Primary directions: the gold standard
To predict trends and events in life, traditional astrology employs several interlinked techniques arranged in order of importance. The most important of these techniques is arguably directions (Greek: aphesis, Arabic: tasyīr), known in the west since the 17th century as primary directions to distinguish them from more recent inventions. Directions were not part of the astrological lore transmitted to India in the early centuries of the Common Era, and were misunderstood in the second wave of transmission from the Perso-Arabic world a millennium later, but they have been a part of horoscopic astrology in every other culture where it has taken root. Over the past few decades, some translators have introduced other names for the technique, such as circumambulations or distributions, but the method remains essentially the same.
The foundation of directions is the daily rotation of the earth around its axis, which appears to us as the rotation of the celestial sphere around our place of observation. As the heavens move in the hours following birth, they bring planets and other points to significant places in the natal chart, indicating the unfolding of events in years to come. While the basic concepts of directions are easy to grasp, the calculations, which involve spherical trigonometry, could be laborious and time-consuming before the advent of computers. Especially after the astrological revival of the 19th and 20th centuries, following the decline of astrology in Europe, the classical technique was also misinterpreted, and new meanings assigned to its technical terms. Eventually this distorted technique fell into disuse.
The book and the course
With the rekindled interest in traditional astrology, astrologers are again turning to this important prognostic method, but many find the technical explanations of earlier authors difficult to follow. To remedy this situation I wrote the textbook Primary Directions: Astrology’s Old Master Technique, published in 2009 by The Wessex Astrologer. The book is meant for students of astrology who, like myself, do not have a background in mathematics, programming or the like, and was described by Robert Hand as ‘the first clear non-technical exposition of primary directing techniques ever written’. Click here to read a free sample chapter from the book.
This textbook is also required reading for my online Primary Directions Diploma Course, which is designed for students who want to explore and master the technique in depth. The course covers both classical and more modern uses of primary directions, and no prior knowledge of the subject is required. Students are tutored personally through email and guided at their own preferred pace through the process of calculating and interpreting primary directions. While students are not required to complete the course within a specific time, most are able to do so in three to twelve months.
The Primary Directions Diploma Course is divided into twelve lessons, each including learning objectives, required reading, worked examples from modern charts and classical texts, and homework assignments. Each lesson will be sent to you once the assignments from the previous lesson have been submitted and corrected. After passing the final exam, you will be awarded the diploma Master of Primary Directions. The course fee is currently fixed at SEK 5000, corresponding approximately to £400, €450 or $480. If you are interested in registering or have other questions, please feel free to contact me.
Course contents at a glance
Lesson 1. Introduction: the chart in three dimensions
After completing Lesson 1 you will:
- be conversant with the different coordinate systems relevant to astrology in general, and to primary directions in particular.
- be able to plot the approximate position of a planet on a chart representing those coordinate systems and, conversely, to read the approximate coordinates of a planet shown in such a chart.
Lesson 2. The technical language of primary directions
After completing Lesson 2 you will:
- have a good grasp of the traditional meanings of terms such as significator, promissor, direct and converse.
- be able to follow the descriptions of primary directions in ancient, medieval, and Renaissance authors (in English translation) and understand their nomenclature.
- know how that nomenclature changed in modern times.
Lesson 3. Basic mathematics of primary directions
After completing Lesson 3 you will:
- be conversant with the mathematical notation often used in connection with primary directions.
- be able confidently to use a scientific calculator, or your computer’s calculator function, to derive the basic data needed for primary directions: the right ascension of the midheaven, the oblique ascension of the ascendant, and the right ascension and declination of any planet or point in the zodiac.
Lesson 4. Directing the angles
After completing Lesson 4 you will:
- be able to calculate all directions of the ascendant, descendant, upper and lower midheaven.
- understand the principles involved, including the difference between a direction with latitude and one without latitude, and also the difference between Ptolemaic and other ancient forms of directions.
Lesson 5. The measure of time
After completing Lesson 5 you will:
- have a clear understanding of the various issues involved in timing a direction and of the degree of exactitude involved.
- comprehend all the principal methods used by astrologers to convert an arc of direction into a time of life, and be able to apply them to any direction you calculate.
Lesson 6. Directions between planets (the semi-arc method)
After completing Lesson 6 you will:
- be able to calculate all directions involving two planets or points not located on the angles of the chart, using the ‘mixed ascensions’ or proportional semi-arc method employed by Ptolemy, Placidus, and most of the medieval astrologers.
- be acquainted with ancient and medieval modes of describing these calculations.
Lesson 7. Hyleg, alcochoden, and the length of life
After completing Lesson 7 you will:
- have a detailed grasp of the traditional use of primary directions to determine the length of a native’s life, from the earliest Greek sources through the medieval Perso-Arabic authors and into the European Renaissance.
- be conversant with the technical vocabulary surrounding these techniques, including the rarely explained horimaea, and be equipped to apply them to real charts.
Lesson 8. Directions in the Renaissance: the Regiomontanian revolution
After completing Lesson 8 you will:
- understand the issues leading to a reinterpretation of Ptolemy initiated by Arabic authors of the late Middle Ages and popularized during the Renaissance.
- be able to calculate all directions involving two planets or points not located on the angles of the chart using the position-circle method employed by Argol, Morin, William Lilly, and most other astrologers of this era.
Lesson 9. Placidus and the neo-Ptolemaic method
After completing Lesson 9 you will:
- understand the major changes introduced in the 17th century by Placidus and his followers, even as they strove to re-establish the teachings of Ptolemy – changes which remain part of the technique of primary directions even today.
- be conversant with the terminology of Placidean astrology, and able to calculate mundane aspects, parallels, and Placidean directions ‘under the pole’ for any chart.
Lesson 10. Directions and the hierarchy of prediction
After completing Lesson 10 you will:
- understand the role of primary directions in relation to other traditional predictive techniques such as annual revolutions and profections, transits and ingresses, as well as more recent techniques such as secondary directions and progressions.
- be able to combine several of these techniques to real charts in order to gain greater precision and detail.
Lesson 11. Modern developments and reinterpretations
After completing Lesson 11 you will:
- have a clear understanding of the changes and developments introduced into the theory and practice of primary directions during the 19th and 20th centuries by a number of astrologers, including John Worsdale, A. J. Pearce, W. R. Old (Sepharial), Alan Leo and E. C. Kühr.
- be able to compare modern and traditional methods and form an opinion on their respective merits.
Lesson 12. Calculating directions using computer software
After completing Lesson 12 you will:
- be aware of the existing selection of astrological software offering primary directions, their advantages and limitations.
- be able to make use such software to produce any particular style of primary directions desired – whether that of Ptolemy, the medieval Perso-Arabic astrologers, Morin, Placidus, Lilly, or more modern authors.