How is traditional astrology different from modern?
Here are some notes I made, some more technical than others, to explain the basic differences.
Modern astrology is more psychological and character-oriented; traditional is more external, situational and event oriented. In modern astrology the chart is a map of your mind; in traditional astrology it is your mind and your external circumstances and what happens to you.
Most modern astrology more or less consciously subscribes to a kind of open-ended, indeterminate free will – in other words, your natal chart may show certain tendencies, but they can all be changed or negated or ‘transcended’ with hard work, and usually with positive thinking.
Traditional astrology is rooted in a world view that is much more deterministic or fate-based. In traditional astrology you are not so much looking to ‘transcend’ your chart as to understand or divine (divin-ation, learning the will of the divine) your place in the overall order. I think of it as aligning yourself with the order of the universe and how you happen to fit in it. In that way it is similar to divination systems like I Ching.
Modern astrology has largely lost the sense of planets being positive or negative, fortunately or unfortunately placed. It tends to view all charts as equally fortunate, all people having an equal chance for a successful life in the usual terms.
Traditional astrology places a heavy emphasis on evaluating the condition of planets, sometimes fortunate and sometimes very unfortunate. Also, some planets are naturally helpful or benefic, some are naturally disruptive or malefic. In traditional astrology all charts are not created equal, and not all planets are equally effective; some people are, if you will, fated for success, or good marriages, or wealth, and some are fated to have rough lives in different ways.
So traditional astrology is much more focused towards a realistic evaluation of a chart and how it works out in your life, rather than a psychological description of how wonderful and spiritual you are inside. Traditional astrology does not ignore or gloss over difficult or negative aspects of the chart.
Related to that, I have found that learning traditional astrology has forced me to really think through and come to terms with what I think is going on when I read a chart for someone.
Some technical differences
Traditional astrology does not use the modern Twelve Letter Alphabet, where sign equals house equals planet. In traditional astrology a planet in the 10th has nothing to do with capricorn, and a planet in Taurus has nothing to do with money.
The houses are completely distinct from the signs, and there is no sequence of psychological development going around the wheel. That only takes a moment’s thought; in house sequence children (5th) come before marriage (7th), and death (8th) comes before career (10th). Also, some of the houses are distinctly negative; 8th house is death and not transformation, 6th is illness and not health.
Rather than being major personality types, signs in traditional astrology are used mostly as environments within which the various planets can function, sometimes effectively, sometimes ineffectively. The most important facts about the sign are, where is the ruler of that sign and what shape is it in, and what planets are in that sign and what shape are they in.
Traditional astrology has a heavy emphasis on sect as defining the overall strength and weakness of the planets. Charts are either diurnal or nocturnal depending on whether the sun is above or below the horizon. The different planets are either diurnal or nocturnal also, and the quality of their function is greatly influenced by their agreeing or disagreeing with the sect of the chart.
The form of traditional astrology I practice uses whole sign houses, which go back to the Hellenistic era and were used for over a millennium. In whole sign houses all of the sign the Ascendant is in is the first house, all of the next sign is the second, so sign and house boundaries coincide.
Whole sign aspects, seeing and aversion. In traditional astrology, a planet anywhere in Cancer is trine a planet anywhere in Pisces, regardless of how close they are by degree. (Traditional astrology also uses degree-based aspects, but for different purpose.)
Traditional astrology uses only what are called the Ptolemaic aspects – sextile, square, trine, and opposition. (Conjunctions are also used, but strictly speaking they are not aspects.) A planet that aspects another planet can ‘see’ that planet. Any planets that do not have one of these aspects are considered to be in aversion, meaning they can’t see each other, so there is a lack of awareness between them.
There are multiple levels of rulers used – Lord or Ruler, Exaltation, Trigon or Triplicity, Bound or Term, and Face, and all but face seem to have been widely used. Modern astrology uses only Ruler and Exaltation, and they are not emphasized.
The sun is not emphasized at all. There is much heavier emphasis on the Lord of the Ascendant than on the sun.
Traditional astrology is mainly framed around answering specific questions about specific areas of life. In modern astrology character analysis provides an overall framework; in traditional astrology, a question provides that framework.
Traditional astrology uses only traditional rulerships. Whether you use the outer planets or not, Mars rules Scorpio, Jupiter rules Pisces, Saturn rules Aquarius. Also, to traditional astrology, rulership does not mean affinity; it means that the planet is in charge of the affairs of that sign. So, if you have a seventh house Taurus, the location and condition of Venus are going to largely determine the nature and quality of your relationships.
Some traditional astrologers use the 3 modern planets, some do not. In general, those who do, do not emphasize them anywhere nearly as strongly as many moderns do. As Ben Dykes put it, they are viewed as something less than planets and something more than fixed stars, and are only focused on if in a tight aspect with another planet. (I personally do not use them.)