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Introduction to Timing with Minor Periods and Ascensional Times

You might have seen me peddling this “Hellenistic Planetary Divisions Calculator” and thought “wut”. Then maybe you gave it a chance, forked over $25, got your copy, opened it and thought “wut”. So I figure that I should offer more of an explanation for why this calculator is useful and definitely worth at least $25. On Saturday August 3rd 2019 at 1 pm PT, I’ll be giving a FREE webinar through Kepler College called “Timing the Activations of Planets and Aspects: A New Look at an Old Technique”. Register HERE for to catch the webinar live or later. In the leadup to that presentation, I’d like to give you this article as a bit of an introduction to the technique.

We know about this technique from Hellenistic astrologer Vettius Valens, who wrote about it in Book VII of the Anthology under this mouthful of a chapter:Teaching Concerning the Successful and Unsuccessful Times in Relation to ½, ⅓ and ⅔ of the Ascensions and Periods of the Stars” (Robert Schmidt translation). Valens seems to hold the technique in high regard and gives about thirty example charts. He uses it to compare the winners and losers of lawsuits, the ups and downs in someone’s life from year to year, and even compares the charts of survivors of a shipwreck.

Minor Periods and Ascensional Times

While it can get really complicated, it’s a straightforward idea: Planets are activated and their natal potential is realized as they complete the durations of their minor periods, ascensional times, and the combinations and divisions thereof. The minor periods of the planets should be familiar to you if you know about Zodiacal Releasing, they’re just the base unit of their zodiacal/synodic recurrences in numbers of years:

  • Sun – 19
  • Moon – 25
  • Mercury – 20
  • Venus – 8
  • Mars – 15
  • Jupiter – 12
  • Saturn – 30

The ascensional times are a result of the apparent obliquity of the zodiac which is dependent on the latitude of your birth place. You can get accurate ascensional times for a given birth chart through the Traditional Astrology Calculator on Astro-seek.com. Once you’ve put in the birth data, scroll down and somewhere along the page you’ll see a table for the ascensional times like this:

What we’re focusing on for now are the numbers in the “Rising Time” column. The ascensional time for a sign is simply how many equatorial degrees pass the meridian while a sign is rising. Take a look at Aries. 13.06 degrees passed the meridian while 30 degrees of Aries rose. This is why Aries is considered a sign of short ascension in the northern hemisphere. Compare this to Libra, where 42.77 degrees passed the meridian while 30 degrees of Libra rose, it’s nearly three times as long!

These minor periods of the planets represent a number of years and the ascensional times of the signs are converted into years. So we might assume that at age 19, the Sun is activated and that at 13.06 years old, Aries is activated, but not so fast!

Timing Ambiguities

There is a discrepancy in the texts about how exactly these periods should be counted. Here are two different translations of the same passage (bolded emphasis mine):

The events occur after the ascensions of the zoidia and the periods of the stars have been completed, just as the King himself says in the case of a nativity: “Such a one being childless, when he has passed through the times appropriate to Aphrodite, he will be deprived of blood relatives, and, rendered useless, he will live the life of a beggar in every way.” The times, therefore, will begin to go to work then whenever they concur with completion, in the case of good events by preparing ahead of time friendships, alliances, benefits, sympathies, reputation, but in the case of foul events, wretched causes.”
– Vettius Valens, Book VII, translated by Robert Schmidt, pg. 82-83

The results come to pass after the completion of the rising times of the signs or the periods of the stars, just as the King himself says about a nativity: “The native, while passing through the current chronocratorship of Venus, will be childless, bereft of the necessities of life, and, since he lacks everything, will live like a beggar.”  Chronocratorships begin to be active when they come to have full control. At that time they prepare (in good forecasts) friendships, associations, profits, fellow-feeling, rank; in bad forecasts, they prepare afflictions and crises.”
-Vettius Valens, Book VII, translated by Mark Riley, pg. 136

They both seem to say that the results of a given activation occur after the completion of the minor periods and ascensional times. However, there is a distinct difference in their reporting of the quote from the “King” (Valens’ fancy nickname for Petosiris). Schmidt seems to make the paragraph consistent by using the word “passed” which would imply the activation occurs after its completion whereas Riley uses “while passing through” which implies the activation takes place over a period of time either before or after the target date.

However, both of these are contradicted by Valens’ own usage of the minor periods and ascensional times in his examples by counting the minor periods and ascensional times ordinally, as the nth year. He remarks in his many examples that a planet is activated in “the 22nd year” or the “36th year” which refer to ages 21 and 35 respectively. And we know this is accurate because Schmidt makes this explicit in the introductory notes when discussing how Valens labels years:

This year is always stated ordinally, as the nth year of the native’s life (which, consistent with the Hellenistic method of counting, always means the year following the native’s (n-1)th birthday). Accordingly, if the ascensional time is rounded up to n, the event that accords with the completion of the exact ascension should be between the native’s (n-1)th birthday and his nth birthday.”
-Robert Schmidt, Vettius Valens Anthology Book VII, pg. xvi

Schmidt also personally corrected me on this about 10 years ago. Natasha Richardson had just died in a skiing accident and she was 45 years old. She was born with a Mars-Saturn opposition, so I thought that her death was an activation of her Mars and Saturn, because Mars (15) + Saturn (30) = 45. I posted about it in an old astrology forum but Robert Schmidt told me himself straight up that it wasn’t active because the Mars-Saturn opposition pointed to the 45th year, which is age 44, not age 45.

This view of counting the minor periods ordinally is backed up by Chris Brennan as well:

“This occurs in the year leading up to the birthday associated with that year in the native’s life, using ordinal numbers. For example, the planetary period of Mars is fifteen years, which means that Mars becomes activated in the native’s fifteenth year, which occurs from the age of fourteen to fifteen years old.”
-Chris Brennan, Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune, pg. 510

To make this even more confusing, Valens occasionally rounded the ascensional times up and down to the nearest whole year, and when he did this he seemed to be associating the completion of the ascensional time with that whole year, in the same way he does with the completion of minor periods. However, in other cases he makes note of the specific month in which an ascensional time is activated without rounding it up or down, so it prompts the question of when the activation of an ascensional time truly begins. And then we have to remember that Valens’ ascensional times were only approximate, and not as precise as the values we can get through modern spherical trigonometry today.

So we have some options here: Model A represents an activation beginning a year before completion, and ending at completion. This is the main model most clearly implied by Valens’ example charts as well as by Robert Schmidt and Chris Brennan. Model B represents an activation beginning at the completion of the period, most clearly suggested by Valens’ explicit statement about when periods begin and his quote from Petosiris, even though it contradicts his own examples. Model C represents the activation beginning a year before completion and lasting until a year after completion, similar to the conceptualization of an applying and separating aspect. This appears to be how Demetra George uses it in some of her examples, as well as the view of Curtis Manwaring who worked closely with Robert Schmidt in developing the Hellenistic astrology software Delphic Oracle.

One benefit of Model A is that the activations correspond with the astronomical expression of each minor period which is usually less than the cardinal expression of the number. For example, if Mars is activated in the 15th year at age 14, then it coincides with the astronomically precise Sun-Mars synodic return which happens in the 15th year at age 14.95, shortly before someone turns age 15. So the year following the activation would be that much further removed from the astronomical basis of the minor period.

One downside of Model C is that it effectively makes the “orb” for an activation 2 years long, and when considering the multiple activations that can be present within a given year, it makes everything ultimately that much more complicated. It also potentially waters down the significance of the correlation with a 2-year window of time. Of course to be more specific you could simply use the 6 months before and after the target date, but this would be that much further removed from how they’re actually implemented by Valens.

For now, I’m choosing Model A since it is unambiguously used by Valens for the timing of minor periods, but I’m also following Model A for the timing of ascensional times without rounding them up or down because we now have precise and accurate ascensional times and it would be consistent with the way we treat minor periods. I’ll keep Model C in the back of my mind, but in practice I’ll be adhering to Model A.

How To Do It

Here’s an example of looking at this with the chart of the iconic boxer Muhammad Ali, one of the few boxers to win the world heavyweight championship 3 times. We might be interested in the activations of Mars for a fighter since it’s the planet of courage, aggression, and conflict, as well as the fact that his Mars is zodiacally angular in the 10th whole sign house in Taurus. When Mars is activated in his chart through this timing method, it seems to point us directly toward his most significant and greatest achievements in boxing, suggested by Mars in the 10th.

Birth Data Source: Astro.com, Ascensional Times Source: Astro-seek.com

Timing by Minor Period

Activation of Mars in 10th
Minor Period of Mars = 15

“15th year” = Age 14
January 17th 1956 – January 17th 1957

This just happens to be the year that Ali won his first boxing title, the 1956 Golden Gloves boxing champion in the junior division. I could not find the date of the competition, but I did find references to him being 14 years old and that it took place in 1956. In 1958 the Golden Gloves competition took place in early March, so one could speculate that March 1956 was the month Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) won his first boxing title.

Timing by Ascensional Time

Activation of Taurus 10th
Ascensional Time of Taurus = 22.3

22.3 = Age 21.3 – 22.3
May 7th 1963 – May 7th 1964

On February 25th 1964, Ali won his first heavyweight world championship in a stunning upset against champion Sonny Liston. Something to keep in mind is that this activation also would activate Saturn which is present in Taurus, and Taurus has the exact same ascensional time as Aquarius, which activates his Moon, Mercury and Venus in Aquarius. In other words, the ascensional time of Taurus does not just time out as an activation of Mars, but the entire configuration he has between planets in Taurus and Aquarius. His Moon, Mercury and Venus are in superior position to his Mars and Saturn which shows that he ultimately overcomes anatagonists and obstacles, even if it’s through struggle and great difficulty.

Timing by Minor Period and Ascensional Time

Activation of Mars in Taurus 10th
Minor Period of Mars(15) + Ascensional Time of Taurus (22.3) = 37.3
37.3 = Age 36.3 – 37.3
May 7th 1978 – May 7th 1979

On September 15th 1978, Ali won his third and final heavyweight world championship. While using the ascensional time of Taurus again invokes his configuration involving planets in Taurus and Aquarius, this time is particularly “Mars in Taurus”-like since it includes the minor period of Mars.

Taken together, these activation points provide a brief outline of his career in boxing, from his first boxing title, to his first heavyweight championship, to his last heavyweight championship.

Fractional Activations

Vettius Valens tells us we can even look at the halves and even the thirds of each activation. Let’s take a look at the fractions of the activation we just looked at, the ascensional time of Taurus combined with the minor period of Mars.

Minor Period of Mars (15) + Ascensional Time of Taurus (22.3) = 37.3
⅓ of 37.3 = 12.433

12.433 = age 11.433 – 12.433
June 24th 1953 – June 24th 1954

Muhammad Ali first began to box at age 12.

Minor Period of Mars (15) + Ascensional Time of Taurus (22.3) = 37.3
½ of 37.3 = 18.65

18.65 = age 17.65 – 18.65
September 12th 1959 – September 12th 1960

At age 18 on September 5th 1960, Ali won the Olympic Gold medal for boxing, just 7 days from the completion of the activation.

Minor Period of Mars (15) + Ascensional Time of Taurus (22.3) = 37.3
⅔ of 37.3 = 24.8667

24.8667 = age 23.8667 – 24.8667
November 29th 1965 – November 29th 1966

In early 1966 he had angered the patriotic public by saying he had no beef with the Viet Cong and would never serve in the military. So he went abroad winning many fights and finally came back to the US in November 1966. On November 14th 1966 he went up against Cleveland Williams, which many boxing experts call one of the “greatest knockouts” of Ali’s career, one of his absolute finest performances in a fight, just a couple of weeks before the completion of the period.

The transits for each of these events do not clearly connect to his 10th house or his Mars as we might expect, but the events do generally match some of the major activations in play regarding Mars in the 10th – someone whose reputation revolves around courage, action and aggression, a famous warrior.

It can get really complicated because you can do the same combinations and divisions with two planets (or more) in aspect. With dozens of activation points possible for each planet and combination, it would be so much easier if there were some software you could use which could do all these calculations for you, right? Well luckily for you, I did, and it’s $25 because it took a while to work on and you can buy it HERE.

And again, if you want more information and examples of this technique in action, you’re going to want to come to my Kepler College webinar on Saturday August 3rd 2019 at 1 PM PT. It’s FREE. Just register HERE and either tune in live or watch it later.

If you want to read more about this technique, here are some more resources:

Hope to see you at the webinar!

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4 Replies to “Introduction to Timing with Minor Periods and Ascensional Times

  1. Perhaps I’m missing something… But reading vallens.. The first 10 pages in fact, it’s clear he is using an actual constellational system, not a tropical one. He even Informs the reader of the number of stars in each sign, and how their specific rising effects the chart.

    So how are you using ascentional times of constellations within the context of a non-zodiacal system, aka tropical, which simply denotes the placement of the sun through the seasons.

    For instance, you correctly state that that ascentional times are based on the number of degrees from the equator the sign itself rises. How are you using this system with non-constellational system.

    I’ve been trying to rectify this but am unable to. Modern astrologers seem to pick and choose which parts of vallens and other ancient astrologers without using the entire cosmology.

    1. Hi Chris, thanks for commenting.

      I believe it would be more correct to say that Valens was primarily using a sidereal zodiac with constellational/tropical considerations. The constellational zodiac is not divided neatly into twelve even 30 degree segments, the constellational images are shorter, longer, overlapping, etc. The sidereal zodiac is a standardized division of the sky with twelve even 30 degree segments named after the constellations generally occupying those spaces. Valens also gives detailed interpretations of the bounds of each sign and each one adds up to 30, which would only make sense if he were using a sidereal or tropical zodiac, but this necessarily rules out the use of a constellational zodiac.

      Valens and other early astrologers used constellational, sidereal and tropical reasoning all at once in order to derive interpretations of various celestial phenomena. It was either haphazard or deliberately conflated. He’s aware for example that the vernal equinox happens around 8-10 Aries of a sidereal zodiac, but this doesn’t stop him from referring to the sign of Aries in explicitly tropical terms. At the same time, like you pointed out, he also gives descriptions of the stars of the Aries constellation.

      Robert Hand sums this up nicely in his conclusion in his essay “The Invariance of the Tropical Zodiac”:
      “To conclude: I do not assert that the ancients were tropicalists, nor do I assert that they were siderealists. I assert that whatever they may have known about precession they tended not to make the distinction, and when they did, they would have been just as likely to give precedence to the tropical as the sidereal for divinatory purposes. After all the pictorial constellations were only physical plane images which roughly corresponded to the ideal, mathematical reality which would have been represented by the tropical system. But fundamentally I believe we have to regard the tropical-sidereal controversy as yet another example of a historical pseudo-problem created by anachronistically projecting a modern problem with modern points of view back onto the ancients. It was not a problem with which the ancients were seriously concerned. Given the limits of their computational accuracy, both systems would have given them the same results. This is a question that we have to solve for ourselves. An appeal to history will not work.” http://cura.free.fr/quinq/01hand.html

      For those early astrologers, the differences between constellations, sidereal signs and equinoxes was an astronomical quirk they didn’t seem to pay much mind to. But what was a minor bump in the road 2000 years ago is a major theoretical hurdle for today’s astrological practice now that the vernal equinox is removed by nearly a whole sign away from the sidereal sign. In order to use these techniques in modern times, we will *have to* make deliberate choices about the interpretive distinctions between sidereal and tropical zodiacs and deliberate choices about how to employ these techniques in tropical or sidereal contexts. The downside is that we will never be able to truly practice ancient astrology because we have a new sky in a sense. The upside is that we have the chance to set down a way for sidereal and tropical zodiacs to coexist and thrive in future centuries. (https://patrickwatsonastrology.com/a-way-to-reconcile-the-tropical-and-sidereal-zodiacs/) In order for my own work to have theoretical consistency, I am deliberately choosing to use the techniques of Hellenistic astrology in a tropical context, particularly those which do not clearly conflict with tropical considerations, and this technique is perfectly compatible with the tropical zodiac. I do that with the knowledge that ancient astrologers often conflated sidereal and tropical considerations.

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