Using an Ephemeris
This chapter is not absolutely essential to read unless you wish to. But it's worth skipping through, just to see what it covers, and coming back to later, when you need.
It was written in 1986, before the days in the 1990s when computers became commonly used in astrology. Information here has not been updated to include more recent ephemerides.
However, the author does recommend one useful computer program, Astroclock. It gives the positions of the planets for this moment, today. It is simple, there's a free version and the 'pro' version is inexpensive (just $5). Go here.
Using tables, doing calculations and drawing charts were important then, and every astrologer had to master it. Something has been gained and something lost through the adoption of computers. This chapter is nevertheless useful, especially if the power goes off, but also because, in timecycle research, an ephemeris is useful in ways that computers are not.
An ephemeris is a book of tables showing the positions of the Sun, Moon and planets, usually for each day, at a stated time (such as midnight or noon). It is the main tool of the modern astrologer. If you are getting involved with astrology you need to get hold of at least one ephemeris, and below we are going to look at two of the most useful ephemerides, so that you can read and use them. Ephemerides are cosmic timetables for a continually fluxing train of energy-weather.
The term ephemeris comes from ancient Greek, and it means 'book of days' or 'book of changes'. Such a book is the major sourcebook for the astrologer, because it helps us keep a watch on planetary movements and antics over time. Here we are going to look at two widely-available ephemerides: Raphael's Ephemeris, useful for its portability and detail, and The American Ephemeris, commendable for its accuracy, good value, details and the length of period it covers, a century.
It is important to get hold of at least one of these ephemerides, and eventually to get both – even if you might have the capacity to calculate planetary positions on a computer. Without ephemerides you would be constrained in your timecycle research or application of the ideas given in this book. Raphael's Ephemeris is published once a year to cover the coming year, it is light, small and easily carried for everyday reference, when you are sitting in the bus or twiddling your toes. It costs little, and holds a lot of data for the year it covers. But when you get along to looking at longer-term planetary motions, and for ongoing use over a period of years, you need tables to cover all people alive today, which the American Ephemeris fulfils well, at a reasonable price for what you get.
An aside about other ephemerides. If you happen to have another ephemeris and want to use that, some are good and some not so good for timecycle work. Accurate and workable ones available are the Complete Planetary Ephemeris, the Astrolabe ephemeris, Die Deutsche Ephemeriden, Golgge or Metz, but it is very important that you check whether they are calculated for noon or midnight GMT (for they vary), since a twelve hours difference in time causes the earth to rotate 180° on its axis, and Moon moves 6-8°, a critical difference where a casual mistake can have big results.
It doesn't matter which ephemeris you have, a midnight or noon version, as long as you know which you have, and apply the appropriate adjustments. Some tables give inaccurate figures, and these should be avoided – The Compleat Astrologer and Waite's Compendium are examples. It does not pay to have a cheap and incomplete ephemeris such as these. Most ephemerides do not give the positions for Chiron (except the American Ephemeris which gives a reading for once a month).
This is a small 40-page booklet, mainly occupied by double-page tables for each month, showing planetary data for NOON GMT each day. You will need to buy one each year (get someone to give it to you for Christmas!), but it's worth it, for it shows every item of interest you should need in any year.
A page of Raphael's Ephemeris. Check the planetary positions on 11th September (Chiron was then at 20 Gemini, not shown in Raphael) to see what a grand cross looks like in an ephemeris. The lower part of the page is of little use to most astrologers. 'Mutual aspects' gives basic information which then can be checked in the Complete Aspectarian. Note the major moonphases, times and positions at the top and bottom of the page.
The Complete Aspectarian gives the exact times of formation of aspects. Some of these aspects are very minor ones, worth ignoring. Bs and Gs (bads and goods) are well worth ignoring too – a leftover of a past age.
Toward the back of the ephemeris are further tables of special use. These are:
Daily Motions of the Planets, useful in chart computations, but you can skip over it for now. It shows the motions of each of the faster planets during any 24 hour period.
Phenomena, with some useful times and data, much of which is quite advanced and specialised, but give it a look over to see what is there.
The Complete Aspectarian is very useful, for it gives all the aspects formed between Sun, Moon and planets in great detail, with their timings – some of the data given is of little use, for it shows greater detail than is necessary for most astrologers, and the column with Bs and Gs, signifying 'bad' and 'good' aspects is definitely worth ignoring, for it is based on a somewhat superstitious victorian worldview in which there are many value judgements of little use in modern astrology.
The Complete Aspectarian needs using selectively, so that you avoid landing up in a muddled mass of detail! In this book we emphasise the major aspects, and it is best to focus at first on these (conjunctions, sextiles, squares, trines and oppositions), moving into semisextiles, quincunxes, semsquares and sesquiquadrates as and when you feel good to do so. Pass over the other aspects given (such as quintiles and parallels). Many of the lunar aspects can also be passed over, because they pass so quickly, but conjunctions and oppositions by Moon to the planets are well worth watching.
Distances apart of all Conjunctions and Oppositions shows the strength of these critical aspects. Each planet, except Sun, wobbles slightly north and south of the ecliptic (the plane of the solar system), meaning that when, say, two planets conjunct in zodiacal longitude (eg. at 12 or 25), they might nevertheless be a few degrees away from one another, because one might be north and one might be south of the ecliptic. This does not invalidate a conjunction or opposition – it merely qualifies it with a sub-clause on the strength of the aspect, in relation to other conjunctions and oppositions of the planets in question during other cycles in time. A largish distance apart will tend to signify a weaker aspect than a small distance, and a deadly accurate one (such as an eclipse of the Sun or Moon, or an 'occultation' by Moon passing in front of another planet) will tend to be strong and crucial.
Sunrise and Sunset tables can be useful, but are not used in normal astrological reckonings – they are more useful if you are spending a lot of time outdoors, and are observing such things.
The Tables of Houses, using the Placidus system, are of marginal use in timecycle research. It is better actually to have a complete book of Tables of Houses. We won't be looking at chart calculation in this book, so these are of no relevance to our current purposes. Nowadays, most chart calculation is done by computer, so Tables of Houses are losing relevance. Pass over them for now.
Times when the Sun, Moon and Planets enter the Zodiac Signs is an ingress table, and is very useful to watch (see chapter six).
Much can be learned through regularly leafing through Raphael! This book is particularly useful to be able to whip out when you are musing over something (as astrologers are wont to do) and when you need to check out quickly what is happening astrologically.
Note that Raphael gives readings for NOON GMT. If you live elsewhere than in the GMT timezone, then you can quite easily make mental adjustments to the times given in the Ephemeris: find out how many hours difference there is between your timezone and GMT (modernly called UT, Universal Time), then add that figure to the times given in Raphael if you live east of Greenwich (eg in Europe, India, Australia), or subtract if you live west (the Americas). Ireland uses GMT, and most EU countries (except Ireland, Finland and Greece) are one hour ahead of GMT.
If you have the clock time in your own country and want to convert it to GMT, then add the timezone difference if you are west of Greenwich, and subtract if you are east. If the date changes in the process, check that you are reading correctly from the tables – for example, if the time is 6am on 27 October in New Zealand, it will be 6pm on 26 October at Greenwich, and the tables should be read for that latter date. Raphael is accurate for 1pm in Germany, 2pm in Finland and Greece, Egypt and South Africa, 5.30pm in India, 10pm in Sydney, Australia, 7am in New York and 4am in Los Angeles. You will get used to such mental juggling as you progress! If you want an accurate sourcebook on timezones and changes, try The International Atlas or The American Atlas (USA time changes only) by the late Neil Michelson's Astro-Computing Services.
If you are living in Britain, then there is no timezone problem, but there is the question of Summer Times, also known as Daylight Saving Times. This applies also to other countries, and is particularly complex in USA, where not only states but also counties have had their own ordinances and rules. Practicing astrologers have to furnish themselves with a set of Time Change books to deal with the question. However, in most of Europe and in British Commonwealth countries this is not too complex. You need to find out if there is/was Daylight Saving Time at the date on the year in question and then simply subtract one hour from your clock time to get true zone time. If you are reading out of the ephemeris, then add one hour to get your clock time. Each year, Raphael has the dates for British Summer Time for that year in the front of the book.
The American Ephemeris
This is published either for Midnight GMT (00 hours at the beginning of the day) in a red cover, or for Noon GMT in a white cover. It doesn't matter which version you have, (it's mainly a matter of whether you function better using the 24 hour clock, or using am/pm) as long as you are clear which one you have! The same rules apply regarding time zones and daylight saving times (DST) as outlined above.
The American Ephemeris. At the bottom of the page are various useful bits, explained at the front of the ephemeris. Chiron positions for the beginning of the month are shown in the bottom right-hand box. Lunar Last Aspect boxes help you find out void-of-course moons. AstroData shows aspects formed by the slower-moving planets only.
The data for each month is given all on the same page. This ephemeris is not as detailed for day-to-day perusal as Raphael is, but it has the advantage of containing all the important pieces of information you need and it covers a century. Explanations of the layout of each page are at the front of the Ephemeris. Buying Raphael for a century would cost you ten times the price of the American Ephemeris, and you would land up with 100 booklets to house! The American Ephemeris is a worthwhile investment, even if you use a computer, and you could get at least 50 years of use from it! It is not easily portable, though: Raphael is best for carrying around.
What to look out for in your Ephemeris
As life goes on, certain astrological things are worth watching out for, and below is a list of major factors to keep your eye on regularly. In other words, astrology encourages an attitude of watching and noting. Don't push yourself to grasp everything at once: allow yourself to get bewildered every now and then, and trust that all will come clear in good time. Give yourself six months to get the gist of what it is all about – let things sink in. Don't be daunted by the time you need to give it, for the most worthwhile insights into the mystery of life are well worth putting some time and energy into. In fact, this watching of ephemerides and 'sniffing the air' is quite addictive!
- Observe newmoons and fullmoons at first, with their timing and the zodiac signs they involve, and later, progress on to halfmoons and a general awareness of other phases.
- If Moon interests you, watch its ingresses into the signs as well. This is more a day-to-day affair, since the Moon changes signs once every 2.3 days, and if you have the time and attention to do it you will learn a lot about signs, the Moon, yourself and life. Conjunctions and oppositions of Moon to planets are also useful to keep and eye on, but it is not worth bothering with other aspects formed, unless you are a Moon maniac or a sucker for details (which I was when I was first learning astrology – I ate astrology for breakfast!)
- Watch for solar ingresses into signs – the true months, energywise – and note the atmosphere in the 2-3 days before and after ingress too. Also note and observe the solstices, equinoxes and cross-quarter days.
- Observe ingresses of other planets into the signs, and their passages over the solstice, equinox and cross-quarter points. Even if you do not grasp or understand what they do, and cannot identify anything as it is happening, note these times and their observable time-qualities, and you will find things fall into place after a while. It takes time to fit everything together, but it works.
- Keep a watch on the aspects forming between Sun and planets throughout the year. Sun completes a full cycle with regards to each planet during the course of the year, and conjunctions, oppositions and squares are a good starting point for observing these aspects and relationships.
- Look into all other aspects formed between the planets, for these will clue you into both the planets and the aspects and the areas of life they cover. To minimise information-overload, stick at first to the main aspects.
- Look out also for the stations of planets – the times when they stop and turn either retrograde (R) or direct (D) – for these are times when they are coming through strongly.
Outlines of what all these things do and imply are scattered throughout this book, but it is worth taking note that these are guidelines, tuning tips, rather than replacements of the real thing. It's like drinking whisky: it is much more effective to do it than read about it! For then you have real live experience. And, like drinking whisky, you won't understand immediately what's going on, or see the experience with the kind of perspective which you will gather as time goes on, but on the other hand, by doing it, you go through the motions of gathering that experience, and it all matures in time.
Investing this time is well worth it, for astrology gives us tremendous help, increasingly, as we progress through life, as we grow and see new things, and as we accumulate a developing knowledge of the subject. Learning direct from life experience has no substitute. The flow of time needs your conscious participation as much as you need it and its guidance!