Hermetic Rule Applied

Shortly before midnight on February 25, 1861, under a nearly full Moon on the tail of the Lion (which was opposite the Sun in the middle of Aquarius) in the tiny Austro-Hungarian village of Kraljevec, attended by a midwife, Franziska Steiner gave birth to her first child. Two days later, on February 27, the baby boy was taken a couple of miles to the St. Michael church in the neighboring village of Draskovec to be baptized. Perhaps Frau Steiner and her husband Johannes - a telegraph operator at the little out-of-the-way Kraljevec railroad station on the Puszta plain near the border of what today is Croatia and Hungary -- gave thanks to St. Michael for their son's recovery (he had been bleeding at birth), and also gave thanks to Boldogasszony, the "blessed lady" of Hungarian folk legend, who helped women during childbirth. It is very likely that around the time of conception of their son Rudolf they had spoken of the "arrival of the stork" -- referring to the widespread folk notion that the stork "brought" children to their parents. Such beliefs about the stork that help to make sense of the mystery of birth have their origins in an even deeper mystery -- the mystery of conception.

In earlier times in ancient Egypt for example, there existed a subtle differentiation between two conceptions -- physical conception and conception of the ka. Translating the subtle knowledge of the ancient Egyptians into modern terms we can affirm that physical conception consists of the fertilization of the egg by the sperm, which is then embedded in the wall of the womb. On the other hand, the conception of the ka was perceived not only as the source of a person's vital force, corresponding approximately to the Chinese chi, the Hindu prana, and the ether of the alchemists, but as an actual "body" attached to the human being. In the language of the alchemical tradition, the conception of the ka would be called etheric conception - the coming into existence of the etheric body (ka) thought of as a subtle body of life energy surrounding and interpenetrating the physical body. Clearly the moment of origin of the physical body is physical conception. Similarly, the moment of origin of the ka or etheric body is the etheric conception, which for the ancient Egyptians was identical with the descent of the stork.

The ancient Egyptians, as we shall see below, even had a cosmic rule specifying when the etheric conception takes place, a rule which has to do with the Moon, thus indicating that whereas the physical conception is an earthly event, etheric conception is an event belonging to the Moon sphere.The Moon sphere is thought of as the cosmic realm bounded by the orbit of the Moon. Modern scientific knowledge is not accustomed to thinking of the pre-existence (prior to conception and birth) of the soul, but this was almost universally accepted in antiquity.At that time the soul was said to exist in cosmic realms - in the so-called "planetary spheres" - prior to coming into earthly incarnation.

According to Professor B.L. van der Waerden in his excellent survey of the origins of horoscopic astrology, "The soul comes from the heavens, where it partook of the circulation of the stars. It unites itself with a body and forms with it a living being. This explains how human character comes to be determined by the heavens."1 This notion underlying horoscopic astrology can be traced back to the Babylonians, stemming from the teachings of Zaratas:

The notion that the soul descending from heaven takes on the characteristics of the planetary spheres through which it passes, before it enters into corporeal existence, and that after death it makes its journey through the heavens in reverse direction and with opposite effect - this derives from the same religious circles as those in which the doctrine of the voyage of the soul through the spheres had developed: the later Babylonian astral theology.2

According to the ancient Babylonian tradition of horoscopic astrology inaugurated by Zaratas, the Moon sphere was the last stage of the descent of the soul, the region where the incarnating human being dwells at the moment of conception, having descended there from the fixed-star realm through the seven planetary spheres. It is interesting to consider this tradition insofar as it helps us to understand the mystery of conception and, indeed, the whole cosmological background of astrology, which originated with the Babylonians. According to the teaching of this tradition, either simultaneously with or shortly after the occurrence of the physical conception, the soul released something known as a spirit seed, which then descended from above. The moment when the spirit seed descends from the Moon sphere to unite with the fertilized egg is the image that was clairvoyantly perceived in ancient times as the "descent of the stork" - depicted widely in Egyptian hieroglyphs. The modern folk belief about the stork bringing the child was a dim memory of the ancient clairvoyant image of the "spirit seed" - the spiritual archetype of the physical body that is built up in the highest cosmic realm, the zodiacal sphere, prior to the soul's descent through the seven planetary spheres. Approaching the end of its descent into incarnation, with the inspiration of the soul from its cosmic vantage point in the Moon sphere, etheric conception occurs close to the time of the physical conception. Modern astrological research into the Egyptian cosmic rule for specifying the moment of etheric conception shows that it usually takes place shortly after fertilization. For the Egyptians, the appropriate cosmic moment of conception was specified by a principle known as the hermetic rule. Although ascribed to the great teacher of the ancient Egyptians, Hermes Trismegistus, the hermetic rule was known also to the Babylonians. There are examples of Babylonian horoscopes where the horoscope of conception is presented alongside the horoscope of birth. The conception horoscope belonged very much to the original astrology of the Egyptians and Babylonians, as an expression of the mystery of the soul's descent into incarnation.


The Hermetic Rule

The hermetic rule or rule of Hermes is an ancient astrological law for determining the horoscope of conception retrogressively from the day and hour of birth. It stems from the ancient hermetic astrological corpus that was a sort of "bible" for Greek and Egyptian astrologers in the early centuries of their practice.3

Relating the moment of conception to the moment of birth, the hermetic rule holds the key -- astrologically speaking -- to the building up of the physical body in the womb during the embryonic period of development. It states that:

The zodiacal location of the Moon at the moment of conception is in line with the Ascendant-Descendant axis at the moment of birth.

In order to grasp the astrological significance of the moment of conception, we shall take a look "behind the scenes" at the events leading up to conception. This entails a leap of consciousness to grasp the esoteric reality underlying the incarnation of the human being. Of course, this was known to the Egyptians and Babylonians. The Egyptians, from whom the hermetic rule derives, had a highly developed esoteric cosmology in which subtle aspects of the human being were cognized beyond the level of the physical body. The Ascendant-Descendant axis is the position of orientation taken up by the human being while in the zodiacal sphere of fixed stars during the formation of the "spirit seed" - the spiritual archetype of the physical body. Then follows the descent of the human being from the zodiacal sphere through the seven planetary spheres. He or she bears the spirit seed, diminishing in size from sphere to sphere from its initial expansion in the zodiacal realm of fixed stars. During this descent through the planetary spheres a "vehicle of consciousness" for the individuality is also built up. The Egyptians called this the ba, often depicted as a human-headed falcon. In the alchemical tradition it is called the astral body. As the name indicates - astral ("of the stars") - this "body" is built up from the planetary spheres, the planets being considered as moving stars (Greek: planetai). Just as the spirit seed is formed in the zodiacal sphere as the archetype of the physical body from the circle of the twelve sidereal signs of the zodiac, so - in light of the Babylonian tradition - the astral body is shaped as a vehicle of consciousness appropriate for the incarnating individual from the seven planetary spheres in the descent through the planetary spheres.

From this brief survey of the ancient tradition it is evident that the spirit seed and the astral body are two primary astrological realities or aspects of the human being. Both exist as spiritual archetypes, which become individualized in the process of incarnation. That which individualizes the spirit seed is the choice of Ascendant, which then acts as a focal point for the building up of the spiritual archetype of the physical body according to the zodiacal signs. That which individualizes the astral body is the choice of planetary positions for the horoscope at birth, by means of which a suitable vehicle is formed for the individuality to bring its talents and faculties to expression. Here the composition of this vehicle (astral body) becomes differentiated by way of the background zodiacal influence of the Sun, Moon, and five planets.

During the process of incarnation the spirit seed and the astral body work into the formation of the physical body and the vehicle of consciousness of the individuality. The whole descent into incarnation is made with a view to arriving on the Earth at the cosmic moment when the planetary configuration (hermetic and geocentric) of the chosen birth chart becomes actualized. The moment of birth is thus the goal of the incarnating human being. Essential to arriving at this goal is the moment of conception, occurring (on average) some nine months prior to the moment of birth.

Given the choice of zodiacal location of the Sun at the moment of birth, the period of embryonic development determines more or less when the moment of conception should take place. In the course of nine months the Sun, on its apparent path around the zodiac, moves through three-quarters of the zodiacal circle, i.e., through nine of the twelve zodiacal signs. Thus, during an average gestation period of nine months, the zodiacal location of the Sun at the moment of birth is nine signs advanced from its position in the zodiac at the moment of conception. Once the Sun's position at birth is chosen, its approximate zodiacal location at the conception is specified, the element of variation being dependent on whether the embryonic period turns out to be longer or shorter than nine months.

The hermetic rule specifies the moment of conception more exactly. Going back from the moment of birth to the beginning of the embryonic period of development, the Moon's location in the zodiac at the moment of conception is the same either as that of the Ascendant chosen for the moment of birth, or as that of its opposite, the Descendant. Thus, given the choice of Ascendant for the moment of birth, chosen already long in advance in the zodiacal sphere of fixed stars, the zodiacal location of the Moon at conception is also specified in advance to be one of two possibilities. As we shall see in the next example of an application of the hermetic rule, karmic considerations can also play into the predetermination of the planetary configuration at the moment of conception, just as they play a role in the choice of planetary configuration at the moment of birth.


An Application of the Hermetic Rule

Rudolf Steiner always celebrated his birthday on February 27 (his date of baptism), so barely anyone knew that his birthday was actually on February 25.4 Taking the stated time and date of Rudolf Steiner's birth as 11:15 PM on February 25, 1861 at Kraljevec, the zodiacal longitude of the Ascendant and the Moon are computed to be 1725' Libra and 2443' Leo, respectively. Applying the hermetic rule, this means that the Moon's zodiacal longitude at etheric conception must have been about 17 or 18 Aries or Libra, with an Ascendant of 2443' Leo or Aquarius. Returning nine calendar months from February 25, 1861 leads back to May 25, 1860. Referring to an ephemeris for this time it is evident that the Moon was at about 18 Libra around midday on June 1, 1860. This date appears, at first sight, to be a possible date for the etheric conception, as calculated by the hermetic rule. Bearing in mind that his parents married on May 16, 1861. In fact, at 12:12 PM on June 1, 1860 the Ascendant at Kraljevec was 2448' Leo and the Moon was at 1948' Libra in the sidereal zodiac. Applying the hermetic rule, this fits well with the computed birth data, and could have been the moment of etheric conception. If indeed it was, then the birth time has to be corrected from 11:15 PM, to 11:25 PM, to yield for this moment (considered as the planned moment of birth) an Ascendant at 1934' Libra and the Moon's position at 2448' Leo in the sidereal zodiac, exactly fit the hermetic rule.

Given the open-endedness of the hermetic rule (e.g., in the case of Rudolf Steiner the Moon was at 18 Aries two weeks earlier on May 19, and was again at 18 Aries two weeks after June 1, on June 15, 1860), where several alternative dates of etheric conception are possible, how may we be certain that the correct date has been found?

There are several viewpoints to be considered. First, it can happen that there is some indication of the approximate length of the embryonic period. It is rare that the parents know the exact date of the physical conception, but if it is known the etheric conception as determined by the hermetic rule must lie close to it in time. Sometimes there is an approximate indication, e.g., "the child was born one week premature". Such indications, when stemming from medical sources, usually reckon with a pregnancy of ca. 270 days, which means - if one week premature - an embryonic period of ca. 263 days can be calculated. Here again the hermetic rule is given an approximate date around which the etheric conception must have taken place, in which case it is no longer a completely open-ended rule.

Second, failing any indication whatsoever as to the length of the embryonic period, there is the argument of probability-approximately 270 days being the mean duration of a human pregnancy. In the example under consideration the interval from June 1 to February 25 amounts to 269 days, which is more probable than an interval of 255 days leading back to the date June 15 as a possible date of etheric conception. Likewise, 269 days is more probable than an interval of 283 days leading back to a possible date of etheric conception on May 19. Therefore the intervals of 255 days and 283 days yield the two next most probable dates of etheric conception after the most probable date of June 1, given by the hermetic rule-in this particular example-as dates when the Moon was at 18 Aries in the sidereal zodiac. The probability diminishes still further for an interval of 242 days (27 days less than 269) or 296 days (27 days more than 269) where, since the Moon makes an orbit of the sidereal zodiac in 27.32 days, the Moon was again at 18 Libra in the sidereal zodiac as it was on June 1, 269 days before the birthdate. According to the argument of probability then, June 1, 1860 was the most probable date for etheric conception in Rudolf Steiner's incarnation.

Probability is not the only consideration, however, as premature and overdue births do occur. If other indications are not present, then the third consideration-in order to decide between several possible dates of etheric conception-is the astrological validity of the planetary configuration at the moment of etheric conception. Thus the several possible planetary configurations at etheric conception yielded by the hermetic rule may be compared with the birth configuration for similarities. This comparison may be extended to include the death configuration in the case of the conception chart of a historical personality (assuming the date of death is known). Finally, if the previous incarnation is known through karmic research, then just as the birth chart can be compared with the hermetic and geocentric birth/death charts of the previous incarnation, so the conception chart may also be compared with them for similar aspects or planetary alignments in the sidereal zodiac.

 As an example of these considerations, let us look at the conception chart of Rudolf Steiner computed for June 1, 1860 from the point of view of its astrological validity.


Note that the word epoch denotes the horoscope for the moment of etheric conception.

Here with the birth horoscope of Rudolf Steiner, for the sake of comparison with the epoch (conception) horoscope, where the fulfillment of the hermetic rule (interchange of Moon and Ascendant) can be seen between the two horoscopes:


Most remarkable in the conception chart computed for June 1, 1860 is the exact geocentric conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. This striking relationship between Venus and Jupiter is taken up again in Rudolf Steiner's geocentric birth chart, where these two planets are more or less in exact opposition. This lends support to the astrological validity of the conception chart computed for June 1, 1860.

 Further, if the conception chart computed for June 1, 1860 is correct, then the Ascendant at Rudolf Steiner's birth has to be corrected from 1725' Libra (computed for the stated birth time of 11:15 PM) to 1935' Libra (computed as the birth time of 11:25 PM according to the hermetic rule). Now, the geocentric sidereal longitude of Saturn at Rudolf Steiner's death was 1933' Libra, so Saturn was exactly transiting (orb 002') the degree of the zodiac computed to be the Ascendant according to the hermetic rule. This lends considerable weight to the astrological validity of the Ascendant of 19 35' Libra, which is the authentic Ascendant according to the hermetic rule if June 1, 1860 was the date of conception. This confirmation of a birth time of 11:25 PM with an Ascendant of 1935' Libra is based on the concept of a transit, i.e., that at the moment of Rudolf Steiner's death there was an exact transit of Saturn over the position of the Ascendant at his birth.


1 B.L. van der Waerden, Science Awakening, volume II, p. 147.

2 Hans Lewy, Chaldean Oracles and Theurgy, p. 146.

3 Wilhelm und Hans Georg Gundel, Astrologumena, p. 147. This corpus consisted of Greek astrological writings composed in Hellenistic Egypt-primarily in Alexandria-during the first two centuries B.C. Fragments of these writings were preserved and transmitted to later Greek astrologers. Common to the writings of the hermetic astrological corpus is that they are invariably attributed to the "ancient Egyptians" - including Hermes and also Nechepso and Petosiris among these venerable founding fathers of astrology. In the fragments attributed to Nechepso and Petosiris-written in the form of instructions from the priest Petosiris to the king Nechepso-there are some references to the hermetic rule. (See Robert Powell, Hermetic Astrology, volume I, Appendix I for an English translation of these fragments.) You may wonder why the astrological rule for calculating the horoscope of conception is referred to as the hermetic rule and not the rule of Petosiris, the named authority for this rule in each of the fragments stating this ancient astrological tenet. The reason for this appears to be the fact that Nechepso and Petosiris were regarded simply as mediators of the teachings of Hermes. Thus Hermes was recognized as the originator of this astrological rule, which then was entrusted to the "divine men" Nechepso and Petosiris. For example, Firmicus Maternus (4th Century AD) in his great work on astrology-the eight books of the mathesis-speaks of "most powerful Hermes" entrusting his secret to these "divine men". Similarly, a papyrus of AD 138 states that Nechepso and Petosiris "established" their teachings upon Hermes. Nechepso and Petosiris composed their astrological works in Egypt during the second century BC and fragments of these works-transmitted to later Greek astrologers-were collected by Ernst Riess. Rudolf Steiner's collaborator Elisabeth Vreede (1879-1943) translated the hermetic rule from Greek into German. She encouraged my teacher, Willie Sucher, (1902-1985) to apply this rule in his astrological research.

4 A letter dated February 25, 1921, from Eugenie von Bredow, one of Rudolf Steiner's pupils in the Esoteric School, shows that she knew this:

My revered Master: Today, on the day which is actually the day of birth of your Individuality in this incarnation (whilst hitherto we always held it to be February 27), I would like to express to you in true commemoration my warmest good wishes for your well-being . . .

The time of Rudolf Steiner's birth (11:15 PM) was communicated to the theosophical astrologer Alan Leo by Rudolf Steiner himself. Alan Leo utilized this time and the date February 27, 1861, generally acknowledged as Rudolf Steiner's birthday, to cast a horoscope. Here it is not known whether Rudolf Steiner communicated this time as being exact, or whether he stated it as "less than an hour before midnight." (If the latter holds true, clearly Alan Leo interpreted it to be 11:15 PM local time.)

The original horoscope cast in 1909 by Alan Leo for the incorrect date of February 27 was reprinted repeatedly until in 1980 the Dutch astrologer Jan Kampherbeek eventually published a correct horoscope, cast for February 25, 1861 at 11:15 PM.

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