When you start studying astrology, the sheer number of books on the subject is overwhelming. I remember feeling totally lost when I was trying to figure out what books to buy, and I ended up spending a lot of money on books that ended up being not that great, or just not what I was looking for.
In the interest of helping out those of you who are just setting out on your astrological path – or modern astrologers who want to start exploring traditional astrology – here are my favourite books for learning traditional astrology.
Introduction to Traditional Natal Astrology: A Complete Working Guide for Modern Astrologers
Almuten Press, 2015
I’m a bit of a Charlie Obert stan. I adore his writing style, which is engaging and approachable. This book gives you a thorough but very digestible introduction to all the basics of traditional astrology. I’ve read it a couple of times and I still consult it regularly when I need to double check something quickly.
The Classical Seven Planets: Source Texts and Meaning
Almuten Press, 2020
Another Obert text (told you: stan). This one is a succinct compilation of the major significations of each classical planet from the writings of five traditional astrologers: Vettius Valens, Abu Ma’shar, Al-Biruni, William Ramesey and William Lilly. Obert provides direct quotes from each source and then his own brief analysis. Given the primacy of planets in traditional astrology – all meaning flows from them – you need to have a rock-solid understanding of each one.
Eventually you may want to read these primary sources yourself, but when you’re just starting out it’s very handy to have the salient details nicely summarized already. Plus, then you don’t have to worry about navigating the quirks of old timey language. (I say this as someone with a degree in English literature and therefore a higher-than-average tolerance for old timey language. No need to be a hero.)
Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune
Amor Fati Publications, 2017
A.k.a. Brennan’s Big Blue Brick. This is a comprehensive source of information on traditional astrology, written by the host of The Astrology Podcast. You can’t go wrong with a copy of this book, as it’s an excellent resource on traditional astrology with a Saturnian level of detail. If you only wanted to buy a single book to learn traditional astrology, this is the one to pick. It might be intimidating for beginners due to its size. Obert’s book is my first recommendation for a total beginner because it’s approachable and succinct, but Brennan is the one I suggest for a complete foundation in traditional astrology.
The Houses: Temples of the Sky
The Wessex Astrologer, 2006
Modern astrology has made an absolute mess of the houses. The 12 Letter Alphabet did a lot of damage and resulted in some radically different meanings being assigned to the houses, compared to how they were understood in traditional astrology. Houlding’s excellent book presents a crisp, objective accounting of the history of the house system and the significations of each house. She includes various traditional meanings as well as modern ones so you can see how things progressed and changed.
There’s also a useful set of interpretations of planetary rulerships for each house. Houlding even addresses the third rail of astrology debates: the trickiness of house division and the differences between various house systems – all in a cool, impartial manner.
The American Ephemeris for 1950-2050 at Midnight*
Neil. F. Michelsen & Rique Pottenger
ACS Publications, 2011
*There’s also a version at Noon.
Do you know what ancient astrologers didn’t have? Astrological software. They had to calculate charts by hand using tables of ephemerides, like this one.
In the 21st century, it’s possible to become a professional astrologer without ever looking at a physical ephemeris. All you have to do is get a good software program (or even use a free website like Astro.com) and let the computer do all the heavy lifting.
While I believe Ptolemy would have absolutely used Solar Fire if he had access to it (and is insanely jealous of how easy we all have it now), I also believe very strongly that every astrologer should know how to read an ephemeris. Certainly, any astrologer charging money for readings better know how to use one.
It’s actually faster (yes, really) to flip through an ephemeris than use software for several things, such as checking when outer planets change signs, spotting the stations and shadow periods, and quickly calculating secondary progressions. It will show you the speed at which planets move through the sky and deepen your connection to the actual movement of the heavenly spheres.
So, get an ephemeris, learn how to use it, and make a point of consulting it regularly. Then you can be super smug the next time the ephemeris debate crops up on social media.
The Secret Language of Astrology
OK, technically this is a modern astrology book, but it’s on the list because it’s gorgeous. Look, I’m Taurus rising with Moon in Libra. Aesthetics matter. Plus, the vast majority of traditional astrology books are pretty utilitarian. Austere, even. It’s nice to have some eye candy once in a while.
This book is great if you’re a visual learner, as it’s full of beautiful images and the layout is pleasing and helpful. As I said, it’s primarily a modern astrology text and it teaches a fairly superficial, cookbook method of interpretation. But it’s not a bad place to start with basic interpretation. Plus, even if you focus on traditional astrology, it’s important to have a working knowledge of modern astrology. You’re bound to run into it in the real world and you need to be able to engage with fellow astrologers of all stripes.
Do you have a favourite traditional astrology book that I missed on this list? Are you shocked and appalled by any of my choices? Let me know in the comments!