Skyscript home page

Biographical Dictionary of Western Astrologers [Hardcover], by James Herschel Holden, M.A.


Book Review

Biographical Dictionary of Western Astrologers

by James Herschel Holden, M.A.

American Federation of Astrologers Inc, (23 May 2013)
ISBN: 086690641X
794 pages; hardback. RRP: $79.95 US
Reviewed by Deborah Houlding

At the age of 86, there appears to be no stopping the formidable James Herschel Holden. His recent publications include translations of the works of Abu 'Ali al-Khayat, Albumasar, Firmicus, Masha Allah, Morin, Paul of Alexandria, Porphyry, Rhetorius, Sahl Ibn Bishr, extracts from various medieval texts, and a translation of the "Confidential Recollections" of Belgian financial astrologer Gustave-Lambert Brahy (1894-1989). All of Holden's astrological translations offer valuable contributions to our growing understanding of traditional principles and techniques, but his latest publication is quite different. This is a unique biographical reference (or Who's Who) of western astrologers, which is unparalleled in its scope, featuring more than 2,200 entries for western astrologers from the 2nd century BC up to the early 20th century.

This book is in many ways a development of the earlier work Astrological Pioneers of America, (written by Holden and the late Robert Hughes: Tempe, AZ, AFA, 1988). Some of that book's shorter entries have been removed (the reader is referred to that work for American names that are missing from this) and the geographical restriction has been eliminated. The result is a book which offers a much more comprehensive list of biographies for people whose lives have impacted upon the astrological community and its teachings, marking it out as an essential source for researchers of various historical periods for many areas of the globe.

There are limitations however, as denoted by the title's reference to 'Western Astrologers'. Holden explains that by this term he means "astrologers of all nations who primarily used the techniques of Western astrology, rather than those of Hindu or Chinese astrology" (iii). Whilst he has included most of the classical and medieval astrologers, from the renaissance period onwards he has needed to be selective. For astrologers of the modern period he has limited inclusion to persons born before 1935, with the exception of a few notable contemporaries born after that date but now deceased. So we will not find biographical details for modern authorities such as Robert Hand who are still yielding their influence, but we will find entries for academic scholars or miscellaneous writers whose works have been significant, though they themselves were not astrologers. Holden admits that, in regard to the modern period, astrologers of English-speaking countries are better represented than those of other nations, and this was biased by practicalities, such as having better access to source material on English-language astrologers.

Holden does not claim this book to be exhaustive, but describes it as a reasonably comprehensive account of its leading proponents, which he hopes will set a foundation that can be expanded by himself or future writers over time. With more than 2,200 entries to kick us off, I think that Holden is being incredibly humble and understated about the value of his work. It is clear that a life-time of scholarship has combined with a life-time's passion for his subject, making Holden uniquely qualified to publish a reference work which is designed to serve the long-term interests of astrology and not the short term interests of its author. I am in awe of the collection he has gathered together, and feel deeply indebted for having access to his accumulated knowledge; not only for the biographies he has produced himself, but also for its recommendations on where to look for more information.

As to be expected in a large format hard cover book which runs to nearly 800 pages, the cost of this book ($79 from the AFA) is not cheap by comparison to other books in the popular astrology market. But then it shouldn't be, because this does not compare to the majority of books that comprise the popular astrology market! This is something special, an investment for researchers that will offer returns over many years to come, and more akin to what we would expect from academic presses. Compared to the prices of comparable works it actually offers extremely good value - even better if you check the rates on, where it is currently retailing at around $65. As a culmination of a life's work it is, of course, priceless. Directly or indirectly a host of astrologers are going to reap a benefit out of the publication of this work, and for that James Holden has my absolute admiration and personal appreciation. So thank you Mr Holden for this, the latest of your gifts to the astrological community!

Deborah Houlding
July, 2013

Sadly, James Holden passed away on 13 August 2013. The Amercian Federation of Astrologers (AFA) placed the folloing notice on their website:


James H. Holden, a board member and Fellow of the American Federation of Astrologers, passed away August 13, 2013. He was 86. Many credit him with the revival of interest in traditional astrology because of his many translations of astrology texts from the 2nd to the 16th centuries. He also wrote A History of Horoscopic Astrology and the recently published Biographical Dictionary of Western Astrologers, and translated Mathesis by Julius Firmicus Maternus and many of the Astrologia Gallica series of books by J-B Morin.

Astrodatabank has now created an entry on Holden at,_James