ISO 8601: Dating Convention for Astrologers by John S. Dawson

For those that know me, I havenít 'done' much astrology over the last few years having embarked on an extensive reading program in preparation for a book on Richard III and Charles I from an astrological viewpoint. This required me to qualify large number of birth and event data from those times.

In going back to the Medieval and early Modern era it has shown up a number of problems with regards to dating conventions used by historians, the internet and in particular astrologers. These problems are further compounded by the well known differences in dating conventions used in America, the UK and in Europe.

For example 8th March 1996, the British would write as 8/3/9, the Americans as 3/8/96 and the Swiss as 8.3.96 or 08.03.96. This of course leaves people wondering if the date is for March or August, pretty disastrous for an astrologer.

For the moment this is not such a problem as it is usually easy to figure out what number is the year, and decide on the day/month by looking at where the data came from. But in future years as the internet community expands, with the ability to translate information online, this may cause astrologers real problems. What, for instance is the dating convention used in say North Korea or China? With people now being born in the 2000ís worse problem will begin to appear as it will not be immediately obvious as to what part of the date is the year, let alone the month. ISO 8601 has been proposed as a possible international solution to this problem.

I donít want to repeat the proposal made in ISO 8601 here, as it is too long to describe. My question is however, just what if anything, does the astrological community propose to do in the face of these proposals? I feel that the astrological communities such as the AA, ISAR and others should take the lead and at the very least instigate some proposals for discussion.

When people see ISO 8601 they may not like what they see, especially if you have a large database of information. Iím sure the business and medical community will also have problems with it as it will undoubtedly become an integral component of most computer programs in the future. Especially if Mr Gates can see a way of making some money out of it.

My own problems concern the number of astrology (and history) books that give dates that are ambiguous with regards to them being Julian or Gregorian dates. All the astrology programs that I have looked at totally ignore the fact that England and its colonies (and that includes some American states under British rule) did not change from Julian to Gregorian till 1756, and not 1581 as (astrological) computer programmers almost exclusively believe. For instance, take the birthday of Charles I. In Nick Campionís book Born to Reign it is given as 19th November 1600, and is perfectly correct, but there is no mention that this is in fact a Julian date. If you put this date in into SolarFire, Kepler, Io, etc it will be computed as Gregorian and will be 10 days out.

Luckily Nick describes Charlesís nativity in detail, but without this you would be unaware that you have an incorrect chart. This is because the date falls into that gap between 1581 and 1756, either side of these dates, and outside the UK, astrology charts will be computed correctly (most of the time!).

I have used Nick Campionís book as an example, but almost all astrology/history books have the same problem. Even well known resources such as the Swiss Ephemeris at compute dates as Julian up until December 31st 1581 and start Gregorian on January 1st 1582, giving an overlap of 10 days when the data is duplicated. It is of little use demanding a precise reference for any data if the source data is ambiguous. Other astrologers that have done similar historical work will know that there are further more complex problems than I have not had the space to described here.

As you can imagine this has caused me a number of sleepless nights as I struggle to find if the data is correct. If you think Charles I is a problem then Elizabeth I is worse, as she is born with a Julian date (7 Sep 1533 os) and dies with a Gregorian date (24 Mar 1603 os).

This is not astrology, it is frustrating, boring and tedious but unfortunately necessary, and we astrologers need to come to some consensus regarding dating conventions before it becomes a bigger problem in the future. I hope the AA and ISAR can set some time aside in future conferences for a discussion on this topic (I hate to think how many will turn up) as well as other naming conventions such as Saros Cycles as this is also a bone of contention for historical/astrological research.


To make a start in this process I propose a small but important change to historical dates in astrological publications:

The use of the term OS (Old Style) for Julian dates and NS (New Style) for Gregorian is I feel cumbersome and should simply be replaced with the appendage 'J' or 'G' after the date as this is what is being proposed in ISO 860.

John Dawson can be contacted via Transit.