Horary astrology is a branch that is subject to much abuse by practitioners due to its rather open-ended nature. This has led a lot of onlookers to see horary as “pie-in-the-sky” due to the power many people attribute to it. Not only has this enabled a lot of misconceptions about the use of horary to potential new practitioners, but it has also caused internal conflict (like most things) as people tend to square off into camps. Fortunately, we do have some examples in the literature about how horary is supposed to be used, how questions are supposed to be asked, and other related topics.
The first, and perhaps most controversial topic to be touched on is exactly who can ask questions about what. Today, it is not uncommon to find horary being used as the go-to technique to predict various mundane events like elections or the fate of public figures. We saw this with the U.S. Presidential election, where several astrologers used horary to come up with their own predictions, even if their judgment ran contrary to another astrologer also using horary. Unfortunately, this is one of the more serious trade-offs on counting on horary to predict these matters.
The tradition is pretty clear about who can ask what. Masha’Allah tells us that the astrologer should only respond to questions that are earnest and definite and that questions should be about the person asking or about someone the person asking cares about as much as they care about themselves. This rules out a lot of the popular uses of horary as a tool for mundane events, as there’s little chance someone will care for a public figure as much as they do themselves. This sentiment is also echoed by Bonatti who mentions in several places for the astrologer to make sure the querent “has business” to be asking. Though not as specific as Masha’Allah, there is an obvious question to be asked before questions are just undertaken.
Following with Bonatti for a bit longer, he also discusses something else that was a part of the tradition of horary, namely that astrologers should not ask their own questions. Of course, the astrologer asking their own questions has become quite popular, with most horaries posted probably originating from the one who asks them. Bonatti gives a reason for this, saying that the astrologer will likely be deceived in his own matter. Basically that the astrologer will be unable to give an accurate interpretation for a chart that is about himself either because he wishes for the best or expects the worst. There are some caveats to this though, as Bonatti says astrologers are able to answer their own questions if they first ask it to another astrologer, which doesn’t make a lot of sense as the problem of bias should still remain regardless of who takes the question.
An astrologer asking their question to another astrologer instead of taking the question himself appears to be an homage to the consultation chart. This is something of an older form of horary before horary was a system within its own right. Basically, an astrologer can take the horoscope for the time a client first approached them, and that horoscope will show what concerns the client wishes to have addressed. Bonatti saying that an astrologer can still answer their own questions as long as they are presented to another astrologer first seems to strive to keep this ritual intact.
William Lilly’s Christian Astrology is probably the most studied text on horary astrology. It’s easy to see why that’s the case, as Lilly gives a good overview of the whole system and gives several examples from his own files. Due to the focus that has been placed on this particular work, several modern day astrologers have adopted practices similar to the ones that Lilly presents. Unfortunately, these ideas may be somewhat out of context. Lilly rejects the idea that an astrologer cannot ask his own questions, basically saying that he’s done it and it’s been fine, so he doesn’t see a reason why not to.
Something else that many people trace back to Lilly is the ability of using horary for mundane purposes. This is somewhat yes and no. It’s true that there are some charts in Lilly’s text that are awkward and mundane in their scope, but it isn’t nearly as many as people tend to believe. It must be remembered that Lilly did several charts concerning the English Civil War and the clients who asked about it were all heavily involved on the Parliamentarian side of the conflict putting them at odds with the Crown. If their side lost, they would all likely be executed for treason, so it’s difficult to argue that there wasn’t something invested in these questions. However, aside from that, there are two charts which stand out as not being so easily justified. “If Presbertry shall stand?” and “What manner of death Canterbury shall die?” are two charts which go against the other stated rules. The chart about Presbyterianism would probably have been better answered through mundane analysis, and Canterbury’s death is probably not something that Lilly should have had business to ask about, but he did it anyway. So, those charts exist, and it seems like Lilly didn’t quite follow the rules as closely as his predecessors.
Something else that pops up every now and then is the idea that questions can be re-asked at later dates. This is not something that I’ve come across in the tradition. This probably has a lot to do with the way the considerations are handled in the modern era, where many people tend to think of them as strictures against judgment. Meaning, if the astrologer sees one they are supposed to throw out the chart. This does not appear to be the way these considerations were used. The best example we have is from Bonatti who shares with us this particular story.
“But thou mayest be ready to say, ‘How shall I know whether the Querent come out of a solid intention, or only to try me?’ To which I answer, that it seems a very abstruse and difficult point, perfectly to find out; but this I have often experienced and found true, viz., I observed the hour of the Question, and if the Ascendant then happened very near the end of one sign and beginning of another, so that it seemed as between both; I said they did not ask seriously, or that they came to try me; and I have had many that have there upon confessed what I said to be true, and began to think that I knew more than before they believed. For in such cases I used to say, ‘Pray, friend, do not trouble me unless you ask seriously, for I suspect that you would put a trick upon me, by not proposing this Question as you ought: however, if you will give me trouble for your pleasure, be pleased to give me likewise satisfaction for my pains’; and immediately, if there were and deceit intended, away they went.”
The implication here is that if we see something in a chart that seems odd, we should ask about it and get information. Bonatti sees an Ascendant he doesn’t like, and asks if the person is coming to trick him or waste his time. Bonatti follows up later with a quote.
“The issue of the thing is according to the solicitude of the Querent, and as he comes in necessity, as sad, thoughtful, and hoping, that thou art able and knowest how to satisfy him the truth of the matter; and in such cases thou may’st securely venture upon the question.”
Translation being, if the querent is really sincere or the question is about something serious, considerations be damned! This is probably the best advice Bonatti can give us and is a far cry from the current state of things in popular practice where charts are thrown out if the Moon is Void of Course. We can see this most readily in Christian Astrology where there are several charts that have some form of a consideration present within them, and yet Lilly carries on with interpreting it, oftentimes not mentioning it at all. As far as Lilly goes, the biggest red flag for him seems to be if the Ascendant fails to describe the querent.
There also seems to be another myth floating around about the considerations before judgment; namely that Bonatti invented them to protect himself. This doesn’t appear to be the case. Lilly quotes Al-Kindi when discussing several of the considerations he poses, and Masha’Allah mentions that if the querent’s intention isn’t genuine, it will be reflected in the chart. This gives us two pre-Bonatti references to the considerations, so Bonatti couldn’t have invented them, though he may have systematized them in some respects. He only lists four of the eleven considerations that Lilly would later write about.
So, it seems pretty apparent that there would be no circumstances that questions would be thrown out at all unless they were insincere or silly ones, in which case there wouldn’t be a need to re-ask later. Several modern day astrologers have adopted one or two considerations that they take more seriously than the others and if a chart has that, they encourage the querent to ask the same question again at a later time in hopes of avoiding that placement. This does not appear to be good practice and is not something that is supported by the horary big wigs of the past. Questions are unique and individuals, when asking one you roll the dice and you get what you get.
The mechanics behind what makes a good horary and the ritual behind it is something that I am still studying. Though the sources may be scattered and divided on many topics, there are a few that they are mostly in agreement on, and this seems to be one of them. While Lilly seems to differ on the main points due to his own experiences with them, everyone else does not. Unfortunately there is no way to look into the rest of Lilly’s files to see what other charts he answered and how they played out, so we will never know how often he did things or what the majority of his questions were like. He may have more questions like “Presbertry” and “Canterbury” or they may be rarities in his collection. Regardless, it is best to follow practices that make sense to oneself while being able to back those up with something more than experience.