“thou rangest above the heavens by contemplation, conceivest the motion and magnitude of the stars; thou talkest with Angels, yea with God himself;” 
William Lilly, 1647

Most readers of these lines will be familiar with the astrology of the individual, that is, the study of birth charts or nativities. Some might have heard of horary, but few will know much about it. Horary astrology deals with questions which are quite separate from the birth chart. A question is posed and the moment at which the astrologer understands that question is taken as its ‘birth’ and a chart is erected and eventually judged or interpreted. Knowledge of the time of birth, so important for a birth chart, is unnecessary.

In a nativity planets represent the various facets of the individual’s character and life. The houses symbolise areas of that life being affected by the planets. Thus, a planet in, say, the second house will affect, or describe, the native’s finances; one in the 10th house affects the career. In this way, again simply speaking, information is gathered relating to the activities and events of one person’s life.

Horary astrology deals with one tiny part of the questioner’s life. The question might be about a house purchase, a personal or business relationship. It might be related to a job, a friendship, illness or a missing person. All specific and important questions can be horary questions. The astrologer’s mandate is to provide information about the matter in hand alone.

Planets then become symbolic of people or things pertaining to the matter under investigation. So, the planet which rules the first house represents the querent or questioner. If the question is about a love relationship the seventh house and its ruler become significant of that other person and his or her conditions.

Astrology is not an easy subject to learn and no-one ever completes their study of it, so the correct judgment of any chart is the end result of many years of study and practice. That’s the easy bit. The hard part is explaining how it works.

When I first took up the study of horary astrology it reinforced my belief in preordination, fate. It seemed to me that if one could predict an outcome, that outcome must have been destined and there would be no way of avoiding such destiny. Over the years it has become plain that this is not true. Astrology, as a daughter of Hermes, follows the hermetic principle of ‘as above, so below’. The heavens are seen to reflect the events occurring on Earth and so, if we are able to read the stellar patterns, we can predict the corresponding events. But there is more to it than that.

The courses of the stars offer a method of divination, of understanding the Divine Plan. Hermeticism teaches that each of us has the potentiality to control our own lives. Putting these principles together we might say that each life is mapped out, but within that map are alternative routes; sometimes. So, we are fated and we have free will. Not a very definitive statement, but probably as far as I can go without attracting great debate about a well-worn subject. So, what can astrology, particularly horary, have to do with any of it?

When I give an answer to a horary question, I seem to be predicting a definite result with no alternatives. Most often this is true, but sometimes there is room for manoeuvre. Many times I have answered in terms that allow the querent freedom of choice. One such that springs to mind was when I was asked by a client if he would get a certain job. The horary chart showed quite plainly that the job would be offered to him, but that he wouldn’t take it because he would have second thoughts about the conditions of employment or that they would change to his detriment. It is difficult to articulate what was happening in this chart in terms of the ‘fate versus freewill’ argument, because it seems that whilst he appears to have exercised his freewill, we could then argue that that was ‘meant’ to happen and had been preordained.

Let’s step back and look at the first procedure in horary astrology. The question might be something to do with a relationship, for instance, the querent might have been pondering the issue for some time, but only when it is posed to the astrologer does it become a horary question. It is generally accepted that the time for the chart to be erected is that moment when the practitioner understands the querent’s intent. In most cases the astrologer does not consciously choose the moment. However, if the astrologer is working hard and frequently looking at the heavens, he or she will be aware of, what I shall call here, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ times for horary questions. This is unavoidable and by having this information might choose to avoid setting up horary charts during the latter periods.

Contriving the chart is often suspected, but if someone wanted to know when would be a good time to set up a new business or build a house, then the astrologer would be expected to contrive a good moment. So, the issue of electing or choosing a time becomes clearer in respect of horary. It seems unnecessary to engage in any discussion about how each moment changes or is different from all others, the old maxim of ‘you can never cross the same river twice’ says it all really.

So, without too much deliberation, the astrologer ‘chooses’ the time at which to seek an answer from the heavens. A reply always comes, even if it’s only to tell us that they are closed for lunch! This much is easily recognisable as a magical process and using these methods to elect a good time for a magical ritual is an obvious application. Perhaps by offering an example by way of demonstration it will be easier to see how magic works within and through astrology.

The following horary belongs to, and was judged by, William Lilly (1602 – 1681) from his greatest published work Christian Astrology (1647). He is the acknowledged genius of astrology and still considered to be one of the greatest astrologers of all time. Although there is no explicit declaration by him, it is certainly implicit in his work, friends and acquaintances that he was a practising Hermeticist and likely to have been a Freemason. For all of these reasons I offer this chart as a good working example of the magic of horary astrology. 

William Lilly

William Lilly

“A Lady if marry the Gentleman desired?”


She had been playing fast and loose with the gentleman’s affections who had asked her several times to marry him. Finally, she made it clear that she did not want to marry him and, perversely, regretted her decision. Her question incorporates her desire, not just for the gentleman, but also to protect her reputation. She could not simply visit him and ask him to reconsider so that “she might againe have former opportunities.”

Lilly goes to a lot of trouble with this judgment and gives a great deal of detail, little of which being needed to demonstrate my point. He begins by nominating the significators, or symbols, of the two players: Leo rises at 17° 11′ so its ruler the Sun is for her. The Moon would also participate in her signification and is at 28° 09′ of Sagittarius. This is a seventh house matter with 17° 11′ of Aquarius descending, so Saturn, its ruler, is for him.

He then proceeds to describe their physical appearance by way of these planets. During this he discovers that the man is very put out about her rejection of him and also angered by someone else. This is relevant because we need to know how he is disposed towards her and how any approach she might make would be received. Her reputation would be in tatters if her overtures were to be rebuffed.

He finds that the more obvious and usual astrological ways forward are not really open to her. There is a lack of substance shown in the chart and the rejected man is certainly not going to come to her. After a lot of pleading on her part, Lilly tries to find another way for her. And what he found was Jupiter, a benefic planet and always good to have on your side. He finds that it is associated with her beloved’s significator which leads him to suggest that they are friends or at least known to each other. She, too, knows this third party.

Lilly advises that she should approach this Jupiterean man to intercede for her. Unto him I directed to addresse her Complaints, and acquaint him fully with her unhappy folly: I positively affirmed, in the Gentleman described she should find all honour and secrecy, and I doubted not but, by God’s blessing, he would againe revive the businesse (now despaired of) and bring her to her hearts content

Now here’s the real magic: “But finding that Saturn [the beloved] and Sun [the querent] came to a sextile aspect the 27th of the same moneth, I advised her to hasten all things before the aspect was over; and also gave direction, that the nineteenth of June neer upon noon, the Gentleman [Jupiter] should first move the businesse: and my reason was, because that day Saturn [the beloved] and Jupiter [the friend] were in a perfect sextile aspect.”

He says that the “match was effected” within twenty days of the question. So, he had found her a way of indirectly approaching the man she wanted. The usual astrological arguments are there, she can be seen in the chart, going to him, but she must first make contact with the person signified by Jupiter. Had this been another planet in a worse condition, it could well have put an end to the whole proceedings.

By finding the most effective time for her to act, Lilly demonstrated his magical adroitness and his belief that it could be done. However, he makes no comment on whether it would be a good relationship, and this was an issue then even though arranged marriages were commonplace, or whether it would endure.

I wish I could say that the techniques outlined above are easy or straightforward, but they are not. In fact, most astrologers have no way of approaching this kind of magic. It is not necessarily because of any lack of volition on their part, simply that astrology has been separated from its Hermetic roots. We no longer have the mindset with which to deal with such manipulations. William Lilly’s opus was the last of its line, as was he himself. Those of us who study and practice his, and earlier, methods are striving to reunite astrology with her philosophical family; knowingly or not; because we know that there lies the way to the Divine Source.

About the Author:
Sue Ward is the Principal of The Traditional Horary Course and has been studying traditional horary astrology since 1984 and for three years before that studied modern astrology, including the intermediate course of the Faculty of Astrological Studies. Since 1984 she has taught beginners and intermediates at local authority day and evening classes, and up to advanced level with one of the leading horary correspondence courses. 

She is a contributor to many astrological magazines, including: Aphorisms, The Horary Practitioner, The Astrologers Quarterly, The A.A. Journal, Mercury Hour and The Mountain Astrologer. She has lectured at the Annual Conference of the Astrological Association of Great Britain, the Astrological Lodge of London, the Urania Trust and to many local groups.

Copyright © 2000, by Susan Ward