The Astrology of Profession
Classical astrologers frequently explored the astrology of profession. They even had techniques to focus in on the planets most relevant to profession. Special techniques for the delineation of one’s calling appear early in the Hellenistic tradition. Anubio (1st or 2nd century CE), Ptolemy (2nd century CE), and Paulus Alexandrinus (4th century CE) all provided techniques for determining profession from the astrological chart.
The Greek word used is “praxis”. It is often translated as actions, though I’ve also seen it translated what one does (Greenbaum’s translation of Paulus). The reckoning of the descriptions for varieties of praxis in Greek texts are what we’d call a profession or a calling. One of the meanings of praxis is “practice”. As the professional indicators pertain to skill-development, but not always and necessarily to what one does to make a living, practice may be the better definition. The professional indicators indicate what we practice and thus what we become skilled at.
My own strategy for the delineation of actions follows Ptolemy, Paulus Alexandrinus, and Rhetorius in approach. My emphasis lies on Paulus Alexandrinus as he is relatively early (4th century) and used the places. I am more concerned with effectiveness than historical reproduction, so you will find some minor deviations from Paulus in my approach to actions. The differences are minor and are similar to the differences in the use of technique by the various Hellenistic astrologers and later Persian ones. Medieval European authors, such as Bonatti, deviated even further. After years of exploring the technique, I find Paulus the most reliable.
Lords of Actions
The technique pertains to identifying the planets that most pertain to actions. These planets will describe the nature of the calling. I urge astrologers not to think in terms of there being only one true calling for each and every person. Rather, planets signifying actions will give indications as to skill people try to develop for their calling. We will call the planets that signify actions the lords of actions.
The 10th Place and the Lights
The 10th place of the chart is the one that pertains most to this reckoning. It dominates the 1st place (i.e. it is in a right-side square to the place representative of the person themselves, like an authoritative influence). The 10th place is sometimes called the house of actions. It also pertains to status, recognition, achievement, and rank. The 1st place is also relevant because it pertains to temperament, talents, and self-identification. In addition, the Lights (Sun and Moon), the planets most representative of power, are important.
Three Swift Lords of Action
I break the technique into three steps. My first step is to identify planets with relevance to actions, closely following Paulus. Secondly, I find the strongest planets in the chart. The third step is to delineate the nature of the profession or calling based on the strongest indications from Mars, Venus, and Mercury from the other two steps. This is just to assess the basic nature of the profession or calling.
Mars is indicative of violent, dangerous, or highly competitive callings. Venus is indicative of aesthetic, artistic, or sensual callings. Mercury is indicative of intellectual, analytical, or highly transactional callings. All 7 planets are relevant to this matter but these three are the focus. Rhetorius (Holden, 2009, p. 134-145) does give indications for all of them, but he too stresses the importance of Mars, Venus, and Mercury.
Mars does not just show more physical activities, pertaining to things like athleticism, building trades, mechanical work, or dangerous work, but also tends to show development of competitive skills, such as those involved in leadership.
Venus will show development along aesthetic lines as well as that pertaining to women, attraction, and sexuality, so there is likely to be some sort of artistic discipline.
Mercury will show a developmental stress along intellectual lines. Whether it is in academics, business, or mystical study, there will be intense mental development.
Eminence and Social Mobility
There are other techniques pertaining to eminence or social-mobility. Whether the attempt to develop a skill into a profession is successful will depend to some degree on class and social mobility. The specific form and nature of the profession will also depend in part on class and social mobility.
Many of the typical Mars professions appear to apply to those of lower social standing. Those of higher social stnading are more likely to channel that competitiveness into political strategy (e.g. many popes have Mars connected with profession). Along this vein, Rhetorius does make a statement connecting the signs of Mars with “weapons or fire or iron or iron-working or public affairs” (Holden, 2009, p. 135). Similarly, in the commentary on Paulus by Olympiadorus, he associated Mars with positions of command, especially military ones, like generals and professional soldiers, when it is made more authoritative (Greenbaum, 2001, p. 124). When very malefic, however, Mars can show those who engage in criminal acts for a living.
Jupiter, Saturn, and the Lights
Jupiter will tend to show development of a quest for truth. Law may also be indicated. If Jupiter is prominent then there may be more development along religious lines. In either case, there is a sense of a commitment toward an ideal which is being worked upon.
Saturn is associated with land, farmers, sailors, the soil, natural resources, the dead, misery and poverty, as well as discipline, control, and management. Rhetorius also associated a strong Saturn with public service and management (c.f. Greenbaum, 2001).
In my opinion, both the Sun and Moon in relation to profession show publicity or prominence, as the Lights are associated with power. The Sun is associated with things being more heroic, public, or publicized. The Moon is associated with things being more idiosyncratic, natural, subjective, nurturing, and/or group-oriented (counseling is something I often see strongly connected to the Moon).
Paulus Alexandrinus on Actions
Paulus Alexandrinus (4th century CE) presented the best early explanation for how to find the professional indicator. While Ptolemy’s exposition is earlier (2nd century) and provides many useful pointers, he also did not use houses and his method is not as reliable. Therefore, let’s examine Paulus’ method in some detail.
Mars, Venus, or Mercury in the Effective Places
He advised to look at Mars (Ares), Venus (Aphrodite), and Mercury (Hermes) and to see which of them are in the nine places which are effective (10th, 1st, 7th, 4th, 2nd, 11th, 5th, 8th, or 6th). He also points out which places provide better indication. Paulus appears to view the 10th (status, rank, actions) and 2nd (income, possessions) places as the most authoritative.
These are the places which are useful when these [three] are present: all the pivots, the post-ascensions of these and the sixth from the Hōroskopos, but of course the culminating zōidion being preferred among the pivots, and the second for the Hōroskopos among the post-ascensions. (Alexandrinus, Ch. 26, 2001, Greenbaum trans., p. 57)
The Lot of Fortune and the Lights
If Mars, Venus, and Mercury are not in one of those nine places then Paulus suggests also seeing if one is in the place of the Lot of Fortune. If the three are also not on Fortune then he suggests looking at which are in an applying aspect with the Sun or Moon, as well as if Saturn, Jupiter, or Mars are coming out of the beams while oriental to the Sun or Venus or Mercury are coming out of the beams while occidental to the Sun, within a week of birth.
But if none of the aforesaid stars is set up on one of these places, nor indeed on the Lot of Fortune, it is proper to seek which one of them has been bound under application of the Moon or the Sun, or a morning appearance of Kronos, Zeus, Ares – in regard to this, also an evening rising of Aphrodite, Hermes — if it should happen to be made seven days before or seven days after the birth. (Alexandrinus, Ch. 26, 2001, Greenbaum trans., p. 57)
Distinguishing the Types of Indications
The anonymous authors of the Greek Scholia (as well as that by Olympiodorus) on the chapter by Paulus point out that the planet in the more authoritative of the nine places will show a more authoritative profession, while one in a less authoritative place shows a more common one. Also, that each planet in one of such places indicates a skill, so many such planets show many skills. The more important skill will be indicated by the one in the more authoritative place. The authors of the scholia also give examples of the types of professions indicated by each of the three planets, both with upper and lower class forms.
Ares makes generals in the stronger places, or soldiers or goldsmiths; but in the worse ones butchers or locksmiths. (Alexandrinus, anonymous authors, Scholia for Ch. 26, 2001, Greenbaum trans., p. 58)
However, the point about the quality of the profession being indicated by the authoritative nature of the place may be overstated. As I noted above, I would rely more upon the judgment of eminence or social mobility in the chart to assess the upper or lower class nature of the profession.
Rhetorius on Actions
Rhetorius (7th century CE) provided a lengthy treatment of actions (chapters 82-96 of his compendium), incorporating information from Paulus, Ptolemy, Anubio, and others. He recounted the technique of Paulus, provided some notes from Ptolemy’s technique, gave another technique and some pointers from Anubio, and a thoroughly discussed specific configurations.
The discussion of profession in Rhetorius is placed after that of general good fortune. This implies that a delineation of general good fortune (eminence or social mobility) is important to contextualizing indications regarding profession.
Anubio and the Syzygy
Anubio’s text is poetic verse from the 1st or 2nd century CE and has not yet been translated. Rhetorius is currently a good source for much of Anubio’s commentary on actions. According to Rhetorius, Anubio advised to first delineate health and injury from the chart, as injury can rule out some professions.
Rhetorius also presented a technique from Anubio in which we examine the prenatal syzygy (the new or full moon which preceded the birth, depending on whether the birth followed a new moon or a full moon) to examine to which planet (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, or Mercury) it was applying an aspect. However, I have not had luck with this particular technique and find it much less effective than that of Paulus.
Look to Rulers
Rhetorius suggested that it is important to examine the configurations and domicile ruler of the lords of action. A planet in its own domicile will pertain to professions characteristic of the planet, while one in another planet’s domicile will blend the significations with things associated with its ruler: Jupiter makes for delightful and splendid activities; Saturn makes for difficult or dirty ones; Mars makes for dangerous, hot, or political activities; Venus makes for sensual or artistic activities; Mercury makes for intellectual or commercial activities; the Sun makes for public or hot activities; and the Moon makes for personal or self-taught activities.
And if on the one hand the [star] granting action chances to be in its own domicile, that one grants the characteristic action that it has obtained by its appearance; but if it chances to be in an alien sign, it also takes along the characteristic action of the [star] receiving it. (Rhetorius, Ch. 82, 2009, Holden trans., p. 135)
Look to Aspects
Rhetorius spends a lot of time analyzing planetary aspects to the lords of action. In this he follows Ptolemy relatively closely. The aspects are very important so I advise one to read over Ptolemy’s treatment of actions from Book IV, Ch. 4 of the Tetrabiblos (available free online by clicking the link). Ptolemy treats of aspects as well as combinations of two planets in the same sign as lords of action.
Sign Type and Actions
Rhetorius also follows Ptolemy in advising to look at the sign type for the sign of the lord of actions. For instance, in signs of human form the lord of actions tends to indicate relating to scientific and useful arts, while earth and water signs tend to indicate concerning earthy or watery activities. I find this to be less reliable than the ruler and aspects, but it is worth a mention.
On the other hand, the quadruplicity of a sign can be very important to professional indications. Cardinal signs tend toward swiftness, impact, change, extraversion, and turning points. Fixed signs tend toward the opposite, as in long-term progress, introversion, steadiness, writing instead of speaking, depth, and so forth. Mutable signs tend toward a mix of the two and to duality, interaction, back-and-forth, and mingling.
Steps to Reckoning Actions
Find Planets with Relevance to Actions (in order of importance)
The planet should be in one of the following places (which include all but the 12th, 9th, or 3rd), in the following order of relative importance: 10th (place of actions), the “stakes” of the 10th (1st, 7th, and 4th), the triplicity of the 10th (2nd and 6th), the 11th, the 5th, and the 8th (i.e. succedent places). Look at Mars, Venus, and Mercury and see which are in such places.
If none are in these places then, and only then, see if any are in the sign of the Lot of Fortune.
Among the planets that are in effective places, a planet will be more relevant to the profession if it has some dignity at the 10th place or the Ascendant (especially the 10th). If the planet does not have any dignity at either place, consider it less important. The domicile ruler of either, and/or a planet with some minor rulership in both places (especially if the term ruler of the Ascendant) is preferred.
If none of the potential lords of action have dignity at the 10th place or Ascendant then see which have dignity at the Lot of Fortune.
Phasis and the Lights:
This is reiterated below in relation to strength, but there is a special relevance to actions when a planet is in phasis (particularly, if moving out from the beams rather than in towards them). Also, check if the planet is the ruler of the bound of the sect light (and to a lesser extent the other light).
Orientality/occidentality considerations, particularly relative to the Sun, also often show up in the literature, although I don’t stress them here, as I haven’t yet found them to be consistently strong indicators in this matter.
Find Planets that are Generally Prominent
I have dealt with general prominence in the series of lessons (see the second lesson and the third lesson) so it may be helpful to read those lessons. The three considerations below are the most important in terms of assessing general prominence and strength.
Look at the Ascendant, Descendant, MC, and IC. If a planet is more than 1/3 of the distance from one to the next it is “advancing” and strengthened. The closer the planet is to the angle (Asc, MC, Dsc, or IC), the more it is as if the volume is turned up on the planet. By contrast, when a planet passes the angle it is as if the volume quickly turns down on the planet. A planet that is approaching the angle within about 15 degrees should be considered “strongly advancing”. If a planet is conjunct an angle within about 5 degrees (even if separating, I use about 10 degrees for considering a Light to be conjunct an angle) then that is also extremely strong. Remember that the planets move clockwise in this regard, rising in the east and setting in the west.
Relationships to Lights:
The following relationships to the Sun or Moon will make the planet more relevant to profession: the planet the Moon is separating from or applying to, a planet in phasis, and to a much lesser extent a planet regarded by a Light (more so by trine or sextile, and/or if from the sect light, and/or if closer to exact). There are other relationships to the lights that are sometimes looked at but I think these are most important. It is rare, but if a planet is cazimi the Sun it may be extremely strengthened. By contrast, a planet within 8 degrees of the Sun at birth, which is not in phasis, is likely to be quite weakened.
Look 7 days before the birth and 7 days after to check for planetary stations. This is very important. A planet stationing direct within about 7 days of the birth will be extremely strengthened. The closer the station is to the time of birth, the more powerful. By contrast, a planet that is stationing retrograde is quite weakened, particularly if the station occurs closer to the birth.
Put it Together
It is most important to know which planets are relevant to actions and to what degree. Of the planets in the proper places, which have important dignities at the 10th place and to a lesser extent at the Ascendant. Also, are any in phasis or some other strong relationship to the lights.
There will typically be one planet that is much more relevant to actions than others. You will want to explore that planet in more depth in terms of its natural significations, configurations, rulers, and so forth to get a better sense of what it signifies for actions. All planets with relevance to actions, especially if they also have dignity at the Ascendant will pertain to some type of skill development.
Prominent planets will influence many areas of life. They will often impact the profession and actions. As there is overlap between general prominence and relevance to actions, prominent planets will also often be lords of actions. Quickly spotting the prominent planets will reveal strong influences in the life overall and they will be influential upon actions. When there are multiple planets equally relevant to actions, then the more prominent one will typically take the lead in characterizing the type of profession.
Note on Special Configurations
While variations on this technique are common in Hellenistic and Persian astrology, there were also a large number of special, career configurations. Maternus, Rhetorius, and many other authors give indications specific to many professions, that are aside from this method. Use this technique to focus your exploration of more specific configurations. Research into the configurations noted in Maternus and Rhetorius will help with fine-tuning.
Where to Go From Here
The rest of this series is devoted to applying the technique to chart examples. I’ll consistently stick to the rules set out here as I analyze charts. Consistency is the key. If the technique doesn’t consistently work on celebrity charts for whom the profession is already known then we cannot hope to delineate the chart of a stranger.
Note: this article was thoroughly updated and revised in April of 2018. Among the changes, there is now a detailed exploration of the technique of Paulus Alexandrinus.