A chat with Rob Hand

June 28, 2011 and July 20, 2011

Interview conducted by Anne Massey

“Astrology is a discipline which is rooted in a pre-modern, in fact pre-medieval concept of the world. It very strongly implies, that we consider the universe an aspect of a living, conscious, and sentient being. “—Rob Hand

It is interesting to think of a historian, computer software writer, author, lecturer, professor, philosopher, translator and a scholar with the Sagittarian bent for the truth—realize how complex that sounds—and then identify the person as Robert Hand. At a recent conference Rob was introduced as the Stephen Spielberg of astrology, and I asked him how he felt about that. “I don’t like being regarded as the Spielberg of astrology, I am just a human being who has a deep interest and understanding of astrology”, was Rob’s comment during. In fact he might prefer be likened to Johann Sebastian Bach, ‘whose work was revered for its intellectual depth, technical command and artistic beauty’ (comment about Bach sourced from Wikipedia—AM). On second thought just a human being, who happens to be a well-versed and learned.

The origins of words and the history of astrology and how it applies to our lives hold Rob’s interest in astrology after six decades of enquiry. The topics fly by, and I lose track of time as Rob talks equally passionately about the dignities in astrology, his belief system, his recent weight loss (30 pounds is a lot) and paints vivid imagery about the tree of life, Neo-Platonic philosophy and definitions of words…even my usually reliable digital recorder failed to keep track chopping the actual interview portion into 99 separate files each about 2-16 seconds, only one was measured in minutes.

It is easy to see that talking with Rob, who has 51 years of astrological study under his belt, made for a deep, illuminating and educational conversation. You recently relocated to Las Vegas; is it a permanent move and what prompted you to leave Virginia?

Climate was the biggest factor, no humidity, which equates to less arthritic pain. Property values factored in—and a bonus “I now live across the road from the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, which provides some great resources”. While Rob and his wife intend this to be a permanent move, he isn’t willing to say that anything is permanent but their intention is to stay in the desert.

How did astrology find you?

His father’s interest in financial astrology launched his passionate interest in astrology at age 17 back in 1960. They studied together; he recalls his father’s approach unconventional, but profitable in terms of his personal investments. His father was recovering from a heart attack and had plenty of time on his hands. Rob’s approach to astrology from early on was more classical and structured. In university Rob spent an equal amount of time on his studies and on learning astrology. Not much time for sleep by the sounds of it.

An astrology conference in New York in September 1972 proved a milestone in his life—he decided that astrology was what he wanted to do and quit his government job. Naturally some financially lean years followed this choice. Initially he worked with the Astrology Centre in New York but soon ventured out on his own and moved to the Cape Cod area where he had grown up.

In the late 1970’s he began working on astrology software with what was to become Astrolabe. In fact his classic book on Transits was intended as a computerized report. Asked if he would still publish the book today, he said absolutely, he still refers to it. However, if he had the time he would take each text and write three versions based on essential dignities. In fact Essential Dignities is the book floating in his mind; he wrote the bulk of it some years ago but would love to find the time to rework it to reflect his more profound understanding of the premise, the sources and usages from Hellenistic through medieval sources. The works of Guido Bonatti is what he primarily reads these days—in Latin but of course.

Rob’s substantial contribution to astrology earned him a lifetime achievement award at the May 2008 United Astrology Conference. His published works have become standard reference books. The astrological community considers him an icon. His own view is naturally different, while he concedes that with the exception of Chinese astrology he has investigated and studied all of the other branches and kinds of astrology, he remains an enthusiastic student with a fascination of the history and origins of concepts, and as a translator the original meanings of words.

 You have written some of the ‘bibles’ in astrology—what if these were to be the surviving works for astrologers some 500 years from now, what would the state of astrology be?

“At this point this is an impossible question to answer because astrology is in a state of transition. If you had only my work as it is at the moment, it would not allow anybody to reconstruct the art. I haven’t written a general introduction. My published work is currently too fragmented to constitute a corpus of astrology. People have written works like that in the past, but I haven’t. Guido Bonatti’s text from the 13th century is one from which you could almost reconstruct astrology, and no modern writer has done that—either through several works or one work. Let me give you some idea, Bonatti begins with a general introduction to astrology, symbolism, the planets, signs and houses, he then proceeds with the theory of applications, separations and aspects—that’s an entire book. He then gets into general principles pertaining to questions, then he gets into horary, then Electional, mundane. His work is fairly complete with a huge natal component and he even ends with a brief treatise of weather forecasting.” Any contemporary astrologers whose work could be used to reconstruct astrology? “No, it requires several people’s work.”

Significant contribution

Rob holds a M.A. in History from the Catholic University of America and is in Washington, D.C. and is working on his dissertation for The Catholic University’s Doctor of Philosophy in Medieval and Byzantine Studies. Robert Hand’s original research, manuscript translation, and dissertation concerning astrology in medieval military matters will be the first original work of this kind.

You are working on your dissertation? What is your motivation and what was it when you signed on to do it? What do you see as its value?

“The initial impetus was Kepler College, because they required advanced degrees to teach. All that would have required is a Masters. But I went onto the doctorate because I wanted be an international member of the academic community studying the history of astrology, and I had already become that but I wanted a doctorate to stay there. You may not know this but a fairly large number of doctorates have happened in the astrological community in the last three years. For example Dorian Gieseler Greenbaum has a doctorate in Philosophy from the Warburg Institute at the University of London; and her field was symbolism in Greek Astrology. Nick Campion has a PhD from the University of Bristol. And he is now the head of a department at the University of Wales—the Sophia Center, which is a Masters program on Astronomy and Astrology in art, history and so forth. In our own backyard, Bruce Scofield just got his doctorate… I forget the exact title of the field but it has to do with the ecological impact of sunspots, weather cycles, and again from the consideration of cosmic cycles. His research is bit removed from actual astrology as we know it, but definitely connected to astrology as it could become. And he got his from the University of Massachusetts. Jeffrey Cornelius just got his doctorate from the University of Kent, and that department was Studies in Mysticism. So the doctorates are all in fields that relate to astrology. Mine is actually appears to be a bit more removed because it will be on Medieval History, but in fact the work I am doing will be in history of astrology.”

“Well, academics have been coming to the field of astrology for some time now; and it turns out that fair number of them have actually been very interested in astrology—they just decided to do it in their academic work. The value is twofold, first that for astrology to truly become a profession it needs to become completely grounded in the intellectual culture of the west, the way it hasn’t been since the renaissance. Secondly we have discovered through this process that academia as a whole isn’t hostile toward astrology. They are interested in anything that actually happened, especially the historians. Consequently they are favourably inclined toward the study of it, and astrology’s influence on history and culture has always been grossly underestimated. That is ceasing to be the case. For example I have a number of passages from medieval chroniclers written by people who had nothing to do with astrologers, yet with significant quantities of astrology in them. Your average, well educated Florentine, in the 13th century, was conversant in astrology. That’s a tremendous influence; it is comparable to the influence of Freud on the intelligentsia of the 1920s. Astrology’s influence in the Middle Ages was more widespread and longer lasting. These days to qualify as an intellectual you don’t need to know a whole ‘helluva’ lot about Freud— 80 years ago that wasn’t true. The period during which people were conversant in astrology was several hundred years—beginning about the mid-1200s all the way up into the 1500s. During that time astrology was the closest to mainstream it ever came—it was controversial but it was mainstream.”

So you think that in order for astrology to become grounded it needs to go through academia?

“Not for the sake of becoming respectable. That is not the purpose. That might be an accidental side effect. But there is something to be learned there. For example this is also true of people getting advanced degrees in psychology and other related counselling fields. This tends to give astrologers a better idea about what professionalism means. And to be perfectly honest, we fall short on that score from time to time. The way I like to put it is: no discipline has ever become accepted because the existing disciplines have accepted it. It has always become accepted when it got its internal act together. When it has its own professional structure together, its own professional codes, its own professional journals, and its own modes of communication, when people see that a group is operating with standard canons of professionalism, people begin to treat it is as a profession, even if they have problems with what the group believes in. I offer as an example, Chiropractic, it is still controversial, however Chiropractors are no longer regarded as charlatans and frauds, intent on stealing their bucks. While some people may still think that, most do not.

Classical Tools that have lost none of their lustre

We had a long conversation about dignities that began with our discussion at the NORWAC conference in May 2011. Rob was talking about how fire was hot, earth dry, air cold and water wet with no secondary qualifier, and how this original idea helped him fully grasp the concept of why summer for example was hot and dry. The beauty of observation, the accuracy of calculations used by the ancient and medieval astrologers continues to hold him in awe. So, can we look forward to a book on Classical Astrology?

Rob thinks that he has some three books floating in his head, and if he is here on the earth-plane long enough, he would like to write them. The one we discussed most was the proper use of dignities, which he continues to find intriguing and extremely valuable in client work. Both of us have Saturn in the 12th when using whole-sign houses, thus we had a conversation about the 12th house being the Joy of Saturn, and whether it was better to have a dignified, debilitated or peregrine Saturn in residence. Rob’s view is that Saturn in Aquarius in the 12th is capable of doing his worst in the house of his Joy. His Saturn in Gemini is peregrine, thus while life hasn’t been a cakewalk, it has quietly worked in his favour with those hidden enemies that we consider to live in our 12th house. Saturn placed here ensures that our enemies are taken care of without our personal intervention. The Joy of the greater Malefic in the most Malefic of houses seems appropriate—giving him additional strength is not a grand idea…

Your Mercury is in detriment and combust—yet you have been a prolific writer, speaker etc.? How would you explain this to students who avoid using the dignities and debilities and would consider that this might imply mental incompetency, poor written and verbal expression etc? After all it is easier to talk about the philosophical nature, the ability to market another’s ideas, etc.

“First of all a debilitated planet is not incompetent, it simply operates strangely. So, Mercury in Sagittarius has trouble with details. It tends to take a giant overview, which is not Mercury’s forte. The reason why I have evolved the ability to do both—and believe me I didn’t have it spontaneously, I tended to be a generalist speaking in vast universal statements without having  much practical application—is because the ruler of Mercury,  Jupiter, is exalted in Cancer and in the first house. And a little bit more obscurely, Cancer and Sagittarius have relationship known as contra-antiscion being equidistant from 0°Libra; and in fact the two planets are close to being in the specific degrees. So when a debilitated planet has a familiarity (a more correct term) with its dignified ruler, the debility is cancelled. And I have discovered it is only cancelled when the individual is cognisant about what he is doing; when he is not, it reverts to debility—because it requires mental awareness.  The ruler gives mental awareness to the process. The philosophical reasons are a bit long-winded and obscure, but there are philosophical reasons for this based on Aristotle. So when the ruler is dignified it gives a capacity to the debilitated planet to do what it is not capable of natively doing. So what I do is I go to the generalities first, and then make my way down to the particulars. I wouldn’t be able to do that if there weren’t that relationship, or it would be much harder. Nothing is ever impossible; it is just very hard—difficult”.

“If you understand essential dignities and debilities without understanding reception, which is the process I have just described, you are not going to get an accurate answer. By the way familiarity means something that connects the two. Aspects are a familiarity; conjunctions are a familiarity, as are antiscia and contra-antiscia have the same Ascensional time…  ”

Your Moon is in its fall in Scorpio, albeit not at the potentially most challenging third degree? This tends to scare contemporary astrological thought which minimizes any categorization into good or bad…your thoughts? It also rules your Ascendant, giving the Moon heightened significance…

“While there are specific degrees of exaltation and debility, it is generally accepted that the entire sign is considered in that condition. The reason why my Moon is not terribly dysfunctional is because it is applying to a conjunction to Mars, which is the ruler of the sign and Mars is in its own sign and highly dignified. But I won’t say my Moon does not have any qualities of the Moon its fall. It does.”

From contemporary perspective: Ascendant in Cancer, Moon rules from its fall can’t be good…

“Well that Moon is applying to a conjunction with its dignified ruler which in turn is trine Jupiter in the first which of course is exalted. That trine actually turns a lot of stuff around in the chart. See that’s the problem with modern astrology, it’s too simple. It leaves things out that actually have a powerful impact.”

“The other problem with modern astrology is the idea that you have to look at everything to get the answer to anything, and that is simply not true. The trick is to know what you need to look at what not, that is the strength of traditional astrology and it does it better than modern astrology.”

Tools for client work

Rob spends the bulk of his time talking to his diverse group of clients assisting them toward self-realization with a conference or lecture thrown in most months. When asked how his client base has changed over the decades, he found it difficult to categorize them into groups and kinds, rather that most were geared toward becoming more aware, many with a keen interest in astrology and that many have some basic knowledge of astrology. However, contrary to my expectation, few are practising astrologers.

Rob uses whole sign houses only—Koch was his preference once upon a time. He also thinks that the whole sign houses are gaining wide acceptance thanks to the many sun sign astrologers out there, who have used these as a matter of routine. Rob commented that, for example, Michael Lutin who is also an excellent Sun sign astrologer, teaches his students to work with whole sign houses, which Rob applauds. The system is simple, eloquent and after the centuries still the original and in Rob’s opinion the best. (I personally concur and it is great that Rob validates those of us who are also horoscope writers…not an easy task, by the way)

Do you continue to use any of the more contemporary tools and techniques?

Rob uses secondary progressions perhaps more than profections, because he finds these illustrate the times the client is in. He also uses the 90-degree dial to decide that the chart he is going to analyze for a client is accurate enough. He has found that when he has the wrong time, he cannot give a good reading for his clients. He still spends about an hour and a bit preparing for a consultation, how else would he have an understanding about who he will be talking to and what the big topics will be. Beyond the two techniques that are considered more modern or contemporary, Rob relies on classical rules and techniques dating to the Arabic and Early European astrologers, uses the seven classical planets plus Uranus, Neptune and Pluto within whole-sign houses.

What about the asteroids, Chiron, Black Moon Lilith…

For example, Black Moon Lilith isn’t featured in his chart work—it is one of the centers of an ellipse and he doesn’t like the math of it plus unless it makes sense or is something he can grasp intuitively, he will leave it be.  He doesn’t use the asteroids or hypothetical points, finding that after the many decades he is able to derive all of the important information using the classical, primary considerations. (FYI, the mean Black Moon Lilith is on his Ascendant—he already has a Scorpio Moon; and Chiron is with his North Node which is conjunct Regulus when he was born.)

While Rob did state that he doesn’t use hypothetical points or the asteroids in his work, he also stated that if he cannot grasp a concept on an intuitive level, he isn’t likely to use it; nor if it doesn’t make sense or isn’t defensible. He finds that the traditional planets and classical techniques—from the early European and Arabic Era—describe the chart and the person it belongs to eloquently.

I wouldn’t say that Chiron is useless, I wouldn’t dare to presume. But I don’t really have a feel for it and I don’t find it necessary.

In your paper “Matter and Form” you discuss the part of Spirit, and how it was used by ancient astrologers—what the soul is here to accomplish.

That was ancient Greek astrologers; the medieval astrologers didn’t know what to do with it. You see this was a taboo subject matter in both Christian and Islamic worlds for astrology. 

Do you use Part of Fortune and Part of Spirit charts to illustrate to clients what they came here to do?

“Only experimentally, because I haven’t fully grasped how that is supposed to work. I use certain aspects of the Fortuna chart where the Part of fortune establishes the first house quite commonly in financial matters. But the Spirit chart is harder to grasp for the very simple reason that most people haven’t got that part working. It is a potentiality that most people haven’t attained.”

Based on your paper these two charts and your comment that you advise your clients about the right and wrong way, these two charts would potentially be ideal—at least conceptually—for addressing the issue of why we are here.

“They should be, there is actually the trinity of charts. There is the Fortuna chart, which is a chart at its most primitive and material.  There is the Ascendant chart, which is a general, all-purpose chart—and that’s how we use it.  The Spirit chart would describe how the soul would achieve its highest potential. More accurately, the person would achieve that potential. The reason I correct myself, is to emphasize that you are your soul; you don’t have one. This idea of having a soul is dumb. If you are alive you are a soul. And if you are conscious, you are an intellectual soul. Intellective, actually, is the better word [thinking, reasoning or other mental activity]. But most people don’t live their lives in the spirit in a fashion that is consonant with this spirit chart sufficiently well to prove it is working. You actually have to use it for saints and enlightened beings and people with a great deal of wisdom— that is where you would see it. And, we have no worked out examples from the ancients of this process; we just have some comments that the part of Spirit describes things you do intentionally, when you are being conscious—and that is my language, not theirs, but that is what their language boils down to.”

“I’ll give you an example. If a person is in a career because of family history, it is likely to be shown in the Fortuna chart. On the other hand, if people are evolved to the point that they have chosen a calling, which is truly relevant to them, that will show up in the Spirit chart.” So the vocation is there? “Yes. It is about finding your fulfilment. ”

“One of the theoretical positions I suggest, if I am right about the spirit chart, it that there are no malefics and benefics in the spirit chart. There is only truth. Now here is some further information that leads to that. The Greek name for the part is Kleros Daimon. And the Daimon is an entity that associates with you at birth and tries to show you your proper path. There is are actually two parts to this, the Agathos Daimon and Kakos Daimon. The Agathos Daimon is associated with the good spirit and the 11th house. The Kakos Daimon is associated with the sixth house as you know. ”

So have you looked at your own of Spirit to see what you came here to do?

“Yeah, at the moment, however, it isn’t clear. There are indications that are beginning to point at what that might be… however; I am going to leave it at that.”

About reincarnation and Rob’s belief system

The notion of one’s reincarnation as a particular entity and one’s being here to pay for past wrong doings does not sit well with Rob’s understanding and life-long study and contemplation. He thinks that the conventional model of reincarnation is wrong. He talks about the tree of life as a literal concept. When a leaf—a person—falls off the tree it feeds the soil as it disintegrates and merges with the earth. How can it then emerge with its prior incarnation in the memory banks? He states that his belief system mostly reflects Neo-Platonic thinking—it is about the cycle of being. Nous—the perfect image of the One— simultaneously about the idea and the ideal world. He believes the soul chooses the moment that is the best representation of the ideas and ideals the soul holds true. Nous is the highest sphere accessible to the human mind. When something doesn’t make sense or feel intuitively correct, Rob tends to state “I don’t disbelieve…but then I don’t have all the facts yet”. There is a cycle of life, a reason for existence but I don’t like to think that it is about karma we have to endure without choice—we choose our moment.

I was reading Rob’s essay about Matter and Form on his website, and to illustrate the way he tackles concepts, I pulled out an extract from it. “The second definition of soul that we get from Aristotle is that the soul of any living thing is that which makes it that living thing and not some other living thing. Putting this in terms that one can more readily understand, we do not have souls; we are souls. One cannot lose one’s soul while alive because that would be death; one also cannot lose one’s soul and remain alive in either sense of the word soul used here. By this definition the medieval Christian idea of someone selling his soul to the devil makes no sense. What one might be able to do is to become a devotee of the devil, but one is still a soul. This could be what the medieval astrologers and philosophers meant. And the question of one’s having an immortal soul reduces to the following question: “Is what I am, what is uniquely and peculiarly myself, immortal?” I do not know the answer to this. My personal view is that in the way I have just defined it, “not exactly” would be the answer. But also it is not completely untrue.”

Because my recorder didn’t catch our conversation on June 28, I missed your commentary on Karma, reincarnation and your belief system. You talked about the tree of life as literal, and how the leaf that fell of the ‘perfect’ tree was now going to disintegrate and become part of the earth in order to feed the tree. You continued to talk about the nature of the soul in light of this concept… how would you respond and complete the thought.

“I wouldn’t call the tree literal; after all we are not hanging off a large entity made of lignum. Lignum, is of course is what wood, is. A tree is a living entity, which channels life energy up toward a multitude of transitory organs called leaves. Leaves fall off of all trees, but not necessarily in a growing cycle. The so called evergreens are always green, but leaves are falling off. And that all life is related by being on the same tree. But every year a leaf will form at roughly the same spot, not exactly the same but roughly the same. And that the two leaves are connected by coming off the same branch of the tree. They are however not connected in space because they exist in two different spots of time. I am suggesting that this might be a better metaphor for understanding reincarnation than the conventional one, that is, that it is the same entity coming back all the time.

Does this contradict the fact that we are a soul?

“… and we do exist in eternity.  But what exists in eternity is the same soul, not an incarnate one. In other words we are always here—always have been, always will be—but not on Earth. And I don’t mean on other planets. Eternity is the sum total of all possible time. That’s actually what it means, it isn’t my invention. Plato described it very simply: “time is the moving image of eternity.” What people experience as previous incarnations are actually their connections to the leaves on the same branch—through different points in time. That’s the metaphor.”

If you were 17 now, and wanted to study astrology; whose works would you choose and why? Would you choose a teacher, a school or simply study from books?

“At this point, I think it would be difficult to do it from books, because so much of what needs to be known is still transmitted orally. I would probably…this is difficult, I have an aversion to schools personally but that would be the best way.  Picking the right school… You could certainly learn modern astrology from books, but you couldn’t go beyond it. When I say modern I mean 20th century astrology. Basically I learned astrology from books and by talking with other astrologers. Conferences are very valuable—not so much for the lectures— but what takes place between them.

I am going to put you on the spot. You said you would choose a school, so which one?

“At the risk of sounding as if I am a shill for Kepler I am going to say Kepler, because it puts astrology in larger social context.”

What about book recommendations…

“Marion March and Joan McEvers series of books is decent on contemporary astrology. The books on the traditional really haven’t been written yet. There you have study with people or with schools. I would also suggest that one read the works of Ebertin, because there is a clarity of thought in that work that is lacking elsewhere. If people find his work interesting, they might want to study Uranian astrology, however, in my opinion Uranian astrology suffers from being too much into details without concentrating sufficiently on the broad principles. Nevertheless those two schools have certain clarity, which is worth studying. Modern astrology…hmmm… difficult, I feel I have completely digested my personal version of modern astrology.  I think my book, Horoscope Symbols is good for getting a larger than normal view of what symbolism is about—although I would probably expand it quite a bit if I were to write it now. But ultimately, the best answer I can give is that students all have different styles, aesthetic tastes, and so forth. I think most will pick teachers who speak to them, and that is as good a criterion as any. I would also recommend the Faculty of Astrological Studies, which has some sound traditional components. By leaving others out, I am not implying they are incompetent; merely I have some personal experience of Kepler and the Faculty in the U.K.”

Teaching dignities…we at the CAAE felt it was an important inclusion to our curriculum…

“I can understand why modern astrologers don’t use dignities. The modern version is so damaged, it is wrong. It is better not to teach it, than to teach a broken version of it. Also if you were to study the medieval texts without some grounding in contemporary, you’d practise astrology as it was practised centuries ago, and that is not appropriate—this is not the Middle Ages. “

What keeps you enthused, excited about astrology after the many decades?

“I keep reaching new understanding of it; it is an endless learning process. That is it simply. For a Sagittarian there is no end.”

I concur.  How would you like to be remembered?

“As a good person, who tried to attain wisdom.  Astrology is incidental to that. Astrology has proven that there is wisdom to be attained. And it is not what materialists teach.”

What would you still like to accomplish

Time permitting, Rob would still love to take a walking tour of Britain—the country side, find to write a book about the use of dignities for the contemporary astrologer, complete his dissertation by the end of 2012…

Copyright Anne Massey, 2011

5 thoughts on “A chat with Rob Hand

  1. This is a good example of expressing both the modern and traditional astrology concepts from a centered viewpoint. Mr Hand is refreshing in the way of his purposeful direction – by seeing what many don’t really see or understand. As a traditionalist, he is in the process of leaving a lamp-light by the side of the road that other travelers my stop, pause and perhaps refresh their thinking before moving onward in their own search for reality. As a modern astologer, he has surely advanced the craft.

  2. Robert Hand has taken astrology up a notch. He is an important contributor to the arts, and a good person. If you are a young astrologer, read his books. Even us “older” astrologers (G:>) can always learn from Mr. Hand… who is a great example to us all.. thanks for the interview

  3. Just discovered this and as usual when reading Rob’s insights I’ve come away doubly enthused at having chosen astrology as a life path eons ago (well, 45 years or so ago). The man is a living example of how to approach the art. A true blue Sag for sure.

    Thank you for this Anne.


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