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Extracted, with permission, from Benjamin Dykes's translation of Liber Astronomiae

The Life of Guido Bonatti
Guido Bonatti on 4th House Elections
An Interview with Benjamin Dykes

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Roots-being-God-freedom; a question of radicality,  by Benjamin Dykes

Many astrological readers will recognize the word "radix," which is the Latin word for "root" and is used by astrologers such as Lilly and Morin to denote the natal chart. But for Bonatti (and undoubtedly other medievals), the notion of a root is much broader, and touches on the question of chart validity and personal freedom. Here I will only summarize the main issues and my interpretation of them, but in a later edition of my Using Medieval Astrology I will give them a deeper treatment.[1] The main points concern the nature of freedom, the broader use of "roots," and the special nature of horary.

Freedom. Astrologers must eventually confront the issue of freedom, especially given the prediction-laden nature of traditional astrology. This is a complex topic. But the astrologer has also got to ask: "By what right can I claim that horary and electional astrology is valid? For if the native's life is in the birth chart (or "root"), then one should already be able to tell-down to a rather fine degree of detail-how things will turn out. Electing a good time for action, or asking for practicable advice from the astrologer, would seem to be useless." Therefore, the astrologer who seeks to go beyond mere technique and understand why astrology is justified, must ask these metaphysical questions about freedom. The modern solution of overestimating our freedom and turning predictive techniques largely into mere potentials, is insufficient. For traditional predictive techniques work very well, and anyway most people really do not act freely. Most of us live by habits, temperament, and stereotypic patterns, and people who know us well can largely predict our behavior on a daily basis. Another solution is needed.

Bonatti seems to adhere to a mainstream medieval Christian view of freedom. According to this view, our lives are for the most part determined and shown in the birth chart, because we live in the sublunar world of the elements, which move in regular and predictable ways, however they are modified by and stirred up by the planets. To do something radically different and not determined, would be tantamount to introducing miracles into the world of the elements. But God, who has a wholly undetermined form of freedom, has created humans in His image. He has given to us a portion or reflection of his total freedom, so that in theory we can act in undetermined, spontaneous ways-somewhat akin to God's miracles when He acts in the world. But our self-understanding and ability to exercise our free will is so low and pathetic that we generally cannot choose realistically as we might want to. Hence most of us live determined lives, we succumb to the easy path of sin, etc. With this sort of view in the background, one natural solution is to say that God sometimes helps us change our normal course and choose something different. In this case, God's aid and assent acts as a source of, and grants moral legitimacy to, our free actions. He is a source of action because he helps us choose; He grants legitimacy to them because He will help us to do good. Theologically and ethically, he acts as a kind of "root" for our action. But in order to understand this astrologically, we need to understand what a root is.

Roots. For Bonatti, an astrological chart is a "root" if it either (a) is timed so as to describe the nature of something new, or (b) forms the basis for other charts. For example, the natal figure is a root in both senses. It describes the nature of the native when he is separated from the womb and becomes a discrete individual; and it is also the basis for other charts (like solar revolutions). I believe a mundane solar revolution is a root, because the nature of the world is in some sense renewed when the Sun enters the first degree of Aries. But other charts are not roots, and need to be rooted in one that is.

So for instance, a really valid election needs a root.[2] An election is not an original basis or root for anything, because it presupposes the existing desires of the client. Moreover, an election by itself simply chooses a good time for something in the broadest sense: it may not be good for this client, just as a sale on airline tickets to Bermuda may be a "good time" to buy tickets in general, but perhaps not for this traveler. Therefore, we must find a "root" for the election which connects the client's particular needs to the general features of the election. The best root is the natal figure, which already contains the chief indicators of success or failure in life. So if we wanted to elect for wealth, we must adapt the features of the root (the natal figure) so that the election's features act as stimulated outgrowths of the root's promise. But if we do not have the natal figure (as can happen), we need another root. The next best root is a valid horary chart that promises the success for which we would normally examine the natal figure.

Likewise, some solar revolutions need a root. The solar revolutions of nativities require a nativity, but Bonatti also grants the possibility that solar revolutions can also track the annual progress of an event predicted or confirmed by some valid event charts.[3] Why have I emphasized a valid horary or event charts? The issue lies in the opening pages of Tr. 5, where a key sentence helps to bind freedom, roots, God, and horary together.

Horary. It came as a surprise to find that the long-standing English version of Tr. 5 (The 146 Considerations) by Coley was incomplete. Not only is Coley's version a loose translation (and sometimes only a paraphrase), but it occasionally leaves material out. Of this omitted material, a key sentence offers Bonatti's startling, astro-theological construal of a verse from Scripture.

In the 1st Consideration, Bonatti describes three things which may move or causally motivate a client to ask a horary question. The first is a psychological motive, apparently based on desire. The second is the motion of the planets, which seems to involve both an interest in what they will cause, along with being motivated by their motions themselves. The third is the motive of the free will. All three kinds of motives must be involved in order to have a trustworthy horary. Now, Bonatti does not demand anything particular about the first two motives. But in the 2nd Consideration, Bonatti says more about the third motive, that of the free will.

In this 2nd Consideration, Bonatti makes three very important statements that support my thesis about his view of God's role in our actions, and help explain his views on astrology and theology. The first statement is that the querent must pray sincerely. This must mean that simply going to the horary astrologer with a question is not enough-even if the question is sincere. The second statement is that God is He "from Whom every good beginning leads." This confirms that God is the ultimate source for that which begins, which in this context means that God forms the beginning of a valid horary consultation. Just as an election presupposes the client and is not itself a root, so the horary by itself presupposes the native. But, as we have said before, since the nativity seems to be determined, it is unclear how the horary question (which involves advice and suggests free courses of action) can be related to a presumably determined nativity. After the sincere querent has prayed that God will show him the truth, then he should go to the astrologer, "armed with this truth."

The third statement is Bonatti's astrological construal of Scripture. Bonatti says, "And thus He who spoke, who gave so you may seek, will add [to it] so that you may find." Of course this is based on Matt. 7:7, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." There are several important features of Bonatti's retelling of the verse. First, Bonatti implies that our ability to ask questions, use free will, and discover truth comes directly from God, just as is standardly the case in medieval theology ("who gave so you may seek"). Second, he explicitly links his earlier mention of God (now in the form of Christ) to the asking of a valid horary question. This gives both active force to the free will behind the question (he "will add [to it]"), and moral justification (because it is a search for truth). Third, Bonatti is clearly capitalizing on the fact that the Vulgate uses the same verb for seeking (quaero) as the astrologers do for questions and asking. A horary "querent" and "question" (querens, quaestio) are nothing more than "someone seeking" and "the seeking" itself.

In sum, throughout the Book of Astronomy Bonatti presents a coherent view of how astrology, the will, and God fit together. Some events which naturally involve the birth of a new being (the native, the seasonal rejuvenation of the world) are roots, and the charts for them are called roots. Other charts are not self-standing because they depend on other rooted events and roots for their own meaning and power: elections and the solar revolutions of nativities are examples of these. But horary charts occupy an ambiguous territory. They are not naturally roots, because the querent is already in existence. Yet, in the absence of nativities they can act as roots for elections and some other solar revolutions. Now, their very possibility seems in doubt, since by hypothesis the native's life could be thought of as determined, which contradicts the possibility of real choices and meaningful advice. But God, who has given us a weak version of His own miraculous free will, allows us in theory to be able to form plans that are contrary to type. Unfortunately, our understanding or use of our own free will is so feeble that even if we are moved or motivated to get meaningful advice, we must be aided by God so as to be able to change the normal course of things. Sincere prayer and a desire for truth is a precondition for receiving God's aid when asking a question of the astrologer.

Notes & References:
  1 ] My thoughts on this have been influenced in part by productive conversations with Chris Brennan.
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  2 ] Bonatti does allow that a very general chart could be cast, but that it is inferior and not part of proper procedure.
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  3 ] See for instance Tr. 6, Part 2, 10th House, Ch. 1.
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Benjamin Dykes received his PhD in Philosophy from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has seven years' experience as a college instructor, concentrating on the ancient and medieval philosophy that informs much ancient and medieval astrology, and many years' experience in ritual practice in the Western Mystery Tradition, including the Golden Dawn, Wicca, and Thelema.

Since earning his Diploma of Medieval Astrology studying with Robert Zoller, Ben has been active in translating and publishing works that focus upon medieval astrological techniques. His own text, Using Medieval Astrology is available through his website at He has also recently translated Abu Mashar's Flowers of Astrology, as well as the eagerly anticipated Book of Astronomy by Guido Bonatti, from which this article is extracted. Upcoming works include selected works in mundane, horary, and natal astrology by Masha'allah, Sahl ibn Bishr's Introduction, 50 Judgments, Questions, Elections, Prediction and Al-Kindi's The Forty Chapters.

© Benjamin Dykes, 2007.

Horary Astrology