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Primary Directions: Astrology's Old Master Technique, by Martin Gansten
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Book Review

Primary Directions: Astrology's Old Master Technique
by Martin Gansten

Wessex Astrologer, ISBN 10: 1902405390, 206 pages; 2009.

Reviewed by Deb Houlding

Not so very long ago, no astrologer would have ventured into professional practice without the astronomical and mathematical knowledge of how to calculate primary directions, as well as the practical experience of knowing what they mean. During the Renaissance, directions were viewed as the one of the most important components of predictive astrology, as can be seen in the natal volume of Lilly's Christian Astrology, which features a substantial treatment of the meaning of directions made to prominent planets, angles and fixed stars.

But within the last century, primary directions have become all but forgotten. Alan Leo was one of the few 20th century astrologers who offered a (bumbling) attempt at making the technique accessible. Since he was leading the drive towards modernisation, popularisation and simplification, his support was always going to be half-hearted. The injury imposed upon this once highly-valued technique is illustrated in this telling mid-20th century assessment:

Some practitioners use so-called Primary Directions, which require exacting mathematical calculations. These are not widely employed in this age of 'instant astrology'. In any case they are far too complicated for elderly ladies who dabble with horoscopes in suburban back parlours. (Gansten, p.26).

Primary directions, as a technique, is not beyond the ken of the average committed astrologer - in fact the average committed astrologer is a comparatively intelligent and well educated individual* - but it does require a level of application and personalisation; hence it does not fit the profile of popular 'cook-book' astrology. The upshot for modern astrologers is that primary directions have been assumed to require such a mastery of mathematics and technical astronomy that even the mainstream astrology software developers have steered clear of the subject altogether.

So what has been needed for a long time is a no-nonsense text, which can offer a well informed outline of the topic as a whole, and then work towards shading in the details in a simple to understand style. Martin Gansten has perfectly fulfilled the task. Assuming no prior knowledge, his book begins with an overview and a history of the subject. It then breaks the subject apart - so that the various elements and terms are explained - before putting it all back together again so that the student can apply the technique in practice. There is also a summary of current software help at the back of the book, so that once the theory is properly understood, astrologers can become informed on the options available regarding automated tools.

The feedback from the members of this site speaks for itself as a testimony to how important this work is, and how well it has been received by astrological students and practitioners. What I personally want to add, is that this work has been vitally important for generating a renewed focus of attention upon a time-honoured technique that was in danger of being made redundant. Because of the way Martin has made the subject available and understandable, and raised it back to prominence, I feel sure that sometime in the future it will seem bizarre that any recognised astrology diploma, or software tool could go to market without having the topic of primary directions centrally featured, just as they were in the past.

Deb Houlding
September, 2009
* - Independent site statistics show that this site has a high index of Graduates and Post Graduates.