As the birth of Alexander the Great approached, legend has it that the court astrologer, seeing the imminent nativity would render a less-than-stellar chart, instructed that the mother should be girdled in restraints to delay her delivery. After some time had passed, and now seeing that a suitable ascendant would arise, the astrologer signaled the restraints should be loosed on the laboring mother. Allegedly, Alexander promptly burst forth from his mother’s womb with the force of a cannon ball.
The arrival of Chris Brennan’s book, Hellenistic Astrology, is evocative of this historic event. The astrological community, largely traditionalists, but more especially devotees of Project Hindsight, has known for years this book was in the making. Like many forms of suspense, the wait has been excruciating, the release long-anticipated and welcome.
Three weeks ago, I received my copy in the mail from Amazon. Suffering as I was from a month of weirdly disturbed sleep (blame it on the recent eclipses), I was in an unfortunate pattern of awaking in the pre-dawn hours. Rather than resent this unusual insomnia, I made use of it to spend two hours every morning reading this lengthy (670 pp) book before my normal day began. Within two weeks, I’d completed it. There’s a lot to say about this book, and honestly, it’s all complimentary, although I don’t know Chris personally.
The first quarter of the book is a welcome history lesson, leaving no stone unturned, with a detailed account of Hellenistic astrology’s genesis and evolution, and the principal astrologers of the period, from the first century BC to the 6th or 7th century CE. After laying out the philosophical issues, Chris then conducts an exhaustive (but not exhausting) review of all main elements of astrology, starting with the nuts and bolts: planets, zodiac, aspects and houses.
The first half of this book is heavily footnoted, and although I usually resent footnotes for breaking the narrative, I assume Chris’s intention was simply to make sure that everyone would understand where each piece of the puzzle came from. I love a good mystery and, as I was reading this, I saw a forensic investigator working an archaeological crime scene, documenting the nature and location of every thread and shard of evidence in support of the case he was building.
Along the way, he’s set a very high standard for astrological scholarship. As a jyotishi (aka, Vedic astrologer), I was half-expecting a bit of Hellenic spear-rattling regarding the sidereal/tropical zodiac debate, or the question of who owes whom for certain concepts or developments. But Chris is even-handed throughout, indeed diplomatic, regarding any potentially contentious issues. Equally honorable, in a field where we must all inevitably stand on the shoulders of those who’ve come before us, he acknowledges his mentors – the three Roberts of Project Hindsight – Hand, Schmidt and Zoller. Equally gracious, he credits his fellow detectives, Demetra George and Benjamin Dykes, in having helped decipher many of the clues they’ve found in scattered tomes of antiquity.
After the foundational elements are in place, Chris then lays out all the principal concepts and techniques – lordships, bonification and maltreatment, sects, lots, annual profections and zodiacal releasing. The last third of the book is quite generous with chart examples, of both historical and contemporary persons, sufficient in number to make clear the various principles being presented. Clearly there is more to Hellenistic astrology than this, but as a single volume there is literally nothing else like it that covers the history, philosophy, concepts and basic techniques in one fell swoop.
Who is this book for? Quite simply, everyone who calls themselves an astrologer, or who wants to be one.
Whether or not you intend to practice Hellenistic astrology is beside the point. If you’re a western astrologer, this is core material for your tradition, alongside the Persian/Arabic thread that became interwoven with the Hellenistic material into Medieval astrology and its subsequent evolution/devolution into modern western astrology. Vedic astrologers will profit from reading this too, not that it will challenge their allegiances, but because it will demonstrate so much common ground.
As my teacher’s guru once said, it only takes a gross intellect to see the difference between things, but it takes a subtle intelligence to see the commonality among things.
Chris has done an admirable job in presenting a large body of core material that does more to unite astrologers than divide us. And in this day and age, that’s a spirit worth nurturing.
Alan Annand is a graduate of the American College of Vedic Astrology and a former tutor for the British Faculty of Astrological Studies. His New Age Noir crime novels (Scorpio Rising, Felonious Monk, Soma County) feature astrologer and palmist Axel Crowe, whom one reviewer has dubbed “Sherlock Holmes with a horoscope.”
He’s also the author of several non-fiction books. Stellar Astrology, Volumes 1 & 2, offer a wealth of time-tested techniques in the form of biographical profiles, analyses of world events, and technical essays. Parivartana Yoga is a reference text for one of the most common yet powerful planetary combinations in jyotish. Mutual Reception is an expanded companion volume for western practitioners, covering the same subject of planetary exchange through the lens of traditional astrology.
Websites: www.navamsa.com, www.sextile.com