Mundane Astrology
The Knepf's Snake-eye

The Riddle of the Sibly Chart for American Independence:
Masonic Astrology and the Fixed Square of the Zodiac

For many years astrologers have vigorously debated the proper timing of the signing of the US Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1776.  Although there is no way of confirming any exact time, there appear to be as many times and insisted proofs for this chart's accuracy as there are competent historical astrologers.  This chart's connection to Freemasonry is often overlooked, as is the astronomy and star lore that had evolved from the Middle Ages through Isaac Newton.  However, any understanding of the enigmatic Sibly chart for American Independence depends upon our understanding of how the Masons utilized astrology in the 18th Century.

The Profusion of Independence Day Charts

The Declaration of Independence (herein called "D of I") chart most widely used boasts the unreasonable time of 2:17 AM, LMT.  It is unlikely that the Continental Congress was in session at that hour of the morning, and there is no documentation to prove this.  Nonetheless, countless astrologers have depended on this chart for over one hundred years.  It is more likely that astrologers placed the planet Uranus on the "D of I" chart's destiny-determining ascending degree of 8° Gemini for reasons other than possession of a verifiable "time."

Placing a particular planet on the ascendant of a "revolutionary" chart was surely a mundane technique to aid in interpretation.  For instance, casting a solar chart for a nativity with an unknown time, or Mars on the ascendant for the first day of a conflict, and so on.  Uranus, named "Herschel" when it was discovered in 1783, had been an astrological enigma for some decades, and the astrologers of the late 18th Century were unsure of its interpretation. Its discovery during the Revolutionary period in the West lent to boundary-busting annotations. nbsp;But the hour required to establish a Gemini ascendant for the "D of I" would make this chart historically inaccurate, operating only on a symbolic level.  By today's astrological standards, the Gemini ascendant is unreliable.

Many astrologers in the 20th Century had understood these dismissals and offered charts of their own in hopes of pinning down this magical moment, perhaps to somehow weld the mythology of the era with the reality of history.  What follows is a brief survey of the proposed "D of I" times I have found in my studies, but by no means should this be considered an exhaustive list:

Astrologer(s) Time Ascending Degree
Traditional/Wynne1: 2:17 AM LMT 8º Gemini
Clement Hey/Gar Osten2: 3:01 AM LMT 20º Gemini
Lewis Howard3: 12:14:42 PM LMT 13º32' Libra
John Hazelrigg4: 12:20 PM LMT 14º42' Libra
Gallard Hunt5: 2:00 PM LMT 4º30' Scorpio
Marc Penfield6: 2:20 PM LMT 8º15' Scorpio
Vivian Robson7: 4:50 PM LMT 8º11' Sagittarius
Dane Rudhyar8: 5:14 PM LMT 13º10' Sagittarius
John B. Earley9: 10:04 PM LMT 4º09' Pisces

Of these, the Robson and Rudhyar charts have become somewhat popular in recent years, mainly due to their connection to the Ebenezer Sibly's chart first published in 1780. Sibly included this strange but fascinating "chart" as an engraving in his book, The Celestial Science of Astrology.  It simply states, "4th July, 10H 10M P.M., 1776," with no place specified, perhaps assuming we will default to Philadelphia (See Figures 1 and 1-a).

Closeup of Sibly chart
Figure 1  Sibly's symbolic chart for "American Independence," magnified and contrast adjusted to show the planetary positions.

Sibly's engraving
Figure 1-a  The entire Sibly engraving.

Sibly, a Freemason, describes himself as an "astro-philosopher."  And it is his connection to the secret society of Freemasons that helps us to understand the exact meaning of the symbolic and philosophical Sibly chart that was never meant to represent an actual moment that a normal astrology radix is supposed to behold.  The chart simply never existed in reality.  Somewhat interesting is the conspicuous absence of the planet "Herschel" in this chart.  It was never a consideration of Sibly, and sure it was not a consideration of the Masons in America in 1776 - seven years before Uranus' discovery.  Astrologers never had the quandry of a "new planet" before this time in history, and it took decades for astrology to grasp the meaning of this phenomenon.  The notion that the D of I chart had Uranus rising is nothing more than pure fantasy.

Other "reality" problems exist in Sibly's chart as well.  The angles specified -- 1949' Aquarius rising and 1312' Sagittarius culminating -- cannot possibly occur over the locale of Philadelphia.  Sibly specifies no place at all; we assume it must be Philadelphia, but the angles he cites cannot physically occur at Philadelphia's latitude.  These angles do occur daily over London, but the planetary formation, and mainly Luna's geocentric position within this chart, could not have happened over London as those zodiacal values passed the local azimuthal grid.

That the angles are unique to London's latitude was not lost on Rudhyar, who chose to relocate the chart to Philadelphia and arrived at a time of "5:14 PM" with an LAT to GMT conversion.  On that date, the sun reached the MC four minutes later than the GMT noontime would have.  Rudhyar then justified this choice of ascendant and midheaven via the Sabian Symbols.10

Robson's time, also Sibly-based but a full 24 minutes and 5 of zodiacal arc in difference to Rudhyar's, was a Sibly chart rectification that was cited in a special 1948 AFA bulletin called Astrological Americana, "... I have been looking into the [Sibly] horoscope there suggested and have very little doubt that it is the correct one.  A rectification by events brings out a local time of 4:49:49 as the exact moment for which the map should be erected, so that we are justified in choosing 4:50 PM."11

This rectification, however, flies in the face of history itself according to Marc Penfield, who points out a recorded fact that John Hancock affixed his proud signature on the document some time after 2 PM LMT on that day, after the final draft of the D of I came "out of committee."  For this he cites Hancock's own diary.12 Many other historical sources agree with the "afternoon" timing, although none are as precise as Hancock's own pen, which is still somewhat vague.

To this day we still have the problem of affixing the proper angles to this most important chart.  Without proper angles, much delineation and prognostication may be for naught, or limited at best.  Rectification, as a rule, should be employed when all other attempts to garner historical proof have failed us.

1 AFA, Astrological Americana, AFA publications, Tempe, AZ, 1949, pp. 7-8.
2 Osten, Gar, The Astrological Chart of the United States, Stein and Day, New York, 1976, p. 17.
3 Howard, Lewis, Astrology and the United States, Llewellyn Publications, Los Angeles, 1951, p. 5.
4 AFA, Astrological Americana, pp. 5-6.
5 AFA, Astrological Americana, pp. 9-10.
6 Penfield, Marc Hereen, Horoscopes of the Western Hemisphere, ACS Publications, San Diego, CA, 1984, p. 17.
7 AFA, Astrological Americana, p. 5.
8 Rudhyar, Dane, The Astrology of America's Destiny, Vintage Books/Random House, New York, 1974, p. 69.
9 Earley, John B., Horoscopes of the USA, Kessinger Publications, Kila, MT (reprint), 1914.
10 Rudhyar, pp. 74-5.
11 AFA, Astrological Americana, AFA Publications, Tempe, AZ; p. 4
12 Penfield, p. 17.

Part 2 of 4
Mundane Astrology

Copyright 2002 Edward Kohout. All Rights Reserved.