What is an almuten anyway?

You may wonder why I’ve called this website almuten.co.uk, and why I’ve given it the title “Almuten Figuris Publications”. In many ways this is just a website about my astrological work, and I’m just a person, not a publishing company. However, when I decided to write a book about Roger of Hereford’s fascinating astrological techniques aimed at astrologers, I decided I wanted to keep control of it myself. Once an author puts a book in the hands of publishers, the publisher has the copyright for that book, and it makes it very hard for the author to give away bits of it as handouts on courses or talks, so I decided to publish it myself. This is often derided as “vanity publishing”, and that’s OK, because I have Leo rising so I’m naturally vain. I’m in good company, too – a lot of recent books on traditional astrology by far more illustrious authors than I are self-published. It’s a lot easier these days, too – if you’re handy with a word processor it’s not rocket science to format a manuscript, and online services make it easy to upload for publishing, too. However, it’s nice to have a “publisher imprint” name, to make it look like a proper book, and I wanted a name that had connotations of traditional astrology.

What does almuten figuris mean? Almuten is a medieval Latin transcription of the Arabic al-mubtaz, meaning “victor”, and represents the strongest planet. Figura is the Latin word for figure or astrological chart, so almuten figuris means the victor in the chart, or the strongest planet in the chart. In medieval astrology, the concept of a chart ruler is very important – modern astrology tends to assign keywords to signs, but medieval astrology saw planets as the key players in your chart. A modern astrologer might notice lots of planets in Aquarius, for example, and conclude that the person has Aquarian characteristics: quirky, unconventional. A medieval astrologer on the other hand could look at the same chart, and what would jump out might be a Pisces Ascendant with Jupiter in Sagittarius on the MC. Jupiter is the ruler of the Ascendant and the MC, and Jupiter is strongly angular on the MC, and in rulership, so this is a powerful Jupiter. Rather than being an “Aquarian” chart, the medieval astrologer would see a “Jupiterian” chart and conclude that Jupiter’s characteristics of generosity and charisma would be at the forefront.

The method of determining a chart ruler, however, is open to interpretation. Some astrologers focus on the ruler of the Ascendant, others on a combination of “essential” and “accidental” dignities: Jupiter in Cancer might be strong as he’s in exaltation there, but if he’s in the twelfth house and square to Saturn in Libra and Mars in Aries, he’s more hidden away and has trouble with the two malefics attacking him, so he might not be that much help. How do you take all these into account? The almuten figuris is the answer, and the basic technique is as follows.

There are five key points in a chart that relate to a native’s life: the Ascendant, the Sun, the Moon, the Part of Fortune, and the prenatal syzygy. The Part of Fortune is a calculated point on a chart that involves measuring the distance between the Sun and Moon, and projecting that onto the Ascendant. The prenatal syzygy is simply the Full Moon or New Moon prior to the native’s birth; this concept is used widely in medieval astrology. Once we have worked out the position of these key five points, we use a scoring system to see which planets are strongest at those five points. In modern astrology, we’re used to the concept of rulership (Venus rules Libra and Taurus, the Sun rules Leo and so on), and many modern astrologers also use exaltation (the Sun is exalted in Aries, Jupiter in Cancer and so on). These are two types of dignity. Medieval astrology uses three more types of dignity: triplicity rulership, where each element has three planets ruling it (all fire signs, for example, are ruled by the Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn); term rulership, where each sign is divided into five unequal segments, each segment ruled by a planet (the first six degrees of Aries is ruled by Jupiter, the next six by Venus, the next eight by Mercury – no logical pattern here); and face or decan rulership, where each ten-degree segment of a sign is ruled by a planet (the first ten degrees of Aries is ruled by Mars, the next ten by the Sun, the final ten by Venus, for example). These are called essential dignities, and a scoring system can be used for each planet, where a planet in rulership scores five points, a planet in exaltation four points, a planet with triplicity rulership three points, a planet with term rulership two points, and a planet with face rulership one point. Thus if Jupiter is at 4 Aries, because Jupiter is a triplicity ruler of all fire signs, he scores three points, and because he is also the term ruler of the first six degrees of Aries, he gets an extra two points, meaning that Jupiter in this position gets five points and is quite strong. Doing this scoring system for all seven traditional planets is one way of determining the strongest planet in a chart, and I’ve written an article on this website that goes into more detail. However, that’s still not the almuten figuris!

For the almuten figuris, we take each of the five points I mentioned earlier in turn: Ascendant, Sun, Moon, Part of Fortune, and prenatal syzygy. For each of these, we ask “how many points would each planet score if they were at this point?” We’ve just seen that Jupiter would score five points at 4 Aries, but he might not be there; he might be in some totally different position, let’s say at 12 Capricorn. However, if one of those five points happened to be at 4 Aries, then in the calculation, Jupiter would score five points, and all the other planets would score a certain number of points. We then tot all of those up and see which planet has the highest score over all five points.

Is that the almuten figuris? Not quite! Depending on which author we follow, each of the seven planets then gets extra points depending on which house they’re in (first house scores 12 points, right down to the sixth house which only scores one point), and a planet also gets points for being “Lord (or Lady) of the Day” and “Lord (or Lady) of the Hour”, since in medieval astrology each day is ruled by a planet, and each hour of the day is ruled by a planet. Then, at last, we can add all these up to get the most powerful planet in a chart – the almuten figuris. This is the method described by the twelfth-century Jewish scholar Abraham ibn Ezra.

Arabic astrologers were very keen on complicated calculations. The almuten figuris was just one such almuten. Other circumstances necessitated other almutens. For example, Omar of Tiberius gives a formula for the Almuten of Travel, which you may wish to calculate if you were asking a question about a risky journey. This complicated calculation involves adding up points using the same scoring system, but instead of the five points mentioned above, this is done for a different five points: Mars, the cusp of the ninth house, the ruler of the ninth house, the Part of Land Journeys (another calculated point), and the ruler of the Part of Land Journeys.

Thankfully, modern software can come to the rescue; Solar Fire has an almuten and dignity editor, which contains many of these almutens preloaded, but also allows you to add new ones if you come across them in sources. The following diagram shows the birth chart and almutens for Albert Einstein. The almuten figuris is the one labelled “Almuten of Chart (Ibn Ezra)” and we can see that it’s Venus. This may seem surprising – after all, Venus is in Aries, where she’s in debility. If we were to ask what the strongest planet in the chart is, we’d probably choose Mars, who is exalted in Capricorn, trine the Moon, and angular; and indeed, Mars is a strong planet and must be considered in any interpretation. However, that’s not important for the almuten figuris – what is important is how much dignity each planet has at the five key points: Ascendant, Sun, Moon, Part of Fortune, and the prenatal syzygy. In the case of Venus, she has triplicity rulership in water and earth signs (Ascendant and prenatal syzygy), and is exalted in Pisces where the Sun is, so we can see how these points add up to make her score highly. In addition, she scores extra points for being in the tenth house, which is angular.

Is the almuten figuris actually useful in chart interpretation? I’d have to say the jury is out on this one. Ibn Ezra describes the technique in his book on nativities (Ibn Ezra, Abraham, Abraham Ibn Ezra on Nativities
and Continuous Horoscopy
, Shlomo Sela (ed., trans.) (Leiden: Brill, 2014), III.i.3, 1-5, p.101). Ibn Ezra describes how this can be used to determine the length of life, but there are other techniques to do this as well. Almutens are fascinating concepts, but you may find them more effort than they’re worth!