The Origins of the Exaltations: A New Discovery

The Origins of the Exaltations: A New Discovery

In episode 255 of the podcast astrologers Chris Brennan and Benjamin Dykes unveil a new discovery about the origins of the exaltations, derived from a lost Hermetic text preserved by Abu Ma’shar.

Last summer Keiji Yamamoto and Charles Burnett released their long-awaited translation of The Great Introduction to Astrology by the 9th century astrologer Abu Ma’shar. This was the first time this text has been translated into English in its entirety.

I received my copy on July 30, 2019, and the most interesting thing I found was that Abu Ma’shar frequently cites a lost Greek text attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. This appears to be the same text called the Panaretos that the 4th century astrologer Paulus Alexandrinus drew on for his treatment of seven planetary Lots, although Abu Ma’shar shares much more from the text than Paulus did.

The most interesting pieces of the Hermes material preserved by Abu Ma’shar is that it contains a set of rationales for the domicile and exaltation schemes that are unique, and it seems to preserve what may be the original conceptual rationales for both of those schemes.

The exaltations chapter in particular provides a much more detailed explanation for the exaltations than any I’ve ever seen, and it is also unique because it provides an astronomical rationale for the exaltations degrees, not just the signs of exaltation and fall.

I first talked about this discovery in episode 26 of the Casual Astrology Podcast, which was released on September 18, 2019. I urged Ben to look into it to help confirm the discovery, and over the past several months he worked on his own translation of Abu Ma’shar from the Arabic, which he finished and shared with me on May 8, 2020.

Ben was able to confirm that most of the math for the exaltation degrees seems to work out, and so with that confirmation we decided to record this episode to present this discovery and talk about it on May 13, 2020 around 5:15 PM MT.

We begin the episode by providing some background information on the text, and then eventually transition into a summary of the arguments presented by the text for how to derive the exaltations of the planets and their degrees.

Interestingly, the arguments for the domiciles and exaltations presented by this text are firmly rooted in the tropical zodiac, and this raises some major questions about previous assumptions that the exaltations had their origins in the sideral zodiac and the earlier Mesopotamian tradition.

The discovery also raises questions about the extent to which Hellenistic astrology, and western astrology in general, partially represents a sudden invention or technical construct that was put together sometime around the 1st century BCE.

This is kind of visually intensive episode, and our friend Paula Belluomini made a number of diagrams to help illustrate the concepts, so I would recommend watching the video version of the episode if you can.

Ben plans to publish his translation of the Great Introduction by Abu Ma’shar sometime in the next few months, and you can signup for the email list on his website to receive a notification when that is released:

This episode is available in both audio and video versions below.

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  • Awesome episode!

    I have always used Abu Ma’shar’s reasoning for the exaltation of the planets as part of the reasoning of the exaltation degrees (while I simply use their house positions in the thema mundi as justifications of their exaltation sign placement) during the times that I was still active in astrology.

    Anyways, just to mention that in Islamic sighting of the moon, 12 degrees is almost always the maximum angular separation for the crescent moon to be sighted for sure in many falak (Islamic astronomy) texts… Some say you could see the crescent moon at the angular separation of 7 degrees, some say 8 degrees, some say 8.5 degrees, some say 10 degrees but almost everybody would give the range of 7/8/8.5/10 to 12 degrees. The range, of course, depends on the altitude of the moon, geographical latitude & altitude, weather conditions, etc. but 12 is the “max”.

    My quibble over Abu Ma’shar’s explanation of the exaltation of the moon is that, if you use 18th degree of Aries as exaltation of the sun, the Moon’s exaltation degree would be around the first degree of Taurus instead of the second degree. However, it is common in Arabian astrology to say that the first and the last degree are the weakest degrees (as 15th degree is the strongest degree). Hence, I would imagine when the calculation for the Moon’s exaltation degree falls in the first degree, it is only natural to push it a degree to not make her fall in the first degree making her exaltation degree the second.

  • A very interesting explanation. I tried casting a chart for the Equator (0N00. 000W00) in Solar Fire and used the animate facilitate to wind the chart back to 15 degrees Cancer rising – I got an MC of 18 Aries 34 which is indeed in the 19th degree. I’ll have to try the Moon at 2 Taurus next to see if that meets the criteria .
    One point I did think of, though it’s on a side matter, was on the Joys and the Triplicity Rulers. The arguments from the Angular Triads, also works for Ptolemy’s rulership scheme and that could fit better. The reason being that there are only two rulers for each Triplicity and they fall in the Angular Triads for the Tenth, First and Fourth but there’s only one planet in the Angular Triad around the Descendant – Mars in the sixth. Ptolemy gives Mars both Day and Night rulership of the Water Triplcity. I’m sure someone else has already spotted that but Ptolemy keeps his rulerships to the four Angular Triads as units,and doesn’t cross into others, as the Dorothean ones do.

    I use the Dorothean ones, and have done for a long time but I now see that there may be a very good rationale to the Ptolemaic ones. i

  • Just re checked with the Ascendant at exactly 15 degrees, and I get an MC of 17 degrees 39 minutes which fits Ben’s estimate.
    The Moon at 3 degrees Taurus, which it was today is at a Latitude of -4 degrees 09 minutes.

    • @ David Wilson. Keep checking other examples of the Moon’s longitude and latitude at the Equator. There are occasions that fit, and many that don’t.