The Eightfold Year
and the
Stages of Life

©1995, John Opsopaus

(revised version ©2000)

(A version of this document without tables is available.)

Definition of the Eight Stages of Life

name & description
IYoung Child (paidion): suppleness of body, quick change
17shedding milk teeth (1 × 7)
IIChild (pais): development of intelligence, learning, personality
214puberty (2 × 7)
IIIYouth (meirakion/meirax): maturation, impulse toward love
321full growth of body hair, max. height (3 × 7)
IVYoung Adult (neaniskos/neanis): ambition, mastery & direction over actions, increase of strength
428maximum physical strength (4 × 7)
VAdult (anêr/gunê): full vigor, ready for marriage, striving for significance, improvement of insight & reason
549perfect age (7 × 7), menopause, ripe in wisdom, maturity of reason
VIElder (presbutês/presbutis): perfecting reason, judgement, foresight, moderation, honor, dignity
656beginning of old age: perfection of reason & judgement (8 × 7)
VIIOld One (gerôn/graia): forebearance, gentleness, passions tamed
770natural and of life, the decad (10 × 7)
VIII The End (eskhatê): uttermost, highest, best, last; an extremely old one (eskhatogeros); exercise of wisdom, honor, with no obligations.

Sources & Notes

I've supplied, in parentheses, the Greek word for each lifestage (male/female when they differ), as given by Philo (De Op. Mun. 36). The first seven lifestages, transitions and nominal ages are given by Iamblichus (Theol. Arith.) quoting Hippocrates (Hebd. 5), Philo (35-36), who quotes Hippocrates and Solon, Isidore of Seville (De Num. 188c-d), Macrobius (Somn. Scip. VI), Martianus Capella (De Nupt. VII), Ptolemy (Tetrab. IV.10); Westcott (Numbers 73, 76) was also considered. The ages used here are the same as in Iamblichus/Hippocrates and Philo; the others agree with minor exceptions. The eighth lifestage is implied by Macrobius. I take it to be the stage between death and rebirth, which is sometimes seen before death in the numinous state of an Ancient Sage.

The transition ages between lifestages shown above are 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8 hebdomads (7s). From Platonic theory we might expect 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, which are all the multiples of 2 and 3 (the primal even/female and odd/male numbers) in the decad (1 is neither odd nor even, but the source of both, according to the Pythagoreans). Adopting this theory drops the V-VI transition age from 49 to 42 (which seems too low).

In any case, the transition ages should not be taken too seriously; obviously they are heavily influenced by Pythagorean theory. See Opsopaus (Lib. de Oct. Mut.) for the universal eightfold structure of cycles.

Further Correspondences

quality element celest.
of soul
sabbat season Greek
0wetSpr Equ
IMoonsacrumEarly Sprearly Ear
1airMid Spr
IIMercurygonadsLate Sprlate Ear
2hotSum Sol
IIIVenusbellyEarly SumTheros
3fireMid Sum
IVSunheartLate SumOpôra
4dryAut Equ
VMarsthroatEarly AutPhthinopôron
5earthMid Aut
VIJupiterbrainLate AutSporetos
6coldWin Sol
VIISaturncrownEarly WinKheimôn
7waterMid Win
VIIIStarssupercrownLate WinPhutalia


Qualities & elements: The four qualities (corresponding to the quarters, the solstices and equinoxes) and the four elements (cross-quarters) constitute the eight radii of the wheel of the year. As explained by Aristotle (De Cael. 268-96, De Gen. & Cor. 329-31), each pair of qualities constitutes the element between them (fire = hot + dry, water = cold + wet, etc.), and two adjacent elements share the included quality (e.g. both air and fire are hot). Each quality and each element "rules" a quarter (so that their "domains" overlap); that is, the four qualities exhaust the wheel of the year, as do the four elements. Thus (1) air rules I-II, (2) hot rules II-III, (3) fire rules III-IV, etc. See
Opsopaus (Anc. Grk. Es. Doctr. Elem.) for more on the elements and qualities.

The hot quality is maximized at the summer solstice, and the cold quality at the winter solstice. The wet and dry qualities are at the two points of equilibrium between hot and cold, and so correspond to the equinoxes (where light/dark = hot/cold are equalized). Cold promotes moisture, which fuels heat, which dries things out. Birth takes place when fluidity (0 = wet) is maximized, and the discriminating force of heat (2) maximizes structure (3 = dry); thereafter the chaotic (4 = cold) processes lead to its dissolution (0 = wet). The resulting correspondence between the elements and the four seasons is confirmed by Aristides (De Mus. III.19), Isidore Sev. (De Nat. Rer. 1472), Peyligk (Phil. Nat. Comp. 1499), Hippocrates (Nat. Man VII, Reg. I.33) and others.

Celestial sphere: Ptolemy (Tetrab. IV.10) associates the seven planetary spheres with the first seven lifestages. It seems natural, then, to associate the eighth, astral sphere with the eighth, immaterial lifestage. (This also agrees with Gnostic ideas of the ascent of the soul.)

Sabbats and seasons: Varro (De Agri. I.28-36) describes eight seasons of the agricultural year. Their boundaries are the quarters (solstices and equinoxes) and cross-quarters that are approximately midway between them. Varro's dates for the cross-quarters were determined by astronomical events (e.g. the rising and setting of Sirius and the Pleiades), which have shifted over the intervening millennia. Therefore I have normalized them to Feb. 1, May 1, Aug. 1, Nov. 1. Here are some modern markers with approximate dates (computed from a circular astronomy-sliderule):

astronomical sign approx.
1May 1 Vega on Eastern horizon at Sunset (cosmical rising)
(Varro uses the heliacal rising of the Pleiades)
Apr. 29
(May 15)
3Aug. 1Sirius on Eastern horizon at Sunrise (heliacal rising)Aug. 4
5Nov. 1Vega on Eastern horizon at Sunrise (heliacal rising)
(Varro uses the cosmical rising of the Pleiades)
Nov. 5
(Nov. 15)
7Feb. 1Altair on Western horizon at Sunset (heliacal setting)Feb. 6

Greek seasons: The Greeks originally had three seasons, then four, and later seven. Based on dates and agricultural activities, I have decided that the Greek Ear (Spring) corresponds to the first two Roman seasons and to the first two lifestages, though this is not certain. By looking at their etymology we can understand the meaning of the Greek seasons (LSJ s.vv. hora and the names of the seasons):

stageGreek seasonmeaning
I-II Ear prime flowering (spring)
III Theros summer harvest (summer)
IV Opôra youthful ripeness, fruit (late summer)
V Phthinopôron waning of Opôra (autumn)
VI Sporetos seed time (corn sowing)
VII Kheimôn winter cold & storms
VIII Phutalia planting time (latter part of winter)

Form of the soul: The bodily loci of the "forms of the soul" (ta eidê psukhês), which correspond approximately to the chakras. The "eighth chakra," the "supercrown," is the divine force, located above the head, from which depends the embodied soul (Timaeus 90a-b); the Stoics (Aetius, Dox. Gr. 4.21.1-4) also recognized an eighth, transcendant "commanding-faculty" (hêgemonikon) that united and sustained the other seven parts of the soul. For more detail and sources, see Opsopaus (Ta Eidê Psuchês). Ideally, the lifestages correspond to a shift of emphasis to the higher chakras (without neglecting the lower ones, of course).

Fourfold Division

lifestage season sun (dir., qual.) life (qual.) humour element god
I-IISpringrising (E, dry)young (wet) bloodairZeus
III-IVSummermidday (S, hot)prime (hot) yellow bilefireHades
V-VIAutumnsetting (W, wet)harvest (dry) black bileearthHera
VII-VIIIWinternight (N, cold)dissol. (cold) phlegmwaterPersephone


There are a number of ways of assigning gods to the elements. That shown above is based on the esoteric doctrines of Empedocles, who discovered the four elements (see
Opsopaus, Anc. Grk. Es. Doctr. Elem., for an explanation).

Diogenes Laertius (VIII.10) says Pythagoras allotted 20 years to each stage. Comparing with the nominal ages from the first chart shows only a rough correspondence:


The four stages are ideally an ascent of emphasis through the four mental faculties enumerated by Plutarch (Opin. Phil. I.3), Theon of Smyrna (Math. Plat. 38) and others:

lifestage facultycharacteristicsqualities
I-IIchildsensus (sensation)fluid, discriminatingwet, hot
III-IVyouthopinio (opinion)discriminating, rigidhot, dry
V-VIadultscientia (knowledge, skill)rigid, unifyingdry, cold
VII-VIIIeldermens (understanding)unifying, fluidcold, wet

This is, in effect, an alchemical rotation through the elements air, fire, earth, water (also known as Plato's Cycle).


seas., sun (dir., qual.), life (qual.): Ptolemy (Tet. I.10); seas., sun (dir.), hum.: Durer/Celtis (Qua. Lib. Am. 1502); seas., elem.: Aristides (De Mus. III.19); seas., elem., dir.: Lull (Felix, corr. Yates), Ashmole (Th. Chem. Br. 1652); seas., elem., hum.: Isidore Sev. (De Nat. Rer. 1472), Peyligk (Phil. Nat. Comp. 1499); lifest., sun, dir.: Peyligk, Durer/Celtis; lifest., seas.: Crinitus (De Hon. Disc.), Diog. Laert. (VIII.10); lifest., seas., hum., elem.: Hippocrates (Nat. Man VII, Reg. I.33); elem., god: Kingsley (Anc. Phil., Mys. Mag.). On all issues related to the elements and qualites, see Opsopaus (Anc. Grk. Es. Doctr. Elem.) and the sources cited therein.
Return to Biblioteca Arcana page

Send comments about this page
Last updated: Wed Jan 5 17:47:14 EST 2000