Learning Indian (Vedic) Astrology

I have been rather quiet on my various blogs recently. This has been a rather busy time for me. During the month of May, I took a course at Kepler College called Crash Course in Indian Astrology, which was taught by Kenneth Miller. The course proper is finished, but I still need to finish the final homework assignment.

I had wanted to study at Kepler College when it was still able to offer Master’s degrees, but at the time, it was not possible for me. I have also been curious about Indian Astrology for a long time. Unlike Western Astrology, Indian Astrology has a living tradition, so it did not seem fitting to attempt to learn it through self-study. It just so happened that I learned about this course at the same time that we got a nice-sized income tax refund, so I decided to go for it.

At the time, I had no intention of “converting” to Indian Astrology. I was only seeking to learn a little more about it so that I could talk intelligently when asked about the subject by friends or clients. A “crash course” seemed perfect for that purpose. Now that I am in the home stretch, I find that I am re-thinking the entire direction of my practice. Before I discuss this, however, I want to talk a little about the differences between Indian and Western Astrology.


Differences between Indian and Western Astrology

Indian Astrology, or Jyotish, is a different astrological language from Western astrology. It is a related language. Much of the vocabulary is recognizable, but it is used in different ways. Below are some of the main differences that I have learned so far.

Sidereal Zodiac(s)

Even beginning astrology students usually know that most practitioners of Western Astrology use the Tropical Zodiac, which is based on the Solstices and the Equinoxes.  When learning this, students also learn that Indian Astrology uses “the” Sidereal Zodiac which is based on the constellations.

As it turns out, this is not really accurate. To begin with, none of the Sidereal Zodiacs in use by practitioners of Indian Astrology truly correspond to the actual constellations. For one thing, the constellations are not all the same size.  The largest constellation, Virgo, is about 3 times the size of the smallest constellation, Capricorn. Just like the Tropical Zodiac, the Sidereal Zodiacs divide the ecliptic into 12 equal parts.

The difference is merely in where 0° Aries begins. In the Tropical Zodiac, 0° Aries begins at the Spring Equinox. In theory, the Sidereal Zodiacs begin at the first star of the constellation Aries in the sky. There is a problem, however. There is no bright star at the beginning of Aries to measure by.

As a result, various calculations of what is known as the Ayanamsa exist. The Ayanamsa is the difference between 0° Aries and the Spring Equinox. Apparently, historically, different almanacs were published in different villages with different Ayanamsas, most of which were calculated using one of the bright stars at the end of the constellation Pisces.

This became a problem not just for astrologers. In India, the dates of most of the major festivals are based on the position of the stars. The different Ayanamsas meant that different villages were celebrating their festivals at different times. To remedy the chaos that this could cause, in the 1950s, the Indian government standardized the Ayanamsa using modern scientific methods. This became known as the Lahiri Ayanamsa.

This did not settle the issue for astrologers, however. Apparently, rather than using stars at the beginning of Aries or the end of Pisces, Lahiri uses Spica, which is at the end of the constellation Virgo, and sets 0° Aries opposite to this fixed star. There is no traditional authority that allows the Ayanamsa to be calculated in this way, so there are quite a few astrologers who reject this calculation.

All in all, it seems like the calculation of the Ayanamsa in Indian Astrology is as chaotic as the quadrant House divisions are in Western, if not more so.

Other Technical Differences

Speaking of House divisions, practitioners of Indian Astrology, by and large, use the Whole Sign House system. This goes a long way in reducing the amount of chaos that the different Ayanamsas would otherwise cause.

This brings me to a different issue. Even though most practitioners of Western Astrology use the Tropical Zodiac, there are some that do use one of the Sidereal Zodiacs. There was a time that I did not have an opinion on this, but now I do. My current opinion is that this is not a good idea.

There is some research that suggests that Vettius Valens, a renowned astrologer of the Hellenistic Era, used a sidereal zodiac along with or instead of the Tropical Zodiac. Even if this was the case, the methodology of Western Astrology has developed using the Tropical Zodiac for almost 2,000 years since that time. One of these developments has been quadrant-based House Systems, such as Placidus or Regiomontanus, and there is no real consensus between Western Astrologers as to which one to use. So, if you combine the uncertainty as to the Ayanamsa with the uncertainty of quadrant-based houses, you are increasing the chaos exponentially.

Even if you use a Whole Sign House System, the methodology of Indian Astrology is very different than Western. For example, Indian astrology does not use the five-tiered dignity system that Western Traditional/Classical Astrology uses. It does use exaltation and rulership. It also uses something that is known as debilitation, which corresponds to Fall in Western Astrology. Aside from that, dignity is based on a system of friendship and enmity between the planets and a complicated combination of other factors, many of which are not considered or are considered differently in Western Astrology. Also, Indian astrology does not use the Ptolemaic aspects. Instead, the only aspects it recognizes are planets that are in the same sign and opposite signs and special aspects for Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

Given these differences, in my opinion, it does not seem wise to “mix and match” by using one of the sidereal zodiacs with Western astrological methodology.


Philosophical Differences

While there are major technical differences between these two astrological languages, the most profound differences are in their philosophy.  While people of other religions can and do practice Indian Astrology, by and large, it is rooted in Hindu beliefs and religious rituals. This gives it a rich philosophical and spiritual foundation that is mostly lacking in Western Astrology as it is practiced today.

For example, in Indian Astrology, the planets do not operate mechanically. They are governed by Intelligent deities. This means that if you are having trouble with a planet, one of the things that you can do about it is to appeal to the deity of that planet for relief. Hinduism also has rich teachings about karma that explain the interaction between Fate and Free Will in a very profound way.

It is also a common practice for Jyotishi (practitioner of Indian Astrology) to say prayers to the planetary deities before reading a chart. Our instructor began each class with one of these prayers.

My Dilemma

As I said, when I started the course, I did not intend to “convert” to Indian Astrology. Now, I am not so sure. Obviously, I do not know enough after a “crash course” to switch at this point in time. I will still be offering my services in Western Astrology for the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, I have been working on developing what I have been calling Essentialist Astrology. Essentialist Astrology is more of a philosophy of practice rather than a methodology. After learning about Indian Astrology, I wonder if this is not a fool’s errand.

Much of what I have been trying to do in Essentialist Astrology is a regular part of the practice of Indian Astrology. Indian Astrology is patriarchal, of course, but not as much as one might think. For example, the planetary deities are all masculine, but the stars and the deities of the Nakshaktras (the Indian version of Lunar Mansions) are all feminine.

Also, while Indian Astrology is mostly rooted in Hinduism, there are many practitioners of other faiths such as Buddhism and Jainism. This is one of the reasons that the instructor prefers the term Indian Astrology to Vedic Astrology.  When I asked what practitioners of other religions do, I was told that it was perfectly acceptable to substitute the angels or deities from one’s own tradition for the Hindu gods. Apparently, Buddhist practitioners use bodhisattvas or aspects of the Buddha, and Christian and Jewish practitioners use the Archangels.

So, substituting the planetary Janyati for the Hindu gods does not seem like it would be a problem either.

Given all of this, it seems like it may be more productive to study Indian Astrology than it would be to keep struggling with Western Astrology. I do not know yet, but it is something to seriously consider.

My New Shrine

One of the things that I have done is to make a new shrine, which is on the top shelf of the desk that I work at. In Filianism, it is encouraged to use images for Dea and the Janyati from living traditions rather than historical ones whenever possible. This is because with living traditions, we have more confidence that we are using the images correctly. I was able to stick to this practice with my new shrine, as you can see below.


From left to right: Sri Saraswati, Quan Yin, Green Tara, Uma, White Tara, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Sri Durga


In this shrine, Our Lady of Guadalupe is Sai Raya (the Sun). Quan Yin is Sai Candre (the Moon). Sri Durga is Sai Vikhë (Mars).  According to the Chapel of Our Mother God, Sri Saraswati can represent either Sai Thamë (Jupiter) as the Divine Musician or Sai Mati (Mercury) as the goddess of Wisdom and learning. I chose to have Her represent Sai Thamë.

I had originally planned to use Sri Lakshmi for Sai Sushuri (Venus), but I could not find a statue that I liked. Instead, I found a lovely image of Green Tara. I had a difficult time with the image to use for Sai Rhavë (Saturn). Many of the images associated with Her, such as Kali, are rather difficult. In Filianism, She is loosely associated with the Dark Mother, who is God without Form, and thus has no images. In researching, though, I discovered that White Tara bestows longevity and compassion for earthly suffering. If nothing else, it seems like it is appropriate to go to White Tara for Rhavic difficulties.

Surprisingly enough, I had the most trouble with Sai Mati. I thought I might use an image of Sophia or even a historical image such as Athena, but I could not find one I liked. I found an image of Uma in a catalog, and I kept being drawn to it. I did some research, and I discovered that She is a mountain goddess of Wisdom. I found a story about Her that I really liked in which She taught Agni, the god of fire, and Vayu, the god of wind, about humility. This reminded me of The Sermon of the Apple Seed from the Feminine Scriptures, which I try to keep in mind in all of the work that I do.

Where Do I Go From Here?

So, the question is, now what? Where do I go from here? The answer to this is that I do not really know. I guess the first thing is to finish the last assignment from my class. There are a few books that the instructor recommended that I have not had the chance to read yet, so that will probably be the next step.

I guess after that, I will let the Janyati lead the way and see where that goes.

The Planets, the Cosmological Spheres, the Janyati, and the Almuten Figuris

One of the things that took me some time to understand when incorporating Classical Astrology into the Filianic Tradition was the relationship and the differences between the planets, the cosmological spheres, and the Janyati.  Western Medieval and Renaissance Astrology has been studied under the backdrop of the Abrahamic religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judiasm, for almost two thousand years.  With the fierce monotheistic nature of these religions, I think that the role of the Janyati became minimized.  By the Hellenistic period, the planets became associated with Greco-Roman gods and goddesses.  All legitimate Traditions throughout history have recognized that there really is only One Divine Source.  On the other hand, that Divine Source may be seen through Her different Aspects, or the Janyati.  At certain points in history, Tradition deteriorated to the point where the Janyati were seen as separate goddesses and gods, but their true nature is that they are Aspects of the Divine Source.

There are other Janyati besides the planetary Janyati.  Some examples are Sai Werde, Sai Annya, and Sai Maia.  For purposes of this article, however, it is the planetary Janyati that are most relevant.

The planetary Janyati are Angels and Aspects of Dea.  They are unchanging and perfect.  According to the Sacred Mythos in feminine Scripture, they came about after Primordial Maid turned from the Mother and could no longer look upon Her brightness.  The Golden Light separated into seven colors, which represent the Janyati.  For a fuller description of the planetary Janyati, please see this article.

When we start entering the realm of Cosmology, we are entering into the realm of manifestation.  There is a mistaken Western notion that manifestation is limited to the sublunary sphere, the world that we can experience with our senses.  The sublunary sphere includes the earth, everything in the sky, and everything in what modern scientists would call the universe.  All of the planetary bodies and the fixed stars are part of the sublunary sphere of existence.

My very humble attempt at an illustration of the Traditional Model of the Cosmos
My very humble attempt at an illustration of the Traditional Model of the Cosmos

Between the sublunary sphere and the Highest Heaven are the Cosmological Spheres, as I discussed previously in this article.  The sphere of the Fixed Stars is already part of manifestation and has already moved from the Center.  That is why we can talk about evil fixed stars, like Algol.  The actual fixed stars are in the sublunary sphere of flux and change but they are also representations the higher spheres.  As above, so below.

While the Janyati are pure and perfect aspects of Dea, they cast light throughout the lower spheres of manifestation.  The light they cast becomes less and less perfect the further it moves from the Center.  Each person and each moment of time is a microcosm of the entire cosmos, which also includes each of the Janyatic principles.  This is written in the fabric of the sublunary sphere in the movements of the heavenly bodies.  This is also why we can talk about positive and negative expressions of the Janyatic and planetary principles.  The Janyati are perfect.  The expression of their light in individuals is not.

Here is an example that might help with understanding.  The Archetype of the Flower belongs to Sai Sushuri (Venus).  A flower is a flower because it is a reflection of the Divine Archetype of a Flower.  This is a perfect correlation.  When we start talking about individual physical flowers and types of flowers, the correlation becomes much less perfect.  Even though the Divine Archetype of Flower belongs to Sai Sushuri, different physical flowers might be associated with other Janyati for various reasons, such as their color, their physical properties, mythology surrounding the flower, and so on.  Sometimes, the associations are obvious, sometimes the reasons for the association have been obscured in a broken and fallen tradition.

Sri LakshmiThere is a concept contained in Classical Astrology that works well to illustrate and explain how this works.   This concept is the Almuten Figuris, or the Lady of the Soul.  A Filianist may also think of the Almuten Figuris as her Guardian Janya.  The calculation that I use for this is the one recorded by Ibn Ezra.  This point can be calculated by hand or through software.  There are, of course, other calculations used by other fine Classical Astrologers; however, I have found the Ibn Ezra calculation to be the most useful and accurate in my own practice.

The Almuten Figuris or Guardian Janya is the Janya that is a person’s strongest connection with her True Self and with Dea.  Please forgive me for discussing my own chart, but I think that one’s Guardian Janya is rather personal.  To me, it seems impolite to share such personal information about anyone other than oneself in public.  It does help to have a specific illustration, though; so for this purpose, I will use my own chart.

My Guardian Janya is Sai Sushuri (Venus).  This means that in following the path to my True Self, I need to connect with Sai Sushuri.  The Way of Love is my path to the Divine.  If I get lost, I need to look to Divine Mercy and to Divine Love and let them run through me.

On the other hand, my Guardian Janya being Sai Sushuri does not mean that I will seem Sushuric or even have many Sushuric traits.  Mars (Sai Vikhë) is actually stronger in my chart.  I also have Jupiter (Sai Thamë) and the Moon (Sai Candre) very close to my Ascendant.  If one were to be looking for a planet or a Janya that described my personality or how I would seem to act, those three planets would give a much better description of this.  Sometimes one’s Guardian Janya will seem to govern personal traits of the native; sometimes she will not.

The position and condition of the Guardian Janya in the Nativity Chart will show the extent to which a Native will manifest the traits of her Guardian Janya and will give clues and guidance as to how easy or hard it is for her Guardian Janya to guide her.  In my case, Venus has many dignities; however, she is Combust, or within 8 degrees of the Sun.  This represents the SAMSUNGmain barrier to Sai Sushuri’s ability to guide me.  The Sun in a Nativity in her low form represents the ego.  The Sun in my chart also rules my 10th House, the house of career and public recognition.  So, in my case, Sai Sushuri is inhibited by my tendency to hide, and by my ego and career.  Interestingly in my chart, Venus is separating from Combustion, so it is predictable that I would find it easier to come under Sai Sushuri’s guidance later in life.  Those of you who are following my current spiritual journey in my diary on my personal blog will likely see how this is manifesting as I have gotten older.

Filianists who know their Guardian Janya can also use symbolism related to their Guardian Janya on their home shrines to help them connect with their Guardian Janya.  On my own shrine, I have a pink doily with a pentacle that I made myself and a sand dollar given to me by a friend that shows Sai Sushuri’s signature in manifestation.


See also:

Who’s in Charge? Disposition and the Almuten Figuris