Primary Directions

Martin Gansten


Students of traditional astrology have often been deterred by overly mathematical presentations from approaching the important subject of directions. This comprehensive study explains the principles of primary directions in an accessible form, illustrating them by practical examples. It also draws on many original source texts to outline the historical origins and development of the technique, and shows how it has been reinterpreted and occasionally misunderstood. A full glossary and appendices with software reviews as well as formulae for manual calculations complement the text. The craft of the Old Masters can still be learnt.

Weight 300 g

Dr Martin Gansten has studied various forms of traditional astrology for more than twenty-five years. He is also a historian of religion specializing in astrological and divinatory traditions, and received his doctorate from Lund University, Sweden, where he has taught since 1998 and is now Reader (docent). In addition to his writings on Indian, Greek, Perso-Arabic and European astrology, including the highly acclaimed Primary Directions: Astrology’s Old Master Technique (2009), Martin Gansten has translated several Sanskrit religious classics into Swedish. His current research interests centre on the Indian reception of Perso-Arabic astrological traditions (Tājika).

Primary directions is an ancient technique used by Ptolemy, Masha’allah, and William Lilly among others. For years, it was referred to but rarely used because it required mathematical skill at a level that was intimidating for many astrologers and students. Additionally, there was very little existing literature that explained the use of directions in a clear and readable way. That hasn’t changed in recent times until the arrival of this book, even though software is now available for their calculation. The result is that they’ve fallen into disuse. Now, with the revival of classical astrological techniques, Gansten has set out to remedy this.

He does a very good job. He starts out by defining primary directions and explaining the basics, then moves on to offer a brief history of the technique. Then it’s on to directing planets to angles and intermediate house cusps and Gansten notes that misunderstandings of  as to how house systems operate has led to some errors in existing software programs. He tends to favor “real-time” Alcabitius house cusps, which he explains. Then it’s on to discussing zodiacal aspects with and without latitude and major and minor directions. Profections, revolutions (solar returns) secondary directions (progressions), tertiaries, transits, ingresses, and diurnals are also discussed. At the end of each chapter you’ll find a summary of key points along with a listing of references and supplementary information.

A useful appendix contains reviews of software offering primary directions, including Solar Fire, Janus, and several freeware options. Gansten doesn’t mince words in his reviews, though several of the programs appear to pass muster. There is also an appendix including those terrible mathematical formulae should you be brave enough to try to hand-calculate these yourself. A bibliography, a thorough glossary, and a good index round out the book. Charts showing salient points under discussion, including the chart of River Phoenix, are included.

f you’re a serious astrologer, this is a book worth looking at.

— reviewed by Donna Van Toen