Lost Object Horaries
Updated: Feb 13
Difficult to Interpret Series
[This will be the first in a series of posts about difficult to interpret charts or chart placements. It will include articles on any type of chart: horary, natal, timing, or mundane. A horary chart is an astrological chart for a question asked at a given moment in time. Lost object horaries are charts asking where a certain lost object may be located.]
Traditional astrologers agonize over lost object horaries. They may not realize it, but if they ranked all of their horary charts to see which were the hardest to interpret, or the ones they kept getting wrong, they would find that the chart questions about lost objects are probably the most befuddling. In fact, a very famous horary astrologer once told a friend that it would be faster to go to her house to look for a lost document than to look for it in the horary chart. I don't doubt that this is true. But why? What makes lost object horaries so baffling?
The grammar of astrology has shed some light on this question and it has to do with how we are conceiving of the dignity rulers of houses. In the traditional literature on horary we are taught that our significators of the quesited (i.e., the things asked about) are always assigned according to the chart house to which they belong. So for example, if we asked a question about a lost object, we'd look for the significator (i.e. the indicator) of the object from the house that contains our movable belongings, which would be the 2nd house. To do that, we'd then look to see which sign was on that house cusp and the domicile ruler of that sign (i.e. one of the 5 visible planets, or sun or moon) would become the significator of that object. Then -- in theory at least -- the location of that planet in the chart would tell us where the lost object might be found. But more often than not, this does not usually pan out. Other medieval astrologers, probably having noted the lack of reliability in their conception of dignity, came up with the idea of an almuten (the planet that has the highest "strength" score, that is, which controls the most dignities of that sign). They might then use the almuten rather than the domicile lord, as the significator of the house in question and proceed to interpret the location of the almuten as the placement of the lost object. Again, this approach is no more reliable than the first, for the same basic reason, which we will discuss shortly.
A clue about what is actually going on here came to me while I was looking at a horary chart many years ago concerning a lost pet. Now, pets are not movable objects; pets are assigned their own house, which is typically the 6th house of the chart. In this particular case, I was searching for my own pet and had left posters all over the neighborhood. My question time drew up a chart that had Leo on the cusp of the 6th. That meant that the signficator of the cat was indicated by the Sun (which itself was located in the 8th in Libra). I analyzed the chart using the grammatical rules that I've come to rely upon and what seemed strange to me, was that the significator of the cat seemed to be acting very "human-like" (Libra is a human sign) and indicated that he would have to make a decision about someone else's possessions based upon a need for relationship. Could a cat really be this self-aware and in control of his own fate? The simplest explanation was that perhaps the Sun was not HIS significator, but the significator of someone who might find the cat and call me to tell me. My interpretation of the chart was that I would decide to take home this cat, but due to other indicators, that it would not be my cat Ellwood. That possibility was further corroborated by other indicators in the timing of my husband's birth chart. (The full chart details of my interpretations are not that relevant here, but I do explain why I concluded all of this in my horary courses, if you are interested. ) So this is what came to pass a few days later: A neighbor saw my poster and called my husband (who's number was on the poster) to tell him that she had found our cat and was feeding him. When I went to check, it was not my cat, but a different lost cat. But because this lady could not continue to feed him, she asked if I would take this cat home anyway. The decision (Sun rules the act of deciding or choosing) about someone else's "possessions" (consistent with the Sun in the 8th) was hers and she made it with the goal of attempting to reunite him with what she thought was his current owner (consistent with the Libra need for relationship). But the important principle that came away from this example is that the significator of the 6th house did not signify the pet itself, but the provider of the pet (in this case the neighbor who called). A "provider" of a pet can be anyone, including the querent or the pet himself. But this chart indicated a much more considered decision-making process that would have been strange for an animal. This observation is consistent with what had already been noted in natal charts, but something we had not yet applied to horary.
So how does this principle apply to a lost object horary? Well, very simply. Planets indicate conscious beings with the capacity to move. Objects are neither of those things. No planet can signify an immovable object (as mistakenly proliferates throughout the literature), because they are dynamic symbols. So what does the domicile ruler of the 2nd house actually signify if not the objects we possess? The same thing it does in natal astrology or in any other house that does not contain people: its signifies the providers of those house objects. That is in fact the function of the domicile lord: to provide or generate the objects of its house) When we look for the location of the ruler of the 2nd, what we are really seeing is the location of the person who currently owns those possessions and what he/she does to provide them into the life. (In the pet horary, the neighbor made a decision regarding someone else's cat, and that provided or generated a cat into my life because the Sun's next aspect was to my significator, Jupiter, indicating the giving of patronage.) The 2nd house person may or may not be the querent. But even if the querent became the provider of the lost object (say for example if he/she found it somewhere later), wherever that planet is located at the time the chart is cast is rarely a good indicator of where the object is located. The location of the 2nd house domicile ruler merely tells us what the person is acting upon in order to try to generate the object. However, in many cases the person who can provide the object is not the person who lost it in the first place. Often, an object may be returned to the querent by another person or it may simply never be located at all.
Another complicating factor in lost object horaries is a poor understanding of dignity in general. If the querent lost an object, then in order to find where it was lost, we should look for actions that happened in the past between the querent's significator and a planet that has the capacity to take away or make the object "fall". That is not the domicile lord, but rather the detriment or fall lords. And in fact, we find that if we look at the most recent separating aspects formed with the querent's significator in a lost object horary chart, they are often with the detriment or fall lord of the sign on the 2nd house cusp. These two dignities are almost always ignored in the literature and even when they are considered, they are merely used as negative scores in the useless scoring system of "planetary strength". But in fact, these two dignities are very important here, because they indicate the removal, misplacement or the theft of possessions. They are far better indicators of what happened to the object, than the domcile lord of the 2nd. The latter is a better indicator of how it might be retrieved, not of how it was lost. And through the houses that the detriment or fall lords of the 2nd rule by domicile, we can often indicate WHO the person might be that is responsible for the loss (whether the querent herself or some other person) and whether it is recoverable.
The best way to illustrate our point is with an example. This question was asked by a woman, who had hours earlier found out that her car keys were not where she normally placed them. She is the querent and is shown by Venus domicile (and almuten) lord of the 1st house. Having driven herself home the night before, and having already checked outside to see if she had absentmindedly left her keys inside the car, she had no reason to believe that the keys were anywhere other than in the house. But after searching unsuccessfully for an hour, she called an astrologer friend to ask her where the keys might be. The astrologer did what an astrologer is taught to do: she looked to the 2nd house cusp of a person's movable possessions and saw that the domicile (as well as the almuten ruler) of its sign Gemini, was Mercury. Then she proceeded to look in which house Mercury was placed. Mercury is in Aquarius in the 9th house, but in the 10th sign. Traditionally, it is said that if Mercury is in the sign of an angular house, it is thought to be located in a place that is close to the querent. Having been assured by the querent that the keys had to be inside the house, she proceeded to interpret Mercury's chart location as a location inside the house.
One thing to note before we ourselves delineate the chart, is that the astrologer who first examined it was using a Regiomontanus house system, the preferred house system used by teachers (and their students) of the William Lilly tradition. In Regiomontanus, as well as in the Whole-Sign house system, Mercury would be fully within the 10th house of this chart. We will return to this point shortly. For now, this astrologer saw that Mercury was in Aquarius, a sign having to do with technology, with Uranus, a planet also connected to technology, and inside a place that relates to one's work and career (the 10th house). Thus, she advised the querent that she should look in her office or wherever she worked on her computer -- under the circumstances, a perfectly reasonable conclusion to reach. And if she did not find them there, she should look in high places in the house (since Mercury was in the highest place of the chart) and in particular, in places next to water (since Aquarius is the water-bearer), such as an upstairs bathroom near the electrical outlets. Furthermore, since Mercury was applying to a conjunction with Venus, she concluded that the querent would indeed eventually find her keys somewhere inside the house.
The astrologer was correct: the querent did find her keys, as the application between Mercury and Venus indicates. However, they were not in the house at all. In point of fact, the exact conjunction between Venus and Neptune indicates that the querent was confused in her certainty that the keys were inside the house and this led to the confusion of the astrologer also establishing the wrong context for the search: Saturn is signifier of the astrologer (9th house lord) and is also at 8 degrees forming a trine with both Venus and Neptune. But before we detail where the keys were, let's first get back to the issue of house systems.
We teach that quadrant systems (such as Regiomontanus, but this also applies to any quadrant house system) are very problematic in higher latitudes, such as Washington state, where this chart was cast. This chart is actually a good example of how latitude artificially distorts the sizes of the houses, making some unusually large, while others are artificially small and often creating what's called "intercepted houses", which changes who the two significators of a question might be. Astrologers from the Hellenistic school will use a whole-sign system (where the whole sign is within a single house) which, while it resolves the distortion of the sizes f the houses issue created by latitude, can often oversimplify the information given to the point where particular details are absent. This is such a case, since we see that while Mercury is in the 10th sign, by Equal houses it is actually located just inside the 9th house. This bit of sign overlap between the 9th and 10th, while seeming insignificant, actually tells us that Mercury is in a place that fits both categories of things (which is what houses are in essence). This is meaningful for a correct delineation of what the planet is doing.
Before we explain how having two house categories is helpful, let's get back to our planet Mercury and the larger point of this example: Mercury is NOT the significator of the keys, but rather of the provider of the keys. If we look at Mercury's domicile rulership, we see that it rules the 2nd AND the 5th. That means it is provider of both areas of life. Our first guess would be to ask if the querent has any children, since that is one of the people covered by the 5th house. But she didn't. So the next guess would be to ask if she had a boyfriend that lived with her. This is because the 5th house is the house of lovers and any other "people, places or things that provide pleasure" -- which is in fact the 5th house's "category", if you will.
The querent did indeed live with her boyfriend, who was a student (Mercury) of music (Venus here also functions as a creativity qualifier of Mercury, as well as being significator of the 1st) and at the time the question was asked, he was physically located in a music computer lab (Venus in Aquarius with Uranus also there). When the querent called him (Mercury's next applying aspect is to Venus) he did in fact confess that he got confused and picked up her car keys by mistake thinking they were his house keys (Mercury is also in the same sign as Neptune) and had taken them with him. Because the boyfriend took the bus to school, he did not discover his mistake until later that morning. Had we used Regiomontanus, because of the intercepted distorted houses, Mercury would be ruler of the 2nd and 6th houses, connecting her keys with her own work and possibly incorrectly reinforcing the idea (since Mercury is also in the 10th) that the keys were in a place where she normally works. That was indeed the interpretation adopted by the astrologer who designated Mercury as the keys, not the boyfriend.
But what if instead of looking at how the querent might retrieve them, what if we looked at how she might have misplaced them in the first place? What is the planet that has the power to "remove" or make the object "fall"? Jupiter, since in this case, it is both the detriment and fall lord of Gemini. It is located in the 2nd house and 3rd sign, indicating a revelation about a possession (2nd house) that is simultaneously a vehicle (a 3rd house matter). It rules the 11th and 8th, houses that relate to affiliations and to other's belongings. The last aspect formed between Venus and Jupiter was a quincunx just 48 minutes in the past. This suggests that just before this chart was cast, the boyfriend had discovered (a revelation) his girlfriend's car keys in his possession, having mistakenly picked them up earlier that morning. The quincunx is an aspect that indicates indirect or unseeing perception. In this case, his revelation was about her (Venus) although he was not seeing her when it took place.
Thus, we can see from this and other cases like it, that making a planet stand in for an immoveable object can throw off our understanding of a object's loss, misplacement, or theft and its potential retrieval. Rather, Mercury stands in for a person that learns, who, as it turns out, had the power and ability to return the keys (note that Mercury is retrograde, indicating a return to a previous place occupied by the querent).