Raphael’s Ephemeris is a set of tables used by astrologers which lists the zodiacal positions of astronomical bodies – the Sun, Moon and planets. More recently, the ephemeris includes some asteroids and the ‘centaur’ planet known as 2060 Chiron. Raphael’s Ephemeris, the oldest of its kind, is published annually in a portable booklet and in large multi-year volumes.
The ephemeris is a table of the calculated positions of astronomical objects and various other data, usually for a specific time of the day, either noon or midnight. A uniform time measurement is needed to establish accuracy, and ephemerides will use variously Greenwich Mean Time, Universal Time or Ephemeris Time. Historically, the ephemeris was used for astrology and dates back to ancient Babylon. However, ephemerides became highly useful to navigators and astronomers, and were officially recognised by governments from about the early modern period. The first national astronomical ephemeris, Connaissance de Temps, was published in France in 1679. In 1767 came the Nautical Almanac and Astronomical Ephemeris, which is issued annually by the British Royal Observatory at Greenwich.
There are different types of ephemerides, and a distinction needs to be made between those used for astronomy and those for astrology. In the former case, values based on right ascension and declination are obtained. Right ascension is longitude, measured eastwards, on the celestial equator – the earth’s equator projected into space to encircle the solar system. Declination is the other co-ordinate, measured north to south, on this hypothetical, great sphere.
The astrological ephemeris was developed for the purposes of setting up a birth chart, or horoscope, and converts positions of planets given in right ascension/declination into zodiacal longitude. This is a planet’s position along the ecliptic –the plane of the earth’s orbit around the sun, or the sun’s apparent path around a fixed, stationary earth. An astrological birth chart is geocentric, or earth-centred, calculated as if the earth was at a fixed point, with the zodiac ‘revolving’ around it.
The starting point for this is always the first point of spring (the vernal equinox) or 0º0' Aries, ending at 29º59' Pisces. This is the tropical zodiac, a ‘belt’ of sky extending about 8–9 degrees either side of the ecliptic. However, it should not be confused with the sidereal zodiac, which is the background of fixed stars, or constellations.
Raphael’s Ephemeris was first issued as part of an almanac entitled The Prophetic Messenger in the early nineteenth century. ‘Raphael’, the name given to one of three archangels in the Old Testament, was in fact one Robert Cross Smith (1795–1832), a former carpenter who had developed an interest in astrology. Smith first used the pseudonym in 1824 when he edited a periodical called The Straggling Astrologer, later re-published as The Astrologer of the Nineteenth Century. He also referred to himself as the ‘Royal Merlin’. The Straggling Astrologer was a relative failure, but by 1827 Smith had assumed editorship of The Prophetic Messenger, which was read widely by astrologers of the day, and contributed to a renaissance of interest in astrology in the nineteenth century.
Raphael’s Ephemeris was issued as a separate publication after Smith’s death, whilst others adopted and continued with the name ‘Raphael’. The second Raphael was John Palmer (1807–1837), a former student of Smith’s, who edited Raphael's Sanctuary of the Astral Art in 1834; the third was a Mr. Medhurst, the editor of the Prophetic Messenger between c. 1837–1847. Smith is sometimes confused with ‘Edwin Raphael’, who in fact was the pseudonym for the succeeding Raphael, (number four) a certain Mr. Wakeley (d. 1852). Number five was a Mr. Sparkes (1820–1875), editor of the Prophetic Messenger from 1852 to 1872, who even briefly edited Raphael’s Ephemeris’ main rival at the time, Zadkiel’s Almanac. (‘Zadkiel’ was the pseudonym of Richard James Morrison, an astrologer/inventor whose almanac dates back to 1831.) Robert Thomas Cross (1850–1923) became the next Raphael, obtaining the copyright to the publication at some time in the 1870s.
Robert Cross Smith was also responsible for popularising the system of astrological house division known as the Placidean, after the Italian monk Placidus de Titus (d. 1668). Placidus house tables, for locations in northern latitudes, are still listed in Raphael's Ephemeris, nowadays issued by W. Foulsham, a British publisher founded in 1819. (They first published Raphael's in 1836.) The latest ephemerides have been calculated using data obtained from the astronomical ephemerides produced by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.