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Temperament: Astrology's Forgotten Key by Dorian Geiseler Greenbaum

Book Review

Temperament: Astrology’s Forgotten Key
by Dorian Gieseler Greenbaum

ISBN: 190240517X
Published by The Wessex Astrologer Ltd
Reviewed by Benjamin Dykes

Available for purchase from
Wessex Astrologer internet site and most astrology suppliers
Price: £18.95

It is telling that this book has received a great deal of positive feedback in our forum. Here Benjamin Dykes explains why he believes this book is very valuable for traditional/medieval natal astrologers

It is with great pleasure that I read and can recommend the long-awaited book by Dorian Gieseler Greenbaum, Temperament: Astrology's Forgotten Key. This book ought to rejuvenate the use of temperament in the astrological vocabulary and enhance traditional practice.

Traditionally, astrologers and doctors viewed health risks, bodily physiognomy, and personality as being closely related. A native's temperament lies somewhere between the physical characteristics of the body, and the personality. It relates to the level, style, and social expression of a native's bodily energy - which impacts outlook, behavior, and values.

Greenbaum's book would be valuable enough if she had merely provided the translations of rare astrological texts on temperament. But she goes much further. Even in terms of understanding traditional texts, she does the Art credit by relating post-temperamental views of personality back to the tradition - instead of trying to update it. For example, her discussion of Jung, while faithful to Jung, tries to show how it reflects traditional notions of temperament, instead of trying to make temperament more Jungian.

Traditional astrologers disagreed on whether and how to count certain features of a natal figure when computing temperament. Should we count both the Moon's phase and the sign it is in? One? Or both? Many contemporary astrologers who use traditional methods are familiar with William Lilly's method (from Christian Astrology Book III), but Lilly himself finds that his method does not quite work on the example he provides. Therefore he cautions students to be careful.

Lurking behind these practical difficulties are conceptual concerns. Should the subelemental characteristics of these features be counted separately, or should the integrity of each be maintained? For example, suppose that the rising sign is hot and wet (Aquarius), the ruler is cold and dry (Saturn), and so on. If we add up all of the "hots," "wets," "colds," and "drys" separately, we could discover that "cold" and "wet" have the most points, but that only one of the features was actually cold and wet all by itself. Whereas if we counted everything already hot and dry as choleric, and cold and wet as sanguine, we could get a different result.

Fortunately, Greenbaum goes beyond these theoretical concerns and applies the temperament methods to the natal figures of several dozen children. In addition, she provides analysis as to how each feature should be weighted so as to yield the best results. The result is that she provides a new, weighted method that employs the best and most accurate of the traditional views. Returning to Lilly, she shows how her method correctly delineates the temperament that Lilly believed the native had, but could not prove astrologically.

If all of that were not enough, Greenbaum then provides insightful and lively descriptions of the temperaments, both individually and in every possible combination. Usually, one reads descriptions from traditional authors like the following: choleric people are irascible, violent, and so on - can one-fourth of people really be like this? Instead, Greenbaum catalogues what motivates the temperaments, how they relate to other people, what temperaments get along with one another, what excites them or bores them - even whimsical but informative information, like what position on the student council they would have run for. Every temperament and every combination is accompanied by a natal figure and biographical sketch highlighting the role of the temperament in the native's life. I do confess I don't understand why Greenbaum included the three outer planets in each figure, when they have no place in the temperaments - but that is a minor point.

Greenbaum's book is a wonderful new addition to the ever-growing list of translations and interpretive works on Hellenistic, Medieval, and Traditional astrology. Let us hope that greater numbers of students and practitioners reclaim temperament as an authentic fruit from the tree of Western astrology.

Benjamin Dykes
August, 2005