Thursday, October 27, 2005

Besieging a Castle: How Not to Do It

NOTE: The Gryphon Astrology Blog has moved to

Besieging a Castle: How Not to Do It.

If you haven't yet read Bonatti's On War, you owe it to yourself to do so. This is not so much because it will come in handy in your daily life (note: if you routinely lay sieges as part of your workday, you may need a new career), but because it is a fascinating firsthand account of a "field" astrologer in the 13th century Bonatti had participated in many military expeditions, and there are several stories of his astrological prowess saving the day (check out Holden's History of Horoscopic Astrology) The text is also an excellent illustration of the fact that even then, the commander did not always listen to his astrologer's advice!

In this post, I will examine a chart from 1261, when Bonatti went on an expedition with the then-podesta (a type of military commander) of Urbino, Guido di Montefeltro. By way of historical context, Guido was one of the Ghibelline faction and was consigned to Hell by Dante Alighieri in Canto XXVII of his Divine Comedy. Guido was apparently quite a character; he ran Urbino for over thirty years, no small task in those unstable times, and at the end of his long life became a Franciscan monk, presumably to atone for his sins. As an astrologer, Bonatti earned a place in Hell also, though Dante gives every indication of possessing quite advanced astrological knowledge himself! In our chart, Guido and his army were besieging a castle, and the commander wished to know whether they would take it or not.

Technical Details: I am using Robert Zoller's translation of On War, which I would recommend highly to interested readers. Though the place, date and time for the chart are not given, the closest approximation I could find is October 11, 1261, 9:05 am GMT, Urbino, Italy. Interestingly, the Sun and Moon for this chart are where they should be, but several of the other planets are in different degrees from Solar Fire's calculation. This could be because Bonatti was doing the chart on the go, as it were, and he probably did not bring a watch, mainly because they did not exist in 1261. The computer approximation is close enough for our purposes, anyway. If you have Zoller's translation, the chart reproduced from a 16th-century manuscript is the preferred version.

In a siege chart such as this one, Bonatti says to use the 1st house and the Moon for the querent and his side, and the 4th house for the enemy's castle or land. One then weighs the accidental and essential dignities of each house and ruling planet to see who will emerge victorious. This seems simple enough. However, Bonatti acknowledges other authorities who would assign the 10th house to the enemy's land (under the reasoning that it is the 4th from the house of open enemies, the 7th). There is yet another possible analytical approach we can take, which Bonatti does not mention, but it seems the most plausible to me: weighing the relative strengths of the 1st and 7th houses, house cusps, planets therein, and their rulers, as in any contest. The 4th/10th house axis becomes largely irrelevant in that case. I will apply each of these three techniques to this chart, and see which one(s) gives the result Bonatti describes.

METHOD 1 (Bonatti's original method):

Querent and his army are represented by Moon in Taurus in the 5th house, and Jupiter in Capricorn in the 2nd. The 1st house cusp is conjunct Antares, the star of the autumn equinox, symbolizing endings. Two planets below the horizon, one in fall, Asc conjunct Antares; not a terrible start for Guido, but it could be a lot better.

The enemy (the castle's army) are shown by the 4th house, also ruled by Jupiter, so we cannot use it twice. However, we do see the North Node in the 4th, and also Saturn. In his book, Bonatti says that Saturn is positioned at the entrance to the house, which it clearly is not. I think he just does this with 20/20 hindsight, since the castle (spoiler alert!) was not taken by Guido. Normally, seeing Saturn in a house is not good for its occupants. It seems, however, that the North Node may have helped quite a bit.

We will also note (and this is NOT what Bonatti says) that to find the ruler of the 4th, we simply move on one sign from Pisces, and take Mars, ruler of Aries. Mars is the most elevated planet in the chart, conjunct the fixed star Vindemiatrix, the widow-maker, and conjunct the South Node. Note that Jupiter exalts Mars; Jupiter is in Mars's power. With the Moon applying to a trine with a weak Jupiter, we can assume Guido will not win. Bonatti says Guido's men lost because they were slothful; given that Jupiter is in its fall, perhaps they spent too much time in excess to really do battle. Attacking the castle with a beer in each hand just doesn't work.


Bonatti mentions that this method is used by some authorities; give the castle the 10th (as 4th from the 7th) and 1st to the besieging army. We've already talked about the 1st above; the 10th is ruled by Mercury, which is in Scorpio in the 11th house (so elevated over Jupiter). As we mentioned previously, Mars is conjunct Vindemiatrix and the South Node in the 10th house. The South Node does not bode well, but elevation seems to mean a lot in these charts, and having the God of War on your side, elevated over all the other planets is not a bad thing. Even according to this method, then, Guido loses.


I like this method the best, because it's based on first principles. Our team gets the 1st house; our opponents get the 7th. It doesn't really matter if our house (4th) or castle (4th) or cattle (12th) or child (5th) is at stake. This is a duel. Mano a mano.

On this reality check, we proceed: As we noted the 1st house and its rulers are not in excellent shape. The 7th house looks a bit better; Mercury is in the 11th. The Moon just opposed it, so we can assume that our armies have clashed, or at least that negotiations were broken off and Guido announced that the castle is now officially besieged. Note that Mercury hates the Moon; it is in Scorpio, the Moon's fall. The Moon could care less about Mercury, on the other hand. Guido's men just don't seem that motivated. Jupiter recently squared a very nasty Saturn in fall; our men are doing really badly, now that we look at it.

As Bonatti points out, it's not that the enemy were such amazing fighters, it's just that Guido's men were in such pitiful shape. And why were they in such pitiful shape? Bonatti mentions that when they leave the siege field, the men are grateful that for the first time in four months, it stopped raining. No wonder they were glad to go home!



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