"When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes."
History records many portents in the Heavens. Recently we have seen a few as well. Comet Ikeya-Zhang a few years ago, the bright comets of the 90s, Nova 1987a and others. Brilliant meteor displays. We know a great deal about the physics and astronomical data behind these phenomena but little about their astrological and philosophical significance. To most they are merely a celestial light show. To some they are a source of fear and terror. To a very few, they are messengers of coming changes and events. Except for a few periodic comets and regular meteor showers, these apparitions are unexpected and we astrologers are usually at a loss as to what they signify except perhaps with hindsight.
The ancient Greeks had a method to anticipate them from ingresses and ideas about their significance based on their colors and shapes but theirs was an astrology and astronomy of the naked eye and far freer of pollution and night light than ours. Atmospherics certainly played a role in their observations and their interpretation. The Greeks and later traditional Medieval and Renaissance astrologers thought them wholly malefic. These same astrologers held that comets and other portents in the heavens were fleeting appearances of the sublunary sphere. An event for our punishment or (very rarely) benefit from the Logos appearing in the space between the Earth and Moon. In their model of the heavens, change does not occur beyond the sphere of Luna except for the movements of the planets. The effects of comets were supposed to last for 1/8 of their period; to the ancients this would most likely have been their period of visibility, and to begin in earnest when the Sun or Mars transited their place of closest approach to the Sun or perihelion. Their appearance was heralded by disturbances in humans, animals, and the weather. The comets then dispensed, by perihelion position and their dispositor, their good or ill effects - usually ill. They also often heralded the rise of an agent. This agent could be a war leader but might, depending on the position of the comet, show a religious leader, reformer, or great trader.
Modern astronomers tell us that comets originate in one of three places: the vicinity of Jupiter; the Kuiper belt which is bounded by the orbit of Neptune; or from a surrounding sphere called the Oort Cloud. Most of the comets from the vicinity of Jupiter are actually from one of the other two regions and were captured by Jupiter. These are recycled messages. Their orbits became modified by the giant Jovian system and stabilized in a tighter Sun/Jupiter orbit. This is an important feature since Jupiter protects us from a more intense bombardment. In this way, he really is the Greater Benefic and an 'almost star' to boot. Comets rain down, or more usually drizzle down, toward the inner system due to disturbances in the patterns of the force of gravity in their regions of origin. Naturally they bring some of this disruptive energy with them to the inner system. The period from first visible appearance to perihelion is when the characteristic patterns of disturbance associated with a comet at its approach are felt. Humans, animals and the weather are disturbed. The figure for visible appearance tells us the nature of these disturbances and the sign in which it appears tells us where to look for them.
Another bit of information from the modern astronomers is that comets, especially those out in the Oort Cloud beyond Pluto, contain material present at the formation of the Solar System and are more directly exposed to the light of the fixed stars. The Kuiper Belt is a disc-like region extending from 30 to 1,000 AU (an AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun which takes light 8 minutes to cross), Jupiter is about 5 AU from the Sun, and the Oort Cloud extends from 6,000 to 20,000 AU in a rough sphere around the Solar System. Comets with an orbital period of 200 years or less are considered short period and originate in the Kuiper Belt or closer, the long period comets with periods of much more than 200 years come in from the Oort Cloud. This would imply that in addition to any information from the time of formation and some degree of disruption that the decrees of heaven, as the ancient Chinese thought of comets and other portents, are divided into three classes of messenger. Those from the Oort Cloud bring messages and decrees from the fixed stars or, again as the ancient Chinese thought of them, the seats of celestial power, the principalities of the heavenly kingdom. Many of these comets have periods in the thousands of years. Those from the Kuiper Belt with periods of greater than 200 years but less than 1,000 (this is an estimated guess) bring messages from the invisible planets of our solar system : Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto and a touch of fixed star influence as well. The very short period comets are recycled messages captured by Jupiter and carrying some of the influence of the Jovian System along with whatever original information they held.
The message is not delivered until the comet makes its closest approach to the Sun where the message is assimilated into the system. The Sun is author of the System according to modern astronomy and the King and ruler of it according to tradition. These new decrees are issued at perihelion. Perihelion is the sensitive point to watch during the duration of influence of the comet as this is the message. The message alters trade and political arrangements and form alliances into new patterns - it creates new connections. The best recent example of this is Comet Kahoutek whose arrival coincided with the formation of the Oil Cartel and many related crises. As would be expected from a major influence in Sagittarius (perihelion at 27:42, December 1973), Kahoutek also had an impact on large corporations, especially the auto industry, and international trade. Kahoutek was a visitor from the Oort Cloud and although it was not spectacular to view, it was visible and has a very long period of effect. One eighth of a very long orbital period is still a very long time.
When the place of perihelion is transited by Mars or the Sun, effects begin in earnest, the decree is implemented and arrangements change radically.
Comets signify realignment of trade, financial and political arrangements with an initial disruption in the system. Later on, after ignition, that is transit by Sun or Mars, the winners and losers become apparent. Even so, the effects may linger for some time with the perihelion as a sensitive point for many years, sometimes centuries. The perihelion degree is then brought forward as a sensitive point and added to subsequent figures. Comets, when they configure significators in an horary or natal figure are always significant. When one appears in the birth year it is always to be included as part of the natal delineation, and they are always useful in mundane maps. In essence they signify new connections and disruption which brings new opportunities. Some benefit from their effects, some suffer, and some hardly notice them (as their significators are affected).
The effects of comets are first noticeable in those places and enterprises ruled by the sign of their perihelion; after this look for effects in the quadruplicity. For example, Comet Kahoutek made its perihelion in Sagittarius. Chile is of that sign and suffered a coup of its legally elected government and the assassination of its president. The auto industry suffered due to fuel shortages. The members of the Oil Cartel led by Saudi Arabia (another Sagittarius) benefited. Effects were not far behind for the other mutable signs and then spread generally.
The ancient Greeks thought that portents could be anticipated. When a year contains conjunctions of Mars with the planets beyond him (traditionalists would limit this to Jupiter and Saturn, others would include his conjunctions with the three invisibles), and Mars rules the ascendant at the vernal ingress, expect some shining portent in the heavens. This is a local prediction as the Ingress ascendant changes with location but it is something to start with. I have observed that it is more likely but not certain.
Meteors are dead comets. Their remains, orbiting through the solar system and colliding with our atmosphere, give periodic light shows and more often than not signal a local shortage of some commodity or another. Novas signal breakthroughs and sometimes global paradigm shifts. The best examples are the Nova of 1572 which signaled the ascendancy of science and exploration; and most recently Nova 1987a which coincided with the birth of the internet and the end of the Cold War. These should be mentioned for completeness but are beyond our present scope.
Note that portents should be viewed in the context of mundane figures in force such as the current ingress and the current Jupiter/Saturn conjunction for the best results in mundane prediction. An example: In the summer of 1975 there was a nova in Cygnus at about 7 Pisces which was bright and lasted 4 days. For a nova, a year of effect is given for a day of visibility (the novas of 1572 and 1604 are still in effect!). Portugal is a Pisces country. At the ingress, the perihelion of Kahoutek was on the midheaven and the nova was near the ascendant. Portugal lost a 10 year colonial war in Africa and a socialist revolution ensued. Kahoutek's perihelion was in 1973 but its effects in terms of increasing costs and decreased foreign support for the war as well as the indicated political reshuffling collapsed the government and ended the war. In the same time frame the Gemini United States (note also that the ascendant for its political chart is Sagittarius) concluded its 10 year war in Southeast Asia. The nova has other associations as well but the point here is that a long term comet with the added breakthrough energy of the nova, brought colonial wars to an end and radically reshuffled political alignments. It is also of interest to look back at the previous Jupiter/Saturn conjunction of 1960 in Capricorn, which is near the beginning of these conflicts and would have been the point where major policy decisions about prosecuting them would have been made.
My examples in this article have been mundane events and trends. These are easy to see and easy to check against the other influences in effect at any given time. Adding portents to the traditional methods or the approach of French astrologer Andre Barbault (who looks at mundane events as the playing out of the aspect series composing synodic cycles) is quite productive for delineation and prediction. It also points up the importance of the dialectic property of synodic cycles. That is, they begin with a conjunction which is the thesis or current state, proceed through a development by aspects which gives rise to an opposing force, the antithesis, and proceeds thereafter to interact, again through a series of aspects, to form a new synthesis which, at conjunction becomes the new thesis. This process, in mundane events is most obvious for economic and political trends in the Jupiter/Saturn synod or conjunction cycle. In the weather and certain social matters it is seen in the Neptune/Uranus synod. For matters of religion and the supernatural it can be seen in the Neptune/Pluto synod. There are others and I have not exhaustively cataloged the effects, but it is clear that synodic conjunctions form the backbone of mundane astrology. Comets indicate alterations in how these patterns manifest by altering the connections and alignments within them, and sometimes changing their course and emphasis. In personal charts or natal figures, comets serve a similar function but are not of much notice unless they conjunct or aspect a significator or appear in the birth year.
My apologies for scant references. While a study of the examples speaks for itself, there are references from the Greeks and Chinese that were very useful in getting started although these were second hand from other sources. Ramus - Ephemeris of the Great Comets 1402-1948 is very handy as well. In the West, there is some reference from Cardan and some other traditional astrologers and there are a few predictions from Almanacs and prophecies but no extensive treatment that I have seen. Tycho Brahe made use of the Sybilline Prophecies and the Nova of 1572 in predicting the birth of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, and other traditional astrologers have included some information on their expectations of the effects of comets by sign.
The connection of comets with quantum physics is a thought to leave you with as you ponder the theory and application of the comets. Though predictable to some extent for those that have more or less regular orbits and from ingress indications, comets are both messengers and cosmic wild cards. They most strongly represent the action of chance in the cosmic scheme of things. They are in many ways the manifestation of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle on the manifest level in the heavens. There are things we cannot know certainly about them until they arrive. Like Schroedinger's Cat, are they dead (without influence due to breakup or invisibility) or alive (visible and communicant with the Sun and by that an influence on us). And there is always some uncertainty as to when or if they will return. We can know where they are at a given time but not always exactly where they will be or if they will even continue to be. Meteor showers are the remains of comets that have broken up and the short period comets that orbit in the vicinity of Jupiter are recycled comets that originally started further out but were captured by the gas giant and protector. This is food for thought when coupled with information on the radiants and times of year when meteors brighten the skies.
Jonathan Flanery has been studying astrology for over 30 years. He has a degree in Statistics and besides his interest in astrology, works as a tax preparer and grocery cashier. After much travel, he is currently residing in Dayton, Ohio, where he was born. A faint nova in his birth year sits in his 10th in Aquarius, which he feels explains his abiding interest and practice of astrology. He is presently pursuing in-depth research into the use of comets in astrology in preparation for a book on this subject.
Jonathan runs the Le Rose Blanche website where he offers consultational services and information about traditional astrology. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com.