Astrological traditions suggest that primary directions were an important tool at one time, but they are used relatively rarely now. Access to computers enables us to escape the time-consuming work that was formerly needed to calculate them, and permits us to test several variations in the calculations. Astrology is a pragmatic tool. We determine which techniques and tools are useful by trying them out on individual charts. I was not impressed in my initial testing of primary directions, and have not dealt with them in several years. When Rique (see his article in this issue of The Mutable Dilemma) discovered an apparent error in the mathematical approach that we had previously used, of course I had to test the new system.
The one “impressive” case I had seen when working with the previous mathematical formula was Jimmy Carter’s election in 1976. So I started by looking at both the “old” and the “new” calculation system for his election, for the Iranian captivity (which was the main reason he was defeated in 1980), and for the 1980 election. I also looked at Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974 in the wake of Watergate, and at a chart of a woman who died of lupus erythematosus. I chose the latter because it was one I had examined with the earlier calculation system and it had not had adequate aspects to describe the death. I will continue to check important events in other charts, but my initial reaction after working with these three is that I am still not impressed with the system.
As Rique explains in his article, primary directions are not a simple matter of conjunctions in Right Ascension. A planet is described as being on a “proportionate” horizon which is a rotation of the actual horizon. “Regular” directions involve moving the point where a planet or other factor would form an aspect to the proportionate horizon of the second planet or other factor. “Converse” directions involve moving the proportionate horizon of the body to the aspect point of the second body. Regular and converse aspects for the same two planets will not be exact on exactly the same date because of the constant use of oblique angles when dealing with the proportionate horizon. The system is highly visual; people used to look at the sky. If the preceding is not clear, don’t worry. You can test the results in horoscopes and lives without understanding the trigonometry. I don’t understand it.
Working with the system is made more complicated because we have several options, as is always the case in astrology. The timing of an exact aspect will vary depending on whether we take into account the latitude of the natal planet or of the directed planet or use zero latitude. It will also vary depending on our choice of arc. Alternatives include one degree per year of life, the mean (average) solar arc (about 59 minutes for each year of life), the normal solar arc (the distance in RA moved by the secondary progressed Sun from its natal position to the time under consideration), or the birthday solar arc (the actual RA motion of the Sun on the birthday multiplied by the number of years involved). The computer programs written by Rique and Mark include all the preceding options! Consequently, the same aspect will be exact at several different times in your life, depending on your choice of system. This gives devoted researchers a chance to test all the systems against the events of many lives, to see which seems most accurate. I have only started such a process, and I am not sure the effort is worth it. Asteroids are more fun, and harmonic arcs seem more impressive.
One further question involves the allowable orb. On all other forms of directions and on all forms of progressions, I feel that the one degree orb is proper. Solar arc aspects therefore last about two years, as the progressed Sun moves about one degree a year so the aspect holds during the year the directed planet moves up to the exact minute of the aspect, and during the year it separates. Secondary progressions vary from Moon aspects which range up from two months to outer planets which sometimes maintain an aspect through one’s whole life. The latter are very important, basic keys to the individual’s character. Allowing a one degree orb for primary directions would produce aspects lasting about two years, but most modern astrologers who have worked with this system have insisted that the orb should be limited to a fraction of a degree, preferably that the relevant aspect should be exact on the day of the major event. So what do our preliminary cases show?
The Lupus death is the simplest to consider. The woman was a very successful business executive who had never married and had a savior-victim relationship with an older woman alcoholic. Psychologically, the self-destruction of her immune system was related to her intense frustration over this destructive relationship. She was too committed to being “spiritual” to acknowledge her anger. Her friends considered her a “saint.” The lupus developed one spring, and she died the following November. Her chart is in my book Expanding Astrology’s Universe in the chapter on the twelfth house.
Looking at her primary directions, the birthday solar arc measurement formed the earliest aspects. If we allowed a one degree orb, we would have to look at dozens of aspects. If we limit our time to two weeks preceding and following her death, we have 13 aspects which become exact in that time interval using the birthday solar arc. They are Vesta trioctile Pallas, Uranus square Juno (both appropriate for tension involving a relationship); south node of the Moon sextile Mars, Venus sextile south node (not really appropriate for a fatal illness); Uranus trioctile Antivertex (which might be interpreted at an urge to run away but also stress in relationships since the Vertex would be octile and can be read as similar to the Descendant); Venus semisextile Mercury, Uranus sextile Uranus, Ascendant sextile MC, Ascendant semisextile Moon (all normally considered harmonious aspects); Ceres square Mars (appropriate for illness); Neptune sextile Mars (harmonious again); Pallas octile Pallas and Pluto opposite Juno (the last two fitting stress and separations in relationships). We have six stress aspects compared to seven harmonious, though some astrologers do consider the semisextile questionable.
For this particular individual, the solar arc and the mean solar arc give almost identical results; that is, the aspects are exact on almost the same days in both systems so she was born when the Sun’s movement in the interval between her birth date and her death date was almost the same as the average movement of the Sun. Taking the same “time orb interval” of two weeks on both sides of the death date, the mean solar arc produced 11 exact aspects while the solar arc had the same 11 aspects and one additional one during the four week period. The extra was Juno semisextile Vesta. The eleven shared aspects included Mercury octile Saturn, Chiron sextile Pluto, Saturn sextile Juno, south node octile Uranus, East Point octile Uranus, south node semisextile Antivertex, Jupiter trioctile Mars, Venus sextile Venus, Saturn square Uranus, Neptune trioctile Moon, and Antivertex square north node. For these measuring systems, the count is five theoretically harmonious and seven stress aspects.
The simplistic degree per year measurement required a larger arc to reach the date of the event, and produced only 8 exact aspects in the four week interval. The aspects were south node sextile south node, Ceres sextile East Point, south node semisextile Mercury, MC quincunx Ascendant, Ceres conjunct Jupiter, Pallas trine south node, MC quincunx south node, and Ceres sextile Antivertex. The only really appropriate aspects are the quincunxes from the MC. If one case was enough, I would be inclined to drop the “one degree measurement.” But of course, we will have to do much more checking before we can make any pronouncements. I have not bothered to specify which aspects were direct and which were converse, since both are considered equally valid as far as I know.
Moving to former President Jimmy Carter’s chart, the aspects I had formerly found impressive in his primary directions in 1976 were several between Jupiter and Saturn. On redoing his directions with the old calculation system, they seemed less notable. Saturn was conjunct Jupiter almost a year before the election, exact on December 25, 1975, using the birthday solar arc and the latitude of the directed planet. Using the latitude of the radix (natal) planet, the same aspect was exact on February 19, 1976. With zero latitude, the aspect was exact on February 29, 1976. When I limited my search to four weeks centering on the date of the event, there were some reasonable aspects (Vesta trine Ceres and Vesta quincunx Saturn—both pointing to work opportunity and change) but Mars trioctile Venus and Uranus opposite Juno seemed tangential. Using the solar arc, there were Mercury and Ceres aspects, while the mean solar arc had Mercury, Ceres, and Vesta aspects. The degree-for-a-year system most emphasized relationship factors. Looking back, I am less impressed with the collection of aspects.
Turning to the new mathematical calculations, the birthday solar arc has Pallas trine Mercury and Vesta trine Ceres; both appropriate aspects. Nine aspects are exact in the four week period centering on the election; five harmonious and four stress. Using the solar arc measurement, there are also nine aspects in the interval; four harmonious and five stress. The mean solar arc had eight aspects; four stress and four harmonious. The degree-per-year measure produced seven aspects; three octiles, three sextiles, and one semisextile. Unlike the death chart, the aspects were quite appropriate for an election and job change with two aspects involving the MC, another one was Vesta to Vesta and still another was a Saturn to Saturn aspect while another involved Ceres and finally there was a Sun to Sun aspect emphasizing prominence and power. There just aren’t simple answers in astrology.
Shifting to the Iranian captivity on November 4, 1979, and keeping our four week time frame, the four systems of arc measurement ranged from 13 aspects for the solar arc, to 11 for the degree-per-year, to 9 for the mean solar arc, to six for the birthday solar arc. In the last system, five of the six aspects were stressful. The mean solar arc had four trines and a sextile; hardly appropriate. The degree-per-year system had three trines and a sextile but also more conflict aspects than the preceding arc. The “normal” solar arc like the birthday solar arc had some appropriate aspects involving Saturn, Vesta, and the MC.
The preceding cursory glance at two charts and three events is obviously only a beginning, and leaves the whole system up in the air. I will continue to watch it, and if any readers have done more systematic work with primary directions, they might like to contribute an article on their results. I will also try to have some more material for the next issue of The Mutable Dilemma, including Nixon who was squeezed out by lack of space.