After the recent Cetus talisman election I had an interesting e-mail asking me if it wouldn't be better to use the "actual" rising of the star on the physical horizon for fixed star talisman elections. Let's call this physical rising.
Physical rising, therefore requires different software than is used for standard astrological charts. All standard astrological charts, traditional and modern are a 2 dimensional representation of the 3 dimensional sphere of the Heavens, primarily mapped along the Ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun against the fixed stars. The Ecliptic is the path of the Sun and planets through the 12 signs of the Zodiac. Since stars are distributed throughout the whole sphere of the Heavens and not just on the Ecliptic/Zodiac you'd need special astronomical software that could tell you when, at your location, the star rose above the horizon.
Basically this is a solar cycle and thus seasonal. The Sun orbits through the Ecliptic and conjoins the star, then once the Sun moves far enough away from the star, you can finally see it rising in the morning. So basically heliacal rising is a particular type of physical rising.
Heliacal rising was certain used as an astronomical omen and for calendrical purposes, for example the ancient Egyptians used the heliacal rising of Sirius to time the Nile's annual flooding. However, this is not how traditional astrologers used fixed stars. Instead they mapped the fixed stars to the Ecliptic. If the star is close to the Ecliptic, then its position doesn't change much relative to its position in the sphere of the Heavens. The farther away it is from the Ecliptic, however, the more its relative position changes when mapped to the Ecliptic. However, as the relative position of the star changed due to precession of the Equinoxes, approximately 1 degree every 72 years, traditional astrologers would adjust the Zodiacal longitude of the star's position.
Ok, so now we can get a better idea of what we are talking about. Certainly looking at the heliacal rising of a star is something that has a long history, but it is not the standard way that fixed stars were used in traditional astrology. The physical rising, without heliacal rising, wasn't used by traditional astrologer either. Instead traditional astrologers mapped the fixed star to a point in the Zodiac/Ecliptic and then used that location in the Zodiac as the location of the star. For example for fixed star talismans, Agrippa says, "When any star ascends fortunately, with the fortunate aspect or conjunction of the Moon, We must take a stone, and herb that is under that star, and make a ring of that metal that is suitable to this star and fasten the stone, putting the herb, or root under it; Not omitting the inscriptions of images, names and characters, also the proper suffumigations..." Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Bk. I, Chapter 47.
Now, you could certainly make talismans at the heliacal or physical rising of a star, but this would not be traditional astrology. The natural response for the modern is "wouldn't it BETTER to use the ACTUAL PHYSICAL rising of the star?" I've all capped two different segments of the response so I can deal with them separately. First, the modern automatically assumes that what is material and observable is the most significant. This is basically the same atheistic/materialist view that pushes for the constellational Zodiac. The unconscious assumption is that astrology works through some sort of material or energetic cause, ie magnetism, gravity, super strings, etc., because that's all the possible causes that there are. We therefore look to the material world, "actual reality" as our highest test for truth and the nature of things. The problem here is that there is no material or energetic cause for astrology, and therefore if that's the only possible cause, then astrology is impossible. Certainly most scientists would agree with that. So it doesn't make much sense to be an astrologer who operates on the automatic assumption that physical/energetic causality is paramount.
When the traditional astrology maps fixed stars to the Zodiac, they use the fixed stars as sensitive points along the Zodiac. They discover an additional and useful patterning. The scientist might say that this patterning is arbitrary, just as astronomers may claim that constellations are arbitrary since their patterning is only apparent from Earth. But again, this is a modern view, seeing patterning as either caused by physical laws/causality or simply an arbitrary imposition by humans.
Traditional astrology is based on a Neo-Platonic/Hermetic worldview that included the spiritual, that saw the spiritual as underlying the material and as the ultimate cause. Patterning was not arbitrary but an example of the spiritual connection of all things. See Spiritual Hermeticism.
Ok, second point, can we describe one method as "better" than another? The modern view again is that there is an objective reality out there, separate from the observer, that can be accurately determined and is true for all. This dovetails nicely with the egoic desire to be right and to assert the superiority of MY view. Clearly what I see, feel and believe is correct or I would not be seeing, feeling or believing it. Furthermore, what I personally see, feel and believe is right for me, is therefore right for everyone. Put that way, it does seem rather pompous, but it's how our ego unconsciously pushes us 24/7. The obverse is the wishy-washy, co-dependent, total relativist. "Whatever you think is true is true for you"
Is it possible to chart a third course? My sense is that there are many possible worldviews, thus many possible realities. Some work well, some not so well. This is from The Magician's Companion by Bill Whitcomb, page 12,
I Law of Worldviews:
"The world we perceive is actually a mixture of the nominal world (the Tao, the objective reality that is unknowable but which underlies all that we think we know) and ourselves (the subjective). Changing your worldview does not change the eternal, real world, but it does change the world you perceive. That is, changing your worldview makes real changes in the world which is real to us. (see VII: Law of Reflections) Because there are an infinite number of ways to perceive the world, there are also an infinite number of worlds we may assemble without awareness. The true underlying reality is unknowable to us as long as we retain our worldview of separateness and self. You can become one with the universe but you cannot step back and observe it, because you are in it. You cannot observe a phenomenon without altering it by your mode of perception. There is no such thing as an independent observer. You participate in creating the world by perceiving it."
If your worldview is massively out of touch with the Tao, this is quite problematic, you are going to be confused, often surprised and unsuccessful, much of the time. But there are many "paths with heart" as Carlos Castaneda puts it. The key is finding one that fits you.
So I'm not going to say that the traditional astrological method of using fixed stars is the only way to fly, it certainly worked for our illustrious predecessors and it works well for me.