The Fine Art of Seizing the Moment
by Steven Forrest
“We’re getting married. Can you help us pick a day?”
I hear that message on my answering machine at least once a month. People with the slightest openness to astrology seem to know that certain moments in time are more auspicious than others. They are right. For any major undertaking, it’s wise to consider “planning its birth” through the judicious use of Electional astrology. Any action that we volunteer for and exercise authority over in terms of timing is fair game. Getting married. Opening a business. Leaving on a trip.
When am I likely to meet the sort of person whom I might choose to marry? That’s not an Electional question — that’s in the domain of transits and progressions. Should I get married? No, that’s not Electional territory either — again, use transits and progressions, along with the birth chart, to find the answer. Should I marry this particular person? Use synastry and perhaps Horary techniques. Many people get confused about the differences between Horary and Electional astrology, so it’s important to be clear about them. In a nutshell, Horary is about whether you should do something, and Electional is about when to do something that you’ve already decided to do.
We use Electional astrology for only one reason: to time the beginning of an action to which we are already committed. It is tactical astrology, in other words, not strategic astrology. We’ve figured out what we are going to do. We just want to know when to make the move to bring the most “luck” to bear upon the situation.
It works powerfully. Ronald Reagan’s astrologer, Joan Quigley, used this technique extensively for Reagan during his presidency. The media couldn’t ignore his incredible “luck.” Of course, they ridiculed astrology when the truth emerged about its influence on Reagan. The media’s more “objective” explanation was that he was coated with Teflon.
So, back to our question: “We’re getting married. Can you help us pick a day?” Everyone with an IQ above the price of dinner knows that it takes a lot of sanity, patience, and commitment to make a marriage work. Common sense dictates that even the “best” chart in the world cannot create happiness between two people who are fundamentally incompatible, ambivalent about the commitment, or simply not psychologically or spiritually ready. Which leads us to Principle Number One: Electional astrology works within the limits of the consciousness of the individuals using it; it does not override the basic principles of natural law or common sense.
What constitutes happiness in a marriage? For a very mild couple, “never fighting” might be a legitimate ideal. A standard kind of “good” chart might work for them — lots of trines and sextiles, a big glorious Venus ruling a Libra Ascendant. But what if two Plutonian types are getting married? Would they want that kind of marriage? Probably not. With marriage, or any other truly epochal existential undertaking, an effective modern astrologer seeks to understand precisely the goals of the individuals involved and does not succumb to the platitudinous assumptions about “good” charts that we’ve inherited from the literature. A “good” chart can lack dynamism; it can be boring. Which leads us to Principle Number Two: Although Electional astrology can shape and flavor outcomes, to use it wisely, we must know specifically what kind of outcome is desired by the client.
I’ve been asked on many occasions to pick a moment for entering a lottery or a contest. Personally, I’m not very interested in that kind of astrology, but Electional techniques can be used this way. I’ve never been successful at helping a client to win a contest, nor do I really expect to be. The odds are just too long. I have no doubt that I have boosted the client’s chances of winning — from ten million to one … all the way up to maybe a million to one. Which leads us to Principle Number Three: A realistic, non-astrological assessment of simple probabilities is essential for keeping perspective about Electional astrology.
If someone asked me to elect an auspicious moment to steal money, ethics would obviously forbid my doing so. Say, for the sake of argument, that I did it anyway and that the person got away with the crime. This raises ethical and metaphysical questions. (If the ethical ones stump you, please stop reading this article and consider a career in politics!) But metaphysically, we get into some very complex terrain with Electional astrology. Stealing money sets cosmic wheels turning. Astrology may help us to dodge the consequences this year or even in this lifetime, but in the end those consequences will catch up with us. So Electional work can actually create karma.
The best Electional work can also be undone by previous karma. If it is important for you to be single in this lifetime, for evolutionary reasons, a marriage performed under a fine marital Electional chart will still probably come undone. This is philosophical territory, and I certainly honor your right to your own attitudes and beliefs. I do encourage you to think deeply about these questions before launching into a serious study of Electional astrology. Which leads us to Principle Number Four: With Electional astrology, we are practicing magic, pure and simple. We are playing with the natural laws of karma and the universe. It is wise to do so cautiously and consciously.
“When is the best time this evening to brush my teeth?” Well, yes — you could actually do valid Electional astrology on that pithy question. Make sure the 6th house and its ruler are strong, and so on. But down that road lies madness. Which leads us to Principle Number Five: The effectiveness of Electional astrology is most marked when it is applied to the truly pivotal strategies of one’s life.
Choosing the Date
When choosing the date for an action astrologically, we are selecting the moment for an action to be born. Once our goals are clear, we pick the chart that seems to support them most effectively. We let the action take its “first breath” at a moment we have chosen with specific intentions and outcomes in mind. You wouldn’t want a big adventure to be born with a timid, reflective chart. You wouldn’t want a meditation retreat to be born with a noisy, chaotic chart — which might be the perfect one for a wild party.
In practical terms, there will usually be a time limit involved. “I need to open my business sometime in the month of April.” “We want to go to Europe this spring.” Once you’ve gotten that information from a client, you have determined the first and last days when the action might be undertaken. That’s your scope of inquiry. Your task is to pick the strongest moment of time within that framework.
Naturally, the wider the range of time the client provides, the more powerful this technique becomes — you simply have more choices. Conversely, suppose the client says: “We’re getting married next Saturday afternoon — is that okay?” Under those circumstances, you should probably just congratulate the happy couple and change the subject. For Electional astrology to work, you need some breathing room.
I’ve often ranted in these pages about the foolishness of thinking in terms of “good” and “bad” aspects in the charts of individuals. Cancer always loves Scorpio? Give me a break! Capricorn always has trouble with Aries? Ha! Give them a joint project and stand back. Still, in Electional astrology, we actually err in the direction of thinking in terms of traditional “good” and “bad” aspects. Generally, when people set out to achieve a goal, they would prefer fewer obstacles rather than many. Thus, it is wise to emphasize trines and sextiles and to be cautious about oppositions and squares — although I would quickly add that the latter have their uses. They often represent strengths that are forged in experiences that test our mettle. For a marriage between two conscious people with a strong evolutionary orientation, I wouldn’t be unduly concerned by some “hard” aspects in a wedding chart. For a fun adventure trip to Europe or South America, though, give me trines and sextiles — I don’t want the bus to break down for ten days in some backwater, nor do I want my passport stolen.
Here’s the first step: If someone is planning a wedding, the planet Venus obviously plays a central role in the considerations. I’d immediately scan the ephemeris for days when Venus is involved in trines or sextiles. That is the key, very simply. Pick the planet connected to the person’s intention. Find the times during the period you are considering when that planet is most strongly supported by aspects to other planets. Then, build your possible Electional charts around those days.
When beginning a major project, look for a strong, well-supported Saturn. Speculation or risk? Jupiter. Starting an educational or literary endeavor? Mercury. An adventure? Mars — and, ideally, Jupiter too. Domestic or familial actions? The Moon. Creative work? Venus and Neptune. Psychotherapy or a necessary confrontation? Pluto.
As we will soon see, Electional astrology is complex. Venus might be looking great, but other, darker factors could eclipse the Venusian possibilities on those days. You will hardly ever find a chart that feels truly “perfect.” You do hope to find one that looks significantly better than any of the other possibilities. In a moment, we’ll mention some of those darker factors. Right now, let’s continue with the heart of the technique: finding the planet that naturally rules the action and making it as strong as possible in the chart for the moment the enterprise begins.
Say Venus passes through a trine to Jupiter during the period a couple is considering for their wedding. That’s obviously a merry discovery. The more exact the Venus–Jupiter aspect is, the stronger its action will be, so it would be desirable to schedule the wedding close to the day of exactitude. But practical issues may intervene — most people would prefer their wedding to be on a weekend rather than on a Tuesday, for example. Everything else being equal, an applying aspect is stronger than a separating one; it’s better to choose the weekend before the aspect is exact than the one following it.
Various factors might vex this simple scenario, but let’s continue to assume a “best case” situation. You’re electing a wedding date, and you have a strong Venus–Jupiter interaction as the basis of your timing. Any wedding occurring during those few days will be supported by a powerful harmonious aspect. Chances are good that you’ve found the basis of the chart you will eventually choose. You’ve narrowed it down to a period of several days.
Choosing the Minute
Within those few days when Venus is applying to the trine of Jupiter, which minute represents the peak of the energy? Our aim is to make that Venus–Jupiter energy as central to the chart as possible. The aspect will be exact at a certain moment on a certain day, but that is probably not your answer. The practical key is to realize that the daily transits of the planets around the horizon put them either in the spotlight or in the background, minute by minute. Any planet is strongest when it is in an angular house (the 1st, 4th, 7th, or 10th), especially when it is actually conjunct an angle — rising, setting, culminating, or crossing the lower Meridian. Perhaps you can place either Venus or Jupiter on an angle, thus strengthening the planet.
Planets also have specific house rulerships — Mercury loves being in the 3rd house, but Saturn isn’t so excited about it. Venus would love to be in the 7th house, of course, though Jupiter prefers the 9th.
Furthermore, the planetary ruler of the Ascendant is always a critical factor. If you want to emphasize Venus, choosing a chart with Libra or Taurus rising will accomplish that. If Sagittarius or Pisces is rising, Jupiter would be very energized.
Say that Saturn is currently squaring Jupiter. You will want to use that Venus–Jupiter trine as the basis of your Electional chart, but you don’t like that hard aspect from Saturn. Both of those planets are fairly slow, so waiting for the square to break up might not be a realistic option — the couple is eager to be married in the spring. If you were to elect a chart with Capricorn rising, Saturn then becomes the chart ruler, and you’ve really emphasized the problem — not a good move. So, having Venus-ruled Libra or Taurus on the Ascendant would be a better choice. The same can be said for having Jupiter-ruled Sagittarius or Pisces there. Tuck Saturn into the background as much as possible.
You’ll notice that I am using the traditional rulerships. Our modern love of Neptune as the ruler of Pisces has eclipsed our sensitivity to Jupiter’s association with the sign. In practice, my recommendation is to think in terms of “co-rulership.” If Pisces is on the Ascendant, then both Neptune and Jupiter are emphasized.
In a nutshell, choose a day that looks strong because of some fundamental supportive planetary aspect involving the planet that is most closely associated with the action being considered. Then juggle the time (and thus the Ascendant and planetary house placements) to make that planet as central as possible to the chart, meanwhile doing your best to minimize the impact of anything that looks dicey.
The Role of the Computer
As in all things astrological, apart from chart interpretation itself, the computer is a blessing in Electional work. You can easily set up charts on screen, adjusting the time until you see something that works. Most modern programs also have a Rectification module, which is very helpful in the Electional process. This allows you to adjust the chart quickly, going forward or backward on the screen in increments of hours and minutes.
Of course, the whole process can also be done with an ephemeris, a Table of Houses, and plenty of patience.
Bad Moon Rising
We’ve just covered the core process of Electional astrology. In the end, you will probably discover a few periods of a few days each, when the door seems to be open for an action. You will also come up with a variety of specific times on those days when the Ascendant and planetary house placements all look encouraging.
How should we choose among these days and times? To answer that question, we need to go deeper into the Electional process. Then, we will learn that other factors come into play — some of these can potentially turn your Gold Medal chart into a catastrophe, leading you to fall back on your Silver or your Bronze.
The Moon plays such a dominant role in Electional astrology that it can effectively rule out a chart that otherwise looks perfect. You simply cannot ignore the Moon. The most critical concept here is perhaps the notion of the Moon being void of course. This refers to a situation where the Moon will not make any more major aspects before it leaves the sign it currently occupies. This is a simple concept, but it’s absolutely pivotal that we understand it perfectly. Let’s say the Moon is in Aries. If it won’t make a conjunction, sextile, square, trine, or opposition to any other planet before it enters Taurus, then it is void of course. That’s all there is to it.
It is important to understand the precise meaning of a void Moon. Never think of it as “bad” per se. What it tells you is that “nothing will come of the matter.” In Horary astrology, there’s a dictum: No aspects, no action. It’s a very solid and reliable principle in Electional astrology, too. Of course, with a wedding, one typically hopes and expects that something will come of the matter — a long, happy life together, prosperity, perhaps children. To accept a void Moon in a wedding Electional chart would be a real blunder. On the other hand, imagine that a client needs to schedule a professional meeting where she fervently hopes that nothing will happen — the company is considering transferring her from her Hawaiian paradise to its new office in Greenland. Pick a void Moon for that meeting! Please note that having a void-of-course Moon in your birth chart is an entirely different matter. Exploring its meaning would take us too far afield in this article. Suffice it to say that a natal Moon void of course does not mean that your entire life will come to nothing.
Even when the Moon for an Election is not void of course, we need to be careful how we handle it. Pay attention to the last aspect the Moon makes before leaving the sign it currently occupies. That aspect is always relevant to how the matter turns out in the end. Say you have the Moon moving toward an opposition to Uranus in a wedding chart. That’s suggestive of the marriage ending explosively. Better to have the Moon moving toward a trine, sextile, or a happy conjunction. The ideal would perhaps be a conjunction with Venus — that would evoke something much closer to the desired loving outcome.
Remember: This procedure applies strictly to aspects that the Moon will make before leaving the sign through which it is currently passing. If the Moon crosses the line into the next sign before it conjuncts that Venus, it loses its deepest relevance.
You may have a series of days that all look pretty good from the perspective of all the planets other than the Moon. You find that when, say, Libra is rising on those days, the charts are especially strong. Which chart should you choose? A close consideration of the Moon will almost always resolve that question — you’ll find that the Moon is void or going toward a scary last aspect in several of the charts, so you can toss them out of the running.
In summary, regarding the Moon, there are two principles to keep in mind. First, steer clear of a void-of-course Moon in an Electional chart, unless you have good reason to use it. Second, make sure that the final aspect the Moon makes, before leaving the sign it currently occupies, supports the results you are seeking. Generally, that means you are looking for the Moon to make a trine or sextile to any planet or a conjunction to a gentle one.
The Querent and the Quesited
These delightfully archaic terms are commonly used in Horary astrology, and Electional is a close cousin. The querent is the person asking the question, usually represented by the Ascendant and its planetary ruler. The quesited is the thing being asked about. Depending upon what that thing is specifically, it can be represented by any house and its ruler. If the question is about another person, the quesited will be the 7th house and the planet ruling the sign on its cusp. If it’s about a career move, it will be the 10th house and its ruler. The basic idea, in Horary, is that you want an easy aspect forming between those two planetary rulers. We import this procedure wholesale into Electional astrology.
Here’s how: A wedding is naturally a 7th-house affair. We have tentatively chosen a chart with Libra rising, for example. That places Aries on the cusp of the 7th house, with Mars as its planetary ruler. Mars thus becomes the quesited — a wedding. The querent is Venus, because it rules the Ascendant. Now, here’s the question: Is there an aspect between Mars and Venus? In the best of all possible worlds, Venus would be moving into a sextile or trine with Mars. If a hard aspect were forming between them, that would be ominous — although here I would instantly advocate sensitivity toward the intentions and desires of the couple. A square isn’t “bad” as much as process-oriented; by this I mean that such aspects usually require negotiation and serious efforts by the couple to understand each other and to find a respectful middle ground — not such bad skills to develop in a marriage. Some people are better suited to the intensity of that kind of chart than others. A conjunction between Mars and Venus in a chart such as this would be easier by far than a square or opposition but not nearly as encouraging as a trine or sextile. At least, the couple would tend to agree on what subject they were fighting about!
If no aspect is forming between the two planets, the chart is a candidate for rejection. Try changing the Ascendant to see whether you can get the querent and the quesited to dance together. You can often do this by simply altering the hour, without starting all over again with a new day.
Aspects that are currently applying — getting closer to exactitude — are more powerful than ones that are separating. In Horary astrology, one basically ignores separating aspects — the trine that is one degree past exactitude is forgotten. In Electional work, that extreme attitude is unnecessary. But the ideal is to see applying trines, sextiles, or conjunctions between the planetary ruler of the Ascendant and the ruler of the house that represents the action the client is undertaking.
In our example, we’ve been considering a wedding, which is a 7th-house affair. Career questions would focus our attention on the ruler of the 10th house. Questions about health or pets would focus on the 6th house. Questions about actions involving children would turn our attention to the 5th house. Long trips, the 9th house. And so on. All the “Astrology 101” principles apply, in other words.
Planets in the House that Rules the Matter
Say that someone elects a chart for a wedding, and the chart has Saturn in the 7th house. A lot of astrologers might gasp. That’s an overreaction, I think — but I would like to see this particular Saturn supported by lots of easy aspects and relatively free of hard ones before I breathed easily about it.
The general principle here is that any planet lying in the house of the quesited assumes a great deal of power in the chart. That’s a fairly obvious idea, intuitively. The trick is to be cautious about any knee-jerk assumptions about which planets are good and which ones are bad. We would love to see Jupiter in the 7th house of a wedding chart — but if Jupiter is currently passing through some tense aspects, you probably don’t want to put it in the spotlight. Doing so could suggest unrealistically high expectations of the marriage, which can lead quickly to disillusionment. A solid, happy Saturn might serve your intentions a lot more effectively.
Keeping One Eye on the Birth Chart
Once you’ve come up with a possible chart, it must pass one more test. How well does it fit with the client’s birth chart? That Electional chart represents the current transits at a given moment of time, and those transits are affecting the birth chart of the person asking the question. Maybe there’s a transiting traffic jam in the individual’s 12th house right at the time you are electing for opening a new business or tying the marital knot. If so, you might want to reconsider your Electional suggestion. The moment you’ve selected could very well be an excellent time for someone else to undertake the action, but not your client, who simply isn’t sufficiently clear regarding his or her own intentions to make such a commitment wholeheartedly.
A complete treatment of this final dimension of Electional astrology would actually require a book, because it blurs into the vast territory of transits, progressions, and solar arcs. If you are fuzzy about how these factors impact a birth chart, I’d suggest that you spend a little time with my book, The Changing Sky.1
That is the heart of the Electional process. If you find a chart that covers all the bases, you’ve done your job. The rest is up to the people involved. That, in my opinion, is astrology’s glory — reality, as we experience it, is created at the interface of consciousness and planetary forces. Remember Principle Number One: Electional astrology works within the limits of the consciousness of the individuals using it. Even a “perfect” chart can turn sour. That’s not astrology’s fault — or yours.
In the real world, you probably won’t find many charts that seem truly perfect. You just do your best and then discuss the results honestly with the client, balancing the pros and cons, just like everything else. If you could “elect” over a period of a decade or two, you might be able to come up with a chart that seemed flawless. That’s not the real world, though. In practice, you always have to choose the “lesser evil.” The art lies in learning to recognize it!
Sometimes, you will simply not come up with any workable chart at all. I remember a summer not long ago when Saturn was in Pisces and Venus went retrograde in Virgo, opposing it for several weeks — I couldn’t, in clear conscience, recommend any marriage dates under that energy. That frustrated some people, but I felt that I had to be truthful about what I saw. Patience was the lesson!
When my wife, Jodie, published the first book in her trilogy, The Rhymer and the Ravens, we wrote a local “rock opera” based upon it. I elected a chart for our first performance with Jupiter rising in Sagittarius. Almost instantly, everything went ballistic — Jupiter-fashion! We were flooded with volunteers, creative ideas, and enthusiasm. We sprouted a big band, a troupe of 15 dancers, costumers, lighting technicians — everything but an elephant. At one show, we played on a 40-foot, three-level stage designed as a Viking dragon ship. At our final performance, we sold out the best of the local performance venues and turned away a hundred people. The whole experience was like having the proverbial tiger by the tail. It completely dominated our lives in every way for a couple of years, which wasn’t what we had really intended. I felt like Mickey Mouse in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” casting his spell on those ever-multiplying brooms. It was a good experience, but it taught me a valuable lesson: Never underestimate the power of Electional astrology!
1. Steven Forrest, The Changing Sky, San Diego, CA: ACS Publications, 1998.
© 2001 Steven Forrest – all rights reserved
Steven Forrest is a well-known astrological writer and teacher and the author of The Inner Sky, The Changing Sky, The Night Speaks, and The Book of Pluto. He co-authored Skymates with his wife, Jodie Forrest, and most recently published Measuring the Night, co-authored by Jeffrey Wolf Green. Steven is Chair of the Advisory Council of Kepler College of Astrological Arts and Sciences in Seattle. He maintains a busy astrological practice in his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. You can contact him at P. O. Box 2345, Chapel Hill, NC 27515; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit his Web site: http://www.stevenforrest.com