Traditional Astrology of Death | A History of Length of Life Special Techniques
Now I will explain to you the length of life and the number of years as I attempt [to compute it], because sometimes you will want to consider it in a horoscopic diagram as I will show you. […] I wanted to know the places of the haylaj among which he was born because they are five places, and none of the planets was in them except in the ascendent in which the Sun was; and it is the best of the places.
But I calculated for this nativity from the degrees of the ascendent[…]
(Dorotheus, Book III, Ch. 1, Pingree trans., 2005, p. 237-238)
I’ve written many articles dealing with death and timing techniques. It’s time I should say a little about the old hyleg/alcocoden technique for longevity. I am a critic of the late Medieval form of the technique (e.g. Bonatti’s approach). However, there are some interesting things to try when we dig back to its Hellenistic antecedents. Here, I critique the late Medieval approach and discuss in some detail the traditional length of life techniques.
The hyleg-alcocoden approach to the length of life was controversially popularized by Rob Zoller a couple decades ago. Zoller sold some publications on it that included heavily obfuscated translations of Bonatti’s approach. Notably, even promoters of this technique have a hard time finding a few good celebrity examples in which it predicts death (or even a major health crisis).
I remember that in Zoller’s own writings, he quickly came to the conclusion that it didn’t necessarily predict death but may predict critical periods. For instance, it predicted a very short life for him and he did indeed have a health crisis as a child. Though when it came to examples, he was forced to make spurious alterations to the technique in order to force it to work. For one example, who lived half as long as indicated, he suggested a new possible critical period – the midpoint of the indication.
In Broad Strokes
The technique has three main parts, which reflect the three fates of Greek mythology. One planet, like the fate Clotho, is a life giver. A second planet, like the fate Lachesis, allots the length of the life. A third planet, like the fate Atropos, determines the actual moment of death.
First, we find a planet that signifies the life or vitality of the native, called the hyleg, hilaj, apheta, control, governor of life, or releaser. This planet is also used as the lord of the geniture or of the soul by some astrologers.
Secondly, we find a planet that rules the hyleg, called the alcocoden, kadhkhudah, houseruler, or governor. This planet indicates the rough length of life by a calculation involving planetary years. In the late literature it is taken to be a minimum length while in the earlier literature it is taken to be a maximum length.
Finally, death is indicated by the direction of a malefic point to the significator of the vitality, after the life span indicated. This malefic point is called the anaretic planet or point.
Roots of the Medieval Technique
There are intimations of the technique in early Hellenistic astrology. See Dorotheus (Book III, Ch. 2; note that Ch. 1 is a likely interpolation), Valens (Book III), Ptolemy (Book III, Ch. 10), and Hephaistio (Book II, Ch. 26). These techniques involve a life significator and primary directions. However, the ruler of the life significator tends to play a less pronounced role (Valens) or to be entirely absent (Ptolemy).
The technique changed its flavor quite sharply in the Middle Ages. The Medieval approach owes a particular debt to Paulus Alexandrinus (Ch. 36; c.f. Ch. 34). Paulus combined the common approach to finding the apheta (Dorotheus; Ptolemy; Valens) with the use of planetary years of a chart lord (see Maternus Book II, Ch. 26 and Book IV, Ch. 6). Valens had circumstances when he considered the planetary years of the bound lord of the hyleg, but it is Paulus who looked at multiple rulers and of the hyleg to find a most suitable one. The technique was also transformed by the medieval introduction of numerical weighted dignity.
Problems with the Hyleg-Alcocoden Appraoch
I dislike the later medieval approach, particularly that popularized by Zoller. There are three main issues I have with the approach. First, by the time of Bonatti, the approach is murkier than that of Perso-Arabic astrologers upon which it is based, and quite distant from the even earlier Hellenistic special techniques. Second, the use of planetary years in the technique tends toward poor results. Third, rarely does death coincide with a major traditional aspectual primary direction.
A History Lost in the Haze
The Medieval form of the technique by Bonatt is typically presented as the authoritative version. However, it is a murkier version of the technique explicated about 400 years before then by ‘Umar al-Tabari. Bonatti is sometimes at odds with his Perso-Arabic sources, and not in a beneficial way.
When we dig back to the Hellenistic roots of the technique we find additional differences. The general principles are different in the foundational sources and there is quite a bit more variation from one author to the next. Unfortunately, too few astrologers probe back to the sources to realize that the technique has been degraded. Only when we dig back to those older sources do we find that things are not so monolithic. There is a more diverse chorus of voices, with multiple approaches to compare, contrast, and critically test.
Bonatti’s technique also gets reinterpreted for modern audiences in ways that speak to dogmatically clinging to it. From indicating death or maximum life span it comes instead to indicate health crises and even a dangerous midpoint. When a health crisis doesn’t occur then some creative math is used. Therefore, the technique is not only dogmatically held to in Bonatti’s idiosyncratic form but we become apologists for its lack of accuracy by inventing increasing far-flung theories of what it indicates.
Planetary Years Not Adding Up
The alcocoden’s indications by planetary years simply do not consistently indicate the minimum life span of a given individual. Actually, they are typically very far from it if the technique is applied in any systematic fashion. For this reason, the Medieval technique is a misleading distraction. Astrologers play games with math, changing up the methodology on each chart to try to make it work (still often unsuccessful).
Valens is apparently the first astrologer to have used the planetary years of a ruler (governor) of the life significator as a possible indication. However, he himself used it as one possible indicator of the maximum lifespan. In other words, Valens did not consider it a minimum lifespan, after which a malefic direction could kill. He considered it a maximum lifespan, which could be cut short by a malefic direction to the control. This is a very significant distinction.
Valens also provided rules as to when this governor should be used. Actually, for Valens there are times when the ruler simply does not exist. Additionally, he took only the bound lord of the control as a possible governor. He also only used its greater years (or some portion thereof; at least in the context of this particular technique). Valens instructed as to when the life can be judged to be much shorter than that indicated by the planetary years. If no factor cuts the life short then one dies according to the indication of maximum lifespan without the need for any specific primary direction.
The late medieval technique lacks all of these features of Valens’s technique! Any ruler of the hyleg can be alcocoden. There must be an alcocoden. The alcocoden indicates minimum rather than maximum lifespan. Finally, one must die according to a malefic direction rather than just due to reaching some indicated maximum lifespan.
Due to the numerous variables, many astrologers simply manipulate the late medieval technique to assign years to match the situation. They assign them in a different manner depending on what chart they are using to match the facts in hindsight. For more on this, one may see the comments section of the article on the death of Whitney Houston. There was a discussion of the technique relative to her chart.
Perhaps if we are to consider the planetary years technique then we should use it in one of the ways suggested by Valens, Maternus, or Paulus. There is no reason to prefer the technique of later medieval astrologers. They merely provided less compelling variations on the Paulus technique hundreds of years later.
Primary Directing on a Prayer
Traditional primary directions to the hyleg do not consistently indicate the time of death. The medieval form of the technique with a stress on aspectual primary directions is another misleading distraction in this sense. It perpetuates a myth about the necessity of an aspectual primary direction to the hyleg.
Valens (in the 2nd century!) explicitly noted that many die without such an aspectual malefic direction. For him, this can happen when the ruler/governor is very well-placed or there is no governor. Also, if there are no malefic primary directions without the intervention of a benefic prior to the maximum lifespan indicated.
Primary Direction Mania
As the Middle Ages progressed into the Renaissance, the belief that an exact primary direction to the hyleg would always signify death became more entrenched. This lead to the proliferation of novel approaches to primary directions. As I discuss in the article on primary directions, symbolic directions by ascensions and Ptolemaic directions dominate the first 1,500 years of traditional astrology. It isn’t until after that point that directions become increasingly complex and varied.
In Hellenistic astrology, we find a great stress placed on directions involving the Ascendant, and on the Ascendant’s direction through the bounds (distributions). In Ptolemy (Book IV, Ch. 10) and Dorotheus it is often these that are most significant for timing bodily injury. It is my experience that primary directions are often significant for the timing of death. However, this indication can come by the activation of a significant malefic in the chart as distributor of the Ascendant (or hyleg).
The belief that there must be an aspectual direction from an anaeretic point can distract from accurately reading threat in timing techniques. I believe I’ve already provided some examples of this in some of the prior articles in this series. If the hyleg is typically the Sect Light, and directions of the Ascendant are often significant to health, then we may question the value of even finding the hyleg. We may cover more ground simply by paying attention to the directions of the Ascendant and Sect Light.
A History of Hellenistic Length of Life Techniques
Now let’s turn to the history of length of life techniques, starting with those found in the Hellenistic period. I focus on techniques that involve a hyleg or control of some sort and are antecedents of the later hyleg/alcocoden approach. The techniques differs significantly from author to author in the Hellenistic period. Valens alone presents more than 3 different distinct approaches to the subject and commentary on the diversity of opinion. Before getting into the details of the techniques, I’d like to provide a quick overview.
One of the earliest surviving accounts is in Dorotheus (1st century CE). However, that particular book of Carmen Astrologicum is the most corrupt book of the five; one of the two chapters is likely to be an addition. Our best indications of the original Dorothean text come to us from Hephaistio’s summary in Book II, Ch. 26 of Apotelesmatics. Chapter 2 of Book III of Carmen is most likely representative of the original Dorothean technique.
Another, possibly earlier, instance of the use of length of life technique from the 1st century CE is found in fragments attributed to the Roman court astrologer Balbillus. However, the account is incomplete and with many uncertainties so I won’t consider it further here. For more on the fragment of Balbillus concerning length of life, see the article by Martin Gansten by clicking this link).
Manetho, or more accurately Pseudo-Manetho, wrote an astrological text in verse in the early 2nd century CE. At the end of Book III Manetho offers his technique for the length of life. His treatment is rather brief and overlaps with other early treatments. For these reasons I don’t consider it as one of the three main early approaches (Dorotheus, Ptolemy, and Valens). However, it confirms a stress on finding a control and directing that by ascensions to a malefic aspect or its own square.
Ptolemy and Valens
Both Ptolemy and Valens also gave their versions of the technique in the 2nd century CE. All three Hellenistic authors vary in significant ways from each other. However, all stress some type of timing through primary directions, a key planet as indicator (apheta or control), and little or no use of another planet that rules the apheta (governor).
The two major early approaches of Dorotheus and Ptolemy, lacked any use of planetary years. Valens sometimes used planetary years as one component. However, Valens used them in a very different manner than later astrologers like Firmicus Maternus, Paulus Alexandrinus, and those of the late medieval period.
Manilius wrote the oldest complete surviving astrological text, the Astronomica (early 1st century CE). In Book III, he discussed some means of assessing length of life by assigning years to signs. His values relate roughly to the ascensional times of the signs, with Virgo and Libra assigned values roughly twice that of Pisces and Aries. However, he didn’t provide directions on how to use them.
He also assigned length of life based on the whole sign house that the Moon is in at birth. The most advantageous places assign very long lives and the so-called bad or dark places assign very short ones. For example, 78 years in 1st house and 77 years in the 10th house; 12 years in the 6th house, 23 years in the 12th house, and 33 years in the 8th house.
Perhaps the value of the sign the Moon is placed in is to be added to the value of the house, as the years assigned to the individual signs are much less (about 10-20 years). Unfortunately, Manilius didn’t explain the use of the sign values. He also didn’t use primary directions. As his approach is at a variance from the typical Hellenistic approach, I won’t be exploring it further.
Maternus (early 4th century CE) did not use a control or primary directions. Instead he based his indications on the planetary years of a chart ruler. His preferred chart ruler was the planet that rules the sign following that containing the Moon. He took this planet to be the ruler of the life in general, and a primary indicator for character. The technique of Maternus is also at a variance from the other Hellenistic approaches, but his use of planetary years foreshadows the approach of Paulus Alexandrinus.
Paulus (also 4th century) synthesized the approach of finding a control with something like Maternus’s planetary years technique for one of the control’s rulers. This approach formed the basis of the later medieval technique.
Early Hellenistic Techniques
Now let’s look at the details of the early Hellenistic length-of-life techniques.
Dorotheus appears to differ a bit in terms of manner of discovery of the control and governor between the two chapters of Book III. This is presumably due to the later insertion of Chapter 1. This particular book of Dorotheus has significant evidence of corruption. Our translation is an English translation of a medieval Arabic translation of an early medieval Pahlavi translation of a 1st century Hellenistic text written in verse. Both example charts in Book III have been dated to later centuries (4th century for the chart in Ch. 1; 3rd century for that in Ch. 2).
Two Chapters – Conflicting Approaches
Chapter 1 of Book III of Dorotheus appears to be almost wholly a medieval insertion. In that chapter, the control is referred to as the governor of the nativity and the releaser. The governor is referred to as the governor of the releaser. An example chart is given (from 4th century CE) in which the Sun is control but the directions are taken from the Ascendant (see opening quote of this article). Therefore, somewhat strangely, the Sun is releaser but the releasing is from the Ascendant in this chapter.
Chapter 2 is subject to minor corruptions, but most of the passage on finding the control and governor is Hellenistic. It is consistent with the summary by the Hellenistic astrologer Hephaistion who was working from the Greek. In this chapter, the control is the indicator of length of life and is the releaser, while the governor is the house-master. The governor does not appear to serve any purpose other than helping to indicate the control: a potential control must have a governor to be selected.
Dorotheus looks to the control as being the most significant planet in terms of signifying health and life in general. In his timing technique, the planets that become its time lord (distributors) show significant events and developments in the general course of life.
In Ch. 2, Dorotheus does not use the governor at all to indicate the length of life. As noted, it is just used to verify the control. In fact, the length is indicated from primary directions to the control (e.g. Ascendant). However, he puts particular stress on the lord of the directions through the bounds (i.e. the distributor/jarbakhtar) in delineating ups and downs in health. The time of death is indicated by a malefic direction. In this case, when Saturn’s aspect directs to the Ascendant (control; see block quote below).
Additional Chapter 1 Instructions
Chapter 1 appears to be a later addition, but some Medieval astrologers comment upon its instructions. One of the more important instructions in Chapter 1 is that the Sun is not to be taken in the 7th or 8th place unless it is in a masculine sign. This is because the 7th (above the horizon) and 8th places are in the feminine quadrant. Unless the Sun is in a masculine sign it is viewed as double feminizing to the Sun which is corrupting.
There are some additional idiosyncratic rules for finding the governor at the beginning of Chapter 1 as well. It appears here that a superior planet (Saturn, Jupiter, or Mars) can be taken as governor if it is oriental the Sun or in a station. Additionally, the bound ruler of the Moon on the 3rd day after birth can be governor under certain conditions. However, the emphasis in many of the Chapter 1 passages is on the bound lord of the Sun or Moon.
Chapter 1 also advises to look at the directions of the Moon in addition to those of the control, as well as to examine solar returns and transits. There is also the advice to consider a direction more effective if both planets are of similar latitude (north or south).
Finding the Control
I will just provide the procedure from Ch. 2. Dorotheus would prefer to take the Sect Light (Sun by day, Moon by night). If the Sect Light is not in an authoritative place (more on this below) or not aspected by one of its rulers (bound, house, exaltation, or triplicity), then we look to alternative possible controls. These alternatives are the other Light, the Lot of Fortune, the prenatal lunation, and the Ascendant, in that order of preference (per Dorotheus’s example and Hephaistio’s summary).
There is no evidence that Dorotheus used any sort of quadrant division for his length-of-life technique. The places noted here are whole sign places. The most authoritative places are the 1st, 10th, and 11th, while its seems that the disqualifying places are the cadent ones (3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th). As long as the Sect Light is not cadent, I believe it should be examined first to see if a ruler aspects. Then if none of its rulers aspect, we move on to the remaining candidates.
Note on Governor
In the Dorothean technique the governor plays only a minor role. The governor is the ruler of the control which aspects it (whole sign aspect or co-present in the same sign). This can be the bound, house, exaltation, or triplicity ruler. If multiple rulers aspect then we prefer the first in that order which aspects: bound, house, exaltation, triplicity.
Note on Decan
In al-Tabari’s translation of Dorotheus the ruler of the decan of the hyleg is also considered. However, this appears to be a later addition. Hephaistion’s summary of Dorotheus does not include the decan ruler as a possible governor. Other Hellenistic authors also do not appear to use the decan ruler as a possible governor.
Mars is the governor in the example, but Mars does not indicate the length of life. Mars rules the bound of the Ascendant and aspects the Ascendant. The interest in Mars for Dorotheus doesn’t pertain to it being governor, but to it being a malefic.
Dorotheus suggests that death happens when either the bound lord of the directed control (distributor of Ascendant) is malefic, or a malefic makes an exact aspect to a degree inside that bound, without benefic intervention. A benefic can intervene by making an exact aspect to a degree inside that bound. Note that Dorotheus directs by ascensional times rather than true primary directions.
Example from Ch. 2
There was nothing obvious from which the haylaj might be found except the ascendent. The lord of the term of the ascendent, Mars, was above the earth and near the East and the four parts which have been mentioned and [in] the place of good fortune aspecting the ascendent and casting [its] rays to that term in which the ascendent is, from above it […]
[…] Because Saturn is in the twelfth degree, it indicates the last day of his life, and he will live after the twelfth degree forty-eight nights because Saturn is in the beginning of the degree [at 12; 8°].
(Dorotheus, Book III, Ch. 2, Pingree trans., 2005, p. 243-244)
In the example from Chapter II the death is shown by an aspectual direction. However, Dorotheus made it clear that death can also come about by a malefic distributor (bound lord) if no benefic casts a ray into that same bound.
For an example, see my analysis of Whitney Houston’s death with primary directions. The Ascendant is hyleg according to the rules given by Dorotheus. She died while the directed Ascendant was in the Saturn bound of Taurus, which spans from 22 Taurus to 27 Taurus. There are no planets at all in her chart from 22-27 of any sign in aspect to Taurus, so no planet casts its ray into the bound. This means that Saturn took over the prorogation (i.e. was the distributor), without the influence of a benefic. This is an indication of serious threat. Interestingly, Saturn as a health threat is also indicated natally, and reflected in a number of predictive techniques at the time.
Note on Symbolism of Threat to the Control
Note that her death was by accidental drug overdose rather than natural causes. This isn’t a simple matter of an indicated “health crisis”. This is an indication of death or at least a threat to her life. This clarifies that the control is a symbol of life itself, not just ebbs and flows in the strength of one’s vitality or health.
Dorotheus did not take the governor to signify the length of life. He looked at directions to the control, both in terms of bounds and aspectually, as indicating the time of death. Therefore, in the Dorothean technique the control describes the life force, and the governor merely aids in its identification. Timing is done by directions to the control, both by bounds and aspectually. Dorotheus used ascensional times for his directions. I’ve had some good results with true primary directions involving the control.
Manetho’s technique is probably most similar to that of Ptolemy, addressed below, and predates it. However, Manetho directed by ascensional times. Still, Manetho took the Sun, Moon, a chart lord, or the Ascendant as control. He directed it to a malefic. Like Valens, he considered the square of the control to be a type of limit. As his treatment is rather brief and the text is relatively hard to obtain, I’ll quote the relevant sections here.
Finding the Control
“For whomever being born in daytime the Sun is seen entering a cardine, from the degree of that (Sun) (it is necessary) to begin counting the time of life; and in a nocturnal nativity from the degree of the Moon. When (the luminaries) are cadent outside cardines or proceed in the headlong course in the degrees of the lower hemisphere, then begin with that star which rules the geniture, since it has great power; but if you should see it being cadent from a cardine, then consider that the prorogation of the years (begins) from the ascendant.” (Manetho, Book III, #406-415, Lopilato trans., 1998, p. 237)
Ruler of the Geniture
Manetho mentions the ruler of the birth (geniture) as a possible control if the Sun and Moon are not eligible. Ptolemy does something similar where he considers a planet he calls the ruler of the proper sect. But what is this lord of the birth for Manetho? Here Manetho appears to be referring to the lord of the Ascendant. This is because Manetho gives no special technique for a birth ruler. In typical early astrological parlance the ruler of the birth is the ruler of the Ascendant.
Directing the Control
“And when, seeking, you find the beginning of life, consider the rising times of the signs, with how many it rises from the farthest region, and distribute (years) in accordance with its degrees; for you should consider the greatest number of degrees (to be the number of years) of wretched life with which Fate has shackled mortals. In the intervening degrees through which the life of men is distributed, consider carefully, lest a ray, either quartile or oppositional of destructive Saturn or Mars or they themselves, coming to meet it, destroy the life. Those born at night the all-shining Sun also frequently deprives of breath by its rays. A quartile side bounds every prorogation. For this is pleasing to the Fates as the longest end of mortals.” (Manetho, Book III, #416-428, Lopilato trans., 1998, p. 237)
Valens presents his own methods for finding the hyleg (“the control” or “apheta” or “predominator”) and the alcocoden (“the houseruler” or simply “ruler”). His approach is somewhat consistent with that of Dorotheus. However, Valens puts particular stress on the bound lord as being the only lord eligible under this method. There simply is no governor if the bound lord doesn’t qualify.
A Cornucopia of Length of Life Techniques
The Valens material on length of life is the most complex out of all of the Hellenistic treatments. He actually presents multiple techniques in Book III of his Anthology. There are also many more techniques in various books of that work. These often involve various combinations of ascensional times with planetary years. I will be touching on a couple of the techniques only briefly here, as they relate to the hyleg/alcocoden type of approach.
Obtaining Book III
I advise careful study of Book III of The Anthology (as well as the other books) for more information. The best translation of Book III (with tail end of Book II) was available for purchase from Project Hindsight in ebook form for $30. The footnotes in that translation are very helpful for understanding the material. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell her Anthony from Seven Stars sent you. There is also a complete English translation of the entire Anthology which is available free online at this link.
Finding the Control
Valens prefers the Sun by day and Moon by night as control, but it must be well-placed. So if the Sun by day is not well-placed, then check the Moon, and vice-versa. Not well-placed means being in a cadent place (even the 9th) or in fall. Valens seems to have used whole sign places for this consideration but there is some ambiguity as he talks about operative degrees and introduces a quadrant division for finding them at one point. Still, whole sign houses appear to have been primarily used for the control determination. We know this because Valens considers the Sun as Sect Light in the 1st to be ideal, despite the fact that it would be cadent by quadrant division.
Exceptions and Alternatives
An exception to the cadency rule is given when the Moon is in IX and Sun is in V. In that case the one that next aspects the Ascendant is preferred. Also, a Sun or Moon in fall, or Moon under the beams, is not to be taken as control unless it is on the Ascendant by degree.
If neither the Sun nor Moon are eligible (i.e. both cadent; or in fall) then Valens takes the Ascendant or MC. His rules imply that we want the Ascendant unless the Lights aspect the 10th but not the 1st (for instance, Sun and Moon in XII), then take the MC. Strangely though, Valens gives the control to the MC if both Lights are in III.
If both Lights are together (i.e. near a New Moon) in a stake (I, IV, VII, or X) then the degree of their conjunction is the control.
If the Moon is on the Ascendant and will become full within a day but outside of the bound of the Ascendant, then the lifespan is marked by the distance from it to the degree of the Full Moon that day. A malefic aspecting the degree or opposing the rising sign confirms death in this case. A benefic regard can be protective, such that there is just injury or suffering.
What is the Control?
As with Dorotheus, Valens takes the control as the main indicator for the life. Ascensional times to its square (or sometimes from one angle to another) indicate maximum lifespan. Malefic directions to it that lack influence from a benefic indicate a life cut short before its time.
Control and Life Circumstances
Note that in his Book VI (Ch. 5K/6P), Valens refers back to the rules for finding the control when he explains a time lord technique involving decades of life (today called decennials). The implication is if a luminary is the control then we want to start with that planet as the first time lord for decennials. If a luminary is not the control, then one starts with the first planet after the Ascendant in zodiacal order.
This use of the control as kicking off a time lord technique showing general life circumstances is similar to the use of the control by Dorotheus. Dorotheus used the control in the context of distributions through the bounds to show general life circumstance. Additionally, the approach to finding the lord of the chart as found in Porphyry is very similar to Valen’s approach to finding the control. The implication is that the control is a planet or point with the greatest power to influence life circumstances. Its significance extends well beyond the context of finding the length of the life.
The governor (“houseruler”) is the bound ruler of the control. Valens also instructs at multiple points that if the Sun and Moon have the same bound lord then that planet should be taken as the governor. My impression is that such a bound ruler of both Lights should be taken even if it doesn’t aspect the control (or either Light).
The determination of the control is said to be certain if its bound lord is regarded by the Sun or Moon and it is at an angle or in operative degrees (i.e. not retreating in the quadrant sense). Presumably, this means the bound lord should regard the control and itself be angular or at least not retreating. Valens in fact adds that there is no houseruler if it is turned away. In this context I think that turned away means doesn’t aspect the control, but “turned away” can also mean retreating (inoperative degrees).
We are also not to accept a houseruler in VII (setting) or if the Sun’s or Moon’s (control’s?) domicile ruler also rules the bound of the houseruler and vice-versa (i.e. they are exchanging bounds).
Years of the Governor
Valens used the greater years of the governor as a possible indicator of maximum lifespan. However, there are other competing indicators of maximum lifespan, namely the point square to the control (following it in zodiacal order).
Greater Years of the Planets
The greater years of the planets are as follows:
Saturn – 57
Jupiter – 79
Mars – 66
Sun – 120
Venus – 82 (84 per Valens)
Mercury – 76
Moon – 108
When the Governor’s Years Matter
There are circumstances when the governor’s indication is to be preferred to the indication by the ascensional times of the square of the control. First, there must be a governor. Next, one prefers the governor if its greater years indicate a shorter life than that indicated by the square of the control. Valens only uses the greater years of the governor in this context. He also subtracts from that indication if the governor is badly placed (such as in the 12th). To subtract he uses a portion of the greater years based on the amount of separation of the planet from an angle (see Valens for details).
Quadrant Divisions of Orion
Medieval astrologers, like Umar al-Tabari, used quadrant house angularity to determine if an alcocoden gave its greater, middle, or lesser planetary years. This is sometimes thought to originate with Valens’s own quadrant divisions explained in Book III, Ch. 3. Valens advised to set up porphyry-style houses (i.e. tri-sect each angle zodiacally) to determine which planets were more powerful than others in the chart. He noted that this technique came from an astrologer named Orion.
He considered the first 1/3 after the angle to be the operative degrees, the next 1/3 to be middling, and the last (“turned away”) to be inoperative. This chapter is in the context of his control/governor discussion. However, it does not reference planetary years at all. Instead, he introduced this manner of division just after referring to operative degrees. Presumably this is to clarify what the operative degrees are.
The passage (below) appears to be about finding a suitably strong planet as houseruler/governor.
“It is necessary to consider the control to be certain if the sun or the moon is in aspect with the ruler of the terms, and if it is at an angle or in operative degrees. If it is found to be turned away, the nativity is judged to lack a houseruler.” (Valens, Book III, Ch. 1, Riley trans., 2010, p. 58-59)
It is important to know whether the governor is strong. Valens instructed that a favorable governor can prevent the shortening of the lifespan from the rays of the malefics.
Quadrant Division for the Control
There is the possibility that the operative degrees could also be used for the finding a suitable control. However, as far as indicating the houses to use for the procedure, it is unlikely. This bit about the houses for finding the control is not clear, but there is an implication that the Sun by day in the 1st house is ideal. Such a Sun would be in inoperative degrees. However, some other Hellenistic astrologers (particularly Ptolemy) did resort to a quadrant division in determination of the appropriate control. It also makes good sense that the most influential planet over general life circumstances should be one that is powerful by this method of division.
Valens advocated taking the distance in terms of ascensional times from the control to the point square to it. To do this add 90 degrees to its zodiacal position and then convert that to ascensional times. However, if the control is itself an angle (Asc or MC), then he advised taking ascensions from the angle to the next angle instead (e.g. Asc to IC).
Note that in an example given by Valens, he took the distance from the control to the following angle rather than to its square. MC was at 3 Libra, Moon as control at 7 Libra, Asc at 17 Sagittarius – he takes 8 Libra to 17 Sagittarius (not to 8 Capricorn).
The sector of the square or the quadrant is the vital sector and its number of years (by ascensional times) is considered the maximum length of life. The native will live that long, provided that there is no governor indicating fewer years, and that no malefic direction cuts things shorter. When there is a malefic direction, then Valens identifies the vital sector as the distance (in ascensions) from the control to that malefic ray.
Before One’s Time
Valens noted that certain aspects to a point in the vital sector or to the hyleg can cut the life short. These are aspects from Saturn, Mars, the Sun, and in certain circumstances the Moon (coming to a phase). The aspect must be within 3 degrees on either side of the degree containing the hyleg itself; a 7 degree span. Such malefic aspects bring a death prior to the lesser of the indications by vital sector and by the governor’s years. Malefics that are in angular places, in operative degrees, or projecting rays in front of the control into its sign are more capable of harm than those that aren’t.
Valens also noted the importance of the bounds of the malefics. He also noted aphetic bounds, which are presumably the bounds where other possible aphetas fall (Sun, Moon, angles). These bounds are called the anaeretic places in each sign. This may imply use of distributors/jarbakhtars as in Dorotheus, but he never puts such into practice in his examples. The technique is very complex, so see Book III of the Anthology for more details.
Planetary Years in Valens
Valens used planetary years more than any other astrologer in predictive techniques. Yet the planetary years of the governor indicate only one possible “maximum lifespan” for him. This only comes into play under specific circumstances and always involves the greater years of the bound lord of the control. This contrasts strongly with a view in which the years of the governor are taken as a “minimum lifespan” after which the native becomes more vulnerable to threats from malefic directions.
Valens provided some explicit examples. In the below passages “aphetic place” refers to the control. The technique involves allotting vital sector in ascensional years. If a malefic intervenes without some sort of amelioration by a benefic, then you deduct the portion of the arc following the malefic’s aspect degree. In other words, in that case the length of life is the arc in ascensions from control to malefic aspect.
Badly Placed Alcocoden
In the example below, he suggests deducting a portion of the greater years of the governor based on its separation from an angle if it is badly placed. See the Project Hindsight translation of this book for more details on how that is done.
“If the sun or moon are in the aphetic place, then it will be necessary to figure the total rising times (in the klima of the nativity) from the position of the apheta to the point square with it. Having found the total time, you can forecast that the native will live as many years. This forecast will be accurate if the houseruler is in its own terms or is configured appropriately, has contact or is in aspect with the apheta, and if no anaereta applies its rays and deducts from the number of years. If the houseruler is not in aspect with the controller, but is otherwise found to be favorably configured (i.e. in the Ascendant, at MC while rising), it will allot the full span of years. If it is <not at> one of the other angles, it will deduct a portion of the arc proportional to its relationship <with the rest of the horoscope>, but will allot the remainder <as the length of life>.” (Valens, Book III, Ch. 1, Riley trans., 2010, p. 59)
The technique of using the square of the hyleg, or going from one angle to the next, becomes clearer in the many examples that Valens provided. As noted, he goes from one angle to the next if the hyleg is an angle.
“An example: let a nativity in the second klima have Gemini 8º as the Ascendant, Aquarius 22º as MC. Even though the vital sector starts at the Ascendant, its ending point is by no means at the point square with it, Virgo 8º, but at IC, Leo 22º. I can forecast this total of years, unless some anaereta casts its rays. If an anaereta is in Gemini 20º, or in any degree of Cancer, or projects its rays to such a point, the native will live as many years as the number of degrees <=rising times> from the aphetic point to the anaeretic point.” (Valens, Book III, Ch. 1, Riley trans., 2010, p. 60)
Additionally, Valens presented many more methods for finding critical threats to life. One involves a “vital sector” based on a type of lot. The hylegical lot is the distance from the New Moon closest to birth (either before or after) to the Moon’s position at birth, projected from the Ascendant (see Book III, Ch. 7).
“There is another numerical method, which King Petosiris has mystically explained, suitable for determining the length of life and the propitious and impropitious times. As a result, whenever we find the controller or the houseruler <configured> appropriately, we will use the method described above for the allotment. If we do not find them to be such, we will use the following method.” (Valens, Book III, Ch. 10K;7P, Riley trans., 2010, p. 64)
The Medieval “pars hyleg” (prenatal syzygy to natal Moon, projected from Ascendant) appears to be a corruption of this lot. It is a corruption because Valens instructed that the lot is from the nearest New Moon rather than from the prenatal syzygy. In other words, Valens wants us to start from the postnatal New Moon if the birth is after the Full Moon.
The corruption is easy to understand. Confusingly, Valens advised to take the lot from birth Moon to postnatal New Moon if birth is preventional, but then to project it in the opposite direction from the Ascendant toward MC (rather than toward IC). This is exactly the same as a lot taken from the postnatal New Moon to the Moon, projected in the usual manner.
Use of the Hylegical Lot
This lot is used as an exact stand-in for the control. We look to the square from it as a maximum life span (by ascensional times). Compare that with the indication from its bound lord if its properly situated. We then take into account any possible malefic directions (by ascensional times) in which the malefic is strong enough to kill and there is not intervention from a benefic. Again, we take the shorter indication of length of life among the three. What is common among most of the longevity techniques of Valens is that there is some sort of “vital sector” of the chart which indicates lifespan by ascensional times.
Mean and Minimum Years
When assigning years for the governor using the hylegical lot, Valens at one point uses mean and minimum years. This may be the antecedent to the use of mean and lesser years of the alcocoden in the later approach. However, Valens gives mean or lesser years due to certain incongruities between the governor and other planets.
Valens wants the governor to be favorably configured with respect to the Light that rules the the sect of the sign of the lot (diurnal/masculine or nocturnal/feminine). If it is so configured then it gives the greater years of the governor. However, if the governor opposes that Light or is in XII or in ecliptic places (with the nodes of the Moon presumably) then it allots the lesser years of the planets (which I’ve given in my article on planetary years).
Valens also wants the governor to be configured favorably with the control and its domicile ruler. If the governor itself is strong in its own sign or operative signs, then it indicates maximum. However, if not then we want it at least favorably configured with the control and the control’s domicile ruler. If it is favorably configured with one but not the other then it is said to allot the mean years (greater years + lesser years / 2). If it is not configured with either then there is no governor.
Valens provides a number of additional techniques in Book III including for instance one involving the nodes and one involving the Lot of Fortune.
For the Lot of Fortune technique, he adds the ascensional times of Fortune’s sign to the minor years of its ruler. He sometimes also adds the minor years of the ruler of the ruler. The sum indicates lifespan. Valens sometimes adds both the minor years and the same number of months of the ruler, and sometimes just the months of the ruler or ruler’s ruler. The logic is that the ascensional time of Fortune itself is not added if it is not well-placed (e.g. cadent), and that a planet very strongly placed (e.g. in its domicile and in a good place) will add both years and months. There are similar techniques at the end of Chapter III and in other books of the Anthology.
The great diversity of techniques in Valens reflects the great diversity of his early sources. It is in stark contrast to the homogenization of the length of life approach in the Medieval period. The Valens material provides many interesting avenues for further research.
In summary, Valens provided a plethora of techniques for determining the length of life. Many of the techniques can be found in Book III, including some which appear to have influenced the later tradition. Like Dorotheus, Valens has rules for finding a control, directs using ascensional times, and stresses the danger of malefic bounds and aspects. However, Valens also put a lot of stress on the vital sector. This vital sector is the distance in ascensional times from a control to its zodiacal square or the next angle in zodiacal order. Valens also has rules for using the greater years of the bound lord of the control as an indication of maximum lifespan.
Note on Confluence
The shear number of techniques provided by Valens suggests that confluence was important to him. In other words, it is likely that Valens would find the surest indication as one which revealed itself in a number of separate techniques. As indications from one technique to the next will vary, we must be careful of trying to find the single technique that works on a given chart. Rather, with so many options the burden of efficacy increases, as surely one technique out of so many will always get close to the mark due to chance alone. Either one or two techniques in concert must work all the time or confluence between multiple techniques of a small set must exist which accurately reflects lifespan.
Finally, Ptolemy also writes on the length of life in Chapter 10 of Book III of the Tetrabiblos (click here for a link to a translation online). However, he really has only 2 parts, an apheta/hyleg and an anaereta/killing point, with no governor/alcocoden.
His instructions for finding the apheta were considered by almost all astrologers commenting on the technique in the Middle Ages. It is notably at a variance in some respects with the instructions given by Dorotheus. Aside from a lack of a governor, Ptolemy’s approach also used an idiosyncratic equal house division to identify operative places. Additionally, he appears to have only accepted the Sun or Moon as apheta if they are in the 1st, 11th, 10th, 9th, or 7th place of that division. This differs from Dorotheus, as Dorotheus definitely did not permit aphetas in the 9th place. Additionally, Ptolemy allows any planet to be the control under certain circumstances.
Finding the Control/Apheta
As with the other authorities, Ptolemy would prefer the Sect Light to be apheta. However, it must be in the 1st equal house or one of the equal houses that regard it above the horizon. It not, then check the other Light. If neither Light can be apheta then things get more complicated as we look to see if any of the other planets are a sufficiently strong compound ruler of certain points.
Ruler of the Proper Sect
If the Lights cannot be aphetas then we must look at the other planets that are in the authoritative places. We must check how much testimony each of these planets has over three key points in the chart. These differ for day and night births. The planet with the most testimonies over these positions is called the ruler of the proper sect.
For day births, we look at testimony over the Sun, prenatal conjunction (new moon), and the Ascendant. For night births, we look at testimony over the Moon, prenatal prevention (full moon), and the Lot of Fortune.
We must see which planet has the most (at least 3) forms of testimony (domicile, exaltation, triplicity, bound, or being in whole sign aspect or in the same sign) over these points.
If this planet also fails then we take the Ascendant if the birth was by day. If the birth was by night, he takes the Ascendant if the birth was after a New Moon, but the Lot of Fortune if birth was after a Full Moon.
In certain cases, Ptolemy seems to allow another planet to be apheta instead of a Light that is in the appropriate place. The exception appears to be one that has testimony over the key points and is in a more authoritative place than the Lights. If both Lights are in authoritative places then the ruler of the proper sect can only be chosen in one circumstance. It must actually be the ruler of both sects (testimony over both day and night sets of points) and in a more authoritative place than either Light.
Note that any apheta must be in the 1st, 11th, 10th, 9th, or 7th place by equal houses. Therefore, you can restrict your focus to planet in those areas, starting with the Sect Light, then the other Light, then the other planets. Only if none of them qualifies do you resort to the Ascendant or Lot of Fortune depending on the chart.
From there, Ptolemy determines length of life by means of primary directions involving the apheta. Ptolemy uses real traditional primary directions rather than ascensional times like the other sources.
He directs planets and points to the apheta as is usual in primary directions. However, if the apheta is located in the quadrant from the Dsc to the MC, then he also suggests directing the apheta itself to the Descendant. The Descendant is symbolic of death, being the point where planets disappear (i.e. western horizon), so it becomes anaereta in this case. Ptolemy also has some more complex rules for subtracting times from the indication of the direction to the Descendant which I won’t explicate here (see here for an example).
Ptolemy recommended the usual technique of looking for a malefic direction to the apheta. He actually went to great lengths to criticize the inaccuracy of ascensional times for points other than the Ascendant. He explains how to calculate true primary directions. What is conspicuously absent from Ptolemy’s technique is a governor/alcocoden and any use of planetary years.
According to Ptolemy, directions of Mars and Saturn by conjunction, square, or opposition can indicate death. He also allows for sextiles separated by signs of long ascension, sextiles between two signs of equal ascension, and trines separated by signs of short ascension to indicate death (from malefics). Additionally, Mercury can be malefic if configured with malefics and the Sun can destroy by conjunction if the Moon is apheta.
The potential anaereta is said to be unable to destroy if it is under the beams of the Sun. Also, the bounds of a benefic, or the aspect of a benefic by square trine or opposition can prevent death. My understanding is that this is the bound of the directed apheta and aspects to the directed apheta. Some have interpreted the passage to pertain to the bounds of the malefics themselves and aspects to the malefics but that is inconsistent with the other sources.
These aspects must be exactly to the degree or to the degrees following the apheta, within 8 degrees for Venus or 12 degrees for Jupiter. In other words, the benefic protects from the degree of its aspect to 8 or 12 degrees after it depending on the planet. The benefic must also not be under the beams.
If there are multiple aspectual directions to the apheta, from benefics and malefics, then we are to consider which are stronger.
Additionally, an anaereta might not kill if it has a different latitude than the apheta (one is north and the other south or vice-versa).
Note on Directions to the Ascendant
In Book IV of the Tetrabiblos, Ptolemy advises to look at directions to the Ascendant for matters concerning the body. Therefore, even though Ptolemy used directions to the control for length of life, we might also want to consider directions to the Ascendant for general health concerns.
Ptolemy’s approach has some similar features as those of Dorotheus and Ptolemy. He emphasized finding a control and examining malefic directions to it. However, Ptolemy’s technique lacks the governor and adds another planet (the ruler of the proper sect) as a possible control. Ptolemy also insisted that actual primary directions (by proportional semi-arc) should be used rather than just ascensional times.
Conclusion Regarding the 3 Main Approaches
What is common among the three early Hellenistic authors is a stress on primary directions involving a control. There is very little use of an indication of length of life by planetary years of an alcocoden/governor. Also, the indication of time of death is not necessarily by an aspectual primary direction to the hyleg. Dorotheus opened up the possibility of death by a malefic distribution. Valens opened up the possibility of death by a maximum lifespan indicated by vital sector or the governor’s years. Ptolemy up the possibility of death by direction to the Descendant.
These are important points. Planetary years of the alcocoden and aspectual directions to the hyleg became the cornerstones of the later Medieval approach. In the early Hellenistic era, when it comes to timing it is by primary directions, but not necessarily by malefic aspect. Also, ascensional times are typically preferred to actual primary directions.
When it comes to use of planetary years, it is only the bound lord of the hyleg, in certain circumstances, that can indicate a maximum lifespan related to its greater years. The actual lifespan may be much shorter than that indicated by the bound lord.
Late Hellenistic Techniques
The late Hellenistic techniques of Firmicus Maternus and Paulus Alexandrinus brought in a much stronger emphasis on planetary years. The technique of Paulus appears to have been particularly influential in shaping the later Medieval approaches. Let’s take a look at these.
Firmicus Maternus’s Technique
One of the earliest techniques relying heavily on different levels of planetary years based on condition in the chart is from Maternus. It is found in Book II, Ch. 26 of the Mathesis. This technique is only found in this 4th century Roman text and does not involve the typical hyleg/alcocoden type of features in its approach. It also doesn’t involve primary directions. However, some features of the technique resemble the more influential approach of Paulus Alexandrinus.
Ruler of the Nativity
In the Maternus technique the ruler of the nativity (giver of life) signifies the length of life based on its own planetary years and the strength of its position. Maternus provides instructions for finding the ruler of the nativity in Book IV, Ch. 6 (VI.XIX of Brams). In his instructions he does appear to relate some methods that are discussed in Dorotheus and Valens in relation to the alcocoden. For instance, he noted that some use the bound lord of the Sect Light as the ruler of the nativity.
Strangely, Maternus advised that the best technique for finding the ruler of the nativity is to use the ruler of the sign following the Moon’s sign. Also, for Maternus the Sun or the Moon cannot be the ruler of the nativity, so you must take Virgo (Mercury) if the Moon is in Gemini or Cancer at birth (i.e. skip the signs of the Sun and Moon). For example, if the Moon were in Scorpio at birth, then the ruler of the nativity would be Jupiter, as it rules Sagittarius, the next sign after the Moon.
The ruler of the nativity is the single most important planet for describing the person. For instance, a well-placed Jupiter as ruler of life will make for a magnanimous character. A well-placed Mercury as ruler of life will signify a learned character.
Giver of Years
The ruler of the chart is also used to allot the years for the length of life by Maternus. He instructed how to do this in Book II, Ch. XXV (Brams trans.). A favorable chart ruler gives its greater years, while one that is unfavorably situated gives its lesser years, or even just about as many months as its lesser years.
For Maternus, favorably situated means in a good house, in a good sign, and in good degrees. For instance, if the ruler is in his own house, exaltation, or bound and with favorable aspects then the greater years are indicated.
Maternus interestingly relies heavily on planetary years of a single chart ruler that also indicates personality. His method of taking the ruler of the sign after the Moon is arguably the weakest approach to finding a chart lord in the Hellenistic astrological literature. It is also less than compelling as a methodology for finding a governor that indicates years.
The approaches of most other Hellenistic astrologers relied upon various methods of timing through primary directions, lacking in Maternus. One may also question the value of putting such important significations as the length of life and main character traits into one planet.
Paulus Alexandrinus’s Technique
Roman astrologer Paulus Alexandrinus, in Book II, Ch. 36, of his Introductory Matters (late 4th century CE), presented his approach. It combined features of the hyleg/alcocoden technique with the planetary years technique (a la Maternus). It is not as much of a synthesis as found in the Medieval Persian texts because Paulus treats of primary directions in another chapter on times of crisis (Ch. 34).
In his chapter on directions he noted to look at those to the Sun, Moon, and Ascendant, rather than specific hylegical significator. In Chapter 36, he is instead interested in the chart ruler, as was Maternus. However, his method for the chart ruler is more akin to the Dorothean approach to find the governor.
A Planetary Years Approach
When Paulus finds the planet with the “rulership”, he assesses the length of life by planetary years in a similar manner as Maternus. However, there are some key differences:
1. Paulus allows the Sun and Moon to be governor (i.e. to assign years as length of life).
2. Paulus allows aspecting planets to add or subtract years to the indications of the governor.
Finding the Control
Paulus doesn’t actually mention the term control or releaser as such. Rather he is focused on finding the governor (planet with rulership). This governor is a chart ruler of sorts and Paulus uses some of the classical rules for finding the control as a means of establishing this ruler. As with Maternus it is this ruler that is really the focus (not a control/hyleg). This chart ruler or governor determines the length of life.
His method for finding the control is similar to early astrologers in that he looks to the rulers of the Lights, with a preference for the Sect Light. Also, the Light must be in certain productive places. By day the Light must be in the 1st, 10th, or 11th, but can be in the 7th or 8th if the sign is mascuine (diurnal). By night, the Light must be in the 1st, 10th, 7th, 4th, 11th, or 5th place. These are whole sign places.
If there is no Light in these places then we look at the prenatal syzygy, Fortune, Spirit, and the Ascendant in that order of priority. My understanding is that one of these must be in one of the authoritative places or the Ascendant (last resort) is used.
Finding the Governor
The governor or chart ruler is the ruler of the bound, domicile, exaltation, or triplicity of the control. It is also configured with the control. If more than one planet is a configured ruler of the control then we consider which has more forms of rulership and is stronger. For instance, the one that is in a stake, morning rising, exalted, or scrutinizing the Sect Light (close aspect). If no planet is a ruler that is configured with the control then we haven’t yet determined the control. We must examine the next possible control.
FAQ for Governor
It is sometimes unclear whether Paulus is requiring the control or the governor to be in one of the authoritative places. However, this becomes clear later when Paulus assigns years to the governor according to its place. This implies that the governor does not need to be in one of the authoritative places.
The Sun or Moon can also be governor for Paulus. Presumably this is due to ruling the control. However, one wonders if a planet can be both ruler and control, such as a well-placed Light in a place that it rules. Paulus is not clear on this so I assume it is possible. Olympiadorus (6th century) in his commentary on Paulus accepted that the Sun could be its own governor. Perso-Arabic astrologers also assumed that the Sun or Moon in domicile or exaltation could be both control and governor.
Olympiadorus also clarifies that we are to examine the first triplicity ruler, not all triplicity rulers.
Years of the Governor
The governor gives its greater year if it is well-placed. However, if it fall under the beams in a cadent place then it gives the lesser years plus the same amount in months, days, and hours. The Sun if cadent also gives the lesser years with months, days, and hours – Paulus says as long it is in a masculine sign.
For instance, Venus as governor under the beams in the 6th place would give 8 years, 8 months, 8 days, and 8 hours. By contrast, Venus in a strong place where she has some rulership and free from the beams would give 82 years.
Note that while Paulus derives an indication of the length of life from this method, he doesn’t instruct that it represents a minimum nor a maximum lifespan. Rather it is the estimate of the lifespan.
Adding and Subtracting Years
For Paulus only a non-Light governor can have years added or subtracted and only a non-Light planet can add or subtract years. We look to see those planets which regard the governor (any whole sign aspect). Those which regard add or subtract years. Typically, Jupiter, Venus, or Mercury will add their minor years to the years of the governor if they aspect. Mars and Saturn can also add their minor/lesser years if they are well-placed and in a spot they rule. If they are not then they subtract their minor years.
Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury fail to add years if they are in square or opposition to the governor and are retrograde, under the beams of the Sun, or in a cadent place.
In Paulus we find a stress on a governor and its years that is more akin to Maternus than Valens. We also find the likely origin of the idea that aspecting planets can add or subtract years. With Paulus things are starting to also get a bit of confusing and ambiguous in terms of the math. There is a choice between greater and lesser years that can sometimes be very subjective. Also, if many planets can add or subtract years, there is plenty of room for astrologers to disagree as the calculation indicated.
Paulus doesn’t seem to put as much stock into judging the length of life by primary directions. However, he does use directions (by ascensions) to the Sun, Moon, and Ascendant by malefics (and the lights) for times of crisis.
The Medieval techniques of Masha’allah and Umar al-Tabari can be seen as extensions of Paulus. They sought to further synthesize the two approaches of planetary years and primary directions. There was also some fine-tuning of the rules about year assignment and modification by aspect.
Hephaistion of Thebes was a 5th century astrologer writing in Greek. He primarily drew upon Dorotheus and Ptolemy in his natal material. Hephaistion often sought to synthesize their approaches. His material on length-of-life is in Book II, Ch. 11 of his Apotelesmatiks. He also summarized some of the Dorothean material on the use of the releaser in Book II, Ch. 26.
On Ptolemy’s Method
Hephaistion began by discussing how Ptolemy used a special type of division rather than the signs for places in the technique. However, Hephaistion feels Ptolemy may have been hinting at using a quadrant division rather than the equal houses he actually explained. Hephaistion, following Pancharios, decided to use Porphyry quadrant divisions in the matter. This is the most significant way Hephaistion departs from Ptolemy in this technique.
Following Ptolemy he requires the control to be in one of 5 divisional places: the 10th, 1st, 11th, 7th, or 9th. He then proceeds to follow the typical Ptolemaic rules for finding the control.
Hephaistion largely sticks with Ptolemy’s approach of directing the control. The control is directed to aspects of malefics, or to the Descendant if in the quadrant from Dsc to MC.
On Dorotheus’s Method
Hephaistion presented a summary of the Dorothean approach in his chapter on time lords. This appears to be because Dorotheus used the releaser as the main time lord for general life circumstances. In any case, Hephaistion sticks closely to the Dorothean approach from Carmen Book III, Ch. 2. In fact, his summary is used to confirm what is truly Hellenistic in that book of Carmen which was subject to corruption.
Hephaistion actually has some criticism of Ptolemy’s method at the end of his chapter on it. He criticizes it for having many qualifications which are hard to figure while one is alive. It becomes easier to make the right choices among many difficult ones after the person has died. He implies that it is often difficult to determine the releaser, the anaereta, and when things are fatally dangerous.
Overall, there is not much new in Hephaistion. He is there to help confirm what was in the Hellenistic Ptolemy and Dorotheus, particularly the latter. His material also shows that some astrologers preferred quadrant divisions (a la Valens) to the equal house approach of Ptolemy for determining the operative places.
Medieval Perso-Arabic Techniques
We still see a bit of variation among the early Perso-Arabic astrologers in their approach to the hyleg/alcocoden technique. Here I focus on the notable techniques of the early Perso-Arabic astrologers of the 7th and 8th centuries CE. These include al-Andarazaghar (7th century), Masha’allah (8th century) , Umar al-Tibari (late 8th century), and Sahl bin Bishr (9th century).
Al-Andarzaghar is now believed to have been the author of The Book of Aristotle. This is a famous work of natal astrology that has frequently been attributed to Masha’allah. Overall, al-Andarzaghar sticks closest to the Hellenistic astrologers. In his material (Book III, Ch. 1.5-1.10) there is something of a synthesis of the three early approaches, with an emphasis on primary directions. He makes some minor changes to the technique, and doesn’t put much stress on planetary years.
Finding the Hyleg and Alcocoden
Al-Andarzaghar is relatively consistent with Dorotheus’s approach to finding the hyleg and alcocoden. He clarifies that if many rulers regard the hyleg then the bound is more significant than the domicile, which is more significant than the triplicity or exalation ruler. Thus, a planet which rules the bound and domicile is preferred to one that rules the triplicity and exaltation. If many aspecting planets have only one rulership then we take the strongest one, such as the one in a place it rules.
Al-Andarzaghar notes that the Sun or Moon can be both hyleg and alcocoden when in domicile or exaltation.
Death by Directions
There are some differences when it comes to indicating length of life. He names four methods for calculating length of life. Three of them involve aspectual primary directions. The fourth is a more obscure technique involving the Lot of Fortune from Valens. Interestingly, he does not name planetary years of the alcocoden here.
The stress on primary directions is consistent with the Hellenistic tradition. The emphasis on aspectual primary directions shows a strong influence from Ptolemy as opposed to approaches where death can also be shown by other means. To be fair, al-Andarzaghar does acknowledge later in the section that the threat can be shown by the jarbakhtar (distributor of directed hyleg). He looks at whether the distributor is malefic or there is a square or opposition of a malefic to the bound (or a malefic in it) without an aspect from a benefic. In this he is similar to Dorotheus.
Directions of the Alcocoden
More unusual in al-Andarzaghar’s treatment is his mention of directions of the Alcocoden. The alcocoden or governor is not typically intended to be directed for length-of-life. This reflects some confusion as to the different roles of the hyleg and alcocoden.
Directions of the Moon
Al-Andarzaghar also advised to direct the Moon even if it is not hyleg. This is because the Moon naturally signifies the body. Directions of malefics to the Moon bring adversity to the body which can indicate death or support other malefic indications of death.
Years of the Alcocoden
There are multiple remarks pertaining to the granting of the lesser circuit of the years of the alcocoden. These confusing and brief passages appear to be an attempt to use Valens’s technique of using the years of the alcocoden. The circuit would appear to relate to Valens’s practice of subtracting the portion of the diurnal or nocturnal arc already traveled by the alcocoden. Valens does this if the alcocoden is badly placed.
It appears that al-Andarzaghar is doing something similar here. However, it is unclear if by lesser circuit he is just means to subtract years based on the proportion of arc or something else (such as shortest arc)
Minor Years of the Planets
Valens used the complete or greater years of the planets for his technique. However, there is a minor remark in the Book of Aristotle regarding minor planetary years. He noted that those with an afflicted hyleg could have the Sun grant only 19 years, months, or days, and the same with the rest of the planets.
However, al-Andarzaghar in the other passages continues to stress the primary directions. He does not explicitly advise the use of planetary years of an alcocoden as a primary indicator of a minimum or maximum lifespan.
One interesting aspect of al-Andarzaghar’s approach is that he notes the importance of other factors. He advised to pay close attention to profections, solar returns, and distributions for the timing of death.
Al-Andarzaghar’s Book of Aristotle is the earliest of the widely available material from the Persian astrologers. One thing of interest is that he appears to be more influenced by Valens than many later Perso-Arabic astrologers. We see him grapple with some of the multitude of ways of finding a vital sector in Valens. He is also attempting to synthesize Valens with the approaches of Dorotheus and Ptolemy. His attention to items mentioned in Ch. 1 of Dorotheus’s Book III (Lunar directions, solar returns) implies that this material was available to the Persians in some form during his time. It is not simply a matter of the material being added by ‘Umar al-Tabari in his translation.
The Medieval technique that we know today is largely that of Masha’allah and ‘Umar. The alcocoden is used to determine the length of life based on planetary years, which can be greater, mean, or minor, and is subject to addition and subtraction. It became prominent in Persian astrology with Masha’allah’s On Nativities. This text is found in Works of Sahl & Masha’allah, a collection of translations by Ben Dykes. ‘Umar al-Tabari’s work on nativities (see Persian Nativities II) has a similar approach.
Masha’allah notes that the hyleg is for directing for length-of-life. However, later he also suggests that death is shown by the direction of the alcocoden to a malefic that impedes it. Therefore, we again get a sense of a confusion regarding the separate roles of hyleg and alcocoden.
There are some differences in Masha’allah’s approach to finding the hyleg. In terms of candidates, he first examines the Sect Light, then the other Light, then the lord of the prenatal syzygy, then the lord of Fortune. If none of those works then he takes the Ascendant so long as it is aspected by its lord. It is unusual that he takes the lord of the prenatal syzgy or the lord of Fortune as hyleg. Earlier astrologers would take the points of those and look to the lords as possible alcocodens.
The eligible places are the angular and succedent places of the chart. Additionally, the planet that is hyleg should be in a sign or quadrant of its same sex. He makes this sex requirement explicit for the Lights and I assume it should be followed for the lords of the syzygy or Fortune if they are considered. The potential hyleg must also be aspected by one of its rulers. Masha’allah includes the decan ruler as an eligible ruler. Masha’allah’s order is domicile, bound, exaltation, triplicity, or decan.
Finding the Alcocoden
The ruler that aspects the hyleg is the alcocoden. If multiple planets are eligible then the one that is strongest and has the closest aspect to the hyleg is taken.
If the Sun or Moon is in domicile or exaltation then Masha’allah takes it as hyleg and alcocoden.
Planetary Years of the Alcocoden
Masha’allah specifically used the alcocoden (or “kadukhudhah”) to signify the length of life by its planetary years. You judge whether to give the greater, middle, or lesser years of the planet according to the condition of the alcocoden.
Condition mainly concerns angularity, dignity (rulership of position), and freedom from afflictions. Angular places tend to grant greater years, succedent to grant mean years, and lesser years for cadent. However, dignity could improve the situation a bit. Additionally, afflictions such as retrogradation, combustion, and hard aspects from malefics significantly worsen the condition. Significant afflications can make it so the alcocoden only grants months, weeks, or days equivalent to its minor period.
Adding and Subtracting
Benefics in good places which aspect the alcocoden by sextile or trine (or conjunction?) add their minor years. They add only months if they are weak. This becomes only weeks if they are retrograde and afflicted by a malefic.
Mercury adds or subtracts his years depending on whether he is in a good place with a good aspect or in a bad one with a hard aspect.
Interestingly, there is no mention of malefics subtracting their minor years due to hard aspect.
There are a couple additional addition and subtraction rules in Masha’allah that are more unique. Jupiter and Venus each add their minor years if they are located in the Ascendant. They do so unless they are afflicted by a malefic or a Moon in bad condition. Additionally, if the alcocoden is with (in the same sign) the North Node then you add 1/4 of the years indicated by the alcocoden to itself. By contrast, if it is with the South Node then you subtract 1/4 of its years.
Through Masha’allah the planetary years approach of Paulus gets shuttled into the Medieval approach. Masha’allah’s stress the planetary years of the alcocoden barely mentioned directions. Additionally, the use of greater, mean, or minor years based on condition becomes a focal concern. We also see the use of the addition/subtraction technique of Paulus, but already with variation from the way that he used it. Still, with Masha’allah’s On Nativities there is no mention yet of a “minimum” lifespan. Still, we will find that in Sahl’s later summary of Masha’allah’s approach.
‘Umar al-Tabari’s Approach
‘Umar al-Tabari is a famous Persian astrologer of the 8th century. He is known for his large work on nativities (Three Books on Nativities; see Persian Nativities II by Ben Dykes). His Arabic translation of Dorotheus from a Pahlavi one was also the source for later Latin editions of Dorotheus. His treatment of the hyleg/alcocoden approach is similar to that of that in Masha’allah’s On Nativities. However, his is longer and includes how malefics can subtract years as well as material on primary directions.
Finding the Hyleg
‘Umar finds the eligible places of the hyleg to be the 1st, 11th, 10th, 8th, and 9th for the Sun. But the Sun cannot be Hyleg in the 8th or 9th unless it is in a masculine sign. Note that ‘Umar is using the 9th which is cadent rather than the 7th which is angular. In this he differs from Dorotheus. He considers an angular or succedent place for the Moon. For other possible hylegs it is not clear if they are required to be in a specific place.
One of the four rulers (domicile, bound, exaltation, triplicity) must regard the hyleg for it to be eligible. ‘Umar first considers the Sect Light, then the other Light. If they don’t qualify he looks to Fortune (if birth is preventional) or Ascendant (if birth is conjunctional), then the other of those two. When none of those qualify he looks to the prenatal syzygy.
Reconciling Ptolemy and Dorotheus
‘Umar actively seeks to reconcile the instructions of Ptolemy and Dorotheus in his approach. For instance, he notes that Dorotheus would take the Sun as hyleg in the 7th or 8th if in a masculine sign. However, he also notes that Ptolemy will take a hyleg in the 7th or 9th but not the 8th. How ‘Umar comes to use the 8th and 9th rather than the 7th and 9th is anyone’s guess.
Also, ‘Umar wants the Sun to be above the horizon (as with the Ptolemaic hyleg). However, he will take the Moon in angular or succedent houses above or below the horizon (as with the Dorotheus hyleg). Therefore, we find something of a mash-up between the rules of Dorotheus and Ptolemy. However, when it comes to assigning years to the alcocoden, he departs from both. In that matter things are more in the tradition of Paulus and Masha’allah.
Finding the Alcocoden
Of the rulers of the hyleg which regard it, ‘Umar takes the one that has the most forms of rulership. Only if multiple rulers have the same number of rulerships does he then look to which has the closest aspect to the hyleg and is strongest in its place.
‘Umar claimed that hyleg and alcocoden are Latin terms referring to wife and husband respectively. This is not their correct etymology. They are Pahlavi terms referring to releaser and house master, reflecting similar Greek terms. However, the metaphor is suitable in ‘Umar’s opinion. He sees the an interdependence between hyleg and alcocoden. The hyleg is the place of life and signifies its status but the alcocoden manages the life and signifies its years.
Timing of Death
The fusion of the early Hellenistic primary directions technique with the Paulean planetary years approach is complete with ‘Umar. He sees the hyleg and alcocoden as in close partnership. Death is shown only by a combination of malefic direction and years of the alcocoden. Death occurs when the malefic aspectual direction to the hyleg (without benefic aspectual intervention to the bound) occurs near in time to the indication of the years of the alcocoden.
Unless the alcocoden supports the timing, there is no death. Therefore, the alcocoden provides the more important indication of lifespan. The hyleg only shows the timing of danger. Such danger is only fatal at the end of the lifespan.
“And if it [hyleg] reached a bad one, and the years were not quite similar to the years of the kadukhudhāh [alcocoden], he will be endangered by a danger like death, and he will escape, if God wills.” (‘Umar al-Tabari, I.4.1, Dykes trans., 2010, p. 8)
The dangerous directions are those of the hyleg to conjunction or aspect (any type) of Saturn, Mars, or a malefic Mercury (i.e. Mercury configured with malefics). Also the direction of the hyleg to a Lunar Node, or to the Sun or Moon or their square or opposition. ‘Umar also considers the Moon dangerous to the Ascendant and Ascendant dangerous to the Moon. The malefic direction is the most dangerous if the malefic and the hyleg are of similar latitude (north or south).
Additionally, ‘Umar identifies cloudy places of the circle (nebulae) as potential kills. The fixed stars Antares and Aldebaran can kill as well. Directions to the Descendant can also kill (a la Ptolemy).
A malefic direction is mitigated if a benefic (Jupiter or Venus) casts rays into the bound where the hyleg reached the danger.
‘Umar directs by ascensions like Dorotheus and Valens. He does not use the semi-arc directions of Ptolemy.
The danger is greater if the lord of the year (by profection) or the lord of the Ascendant (in the return) were afflicted in the solar return.
Years of the Alcocoden
It is quite difficult for an alcocoden to get the greater years in ‘Umar’s approach. The alcocoden must be in a place of its own dignity and in an angle. It appears it can be in the 11th by day or 5th by night also. Even if it is in one of these strong places if it is peregrine and occidental to the Sun then it signifies only the minor years.
‘Umar states that peregrination, combustion, retrogradation (and setting?) does not harm the superior planets as much.
If it is succedent, even if the other things apply then it grants the mean years. On the other hand, if cadent, even if it has the same condition otherwise, it only grants the lesser (minor) years If it is cadent and in fall, regrograde, or peregrine it only gives hours equal to the minor period.
Adding and Subtracting
For ‘Umar the benefics add their minor years and the malefics subtract their minor years through aspects. Benefics don’t add years, but may add months, if they are combust or retrograde. Benefics can add by any type of aspect including even the square and opposition. If a benefic is afflicted by malefic aspect or beseigement then it adds only months or days of minor period.
Malefics subtract when they are square, opposed, or conjunct. Mercury is considered with the benefics or malefics in this according to which he is configured (esp. in the same sign). A malefic can also subtract by trine or sextile if they closely aspect it (or possibly besiege it?) without the aspect of a benefic.
The Sun adds years by trine or sextile but subtracts them by conjunction, square, or opposition. If there’s reception then he only subtracts months or days of his minor period.
If the alcocoden is combust and so gives nothing, then Venus and/or Jupiter in the Ascendant or Midheaven can give their minor years.
The South Node within 12 degrees in the same sign subtracts one-fourth the years from the alcocoden. By contrast, the North Node within 12 degrees in the same sign adds one-fourth the years.
With ‘Umar we see the clearest blending of the planetary years and aspectual primary directions approach. The later exposition by Bonatti is very close to that given by ‘Umar. Here we see a very strong emphasis placed on the planetary years of the alcocoden as the main indicator for length of life. We also see the most involved approach to adding and subtracting years. Only near the end indicated by the alcocoden can the primary direction to the hyleg kill. We find aspectual primary directions emphasized and expanded a bit with fixed stars and other factors noted. There is a brief mention of malefic bound lords but this appears to pertain to movement to the end of a malefic bound, about to enter another malefic bound that contains a malefic.
Sahl bin Bishr’s Summaries
Sahl bin Bishr (9th century) covers treatments by a variety of different astrologers, including al-Andarzaghar, Masha’allah, their Hellenistic sources, and others. He does so in Book I of his mammoth work On Nativities.
Sahl on Nawbakht (Naubakht)
In his treatment of Nawbakht’s approach to finding the hyleg (releaser), there is a fusion of the approaches of Dorotheus and Ptolemy, leaning more toward Dorotheus. An alcocoden is used to confirm the hyleg (a la Dorotheus) but the hyleg can be in the 9th place (a la Ptolemy). Some have also read that quadrant divisions may be used for the places, though it is not stated. Additionally, he considers the Sun, then prenatal conjunction, then Ascendant by day, and the Moon, then prenatal prevention, then Fortune by night, and doesn’t consider a planet like the proper ruler of the sect of Ptolemy.
In that treatment of Nawbakht’s approach, Sahl also advised to direct the hyleg for the condition of the native’s life and health. He directs by “degrees of ascension” The rays of the malefics bring trouble and tribulation and those of the benefics bring success and joy. Malefics can bring death by aspect if there is no aspect from a benefic, but this could also just be danger. The overall sense is that the direction of the hyleg shows the major life circumstances.
Sahl on al-Andarzaghar
In his treatment of al-Andarzaghar’s approach to finding the hyleg, there is a stress on using one of the Lights. The Sun or Moon is both hyleg and alcocoden if in its own sign or exaltation. Otherwise, we need the releaser to be aspected by an alcocoden. When the hyleg directs (by ascensions) through a bound aspected by a malefic and without aspect of a benefic, then death is shown provided the malefic is not weakened. However, it is also advised to direct the Moon, as her encounters with malefics can show death even when she is not hyleg. We are also to examine if the directed Ascendant (as releaser) connects with an unfortunate Moon, or the degree of the prenatal conjunction or prevention, as that can show difficulty. Additionally, the directionof the prenatal syzygy to one of the nodes can also kill.
Sahl on Distributions (from Masha’allah?)
Sahl also has some material (I.18) that appears to be from Masha’allah. In this material there is a stress on distributions (bound lord of directed point). For instance, death can be shown by the releaser in the bound of a malefic (a la Dorotheus). As in Dorotheus, if the hyleg directs through the bound of a malefic without the aspect of a benefic then it is very dangerous. This is especially so if there is a strong malefic aspecting the bound. Aspects from benefics ameliorate the indications of both malefic bounds and malefic aspects, such that one might just get ill rather than die. The direction of the releaser to the south node shows danger from enemies.
There is also a statement regarding how directions of the Ascendant to the Moon or the Moon to the Ascendant can indicate death.Additionally, one is to direct the Sun, Moon, Ascendant, prenatal conjunction and prevention, and Lot of Fortune regardless of whether they are hylegs. Directed malefic aspects (and distributions) to the Sun and Ascendant imperil the soul, while those to the Moon imperil the body, and those to Fortune imperil social status and wealth (benefics show opposite).
Sahl on the Alcocoden
Sahl follows Masha’allah pretty closely in his use of the alcocoden (house-master). The alcocoden is a ruler of the hyleg and we prefer the bound lord if it aspects. If not then we see the domicile, exlaltation, and triplicity lord. Sahl adds that we can also use the decan lord. Though we would prefer a ruler who has more types of rulership.
As with Masha’allah, we look to the strength of the alcocoden to determine if it assigns its greater years, middle (mean) years, lesser years, or even just the lesser years in days or months. The alcocoden must be quite enhanced to give its greater years, such as in a form of rulership in its position, in a strong and fortunate place, connected with the Sect Light, and unafflicted. As with al-Tabari, Sahl doesn’t see detriment, fall, retrogradation, and combustion as very afflicting to the superior planets (Mars, Jupiter, Saturn), but does see them as very afflicting to the inferiors (Venus, Mercury, Moon). Minor afflictions such as just being in the 2nd or 8th or in a good place but without any rulership tend toward the middle years. More serious afflictions tend toward lesser years or even months or days.
Also, keeping with Masha’allah and ‘Umar al-Tabari, Sahl allows for benefics and malefics to modify the years of the alcocoden through their aspects.
Sahl on Masha’allah
Sahl includes a more detailed summary of some of Masha’allah’s material on the technique in Book I, Ch. 23. I won’t be providing a summary of that material as it mainly covers things already discussed and is quite verbose. However, there are a few notable elements. First, the emphasis is on directed rays of malefics reaching the releaser or Ascendant (i.e. aspectual emphasis). Secondly, the governor’s indication is used as a minimum lifespan before which the rays of malefics cannot harm:
“And know that if the governor granted something of years and that was confirmed, the infortunes would not be able to cut off [life] until the native completes those years;” (Sahl, On Nativities, I.23 #53, Dykes trans., 2019, p. 317)
Again, this confirms what has already been discussed as to how Masha’allah’s method, heavily influenced by Paulus, shaped the later Medieval approach to the topic.
Both in his summary of Naubakht, Masha’allah, and the material on distributions, there are statements suggesting that one should also see the solar return. This is sound advice. One wants to see similar indications from both the primary directions (distributions and aspectually) and from the solar return.
Sahl’s On Nativities nicely encapsulates a number of early Perso-Arabic approaches to the hyleg/alcocoden technique. We find the melding of the approaches of Dorotheus and Ptolemy in finding the hyleg. The emphasis is still on aspectual directions to the hyleg but distributors are given some treatment as well. We also see the departures from the early Hellenistic tradition. There is the emphasis on the use of the alcocoden that is from Masha’allah in which planetary years are assigned and modified based on condition and aspects. We also see many astrologers suggest that we should look also look at solar returns and to directions and distributions involving multiple hylegical places rather than just the hyleg.
There are strong intimations of Bonatti’s later approach in Sahl, particularly in the material from Masha’allah. However, Sahl is somewhat unique in terms of the very broad coverage where we find a collection of different Perso-Arabic approaches represented.
Conclusions Regarding Early Perso-Arabic Approaches
In this article I haven’t gone into the same detail with the Medieval permutations of the technique. Readers can find those details in the relevant texts. However, it is clear that it was around the late 8th century CE, particularly with ‘Umar al-Tabari, that the key features of the late Medieval technique were established. These features include using planetary years of an alcocoden modified by aspecting planets (a la Paulus) combined with an emphasis on aspectual primary directions to the hyleg (a la Ptolemy). Later authors writing in Arabic echoed the stress on the planetary years of the alcocoden (a la Masha’allah). This remained the mainstay of the technique in the later Middle Ages, such as in Bonatti’s Book of Astronomy.
The suggestions of looking at other directions and solar returns shows the influence of Book III, Ch. 1 of Dorotheus (an interpolation) from the start of the Persian period. However, the material on lunar directions is at times attributed to Ptolemy. It also suggests some were moving away from a strict hyleg-alcocoden approach. Confirming things through profections and solar returns is always a sound approach.
Al-Andarzaghar and Sahl
In my opinion, the two most interesting treatments of the period are those of al-Andarzaghar and of Sahl. Al-Andarzaghar is notable because he is early in the period and grapples with much material from Valens. Sahl is notable because of the breadth of his coverage of multiple earlier Persian treatments of the subject.
Sahl opens us up to many things to try. This is somewhat similar to Valens with his wide coverage of his predecessors and contemporaries. Still, the multitude of Perso-Arabic voices can be confusing in Sahl, while the Hellenistic voices get melded together and degraded. In Sahl we also see a clear reference to the years of the alcocoden as setting a mimimum lifespan after which death is shown by a malefic direction.
As this technique has been taken up by modern astrologers, a later permutation of ‘Umar’s approach has dominated. The minimum length of life is shown by planetary years, after which death is shown by an aspectual primary direction to the hyleg. There is indeed a precedent in Hellenistic astrology for the stress on primary directions to the hyleg. However, the strong reliance on planetary years of the alcocoden as a minimum lifespan is more suspect. This permutation has its roots in Paulus Alexandrinus of the the late Hellenistic period and its clearest Medieval expressions in Masha’allah and ‘Umar al-Tabari. Additionally, the emphasis on aspectual primary directions can lead one astray.
Not Just About Health
In contemporary times, these techniques are often treated as pertaining to health. In ancient astrology, the type of death indicated could be of a multitude of types. Internal and external factors were both indicated in the natal chart. The cause of death could be as varied as death by disease, death in a fire, death by execution, death by accident, etc.
Today, it is often presented as one in which the alcocoden by planetary years signifies the allotted length of life before the onset of serious health crises. The logic goes that as long as someone doesn’t die in a freak accident, the alcocoden is indicating a period of robust health, after which one’s body is vulnerable to disease and degradation (shown by malefic direction). Similarly, if a short life was indicated, then perhaps a medical advance could remediate against the body’s inherent vulnerability for that period (as with the Zoller example cited in the intro).
Times of Crisis
The original techniques were couched in terms of danger and critical periods. There was the possibility that a crisis may not lead to death given benefic intervention. They did not refer exclusively to health concerns. Therefore, such a reading may be inaccurate, failing to take into account other types of dangers.
While modern medical advances may help to avert or remediate some internal natural health difficulties, there are numerous ways one can die. These include types of accidents that didn’t exist in the ancient world. In his chapter on crisis, Paulus even goes out of his way to specify that the crises might not always involve disease but could be as varied as a lawsuit, a shipwreck, or being stuck in a foreign country. There is no reason to think that indications from a length of life technique need involve disease. Separate techniques existing for trying to ascertain the nature of the death or a crisis.
At least for Valens, the indications of longevity pertained to “maximum lifespan” rather than to minimum. For him, all sorts of threats could end the life before this time. The timing technique didn’t guarantee a certain number of years. It is inconsistent with the original approach to interpret the length of life indication as providing a guaranteed time frame in which one is free of serious health crises.
I am reminded of Orson Welles whose life was plagued by serious health crises, particularly related to spinal problems, from a young age, yet lived to age 70 (about the time for the Moon to direct to the Descendant). Similarly, if an early death were indicated for Robert Zoller, and this was a minimum, it is doubtful that he would have gone on to live for many decades longer. Therefore, we should avoid adopting this approach of viewing the alcocoden’s years as promising some minimum lifespan.
The hyleg/alcocoden technique re-emerged in our contemporary world as a controversial selling point for the study of Medieval astrology. Occasionally, it rears its head again in that guise. However, today there are clearer translations of source texts and abundant natal data available with which to test such techniques. In light of the history of such techniques, particularly the variety and nuance we find in the Hellenistic period, a more critical applied perspective is called for.
I advise the reader to experiment with and compare the various longevity techniques proposed by Dorotheus, Valens, Ptolemy, Sahl, and others. However, beware the puffery of Medieval astrologers. There may be some great utility to the hyleg and alcocoden as significators. Yet I suspect that some permutation a Hellenistic approach has more potential than any later synthesis relying heavily on planetary years.
Note on Chart Rulers
Some astrologers emphasized the hyleg as a type of chart lord while other emphasized the alcocoden as one. The functions of both were also often mixed up in the Perso-Arabic period when it came to primary directions. My understanding is that the hyleg is the key planet of power over the life in general in the chart, while the alcocoden is a planet with the main responsibility for its protection.
This helps to explain why Ch. 1 Book III of Carmen seems to imply that spear-bearing superior planets are significant to the alcocoden determination, as they are protective of the Light. The emphasis on bound lords may also imply that bound lords are somehow the most protective of the types of rulers. Still, there is significant difference of opinion from the start of the Hellenistic period as to the choice and role of alcocoden. There is more agreement that a strong Light, especially a Sect Light regarded by one of its rulers, should be hyleg, and directed for the length of life.
There is no doubt that some relatively reliable length of life techniques would be of great value. They could provide some figure for maximum life span and alert us to critical periods. While a confluence of predictive techniques always reflects the circumstances of death, it is also hard to distinguish from a general critical period. Therefore, the exploration of the foundational early approaches has merit.
As with most topics, we find Hellenistic astrology to provide a richer and more diverse set of techniques to test out. For instance, there are a variety of disparate approaches in the Anthology of Vettius Valens that have yet to be tested. Join me in future articles as we continue to probe this material.
Update April 2019:
This article was very significantly revised and updated in April of 2019. Much additional content was added and the existing content was thoroughly revised for greater depth, clarity, and readability.
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Featured image is bottom portion of A Golden Thread by John Melhuish Strudwick (1885), which is in the public domain.
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