Before there was the astrology that we know and practice today, in almost every culture worldwide there was STAR veneration.
And in fact, predating even Babylonian planetary astrology, most of the cultures in the Mediterranean area had star cults. Many of them worshiped circumpolar stars as fertility deities.
The Egyptians were far more focused on the fixed stars as they believed their Sun God died every night and had to travel through the stations of the womb of his mother, Nut the cosmic sky and star goddess. They believed they needed to know which Gods to venerate (determined by the heliacal rising star, and then eventually the heliacally culminating star, at that time), to ensure that the Sun would be reborn each day. After all, if he wasn’t reborn the world would perish. So they created a calendar called the Decans, to know which God or Goddess to pray to every 10 days (this is very different from the Decans used in Hellenistic astrology). They also invented the first ever method for telling time at night!
This is to say, I believe one of the foundational pieces of astrology, the ENTIRE night sky (not just the narrow band of the ecliptic, the pathway of the Sun), has been forsaken in our reconstruction of ancient astrology.
Projection: the Truth of Conjunctions
What we typically use today in popular astrology are star conjunctions. In most cases, if you try to find a star that is supposedly in conjunction in your chart, you will be baffled to discover it is nowhere close to the sign it supposedly occupies. That is because we project stars back onto the ecliptic to get the conjunctions we use in a flat 2 dimensional chart that is limited to the ecliptic.
Star parans (short for parantellonta) are essentially the angular relationship of stars and planets in their various phases (rising, culminating, setting, anti-culminating)–and most importantly WHERE THEY ARE ACTUALLY LOCATED IN THE SKY. The practice of parans allows you to engage with a living sky that you can observe in your daily life, not just on a piece of paper or through some software. It brings us back to the sacred personal relationship that humans historically had with the cosmos.
In fact, what drew me to learn parans was an incident in which I was trying to locate a star that one of my planets is conjoined in my Hellenistic natal chart. I went out on a crisp evening sky in the Czech Republic, an area with very little light pollution.
As I realized there was a word for my spiritual beliefs–animism–it became important to me that the astrology I practiced allowed me to have an honest relationship with the living cosmos.
The entire Milky Way was laid out above the forest line. Using an app on my phone I searched for where I assumed this star should be located along the ecliptic… and it was nowhere to be found. I became instantly befuddled. I thought ancient astrology was about what was visible? Where was this star? As it turned out, on the opposite side of the sky nowhere close to the ecliptic. What was going on?
Hellenistic astrology, while it addressed the observation of the visible 7 planets as they traveled along the path of the ecliptic, did not accurately address the stars. Thus began my journey into fixed stars and unraveling one of the oldest traditions of nearly every single culture worldwide.
If you’ve had one of my (now retired) Fixed Star readings and you’re trying to learn more about stars, or if you’re an astrologer looking to branch out and add fixed stars and their accurate location and phases to your practice, I’ve made this study guide for you.
Context is King
First, it’s important to note that astrological prognostications from ANY place in the world is going to be deeply influenced by their cultural norms and the context of the times they lived in.
For example, as the Mediterranean became more Romanized, you see that almost every star deemed as feminine has something nasty connected with it. The Pleiades are said to cause blindness. Why? Because they are 7 beautiful sisters that can incite lust.
Another commonality is that the myths around the stars are allegories for the history of a country (some will argue that myths were only used in a mystery school context, but that is simply not true as the myths were circulated far beyond the tiny confines of a select mystery school). For example, the myth of the fixed star Algol was actually an allegory for the Greeks conquering a part of Libya (Lake Tritonus according to a Pausanian description of events) that worshiped a fertility creatrix, a goddess that had snakes for hair. And even the idea that the head of Medusa could be used for protection was an allegory for how the Greeks turned that North African country into a defensive line for their empire, protecting them from invaders.
The Egyptians claimed the circumpolar stars (stars that from our view circle the upper culmination of the sky and never helically rise or set) was the realm of the immortals–Gods that did not care about human life because they were too distant from it, and could therefore not understand our plight. That is because the cultures previous to the Egyptians had worshiped circumpolar stars as fertility deities, and in true imperial fashion the Egyptians were like, “Not those gods!” and refocused their citizens on the cosmology of their choice.
This is all to come to 3 points:
A. It’s a good idea to take the old myths and prognostications of the stars with a grain of salt. Try to think about the context of that culture and time. If you see something such as, “You’ll be stabbed in the gut and robbed, dying alone,” think about the time that it was written. If you were a person of means during that time period (which were the people most privileged to receive personal astrological guidance), it was not unreasonable to assume this could happen. But today that is not as likely to happen, and even if this did happen–you would be unlikely to die because of how advanced our medical care is. Context is really key here.
B. Look to more than one culture and several real-life examples for the stars. Round out your education with more than one perspective. You’ll be surprised to learn that the parans method of star observation was actually common in several different cultures that had (to our knowledge) never been in contact with one another. For example, the Incas were making prognostications with the helical rise, culmination, and setting of the stars and planets just like the Egyptians. But their cosmologies are vastly different, and therefore the meanings assigned to the fixed stars are also vastly different. This helps us to get a better sense of the complexity of the living stars, which brings me to my next point…
C. In the Neo-platonic scheme of divinity, the Greeks considered the stars to be a higher form of divinity only “beneath” the sphere of Unity (which isn’t really a sphere but for the purposes of this article we’ll consider it that). I agree with this. They are complex and living, and therefore much more than we can usually reasonably grasp. In various mystery religions worldwide it has been said to see the face of God in it’s totality would melt the meat right off your bones. I believe this is a metaphor for the complexity of various deities. And this applies to stars, in my book. So the various different meanings assigned to the stars around the world is telling of how one culture encountered that star, and gives us a fuller picture of it’s complex beauty.
My final word before I get into the study guide, is to be cautious in talking about the stars in terms of being like a planet. This was done retro-actively by the Greeks and Romans to describe the stars… but they are much bigger than just being the “nature of Saturn and Venus” for example. It’s my personal reasoning that they did this BECAUSE the stars were so complex and had such a profound impact when in contact with various parts of the chart, that this was the only way they could grasp at their meaning. But in my experience as a parans astrologer and astrological mage, the stars are far bigger than a super limited planetary description. Remember that the Neo-platonic scheme underlying the philosophy of Hellenistic astrology stated that the fixed stars were a higher form of divinity–and that was because of their consistency compared to the erratic movements of the planets.
THE ESSENTIAL FIXED STAR STUDY GUIDE
If you’re serious about learning how to do parans, skip books for now and go directly for Dr. Bernadette Brady’s lectures. They are engaging, give oodles of history behind the practice, and she goes deep into the philosophy and thinking behind parans, not to mention the actual mythology of the stars themselves. These lectures teach you to READ the stars for clients (or yourself). Make sure you get the COMPLETE set of lectures.
If I could only have one set of book sin my library about the fixed stars, Secrets of the Ancient Skies Volume 1 and Volume 2 would be it. Secrets of the Ancient Skies are a pair of books that are ENCYCLOPEDIC. Diana finished these books while she underwent treatment for cancer, and this was her swan song project, which we are so blessed to have today. She differs in her technical star methods from Brady (she uses projected ecliptic conjunctions rather than parans), but the books are so dense with information, mythology, alternative sources to check out, and case studies that they’re indispensable in my library.
If you want an enspirited yet historical education of the fixed stars within the tradition of Western astrology, Gray and Genie have begun to give webinars for the heliacal rising dates of stars. Their classes span the historical Gods and Goddesses and natural events connected with the fixed stars across the ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, and Roman mythologies and cultures. This is a great way to learn an in-depth foundation in fixed star lore for your magical and devotional activities.
Dr. Bernadette Brady’s books
These will not teach you how to read the stars for clients (or yourself) but they are excellent reference material to have on hand. She has selected 67 stars to cover with depth, and gives you the technical instructions for reading star charts and determining phases. If you’re an enthusiast, I’d go for Star and Planet Combinations. If you want to go into deeper technicalities, I’d go for Brady’s Book of Fixed Stars.
Hopefully we’ll see a 2nd edition of this book in 2021. While it’s not particularly about the fixed stars, it goes into detail about the Decans the Egyptians created (as well as some additional history), which really helped some things click for my own practice.
Pillars of Destiny is a great book, but again VERY DIFFERENT from how Brady’s technical methods of interpreting stars. I found the clarity of how he talks about the stars and his method of interpretation to be a good addition to my practice that seemed to bridge the Hellenistic techniques I already use with the star parans in a more cohesive manner. I do not agree with this assessment that stars are disposited by the signs and the planets that rule them, as in the Neo-platonic schema of divinity the fixed stars lent their images to the zodiac and are above (not below) the planets. However, some of what he offers in terms of simplifying the myths and how they are translated into use for readings.
A good reference to have on hand, digging specifically into collected star lore. Obviously there is more of a bias towards the Greek and Roman interpretations and myths, as they were most readily available to the author at the time of his writing.
Update: after having referenced this book for over 5 years, I need to downgrade this to a mediocre resource. There are many claims in here that are a-historical, with no evidence to back them up. I suggest that whatever information you collect from this resource is then back-checked against other resources. This is especially important in regards to non-Egyptian, Greek, or Roman mythologies or asterisms, as often things are made up or poorly translated.
Academia.edu and JSTOR
As my practice has gone further into researching the origins of the stars and their various mythological roots, I have utilized academic papers more and more over time. It's particularly helpful to look for articles on archeoastrology, and in fact there are a few archeoastrology journals out there, but they aren't the easiest to access or find. Places like Academia.edu and JSTOR often have articles from those journals. Utilizing just a free account I've accessed hundreds of papers on star lore, ancient astronomy, and stellar myths across many different cultures and time periods. This has greatly deepened my understanding of the stars and the multitudinous heritage they each contain.
Go deeper than the Egyptians and discover how much of an impact the Babylonian tradition had on EVERY form of astrology, starting from their star lore. For the already practicing traditional astrologer, this book will blow your mind.
This book is an almost must-have companion to Babylonian Star-Lore, as it gives additional context to the star interpretations of the Babylonians. Remember: interpretation is a reflection of culture and circumstance!
Magical and Witchy Perspectives
You’ll find that the magic practices that emerged from Arabic and Western Mediterranean countries often fly in the face of the classic prognostications that were given to the stars. Which is why I believe it’s helpful to have a copy of the Picatrix and Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy (for the far less affordable but updated translation, check out Eric Purdue's recent work) in your library. Both are dense, but they offer yet another perspective about the power and meaning of the stars that will help balance some of the more dire interpretations when not related to magic. (For example, in astrological magic instead of making you blind the Pleiades actually help you find occult and hidden information and help you have communications with spirits and the dead.) There are also a ton of references to various stars in the Greek Magical Papyri, but not very much context.
Sasha is one of my peers in the fixed star space who has a rich background in non-Meditteranean lore and an art she has deemed as astrolatry and stellar witchcraft (a folk-magic interwoven with celestial spirits and timing). For those who practice folk witchcraft, sabbatic witchcraft, or traditional British witchcraft (especially from the ongoing perspectives of Andrew Chumbley), this community is a treat. Sasha's discord server is especially rich for the more occult-leaning seeker who would like Sasha's personal perspective and ongoing gnosis of the stars, inspired by perspectives outside of the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman myths and astrology that tend to be given preference. Though there is definitely a fixed star focus, Sasha particulary is interested in going beyond the visible fixed stars and explores deep space objects through her personal practice of contacting their spirits. Sasha is a poetic seer of the stars, centering her Patreon writing on poetic invocations, rites, and prayers to come into relationship with spirits who are connected to various stars.
Philosophy and Belief
One thing most of these books lack, are the philosophy that underpinned a lot of ancient Meditteranean myths, but especially the Greeks and Romans. Hamlet’s Mill by Giorgio De Santillana and Hertha Von Dechend and Meaning and Being in Myth by Norman Austin fill in a ton of gaps and prove just how spiritual astrology has always been, and why we need to reconnect to that relationship with the divine.
I encourage you to go beyond the Mediterranean into other parts of the world after you get a firm base of technique under your belt.
There are countless other classes and books out there. In fact, I just purchased a nearly 300 page book on just the worldwide star-lore of the Pleiades (which will not go on this list simply because it’s so specific and niche).
There are books on Chinese and Arabic star lore (hard to find, but definitely out there), as well as Aboriginal, Native American, Inca, Mayan, and Central and South American star-lore… And from what I understand soon we’ll also have more books translated from Russian, Eastern European, and Baltic countries at some point in the future to add to our bank of star meanings.
(I’m super hesitant to comment on the British Isles, since most of the indigenous people there did not have written traditions so much of what is being produced at this time is mostly speculation; I’m a stickler for historic accuracy if we’re going to claim something is old.)
Enjoy Your Cosmic Journey!
I hope this helps you start your journey in learning more about the ENTIRE night sky. And if nothing else, pick up a good star gazing app and go look at the stars. We live in a wondrous world, and we’re quick to forget that when we’re inside our little gilded cages staring into a screen all the time.
May the light of the stars guide your studies!