Episode 86 is a solo show where I talk about some research I recently worked on in connection with my book on Hellenistic Astrology.
The first issue is whether Saturn was conceptualized as female by some astrologers in the early Hellenistic tradition, while the second is who is the earliest female astrologer who can be identified by name.
Below is an extensive series of show notes followed by links to download or stream the recording of this episode of the podcast.
Announcement of the winners of the July competition
The podcast was sponsored this month by the creators of astrology software programs Solar Fire and Archetypal Explorer, and at the top of the show I’ll be announcing the two winners of this month’s software giveaway.
The winner of Archetypal Explorer’s free one-year subscription was Jo Gleason!
The winner of the free copy of the astrology software program was Solar Fire Jamie Delp!
Many thanks to our sponsors and patrons for supporting the podcast this month! Please visit the July Giveaway Description page for more details on these programs or information on how to enter the next month’s raffle.
Next month I’m giving away access to my online courses in Hellenistic and Elective Astrology as part of the raffle.
Episode Notes / Outline
- Start announcing this month’s competition winners in the first 10 minutes.
Sex of Saturn
- The astrologer Charlie Obert pointed out earlier this year that Dorotheus von Sidon says that Saturn is female.
- Has written some articles about it on his website studentofastrology.com.
- Reference can be found in Dorotheus, Carmen Astrologicum, 1, 10:18.
- It’s a little remark in brackets that says, “(and the female planets are Saturn, Venus, and the moon, and the male planets are the sun, Jupiter, and Mars).”
- This is really interesting because then it creates a symmetrical series of tasks and the Hellenistic astrologers were often really focused on symmetry.
- It is problematic, however, because the rest of the tradition apparently viewed Saturn as male.
- Sun, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars masculine, Moon and Venus feminine, Mercury mostly neutral.
- However, many of the later astrologers may have only followed Ptolemy because of his position as a scientist.
- They may also have followed the associations with the gods where the Sun, Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and Mercury were all male gods while Venus and the moon were female gods.
- The question is whether this remark in brackets was in the original text or was added later, or whether it is some kind of translation error.
- Was there a real variant tradition before Ptolemy?
- You have to understand the situation with Dorotheus’ translation to get the problem.
- What we have is an English translation of an Arabic translation of a Persian translation of the Greek text, originally self-authored in the form of a didactic poem.
- There are a number of errors and interpolations in the text by later authors.
- An obvious case occurs early in 1, 6, 4 when it says, “Saturn harms one who is born during the day and Mars, one who is born at night”
- This is the reverse of the usual Hellenistic sect-based rule, and in the rest of the text, Saturn by night and Mars by day are clearly treated as more harmful.
- So it was just a mistake in the text.
- The question is whether referring to the sex of Saturn is a similar mistake.
- Unfortunately, there isn’t much evidence of planetary gender in the rest of the text.
- The Hellenistic astrologers sometimes seem to focus more on the gender of the signs and the phase relationship with the sun than on the gender inherent in the planets.
- There is a reference in Dorothy 1:21:10 that Saturn and the Sun mean elder brothers, Moon mean older sisters, and Venus mean younger sisters.
- This suggests that Dorotheus regards Saturn as male.
- But then we don’t know for sure if this is the interpolation or if it was the first.
- Also used Saturn and the Sun in calculating fatherless.
- At 1:21:20 he says that Saturn indicates the death of a sister in a feminine sign with the lot of the brothers.
- This is complicated because Ben Dykes tells me that there seems to be some references to Saturn as female in Theophilus and Sahl in the 8th century.
- But then Theophilus and Sahl both resorted to the Arabic-Persian translation by Dorotheus so that they could just follow it, which bypassed the Ptolemaic tradition.
- By doing Yavanajataka Saturn is gender neutral, which might support the idea that it could have been female in the Hellenistic tradition.
- Ben also points out that the Jewish Kabbalists also associated the sphere of Binah on the Tree of Life with Saturn and viewed it as female.
- The general point here is that I don’t know the answer to this question, but it’s suggestive enough that it’s worth researching further.
- I warn people that it could still be a translation mistake and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions too quickly.
- Other translation mistakes like the triple made great changes in the tradition, and we should be careful not to make the same mistakes now.
- But it’s worth looking into.
Early Practitioners of Astrology
- Last month I put this chapter together on all Hellenistic astrologers, similar to episode 62 on the life and work of Hellenistic astrologers
- One of the points that you will notice is that they were all men.
- In ancient times, women did not usually receive the same education as men.
- This begs the question of who was the first female astrologer or the first female astrologer we can name?
- Kenneth Johnson wrote a great article for the NCGR Journal years ago identifying Buran of Baghdad, who lived in Baghdad in the 9th century, as the earliest known woman he calls an “astrological woman.”
- Someone who had an education in astrology and is said to have used it in their personal life and in a famous case to make a prediction.
- This made me think about the Hellenistic tradition and whether there was anyone else we could identify earlier in the Greco-Roman tradition.
- We know women often consult astrologers.
- There are some recorded court cases accusing women of illegally consulting astrologers.
- The manuals of guys like Valens and Firmicus are littered with hints on how to interpret women’s charts.
- Usually the standard is a male perspective, but then every now and then they will go digging and either say the same applies on the women’s charts or they give an alternate rule of what to do for women.
- Earlier this year, while I was working on a biography for the 1st century astrologer Thrasyllus, I found this passage in the Roman poet Juvenal, who wrote some rather harsh satirical pieces that criticized contemporary society.
- There he mocks female clients of astrologers who eventually begin to practice the subject on their own.
- While the point of this line is satire and ridicule, it probably still reflects a general point that is true, namely that some female clients of astrologers likely would have started to practice the subject on their own at some level.
- For me, I define astrologer as someone who believes that astrology is a legitimate phenomenon and uses it in some way in their daily life.
- So by this standard we have a reference to women who practiced astrology in the Roman Empire around AD 100.
- The next question is who is the first woman we can actually name who would have had an education in astrology?
- At this point, I think I can argue that this was the famous philosopher Hypatia, who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, around the end of the fourth or early fifth century (about AD 400).
- Hypatia was the daughter of the mathematician and astronomer Theon of Alexandria.
- Theon wrote commentaries on Ptolemy’s astronomical works known as the Almagest and Handy Table.
- Possibly an early work on the use and construction of an astrolabe.
- Some of Theon’s disciples were astrologers and he wrote the commentaries for them so they would know how to use them to draw horoscopes.
- By that time the empire had changed and Christianity had become the predominant religion.
- It was around this time that laws against astrology were enacted.
- Astrologers were instructed to burn their books or go into exile.
- Theon didn’t really talk about astrology in his extant works, although it may have been because it could get him into trouble.
- Hypatia was apparently interested in astronomy and is believed to have helped her father write his commentary on the Almagest.
- As an adult, Hypatia gained a reputation as a philosophy and mathematics teacher, and she had a number of students whom she held in high regard.
- Given her background in astronomy and Ptolemy, she would have had at least some training or familiarity with astrology as well.
- She was killed by a Christian mob in AD 415.
- The motivations are a little unclear, and it seems that it was mainly political, although a later hostile Christian source says it was implicated in evil practices involving “magic” and “astrolabes”.
- An article I recently read about Hypatia and Theon by Alain Bernard suggests that the mob may have believed, or were led to believe, that they practice astrology and use it to dissuade others from their beliefs.
- The suggestion, then, is that Hypatia’s background in astronomy and possibly astrology could have been an excuse to rally the mob against her.
- We cannot say for sure if Hypatia was a practicing astrologer or what her views on astrology were, as almost nothing of her work survived.
- However, we can say that since she was someone interested in astronomy and had an education in astronomy, she probably would have had at least an education in astrology as well.
- This would make her the first female figure known by name with such training, although there would undoubtedly have been other female astrologers before her whose names have been lost.
A full transcript of this episode is available: Transcript of Episode 86
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