The Void-of-Course Moon: From Linear Time to Lunar Time
©2003 J. Lee Lehman
The void-of-course Moon has been listed as a debility (weakened) since Arabic times. However, listing it as debilitated is one thing: coming up with a cogent meaning is another. What did the ancients mean by believing it weakened? What continuity is there with modern astrology thinking? And, how can we use these ideas in application? These are the issues this article will attempt to address.
First, let’s define our terms. The Moon is void-of-course when it makes no applying ptolemaic aspects (conjunction, sextile, square, trine, opposition) until the end of the sign in which it is posited. Because this definition is dependent on the positions of the other planets, there is no fixed degree at which the Moon goes void in any particular sign. This means that in any sign, the Moon spends a variable length of time void.
We shall explore the meaning of the term “void-of-course,” but let’s begin with the definition from deVore’s Encyclopedia:
“Void-of-Course. Said of a planet that forms no complete aspect before leaving the Sign in which it is posited at birth. When the Moon is so placed it denies fruition to much of the good otherwise promised in the Figure. In horary astrology a planet so placed is said to indicate a person devoid of objective or purpose, hence one who abandons him self to aimless endeavor.”
There are two things to note about this definition:
(1) The concept of “void” applies to all planets, not just the Moon; and
(2) While horary is mentioned, there is clearly a natal interpretation as well.
How the Ancients Defined Void-of Course
In the Liber Hermetis, a work attributed to Hermes Trismegistes, the author defined the nature of the void period according to the last aspect of the Moon. For example, separation from Saturn causes losses through parents. Separation from Venus produces lewd men if waxing, and full of vice, if waning. This use of examining the last aspect of the Moon before going void is a technique that still applies, except that it has been extended to include the use of the outer planets as well.
Guido Bonatti, one of the great astrologers of the Middle Ages, took much of the Arabic learning on astrology, and codified it. A supreme influence to later generations even centuries later, William Lilly and his student Henry Coley extracted a number of aphorisms from Bonatti’s works, and published them in translation. Here, we see Aphorisms 19, 62 and 64:
19. The Nineteenth Consideration is, To behold the Moon if she be “void of course” for then it signifies an impediment to the thing in question: it will not come to a good end, nor be accomplished; but the Querent shall be forced to desist with shame and loss.
62. [The Moon Void of Course] …signifies that the thing enquired after shall scarce ever come to a good end, or not without much labor, sorrow, and trouble, unless the Lord of the Ascendant or significator of the thing, shall be in very good condition, and then it may be hindered, but not wholly frustrated; yet ’tis a good time then for drinking, bathing, feasting, etc., and to use ointments for taking away of hair, especially if she be in Scorpio.
64. The 64th is to consider, Whether the Moon be in Cancer, Taurus, Sagittarius, or Pisces; for it signifies good in the business, although she be joined to the Infortunes and not to the Fortunes; nor does she, being void of course, prejudice so much in those places as elsewhere, provided she be not Combust, for then they will advantage her little or nothing.
These three aphorisms seem to be most appropriate for horary or electional application. Aphorism 64 gives a rule that was still in use by Lilly in the seventeenth century: minimizing the void effect for the two signs of the Moon (her rulership and exaltation), and the two Jupiter-ruled signs.
Lilly shows several things in practice, as opposed to theory:
* He didn’t treat the Moon as void if it was within orb of an aspect in the next sign.
* This was doubly true if the Moon was in one of the four “good” signs.
* Even if the Moon were void in one of the other eight signs, and not applying to an out-of-sign aspect, the Moon void by itself was not sufficient argument to give an instant “no” to the outcome.
In sum, Lilly’s treatment of the Moon void-of-course makes it look like a relatively minor debility, not a destructive debility which can hamper the effectiveness of the Moon. The obvious point is that a void-of-course Moon cannot be interpreted by its aspects: and this may explain why some astrology systems are so out to sea about how to interpret it, especially those systems which are much more dependant on aspects to accomplish the delineation.
Bonatti’s definition in Liber Astronomiae III suggests that the Moon is void until it comes into aspect with another planet, not merely when it goes into a new sign. This is the theory that has been picked up upon more recently by Sue Ward and Maurice McCann. This idea may actually reflect upon a particular issue in electional, namely the importance of the next aspect of the Moon. On a day in which the Moon is not in orb of a next aspect, the effect from an electional standpoint may be very analogous to the sense of a void-of-course Moon.
Classically, when the Moon is void-of-course, it must be interpreted even more strongly through its sign, and especially its dispositor (planet in rulership of another planet). If these do not provide a problem, then the condition of the Moon void-of-course is not grave.
The Modern Void-of-Course Moon
If Lilly’s interpretation that the void Moon isn’t that serious, how did it get its current reputation? Here we probably have the clearest scope by examining the history of horary or electional astrology, as the concept of void seems most evident in these branches. Marc Edmund Jones had this to say about the void Moon condition:
“One basic rule of exceptional importance in horary astrology is that no planet can ever move out of one sign, into another, to make an aspect of significance in reference to the given question or matter for which the chart is erected. This rule gives rise to the next, or the third, of the preliminary ‘considerations before judgment.’ The moon, because of its swiftness of motion, and its consequent significance in indicating the superficial focus of a given issue, must make some major aspect to at least one of the other planets before it leaves the sign in which it lies at the moment of issue. Otherwise, the chart is not valid because the moon is ‘void of course.’ There is then a definite lack of pertinent dynamic in the situation, and judgment will be unsound unless the static nature of the circumstances have a special meaning in the given case.”
Jones applied the traditional name of “considerations before judgment” to the list of conditions that needed to be at least itemized before proceeding with the horary judgment. But then he says that the horary is not valid. What is this? Lilly never said that the question isn’t valid. Notice that Jones also seems to preclude aspects in orb, but out-of-sign. Ivy Goldstein-Jacobson referred to that list as “cautions,” but didn’t deviate greatly from typical classical style when she said:
“First note whether the Moon makes any aspect good or bad to Fortuna (Jupiter); if so, she is only zodiacally void of course (not aspecting a planet). Then note whether the question has to do with a project, or with a querent who is sick, worried or frightened. In either case, the keyword for you to remember to use is NOTHING.
“If completely void of course, a project or anything begun will be abandoned or reversed so that NOTHING is to come of it…. If completely void of course, a sick or worried person is needlessly upset and NOTHING will come of his fears or his symptoms, and he will be cured….
“If in any aspect to Fortuna the Moon is only zodiacally void of course. If the aspect is a parallel, conjunction, sextile or trine NOTHING BUT SUCCESS will be experienced…”
Goldstein-Jacobson has simplified the practical definition by ignoring the four signs that were exceptions, but the aspect to Fortuna makes perfect sense in a classical context, even though I haven’t seen it spelled out using this rule in a classical source.
The interpretation of Barbara Watters was definitely more grim. She designated it as the first “stricture against judgment,” defining the void-of-course Moon in the usual way. But there is no classical evidence for this urban legend whatsoever. Goldstein-Jacobson’s use of the word “cautions” for essentially the same list of conditions much more accurately expresses the traditional viewpoint. At any rate, after defining void, Watters gives this rationale (page 14):
“The reason for this stricture is that, in horary astrology, the Moon rules function. When it makes no aspect to another planet until after it leaves the sign it is in, nothing functions in the situation that gave rise to the question. Therefore until circumstances change, which they will do when the Moon moves into the next sign, the situation is not viable. It has no future as things stand. This may be because the question was unnecessary or of no real concern to the querent. It may be because vital facts pertaining to the problem are unknown to him. Most commonly it means that in the very near future something unforeseen will happen which will render the whole matter of the question null and void.
“For instance, suppose the querent asks if he will get a certain job. A void-of-course Moon in the chart often means that it makes no difference whether or not he gets it because in the near future, perhaps even in a day or so, he won’t want it or can’t accept it. He may be offered a better job, he may suddenly have to move, circumstances surrounding the job that he asked about may change so radically that it becomes undesirable. But whatever the reason, don’t try to find it in a void-of-course Moon chart. You can’t. The chart is inscrutable because the question was asked about a dead-in issue.”
This description is very stark. Historically, this level of negativity would have been restricted to a Moon in debility, afflicted by malefics, eclipsed, etc.: in other words, one or more of the eleven impeditions mentioned by ibn Ezra or earlier authors.
From Watters’ description, it was not a far step to the Void-of-Course Moon described by the late Al Morrison. Al published a void-of-course Moon ephemeris for many years, and publicized the theory that U.S. presidential candidates who are nominated under a void-of-course Moon lose. Voids are shown in the ACS Ephemeris, and other such reference guides, not to mention typical astrological calendars. Voids, like Mercury retrograde, the two bugaboos of modern astrology, both have the advantage of being easy to define and track, thereby making available these techniques even to non-astrologers, given a little bit of training in reading the tables.
From this mushrooming of interest has evolved the idea that a void-of-course Moon is not only anathema in horary, but it must be avoided like the plague in event interpretation and electional. Here, for example, is the opinion of Bruce Scofield, a noted modern electional astrologer (http://stariq.com/Main/Articles/P0002724.HTM):
“Many astrological calendars and datebooks give the exact times of these periods, which occur every few days. As its name implies, the void-of-course Moon period marks a time of drift. It’s a time when time itself seems to bend and turn, and not head straight to the next milepost. While the Moon moves through space, disconnected from the other planets, life on Earth likewise moves along with a weak sense of direction. And like Mercury retrograde, this period definitely works. Anyone planning to commence an important event, like opening a business or starting off on a trip, should make sure they know when the Moon is void-of-course.
“When the Moon is void-of-course don’t expect to meet all your goals. Don’t expect to settle disputes in meetings or make real progress with any new business. Don’t do something really important for the first time, and don’t try to force things along a preconceived path. But also, don’t get paranoid about it. There are plenty of ways to use, and even enjoy, the qualities of the void-of-course Moon. It’s a great time for getting on with unfinished business, for cleaning up that which is left over, and for simply letting things happen..”
What is especially good about Bruce’s comment is that he spells out the modern take on the void-of-course, but then tells you to not get too paranoid! He then even gives some ideas about constructive things to do under a void.
Turning back to natal, Karen Hamaker-Zondag discusses a related concept and its psychological components: unaspected planets. Not all void-of-course Moons qualify as unaspected, because they may still be in orb of a separating aspect. Karen also cuts off aspects absolutely at sign boundaries, so a later void Moon, which has separated from any aspects by orb, will still be unaspected even if it is applying to an out-of-sign aspect:
“The Moon represents the self-protective attitude we adopt whenever we feel threatened or insecure. When unaspected, either we may fall prey to increasing uncertainty, or may isolate ourselves by, metaphorically speaking, going to live on our own little desert island. With no aspects to restrain it, the Moon will tend to make the native exceptionally caring, cherishing, motherly and protective. The imagination is often well developed too. An aspectless Moon offers few handholds and little stability: by nature, the Moon has such an uncertain quality that when it is allied with a (sometimes extreme) all-or-nothing attitude, there is no telling what the native will do from one minute to the next.
“Women with an unaspected Moon often have difficulty in experiencing their femininity. Frequently (and this is true of both sexes), the bond with the mother is not a happy one, and they themselves may not be really maternal. In a man, there can be incomprehension of what to expect from a partner and of how to treat her, and he can flit from one type of woman to another.”
What is especially interesting about Karen’s definition above is that Karen is both a Jungian and a horary astrologer, in which her treatment of void follows Ivy with two major classical additions:
1. She recognizes the possibility of an out-of-sign aspect weakening the void tendencies.
2. She listed the four exceptional signs, listing Lilly as her source.
The bulk of the information on void-of-course Moons remains in the realm of a kind of semi-electional, semi-mundane influence, namely the issue of what is appropriate to do during the void-of-course Moon period. We see this approach in Bruce’s comments above, and we see it in this definition from www.stariq.com:
“According to traditional astrology, activities begun during this time are unlikely to produce tangible results. A void-of-course Moon in a horary chart renders it unreadable for some practitioners. However, modern astrologers interpret this period a s a psychological “free zone” in which therapy and intuitive work are favored.”
This “free zone” idea has become quite popular as an organizing principle for the constructive use of the void-of-course Moon. For example, the Swiss psychological astrologer Verena Bachmann likes to use void periods for what she calls open-ended or non-goal oriented counseling sessions (personal communication). Jenni Stone, in an article in The Mountain Astrologer, lists twelve types of things to do under a void period, some overlapping with Bruce’s list. Other activities that made it onto Stone’s list are: editing and correcting, relaxation, planning, socializing, routine travel if you are strictly a passenger, doing something you’ve never done (but probably not something dangerous, and not something that is goal-oriented), and spiritual practice.
This is all well and good, but was Al Morrison right in warning us about starting important events (like presidential nominations) under a void-of-course Moon? The answer is: It depends.
One of the things that we need to distinguish is between reoccurring or routine events, and special events. For example, every year, the National Football League sponsors the Superbowl game between the National Football Conference champion and the American Football Conference champion. There is great hoopla and much betting associated with this event, and yet it can be considered reoccurring or routine in that it takes place every year in late January (or rarely early February) in a sunbelt city, with the location generally announced at least a year in advance. Also, being a playoff game, it must have a victor, as the game will be continued if there is a tie at the end of regulation play. So we could say that the routine outcome is that a winner will emerge. There have been three Superbowls played when the Moon was void at the start of the game: numbers VII, IX and XIX. (There have been thirty-seven played as of January 2003.) As I have been involved with using a quantitative model to predict the outcome of sporting events, I can report that those three games didn’t seem to act in any way differently to the non-void games, and that my predictive percentage is the same for void vs. non-void games, albeit three being a very small sample!
Another example of reoccurring or routine events is each year’s baseball playoffs. In the period from 1997 to 2003, thirty-nine playoff games were played with the Moon void-of-course. I was especially interested to see if the winner during a void game was jinxed against winning that playoff. Wrong! Thirty-one times out of thirty-nine (a startling 79 percent!) the victor during the void went on to win the play-off in question: and four of those thirty-nine games were ones in which the victory that occurred clinched the series. In this case, it would even seem worth betting on a team once it wins a void game!
It would even seem that incorporations might count as reoccurring or routine. In a data set of 553 successful corporations (the kind you would see prominently in the business pages), sixty-seven had void of course Moons (12 percent of the total). Of these “void” corporations, twenty-eight were in the classically better void signs (41 percent vs. 33 percent expected). So it really does look better to be void in the Moon’s or Jupiter’s signs.
What’s Going on Here?
I think that the real essence of the meaning of void periods is found by going back to a fundamental structure underlying Hellenistic astrology: the idea of sect. The sect of a chart means whether the chart is cast for day or night, and not only is there the sect of the chart, but both planets and signs have sect as well. The masculine signs are diurnal; the feminine signs are nocturnal. The Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn are diurnal; the Moon, Venus and Mars are nocturnal. But perhaps most important here is the concept of sect light, for the Sun rules all day charts, and the Moon rules all night charts as the sect light.
In the Hellenistic system more than any since, a chart was fundamentally different by day or by night. Putting this idea into modern parlance, a solar chart is one governed by reason and rationality, as well as linear time; a lunar chart is governed by intuition and cyclic time. Our society wildly favors the linear model of time, where we march knowingly from Point A to Point B to Point C. (The fact that it almost never works that way is not the point!) Whenever the Moon is dominant, then cyclic time takes over as the major metaphor. A void period is a lunar time, and hence, the worriment about getting “goals” accomplished then. It’s not that accomplishing goals is impossible during lunar time, it just requires more creativity and intuition to get there!
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