Declination for Beginners

By Paul Newman

"To deny the validity of either longitude or declination is ludicrous and unacceptable." Kt Boehrer. 2001.

KT Boehrer (pronounced "Kate Bear") who died in Seattle in 2004 was a pioneer in the modern resurgence of declination studies. Over the past ten years the NCGR Declination Special Interest Group has furthered research into many of her ideas, such as "out-of-bounds" planets (her term), along with the re-examination of declination"s older concepts such as parallels and antiscia. One of the reasons for the persuasive nature of declination is that it is as old as astrology itself and close to what we actually see in the sky. Declination is not intended to supplant the standard zodiac longitude wheel of 360 degrees; rather it adds further to it. It is the missing half that completes our study of astrology and explains many of the rules we use.

In a nutshell, declination is a form of latitude rather than longitude. It is the measurement of planets north or south of the celestial equator, which is the Earth"s equator extended into space. It is worth remembering that when we talk of an exact conjunction of planets in a zodiac sign—for example the Moon and Saturn in Leo—these would not necessarily be conjunct in the sky. They would be conjunct by longitude (maybe appearing one above the other) but not necessarily conjunct by latitude or declination.* Similarly, the Moon and Saturn may be conjunct by declination (parallel to each other) but from different zodiac signs and therefore not conjunct by longitude. Separately either of these types of "conjunction" (longitude conjunction, declination parallel) has an equal force, but the strongest possible conjunction in astrology is when two planets are conjunct by longitude and parallel by declination at the same time. They would then appear to be conjunct in the sky. This may also help to explain why some transits seem stronger than others.

The tropical zodiac signs of Aries to Virgo are called northern signs because they are situated north of the celestial equator while the southern signs of Libra to Pisces are situated south. As a general rule any planets on a chart in the signs of Aries to Virgo will be in the declinational range of 0° to 23° 27´ north, and planets in Libra to Pisces will be somewhere from 0° to 23° 27´ south. The highest degrees north or south will be found around the solstice degrees: planets situated near to zero Cancer or zero Capricorn on the tropical zodiac will have the highest declinations, while those situated near the equinoxes (zero Aries-Libra) will have the lowest declinations.

As an example a typical Western-style birth chart is shown below with the planets given in zodiac longitudes and then with their declination measurements north and south of the equator shown separately underneath. (Declination measurements can be obtained from Raphael"s Ephemeris and certain other printed ephemerides and almost all astrology computer programs). The example chart in this instance is that of the Astrological Association.


SUN 23N27
S.NODE 11N12
MOON 08N35
MARS 02N01 (Celestial Equator)
N.NODE 11S12








The Astrological Association was born on midsummer"s night, just hours before the summer solstice when the Sun is at its highest northern declination. On the longitude (zodiac) chart we see the Sun is at 29° 54´ Gemini, almost at the solstice height of zero degrees Cancer. In the northern hemisphere the summer solstice marks the highest point that the Sun can reach in our sky and so the corresponding declination figure is the highest possible for the Sun: 23° 27´ north of the equator. On the globe this measurement is called the Tropic of Cancer because the Sun is overhead here when it reaches zero degrees of Cancer.

The "tropical" zodiac is so-called because it is derived from the declination of the Sun as it moves within this band of 23° 27´ above and below the equator, between the tropics. When the Sun is at zero degrees of declination it would be directly over the equator, the moment of equinox, when day and night are equal. When this occurs with the Sun heading north we begin our zodiac. Zero degrees of declination equates to zero degrees of Aries. And six months later zero degrees of declination equates to zero degrees of Libra when the Sun crosses back over the equator to start its journey south. Its farthest point south will be the winter solstice at zero degrees of Capricorn, when the Sun is at 23° 27´ south and overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn.

We can note on the Astrological Association chart given above that there is one planet shown with a higher declination than the Sun"s midsummer height of 23° 27´ north, and that is Mercury at 24° 49´ north.

23° 27´ north or south of the equator are the farthest limits that the Sun can travel. (For convenience this measurement has been rounded up. The exact position, given in most ephemerides under the heading "Obliquity of the Ecliptic", is more like 23° 26´´ 27´). Mercury on our chart is at 24° 49´ north, over a degree beyond the Sun"s natural boundary, so Mercury is said to be "out of bounds".

Certain planets travel out of bounds periodically (no matter where the Sun is positioned at the time) and when and if they do their energies are more extreme. They become wilder and their forces more magnified, either for good or ill. As they are beyond the limits imposed by the boss (the Sun), they can operate independently and without restraint. The Moon, Mercury, Venus and Mars, all occasionally travel out of bounds. Uranus and Pluto also do, although their slower movements are more generational as they could be out of bounds for months on end. Saturn and Neptune never travel out of bounds and Jupiter only occasionally by a tiny amount. There is also a difference between being out of bounds in the north and in the south. Generally speaking, and this applies to all planets whether out of bounds or not, northern declinations are more outward in effect while southern declinations are inward and have more effect on oneself. It is quite normal to find that no planets are out of bounds on a birth chart. However by progression a natal planet may move out of bounds during the course of a person"s life and during that time the planet could operate more independently and freely.

On the chart of the Astrological Association, with Mercury out of bounds in the north we might expect concepts like communication and spreading of ideas to be enhanced factors. Interestingly there is similar Mercurial empathy in the charts of the two early long-running editors of the Astrological Journal: John Addey and Zach Matthews each had a natal Mercury out of bounds. (As does our present editor Gerasime). Two planets situated at the same degree of declination, both in the north or both in the south, are said to be in parallel, a parallel having a force equal to a conjunction. These two planets may be in different zodiac signs however. When the Sun is climbing in height in the sky as it travels from zero degrees at the spring equinox to 23° 27´ north at the summer solstice, it will move through the zodiac signs of Aries, Taurus and Gemini. After the solstice it will move downwards to zero through the signs of Cancer, Leo and Virgo. In declinational degrees Aries, Taurus and Gemini are reflected by Virgo, Leo and Cancer. 15 degrees Taurus for instance is exactly parallel to 15 degrees Leo. 28 degrees Gemini is parallel to 2 degrees Cancer. 5 degrees Aries is parallel to 25 degrees Virgo. The same happens in the southern hemisphere with Libra, Scorpio and Sagittarius reflecting Pisces, Aquarius and Capricorn respectively. Declinational parallels are like days of equal daylight either side of a solstice. If you divide a normal longitude chart by drawing a line from zero Cancer to zero Capricorn (or fold the chart in half along this line) each degree will reflect another on either side of the this line. These mirror degree points derived from declinational parallels are called antiscia.

Two planets in an antiscion relationship send virtue to each other. (William Lilly"s phrase meaning an effective force).

This is, however, only one form of antiscion. It could more correctly be described as a zodiacal parallel, because it is using only the planets" positions in zodiac longitude terms; it does not take account of the actual declinations of the planets. True antiscia (which means "opposite shadows") are derived from declination. Although the planets travel in the same band as the Sun against the backdrop of the zodiac, the width of that band is broad, and as in the out-of-bounds phenomenon, there can be quite a difference in a planet"s measurement compared to its solar-related zodiac position. True antiscia are formed by declinational parallels. Using antiscia by counting degrees on a zodiac wheel will be exact only for the positions of the Sun, the Nodes, the Ascendant and the Midheaven. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune may not be too far out, but for all other planets—Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Pluto—antiscion use on the round zodiac has to be more symbolic if it is not being related to declination. Unless the zodiacal parallel is closely reflecting a declinational parallel, the former is unlikely to work so noticeably.

Hopefully this brief account has given some idea of how declination can start to give an extra breadth of meaning to chart analysis, whichever particular type of astrology you use.

*Confusingly, there are two main forms of celestial latitude. Declination, with which we are here concerned, is latitude measured from the celestial equator. The other form of latitude, most commonly termed simply "celestial latitude", is latitude measured from the ecliptic, the plane of the Sun"s path.


Paul Newman has been a member of the NCGR Declination Special Interest Group since its inception and is a regular columnist for its journal The Other Dimension. His new book Declination in Astrology: The Steps of the Sun is a full account of the techniques of declination, exploring the solar festivals, the out-of-bounds phenomenon, hemisphere anomalies, antiscia, star declinations and much more. It is now available from astrological bookshops or direct from The Wessex Astrologer