On the origins of modern aspect orbs
– correspondence with the late Maurice McCann
– August 25th-28th, 2006

NB: In the interest of documenting the process of historical discovery relating to the topic of the origins of modern aspect orbs, I have reproduced my original correspondence with my esteemed scholarly late friend, astrologer Maurice McCann, detailing our joint investigations at the time that directly led to a vastly more accurate registering of the historical facts regarding this topic in the astrological community than had hitherto prevailed.

The correspondence is presented in direct chronological order. Owing to three changes of computer since this correspondence occured, my original missives to Maurice are conserved only in the threads attached to emails received from him; and one of my emails to him, detailing a reference to modern aspect orbs in Alfred Pearce’s journal ‘The Future’, in 1892, appears to be missing from the stream, but is referred to later in it.

It would seem that I sent him two successive emails at some point, only one of which was conserved in the stream as a result of his replying to that one.

I may eventually be able to find the missing email regarding the Pearce reference in ‘The Future’ on a much older computer, but until then this is the best archival job I can do.

– November 30th, 2014


– McCann-Graves, August 25th, 2006

Dear Philip,

I’m very impressed with your collection. The British Library don’t have anything like yours. There is usually a long waiting time in the BL when ordering a book, it’s a hassle.

At the moment I’m doing my MA and it involves Alan Leo. The period I’m really interested in is 1890-1910 period (approx). The course is headed by Nick Campion with Patrick Curry at Bath Spa University.

Could you help me with a few references, mainly from The Astrologer’s Magazine, I would appreciate it.

1. Leo, Alan, ‘Reviews’, The Astrologer’s Magazine, Feb., 1892?? vol. 2, no. 7, p. 456. I need the correct year.

2. ‘Leo’, ‘Orbs’, The Astrologer’s Magazine, March 1892, vol. ? no. ? pp. 464-465. I need the volume and number numbers.

3. Leo & Lacey, ‘Letters to the Editor’, The Astrologer’s Magazine, October 1892, vol. 3, no. ?? pp. 164-165. I need the number of this issue.

4. Lacey, ‘False prophets and teachers’, The Astrologer’s Magazine. Vol. 3, No. 1. Here I need month and year,and page numbers.

Thanks for taking the trouble.




Graves-McCann, August 25, 2006
(edited to exclude personal asides)

Dear Mr. McCann, or, if I may, Maurice,

Very gladly I shall look up those references for you.

Page 456 of Volume 2 of the Astrologer’s Magazine is indeed 1892. It is a review of ‘Raphael’s Key to Astrology’.

It is so short that, presuming you were thinking of ordering a reprint from the British Library at their usual expensive prices, I think it would be more convenient if I just retyped it here (but if in fact you had the review text, only not the year, my apologies).

In this, I have substituted the words for the planets and signs where glyphs were shown, since I cannot replicate the glyphs.

“This little work, comprising 108 pages, is deserving of commendation, and we advise all our readers to obtain a copy, as we have done.

“The “orbs” of the planets have been closely investigated by the author, who has considerably modified the opinions previously expressed in his Vol. I. of the “Guides,” for he follows somewhat on the lines we advocate on page 20 and 44 of the Astrologers’ Magazine. With the exception of the personal descriptions said to be given by Uranus in various signs (notably Virgo, Sagittarius, Libra, Capricorn), and the doctrine of transits, on which opinions are much divided, we have nothing but praise for the little work. By putting forth such a book, we consider “Raphael” is doing practical service to Astrology, and the absurdly low price charged gives the poorest an opportunity of having a copy, whereas the high price of some modern works preclude any but those who have means from obtaining them.

“We wish the work every success, as we are confident it will cause many who are ignorant of astrology to study it.”

Now, that has taught me something new! I recently ordered an 1879 two-volume edition of R.T. Cross’s ‘Guide to Astrology’ to compare with the later commonly reprinted one-volume edition, and it should be on its way to me in the post currently. [I never managed to obtain the Ascella reprint of the 1885 edition of this (which I presume is virtually identical) before Ascella went out of business.] But I don’t have a copy of the standalone ‘Key’ yet, and suppose it may contain some ideas lacking in both the original Guide and the later ‘Key and Guide’ in one volume, as this review would appear to suggest.

Anyhow, to move on to your second reference: March 1892 is Volume 2 No. 8. This section is just over a whole page long. If you don’t have the text I could scan it in and email it as an attachment. It would take a little too long to type.

Your third reference I have found a little confusing. Pages 164-5 do not coincide with October 1892, but rather with Volume 3, No. 7, February 1893. Letters to the Editor in this issue commenceat the foot of Page 163 and continue to page 167.

The only two letters contained wholly within Pages 164-5 are:

1) one by someone signing himself ‘A Lover of Justice’, defending the editors of the Astrologer’s Magazine against an attack on their nativity of the Duke of Edinburgh that is said to have appeared in ‘the Future’. I fear this may refer to a later volume of The Future. I have only managed to obtain the first of three so far; but anyway, this appears to be a good example of the rivalry between Pearce and Leo / Lacey in their respective publications of the time. To judge from Patrick Curry’s writings in ‘A Confusion of Prophets’ it would appear that Leo was the more conciliatory of the two in later years, attempting to form an umbrella organisation with other astrologers into which Pearce was invited, but this invitation was rejected by the latter!

2) one headlined ‘Astrological Errors and Maliciousness’ and written by George Wilde, also lashing out at Pearce and ‘The Future’! Most interesting. If it was these you were looking for, as opposed to merely the references, again I would be glad to scan and attach to an email.

The letters in October 1892 are from pages 70-72, Volume 3 No. 4. I presume it was not these you wanted though, as your page reference matches the ones detailed above instead.

To move to your final reference, Volume 3 No. 1 is August 1892. The article ‘False Prophets and Teachers’ by ‘APHOREL’ (Lacey, I presume) occupies pages 14-15. Again I could quite easily scan these in for you if needed.

Best wishes,

Philip Graves


McCann-Graves, August 25, 2006

Dear Philip,

Yes, you may say Maurice, I’m glad you will do so.

Many thanks for taking the trouble to look up the references, you have been of great help to me. I probably made a mistake with the 3rd reference and since the page numbers, 164-165, are the same as my photocopies then your dates, volume and number are correct.

I began this dissertation with the belief that in 1895 Alan Leo changed the orbs of the planets to the orbs of the aspects. For several years I blamed him, now it seems I was wrong and that there was a more complicated story that began back in 1890. The reason for the references that I gave you, was to see if in any of the publications there were any letters, articles or notes of any kind that questioned or argued against this change in the orbs. Or, even if there were others who supported the change. As far as I can see nobody complained, it looks like there was complete silence.

The last time I went to the British Library was over a month ago. I ordered ‘The Future’ but when it arrived I had to leave, I had no time to read them. I gave the magazines back to the staff who then misplaced them so that they can no longer be found. Maybe one day someone will come across them again and put them back in the right place, but right now they are gone.

I have photocopies of all but the final reference, the one where ‘Aphorel’ wrote the article ‘False Prophets and Teachers’. ‘Aphorel’ was indeed Lacey. Would you mind photocopying it for me, I would appreciate it.

Best regards.



Graves-McCann, August 26 2006

Dear Maurice,

I remember reading your article about Alan Leo’s alteration of the orb system several years ago, on more than one occasion, and finding it most fascinating.

Just in case it is of any help to your researches, though I suspect you will already be aware of them, here are the brief references to orbs in:

(a) Commander Morrison’s first edition of his ‘The Hand-Book of Astrology’ (writing as Zadkiel Tao Sze) in 1861, as published by G. Berger, Hollywood Street, Strand;

(b) Robert Thomas Cross (I presume) ‘s first edition of his ‘Raphael’s Guide to Astrology, Volume I’ in 1877, as published by Catty & Co., London, which has now reached me (I collected it from the local post office this evening only), together with the first edition of Volume II from 1879.

Of course, these both predate the changes you refer to, but just in case you did not have either of these references I thought it wouldn’t hurt to send them.

(a) On Page 8, Morrison states:

‘The perfect aspects are the most powerful; but they are found to operate generally when within about 5º to 7º; and, as regards the Sun or Moon, when within 10º’.

I don’t know the historical significance of the fact that Morrison fails to assign separate orbs to each of the planets here, marking out only aspects involving the luminaries as a separate case, but I thought it worth noting just in case it is important to your research. It just occurred to me that it might possibly have set a pattern that Leo and other astrologers were later to follow, and certainly reads very familiarly in the light of much later 20th century literature on the aspects.

(b) On Page 5, Cross (I presume) provides the traditional planet-based orb calculation method that you previously referred to in your Internet article on the subject. I don’t know if this changed in later editions of his work, but the first edition clearly states:

‘The orb of Uranus is 8º; Saturn, 8º; Jupiter, 10º; Mars, 8º; Sun, 17º; Venus, 8º; Mercury, 8º; Moon, 12º’.

He then goes on to provide the usual half-sum-based formula.

Best wishes,



McCann-Graves, August 27 2006
(edited to exclude personal health-related comments):

Dear Philip,

Anyhow to the real business. I received your emails and read with fascination. I knew I should have been looking at the earlier books and magazines but I was convinced that the changes had taken place around the 1890 decade. You can imagine my delight when I read that the orbs had changed much earlier. I only want to get to the truth no matter what. In the light of what you sent me I’ll have to re-write parts of my dissertation, but no problem as long as the problem of the orbs is finally resolved. I’ll work today changing and including the information you sent me. If you can let me have photocopies of the revelent pages with full publishing details I would really appreciate it.

Thank you so much for all your help.



Graves-McCann, August 27 2006
(edited to exclude response to personal health-related comments):

Dear Maurice,

Anyhow, to get back to the sources, certainly I’ll be glad to photocopy them and send them later today.

I did also briefly check R.C. Smith’s ‘Manual of Astrology’ first edition from 1828 (absolutely nothing on orbs at all that I could find in the whole book) and Simmonite’s ‘The Celestial Philosopher’ (or rather the John Story reprint of it, my first edition being tucked away behind other books somewhere) from the 1840s, which is strictly in the mould of the traditional half-sum system.

So thus far Morrison’s ‘Hand-book’ from 1861 is the earliest deviant source I have found, with Pearce’s comments from 1892 being more within the time-frame of your existing researches, but showing perhaps that it was not only Leo who was reforming things at the time, so much as a general intellectual movement.

I’ll be glad to copy the 1877 Robert Thomas Cross source too if you wish, although it is firmly in the traditional planetary orbs / half-sums mould, so perhaps this is not necessary?

Other 19th century sources I haven’t checked yet, but which are so much earlier that I doubt they will yield anything, include Cooke’s ‘A Plea for Urania’, White’s ‘The Beauties of Occult Science Investigated’, and Morrison’s ‘Horoscope’ journal from the 1840s, predating his Hand-book of Astrology by a couple of decades. I found nothing deviant in his earlier ‘A Grammar of Astrology’. If you feel that any of the above are worth checking I shall be glad to dig them out and do so.

Best wishes,



McCann-Graves, August 27 2006:

Dear Philip,

This information is really useful. the one thing I have learnt over the past few days is that there is no such thing as ‘too early’. By that I mean that it is absolutely necessary to trace who it was that first wrote of ‘the orbs of the aspects’. This is exactly what I am trying to find. I was mistaken all those years ago, Alan Leo was not the first, though I think he popularised them.

I would appreciate any photocopies you think relevant, I need to be totally satisfied that I have missed nothing.

When you wrote to me a few days ago it was a Godsend as I would most certainly have gone down the wrong track with my Leo mania. Once again you have saved my MA.




Graves-McCann, August 27 2006
(edited to exclude personal asides):

Dear Maurice,

In practice, I have not been able to find any other significant references at variance with the moiety and planet-based orb tradition in other 19th century astrology books available to me, despite checking White’s ‘Beauties of Occult Science Investigated’ (1811), Simmonite’s ‘Celestial Philosopher’ first edition (1847), Morrison’s ‘Horoscope’ magazine (as Zadkiel) (1841), and Oxley’s ‘Gem of the Astral Sciences’ (c. 1848). Indeed, the latter two works, in common with others checked previously such as the first edition of Raphael’s 1828 ‘Manual of Astrology’, apparently contain no elucidatory references to platic aspects or their allowable orbs whatsoever. The former two both had brief references in keeping with tradition, but I have photocopied these in any case to add to your evidence base for the status quo before the changes, together with the 1877 reference in the later Raphael’s ‘Guide to Astrology’ Volume One.

I was unable to locate Cooke’s ‘A Plea for Urania’ this evening, although I know I have a copy somewhere at the back of one of the shelves,… … but I believe it is most probably a generally discursive essay advocating astrology in general, so I doubt very much it will have contained any significant discussion of aspect orbs. Besides, as Patrick Curry documents once again in ‘A Confusion of Prophets’, although I forget the precise details, Cooke was a solicitor who came to astrology through a chance meeting with Morrison only a few years before he wrote his book, so it would perhaps be unreasonable to expect too much of the text on a technical level in any case.

You may have to look quite closely even on the photocopies of the Pearce (1892) and Morrison (1861) references to see the comments I cited earlier, since they are small parts of the overall pages concerned, but I expect you will agree that Morrison’s departure from the traditional granting of separate orbs to every planet, replaced by a unified orb system for every planet except for the Sun and Moon (although with no differentiation according to the type of aspect), is of some significance; and that in Pearce’s case his express differentiation between the orbs for ‘major’ and ‘minor’ aspects and his implicit intellectual placement of himself at variance with the ‘ancients’ in that key central sentence sandwiched between his two describing how the ancients calculated orbs is highly significant.

Finally I also copied the letter later in ‘The Future’ that was the subject of the scorn levelled against the journal by ‘A Lover of Justice’ in The Astrologer’s Magazine. This appears in the file ‘PearceControversy’.

Please let me know if anything is amiss with the copies or the associated references.

Best wishes,



McCann-Graves, August 28 2006:

Dear Philip,

Once again thanks for the photocopies, they are of great help to me. You have done a great job of researching the 19th century for me.

I think we can agree that it looks like Zadkiel was the one to change the orbs of the planets to the orbs of the aspects. As you know he published Lilly’s Christian Astrology and changed much of the original so that astrologers believed they were working with the Lilly’s rules. The truth came to light when Olivia Barclay reprinted Lilly’s original and everyone could then see how they had been working with the wrong rules etc.

Today I have been rewriting a whole section of the dissertation taking the blame away from Leo and showing that Zadkiel was the first to use the new orbs of aspects. He’s the guilty one. Perhaps I can now get on with finishing the dissertation. Nevertheless if you happen to find other evidence I would be glad to hear it.

All the best for now.


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