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Ptolemy's Four Causes of Fate

By Kenneth Miller


A topic I rarely see mentioned in astrological books or lectures is that of cultural influences on the client and astrologer. For example, the role of Mars’ influence in relationships is quite different in (for example) the United States, a land arguably of serial monogamy; vs. India, a land of primarily arranged marriages. A survey of both American and Indian astrological literature shows that in the West, Mars is a planet involved in passion. A good Venus/Mars synastry is said to create sexual chemistry. In India, where the parents hire the astrologer to match the charts of their wedding-age children, Mars is viewed primarily as an instigator of strife, something to be avoided at all costs. There is even a concept of a Mars Blemish which is only cured by matching the native with a suitor possessing a similar Mars-problem chart. (It’s an example of “two wrongs make a right”).

Similar differences exist in looking at divorce potential in the chart. Here in the USA where we have high divorce rates and a relatively easy legal path to divorce, it sometimes doesn’t take many adverse astrological indications to show the end of a marriage. But for clients living in countries with a more conservative take on marriage, my experience shows those couples tend to be more resilient.

So maybe there is something in the power of culture to influence astrological indications, but just don’t take my word for it: This idea goes back to the very foundation of Western Astrology!

Ptolemy, one of the grandfathers of our Western tradition, writing in one of the earliest surviving Greek astrological texts, admonishes us to pay attention to causative factors in addition to astrological influences, for the chart of a prince will be read differently than that of a pauper.

In the Tetrabiblos chapter 2 (I’m using the 1994 Robert Schmidt translation), Ptolemy outlines three classes of additional causative factors, that is, in addition to astrological factors, that have an impact on the destiny of individual people. The first of these is the “differences of seed,” a factor Robert Hand considers analogous to what we would call genetic potential. A person born tall will have certain advantages/disadvantages than a person born short.

The second class of factors is the place of birth, “for seeds being assumed to be the same… those who are born differ much both in body and in soul as a result of the difference in the regions [of birth].” In other words, climate and cultural factors will affect one’s destiny. Are you born to a family in New York City or to one in the Sahara Desert? Do you live in a democracy, theocracy, or authoritarian country? The answer to that will affect how planetary influences manifest.

Ptolemy’s third class of causative factors are “rearing and habit,” i.e. consequences of family upbringing; as they “contribute something toward the particular course of life.” Being born into a family of wealth bestows certain advantages that being born into poverty does not. The astrologer would do well to consider all these additional factors.

The last class of factors are of course Astrological Influences, which is what San Diego Astrological Society is all about. Be sure to come to our meetings, always on the 2nd Friday of the month!

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