Missing Person Charts: First or Seventh House?

In Book 2, chapter 67 of Christian Astrology, William Lilly reminds us that we will judge wrongly if we do not choose our signifiers well:

The true resolution of this Question depends much upon a right understanding, what relation the querent has to the party inquired of, for you have oft to read in the preceding judgments, that in every Question great care is to be taken, that the intentions of the Demandent and quesited party may be carefully apprehended, that thereby one Significator be not mistaken for another; wherefore for better satisfaction of this part of judgment we are now handling, you must inquire where he, viz., the querent, inquire of the death of a Friend, or of his Wife, or a Father, or a Child, or of a Servant, &c. (CA 404).

This passage begins Lilly’s discussion of an especially important category of 8th house questions – If the absent party be dead or alive. The choice of the right significator is generally even more critical in this sort of question than in most, because often so much more is at stake for the querent. Our own contemporary questions about missing persons belong to this subset of interrogations. They are objectively and inherently important.

Lilly clearly has in mind questions in which the person inquired about has some definite relationship to the querent: friend, wife, father, child, servant, and so forth. These relationships are part of the querent’s life. Consequently, they are symbolically distributed throughout the houses of the horary chart in relationship to the radical Ascendant. Finding the right significator is a more or less straitforward process in this genus of queries.

Where, then, should we seek the quesited’s significator when no definite relationship to the querent exists. Lilly’s method is that of the tradition as a whole. In such cases, he says, use the 1st house:

If a question be demanded of one absent in a general way, and the querent has no relation to the party; then the first house, the Lord of the House and the Moon shall signify the absent party… (CA 151).

He applies this rule to a live horary example (A woman… demanded of her Son; see especially CA 156), so we know that this was his practice and not just an aphorism copied out for the sake of completeness. Granted, he presents the question as a hypothetical based upon an existing chart. Had the woman in fact asked if her son were dead or alive, he would have begun from the 5th House. We might cautiously surmise from this that Lilly did not get many “unknown, dead or alive?” sort of questions. Yet, he thought it sufficiently important an topic to give us a working example.

The problem, of course, is that even when the quesited has no relation to the querent, nevertheless the question does. So, it would seem that the querent would still qualify for the 1st house. The quesited would then have to be sought elsewhere: namely, the 7th house. Those who take this position believe that Lilly was just being muddleheaded. From this comes the bone of contention: do we use the 1st House or the 7th house in missing person charts.

The reason for attaching unrelated persons to the 7th house is that the Descendent is thought to signify, as John Frawley and his students so often say, “any old person”. This idea does present a certain ready appeal. But, really, it is a very dismissive way of describing anyone. It reduces the quesited to a cipher. It also misconstrues the 7th house is a peculiarly modern way, as the generic house of “the others”, a catch-all bin for anyone who seems to fit nowhere else in the chart.

This savors of its own muddled thinking. The 7th house comprises a finite set of relations – spouses, lovers, contractual partners, open enemies, opponents, thieves and fugitives. These are not “any old people”. They are persons with whom we share some particular relationship of parity. Sometimes this parity is personal, as in marriage and other contracts. Sometimes it is physical, acted out on the level playing field or found at the place “over there” where the thief is trying to remove my belongings. Without that specific kind of relation, we have no grounds for using the 7th house.

My great aunt, a greatly revered artist in the deep South, once corrected my cockeyed effort to paint a tree trunk with brown paint straight from the tube. “Honey,” she said, “there is no such color as brown. Paint what you see, not what you think you see.” There is no such an animal as “any old person” either.

Some of Lilly’s language could, it must be said, be misleading if the reader does not work through his thinking. Here, taken from the same section quoted above, is an instance where Lilly does seem to give “any old person” to the 7th house:

But if she had inquired, whether she should have found a Party at home, yea or not, to whom she had no relation, but as to a stranger; then Mars the Lord of the seventh, had been his Significator…” (CA 154)

So, “no relation” to the querent takes us to the 7th house, right? Why not, then, apply this as well to “unknown, alive or dead” queries? Is Lilly just making it all up as he goes along?

Let’s not move so fast. Lilly has in view a situation where the quesited party, though personally unknown to the querent, nevertheless belongs to the querent’s immediate universe of experience. Although a stranger, the quesited might very well be walking up the path to knock on the querent’s door. Maybe they will become a friend (11th house) or eventually perform some service (6th house). Until then, the querent meets the quesited “on the level”, which pertains to the 7th. Nevertheless, there is a meeting, if only potentially.

By “no relation”, therefore, Lilly does not mean something absolute and abstract, as in “having no connection with the querent whatsoever”. Instead, he means more simply that the quesited has no family or neighborly ties to, contractual obligations with, friendship for, authority over or enmity towards the querent. Nevertheless, the quesited belongs within the finite horizon of the querent’s world.

A complementary axiom is very simply that if the querent does not actually feature in the question, he need not be factored into the chart. It is true that ordinarily the chart describes the cosmos from the vantage point of the querent. But this does not always have to be the case. Indeed, if we are to be strictly true to the philosophy behind our Art, we must say that any chart’s primary point of view does not belong to the querent. As Lilly instructs the Student, it belongs to the angels, who see everything from the pinnacle of creation.

This means that when the querent matters, the querent may be located in the chart. But when the querent does not figure in to the question, the radical chart asserts the primacy of its essential house symbolism. So, in matters of life and death, the 1st house – the pre-eminent house of Life – must be given to the one whose life is at risk. In a query about a known criminal on the loose, the quesited is given to the 7th; and this is not because the criminal is “any old person” relative to the querent, but rather because the he is by nature a public enemy.

Yes, the querent will be there latently in the 1st, much as, in questions about fugitives, the astrologer will always be hidden away somewhere in the 7th house. But it is rarely productive to look for either the querent or the astrologer in such charts. They simply are not of the essence of matter at hand.

So, this is the theory. Does it work in practice, as it should? As a step towards answering this, I’d like to examine a horary put forward by another astrologer who sees in it evidence that the 7th house rules rules missing persons unrelated to the querent.

The question is “Missing girl, dead or alive?”, forwarded by a Colombian astrologer to the website Ask Christine Astrology (chart and discussion at http://askchristine.wordpress.com/2009/02/02/horary-astrology-and-the-dead-or-alive-question/). Chart data: 28 January 2009, 12:16 PM EST, Pereira, Colombia.

Dead or alive?

A 17 year old girl from Seville, Spain had gone missing, and foul play was suspected but not confirmed. A few days after the question was asked, her boyfriend confessed that he had raped and then beaten her to death with an ashtray. His friends then helped him to throw her body in a nearby river. Her body was never recovered.

Let’s see how the astrologer judges the chart. She first explains:

“[The girl] is no relation to the querent, so she is represented by Mars as lord of the 7th house.”

She goes on, correctly, to give the missing girl the Moon as well. Derived houses are then brought in to fill in the story.

For a “proof of concept”, the turned chart yields surprisingly little useful information:

“I’m relieved to see that her planets are not in the house of death (i.e., the turned 8th – CM) or the house of endings (i.e., the turned 4th – CM). Yes, the Moon is still in her 4th, but is close enough to the cusp that I would consider it to be in that house (i.e. the turned 5th – CM) instead.”

This isn’t telling us much. Nor do the derived houses give accurate details of her whereabouts or time of discovery. From Mars’ placement in the turned 3rd, she deduces that the girl might be held captive by an older neighbor (Saturn ruler of the 3rd) or even buried by him, since Saturn rules the derived 4th house. The distant – and, I would add, out of moiety – “application” of the Moon to oppose Saturn tells her “it will be a long time indeed before anyone hears from her, alive or not”.

Unraveling the symbolism around missing persons – or, more trivially, lost items – is an admittedly maddening process, and this is a very competent astrologer. But none of this is remotely correct. The fault lies not with the astrologer’s reasoning, but with the premise that she starts with.

Ultimately, the entire judgment is made to hinge upon the separation of Mars and Mercury, ruler of the derived 8th house:

“The bad news is that she, as Mars, has recently been in touch with death: Mercury rules her 8th house, and separates from conjunction with Mars. Either she has recently been in danger and has escaped, or she is already dead.”

Her uncertainty – dead or just a close shave? – is instructive, since it means that she has not actually answered the question. A serviceable technique ought at least to give an answer either way, even if it is wrong.

One of the astrologer’s blog respondents tried to correct her reading, using Lilly’s approach by taking Venus/1-ruler for the missing girl. But she falters due to an incomplete knowledge of testimonies to death:

“Both Venus and Moon are in the 11th house, and none of them aspected Jupiter, lord of the 8th. There’s no translation of light with either.”

The respondent judges the girl still to be alive and hiding at a friend’s house. Were it so that death worked only through the 8th house and that the 11th house or essential dignities always save! We would be spared a great deal of bad news. But there is a lot more to judging a horary than finding two signifiers and linking them up however. That’s why horary takes so long to master… it’s amazing that anyone ever graduates to natal work.

What, then, would the traditional method tell us? We begin from the 1st house, the house of life. Here are the main testimonies :

  • The Sun in detriment, ruler of the radix 4th (endings), and Jupiter combust, ruler of the radix 8th (death), are conjunct right at the Midheaven. Lilly says, “If the Sun be unfortunate or afflicted… the absent is dead” (CA 405). Here, it is their very declarative angularity that makes a powerful argument for death.
  • South Node almost exactly conjunct the radix 4th cusp.
  • Venus separates from a very recent opposition of Saturn. By itself, this is not conclusive; but with angular (accidental) malefics, it stands as a powerful testimony.
  • Venus also separates from a sextile of Mars, ruler of the 7th and the 12th houses (CA 405). Although the aspect is a “soft” one with reception (Venus in the terms and face of Mars), the other testimonies lead me to fear it.
  • The Moon and Venus are both void of course. The girl will be making no more contacts in the future, and the matter will become a source of hardship. This is a very important argument, and one easily missed.

All these testimonies come from the radical chart, and all but the void of course Moon would be irrelevant had we started from the 7th house. Taken together – especially given the testimony of the Midheaven – they make a persuasive argument that the girl has indeed perished.

I might add that the radical chart describes the facts around the case much more clearly than the turned chart. A few examples:

  • 7-ruler Mars in Capricorn would place the girl somewhere on or in the ground, in “barren fields, bushy and thorny” or “in houses low, dark places, near the ground or threshold” (CA 98). But the killer confessed that after the murder, the body was thrown into a local river. Venus in Pisces shows this better: “grounds full of water,… also fishponds or rivers full of fish” (CA 99). Venus is void: the body will not be found.
  • Venus and the Moon, ruling the girl, are both in the 11th house: the house of good faith. She trusted her killer – an important clue to his identity. Venus is exalted; she resisted his sexual advances.
  • Taking Mars/ruler of the 7th house shows the boyfriend and murderer much more clearly, and not only because Mars is the natural ruler of violent crime. Mars is exalted and receives Venus into his dignities, pointing to someone, known to the victim, who ought to be above suspicion. Mars’ conjunction with Mercury retrograde describes the killer’s habitual lying and many retractions. Mercury also rules the derived 11th house; the killer was helped by his friends to dispose of the body. The murderer then tried to pin the crime on them!
  • Finally, I submit that Mars exalted in Capricorn gives an apt sketch of the killer, shown below. He’s good-looking, he knows it, and he’s used to getting his way because of it. And, like Mars, when denied, he will take by force what he thinks he has a right to.

    Miguel Carcano

I am working with benefit of hindsight here. Still, even with that huge advantage, I cannot find a clear argument when starting from the 7th house. On the other hand, the radical chart – giving the 1st house and its ruler to the missing person – not only declares the death but also fills in some of the forensic details of the case.

The tradition works. We should not presume to revise it without having thoroughly absorbed the principles in which the order and dynamism of the chart are grounded. What seems to be obvious to us at first glance – and especially to our common sense – might well be wrong. Indeed, much of the wonder of the Art, for the astrologer, lies in its power to refine our common sense so that it can work with the uncommon insight that we call intuition. – Dr. Chris Magnus

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jan smith April 18, 2015 at 1:35 pm

Very impressed! We have a recent missing kid case here in Australia and the only astrology site is total crap all about asteroids.
I mostly follow Frawley but often raise an eyebrow. Shall read more of your stuff!

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: