Cover image for The book of divination
The book of divination
Fiery, Ann.
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Publication Information:
San Francisco, Calif. : Chronicle Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
223 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 24 cm
Astrology -- Metoposcopy -- Oracles -- Numerology -- Oneiromancy -- Phrenology -- Alchemy -- Tasseomancy -- Haruspicy -- Talismans -- Chiromancy -- Geomancy -- Rhabdomancy -- Tarot.
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BF1861 .F54 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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What does the future hold in store for you? What secrets lie hidden in your stars (or in your cup of tea)? Since ancient times, humankind has sought to divine the future, devising myriad ways to decipherand even controlthe mysterious workings of fate. The details of these fortunetelling practices have been kept closely guarded through the ages. Now they are revealed in one comprehensive illustrated volume. The Book of Divination leads readers on a fascinating exploration of the great divinatory practices of the Western worldfrom astrology and tarot to haruspicy (not advised for the squeamish: this is divination by the reading of animal entrails). With wry humor and explanations clearer than a crystal ball, author Ann Fiery recounts the remarkable histories of these various occult systems and explains how each method is used. Brimming with fabulous illustrations from ancient texts and little-known art collections, The Book of Divination illuminates the essential secrets of these esoteric practices for the modern-day seeker.

Author Notes

Ann Fiery has an MFA in creative writing from the University of California at Berkeley.

(Bowker Author Biography)



Chapter One ASTROLOGY Astrology is the queen of the divinatory arts. Not only is it the oldest method of fortune-telling known to humanity, it is also the most pervasive. Even the grouchiest skeptic can't resist reading his horoscope in the morning paper, and many of us have, at one time or another, sat down for a good long perusal of our sign's attributes according to an authoritative astrologer.     There's a reason for this: astrology is convincing. Virgos are tense, Libras are reasonable, Scorpios are mean. It's almost alarming how consistently correct the characterizations are and strange to think--as is the next logical step--that the stars can determine our personalities and fortunes. But, no matter how vast our knowledge of the world has become, it would be the rare scientist who would claim to know what motivates the universe. In the absence of this certain knowledge, we must take whatever clues we can get.     Astrology is older than history. There is some evidence that Cro-Magnon man may have followed the cycles of the stars, notching bones to aid his substandard memory in creating an almanac. We know that by 3000 B.C., both the Babylonians and the Chaldeans were scanning the night skies and recording the movements of the constellations, though, as usual, the Greeks and Romans get credit for the names and the stories. Until the fifth century B.C., astrologers studied the stars primarily to determine the most auspicious moment to, say, start a war. This became known as horary astrology and was distinctly the province of kings and great priests, whose study of the stars gave them divine authority. Although this brand of astrology has fallen into disuse in the twentieth century--starting a war having become a more complicated business--the interpretation of birth charts and transits offers the same type of advice on a personal level. A second type of astrology was concerned with predicting the weather and natural disasters, as well as with assigning astrological signs to countries, cities, and ethnicities. Termed mundane astrology , this is largely defunct today. The third type of astrology, natal astrology , was developed by the Chaldeans around 500 B.C. as they began to notice a consistency of character among individuals born at the same time. After about two hundred years of reflection, they attributed these consistencies to the positions of the stars. This concept forms the theoretical basis for the horoscope, which is, in essence, a picture of the position of the stars and planets at the moment of an individual's birth. Over hundreds of years of observation and, more important, record keeping, the Chaldeans, the Greeks, the Romans, and the great sorcerers and philosophers of the Middle Ages developed interpretations of the thousands of permutations presented by the movements of the planets and the stars across the night sky. * * * When we say "he's an Aries" or "she's a Capricorn," we are referring to only one, albeit the most important, element of the horoscope: the Sun sign. The Sun sign indicates where in the Zodiac--the band of twelve constellations that girdles the earth--the Sun was located on the day of the querent's birth. But the Sun is just one of the ten planets that are swirling around the skies (okay, it's not really a planet, but for astrological purposes, it's called a planet). The full horoscope shows the placement of all the planets in the signs and in the houses (more about houses later). The astrologer's task is to interpret the forces represented by these planets according to both their position and their relationship to one another. It sounds simple, but it is an outrageously complicated task, for the position of each element bears on every other element, creating a vast number of permutations that have to be interpreted. A full horoscope contains between thirty and one hundred indicators to analyze and then synthesize.     In this chapter, you will learn the basics of reading and interpreting a birth chart (i.e., a natal horoscope). For the sake of your sanity, I will not delve into the subject of chart erection, that is, how to construct a horoscope. It is a hideous task, requiring the conversion of one set of hours and minutes to another set of hours and minutes and an acute understanding of longitude. Any book that claims to be a definitive guide to astrology should include instructions about chart erection, along with an ephemeris, a table of houses, a chart of sidereal times, and a schedule of daylight savings times for the last century throughout the world, all of which would be necessary for your calculations. Another, and to my mind, superior, means of constructing a horoscope is to use a computer. The Io Edition of Time Cycles Research's Graphic Astrology program is a miracle of ease. Simply enter the salient facts--place, date, and hour of birth--and the computer generates the translated figures, a birth chart, and a table of aspects, all ready to be interpreted.     Computer-generated horoscopes rescue you only from the trauma of arithmetic; they do not relieve you of the obligation to understand the theory behind the horoscope. This theory is based on the concept that individual humans are subject to forces exerted by the Sun, Moon, and other planets, rather in the same way that tides are affected by the waxing and waning of the Moon. The early astronomers, studying the night skies, saw the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn apparently revolving around Earth, as is depicted in Figure 1 (Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto were later discoveries). These planets move against a background of stars, and, because all the planets are orbiting in the same plane as Earth, they are always moving against the same series of constellations--the Zodiac. Let us cast our minds back to grammar school. The equator is the belt wrapped around Earth's waist, but Earth tilts on its axis, so that the Sun appears to travel around Earth on a path that lies at an angle to the equator. This path is called the ecliptic. Ranged along the band of the ecliptic are the twelve constellations that form the Zodiac; each occupies 30 degrees of the band (30 x 12 = 360 degrees). The Sun journeys all the way around the ecliptic in a year, spending about a month moving through each constellation. This is where we get the Sun sign designations: if you're born on May 30, when the Sun was moving through the constellation of Gemini, you must be a Gemini, etcetera. Back to the ecliptic. Look at Figure 2. You'll see that the ecliptic and the celestial equator (which is merely the plain equator extrapolated into space) meet at two points. These are the equinoxes, vernal and autumnal. The vernal equinox, which occurs on March 21, marks the beginning of the Zodiacal cycle, when the Sun enters the constellation of Aries.     Two further markers of astrological significance are the midheaven (also called the medium coeli , or MC) and the ascendant. The midheaven is calculated using the meridian, which is any one of a nearly infinite number of bands encircling Earth from Pole to Pole, specifically, the one that runs through the birthplace of the querent; that is, the longitude of the place of birth. The midheaven is the point at which the meridian of the place of birth meets the ecliptic. The ascendant is the degree of the sign of the Zodiac that is rising over the eastern horizon at the moment of birth.     So, the position of the Sun on the band of the constellations determines what is popularly known as your sign. Remember, though, that there are nine other planets, all traveling at various speeds around the ecliptic. Your Sun may be, for instance, in Gemini, while your Mercury sits in Cancer and your Moon rests in Aquarius. A full reading of a horoscope must give all the planets their due.     One more thing to keep in mind, before we move on to the characteristics of the planets and the signs, is the issue of degree. As I described above, each sign occupies 30 degrees of the ecliptic band. A planet may, then, occupy the first degree of a sign or the thirtieth, or anything in between. This is not just a fun fact but an essential element of interpretation, for the influence of a sign is weakest at its borders and strongest in the middle. A notation of degree is a standard feature of a horoscope and should be used in analysis. For example, if your querent's Sun is two degrees in Virgo, her Virgoan traits may be muted and she will display plenty of Leonine qualities--in the worst-case scenario, she will be both fussy and bossy. Bear in mind, also, that the planets take different lengths of time to move through the signs. Speedy Mercury completes a tour of the ecliptic in a year, while ponderous Jupiter makes the same trip in twelve years. What this means is that Mercury's influence is filtered through Taurus for a month, and then it moves on to act in a Geminian manner. Jupiter, on the other hand, hangs out in Taurus for a year. So, for example, a classroom full of children born in the same year will express their Jovian characteristics in the same way, which will be charming if Jupiter was in Sagittarius that year, but miserable if it was in Gemini. A few astrological terms ASCENDANT : The degree of the sign of the Zodiac rising over the horizon at the moment of birth. This point marks the cusp of the first house and begins the horoscope. ECLIPTIC : Once thought to be the path of the Sun's orbit around the Earth, the ecliptic is now known to be the path of the Earth's orbit around the Sun, which describes a circle that lies at an angle to the equator. The twelve constellations that appear on this circle are the signs of the Zodiac. Since all planets orbit the Sun in the same plane as the Earth, they appear to us to be moving against the background of the Zodiac. EQUATOR : The band, or more correctly, the plane, that marks the circumference of the Earth perpendicular to the poles. The extension of this plane into space is called the celestial equator. EQUINOX : Meaning "equal night," the equinox occurs when the center of the Sun is directly over the equator, which happens twice a year. The vernal equinox takes place around March 21, at zero degrees Aries, and starts the astrological year. The autumnal equinox occurs when the Sun enters zero degrees Libra, around September 21. The days and nights are the same length on the equinoxes. HOROSCOPE : A schema of the positions of all nine planets against the band of the Zodiac as seen from the exact location of the querent's birth at the exact moment of the querent's birth. This map or picture, which may be thought of as a snapshot of the heavens, usually includes the division of the ecliptic into houses, which represent various spheres of activity, and aspects, which reveal the influences that the elements of the horoscope (e.g., the planets) have upon one another. MERIDIAN : Any one of the nearly infinite number of bands encircling the Earth from pole to pole, the meridian designates the longitude of the querent's place of birth. MIDHEAVEN (also called medium coeli or MC): The point at which the meridian of the querent's place of birth meets the ecliptic; in the Quadrant house system, the midheaven is on the cusp of the tenth house. ZODIAC : Among the thousands of constellations, these are the twelve that are arranged around the ecliptic. The planets, all orbiting the Sun on the same plane, appear to travel against the background of these twelve constellations. The Planets     Now that we have established the composition of the horoscope--the placement of the planets in the signs of the Zodiac--it is time to discuss the qualities and forces that the planets embody. THE SUN     The Sun is the most important planet in the horoscope because it represents the self, the ego, the life force. Although Sun sign astrology as it appears in the fashion magazines and in the daily papers is considered hopelessly elemental by serious astrologers, a person's character is revealed by the position of the sun to such an extent that its power cannot be overemphasized. The sign occupied by the Sun will reveal the subject's personality traits, his strengths and weaknesses, and his predisposition to certain types of behavior. It is the central emblem of the self--both inner and outer--in the horoscope.     The Sun is masculine and rules Leo. THE MOON     The Moon is the second most important planet, and its influence should be given a great deal of weight in the analysis of the horoscope. The Moon is a feminine planet; she represents the maternal, the mysterious, the hidden, the receptive, and the intuitive. Less positively, the moon is regarded as changeable, fluctuating, and perhaps narrow-minded. From its position in the chart, the astrologer may deduce the querent's relationship to the feminine, particularly toward his or her mother, and toward family life in general. The querent's level of emotionality may be understood from the placement of the Moon--in a water sign, it may denote strong instincts; in an earth sign, the emotions may be buried.     The Moon is feminine and rules Cancer. MERCURY     Mercury, named after the mythological messenger of the gods, is, appropriately, the planet of communication, both mental and physical. The life--and liveliness--of the mind is the realm of Mercury, and in its highest manifestation, the knowledge it represents is self-knowledge. All types of travel are represented by Mercury, from the most picayune bus ride to the grandest spiritual journey. Mercury is the only hermaphroditic planet and thus can provide the reconciliation of warring male and female impulses, but its chief role in the birth chart is to represent the manner of the subject's thinking, her intellectual range and expression.     Mercury rules both Gemini, where it is benignly expressed in an active, perceptive, and versatile mind, and Virgo, where the Mercurial influence is expressed more arduously, in analytical and critical powers. VENUS     As does its mythological counterpart, the planet Venus represents love and all that is feminine. Close relationships of all kinds, but particularly marriage, are ruled by Venus, as are sensual pleasures: most obviously sex itself, but also luxury, beauty, and indulgence. Venus is the planet of union, harmony, and love; in an advantageous position, Venus will promote the qualities necessary to the success of relationships, such as sensitivity and devotion. In a less auspicious situation, Venus can lead to self-indulgence, indecision, and jealousy. In a man's chart, the sign and aspect of Venus portrays his ideal woman. In a woman's chart, the planet's position shows the image of the female she wishes herself to be. Venus is also responsible for money and its fruits, so its situation reveals the querent's prospects for material gain.     Venus is, of course, feminine and rules Taurus and Libra. MARS     Mars is the last of the so-called personal planets. (Mercury and Venus are the two others. With Mars, they are deemed to have a particular influence on the life and personality of the querent.) It is the planet of action, energy, assertion, and aggression. Named after the god of war, Mars rules physical actions, but also mental vigor, initiative, and impulses. Gut-level desire, especially when linked to the will to conquer and possess, is associated with Mars. The rawness of Martian aggression may be amplified or mitigated by the sign it occupies; its house will show the arena to which the main thrust of energy will be devoted. Unsurprisingly, Mars represents the male principle and the subject's idea of masculinity. In a woman's chart, Mars shows both her manner of expressing her own male side and the male qualities she seeks in a partner.     Mars is masculine and rules Aries and Scorpio. JUPITER     As befits thc largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter expresses the forces of growth, expansion, and abundance. Its beneficence may be applied to any realm--physical, emotional, moral, intellectual. Its role in the birth chart is positive, showing the realm in which thc subject will experience opportunity and good fortune. If badly positioned or aspected, Jupiter may devolve into excess, overindulgence, and waste. Although Mercury rules intelligence, Jupiter rules thought, especially abstract and philosophic thought. It is also associated with religion and higher education.     Jupiter is masculine and rules Sagittarius. SATURN     Saturn is known as the bad seed among the planets. Of course, this designation is too simplistic: Saturn presents the opposing force to Jupiter's jovial generosity and abundance. Saturn embodies the ideas of limitation and restriction. The area of the chart in which Saturn appears is the area in which the querent experiences the most difficulty and frustration. But Saturn should not be dismissed as an irretrievably negative entity. We have to learn to meet challenges and overcome obstacles, and it is Saturn's role to help us do this. When dealt with positively, Saturn teaches self-discipline and control. In its most negative aspect, it portends incapacitating repression.     It is useful to consider Saturn as a representation of the shadow side of each of us, the place that holds everything we find too repugnant to claim as part of ourselves. In this view, Saturn becomes a sort of anti-Sun, a shadow Sun that must be reconciled with the Sun self for life to be fully integrated and whole.     Saturn's orbit around the Sun takes 29 ½ years, which means--we are slipping, for a moment here, into predictive astrology--that the planet returns to its original place in the birth chart of any individual every 29 ½ years. This event, known as Saturn's Return, usually causes an eruption of change and stress (this may be the origin of the universal anxiety about turning thirty). The power of Saturn's Return is so great that many people experience a life-altering event on the exact day that Saturn slips into its original spot.     Saturn is masculine and rules Capricorn. URANUS     Uranus is the hippie planet--it moves to disrupt the existing order and replace it with new ideas and attitudes. Uranus is unpredictable, revolutionary, free, original, and antiauthoritarian. Bear in mind that while Uranus generally stands for progress and improvement--i.e., the replacement of the old and bad with the new and good--its primary goal is change itself. Thus, in a progressive era, Uranus may represent the forces of counterrevolution. A querent with a heavily aspected Uranus will be humanitarian and visionary, but may also be a bit too inclined to believe in her own superiority.     It takes Uranus eighty-four years to complete its cycle around the Sun, and it lingers seven years in each sign. Its influence, therefore, is considered to be generational.     Uranus is masculine and rules Aquarius. NEPTUNE     Neptune's attributes are as elusive and watery as the god for whom it was named. Circling the Zodiac once every 165 years, Neptune represents the intangible, the idealistic, the arcane, and the unknowable. It may denote spiritualism and mysticism, but, equally, it may point toward delusion and escapism. In the birth chart, Neptune reveals the illusions to which the querent subscribes, but the aspects will show whether those illusions will be the source of spiritual development or the source of weak-minded delusions. An extremely afflicted Neptune, such as Neptune conjunct a Libra or Scorpio Ascendant (don't worry, you're not supposed to know yet what conjunct means), may indicate a tendency to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. The generation born between 1942 and 1956--Neptune in Libra--is a case in point.     Neptune is feminine and rules Pisces. PLUTO     Tiny, cold Pluto takes 248 years to orbit the Sun. Since its discovery in 1930, astrologers have had the opportunity to observe Pluto only in Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, and starting in 1995, Sagittarius. Most astrology handbooks announce that Pluto has great, mysterious, unfathomable power. This, to me, is abject foolishness. How can we know what Pluto's realm of influence is until we observe it through an orbit? Then we may find that characteristics hitherto associated with, say, Jupiter are really Plutonian. In the meantime, instead of speculating that Pluto represents mysterious forces, I will say that Pluto is a mysterious force.     Pluto is often called the co-ruler of Scorpio, but it won't be by me until about two hundred years from now. (Continues...) Copyright © 1999 Ann Fiery. All rights reserved.