The Via Combusta is the infamous piece of the zodiac that stretches from the middle of Libra into the middle of Scorpio. We’re told that this is the most dangerous section of the zodiac to find the luminaries. Mostly, though, you only ever see reference to it if the Moon is here, probably because she is so swift whereas everyone else will spend weeks if not months or years in the Via Combusta. Though, in horary it becomes universally applicable to pay attention to the Moon in the Burnt Path as the Moon will always take co-signification of the querent, question, and flow of events, whereas the other planets may not be participating in the question as a significator (though Bonatti does warn us to check for the querent’s significator in Via Combusta). In other words, the Moon will always be a key player in horary charts, whereas other planets may not be important.
First, we have to back up. Like many things in astrology, the Via Combusta has a complicated history of not quite being like we know of it today. The Picatrix, an eleventh century Hermetic text, holds the Burnt Path from 18° Libra to 3° Scorpio. Marsilo Ficino writing in the 15th century tells us it’s from 28° Libra to 3° Scorpio. The 17th century astrologer Dariot tells us Via Combusta was from 13° Libra to 9° Scorpio. Bonatti (13th century) gives us somewhat vague sentence stating that the Moon is debilitated in Capricorn, Scorpio, and the last part of Libra which seems to be a nod towards the Via Combusta in his book on Horary. However, in Lilly’s translation of Bonatti’s Anima Astrologiae he mentions that the Burnt Path is 30 degrees long between Libra and Scorpio. Lilly himself does not seem to include any comments about the Via Combustia in his own horary text. Four of his own example charts are rendered with the Moon in the Burnt Path, and yet Lilly does not reference this position. Gadburry, a contemporary of Lilly’s, takes a similar action mentioning Via Combustia only once in his text, but then not using it in any examples.
So, where did the Burnt Path come from and do we need to make use of it? We really are not clear on the specifics of it, but the basis of this particular area of the Zodiac seems to come from this being a very unfortunate place for the Sun and Moon. The Sun takes his Fall in Libra and the Moon takes hers in Scorpio. Though we consider a planet’s detriment to be worse than its fall, traditionally it was considered a bit worse for a planet to be in their Fall than in their detriment. Detriment is a planet that is in a place where it feels uncomfortable, but Fall is where a planet has been shunned or cast out. Essentially if we take the opposite meanings of a planet in domicile or exaltation to be the meaning of detriment and fall, a planet in domicile has its resources together and is competent, a planet in detriment is unprepared and ineffective. A planet in exaltation has been put on high by others and is honored and the opposite of that of one that is cast out. So, we can see that Fall is functionally worse than detriment, and the Falls of the luminaries would show places where the life force itself is cast aside and unheard. We see where it looks like it might get messy.
Now that the basis is out of the way, let’s discuss the varying measurements given for the Burnt Path. As I pointed out in the introductory article to the Lunar Mansion series, it was not uncommon for astrologers to focus more on spiritual purity and perfection while sort of ignoring reality. It would not then be out of step to use the more cosmically tidy, more commonly known measurement of 15° Libra to 15° Scorpio. This also has the added effect of being able to contain the entire orb of the Sun within it, the Sun has an orb of 15° on either side of his body, so if he’s at 0° Scorpio, his rays will stretch the entirety of the Via Combustia.
It’s also worth noting that as I mentioned in the Libra article, Libra used to simply be another part of Scorpio. Anciently it was referred to as Chelae, or the Claws. However, the 15°/15° split could also be due to the placement of fixed stars. Zuben Elgenubi is the Southern Scale of Libra and is of the nature of Saturn and Mars, this star also lies closer to Scorpio (though, paradoxically, it is earlier in Zodiacal longitude than the benefic star Zuben Elschelami). This star is sort of like the bad half of Libra; Libra’s Mr. Hyde. So, this second half of Libra closest to Scorpio is the realm of this malevolent star then you go through some other unfortunate stars until you get into the heart –the middle – of Scorpio and the Royal Star Antares which acts like an oasis in this unfortunate part of the sky. It could be possible that the second half of Libra begins the Via Combusta with the dominance of Zuben Elgenubi and continues until the middle of Scorpio until we reach Antares whose promises of honors and fortune remedy and end the Burnt Path.
The shorter lengths of the Via Combusta are probably due to the exact falls of the luminaries. The Sun has his exact exaltation in 19° Aries and the Moon has hers in 3° Taurus, which translates to their falls being in 19° Libra to 3° Scorpio. This sounds pretty close to what the Picatrix, Ficino, and Dariot tells us and it does make some philosophical sense that the degrees between would be unfortunate. It’s also worth mentioning that in various Terms systems, these degrees are typically ruled by the malefics (in Egyptian Mars has 28 and 29 Libra while also taking 0-5 Scorpio, and Ptolemy gives him 23-29 Libra and 0-5 Scorpio), and Term is the rulership of the body, showing bodily distress such as sickness or death.
So, which measurement to use? That’s probably up to each individual astrologer to decide for themselves. Arguments have been made for both, however the Lunar Mansions for this area of the zodiac might give additional weight to an argument. The lunar mansions function as a lunar zodiac of sorts, and common sense would dictate that areas where the Moon is weak would have malevolent meanings to them. Three mansions take up places of the Burnt Path; Al Zubana, Al Ikll, and Al Qalb, of these three, only Al Zubana has overwhelmingly unfortunate associations. Robson tells us this mansion is bad for everything except freeing prisoners and the Picatrix shares some rather dastardly talismans that this mansion is used for. The other two mansions have largely positive and beneficial meanings, associations, and talismans that go with them. The zodiacal position of Al Zubana is 12°Libra51’26” to 25°Libra42’52, not the whole portion of the Burnt Path, but a sizeable chunk of it which contains the Fall degree of the Sun.
As for horary application, it is generally considered a consideration before judgment to see if the Moon is in the Burnt Path. Bonatti tells us to make sure we understand the question completely before going forward, though the questions asked with the Moon in the Via Combusta will not go well and is an automatically negative testimony. It is also considered a place of extreme distress of the querent who is very much troubled by the question. Unfortunately, traditional sources are lacking in examples. William Lilly gives us a few charts with the Moon in Via Combusta, but doesn’t say anything about it, and in a couple of those charts, the matter perfects! Perhaps the Via Combusta isn’t as fiery as it used to be.