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Astro Tips & Techniques

How To's

Folks ask me to explain various astrological techniques. Here's some of the questions I've answered. This will get longer as time goes on, or it should.

1. How to read a Lunar return chart (similar to how to read a solar return).
2. How to determine a baby's gender.
3. How to calculate houses.
3a. A note on the recent revivial of the study of houses.
4. Rules for Operations, as given in the Encyclopaedia of Medical Astrology, by H.L. Cornell, M.D.
5. How to Calculate Tertiary Progressions (aka P3's).
6. Notes on the Star of Bethlehem, an exercise in perception.

1. Lunar returns. There are no books at the moment, the closest the are the ones by Sophia Mason, such as Forecasting with New, Full & Quarter Moons through the houses, $12.

Lunar returns are transient, they only last 28 days. Here's how you read them:

The Rules, in brief: In the return chart, the ascendant, the planet ruling the ascendant, the house of the lunar return the ruler is in, the house it rules natally & its natal house placement, the house the lunar return moon is in, the house in the lunar return the moon rules (eg, with Cancer on the cusp), are the major focus for the month.

An Example: So if your moon is in Sag & the lunar return for the month has Virgo rising, then Mercury is the ruling planet. If Mercury is in the 9th house of the return, then 9th house affairs are prominent that month. In such a return, a Sag moon should be in the fourth & should rule the 11th (Cancer). One possible interpretation is entertaining a lot of foreign (9th house) friends (11th house) at home (4th house). The way in which they're entertained will depend on your natal Mercury, since this lunar return has made it prominent for the month. If your Mercury is in your natal 6th, you might be very careful about the food you serve, or you might hire a catering company, or you might have pets at your party, or you might entertain a host of foreign medical personnel, etc.

One factor that drops out is the natal house with Cancer on the cusp. No matter where in your natal chart your moon is, the house with Cancer on the cusp is always lunar. The only exception is if the return moon, or the planet ruling the return chart, happens to fall in that same house in the return. That would put a strong emphasis on that house for the month. Of course, any time the ruler of the return or the moon in the return happen to be in the same houses they occupy in the natal, that puts an emphasis on the those houses.

Aspects from the ruling planet in a return chart to the moon are not as important as any aspect from that same planet in your natal chart to the natal moon. Say you have a Moon/Saturn square in your natal chart, and suppose the lunar return has Capricorn rising. The Saturn in the return chart doesn't need to make any aspect to your moon (since the moon's position in both return & natal charts are identical, it doesn't make any difference which moon we're talking about), but it will set off the Saturn/Moon square in your chart. All Saturn/Moon aspects have the nature of an opposition, by the way, as do all Saturn/Sun aspects (due to sign rulerships), which is one reason why Saturn is so hard on these two.

Remember that if it isn't in your natal chart, it won't happen in a return chart. If your natal moon is in your 12th house & you're emotionally reclusive, it's not likely you'll entertain in this circumstance. Again, with the same example (lunar return with Virgo rising, etc), a natal 12th house moon may focus on religious or mystical ideals, or there may be some secret legal proceedings, etc.

If you have the software you might try this for a few months, see if it works.

2. How to determine a baby's gender.

Starting with Aries, odd numbered signs are masculine, even ones are feminine. There are ways to astrologically determine the gender of a baby before it is born. I forget the details but if you know the day you conceived, or the time of the intercourse that got you pregnant & looked at the moon, the sun & the rising sign (if you have a fairly precise time), you might make an educated guess based on these factors being in male or female signs at the time. If it's split between male & female, look to Venus & Mars. (Remember that Mercury is neuter.)

Also look at the planetary day & hour rulers. All planets are masculine except Venus & the moon (both feminine), and Mercury, which is still neuter.

I can't make any guarantees, but make notes & see if you're right or not. Sounds exciting to me.


Okay, okay, you wanna know my secret method. Here it is:

The Requirements:

Midnight Ephemeris
Table of Houses (any will do)
An atlas of some sort (Shanks' are excellent)
For a birth NORTH of the Equator, and,
WEST of London, eg, somewhere in North America. Later you can adapt these rules for anywhere.

First: Convert clock time to GMT. Essentially, add 5 hours for EST, 6 hours for CST, 7 hours for MST, and 8 hours for PST. Example: Birth at 10:40 am, New York, November 14, 1965: Add 5 hours to get 3:40 pm GMT.

If it's a summer birth in the US/Canada, add 4 hours for EDT, 5 hours for CDT, 6 hours for MDT, 7 hours for PDT. Example: Birth on June 14, 1976, 1:27 pm, Los Angeles. Add 7 hours to get 8:27 pm GMT.

If the GMT time is in the afternoon, convert to 24 hour time (eg, add 12). So 3:40 pm GMT is 15:40; 8:27 pm is 20:27.

Go to your atlas. Look up the city of birth. You will find the difference between local time & GMT listed for each city. Take this number and SUBTRACT it from GMT. This will give you LOCAL MEAN TIME (LMT). Our examples:

The New York Example: Birth at 15:40 GMT. New York time difference: 4:56. Subtract 4:56 from 15:40 to get 10:44 am LMT, New York.

The Los Angeles Example: Birth at 20:27 GMT. Los Angeles time difference: 7:53. Subtract 7:53 from 20:27 to get 12:34 pm LMT, Los Angeles.

(Notice this method automatically corrects for daylight time, but you still have to know if daylight was in use.)

Go to your ephemeris. Look up the sidereal time shown for the date of birth. If the GMT time is for the next day, look up that day, not the original day of birth. ADD this sidereal time to the LMT. Our examples:

The New York example: Ephemeris sidereal time for November 14, 1965: 3:32 (the ephemeris gives seconds, I've rounded). ADD this to the New York LMT of 10:44 am to get a Sidereal Time for your chart of 14:16.

The Los Angeles example: Ephemeris sidereal time for June 14, 1976: 17:30 (rounded). ADD this to the Los Angeles LMT of 12:34 to get 30:04. As this is greater than 24, subtract 24 to get a Sidereal Time for your chart of 6:04

The Fudge Factor: Go to your Table of Houses. Find the nearest Sidereal time for your chart. Then skip to the next greater Sidereal time. This is the fudge factor, a rounding up one notch in time. Look down the table to find the latitude of birth. Those are your house cusps. They will generally be accurate within one degree without any further calculation. Our examples:

The New York Example: The sidereal time is 14:16. In the AFA Placidus Table of Houses, I found 14:16 on page 109. I skipped to the next table for 14:20. New York is 41 degrees north (from your atlas). At the top of the column a midheaven of 7 degrees, 21 minutes of Scorpio is given. The 11th house is 0 degrees, 53 minutes Sagittarius, the 12th is 21 degrees 13 minutes Sagittarius, the Ascendant is 12 degrees, 25 minutes of Capricorn, the second house is 24 degrees, 50 minutes of Aquarius, the third house is 6 degrees, 13 minutes of Aries. The computer gives an ascendant of 12 degrees, 11 minutes Capricorn, and a midheaven of 6 degrees, 55 minutes Scorpio.

The Los Angeles example: The Sidereal time for the chart is 6:04. I found 6:04 on page 46 of the AFA Placidus Table of Houses. I skipped to page 47, where I found a table for 6:08. It gave a midheaven of 1 degree, 50 minutes of Cancer. Los Angeles is 34 degrees north. I went to that line and found the 11th house to be 3 degrees, 11 minutes of Leo, the 12th house to be 3 degrees, 43 minutes of Virgo, the ascendant to be 0 degrees, 50 minutes of Libra, the second house to be 28 degrees, 4 minutes of Libra, the third house to be 28 degrees, 33 minutes of Scorpio. The computer gives a midheaven of 1 degree, 37 minutes of Cancer, an ascendant of 1 degree, 29 minutes of Libra.

Can better hand calculation be done? Of course. The "fudge factor" is a cover for the interval between midnight GMT & birth, combined with the shift westward from London to the birth location. If you want that, here they are: Add ten seconds for every 15 degrees west of London, add 20 seconds for every hour past midnight. Then you will need to interpolate the chart's sidereal time to the standard sidereal times shown in the table of houses, as well as interpolate the exact latitude of birth. New York is really 40 degrees, 45 minutes north of the equator. And remember that I rounded the sidereal time shown in the ephemeris. Do all this & you should be within a few minutes of a degree of the computer.

But for those of you completely in a fog, this should help.

3a. A note on the recent revivial of the study of houses.

A friend emails this question:
Any ideas on where to find information on the house information you were talking about or is that part of these books due to their nature?

Western traditionalists (eg, the people digging up the old stuff) have been slow to catch on to houses. A lot of them grew up in the 1970's & 1980's using Koch houses, which only barely work when they work at all. Many of these are now using Equal houses, which work, but only after a fashion. (By comparison to Koch, Equal is fabulous.) An interesting subset dallied with Campanus ('70's & '80's, mostly), which is a system that I don't know works at all. The Lilly people use Regiomontanus, simply because Lilly used them. Lilly's work in horary is so staggeringly good that his use of Regio cusps is as solid a recommendation as you can possibly get, but there's another but: Up to the middle of the 19th century & the introduction of cheap, reliable clocks & civil (as opposed to Church) records, few people knew their birth times (a lot didn't even know the day, up to his mid-40's Beethoven thought he was 5 years younger than he was). For this reason all early astrology books included lavish instructions in how to rectify a natal chart, usually in more than three different ways. Given the talent of the average astrologer, such rectified charts were little better than rubbish. The resulting planets in signs & the aspects between them were usually solid enough, but accurate houses, of the right type, add around four times the useful detail. For this reason, there was a tiny subset of astrologers who specialized in natals, Gadbury & Schoener among them. The house system(s) these two used I am not aware of (digging in their books will tell me, but it's already been a long day), but in any case, I would study these two quite closely.

Which leaves Placidus. The Placidian cusps are the most sophisticated yet devised. Early opinion was split (Lilly did not like nor use), but then, Lilly did few natals. Around 1825 the first Raphael picked them up & put them in his first ephemeris, which continues to this day. These easy to use tables established Placidus as the standard, but few understood them or knew how they were constructed. They used Placidus simply by rote. Placidus houses are so good, in fact, that two Argentineans (V. Povich & A.P. Nelson Page) unwittingly reconstructed them through sheer observation. They called their system Topocentric, and until you get above 55 N or S, it's virtually identical to Placidus. They then set about reinventing Primary Directions as an encore. As a system, Topocentric never caught on, which is a pity. It would have got us started on a real study of houses half a century ago.

The real secret to houses is not in Primaries, which were only one of a number of interesting forecasting methods that are being brought back. Houses are the fundamental building blocks to all astrology, in my view. Houses are the framework into which everything else is put. They are 12 mixing bowls, if you will. Houses are influenced - to a certain extent - by the planet(s) actually in them, but they are also strongly influenced by planets elsewhere in the chart, by one or more of the signs, by other houses, aspects between planets & aspects between the houses themselves. The resulting stew is so complicated & has so many possibilities, that it may fairly be said that proper understanding of houses requires non-linear & non-rational thinking. The astrologers who write impressive books generally aren't very good at this sort of thinking. The people who can are generally so scattered they cannot get words on paper. Or their books read like the veriest "new age" rubbish when they do. In horaries, Lilly did this sort of thinking superbly well, but - important point - he had been previously trained as a magician. Having a bit of that training myself, I know the subliminal sense of certainty it can bring to a chart.

But there's still a solution, albeit not an easy one. For millennia, Vedic astrology has kept its original house orientation. There are vast treatises on what specific planets, houses & signs (as well as Nakshatras/Lunar Mansions) do when in combination. Unfortunately, today, to the average western astrologer, most of this stuff is almost incomprehensible (including to yours truly). Vedic treatises state conclusions as bald facts & almost never show how they were arrived at. As a result, they are tedious for the western mind, which always wants "explanations" as a shortcut. The current western Vedic revival is slowly translating some of this into plain English & modern terms (K.N. Rao has made a good start, as has P.S. Sastri), but it is a process that will go on for centuries, I fear.

So where can the average Joe start? I started by ignoring aspects, except conjunctions (I was too lazy to look for them, actually). I started by wondering what all those empty houses really meant - every chart has them, after all. I had early fun by dazzling members of the opposite sex with wildly out-of-context readings of their 8th house (I could have as easily read the 5th). No eighth house was ever too empty to read - actually, "empty" houses turned out to be the easiest to read, and got the most surprising results. Find a house that you like - or are curious about - and dig into it. What's the sign on the cusp, what planet rules it, what sign & house is that planet in, what planet rules that planet, what house & sign is that planet in (etc., etc.) until you've constructed this amusing daisy chain of influences in your original - empty! - house.

The second house of possessions is always a useful starting point. Most people have heard their sun-sign & ascendant-sign so many times, they're bored. A good second house reading will make even jaded astrologers perk up. I recall two terribly boring evenings at the Santa Fe Astrology Forum (on the net somewhere) where the speaker droned on & on about the astrology of dreams. Had decades of dream journals to explain to us. He thought - many astrologers think - dreams are 12th house, but, in fact, they're 9th (look it up in any reference). He was proud of his work, proud of his chart & happily passed it around at the beginning of both meetings. (If you get good at reading charts, you will never again do that with your own!) In his 9th house of dreams was Venus in an air sign. It was disposed by some other planet (I forget which) in the second, in earth. So of course he liked dreams (Venus in 9) & of course he had compiled decades of journals which he valued highly (ruler of the 9th in the 2nd: an airy 9th house finds an outlet in an ink-on-paper, solidified 2nd). Did I explain it to him? Of course not. Many years of happy error had made that impossible. I was the newcomer with the fancy mail-order astrology outfit & I knew that if I was patient enough, long enough, I might persuade a few of them to come in & look for themselves. Until then, I would show up & keep my mouth shut. Unfortunately for Santa Fe, I left for New York after two years (and left New York three years later, etc.). This brings up one last point: When you see something interesting, don't wait around for a better day. Seize on it pronto! It, like my store, may vanish without warning.

So, in sum, learning houses is still a do-it-yourself process. I hope some of this sounds interesting to you, and I wish you much success -

Rules for Operations, as taken from the Encyclopaedia of Medical Astrology, by H.L. Cornell, M.D.

Statistics show that operations are more successfully performed when the Moon is increasing in light, between the New & Full Moon, and heal more quickly, and are less liable to complications than when the Moon is past the full and decreasing. Note the following Rules -

(1) Operate on the increase of the Moon if possible.

(2) Do not operate at the exact time of the Full Moon, as the fluids are running high at this time.

(3) Never operate when the Moon is in the same sign as at birth.

(4) Never operate upon that part of the body ruled by the sign thru which the Moon is passing at the time, but wait a day or two until the Moon passes into the next sign below, and especially if the Moon be in conjunction, square or opposition Neptune, Uranus, Saturn or Mars at the time. This rule should be especially followed in major operations. Ptolemy says, "Pierce not with iron that part of the body which may be governed by the sign actually occupied by the Moon."

(5) Do not operate when the Moon is applying closely to the square or opposition the Sun, Saturn or Mars.

(6) Let the Moon be increasing in light, and in sextile or trine Jupiter or Venus and not afflicted by Mars.

(7) Let the Moon be in a fixed sign, but not in the sign ruling the part to be operated upon, and such sign of the Moon also not on the ascendant.

(8) Do not operate when the Moon is applying to any aspect of Mars, as such tends to danger of inflammation & complications after the operation.

(9) Avoid operations when the Sun is in the sign ruling the part upon which the operation is to be performed.

(10) Never operate when the Moon is combust, or within 17 degrees of the Sun, and with the Moon opposite Mars at the same time.

(11) The Moon should be free from all manner of impediment.

(12) Jupiter, Venus, and the ruler of the ascendant should be in the ascendant or in the M.C., if possible, and free of Mars affliction.

(13) Fortify the Sign ruling the part of the body to be operated upon.

(14) A Mars hour is evil for surgical operations.

(15) Do not cut a nerve when Mercury is afflicted.

the above from page 609

Immediately preceding the above, Cornell warns (pg 608-9):

Undesirable Elemental Spirits are often present at Operations to absorb the life force from the blood of the patient, introduce Astral infections, and prevent recovery. Every operation should be preceded with prayer to prevent the presence of Elementals, and to place an Aura of Protection about the patient.

and, a paragraph later: Operations Dangerous - Performed when the Sun is in the 12th house, in conjunction Saturn or South Node, and Mars afflicted in the 6th House at the same time.

It's also known that a prominent Neptune may lead to complications through anesthesia & that Jupiter in hard aspect to the Moon can cause too much bleeding.

How to Calculate Tertiary Progressions

Rick Houck was one of the first to really promote tertiaries (P3's) in his book, Astrology of Death, but he gives scant instructions on calculating. Here's the rules:

One day equals one lunar month. There are two possible values A sidereal month (0 degrees Aries to 0 degrees Aries again) is 27.3217 days. A synodical month (one full moon to the next full moon) is 29.5306 days. I'm not sure which one is used, it might depend on what you want.

Find the Julian day of your birth, find today's Julian day, subtract the two, divide that by your month value (27.3217 or 29.5306). The result is the number of tertiary days that have passed since your birth. Add that number to your date of birth & you have tertiary progressed positions. You can do that by hand, but I'd prefer a calculator.

For angles, take your natal sun, count forward in the zodiac until you come to the tertiary sun position, add that number of degrees to the angles. For example, if you're born with the sun at 15 Capricorn & the P3 sun is at 15 Libra, you add 270 degrees to the angles. The years that have passed between the two dates (complete revolutions of the sun) simply drop. A variation of this technique works with ordinary progressions & solar arcs From one birthday to the next, you add 361 degrees per year. If you want progressed angles for any other date, you count the number of degrees between your sun & the desired date & add that number of degrees to the angles. So six months from your birthday, the angles are 180 degrees different. This gives real meaning to solar arc & progressed angles, though is rarely used.

Anyway, Rick Houck says the proof is P3 aspects that exactly time real world events. He says a one minute change in birth-time equals a one week difference in events, so he finds it helpful in rectification.

Notes on the Star of Bethlehem, an exercise in perception.

In December 2000, I got this email:'s link to a site you might like to look at over the holidays - Star of Bethlehem - Legacy of the Magi [by Michael Molnar]. The author is an astronomer/physicist who has taken time to research ancient astrological methods. I have the book, available from - and it's a very good read.

and my reply

Dear Maggie,

I exchanged emails with the author a year ago & it got me to actually read the Biblical passage in question. Have you ever read the actual words this mythical star is based on? They're eye-opening. Here is the start of the second chapter of Matthew (King James version):

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

What do I think the star was? An angel. It might have been Christ himself. NO star or planet could fit the description given in Matthew, nor could any star or planet ever be mistaken for it. Read Matthew closely & you will find no reference to a star actually in the sky, nor to the star appearing at night-time.

Folks have mistaken all kinds of things for the Star. Someone emailed me excitedly 3 or 4 years ago. He had found a Star of David in heliocentric positions sometime in March of 6 or 7 BC. A star which included the earth & Pluto. Somehow the Magi "knew" of Pluto & knew how to compute heliocentric positions. Certainly this Star of David actually happened (you'll find it easily enough if you cast charts), certainly the many permutations of Jupiter & Saturn & the moon that have been claimed as the star, all actually happened. But none of them were the fabled star.

In my view it's time to stop all this astronomical nonsense. The real star was far more magical, far more mysterious than any of the explanations. If you take Christianity at face value (and I don't quite, actually) a God-man was about to be born to a virgin, heralded by angels & all that. A mere planetary conjunction or eclipse for an announcement is no comparison with that level of high magic.

The real star appeared to some people but not to others. It generated a sense of wonder & awe. It inspired three men to a journey of more than a thousand miles to an obscure place in the world, eg, it had the ability to communicate on some level. Months later, it appeared again, but, again, only to the same three people. At that time they had just tipped off a paranoid leader as to its existence, but somehow neither the king nor his ministers nor his troops could see it even though they were explicitly told to go look for it. The star appears for the second (and last) time as the Magi left Herod's palace. From the palace door to the manger where the Child lay was no more than 15 miles (the actual location of both these places are still known today, down to a hundred feet or so, as is the probable route taken). But not only were all the king's men & all the king's horses unable to see this Humpty-Dumpty, they were even unable, despite explicit orders, to follow three magisterial people & their retinue, traveling slowly & with all due pomp. The star went ahead of the Magi, which means it was probably never more than 50 feet above them & perhaps only a couple of hundred feet ahead. It finally came to rest over the exact house where the Christ Child lay. The Magi entered & the star vanished, never to be seen again. All of this speaks of high magic, not Jupiter or Saturn or the moon or eclipses or the star Antares or the constellation Orion. So far as I am aware, only three people ever saw the Star of Bethlehem, which is all the more who ever saw Our Lady of Fatima.

Molnar says this: "The English text of the King James Version of the Bible is a literal translation of Greek astrological terms. Matthew reports that the star went before and stood over. These Greek astrological terms are for retrograde motion and stationing, respectively."

Here is the drawback to reducing a mysterious passage to common astrological terms: If what Molnar says is true, then every astrologer in Greece & Persia knew what was about to go down in Palestine. Not just three Magis. Where is the evidence to support this? If every astrologer knew, then so did the king of Persia & every prince & princess for a thousand miles around. After all, while astrology might be top secret, or complicated to learn, news of a powerful leader could only be cause for alarm. I doubt memories of Alexander had entirely died out. An astute ruler, knowing how Romans dealt with uprisings, would judge & act accordingly. We need only remember Herod's reaction upon hearing the news. Molnar's "star" was not an excuse for coins, but a call to battle - presuming anyone paid attention to it at the time. Since Herod's slaughter of the innocents was the only warlike action any ruler made at the time, we may presume he was the only ruler to hear about the strange star & the Magi were his source.

Yet when we look at how the Magi traveled & how they presented themselves to Herod, we are struck by their sheer naivety. These three were not astute politicians. They were not wise in the ways of the world. They were mystics, or magicians. They were strange, frightening & yet simple & silly people.

The origin of story itself is equally mysterious. Matthew, the author, was either not yet born or was himself a babe in arms. If he was a babe he survived Herod's subsequent slaughter of the innocents. He did not write the story down until three-quarters of a century had passed. No other references to this event have ever been discovered. It is most probable the story was based on a vision Matthew had. It is amusing to consider how much else in the New Testament may be based on visions. These events happened a long time ago, to people who did not think the way we do now, people who did not have the same perception of reality that we have now. It is arrogance to insist their world was like ours, that their sense of reality was like ours. It clearly was not. I rather think we are perceptual cripples by comparison. So the Star & the Magi might in fact be purely imaginary, governed by all the [generally unknown] rules that apply to the imagination. Indeed, since we know there actually was a slaughter of innocent children, it might be that Matthew invented the Star & the Magi to memorialize Herod's slaughter, discredit Herod's successors & promote Jesus Christ as the rightful temporal ruler.

Matthew was a disciple of a man who changed water into wine, multiplied bread & fishes, walked on water, raised Lazarus from the dead, cured leprosy, healed at a distance, transfigured himself on a mountain, predicted his own death & then rose up from his own tomb. Matthew was a student of a bona-fide Magician. These folks can still be found here & there. In India they are know as Fakirs. So Matthew was at least a mystic, eg, someone with a transcendental form of consciousness. If discipleship to Jesus Christ meant anything, he was also a Magician in training.

And consider the Magi. Molnar thinks they were mere stargazers. If a Magician's birth was being honored, then Magicians would be at attendance. We can judge this by the gifts they left. Not an astrological chart, not an astrolabe or sextant (or their ancient antecedents), but gold, frankincense & myhrr. These Magi were similar to the shamans of Siberia, the medicine men of North America, the Druids of Celtic Europe. They were steeped in ritual, they understood the magical use of the elements, they could cast spells & create talismans, among many other talents. Plotting the positions of stars & planets in the sky were the least of their abilities. If the Magi were not this kind of people, then their presence would not have been remarked upon. Shepherds came to honor the infant Child, but their names are not recorded, nor their gifts of wool & mutton.

When considering the Star of Bethlehem, we must remember the context in which it appeared. It heralded the birth of Jesus Christ. There are those who want to reduce Jesus to the level of illiterate preacher. Given the impact this one man had on the world, such a reduction is absurd on its face. I'm not saying I like everything Christians have done in his name, but there are no easy explanations for this extraordinary man's continuing impact.

So we can do all manner of research into ancient astronomical/astrological methods & learn all manner of things. But if the results do not match the story that inspired the research, then it's just a pleasant diversion. A parallel example comes to mind: Crop circles. Crop circles are strange designs that appear overnight in the fields. They've appeared with increasing frequency & complexity over the last 20 years. At this time it is unknown how they are made nor who makes them. But imagine what "researchers" may think in 2000 years. Will "crop circles" be explained as a fad where farmers competed to sow crops to produce fancy geometric shapes when viewed from the air? Crop circles to these enlighted folks would simply be a giant English country garden gone mad.

I write these notes at Christmastime, the time of year when we again think of miracles. So let us think of the original miracles that we now celebrate. Not embarrassing materialistic nonsense.

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