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The Facets of Fate

The Facets of Fate

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Published by Aleksandra D.

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Published by: Aleksandra D. on Feb 26, 2012
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The Facets of Fate:The Rationale Underlying the Hellenistic System of Housesby Robert Schmidt(This article first appeared in The Mountain Astrologer, Dec./Jan. 1999-2000.)For those of us who work primarily within the framework of Western astrology, the techniques andprinciples of interpretation we employ each day are something we may well take for granted. Theyhave become so familiar that it is often hard for us to see them in a new light. One way of openingthem up for fresh consideration is through a historical inquiry into their sources. The results of suchan inquiry may occasionally be disorienting, but they should eventually lead to a greater awarenessof presuppositions in contemporary astrological practice.What follows are some of the newest findings of the Project Hindsight research. I will beconcentrating on Hellenistic astrology, which was the type of astrology practiced in theMediterranean area and the Near East from the second century B.C.E. up until the sixth century C.E.This type of astrology is, in fact, the true source of all later Western astrology, although it will be partof my concern to point out the ways in which the Medieval tradition began to deviate from thisstarting point due to errors in transmission and interpretation.The purpose of this article will be to explain the underlying rationale behind the originalassignment of topics to houses in Hellenistic astrology, which has determined thinking about theastrological houses ever since, albeit with several changes in Medieval times and a major conceptualtransformation in modern times. My thesis will be that the twelve houses originally represented asystematic differentiation and articulation of the fate" concept. Like the Eskimos with their famouslymanifold words for snow, Hellenistic astrologers had, in their house system, a marvelouslysophisticated language for identifying and distinguishing the manifestations of fate in every area of human life.This employment of the fate concept in Hellenistic astrology was not confined to the housesystem alone. Hellenistic astrology was based on a cosmological model in which the fixed stars and
the planets represent the essential components of the cosmic soul, or cosmic consciousness itself.This model, in its numerous variant expressions, derives directly from the cosmogony of Plato'sTimaeus, and is common to nearly all Hellenistic philosophy.(1) However, it is the conceptualizationof this model in terms of the fate, concept that bestows on it a distinctively astrological character.The Hellenistic Concept of FateFate, what the Greeks called Moira, is perhaps best understood in this context as a cosmicprinciple of binding apportionment, at work both in the heavens and on Earth. It does not make aman a man, or a planet a planet, or in any way constitute the essences of things; thus, it is not ametaphysical principle in the sense that it concerns being as being. Instead, it takes as its provincewhat is generally regarded as contingent or accidental  matters that were excluded from seriousphilosophical consideration by the Athenian philosophers themselves as being ultimatelyunintelligible. It is Moira that makes a man such and such: dark-haired rather than light-haired,wealthy rather than poor, healthy rather than ill, and so on.Moira is a principle of apportionment in that it counts out, divides, or distributes. From all thepossible events that can befall human beings, Moira selects and distributes to each individual his orher "due portion." It is also Moira that measures out the span of the individual human life andarranges that the appropriate events happen in "due time." At the same time, Moira is a principle of recombination and synthesis. It binds together the various allotments in the different areas of theindividual's life into a whole. From this point of view, a human life is a "package deal." Ultimately, thetriumphs in one's life only make sense when we consider the tragedies, the peaks when we considerthe valleys. The various events in a given human life can be truly bound into a whole only if they arebinding on a given individual  that is, if Moira attaches to him or her a destiny. Thus, from this pointof view, the ultimate meaning of an individual human life is inextricably bound up with the fateconcept.Relative to human beings, the planets are the instruments of Moira. Hellenistic astrologyunderstands planets in houses, planets in signs, and the various combinations of planets with oneanother, to symbolize events occurring within the cosmic soul, which has all the powers of cognition,appetition, perception, recollection, etc., of which the human soul is itself capable. This is not theplace to enter into the highly interesting question of celestial causation in Hellenistic astrology.Suffice it to say here that it is only what the cosmic soul anticipates in its own inner workings that isallowed to happen in the human realm.However, the stars and planets are themselves no less subject to Moira than human beings.For instance, it is Moira that divides the ecliptic circle into twelve signs and apportions to each its
own unique astrological role in the cosmic soul, which constitutes its own destiny. Without theoperation of Moira, the zodiac is simply a continuous band of space without any obvious beginningor end, lacking any astrological meaning. But it is also Moira that recombines the signs of the zodiacinto a system, so that they may be related to each other according to the triplicities, quadruplicities,etc.We cannot dispense with the fate concept when talking about Hellenistic astrology. AllHellenistic astrological concepts and techniques ultimately derive their meaning and motivation fromthe articulation of the underlying cosmological model in terms of Moira. As we will see, it is central inthe division of the zodiac into twelve houses, at the same time giving these houses their coherenceand integrity in a system.Of course, the idea of a fixed fate is something that modern astrology largely thinks it hasovercome or outgrown. And in its own way, it is probably right to reject the notion that all the eventsbefalling human beings are predetermined. However, this was never the understanding of fate in theearliest Hellenistic writings, and it would be unfair to reject Hellenistic astrology because of a crudecaricature of its more sophisticated fate concept. So I would ask the reader to reserve judgment onthis issue until he has considered what the ancient astrologers actually meant by this concept.It occurs to me that people do somewhat glibly talk about karma, or the lawful consequencesof an individual's past or present actions on his/her future. Now, in the Hellenistic house system, thedirect consequences that one's own actions have on one's life are simply 10th-house fate (or, insome cases, 4th-house fate), although there is no evidence that the Hellenistic astrologers here oranywhere else broadened this notion to include past or future lifetimes in accordance with anydoctrine of reincarnation. Can modern astrology characterize eleven other fundamental modes of fate? As the reader will see, Hellenistic astrology could.Distinguishing between Topical, Dynamical, and Good/Bad HousesThe standard Greek word for what modern astrologers call a "house" is topos, which simplyand most concretely means 'place', although, even in Greek times, this word also took on somethingof the meaning of a 'topic' (that is, a subject matter) in the modern sense. The word 'house' (oikos) isalso part of the standard vocabulary of Hellenistic astrology; however, it is used only for those signswhere the planet has rulership. (For example, Aries is the "house" of Mars, Taurus of Venus, Geminiof Mercury, etc.). To avoid confusion for modern astrologers, I use the term 'domicile' in this context.Although I will employ the modern term 'house' in this article, it is important to keep in mind that theoriginal term was 'place', because the twelve basic "areas" of life were originally understood to

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