On Sepharial’s “The Birthday Book of Destiny”
– February 21st – March 1st, 2007
In ‘The Birthday Book of Destiny’, published by Nichols co., 23, Hart Street, W.C., London, can be found a charming dedication by Sepharial to his wife Marie, appearing on successive lines of a single page thus, albeit centred as I am unable to replicate here:
MY DEAR WIFE
THIS LITTLE WORK,
AN OFF-SHOOT OF MY MORE SERIOUS STUDIES
IN THE SCIENCE OF THE STARS,
I am just curious as to whether this book is unique among Gornold’s works in having been dedicated to his wife! Can anyone recall seeing another dedication to her in any of his other books?
Another point of minor curiosity to me: the dating of ‘The Birthday Book of Destiny’, since there is no date listed in the book itself.
In her exhaustive bibliography of Sepharial’s published and privately available works at the end of her biography ‘The Astral Tramp’, Kim lists 1903 as the date of publication for ‘The Birthday Book of Destiny’. The British Library, which has a copy, claims 1904 on its database. OCLC lists only two other copies worldwide in member library holdings, one at Oxford University and the other at the New York Public Library, and is fuzzy about the date, claiming ‘191?’.
In the copy I just purchased, an owner’s signature is dated to January 1st 1907, proving that OCLC is far wide of the mark. I suspect that Kim has got it absolutely right, since unlike whoever catalogues materials at the British Library, she did thorough research, although a year of discrepancy is no major issue ultimately! In either case, this particular copy must have been sold or passed on to a new owner a few years after it was first printed, since 1907 is considerably askew from either 1904 or 1903.
It’s not that easy to trace the sources of Sepharial’s list of star points for the days of the year. Only a few of the names are given in the proper form used by Vivian Robson in ‘The Fixed Stars and Constellations’, though I am having some limited success transposing Robson’s terminology to Sepharial’s using Allen ‘Star Names and Their Meanings’.
The Liber Hermetis account of the names of the fixed stars in different degrees of the different signs does not closely correspond with Sepharial’s tables either, even allowing for precession.
Sepharial claims that he has gathered his material from ‘ancient Hermetic and Rosicrucian sources’. Does anyone have any ideas as to what other sources might be worth checking here? His use of the word ‘Rosicrucian’ might be a major clue to someone familiar with that tradition.
To give you an example, for the period approximating to the Sun’s passage through the tropical sign of Cancer, Sepharial gives (my approximations to the tropical degree correspondences are added in parentheses – these are not given by Sepharial, and because there are 365 days in the calendar year and only 360 degrees each degree will last on average slightly longer than one day)
June 21 (approx. Cancer 0): Lactea
June 22: (1) House of Apollo
June 23: (2) Pelagos
June 24: (3) Olive Branch
June 25: (4) Club and Hand
June 26: (5) Shining Cloud
June 27: (6) Flail
June 28: (7) Arrow
June 29: (8} Bow
June 30: (9) Jaw Bone
July 1: (10) Telescope
July 2: (11) Canopus
July 3: (12) Finger of Apollo
July 4: (13) Lyre
July 5: (14) Hercules’ Hand
July 6: (15) Scroll
July 7: (16) Sirius
July 8: (17) Eye-Piece
July 9: (18} Seals
July 10: (19) Apollo
July 11: (20) Olympus
July 12: (21) Waggon
July 13: (22) Castor
July 14: (23) Uriel
July 15: (24) Hierophant
July 16: (25) Rt. Hand Apollo
July 17: (26) Right Ear
July 18: (27) Club and Torch
July 19: (28} Press
July 20: (29) Spaniel
July 21: (29-30) Procyon
During the same period, Robson (in 1923 – only about 19 years and one quarter of a degree of precession later than the publication date of Sepharial’s book) gives the following direct matches by name, but they are significantly off Sepharial’s account by placement in the tropical zodiac:
Sirius (alpha Canis Majoris): 12 deg 59′ Cancer (Robson, 1923)
Castor (alpha Geminorum): 19 deg 8′ Cancer (Robson, 1923)
Procyon (alpha Canis Minoris): 24 deg 41′ Cancer (Robson, 1923)
Robson’s placements for Sirius and Castor are both three degrees earlier than Sepharial’s, while his placement of Procyon is about five degrees earlier.
Now unless I am very much mistaken here, in which case I trust someone reading this will correct me at the earliest opportunity, the following is true:
Since with precession the tropical zodiac moves in retrograde motion against the starry background, at the rate of roughly five minutes arc every six years, or one degree every seventy-two years, so the stars move in direct motion through the tropical zodiac at the same rate. Thus, we cannot explain the disparity between Sepharial’s and Robson’s positions for Sirius and Castor by supposing that he had taken them from a source a couple of centuries old, since in this case it would be Sepharial’s positions that were three degrees earlier than Robson’s, and not the reverse. If Robson’s are correct, then it would appear that Sepharial’s were significantly less accurate in 1904 than they are today in 2007, but will reach their peak of accuracy not until about 2139, all of 216 years after the publication of Robson’s book and 235 years after the publication of Sepharial’s.
So did Sepharial, in working from an ancient source, overcorrect for precession in error? Or was he working from an ancient source that was itself faulty, and on applying the correct precession ended up with faulty positions for the stars?
The mystery also remains for me as to his probable source for all the ‘star-points’ he lists for all the degrees that do not provide an obvious match for stars listed in Robson. The Liber Hermetis does not solve this problem. So far as I can see at an early glance, nor do Bullinger (The Witness of The Stars) or Rolleston (Mazzaroth), and Allen (Star Names and Their Meanings) and Olcott (Star Lore of All Ages) certainly don’t, though Allen can be helpful in providing alternative names for the stars referred to by their proper names in Robson and elsewhere. Were there any popular astronomy works that used terms like ‘flail’, ‘arrow’, ‘bow’, ‘jaw bone’ and ‘telescope’, for stars and sections of constellations, to which he might have had access? The more of these points I can identify to a precise astronomical position, the clearer the picture will become.
Any pointers to sources to help with this research would be very much appreciated.