Length of Life Techniques
In Hellenistic astrology, astrologers often presented special techniques for determining the length of life. The method for this determination would often differ from astrologer to astrologer. Sometimes, an astrologer might even present multiple approaches to determining the length of life. This was certainly the case in the Anthology by Vettius Valens (2nd century CE). Typically, length-of-life the techniques involve primary directions of a significator of the life force.
Do the techniques work? I put a bunch of such techniques to the test in this article. Note that I will not be fully explaining the techniques in this article. For more information on the techniques, please see my article on the special techniques. Also, please check out the passages from the relevant source texts referenced in the article.
Kirk Kerkorian Lived to 98
The recent death of Kirk Kerkorian has generated a lot of buzz in my stomping grounds of Southeast Michigan. He was a major business figure in this area, involved with the auto industry. He died on 6/15/15, just 9 days after his 98th birthday.
I won’t be analyzing his life in this post. Rather I will look at the timing of his death. He lived to an advanced age, so his longevity allows us to compare and contrast a number of length of life techniques. Additionally, he was born with the Sun conjunct the MC and witnessed in the same sign by its bound lord (Venus). Therefore, his chart is more straightforward than typical in the matter of determining the control (hyleg) and govern4r (alcocoden).
All the techniques we’ll examine were presented in the first 5 centuries CE by Hellenistic astrologers. Later Medieval astrologers presented some of their own variations on such techniques. However, the fundamental methods behind those Medieval approaches came from Hellenistic astrology.
Birth Timing Issues
Kerkorian was reportedly born at Noon, which is always a somewhat suspicious time. He likely was born within minutes before or after. He was born on 6/6/1917 in Fresno, CA. His birth data is AA rated (i.e. from birth record).
Most length of life techniques involve primary directions. Primary directions are strongly dependent on the exact time of birth. My experience is that a recorded birth time is often slightly rounded or slightly later (due to delay) compared to the actual birth time. For instance, I saw my first born emerge at 12:12 and get recorded as 12:15. Therefore, a rough indication by primary directions, such as within a year, is sufficient for our purposes. Note that a birth time rounded by even just a few minutes could put primary directions off by more than a year in some cases.
Part I: Special Techniques
I am not going to fully explain and evaluate each length of life technique due to the labor involved. I’m just going to look briefly at the indications according to a number of length of life techniques. After that, I’ll also discuss some general timing techniques that relate to the timing of death. Those interested in an overview of the length of life techniques of the Hellenistic era, can find it in a previous article.
The Hellenistic techniques for length of life are not foolproof. They have their issues. A thorough reading of this article and my other articles on the traditional astrology of death can serve as a good primer on the topic. However, it won’t give you the power to predict the length of life for other people using these techniques. Therefore, upon learning about these techniques, do everyone a favor and don’t predict death for people. Doing so is usually unethical. You will also usually be wrong. My analysis is in service of astrologers who would like to work to evaluate such techniques.
The Manilius Technique (early 1st century CE)
Roman astrologer Marcus Manilius provided a very brief and confusing bit of information on length of life indications. He provided a set of values for assigning years to each zodiacal sign and house for the length of life. However, he never fully explained how to use them. He did say that the Moon’s placement in the houses indicated the years, but didn’t explain what to do with the years of the signs.
This exposition starts at line 560 in Book III of Astronomica. Unfortunately, Manilius tells us that the full exposition will follow in a later section, and it never does. He began his section on the years of the houses by noting that if the Moon is in the 1st house she grants 78 years. Therefore, my best guess is that the house of the Moon provides the main indication. Perhaps the years of the sign (which are all small amounts) are added to the years of the house.
Years of the Houses
Manilius’s years of the houses tell us quite a bit about how he viewed the strength of the places. The angular places all give over 70 years. The 9th house gives 68 years despite being cadent. This indicates that Manilius put more emphasis on the scheme of which houses see the Ascendant than on cadency. In fact, Manilius gives more to IX than XI, implying he saw the trine with the Ascendant (IX) to be stronger than its sextile (XI). The only houses giving less than 50 years are 4 that don’t aspect the Ascendant, the so-called dark houses (II, VIII, VI, and XII). VI and XII are cadent and don’t aspect the Ascendant so are particularly weak (less than 25 years). Therefore, Manilius puts the stress on the effective places scheme of Timaeus.
Years of the Signs
The years of the signs for the Manilius technique are a fascinating topic in their own right. First, let’s look at the figures, shown below.
Aries-Pisces: 10 2/3
Taurus-Aquarius: 12 2/3
Gemini-Capricorn: 14 2/3
Cancer-Sagittarius: 16 2/3
Leo-Scorpio: 18 2/3
Virgo-Libra: 20 2/3
Signs of Equal Ascension
You may have noticed that the years of the signs are oriented around the equinoxes. In fact, the signs progressively take on more value based on their distance from the vernal equinox. This is very similar to the rising times of signs in the tropical zodiac.
In the tropical zodiac Aries and Pisces have the shortest rising time (in the northern hemisphere). Their rising times will be equal. The signs opposite them, Libra and Virgo will have the longest rising times. Additionally, their rising times will total 60. Then the other pairs of signs equidistant from the vernal equinox will also have equal rising times. The signs opposite them will always have complementary ones which add to 60. Each pair progressively farther from the vernal equinox will have a longer rising time. I dealt with these at length in the article on sign symmetry.
Adding It Up
In fact, if we ignore the 2/3 fraction on each set of years, then the years appears to be half the rising times of the signs. Aries and Pisces each have a rising time of 20 (degrees of RA). Their complements Virgo and Libra each have a rising time of 40. Each sign and its opposite adds to 60. It is the same for Taurus-Aquarius (24) and Leo-Scorpio (36), as well as Gemini-Capricorn (28) and Cancer-Sagittarius (32).
Were these the rising times of the signs at the latitude where Manilius was working? In fact, earlier in Book III (275-300), Manilius provided the rising times of the signs in terms of stades (half degrees) and in terms of hours in a day (2 hours equal 30 degrees of RA – hence 12 signs rising in 24 hours). His rising times are exactly twice that of the years he assigns to each sign, ignoring the additional 2/3 fraction. For instance, Pisces-Aries have a rising time of 40 stades (20 degrees RA), while Virgo-Libra have 80 stades (40 degrees RA).
Manilius and the Tropical Zodiac?
Only in the tropical zodiac does this relationship hold, as the signs are symmetrical about the equinoxes. The times imply a tropical zodiac starting with the equinox. For instance, if one places the equinox at 8 Aries, rather than 0 Aries, then the sign of Aries would have a significantly shorter rising time than Pisces. The entire sign of Aries would be within 22 degrees of the equinox, while no point of the sign of Pisces would be within 8 degrees of it. Therefore, these type of symmetrical rising times of the signs imply a tropical zodiac.
However, things are not quite so straightforward. While the rising times of the signs imply a tropical zodiac, their use was prior to widespread knowledge of precession. Many astrologers used tables derived sidereally to find zodiacal degrees on one hand while using tables of ascensions that are essentially tropical. In fact, the rising times of the signs given by Vettius Valens (Anthology, Book I, Ch. 7K;6P) are identical to those given by Manilius. Despite the fact that Valens used what are essentially tropical rising times, there is evidence he used sidereal positions for the planets and followed the Babylonians who centuries earlier noted the equinox at 8 degrees of the sign Aries.
Note on Zodiac Issues
As with all zodiac issues prior to the widespread knowledge of precession, things are complicated. Sometimes, as with Valens, one can find an astrologer using three incompatible systems at the same time, due mainly to convenience. The equinox could be assumed to be where the Babylonians found it at 8 Aries, while the sidereal tables used for positions imply an equinox closer to 2 or 3 degrees Aries, and the rising times imply an equinox at 0 Aries. Please see the article on the history of the tropical zodiac, and the article where I explore the chart of Vettius Valens for more information.
Kirkorian by the Manilius Technique
The Moon in Kerkorian’s chart was in Capricorn, which is the 5th house. Manilius asserted that the Moon in the 5th house grants 63 years while Capricorn grants 14 2/3 years. My best guess is that we add these together for an indication of 77 2/3 years. However, the indication is incorrect as he lived to age 98.
Perhaps the Moon gets 25 years, plus the house, plus the sign. Then it is 25+77 2/3= 102 2/3. Or maybe for the sign we must take the remainder of the sign left. 91.61% of the sign is remaining after the Moon. 91.61% times the years of Capricorn (14 2/3) would drop the estimate by a year to about 101 1/2.
The years of the signs used by Manilius are obviously half the rising times of the signs plus a fraction of 2/3. Therefore, it makes sense to consider the actual rising times of the signs, and half of such. Below is a table for the rising times of the signs (in RA) for Kerkorian’s chart (i.e. his latitude).
Note that the reason that in reality opposite signs don’t always have rising times that add to 60. Additionally, as one gets closer to the equator, the signs closer to the solstices get longer while those closer to the autumnal equinox get a bit shorter. For this reason, Kerkorian, who was born in southern California, has longer ascensional times for Leo and Scorpio than for Virgo and Libra. However, the rising times of all signs together is equal to 360 (the full daily rotation of the Earth).
Kerkorian was apparently born at a relatively similar latitude as Manilius. Half the rising sign of Capricorn (29.19) is about 14.6, which is actually pretty close to 14. If we add 2/3 to this then it yields about 16 1/3. This doesn’t help us that much due to the similar result.
Typically in Hellenistic techniques, the sect light or one of its rulers (particularly the bound lord) is the most important planet for longevity. The sect light (the Sun) is in Gemini (14 2/3 years per Manilius), the 10th house (77 years), so indicates 91 2/3 years. Using the actual ascension divided by 2, plus 2/3, only gives a couple more years. Venus is the bound lord and only aspecting lord of the sect light, but she is in the same sign and house so if we use her we get the same indications. 91-94 years is closer but still incorrect.
More Games with Math
Do any relevant combinations of the years of houses and signs yield the correct result? If we go by half the actual ascensions plus 2/3 we get indications in order from Aries-Pisces of roughly 10, 12, 15, 18, 19, and 19. The Moon is in V (63) in Capricorn (15); total 78. The Sun and Venus are in X (77) in Gemini (15); total 92. Mercury (Asc lord), Mars, and Jupiter are in IX (68) in Taurus (12); total 80. Saturn is in XI (57) in Cancer (18); total 75. None of these add to 98-99.
Perhaps the technique is more complicated. Maybe we take the house position of the Moon (63) plus her sign (15), plus the sign of her ruler (18). That would get us very close, 96 with our rounded sign figures, and actually closer to 97 with more exacting ones (15.26 & 18.25). Perhaps that’s the key or that holds because the ruler aspects the Moon and/or is in her house. I can only guess but this provides a starting point for trying to reconstruct a useful technique of this sort by comparing more charts of the dead.
Manilius Technique Conclusions
In conclusion, Manilius does not provide enough information for use of his technique. The most logical guesses regarding its use don’t yield accurate indications. Manilius does provide us with some intriguing numbers for assigning years to houses, apparently pertaining to the house of the Moon He also provided some years for the signs that are obviously related to the figures he gave for ascensional times in his clime. How these pieces fit together is anyone’s guess.
The Dorothean Technique (1st century CE)
The technique of Dorotheus (1st century CE) is the subject of Book III of his Carmen Astrologicum. The Sun in Kerkorian’s chart would be the important significator to use for length of life, as it is the sect light at the time of birth (Sun by day; Moon by night). Furthermore, it is in one of the 3 most advantageous places (10th from the Ascendant), and it is witnessed by its bound lord, Venus, in the same sign.
Malefic Bound in Front of the Sun
Death is said to be indicated by the bound in front of the Sun that is ruled by or aspected by a malefic (exactly to a degree within the bound). Though an intervening aspect of a benefic (to a specific degree within the same bound) can prevent it. Jupiter and Mars are in the same degree in Kerkorian’s chart, so Jupiter should take away the power of a lethal aspect from Mars in all cases. Saturn is at 27 Cancer while Jupiter is at 24 Taurus and Venus is at 26 Gemini, so the possibilities for Saturn to aspect a bound that is not accessible to aspect from Jupiter or Venus is fairly limited.
First Malefic Bound
Very soon after birth, the Sun enters the bound of Mars in Gemini, which is malefic and has no benefic casting a ray into it. He obviously did not die shortly after birth. One may suggest that the already applying bodily conjunction between the Sun and Venus was responsible, or that the harm of Mars was mitigated by its conjunction with Jupiter. It could also be that the indication by bound ruler itself is much weaker than a malefic aspect.
Next Malefic Bounds
The next malefic bound was that of Saturn (of Gemini). It is occupied by Venus, so is protected, according to the Dorothean method. From there the Sun entered the Mars bound of Cancer, which is also not aspected by a benefic. However, one could argue that the aspect of the Moon (sect light) to the bound intervenes. The Jupiter bound of Cancer is aspected by Mars, but also Jupiter, so is protected.
Malefic Bound without Benefic Influence
The Saturn bound of Cancer is occupied by Saturn and has no benefic aspecting the degree, as it starts at 26 Cancer while Jupiter is at 24 Taurus. Therefore, by the Dorothean technique we should expect the death to occur when the Saturn bound of Cancer or exact position of Saturn directs over the Sun.
Dorotheus used the distance between the two in ascensional times. To do this one can use a table of ascensions for Gemini and Cancer at about 36-37 degrees north latitude. For even greater accuracy, pull the chart up in Morinus and press F10, which will pull up the chart of rise/set times and ascensions at the birth latitude. Gemini has a rising times of 29.195 and Cancer of 35.172. You divide each by 30 to get the number of years to assign to each degree of these signs by ascensional directions.
Each zodiacal degree of Gemini will equate to about 0.974 degrees of ascensions (0.973 years of life) and each of Cancer will equate to about 1.171 degrees of ascensions (1.172 years of life). There are about 14 1/2 degrees of Gemini (14.5*0.973=14.11 years) and 28 degrees of Cancer (28*1.172=32.82 years) between the Sun and Saturn. This equates to almost 47 years directing the Sun by ascensions to Saturn. By true traditional primary directions, the indication is almost 46 years. In any case, Kerkorian lived to age 98, so the indications by the Dorothean technique are wrong.
Fast-Forward to Age 98
But, what bound does the Sun fall into after 98 years, by both ascensions and by directions through the bounds?
Ascensions to Square of the Light
By ascensions, we already noted that the remainder of Gemini gives us about 14.11 years, then all of Cancer gives us 35.172 years (49.282 cumulative), then all of Leo gives us 37.099 years (86.381 cumulative). So, 98 years is only another 11.619 years, or degrees of ascension, into Virgo. There is about 1.22 degrees of ascension for each zodiacal degree in Virgo, so there are (11.619/1.22=) just over 9.5 degrees in Virgo before the time of death. 9 Virgo is in the bound of Venus (7-17 Virgo). It is a bound ruled by a benefic and is only aspected by the Sun.
While there is not malefic aspect to the bound, it is the bound where the square of the Sun (15 Virgo) directs to the Sun. Dorotheus does not name the square of the Sun as being a dangerous direction. However, we will find that the square of the significator is significant as the indication for length of maximum life by Valens (also see Ptolemy below).
Primary Direction to Complex Mars Bound
Perhaps more significant in relation to the Dorothean technique, is that by true primary directions, it is the Mars bound of Virgo, that directs to the Sun at the time of death.
The bound is a malefic one and is aspected by both malefics, but is also aspected by both benefics. Therefore, it is still problematic by the Dorothean technique,as benefic aspects should remove the harm. Still, the bound is a malefic one aspected by both malefics, so one could argue that the malefics have the upper hand overall. Additionally, the guy has to die at some point and this is the sect light in a dangerous bound at an extremely advanced age (98).
In a likely later addition to Carmen (from Book III, Ch. 1), it was suggested to direct the Moon as well. Further in this article, I’ll explore a multitude of true primary directions. However, in the context of the Dorothean approach, I’m most interested in directions by ascensions to different bounds. The Moon’s direction through the Mars bound of Capricorn should have been particularly deadly in this sense. It is a malefic bound, opposed by Saturn, and not aspected by a benefic. This would have indicated a death before age 27, so again there are issues with the technique as given.
Where does the Moon direct by ascensions around age 98. Well each degree of Capricorn gets .973 years (29.195/30), and there are 27.5 of them left in the sign (26.76 years). After that Aquarius gets 22.72 years (49.48 cumulative), and Pisces gets 19.19 years (68.67 cumulative), then Aries gets the same (87.86 cumulative), so we’ll be just over 10 years in Taurus (98-87.86=10.14). Each degree of Taurus equals .76 years, therefore we’d be just over 13 degrees into Taurus (10.14/.76). 13 Taurus is in the Mercury bound and is not aspected by any planets. Therefore, ascensions from the Moon give us false positives early in life and a negative when death actually occurs. They are not helpful at all by this method in this case.
Dorothean Technique Conclusions
The Dorothean technique points to directions to the significator by malefic bounds and malefic aspects to the bounds as particularly important. They certainly are I’ve shown in many other posts in this series. However, the assertion that such an indication MUST indicated death when lacking the intervening aspect of a benefic both over-predicts and under-predicts death. It over-predicts because the direction of Saturn to the Sun should have brought death to Kerkorian. It under-predicts because it failed to account for the fact that the death occurred (with multiple malefic directions in a malefic bound) while benefics intervened.
If directions by ascensions are the key, then we may be looking at an instance in which the square of the Sun is marking an upper limit for length of life. Other Hellenistic astrologers who directed by ascensions (e.g. Valens) also saw the square of the control as possibly indicating a maximum lifespan. Kerkorian has a very strong control which is conjunct the MC and witnessed by a benefic bound lord in the same sign. Therefore, we may expect that he makes it to the control’s maximum lifespan (the bound it squares).
If true primary directions are the key, then this is a case in which the Sun actually directed well past its own square but a malefic bound aspected by both malefics brought death. Note in this case that the malefics aspected by trine and sextile, and both benefics aspected as well.
The Ptolemaic Technique (2nd century CE)
See Book III, Ch. 10 of the Tetrabiblos for Ptolemy’s technique. Ptolemy also would take the Sun as the significator (as it is sect light and in the 10th place). Ptolemy advised to look at actual primary directions involving the Sun (not ascensional times). As the Sun is just past the MC (provided the birth time is not off by a couple minutes), he advised us to look at two things. First, the direction of the Sun itself to the Descendant (i.e. converting the setting of the Sun into years). Secondly, the directions to the Sun of malefics (especially by body, square, or opposition). Ptolemy appears to have regarded the square of the significator as also deadly.
Descendant Direction Complexity
There is some confusion regarding his technique of directing the significator to the Descendant. He made a comment about aspects of benefics adding year and malefics subtracting years from the total indicated. According to him this is to be done by a proportion of hourly times. We’ll return to this. First, we find the distance from Sun to Descendant. Basically, for Kerkorian, we must first find the time when the Sun sets by primary directions. This is at about age 108.
Note on Hephaistio
Hephaistio commented on the Ptolemaic technique in Book II, Ch. 11 of Apotolesmatiks. Note that Hephaistio interpreted that the distance from significator to Descendant was to be measured in ascensions (p. 35 of Schmidt trans.), or possibly in descensions (60 minus the ascensions). This is a mis-interpretation as Ptolemy advised to use true primary directions. Additionally, the use of ascensional times for points that are descending gives extremely inaccurate times.
Finding Proportional Hourly Times of Planets
From here, we must find the rise and set times of the benefics, malefics, and/or Mercury, when any such planets have an aspect that intervenes from the Sun’s journey to the Descendant. Then find the time it takes to go from rising to setting (setting to rising for planets below the horizon). Divide that time by 12 to convert it into an “hourly” time for the planet. Next, divide the hourly time of the planet by 4 to convert it into an hourly time in RA (degrees of right ascension; 1 degree equals 4 minutes of clock time). This is the “hourly time” of the planet in RA. The amount added or subtracted then depends on the proportion of arc that the planet has traveled for its journey from rising to setting or vice-versa, multiplied by its hourly time.
For example, if it is a benefic with an hourly time of 15 and it has 1/3 of its journey left to set (or rise if below the horizon), then it adds 5 years.
Note, the table below is from the software Janus. The rise/set times in Morinus are not local clock times so they are harder to work with in this method, especially for figuring out the proportion of arc.
Adding It Up
We may judge Mercury to be malefic in the chart because it is most closely conjunct Mars (Ptolemy says to judge it by its closest configurations). In this case, the Sun will meet the aspects of Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Mercury twice, and the aspect of Saturn three times before it sets. It is unclear whether each aspect from the planet adds or subtracts, of if we are just to add each relevant planet once. Given the time left until they set, each of these planets individually adds and subtracts the following on their own in this chart:
Jupiter +5.3 years
Venus +10 years
Mars -6.4 years
Mercury -6.2 years
Saturn -12.9 years
If we do the additions and subtractions only once per intervening planet, then the net added is negative 10.2 years, with a life expectancy of about 98.2 years. This figure accords with this actual length of life of 98 years. If we must add and subtract for each separate aspect then the net added is negative 33.3 years, for a life expectancy of 74.7 years. We got the correct result from just adding/subtracting once, so that is more promising, but also counter-intuitive. Why should we being adding or subtracting each hourly time only once, rather than adding or subtracting for each relevant aspect? Perhaps the determination by aspect is simply to know whether a planet will have an influence or not. In any case, this is certainly one of the most complex length-of-life techniques of the Hellenistic period.
Aspectual Primary Directions
The other part of Ptolemy’s technique is the more typical strategy. It is to look in front of the significator to see what will direct to it. The direction of a malefic (or the Sun if the significator is the Moon) to the significator will indicate death. Death is prevented if the potential killing degree is located in a benefic bound, or is aspected by Jupiter within 12 degrees or by Venus within 8 degrees. However, a planet cannot save or destroy if it is under the beams of the Sun (i.e. within 15 degrees of the Sun).
Mars is conjunct Jupiter, so no aspect of Mars will ever meet the killing criteria. Venus is under the beams, so cannot save. Therefore, there are some aspects of Saturn that fall without the intervention of Jupiter, but not until 27 Libra. However, that is within the Venus bound of Libra, so also does not qualify. Therefore, such a malefic aspect is not possible by directions.
Square of Releaser
Ptolemy notes that the square to the place of the releaser (significator) also can indicate death. However, Ptolemy insisted on actual primary directions rather than directing with symbolic ascensional times. The degree of the actual direction of the square of the Sun to itself is in late 2009, a full 6 years before death. As noted, there is a square of the Sun to itself (or at least the bound where it squares itself) around the time of death but only by ascensional times.
Directions at Time of Death
The closest major direction to the Sun at the time of death was the trine of Mercury. It was applying at the time but doesn’t seem particularly nasty according to Ptolemy’s guidance. After all, it is Mercury, a trine, and Jupiter aspects within 2 degrees.
Ptolemaic Technique Conclusions
In conclusion, the technique of using aspectual primary directions as given by Ptolemy is not a reliable indicator of length of life, at least for a planet in the quadrant from MC to DSC. His much more complex technique of directing to the Descendant and then adding/subtracting by a proportion of hourly times may hold some promise. However, the correct results also could be due to chance, so more research is needed.
The Main Valens Technique (2nd century CE)
Vettius Valens provided numerous techniques for length of life in Book III of his Anthology. There are even more longevity techniques scattered across most of the books of the Anthology. Here I will focus on what appears to be his preferred technique. It relates strongly to the techniques of Dorotheus and Ptolemy.
The technique is related to the Dorothean and Ptolemaic techniques but also assesses a maximum length of life based on ascensional times. The maximum can be one of three distances converted into ascensional time. First, it can be from the significator to its square (i.e. the point zodiacally 90 degrees from it). Alternatively, it can be the planetary years of the bound lord of the significator. Finally, there are also times when it can be the distance from an angle of the chart to the next angle – namely the angles on either side of the significator.
Obtaining the Text
There is a free translation of the Anthology available at this link. However, in this matter I recommend the Project Hindsight translation of Book (IIB and) III (available for $30 as a PDF if you email Ellen Black of Project Hindsight). Its footnotes are invaluable for serious study of the technique.
Valens would also take the Sun as the significator as it is the sect light, in the 10th, and with its bound lord. Therefore, according to Valens, the Sun predominates in the chart. It is the control and Venus is the relevant governor.
Sun to its Square
The first determination is according to the ascensional times from the Sun’s position to the square of its position in front of it (i.e. from 15 Gemini to 15 Virgo). As noted in the section on the Dorothean technique above, there are 98 ascensional times between the Sun’s position and about 9.5 Virgo. Adding another 5.5 zodiacal degrees given a conversion of about 1.2 ascensional times per degree (~6.6), brings us to almost 105 ascensional times. Therefore, almost 105 years is our indication of maximum lifespan by the square method.
Planetary Years of the Ruler
According to Valens, we then look at the greater years of the ruler, Venus. She assigns her total greater years (82 years; or 84 years as indicated in some places in Valens and Maternus) because she is well placed. If she indicates less than the square method then Valens advised to prefer her indication as the maximum length of life. Therefore, we conclude that the maximum length of life is 82 or 84 years, and are incorrect.
Now, we must check to see if a malefic aspect intervenes between the Sun and its square, without a benefic aspect within 7 degrees of the same. Saturn’s direction is protected by Jupiter, as is the square of Mars in Leo, and there are no other significant malefic directions in that span. Therefore, we conclude that the length of life is 82 or 84 years according to the indication by the planetary years of Venus. This technique leads to bad results.
Revisiting the Square of the Significator
It is worth noting that the indication by ascensional times from the Sun to its square is relatively good as a maximum length of life at 105 years. Therefore, the technique of using ascensional times of the square may have some value.
Perhaps the indication of Venus should not be used because she is under the beams (though this is not specified by Valens). In that case, we prefer the square of the significator and find it to be relatively accurate.
Angle to Angle
Valens also suggests the possibility of judging from the angle prior to the control (significator) to that following it. The ascensional times of the signs from the Descendant to the MC are very small, and would provide an indication under 61 years, which is way off the mark. If we use the MC to the Ascendant, then the span is slightly longer than that of the Sun to its square, so it would add a couple more years to the sum which is less accurate than the square of the Sun.
Another possible apheta (significator) for the angles calculation is the Hylegical Lot. This is calculated from the nearest New Moon (before or after birth) to the Moon position. The lot is at 22 Pisces. This is near the Descendant, so we would again end up with a much shorter indication of death in his sixties (i.e. Dsc to MC). I won’t be exploring further the more obscure techniques that Valens also discusses in different chapters of Book III.
Note on True Primary Directions
We may wonder about the use of the Valens technique with actual primary directions rather than ascensional times. Obviously, this would not effect the indications by years of Venus, and the fact that malefic directions are protected, but it would affect the indication by the square of the Sun. The square of the Sun directs to the Sun in late 2009, when the native is 92 years old. Therefore, this indication too is not accurate.
Valens Technique Conclusions
Valens use of the square of the significator in ascensional times as a length of life may hold some promise but more work is needed. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Valens presents many disparate techniques for length of life in the Anthology, scattered across most of the books of the work. It is difficult to evaluate (or even clearly understand) them all. I won’t be exploring his other longevity techniques here but the possibility for finding good length of life techniques in the Anthology is still out there.
The Maternus Technique (4th century CE)
Maternus (Book II, Ch. 26 and Book IV, Ch. 6 of Mathesis) advised taking the ruler of the sign following that of the Moon as the chart ruler. The Moon is in Capricorn in Kerkorian’s chart so the following sign is Aquarius. Its planetary years are the length of life. Which set of planetary years to use depends on the condition of the planet.
In this case, the chart ruler is Saturn (ruler of Aquarius). Saturn is in the 11th house and in its own bound so would likely be considered to provide its greater years, which are 57 years. This technique provides an indication that is very far off the mark.
Maternus noted a diversity of opinion on finding the ruler of the nativity. Some took the planet that is in one of the principal houses of the chart and in its own sign or bound, others took the bound lord of the sect light, and others took the ruler (or exaltation ruler?) of the Moon.
Only Saturn is both in an advantageous place (the 11th) and in its own bound or sign (in this case, it’s bound – not that Maternus didn’t use the concept of detriment). Saturn is also the sign ruler of the Moon, but as noted, Saturn indicates only 57 years.
The bound lord of the Sun is Venus, and she indicates at most 82 or 84 years. Mars is the exaltation ruler of the Moon’s signs and can only indicate at most 66 years (but is cadent and out of sect, so would indicate less here).
Maternus Technique Conclusions
No matter how you slice it, the Maternus-style technique involving planetary years does not yield the correct results.
The Technique of Paulus Alexandrinus (4th century CE)
Paulus Alexandrinus provided a hybrid planetary year technique which combines some features of the Dorothean technique with features of the Maternus technique. This technique was later combined with that of Ptolemy to form the basis of the most well-known Medieval approach to length of life.
In Chapter 34 of Introductory Matters (on crises), Paulus advised to examine primary directions (by ascensions) to Ascendant, Sun, and Moon involving certain malefic planets and points. However, he did not explicitly use directions in the context of his length of life technique. His length of life technique (Ch. 36) has more in common with the technique of Maternus than with those of Dorotheus, Ptolemy, and Valens.
Planetary Years of the Lord of the Hyleg
As with Maternus, he finds a “ruler” that indicates the length of life by planetary years. His instructions for finding the ruler are similar to the instructions given by Dorotheus to find the ruler of the control, called the governor. In other words, he takes a ruler of the control (typically the sect light), but not necessarily its bound ruler, and he prefers if it aspects the hyleg and to be itself strongly placed. The length of life pertains to this planet’s planetary years. Planets in whole sign aspect to the ruler can add or subtract years from its total.
If this sounds familiar then you’ve probably studied Medieval astrology. This methodology is the direct ancestor of the Medieval hyleg and alcocoden approach.
Paulus would select Venus as such a ruler, as she is the only ruler of the Sun that sees the Sun. Venus indicates 82 years. Planets in whole sign aspect to Venus may add or subtract years from this indication. However, there are no such planets. The Sun cannot add years in the approach of Paulus. Therefore, 82 years are indicated (or less as Venus is under the beams), which is incorrect.
Paulus Technique Conclusions
The technique of Paulus is superior to that of Maternus in that it relates to some of the instructions prior astrologers gave for finding the governor and using its planetary years. Additionally, it has the added element of allowing planets to add years. Despite allowing malefics to add years in certain circumstances, Paulus does not even allow us to play games with the math in order to contrive a lifespan of 98 using his instructions. Rather than rejecting this approach, later Perso-Arabic astrologers like ‘Umar al-Tabari simply made it more complex, doubling the ways in which numbers could be added and subtracted, while greatly increasing the ambiguity. While the technique was later combined with primary directions, it was also often seen as providing a minimum lifespan, before which a primary direction could not kill. In this way, planetary years of a governor, rather than primary directions of a control, became the primary indication of longevity.
Summary Findings on Special Techniques
Arguably, only Ptolemy’s very complex method for modifying the indication of the Sun’s direction to the descendant provided correct results when followed per instructions. Of course, this result could have been due to chance. However, there are elements of the techniques of Dorotheus, Ptolemy, and Valens that appear to hold some promise. These “best techniques” all involve primary directions, either true ones or symbolic ones by ascensional times.
Dorotheus clued us into the relevance of the directed bound lords and to aspectual primary directions within bounds. Ptolemy clued us into the importance of malefic directions and the possibility that the direction of the significator to the Descendant (possibly modified by hourly times) could be significant. Valens clued us into the importance of the ascensional time length from the control to its square as a possible maximum life span.
The indications that are most off the mark are those that use planetary years, whether by Valens, Maternus, or Paulus Alexandrinus. Interestingly, planetary years came to provide the main indication of general length of life in the late Medieval period.
Part II: Other Factors
I typically examine the astrology of death in terms of other factors that coincide with the death rather than in the context of a special technique. I don’t believe any traditional predictive technique reliably and accurately predicts length of life. However, as death is arguably one of the most important events in life, there are many indications of danger or hardship shown by predictive techniques.
Mars is arguably the most relevant planet for death in the chart. It is the out of sect malefic and rules the 8th house. It also afflicts the lord of the Ascendant (Mercury) somewhat due to its conjunction with it. Additionally, Mars rules the 8th place from Fortune, which is Scorpio.
Saturn and Venus are of less interest but also significant, particularly Saturn. Saturn is in the Moon’s sign and opposes the Moon. Additionally, Saturn is in a close square with the Lot of Death and is positioned in the Place of Affliction. Venus is somewhat noteworthy, but much less so. She rules Mars and Mercury, and she rules the Lot of Death which she closely aspects. Her twelfth-part is also in Aries (the 8th place of death).
Kerkorian turned 98 shortly before his death. On his 98th birthday, June 6th, 2015, the annual profection shifted to Scorpio, ruled by Mars. Therefore, Mars was the lord of the year for the year of death. Mars is in Taurus in his natal chart, so the profection was also in opposition to Mars.
As his death occurred in the first month after his birth day, the monthly profection was also still in Scorpio. In other words, Mars was lord of the both the year and month of his death.
Kerkorian’s final solar return is striking. Mars is conjunct the Sun within 3 degrees. They are both with Mercury (lord of the natal 1st). Note that the Sun is the main significator of life in the chart (it is the sect light and prominently placed). We have discussed it multiple times as the control. Here it is afflicted by the main indicator of death in the chart (Mars). Additionally, Saturn is in Sagittarius, opposing the Mercury-Sun-Mars configuration.
Both benefics are in Leo, which is the 12th house of the natal chart, an ineffective place.
Distributor: Directing through the Bounds
As noted above in the context of the Dorothean technique, the sect light, the Sun, had directed into the bound of Mars in Virgo in late 2014.
Therefore, the bound lord of the directed sect light was Mars, and additionally Mars aspects that bound.
Before looking at the transits at death, let’s recap the role of Mars here. We found that Mars is the most relevant planet for death as it it rules the 8th of death and the 8th from Fortune, another place of death, while afflicting the Ascendant lord. Profections for the period were to Scorpio, the 8th from Fortune, ruled by Mars. Therefore, Mars was activated as the Lord of the Year and the Month at the time of his death. When we examine the Solar Return for the year, we find Mars conjunct the Sun and with Mercury, emphasizing relevance for health (Sun is control in the chart; Mercury is Ascendant Lord). Mars is also opposed by Saturn, adding additional negative oomph. When we look at the distributions of the Sect Light we again found Mars highlighted as the Sun was directing through the Mars bound of Mercury, coming up to the aspects of Mercury and Mars to that bound.
The transits at the time of death were also striking. The transiting Sun was in partile conjunction with transiting Mars (i.e. they were conjunct in the same degree) on the day of death! The transiting Moon is applying to join them in the same sign, Gemini, which is the natal sign of the Sun. Additionally, by this time Saturn had retrograded back into Scorpio, the sign of the annual profection. Therefore, even with the transits, we see multiple repeat indications of Mars afflicting the Sun to indicate the time of death.
Additional Note: Secondary Directions
A reader recently asked me about secondary progressions (which are in fact Hellenistic) and if they pertain to death. I told her that I’ve seen a number of death occur near the time the secondary progressed Moon conjoins Saturn. Kerkorian had one of those deaths. The SP Moon was tightly conjunct SP Saturn within half a degree at the time of death.
PDs in Chart
For the sake of completion, let’s look at the bounds of the zodiac that were directing over every point in the chart at age 98 for Kerkorian. Below are the primary directions in a chart. What we are looking at is basically the natal positions frozen in time relative to the horizon and meridian. The degrees of the zodiac are different for all factors because it is as if we had rotate all the degrees of the zodiac over those natal positions, just like they rotated in the hours after birth by the primary motion. We can see which bound each planet and point was directing through by this method but we will have to look to the natal chart to see which planets aspect those bounds (i.e. which aspects were carried to the significators).
Here we can see the Sun (on MC) directing through the Mars bound of Virgo as noted earlier, which is significant as that bound is aspected by 5 planets, including both malefics. The Moon and the Ascendant are less noteworthy as each directs through the bounds of benefics, which are unaspected. Fortune, Venus, Saturn, Mars, Mercury, and Jupiter all direct through malefic bounds. So let’s look more closely at those.
Fortune was directing through the Saturn bound of Gemini. This is the bound occupied by Venus in the natal chart, so she would take away the danger there. It has no other aspects.
Venus was directing through the Saturn bound of Libra. This bound is aspected only by the Moon, which is by square. Venus is very close to the square of the Moon by direction (11′ away). Perhaps Venus is the actual control and the Moon’s aspect is malefic due to her rulership by Saturn and opposition with it. The only issue with this is that closer to age 30 we would’ve expected death as Saturn directed to Venus bodily from the Saturn bound of Cancer, a bound unaspected by benefics. Saturn coming to Venus bodily from a Saturn bound unaspected by malefics is much most striking than the square of the Moon.
Saturn was directing through the end of the Mars bound of Libra. This bound is aspected only by Saturn so it is particularly malefic. If Saturn is control then it would also be the control’s own square. This is compelling though the exact aspect would have occurred a couple years prior to death.
Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter are conjunct natally, and all were directing through the Mars bound of Leo. This bound has the square of Mars and Jupiter to it (Mercury squares the previous bound), but also the sextile of Venus. Therefore, the bound is aspected by both benefics. Additionally, the squares of Mars and Jupiter would have been exact years prior as they are at the start of the bound (24 Leo).
I should also mention that the prenatal syzygy (at 14 Sagittarius) was directing through the Mars bound of Pisces. Like the Mars bound of Virgo, this bound is aspected by 5 planets, including both benefics, both malefics, and Mercury. However, the syzygy had just entered the bound a little over a year prior. It starts at 19 Pisces so the syzygy was still a couple degrees from the aspect with Mercury at the time of death.
It is intriguing that so many significant points were directing through bounds ruled by Mars. The Sun (and MC), Fortune, the Prenatal Syzygy, the Mercury-Mars-Jupiter conjunction, and Saturn were all doing so. The Sun, the stellium, and the syzygy were also directing through bounds aspected by Mars. This contributes to our indications by general techniques that Mars was very highlighted for the period.
People sometimes ask me why most of my traditional analyses of death lack the use of special techniques for predicting longevity. Here I’ve presented an answer. None of the existing longevity techniques are perfect. The more prominent Medieval techniques for longevity are particularly inaccurate. However, some of the techniques involving directions are worth further exploration and there still plenty of things to try in Valens’s Anthology.
I do advocate the use of special techniques rather than individual factors for most in depth analysis. However, when it comes to death I prefer a combination of predictive techniques. They provide some of the clearest and most intriguing reinforced indications. Though it would be almost impossible to know with certainty that those indications were for death rather than some other difficult event.
There are elements of early length of life techniques that I make use of and that I keep in mind to regularly test. However, I know of no special techniques of Hellenistic or Medieval astrology that always reliably indicate the length of one’s life.
Update April 2019
This article was significantly edited, expanded, and revised in April of 2019. The primary additions included a deeper discussion of the techniques of Manilius, clearer chart diagrams, and the note about secondary progressions.
Featured image of this article (bas relief of Lachesis) by Jim Kuhn [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons