jupiter showing eventuality). She met a teacher, Mrs. Flowers, who furthers her love for reading and poetry. Flowers also eventually gets Maya to start talking again. It is ultimately a period of the voice, both its loss and its discovery. It is the main period of focus for her first and most famous autobiography.
Venus: 14 thru 21
“Venus, taking in charge the third age, that of youth, for the next eight years, corresponding in number to her own period, begins, as is natural, to p445 inspire, at their maturity, an activity of the seminal passages and to implant an impulse toward the embrace of love. At this time particularly a kind of frenzy enters the soul, incontinence, desire for any chance sexual gratification, burning passion, guile, and the blindness of the impetuous lover.” (Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, IV, Ch. 10, Robbins trans., 1940)
Venus is a similarly afflicted and yet mixed planet in Angelou’s chart. I often hear astrologers point to her Venus being exalted and ruling the 10th house of career and actions. These are certainly two significations with Venus pertaining to prominence and raising up (also her rulership of the Moon). However, the activation of Venus by planetary years (8th year) and profection (to the 8th house at age 7) corresponded with her rape, a characteristically Venusian form of violence.
Venus is a benefic and is ruled by a benefic. However, Venus also is out of sect in the 8th house, dominated by Saturn in a tight square, in the bound of Mars, has her twelfth-part in the house of Mars. The period sees the good and bad of this Venus. She lives with her mother in San Francisco.
Exalted Venus Brought Low
The good is a landmark job as the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco (10th house, conjunction with Mercury). She also studied dance and drama at school (Mercury-Mars) and eventually graduated.
The difficulties, however, are great. Actually, they are some of the greatest in her life. She got pregnant at age 16, having her son at age 17. As a young adult she struggled badly to make ends meet and to care for her son, even descending into crime, being a madame, and prostitution to make ends meet. It was a particularly desperate time in her life, pertaining largely to the afflictions of Venus in her chart, particularly by a Saturn in the 5th house of children.
The Sun: 22 thru 40
“The lord of the middle sphere, the sun, takes over the fourth age, which is the middle one in order, young manhood, for the period of nineteen years, wherein he implants in the soul at length the mastery and direction of its actions, desire for substance, glory, and position, and a change from playful, ingenuous error to seriousness, decorum, and ambition.” (Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, IV, Ch. 10, Robbins trans., 1940)
The solar years are a long and complex period of Maya’s life which has been explored in depth in four of her autobiographies. At the start of the period she gets a more stable job and moves back with her mother to spend more time with her son. She also falls in love and gets married to a Greek sailor, but there are significant clashes with her husband over religion (he’s an atheist) and they end up divorcing. The Sun in a woman’s chart can show the partner and here is in the 9th house of foreigners and its ruler is in the 7th of marriage. It is also with Jupiter and the 9th, signifying religion, and her partner not being religious ended up being a point of contention.
The period is most marked by entertainment, travel, and political activism. Maya’s Sun is in the 9th house which pertains to long distance travel, foreigners, wisdom, and religion. Jupiter there also connects it strongly to positive and lofty opportunities and important people. The rulership of the Sun by Mars in the 7th in Aquarius (air sign) connects it with the fight for humanitarian rights.
A New Woman
During this period Angelou truly changes her name from Marguerite Johnson to “Maya Angelou” for her new dancing and singing career. The Sun rules Angelou’s first house so it pertains strongly to the character and self-identification.
She traveled as a performer to 22 countries in a European tour of Porgy and Bess. The period is marked by a lot of travel, not just for entertainment, in numerous plays and other gigs, but also for political activism and to get to know Africa. While an entertainer she becomes increasingly politically active, helping to organize rallies for Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. She also lives for a few years in Ghana at one point in the period.
Mars: 41 thru 55
“After the sun, Mars, fifth in order, assumes command of manhood for the space of fifteen years, equal to his own period. He introduces severity and misery into life, and implants cares and troubles in the soul and in the body, giving it, as it were, some sense and notion of passing its prime and urging it, before it approaches its end, by labour to accomplish something among its undertakings that is worthy of note.” (Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, IV, Ch. 10, Robbins trans., 1940)
As Ptolemy noted, this is the age when one sees oneself passing one’s prime and seeks to due something notable. Politics, activism, or maybe just freaking out and trying to recreate oneself are all hallmarks of the period. Angelou had been a writer and editor at times during the solar period. However, it was in 1969, at about age 41, when her first autobiography was published. She immersed herself in writing over the next 15 years. Maya published her first four autobiographies during the period, but also screen plays, articles, documentaries, short stories, poetry, musical scores, and more. She received thirty honorary doctorates and became a full-time professor. Not bad for someone without a bachelor’s degree!
Mars is the out of sect malefic in the chart, so this course of events may come as a surprise to many astrologers. However, while Mars afflicts many other planets, it is itself in relatively good condition. It is also the most prominent planet in the chart, strongly advancing toward the Descendant. Mars rules and is seen by the Sun and Jupiter, while it is ruled by Saturn which it also sees, and is with the twelfth-part of the Moon.
Mars connects the 4th house origins with the twelfth-parts of Mercury and Venus with the 9th house Sun-Jupiter. It is a powerful crux of the chart.
Maya went back into the difficult conflicts, violence, and struggles of her past. She relived them as she wrote and sought to present a picture that was as honest as it was politically forceful. In some ways, she used her own story as a potent force for change and to give the oppressed a voice.
She married (her longest) and divorced during the period (7th house). It was also a politically potent one. However, much of the personal development pertained to bridging together Mars and the houses it rules, the painful but creative roots and the soaring illuminating wisdom. We also see a pull toward work for work’s sake, shown by Mars’s twelfth-part in the Capricorn 6th house in the bound of Mercury. Maya Angelou is a work horse on fire during the period.
Jupiter: 56 thru 67
“Sixth, Jupiter, taking as his lot the elderly age, again for the space of his own period, twelve years, brings about the renunciation of manual labour, toil, turmoil, and dangerous activity, and in their place brings decorum, foresight, retirement, together with all-embracing deliberation, admonition, and consolation; now especially he brings men to set store by honour, praise, and independence, accompanied by modesty and dignity.” (Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, IV, Ch. 10, Robbins trans., 1940)
Maya’s Jupiter in the 9th is a wise Jupiter. It is also an outspoken and political Jupiter, one conjunct the Sun, ruled by Mars, and in the bound of Mercury.
The period saw Angelou concentrate primarily on teaching and public speaking. She was on the stage and sharing her wisdom. A particularly pivotal point was her public recitation of a poem at the presidential inauguartion of Bill Clinton in 1993 (she was 64). As opposed to the prior period of intense focus on works, this was a period of celebrity and lecture.
“Finally to Saturn falls as his lot old age, the latest period, which lasts for the rest of life. Now the movements both of body and soul are cooled and impeded in their impulses, enjoyments, desires, and speed; for the natural decline supervenes upon life, which has become worn down with age, dispirited, weak, easily offended, and hard to please in all situations, in keeping with the sluggishness of his movements.” (Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, IV, Ch. 10, Robbins trans., 1940)
Jupiter rules Maya’s Saturn which is trine Sun-Jupiter. Both Jupiter and Saturn are also in the bounds of Mercury. There was largely a smooth transiting between the Jupiter period and the Saturn. Maya continued to teach and lecture, though there was also a push toward greater commercialization.
She directed her first feature film in 1996 to kick off the period. The 5th house is the Joy of Venus and the house of children, pertaining strongly to creative works. It is interesting that the period would mark her foray into a number of different types of creative works, starting with film direction, but extending also to greeting cards and new album appearances. She also published her two last autobiographies during the period.
Angelou wrote four books in her last ten years of life despite being in constant pain, as her son noted at her memorial service. She died without any apparent breakdown of her senses and intellect.
While the Ages of Man will not point to the specific years of major events, it is still useful as a time lord technique. People change as they go through life. Much of what we perceive as the more static unchanging character may just be representative of those prime 19 years. Few feel they are the same person as an adult as they were when they were 14 years old. How did early development impact one? How might middle age change one? These are questions for such a time lord technique of life stages and ages.
Are there other techniques like this? Yes, in Hellenistic astrology there were other long-term time lord techniques, such as triplicity lords and decennials. There was also the use of the quadrants of the chart to indicate four stages of life. However, the Ages of Man has a unique personal focus on the self’s journey outward through the spheres of the planets. I think it’s worth a consideration.
Ptolemy, C. (1940). Ptolemy: Tetrabiblos. (F. E. Robbins, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library. Retrieved from http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Ptolemy/Tetrabiblos/home.html
The featured image is Orbium planetarum Terram complectentium scenographia by Andrea Cellarius (17th century) and is in the public domain.