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Astrology as if the Sky Mattered

Through sheer happenstance, I was extremely fortunate to find myself living near the small town of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia in the mid 1990s.  This was when Robert Schmidt of Project Hindsight was beginning to share with the world his translations of 2,000-year-old astrology texts from the Hellenistic era. But for me, what really stood out were a handful of techniques that turned out to be relics from the even earlier Mesopotamian and Egyptian observational traditions. What I learned from Schmidt and Project Hindsight that had the biggest impact was that the observable phenomena of the planets matters greatly in our understanding of their qualities.

When a planet is “under the Sun’s beams” (later known as “combust”), that is, within about 15º of the Sun in a horoscope, it is invisible and incapable of being observed in the sky. Later, after separating 15º from the Sun, a planet achieves heliacal rise and escapes the blinding rays of Helios, i.e., the Sun, to appear as a Morning Star in the eastern sky at dawn. This first visible appearance of a planet was termed Phasis by the Greeks — which means “an appearance that speaks,” or a sudden dramatic showing of something. Thus, any planet that appears 15º or more in a counterclockwise direction (or earlier in the zodiac) from the Sun should be seen as highly intensified.

We can see evidence of this phenomenon in the Christian Bible, which states that wise men came to Jerusalem saying, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? — for we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him.”  (As just described, “in the East” is the planet’s heliacal rising.) (1) Scholars who understand that the Magi were Zoroastrian priest/astronomers have suggested that the biblical account of the Star of Bethlehem was, in fact, the planet Jupiter making an unusual heliacal rise in Aries, a sign associated with the Jews, in 6 BC.  (2)

Therefore, from the point of view of an ancient visual astrologer, the inference seems clear: There has been a new appearance, or birth in the Heavens (heliacal rise of Jupiter in the East), and the Magi were in search of the correspondent birth here on Earth. As above, so below.

For a more modern example, let’s consider the horoscope of the United States of America, born on the 4th of July 1776. In this horoscope, the Sun is in the 14th degree of Cancer.

Going in a counterclockwise direction, e.g., earlier in the zodiac, we see Mars in the 22nd degree of Gemini. This separation of 22 degrees between 14º Cancer and 22º Gemini shows that Mars had recently made its heliacal rise and could now be seen as the Morning Star in the eastern sky at dawn. (The heliacal rise would have occurred when the separation between the Sun and Mars was 15º— as Thomas Jefferson was composing the Declaration of Independence.)

Another view of these morning sky planets comes from Ptolemy. He calls a planet that rises before the Sun (whether in the same sign or the next) a doryphory. Planets who are doryphory are seen as attendants, bodyguards, or a kind of John the Baptist figure to the Sun. The best meaning of the word is spearbearer. How apropos then that the USA, with its incredible military history and sprawling Military Industrial Complex, has Mars, the God of War, as its spearbearer!

We are currently in the midst of a very rare, once in a lifetime alignment of four planets in doryphory, where not one — not two, not three — but four planets rise before the Sun. (3) I put out a query to my Facebook friends in an attempt to find just how rare the current alignment is. Thanks to Dan Ciubotaru of Bucharest, Romania, I discovered that 1680 was the last time that Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter have been this close by zodiacal degree for this length of time! (4)

An alignment similar to the current one last happened in 1966. On August 11, John Lennon apologized for his infamous comment that the “Beatles are bigger than Jesus.” His comment had been republished (out of context) on July 29, as Mercury Rx became oriental and began moving into a morning sky stellium with Venus, Mars, and Jupiter in Cancer/Leo. So, we had four visible planets coming together in the morning sky, and the “Fab 4” were in the news for comparing themselves to Jesus. This was a huge turning point. The 1966 tour was the Beatles’ last.  The group eventually split up.  John Lennon continued to speak his mind and cause controversy.  He was murdered (or assassinated) in 1980. In retrospect, it seems that the “Jesus”  event can be seen as the genesis of John Lennon as a kind of public enemy number one, who later became hounded by the CIA for his political views.

This brings us to the current morning sky alignment in Aries/Taurus. Until April 30, Jupiter was the doryphory, that is, closest to the Sun. On April 27, President Barack Obama silenced the “birthers” (whose cause had recently been joined by “The Donald”) by making public the long form of his birth certificate. At that time, the Sun and Jupiter were separated by only 16 degrees. We, therefore, had “an appearance that speaks” of Jupiter. The Rulership Book gives both certificates and foreigners to Jupiter, and at issue was whether our president is of foreign or native birth. (5)

April 29th was the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Princes are classic Jupiter figures, and a royal wedding is certainly larger than life. Bernadette Brady sees the doryphory as boding extremely well for the Prince.  (6) Like the Sun, oriental or morning sky stars are essentially fiery, or hot and dry in nature. They are about individuating and making distinctions between things. Assuming that William distinguishes himself from his father, Charles, by steering clear of any scandals, my guess is that, when William has an heir, Queen Elizabeth will pass the crown to him.

After the Mars–Jupiter conjunction on April 30, Mars became the doryphory closest to the Sun and, therefore, the closest “spearbearer” to the King. The next day, President Obama sent an elite team of military commandos to assassinate Osama bin Laden. Eight years to the day after George Bush proclaimed “mission accomplished,” the job of bringing the 9/11 mastermind to justice was actually completed. Eight years is a Venus synodic cycle, and Venus is one of the four current doryphory, along with Mercury.

The most striking thing about the death of bin Laden is that it marks something of an end of an era. Clearly, this event is the closest thing to closure we will ever have for the events of 9/11. While many public figures are saying Al Qaeda is still a threat, others seem to think that without its charismatic leader, Al Qaeda will vanish into the dusty history books. (7) In any event, we now have a clear marker, a  distinction between times. This is the fundamental purpose of morning sky planets: to individuate and make distinctions. Morning sky planets mark the birth of a new presence in the Sky and, therefore, the beginning of something new on Earth. As above, so below.

Judging from how events have unfolded, when Mercury passes Mars in the sky on May 20 and becomes the doryphory closest to the Sun, we can definitely expect some action of a Mercurial sort. Until then, we have some jostling between the other doryphory planets with a Mercury–Venus conjunction on May 9, and Venus–Jupiter and Mercury–Jupiter conjunctions on May 11. I’m sure ancient stargazers would have seen this as a sort of passing of the baton or some other kind of interaction between the attendants or spearbearers to the King. So, it seems we can look for more big news stories to emerge next week.

However, from a more participatory standpoint, perhaps if we honor these attending planets with our presence, our awareness, and our prayers or affirmations, they will take up a mission on our behalf. Get up early to see the amazing doryphory in the morning sky at dawn. Sing a sacred song, dance a sacred dance, or light a sacred flame. Let the Universe know that you know what is going on and are an active co-creator in the celestial drama. Ask for what you want or need in your life. Better yet, assert that you already have it and it is now on its way to you. Most of all, Carpe Diem! You might be surprised by what happens next. At the very least, you’ll feel a little more alive for having been part of such an awesome, once in a lifetime spectacle. Perhaps, in retrospect, you’ll see that this was a time when something very important in your life was being born.


(1) King James Bible

(2) Revealing the Star of Bethlehem

(3) Sky and Telescope

(4) Configuration Hunter

(5) The Rulership Book

(6) Visual Astrology Newsletter

(7) Global Public Square


Gary P. Caton is an eclectic astrologer who embraces an organic, process-oriented approach to spiritual growth, exploration and transformation. Gary holds a degree in counseling and has developed a unique multi-discipline approach to Astrology over 17 years. Connect with Gary at Dream Astrologer


  1. Thank you for that, Gary. It was very insightful.

  2. Gary, thanks for the masterful review of some unusual astrological thinking from the ancients and its application to today.

    I have a son born in May 1964 whose chart has Mercury, Mars and Jupiter in poryphory, It will be especially interesting to see how the return of these three plus Venus this month impacts his life and those of his generation…..

  3. Frank, thanks for reading and commenting.

    Jo, yes indeed. IME, recurrences of the same or similar configuration can be very powerful, even if in a different sign

    You can click on the configuration hunter link above and do a search for recurrences of his (or any) specific configuration.

    Click on the link then click on the aspects hunter at top left. For your son, you would enter Mercury-Mars 0-10 degrees. Then click “add an other selection” and add Mars-Jupiter 0-10 degrees. then hit search

    the results look like this, with the year, then month, then number of days the aspect lasted
    1964 5 31
    1964 6 8
    1966 8 6
    1993 9 8
    2002 7 10
    2004 9 10
    2004 10 8
    2006 11 12
    2006 12 22
    2009 1 3
    2009 2 28
    2009 3 8
    2011 4 19
    2011 5 20
    2013 7 14
    2013 8 5
    2040 9 5

    By cross-checking the charts for the above dates for planets preceding the Sun in the Zodiac, we can see that his Mercury, Mars, Jupiter doryphory will repeat in the summer of 2013 (in the sign of Cancer)

  4. Excellent piece Gary. Your expertly show how the literal and symbolic merge in astrology. Bravo!

  5. Gary,

    As always, this is a wonderful article that re-opens ancient techniques for divining without computers!

    The doryphory planets of Venus and Mercury conjunct make me wonder about the story from China of the twin (Mercury) girls (Venus) born with only one body but two heads. They were born last Thursday, but the news of it became known yesterday, May 9th. The doctors said it would be “nearly” impossible to separate them, but I wonder. . . . perhaps these two morning ‘stars’ are as you say “about individuating and making distinctions between things.” Maybe someday, in a new era, surgeons will be able to successfully perform this type of division. We live in amazing times.

  6. Very well researched and thought-provoking article. I especially appreciate the way the author did not try to predict what is to come in the next few weeks, but suggested that we help create our own future. I’ll look for more articles by Mr. Caton.

  7. Thanks Frederick, Barbara and Lesia for reading and commenting. Triple conjunction today!

  8. I hope these events do portend new paths, both for the U.S. and for the British monarchy. I like your prediction that William will be the next king. I think Charles’ time has passed and the collective consciousness is evolving. Holding on to the past will not work and we must embrace different methods of doing things. The birth certificate hoopla seems even more pathetic now. I hope that with Bin Laden’s death, our country has reached a turning point and that more respect and civility will emerge among our citizenry. (I also hope the president will stop calling us “folks”.) Thank you for your article that you presented so well.

  9. here, here Rebecca. Thanks for that

    I just want to let everyone know that I just published a podcast which takes this subject on from a little different perspective. You can listen and subscribe at the link below

    Morning Sky magick is afoot! The conjunctions between Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter in Aries and Taurus represent new appearances in the Sky and also in our Lives. Gary goes through each of the 12 signs to give ideas how these may manifest for you. We also talk about recurrence transits and how to track and take advantage of the rare opportunities that recurrences represent.

  10. I enjoyed your article very much! I tried to get out right before sunrise, where JU-ME-VE would be about 10 degrees from the horizon, but too many buildings blocking the way!

  11. Thanks Gary for all the additional info…the configuration hunter is an awesome tool.

    This gorgeous stellium is so powerful.

    I’m staying attuned to all the ‘Morning Sky magic’ you have so beautifully articulated…and all of the new appearances..

    I’ve had some dreams too that are carrying the dawn sky ..very beautiful and somehow deeply soothing to my soul..

    to be continued..

    love to all

  12. […] Mercury and Venus in Aries, plus Mars in Taurus, are in a rare sky position these days. Gary Caton’s blog post at The Mountain Astrologer describes how all four are rising before the Sun, something that last happened in 1680. These four […]

  13. Gary, I’m particularly in awe of two things: Your title and the perfect last sentence for your piece. Bravo!

  14. I’ve udpate the Configuration Hunter database. Now you can perform searches using the 5th of June 0558 to 26 August 2091 time interval.


  15. Thanks for the article – I agree the sky does matter.
    This September a group of us will be heading to Central Oz desert for some Star gazing, sleeping in swags under the night sky, and listen to some indigenous star stories and myths of there Dreamtime. We will be there in the week that Venus becomes visible in the evening sky for the Libra Equinox. It will move from about 8 degrees ahead of the Sun to about 13 in the time we are there. It will be interesting to see when indeed it does become visible at that latitude.(or it may have already) Don’t you think it would be great to have others keep there eye on these heliacal risings and settings at various latitudes around the world and we could keep a log.

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