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Solar Return by Vettius Valens - A Digression

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

During a prosperous era for astrologers, marked by a wealth of translations from ancient and medieval manuscripts, the availability of extensive material is counterbalanced by various practical linguistic challenges. These challenges, stemming from problems in manuscripts or translations, often result in crises of understanding and interpretation. One such crisis occurs from Annual chart technique in Book V of the The Anthology by Vettius Valens, a 2nd century astrologer from Antioch (modern day Turkey, then influenced by the Greek philosophy). Valens combines the Sun’s position and also the Moon’s position, probably a soli-lunar method to create annual charts or recasting charts that is valid for one year. Apparently, we have two translations of Vettius Valens; one by Robert Schmidt and another by Mark Riley.

Charts that are created annually for predictive purposes have been around for as long as astrology itself. Over the course of history, astrologers from different regions like India, the Middle East (in the Persian tradition), and Egypt (in Hellenistic astrology) have frequently utilised yearly charts to gain understanding of the current planetary conditions, focusing specifically on the chronocrators or time lords.  The Solar Revolutions (or returns) chart, which is cast when the Sun reaches its exact natal position every year, is regarded as the most commonly used annual chart in modern times and has been passed down from ancient times.

Before I proceed, I would like to thank Ed (the developr of Planet Dance astrology program) and Levente Lazlo (Ancient texts translator and philology scholar from Hungary).

Passages from Valens translated by Riley and Schmidt

We consider the recasting of horoscopes to be essential because the recasting contributes greatly to the temporal interchange of the chronocrators. Sometimes, the recasting increases the strength of the results, sometimes it is indicative of delays in the results. After we calculate precisely the positions of the stars on the birth date on the current year, we will find the Ascendant as follows: while the Sun is still in the natal sign, we examine where the Moon was then and when the Moon will come to the exact same degree where it was at the nativity, and we call the point the Ascendant. If that exact degree is found to be during the day, even though the nativity was nocturnal, we examine the diurnal house rules, the ruler of the term and of the Ascendant in ioorder to find their relationships to the stars at the nativity.⁠

P198, Anthology, Translated by Vettius Valens, Amor Fati Publications, Denver, Colorado, 2022.

Straightaway, it looks like Valens basically wanted to maintain the angle of the Sun and the Moon as it was in the nativity. Indians use a similar technique called Thithi Pravesha where the Ascendant is marked when the Moon reaches its natal position while the Sun is still in the same sign as it was in the nativity. The text Carmen Astrologicum was originally written by Dorotheus, a 1st century astrologer from Sidon, Lebanon, who was influenced by Hellenistic culture as a result of the Greek occupation. Fortunately, his work has been preserved through the Arabic translation by Umar Al-Tabari. Dr. Benjamin Dykes has translated where Umar refers to Valens’ method of annual charts.

And Valens said also: Look at the planet which is the lord of that year, where it looked on the day the Sun entered into the minute in which he was on the day the native was born, and see in that hour, in which he enters in to it, what is the Ascendant and sign which is arising from the east. And look at the Moon, where she is, and in which sign she is,  and know up to how much she was from that degree which she was in on the day the native was born and make that sign the Ascendant of the year.

P199, Book IV, Carmen Astrologicum, Translated by Dr. Benjamin. Dykes

My interpretation of Schmidt’s translation is close what my friend and Italian astrologer Tania Daniels attempts to work with in her 2019 article Ayrton Senna and Valens’ special method of Solar Return charts although she quotes Riley’s translation. According to my understanding, the passage suggests marking an Ascendant when the Sun reaches its natal point and then, mark an Ascendant when the Moon reaches its natal point. However, the problem is the passage seems to imply that the Moon’s return follows the Sun’s return. Another major problem with this technique will occur when the Sun is in the later degree of a sign and in that case, the Moon might not reach its natal position before the Sun leaves its natal sign. This actually is a flawed technique like Dykes points out. Once again, the perpetual dilemma regarding whether to have two distinct charts, one for solar return and another for lunar return, or to utilise a single chart with two distinct Ascendants for different intentions, remains ambiguous based on the information provided in this passage. Riley’s translation is notably clearer, except for a specific portion where he instructs to determine the exact positions of the planets at the exact moment when the Sun reaches its natal point which again leaves us to a place which Dykes called as “symbolic oddity” and I agree!

Mark Riley’s translation clearly specifies that the Ascendant is marked when the Moon returns to its natal position while the Sun is still in the same sign as it was during the birth of the native. The Sun stays in a sign for a month while the Moon comes around the zodiac in 28 days. This means the Moon will surely reach its natal position within the period of Sun’s stay in the natal sign. The Moon will always reach its natal position during the Sun’s stay in its natal sign. There is no astronomical possibility of it not happening.

Translation by Levente Lazlo

Due to numerous confusions and a complete lack of clarity, I decided to contact Levente Lazlo, a Hungarian philology and linguistic scholar, translator, and astrologer. I wanted to confirm if there were any mistakes in the previous translations and if there was something we were overlooking. Levente, very kindly responded to me with his version of translation.

"It is necessary that we make the counter-birth, for it contributes much to the seasonal variations of times (of life) as sometimes it confirms the forecast of potential events while other times it indicates that it will prevent these forecast events (from happening). After computing (the positions of) the stars accurately for the birthday in the given year, we will find the Hour-Marker as follows. While the Sun is still in his natal sign, we examine where the Moon is at that time, and in which hour she arrives at the same degree of recurrence that she occupied in the birth, and we will call this degree that one marking the Hour. And if somehow it happens that although the birth is nocturnal, the recurrence is found to be diurnal, we will compare the diurnal Domicile-Masters and the Lord of the bound and of the Hour-Marker to the stars of the birth."

Levente opined that the lunar revolution would follow the solar revolution and presumably, if this doesn’t apply, lunar revolution should be preceding the solar revolution. I agreed and shared this similar idea as that of Levente and you would understand it from the following sentences. However, the astronomical consistency will be prevalent only if we see when Valens’ condition of lunar following solar doesn’t apply. That is, when does the Moon doesn’t reach its natal point while the Sun is still in its natal sign.

Final Digression

Valens’ explanations of solar returns have the potential to cause confusion in their interpretation. Valens’ passage is clear about the Sun in the same sign (not the exact degree) as it was in the nativity and also is clear about the Moon’s exact return to its natal position. The confusion arises because of the sentence where he says, “After we calculate precisely the positions of the stars on the birth date on the current year, we will find the Ascendant as follows”. Fixing the planetary positions in the annual chart when the Sun reaches its natal degree and to wait for the Moon to reach its natal position to mark the Ascendant brings about a mix between two real time techniques that is the return of both the luminaries where the Sun’s is not meant to be exact that is clearly explicit in the passage given by Valens but it also has an element of oddity because of fixing the planetary positions at the time of Sun’s arrival to the natal degree and the Ascendant corresponding to the Moon’s arrival to the natal degree. Speculatively, Valens might have wanted us to wait for the Moon to reach its natal position while the Sun is still in the sign as it was in the nativity to mark the Ascendant which will be a soli-lunar return, probably a more appropriate chart for annual predictive methods which is astrologically sound than just using the solar or the lunar returns but this is just my understanding.

Indians employ the soli-lunar method with importance to thithi (lunar day), and it is widely believed among Indian scholars that this entire annual chart method was borrowed from either the Persians or the Greeks. It is uncertain whether Thithi Pravesa is the precise rendition of Valens or not although it appears like it is not. If Valens had indeed meant what we see in the translations, it is plausible that the Indians made adjustments to ensure the method’s astronomical precision.

From a logical point of view, it becomes evident that annual charts serve as a method to gain a deeper understanding of the real-time planetary conditions that signify good or bad things over an individual during a specific timeframe. It seems that waiting for the Moon to mark the Ascendant and fixing the planetary placements when the Sun reaches the natal position is not aligned with the intended purpose. In his footnote of the Dorotheus translation, Dykes precisely highlights this problem. Modifying the Ascendant for a chart where the planets are not accurately placed in accordance with the real-time Ascendant is a rather unconventional approach. I have serious doubts that Valens would have wanted us to do this. Expanding on Levente’s theory that the lunar revolutions take precedence over the solar revolution when the vice versa is not applicable, I also do not adhere to the convention of aligning the planetary positions with the Sun’s entry into the natal sign. Instead, I only consider the Moon reaching its natal sign while keeping the Sun in the same sign as it was at the time of birth.

Ancient astrologers may have not said what they wanted to say explicitly just like how it was in Indian astrology but sometimes, a lot of things are implied and assumed that the astronomical logic would be considered by the reader. I have a conviction that he must have actually wanted to mark the Ascendant when the Moon reaches its natal position while the Sun is still in the natal sign. If Valens did not intend this, it is actually sensible for us to tweak this method and fix the ascendant when the Moon reaches its natal positions while the Sun is still in the same sign as it was in the nativity. We will not calculate the planetary positions for the Sun’s entry but we will mark the positions of all the planets for the Moon’s entry.

Martin Scorsese - Academy Award for Best Director - 2007 (The Derparted)

Martin Scorsese was born when Leo was rising and he won the Academy award for best director for the movie The Departed in 2007. It wasn’t until The Departed that Martin Scorsese, who had been deserving of the award for his movies since Taxi Driver, finally got the recognition he had long been waiting for. The fact that Leo was rising in the annual chart held a profound meaning for the native, as it pointed towards something significant happening during the year. Scorsese was living through the 5th house protection which indicated rank and recognition. Jupiter is exalted in the 12th house of Cancer in the nativity. However, in the annual chart, Jupiter is placed in the 4th house of Scorpio and Jupiter is aspecting the 10th house. Moreover, Saturn which is placed in the 10th house ofTaurus in the nativity is placed in the rising sign of Leo in the annual chart further confirming an event that directly impacts the native. The 5th house is the house of rank and recognition and Jupiter is in conjunction with the ruler of the rising sign, the Sun and the significator of arts and theatre, Venus indicating rank and recognition in the entertainment industry. Moreover, Venus is also the 10th ruler. If we look t this chart, all the planets except Mercury are configured to the 10th house making the matter more prominent int he native’s life. The event is very prominently evident in the annual chart.

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