An Interview with
author of "Astrology
in the Year Zero".
GP: Why did you decide develop Omnicycles? In particular, why did you see a need for an astrology program which focuses almost exclusively on transits?
DB: Well, there were a couple of reasons. First of all, we felt that it would be great to present the transits in such a way that anyone would be able to understand them immediately, at a glance.
JM: Yes, that is really what most clients want: something they can take home to remind them of what the astrologer told them during their session. I don’t know how many times I have heard, at the end of a counselling session: ‘What was that you said about what the next few months were going to be like?’ Okay, I always record the sessions so that the clients can take the tape home and listen to them again, but the advantage of a graph is that they can see it, and follow it as the days, weeks and months pass. They love that.
DB: A second reason was that transits are definitely the most basic technique in astrology as far as prediction is concerned. Some astrologers love progressions, others swear by solar returns, still others routinely employ directions – but all of them use transits as well. That’s why we wanted to concentrate fully on transits, in order to create a program which would allow astrologers not only to use them in a myriad of ways, but also to view them in graph form for easy reading. And above all, we wanted to present something which actually ‘works’ as well as possible.
GP: What do you mean by ‘works’, here? Are you saying that the astrologer will be able to see exactly what’s going to happen, and when?
DB: No, we’re not aiming that high right now! I know that there are many who think that astrology can, when used properly, predict the future exactly, but this, in my opinion, simply isn’t so.
JM: That’s right. Astrology predicts tendencies, not exact events. And if transits are able to give us a good idea of what we can expect, that is, if it can adequately show the types of tendencies that are going to be in effect during a certain time period, then this is really something quite useful.
DB: Right. For that reason, we are constantly doing research in order to refine the aspect files more and more. Which orbs to use, how the strength of an aspect should decrease with increasing orb, the types of aspects to be used, the quality of different kinds of aspects, and so on. After all, we developed Omnicycles for our own use, too, so we want something which works as well as it can possibly can.
GP: Just how precisely can astrology predict trends in the future, do you think?
JM: I suppose that neither we nor anyone else could answer that question. There’s always room for further development, always the feeling that one could get a little more out of it, with an even better combination of aspects, or other techniques. So Omnicycles is as much an ongoing project as it is a program.
GP: Did you develop it exclusively with astrologers in mind?
DB: Yes, and no. Actually, when we first started, we wanted the commercial version itself to be mainly for the general public, that is, not necessarily for astrologers. It was supposed to offer people a simple way of following the tendencies of the transits, without having to know anything about astrology. And the fact is, that Omnicycles does serve that purpose quite nicely. As long as someone can put in the necessary birth data, he can do all kinds of graphs, and follow them easily. So even though each graph is the result of a lot of serious work in astrology, and is generated by doing a large number of calculations, the user isn’t burdened by that at all: you do your graphs, see the positive and negative tendencies, and that’s it.
JM: Yes, but since we also wanted to improve the astrology behind the graphs, we had to program certain parts of the program for our own use – the research part, for example – in order to test out the transits as much as we could. So then we thought, ‘hey, as long as we have these extra things in the program, why not give them to the public as well?
DB: Yes, so Omnicycles is in a way a rather unusual program, in that it offers a lot to the general public, but is interesting for professional astrologers or researchers as well.
GP: The graphs generally only have two lines: one for the ‘tense’ aspects, and one for the ‘harmonious’ ones. Do you feel this could be a bit simplistic?
JM: The truth is, the clients generally are interested mainly in that: “Will next month be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for me”. Naturally, life is seldom so simple, but if you can look at a graph and see, for example, that there is a lot of tension during a certain day or week, it does help a lot: you’ll know, for example, that you can most likely expect some obstacles, tension, problems, that things aren’t all going to flow very well. So you can prepare to do your best during that time, without expecting things to be easy. And if the blue line is high, you’ll know that you have a much better chance of having things go your way, so you can try to make the most out of the harmonious influences. That’s what David meant by ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ tendencies: simply that some times are favourable for us, whereas others aren’t..
DB: True, though of course, the astrologer himself will be interested in the specific influences which make up the graph: the aspects ‘behind’ it, so to speak. That’s why there’s a special data file generated for each graph, which contains all the aspects, orbs, point values, etc. which are calculated for each separate point on the graph. Thus, if you’re looking at a graph, and want to know why the blue line, for example, goes so high, you merely open the data file, and can see all the aspects which comprise it.
GP: By ‘point values’, do you mean the weights given to the aspects?
GP: What do you think about the endeavour, here, to distil astrological judgement into a quantitative system? Isn’t there a good case for saying that astrology’s richness of meaning and implication can never really be captured in such a framework, no matter how sophisticated?
DB: Yes, that view has been expressed, and I agree to a point, yet it is obvious to me that such weighting systems clearly have their value, and are really used all the time, though some astrologers might not be aware of it...
GP: Could you explain?
JM. Sure, let me take that question. Let’s suppose an astrologer is asked the following: ‘I’ve been invited to a party next weekend, but don’t know whether to go or not. If I do, will I have a good time?’ The astrologer takes a look at the natal chart, and the transits for next weekend, and sees, for example, that Saturn is in exact square to the client’s Sun; the transiting Sun is in opposition to the natal Saturn, and at the time of the party, the Moon is in square to natal Saturn. My first impulse in such a case would be to say that the client won’t have such a good time. But then I continue to study the chart, and see that transit Jupiter is trine natal Venus; transit Venus is in sextile to Venus, and transit Mercury is in trine to the natal Moon, while transit Uranus is sextile Moon. What do I do? Well, basically, I weigh the first group of aspects against the other. In this, case, there are indications that the client could have a good time, and these might outweigh the negative indications. Even though I don’t think in terms of ‘point totals’ when making my judgement, I am really doing something quite similar.
DB: Yes, and the advantage of having a program give you the results is that it will be objective; it will use the weights chosen, will correctly take the orb variations into account, and will quickly give you an idea of which group of aspects is ‘stronger’. Once the astrologer has those results, he or she can then bring their intuition to bear, before reaching a final conclusion.
GP: What is so special about Omnicycles? Other such programs have surely been written before now; why go to all the trouble of creating another?
DB: The truth is, the few programs I have seen which use such weighting systems to produce graphs weren’t at all satisfactory, in my opinion. We wanted to refine the use of transits, to try to get more out of them, so to speak.
GP: Interesting! How, would you say, does Omnicycles enable the astrologer to ‘get more out of’ transits?
DB: Well, one thing which has always bothered me about other systems, and about many astrological techniques, is that you are given results – ‘point totals’, for example – but you are not given any means to see whether these results might be something out of the ordinary.
GP: Indeed, what is ‘the ordinary’ in this context?
JM: Exactly. Suppose, for example, a program – or an astrologer – tells you ‘you have Jupiter trine your Mars next week. This is a great transit, so take advantage of it!’ Okay, it’s a positive transit, but how positive? That is, is this particular Jupiter-Mars relationship twice as good as ‘normal’, three times as good, or what? That’s why David devised the concept of the ‘mean’. Maybe you’d like to explain that...
DB. Sure. Though I don’t know whether it was my ‘invention’ - I’d be very surprised if nobody else had ever come up with the idea. But it’s mine as far as its specific application in Omnicycles is concerned. Let’s use the harmonious aspects as an example: Omnicycles generally includes, in this group, certain conjunctions, trines, sextiles, and the complete novile series. Transit Jupiter to natal Mars will be assigned specific numbers of positive points, depending on: 1) the type of aspect; trines, for example, are given 3 times as many points as are noviles 2) the orb of the aspect; the point-strength diminishes with decreasing orb.
Now: I think many astrologers aren’t entirely aware of how many transiting aspects are formed every day. They see a transit, consider it something ‘special’, whereas in fact, it might be something pretty common. Whereas, in the case of (say) Jupiter aspecting Mars, you’ll only have a trine or a conjunction every four years. But if you include sextiles and noviles, then you’ll have a harmonious aspect between Jupiter and natal Mars almost once a year.
In order to judge the ‘commonness’ of the aspects which occur, we use the ‘mean’. It works like this: for each aspect file, we have calculated the average number of ‘transit points’ which one will have during the course of a lifetime. Of course, each transit file (there are a few hundred included in the program) contains many kinds of transits, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s say you create one containing only the transits of Jupiter to Mars. You would then calculate the mean. This is an option which allows you to calculate a great number of dates at random throughout the course of 50, 60, 70 years. I normally generate about 1500 random dates when doing this. The transits for each of these random dates will be calculated, and the ‘average’ number of points, both positive and negative, will be calculated. This ‘mean’ number will always be represented by the horizontal line placed at ‘100%’ on the graph. Thus, if a line goes below 100%, the combined aspect strength is below its average; if it goes to, say, 300%, it would be 3 times its average. This system allows you to see at a glance just how strong a tendency is, compared to the ‘average’ for a lifetime.
GP: Can you also just display the point totals, without converting them into ‘mean’ values?
JM: Oh yeah, no problem. Omnicycles does that, too. The problem is that when you see point totals, for instance, for a 1 month period, you might see a line go up, but is it really so significant? It might be high compared to the other point totals that month, but maybe it’s low compared to the ‘average’ values for a lifetime. That’s why we recommend viewing the results in terms of the mean: that way, you know just how strong the combined strength of the transits really is, compared to a lifetime average.
GP: Might it be that these ‘average values’ will vary a bit from person to person? For instance, if I have Venus conjunct Saturn, and aspects to Venus are indicators of relationship and aspects to Saturn are indicators of isolation, then my ‘average value’ for relationship is never going to hit the peaks of someone who can have planets aspecting Venus without simultaneously aspecting Saturn.
DB: Potentially yes, the average values will vary a bit, depending on how the points are totalled, but right now I won’t go into all the various ways the program lets you combine the points, it would take too long. If, for example, you choose to use the ‘factor’ option, which doesn’t simply add the point totals, but also uses special factors to multiply them, then the averages will vary noticeably from person to person. But as a default, the program uses only a process of addition, for we have seen that this generally gives more accurate results; using this method, the average values are indeed fairly constant from person to person.
Now, as to the second part of your question: I understand what you mean about the Venus/Saturn conjunction, but it shouldn’t be assumed that aspects to Saturn will automatically ‘subtract’ positive points, or ‘add’ negative points. As surprising as it may seem, one of the things I have learned during the course of my research is that there don’t seem to be any transiting aspects which clearly inhibit one’s love life, though there are ones which enhance it. I have seen cases where people have had great love affairs under transit Saturn conjunction Venus, for example. I must add that such relationships might well be burdened by feelings of guilt; nonetheless, they are possible. And Saturn isn’t always isolation: it could merely signify that one’s love-mate will be older, or will be very serious, responsible, or ‘Saturnine’ in some other respect. Of course, an aspect from or to Saturn alone will hardly be the most important indicator for a relationship or an affair; usually, there are other simultaneous aspects, such as ones to or from Venus or Mars, which are the primary indicators. True, if one has Venus conjunct Saturn in the natal chart, one’s love life might not be the most adventurous; however, when strong transits of Venus or Mars are present, that same person can indeed experience more than he or she normally would. So even though a ‘peak’ for this person might not signify as much ‘action’ as would a peak for someone else, it remains a peak – compared to what the Venus/Saturn individual might normally experience.
Now, returning to the concept of the ‘mean’: it can be calculated in 2 different ways.
1) generating all the random transit dates for comparison with a single natal chart, or else
2) calculating a large number of random dates to be compared to many natal charts: here, in a single step, the ‘mean values’ are generated for each person in a file, and then, the ‘average’ of all those individual’s ‘averages’ is calculated. This gives very reliable mean values for a transit file, which then can be used for anyone, without having to fear that the mean will be somehow ‘off’.
GP: If I understood you correctly: you said earlier that the program has a few hundred aspect files...
JM: Yes, somewhere between 320 and 400, and growing...
GP: ...and you calculated a mean for each of these files?
DB: (laughs), Yeah, don’t ask me how long that took! My Pentium 4 was working day and night for quite some time to get all that done.
GP: But suppose you then change something in an aspect file, for example, you add an aspect. Don’t you then have to calculate the mean again?
JM: Yes, you do, for that particular file. After all, the whole idea of the mean is that it represents the average number of points you’ll get using a specific combination of aspects, orbs, weights, etc.
GP: Whenever I find a new technique, the first thing I do is to see if it makes sense in my chart. I’m sure I’m not alone in this! And so surely you must have looked at how the Omnicycles approach to transits worked in your own charts. Can you tell me something about what you discovered?
DB: Of course. Like practically everybody else who is into astrology, I, too, check out my own chart first when testing techniques. One of the first things I noticed was the great importance of what one might call ‘hot spots’ in the chart: these are areas which are in aspect to a number of different chart factors.
JM: Yes, in my chart, for instance (you see, I also like to look at my chart first!), Mars is at 22 Virgo, the Sun at 12Leo, and Venus at 2 Cancer. Thus, when a transit is in trine or novile to one of these factors, it aspects all three of them simultaneously. So this year, with transit Uranus in the first degrees of Pisces, it was in trine to my Venus, and tetranovile to both Sun and Mars…
GP: …so your love life was…?
JM: Not to be indiscreet, but believe me, the Uranus transit definitely has had its effect!
DB: I can give an example, too: I have the Midheaven/IC at 13 Libra/Aries28, in an exact semisquare to Pluto at 28Leo28, and my House 6/12 axis at 28Taurus/Scorpio50: square Pluto, sesqui- semisquare MC/IC. Thus, when a transit passes over any point which is in tension to one of these points, it is in tension to all of them. This shows up clearly on the graphs, particularly when you do one for a single transiting planet. A couple of weeks ago, when Transit Mars was at 28-29 degrees Taurus, it was: Conjunct cusp 6, opposition cusp 12; square Pluto, semisquare the Lower Heaven, and sesquisquare the Midheaven. I got some virus that made me feel miserable for a week, had trouble sleeping, felt restless, etc.
Speaking more generally, now, let me say that I am a cautious man by nature, I never like to get enthusiastic about something unless I’ve seen that it really does seem to ‘work’.Here are some of the things I’ve seen again and again, and which have further defined my approach to transits:
First, the importance of declination parallels. It truly amazed me to see how often the major indications of an event are not ‘normal’ aspects, but rather parallels. I use narrow orbs for these, no more than 20 minutes; nonetheless, their strength amazed me, to the point that I now agree with those astrologers who say that parallels are as strong as conjunctions.
GP: Some* say they are even stronger... (E.g. Simmonite, Watters & White – cf p.429, Dean et al, Recent Advances in Natal Astrology, Subiaco 1977)
DB: I don’t know what criteria they used to judge that; I will say that both are strong, though I won’t venture a guess as to which is stronger, at least not until I do more research. But parallels are very strong, and should never be ignored, though unfortunately, they usually are.
The second thing I’ve seen is the importance of so called ‘minor aspects’, particularly, semi- and sesquisquares....
GP: The eighth harmonic...
DB: Yes, and also Harmonic 16. These aspects can be very important, especially when several are present. This, of course, has often been said; I’m merely saying that I’ve found it confirmed again and again. That’s why our aspect files routinely include these aspects, though we also have some with only the traditional aspects, for those who want to go that route.
GP: Have any of the other ‘minor’ aspects emerged as significant?
JM: The novile series as well. Since they are generally ‘harmonious’, their influence might not be as obvious as Harmonics 8 and 16, but they are definitely noticeable, especially when several are present at the same time, or when a single transit aspects a series of trines/noviles in a natal chart.
DB: Yes, indeed. Multiple transits to a single point – or else, a single transit to a factor in the chart which in turn is connected to other natal factors by similar aspects – these are some of the most noticeable transits there are.
Third, I might mention the question of orb. Now, some astrologers recommend the use of wide orbs – even as much as 5 or 6 degrees – for transits. Others say the orb shouldn’t be any more than about 1 degree.
GP: And you?
DB: Oh, this issue plagued me when we began to do Omnicycles. After all, the question of orb is fundamental. This is one of the reasons why we created a research tool in the program: to be able to test (among other things) which orbs ‘work’ best.
GP: And how do you go about that?
DB: Well, this would be too complicated to explain now, but you can read about it in the program’s manual: it’s included in the free demo version. In any case, my findings were somewhere in between the extremes: a one-degree orb for major aspects is clearly not enough....and I must add that before doing Omnicycles, I was a proponent of 1-degree orbs! On the other hand, after about 3 ˝ degrees, the effects are negligible. Up to 3 degrees for major aspects is permissible, I now feel, though we generally only use 2-degree orbs for the majors, since we also employ ‘minor’ aspects, and we don’t want an excess of aspects to ‘clutter things up’, so to speak.
GP: Do you also use 2 degree orbs for minor aspects?
DB: They have smaller orbs, depending on their type. I don’t want to imply here that we have struck gold as far as transit orb-allowances are concerned: the values used in Omnicycles were chosen because they ‘more or less’ seem to work better than other values. But I don’t doubt that it’s possible that another astrologer, even one using our own program, might come up with values which are even more reliable. I merely want to say here that the optimal orbs for use in transit work, based on a lot of intense work on the subject, would seem to be about 2-3 degrees for major aspects, not much more, and certainly not less. And I’ll leave it to others to theorize about why that is...
GP: Any other insights?
DB: Well, I might also mention another harmonic series which often appears to be very strong: Harmonic 11. As you probably know, this one has nothing in common with those series which are based on 2 or 3: Harmonics 2,4,6,12,16, for example. Like harmonics 5 and 7, it represents a new series, and most likely another quality.
GP: And that quality is?
DB: No idea, really! Addey related it to ‘excesses’, yet he was basing this on only a few cases. What I have seen is that Harmonic-11 connections between transits and natal factors often seem to act strongly, though the only thing I can say about the quality of these aspects is that it seems to be determined simply by the planets involved. Thus, if Saturn is in aspect – harmonic 11 – to one’s Moon, it will seem similar to a tense aspect; if, on the other hand, Jupiter if the transiting planet, the same aspect will seem beneficial. Not that I want to set this up as a rule, for I didn’t do extensive research on these aspects; it’s just something I noticed quite often.
GP: And do harmonics 5 and 7 react the same way?
DB: Interesting you ask: yes, they do seem to. Thouh I can’t say which of the 3 – harmonic 5, 7 or 11 is strongest.
JM: Nonetheless, most aspect files in Omnicycles don’t include harmonic 7 or 11, and few contain Harmonic 5, though the user may add them. Until we see the effects of these aspects more clearly, we feel it’s wiser to concentrate on the series based on 2 and 3: the ‘tense’ and ‘harmonious’ aspects. After all, these are the energies which people can relate to most easily, since their effects are the most obvious in their lives.
DB: Yes, if you want to build a firm foundation on which to continue, it’s best to start out with what you’re pretty sure of, and proceed cautiously from there, step by step. An overdose of speculation can easily lead you down the wrong path!
GP: Thank you, David and Juan, this has been really interesting. I hope that Omnicycles gets the attention – and the sales! – it deserves.
31st March 2004
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