Hermes : Magician & Psychopomp

Hermes_mercurius_trismegistus_siena_cathedralHermes Trismegistus in the Cathedral of Siena

Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus – Cathedral of Siena

Among the many joys of practising traditional astrology, is the opportunity to fully explore the inner planets. When the going gets deep, the shallow resort to ‘higher octave” delusions. The formula seems to be if it’s deep, make sure it’s as far away from the Sun as possible which strikes me as perverse.

mercury (1)Being personal doesn’t mean it can’t also be universal. Let’s take Mercury for example. Mercury has the be the most skimmed over of all planets. This is really unfortunate because Mercury in his many manifestations has perhaps the richest set of attributes of all.

Everyone interested in astrology knows Mercury is about communication and short journeys and not much else. In fact, he is probably best known for the Mercury retrograde effect.

Let’s begin with the glyph. The Semi-Circle, Luna symbol  is Soul. The Solar circle is Spirit. They are above the Cross of Matter.

Although Mercury is usually referred to in the masculine, *he* is in fact the primal hermaphrodite that takes on the gender of it’s sign and position. However, it’s Mercury’s nature to communicate both the Solar and Lunar Self. As the Magician, he channels this energy to the world of Matter, symbolized by the Cross.

The image of Thoth (below) embodies the nature of Mercury. He has the Solar – Lunar disk above him. He is in the form of the Ibis. There has been much contention about why the Ibis was chosen as representative, but the most important issue is that it represents Spirits of the Air or intellect. No matter which form he takes, whether Mercury, Hermes or Thoth, he is a winged deity.images (7)

Thoth and Hermes were credited with the revelations of writing, mathematics, magic, astrology, astronomy, medicine, and  the almost completely forgotten role of Psychopomp, conductor of souls to the next world.

When we consider all of these, Hermes takes on a redemptive quality. Yet Modern astrologers have ascribed all of these qualities to the outer planets, mostly Uranus and Pluto. Now that he is virtually ignored, or written off in a sentence or two as the most boring planet,  we can see the extent of the loss.

As messenger to the two luminaries, he was held in very high regard. He is also credited with revealing the musical spell to bring Osiris back to life. In the earliest Egyptian sources he is a self created god.


Relief from a carved funerary lekythos at Athen – Hermes as Psychopomp Cconducts the Deceased Myrrhine to Hades C 430-420-BCE-National Archaeological Museum of Athens

There is great import in the seemingly simple sentence :

“Do You not know, Asclepius, that Egypt is an image of heaven, or, to speak more exactly, in Egypt all the operations of the powers which rule and work in heaven have been transferred to Earth below ?” (Asclepius III, 24b.)

These words of Hermes contain the essential dictum of “As Above, So below.” However the precise way that we comprehend this will depend on which model we are using to reference. For example, it is completely in keeping with Plato’s doctrine of the Forms, the idea that meterial, physical reality is not the ultimate one.

If we follow this essential teaching  through the Works of Plotinus, we have a complete system of thought that is mystical. A key image in the Enneads is the fountain of light, from which all originate and ultimately return.


Arabian Hermes

In the magical tradition of Hermes Trismegigstus, Pico dell Mirandola uses the image of Hermes wedding Earth to Heaven.

Mercury is a winged god, renowned for his speed. Sometimes refered to as Quicksilver, the protean shape shifter resembles the mind itself from the point of view of, say, Buddhism. Mercury is also the Triskster. I’m particularly interested in how Hermes was transmitted to Iranian and Arabian culture and the Abassid astrologers in particular

The early Abbāsid court astrologer Māšā allāh (fl . 762–ca 815) has been called the Prince of Astrology by Robert Zoller. He was “an associate of Umar ibn al-Farruxān aṭ -Ṭabarī, cites Hermes as an authority in his own Arabic works. He may well have known works of Hermes in the Middle Persian original; being a learned Iranian Jew, Māšā allāh could have had access toAramaic and Persian sources as well as Arabic’ (Pingee, Masa’ allah 1973. pp. 159 – 62). Several other Arabian astrologers including Al Biruni are discussed in Kevin van Bladel’s The Arabic Hermes: From Pagan Sage to Prophet of Science.

It’s fair to say that Masa’Allah was the most erudite of scholars at the Abbasid court as well as the finest astrologer. How he received Hermes therefore has resonance in European and Arabian astrology, particularly prior to the Renaissance. Their sources were Middle Iranian and not Arabian in origin. The Persians had taken and translated Hermes into their own language, and as is the case in all cross cultural receptions, Persian elements were attached. However, as can be seen by the photo of the “Arabian Hermes” he has all the same attributes, albeit in what contemporary Greeks might have thought an exotic fashion.

First, we see Mercury is winged, holding the Solar and Lunar elements. The downward triangle remains the symbol of descent into matter to this day. There is however nothing to suggest that he is merely ‘Earth bound.” The two heads certainly have a more Persian design, but it’s quite easy to see the reference to the caduceus, with the two ‘serpent’ heads (perhaps birds in this case.)

There is still plenty of room for cultural interpretation. The role of psychopomp will of course differ in understanding depending on belief in the afterlife. For one it might mean ascension and to another successfully crossing the River Styx. However, the role of spirit guide doesn’t have to change. In the words C.G. Jung:

“From the earliest times, Hermes was the mystagogue and psycho pomp of the alchemists, their friend and counselor, who leads them to the goal of their work. He is “like a teacher mediating between the stone and the disciple.” To others the friend appears in the shape of Christ or Khidr or a visible or invisible guru, or some other personal guide or leader figure.” Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious – CW 9i (1934–1954) (1981 2nd ed. Collected Works Vol.9 Part 1)

Alchemical art from the Buch der Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit

Alchemical art from the Buch der Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit

Hermes is much more than Magician and Psycopomp, but I believe these are the most ignored attributes in our time. Finally, we have the beautiful Alchemical illumination from the Buch der Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit on the left.

This has remained mysterious, although of course many scholars have had their theories. The image is very similar to the previous Arabian illustration, certainly not in style but in substance. Here the Mercurial figure is female. As mentioned, Mercury can be both genders, but is rarely portrayed as a woman. The caduceus- like form is there, with the Sun and Moon, but it’s reversed. She forms an ascending triangle. This image gives much to contemplate regarding the feminine attributes of Hermes.

Al Biruni & Ptolemy on Aspects


Abu Ma’shar

This is one more very brief introduction to the schemata of astrological aspects as expressed by Al Biruni in his Book of Instruction. The aspects he uses include the Inconjunct or Quincunx, refered to by Claudius Ptolemy as an aversion, rather than an aspect . Al Biruni has discussed the Inconjunct immediately before the insertion of the schemata. Oddly enough he opts not to include it in the visual presentation but gives a full written explanation. We will lok at what he has to say as well as Ptolemy’s comments on the subject in his Tetrabiblos.

Al Biruni provides a commentary for the schemata. Much of it is self explanatory, such as Gemini and Sagittarius forming and opposition. In section 373 he writes:

As the complex must follow the simple,we have now to consider the relations of the signs to each other.

Each sign is in Sextile aspect to the third and seventh left and right of it, and there is s sixth of the zodiac (60 ° ) between any degre of that sign and the same degree of those named. Similarly the Quartile aspect is a between a sign the fourth and tenth, left and right,  separated by 90  ° , and the Trine between the fifth and ninth, distant 120°  and the Opposite sign is the the seventh, 180 ° There are therefore seven signs to which the sign in question turns its face and which are consequently considered to be bound in aspect to it. The two signs which are each side of the one in question and their opposites viz. the second and the twelfth and the sixth and the eighth are not in aspect and are inconjunct. (Instructions p. 20).


In section 375 though he discusses the relative strength or “power” of the aspects:

The  following is the order of power of the various aspects. The most powerful is Conjunction. i.e. meeting in the same same, then the opposite [Opposition] then the dexter Quartile, sinister Quartile, dexter Trine, sinister Trine, dexter Sextile, sinister Sextile, When there are two aspects the powerful renders the weaker one incompetent and takes away its power.  (Instruction 21).

Ptolemy writes :

All signs, between which there does not exist any familiarity in any of the modes above specified, are inconjunct and separated. For instance, all signs are inconjunct which are neither commanding nor obeying, and not beholding each other nor of equal power, as well as all signs which contain between them the space of one sign only, or the space of five signs, and which do not at all share in any of the four prescribed configurations: viz. the opposition, the trine, the quartile, and the sextile.Aspects-ptolemy-tetrabiblos-1533_Hervagius

All parts which are distant from each other in the space of one sign only are considered inconjunct, because they are averted, as it were, from each other; and because, although the said space between them may extend into two signs, the whole only contains an angle equal to that of one sign: all parts distant from each other in the space of five signs are also considered inconjunct, because they divide the whole circle into unequal parts; whereas the spaces contained in the configurations above-mentioned, viz. the opposition, trine, quartile, and sextile, produce aliquot divisions.

(Tetrabiblos p. 27)

Although there is overall agreement, there are significant differences. Ptolemy doesn’t specifically mention the Conjunction that Al Biruni put at the top of the list of aspect power is concerned. I get the impression that here is simply taking it for granted.  He was universally understood as including the Conjunction as far as I know.Astronomes_-_miniature_ottomane_XVIIe

Ptolemy makes no distinction between Dexter and Sinister. Most importantly, he doesn’t provide a hierarchy of power to the aspects at all. Neither Al Biruni nor Ptolemy discuss aspect patters, such as Grand Trines, Grand Crosses or even T- Squares.

Al Biruni’s statement that the most powerful aspect renders the weaker one incompetent is broad in its compass. When reading a specific chart we may have some difficult choices to make in judgement but he dose provide us many toosl to make that choice easier. However, as the statement stands alone, it seems reductionist.

Consider for a moment a hypothetical chart with a tight Air Trine. One of the   planets is forming a square or opposition to a fourth planet. Particularly if the square is applying, that is very strong aspect. It may even be  in aspect to a malefic, making it far worse. But I still can’t see how the grand trine is entirely erased from the equation.. massively weakened perhaps but not without any life at all.

Al Biruni on Directions

This beautiful compass is a few hundred years old. It is a part of Middle East exhibition in Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Compass – Part of Middle East exhibition in Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

This is but a simple introduction to determining and interpreting directions, using astrological methods according to Al Biruni. Abū al-Rayhān Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Bīrūnī known as Alberonius in Latin and Al-Biruni in English, was a Persian-Chorasmian Muslim scholar and polymath of the 11th century.

Today he is well known and respected by Traditional Astrologers, a well as by students of the history of medicine, mathematics, his insightful views on India and other nations from the point of view of one of the most learned men of his generation. In his The Book of Instructions in the Element of the Art of Astrology, written in 1029 AD Al Biruni provides a chart of directions. It’s very easy to read and has obvious applications in different forms of astrology It seems to me this would have the most immediate use in Horary as well as Weather Prediction. If you wish to go deeper, he provides a great deal of information about the nature of the elements and how they interact, giving very specific examples of  precise weather prediction among many other things.

directions The table can also be used as a stand alone reference for Horary and Electional work.  But there is more to it.  Al Biruni writes:

 “Aries denotes the middle of the East, Leo a point to the left of that towards the North and Sagittarius one to the right toward the South; similarly with each of the other triplicities. This Taurus indicates the centre of the South, Virgo a point to its left toward the East and Capricorn one to the right and West. Gemini occupies the centre of the West, Libra a point to its left and South and Aquarius one to its right and North. Cancer is in the centre of the North, Scorpius a point to the left and  West, Pisces to the right and east.” (Instructions p.8).

Astrolabe of 'Umar ibn Yusuf ibn 'Umar ibn 'Ali ibn Rasul al-Muzaffari,

Astrolabe of ‘Umar ibn Yusuf ibn ‘Umar ibn ‘Ali ibn Rasul al-Muzaffari,

If you use this simple reference tool with the knowledge of what combinations of signs, planets, fixed stars and other elements of chart delineation, produce what results you’ll find it very useful in predicting the weather, including such details as the direction of the wind This system could be used to find lost objects and  play a role in casting Elections.

Al Biruni is something of a genius when it comes to simplifying what might otherwise be off-putting to many readers.  He is deceptively simple.

Coronation of Elizabeth I


We know the Election for the Coronation was calculated by Dr. John Dee. Elizabeth’s personal astrologer, mathematician, navigator and magician. However to the best of my current knowledge, the timing has been passed in good faith and no contemporary written document to this effect is extant. Most troublesome is when the information was first passed on. Although we should be quite safe in assuming it’s using the Julian calendar, there is the lurking possibility that the date was passed on after the Gregorian calendar was adopted. With these things in mind I would like to read and compare both possible charts.

If nothing else this provides a good study of Electional astrology at work. I’m often surprised how many people view their life without contemplating alternatives, if they are possible, favorable or disastrous.  This is the difference between a strong election with fair results and another that actually makes things worse. Personally, I see both charts as candidates. Although tradition would favour the Julian date, I do not claim that either is the definitive charts. Even Frawley gives no source for the time he uses for the Coronation chart.

Elizabeth was vulnerable at a particularly dangerous point in English history. Her legitimacy was questioned on all fronts and being a woman made it worse

The enmity between Scotland and England and Roman Catholic vs Protestant were events that could tear the realm apart

John Dee Demonstrating an Experiment at Court - Artist Unknown

John Dee Demonstrating an Experiment at Court – Artist Unknown

It’s a marvel that she survived at all But she was to be the greatest Queen, if not the greatest Monarch England has known.

The portrait at the top of the page is of Elizabeth in her prime. The painting is known as the Armada portrait.

I have little doubt that John Dee played a role in the annihilation of the Armada.  Beyond being the Queen’s astrologer he is said to have used a powerful magical curse against Her Majesty’s adversaries.


Coronation Chart 1

The perfect Election exists only in the mind of God. I’m frequently asked to do an Election for all manner of events. Often I’m asked to do so with precious little notice.

The task then becomes not necessarily to find an ideal chart but one with the least problems. I do not know how much notice was given to  John Dee, but I suspect it wasn’t much. Nevertheless it’s a fine piece of work.

The chart date and time given is 15 January 1559 AD  at 12.00 Greenwich, using the Porpyhry House system. That is the first chart. The second is adjusted to ten minutes later and showing Al Biruni’s planetary parts We are told it was around noon, so we have room for a little maneuvering, but not very much.

First of all we have a chart for a few minutes after high noon, with Sun and Jupiter in The Tenth house, disposited by Saturn Rx in the Twelfth House, in his own Joy. The Hour is Jupiter The Day is the Moon. The Sun is with the fixed star Altair and in partile  Trine to the Ascendant.

Adjusted to 12.10

Adjusted to 12.10

The Tenth House is the place of high office, preferment, standing, command and honour. Primarily the Sun but also Jupiter are royal in this context.

We have Mercury and Venus in Capricorn in the Ninth House as well. The Saturn signature is pervasive. The Eleventh House informs or influences the Tenth. Venus in Capricorn is cool and with the Fixed Star Vega but also suggests a favorable relationship between Religion and Finances.

The Moon is separating from a Sextile to Jupiter and will then Trine the same when she passes into Libra. I’m not happy about the Moon in the Eighth, but having both Malefics in their Joy in the Twelfth and Sixth House is always a good idea.. Mars in the Sixth is said to be like a tiger in a cage.

It might seem detrimental having Saturn disposit Jupiter, Sun, Mercury and Venus, particularly considering his condition. First of all, the old Devil is doing the best and transferring his light to Mars. This I believe neutralizes the Saturn and Mars opposition. Elizabeth’s hidden enemies are thus significantly weakened. I don’t know what Dee had in in mind, but I strongly suspect he would have interpreted the Scorpionic Mars in the House of Servants as a strong and  loyal military.

A phoenix is a mythological bird which never dies but, after 500 years, is consumed by fire and born again, making it a symbol of the Resurrection, endurance and eternal life. Only one phoenix lives at a time, so it was also used to symbolize Elizabeth's uniqueness and longevity.

A phoenix is a mythological bird which never dies but, after 500 years, is consumed by fire and born again, making it a symbol of the Resurrection, endurance and eternal life. Only one phoenix lives at a time, so it was also used to symbolize Elizabeth’s uniqueness and longevity.

The Part of Fortune is in the Fourth House and parallel to Fixed Star Aldebaran. I’m not sure if Dee planned this or not because there is more than one way of reading Aldebaran. It is  often referred to as the Eye of God It is also associated with blindness.

If he had reversed the calculation from the one above, the Pars Fortuna would then be found in the Eleventh House and that is a great blessing  The House is known as that of the Good Spirit and speaks of influential friends and alliances. It’s at the degree of the twelfth cusp but hasn’t crossed the threshold. Things like this make us realize how tricky it can be to construct an Election with a small window of time to work with.

The Almuten of the Chart is fortuitously the Sun according to rules set down by Ibn Ezra. He is in Sect. Venus in the House of God and Religion has the highest score for Essential Dignities

After all, Elizabeth is not only to be the Queen but the head of the Church of England as well.

Elizabeth I in Coronation Robes

Elizabeth I in Coronation Robes

The Lady of the Geniture is the Moon, which I find highly appropriate. She is strong with Procyon, a Fixed Star of high magnitude possessing  the nature of Mercury and Mars. The Planetary Parts according to Al Biruni offer another dimension.

The Part of Jupiter is beautifully placed in the Ninth House, lending it more strength and depth. The Parts for both Malefic are in their House of Joy  just as are the planets themselves. The Parts of  Mercury and Moon sit well in the Eleventh. But the Part of Venus in Royal Leo in the Fourth Angular house is exquisite.

I received a comment that the chart may be questionable because the ruler of the twelfth is applying to the ruler of the ascendant. I freely admit that isn’t prefect by any mean, but doesn’t undermine the entire election. Electional astrology is what Frawley refers to as the “art of the possible.”

I do not know if Dee had read Al Biruni, but it would very odd if he didn’t. He was a polyglot, an occultist and well supported by the Queen. I’m sure he could get any book he desired.


Coronation Chart 2

Let’s now look at the chart most frequently quoted, with the same time and date, but using the Julian calendar. This chart has much to commend it, not least the fact that we have Regulus both conjunct and parallel the Pars Fortuna in the fourth.tudorrosemain  Regulus is of the Nature of Mars and Jupiter. The Pars is also with the Arabic Part of Abundance in House.  This would help meet the need of a strong foundation.

The chart gives us the Day of the Sun and the Hour of Mars. The first is a blessing, the second is a mystery.  It could be that the time is slightly off by perhaps  minute, when the Hour of Jupiter would have ended, but I still see this as a compromise. It’s cutting it too fine. I have looked at the Lunar Mansions and their is nothing particularly auspicious, so I’m guessing Dee didn’t use them.

Saturn is direct in this chart, dispositing Jupiter, the Sun, Venus and Mercury. However, the Saturn – Mars opposition is much stronger. Mars is applying to the opposition and is but one degree from perfection. Nevertheless they are still restrained by House placement, each in their Joy. This is a trade off many would be reluctant to make.

Elizabeth's Radix Chart

Elizabeth’s Radix Chart

My remarks on the previous chart regarding a strong and loyal military are still true, although somewhat diluted. Mars is not receiving the light from Saturn.

Saturn is the uncontested Almuten of the chart in the Fixed Earth sign Taurus, dispositing the Fixed Air signs in Aquarius. While this might seem a bit gloomy, it is excellent for stability and longevity of the reign.

The Ninth House is still in very good shape, auguring a favorable and financially harmonious relationship with the Church.

That only leaves the Eleventh House, the House of the Good Spirit. When considering a Monarch, this would be best represented as court, courtly advisors and others in a supportive role.  Moon in Aries means changeability, volatility and ill will in this position.  She is also in an applying Square to Venus.

coronation parade1

Coronation Parade

The transits to Elizabeth’s natal chart at the time of the second Coronation chart are notable. They include Jupiter Sextile Jupiter and Venus Trine her Sun. This speaks strongly for the second chart.

We don’t know how much time Dee at his disposal, it might have been very little. That would have diminished his options. All in all, I tend to favor the first version.