THE MAGI & THE STAR-CHILD

Adoration Of The Magi By Fra Angelico 1433

Let me begin by stating clearly that I make no pretence to have finally solved the riddle of the Magi. I do hope that this short piece will contribute in a positive way to the ongoing study of the subject. In writing articles of this type, one needs to study the most recent scholarship as well as the ancient sources still extant. We may never know how much knowledge has been lost over the centuries, but we do know it was a great deal. These losses included the library of Alexandria and wholesale destruction of libraries during the Muslim invasions from North Africa, Persia and as far as India.

This continues from the two previous articles on the identity and nature of the Magi in particular relation to the Christmas story which combines Jewish and Persian elements. But first, it must be remembered that it is a story and it cannot be assumed that the narrator himself thought it to be an account of a temporal event. A story is not necessarily untrue, but it is a different kind of truth than the recalling of an historical event.

Further, our modern notion of historical accuracy is a fairly recent development. All cultures have maintained a mythological dimension to their own histories and it is often the case that the mythological tells us more about the society and its part in the greater cosmology than a historical “fact” might do.  The latter is also subject to selective memory and various interpretations, while the former is more or less deliberately symbolic in nature. A popular and condescending euphemism for this second type of writing is “pious fiction.” The modern world needs to recover the meaning of an epiphany if it expects to understand ancient texts as they were intended to be read.

I intend to take a circuitous approach to explain what I have come to understand about the story of the Magi, involving solid astrology, interpreting mythological traditions as well as cultural realities.

Mark Kidger, an astronomer, writes that if the object was as bright as is reported in the Protovangelium of James, it would have to be at least as bright as the Moon and would have been recorded all over the world. He asks: was the star really brilliant? Did these early accounts use artistic license? Which of the accounts, if any, was the “correct” one? Where we even supposed to take the story of the Star literally?  The Bible and the Apocryphal Gospels were never intended to be exact histories of the life of Jesus …. they are works written by the faithful for the faithful, and for those the writers hoped to convert.” (The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomer’s View p. 19).

The interconnectedness and relative familiarity with different cultures in the Middle East, Rome, Greece, Egypt, and Persia are well documented but often trivialized. One cultural advantage of empires is the massive and facilitated flow of ideas, including familiarity with other languages. The Jews had been subjugated by the Romans, Babylonians, and Persians. Since the conquest of Alexander, they lived in a Hellenized world and it made for a heady mix. What emerged was a high degree of syncretism. One example was the existence of the Pharisees, a corruption of Parsi. The Jews appear to have adopted the idea of an afterlife in the Pharisee tradition, where the Sadducee school remained disinterested. The idea of an afterlife was shared by other cultures, but it would appear to be Zoroastrianism and the Persian influence that was primary

Depiction of Cyrus the Great by Jean Fouquet, 1470.Cyrus II_le Grand_et les_Hébreux

Certainly, the existence of the Magi was well known and their reputation was all but universally considered one of benevolence. Just as importantly, the Zoroastrian tradition had influenced the Greeks long before Plato, as well as Judaism. Jesus is considered by many scholars to be an Essene or at least influenced by them.  The theme of the sons of darkness and sons of light has no other obvious equivalence than Zoroastrianism. We don’t find this theme in Greek or Jewish thought. Neither do we find it in Egyptian religion.

When we consider the details of the Christmas story, the role of the Magi is fascinating. First of all, the Jews were expecting a triumphant Messiah – a King of Kings from the House of David. The story of the virgin birth of a holy child, destined to redeem humanity and openly challenge the Judaism of the times is not what they had in mind. The humble birthplace of Jesus has become a symbol of humility to Christians, but it couldn’t have helped the Jews to accept him as the Messiah. Beyond Talmudic teachings, the case against Jesus being the Messiah derives from several key Scriptures: Isaiah 11:1-9, Isaiah 2:3-4, and Micah 4:2-3 among them.

The Christmas story might be seen as an attempted rebuttal to the disdain in the Jewish community. However, there is far more to it than that. The story may have been an attempt to illustrate a number of things, even if that meant excessive embellishment and resorting to “pious fiction.”

There have been countless attempts to identify the “star of wonder” ranging from a possible conjunction of Jupiter and Venus to a comet and a supernova. None of the theories so far has triumphed and we are left with the distinct possibility that the star being followed was of a spiritual nature – what we might call an inner light. No astronomer has been able to identify what it was –  or if anything extraordinary was seen at all. My personal view is that the theories set forth haven’t taken the whole astrological picture into account.

Keplers_trigon. A series of great conjunctions and trigons from Kepler’s book De Stella Nova.

The first “modern” attempt to discover what identifiable astronomical events could explain the star over Bethlehem really was conducted by Johannes Kepler identifiable astronomical phenomenon lies behind the biblical story of the so-called Star of Bethlehem was effectively begun by the astronomer  Kepler (1571–1630),. Kepler was the mathematician to Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor1576–1612.

Johannes Kepler, ‘De stella nova in Pede Serpentarii’ (1606)

“In the years 1604–5 a supernova appeared in the constellation Ophiuchus and excited considerable discussion in Europe. Kepler kept a detailed record of his observations of the star. In the preceding year, 17 December 1603, at Prague he had also witnessed a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn with Mars moving into the vicinity soon after, which interested him in his capacity as court astrologer. The supernova appeared in the neighbourhood of these three planets.

Jupiter-Saturn Conjunction Chart. Image credit: Star of the Magi

In medieval times the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, known as the “great conjunction” (recurring only once every 19·86 [incorrect] years on average), was regarded as of great astrological significance. Kepler calculated that a similar conjunction with Mars moving into the vicinity soon after had occurred in the year 7 B.C. = Julian year 39. On that occasion, the conjunction had been a triple conjunction, a very much rarer event than the normal single conjunction.” (Sachs, A., & Walker, C. (1984). Kepler’s View of the Star of Bethlehem and The Babylonian Almanac for 7/6 B.C). At the end of the day, it turned out that Kepler had miscalculated and ever since then, one attempt after another to identify the star has failed.

William Eamon provides a summary of the process: “Kepler believed that the new star was a portent of deep significance. It was, he concluded, “an exceedingly wonderful work of God.” In 1606, he published a pamphlet, De Stella Nova in Pede Serpentarii (On the New Star in the Foot of Serpens), describing his discovery. Kepler was convinced that the new star was the same as the one that the Three Kings followed on their way to Bethlehem. With somewhat tortured logic, he reasoned that the new star was the equivalent of one that appeared in the same constellation around the time of the birth of Christ. He identified the supernova with a star that appeared in a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn during the years 7-5 B.C. Since the supernova of 1604 appeared in the same conjunction, he reasoned, it had to be the same as the Star of Bethlehem that showed the Magi the way to Jesus.” (Kepler and the Star of Bethlehem)

It is crucial to remember that the Christmas story was written down long after the alleged events. Although not all scholars are in agreement, the majority believe that Mark was the first Gospel to be written, sometime around the year 70. This consensus has it that the Gospel of Matthew and the  Gospel of Luke was written down sometime in the 9th or final decade of the 1st century. Obviously, this casts the authorship into doubt. It has been countered that the original four evangelists had completed gospels that were then transcribed by others at a much later date. However, the record doesn’t support this at all. Even the choice of which gospels would be included had a political and tendentious element in their selection.

Nevertheless, those who insist that everything written in the Bible is to be taken as literal truth will need to deny any metaphorical meaning at all. For the rest of us, we are free to consider the possibility that some passages or stories in the Bible are powerfully metaphorical and that metaphor and elaboration can add to the power of the truth being told, even if it had no actual historical existence. It does not seem out of place here to mention that the modern understanding of history conforms to linear time. The very idea of linear time is an extreme abstraction with no modern scientific basis. It is part of the materialist creed.

Zoroastrianism, like Christianity, is a Universal religion.  As mentioned, the Jews also had every reason to venerate the Magi, emissaries from the East: The following is what is known as the Proclamation of Cyrus from Ezra 1:1-8 (ESV):

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:

Modern Persian carpet showing Cyrus the Great, seen in Tehran

2“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”

Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered. Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah.

Among the classical Jewish sources, besides the Bible, Josephus (1st century AD) mentions that Cyrus freed the Jews from captivity and helped rebuild the temple. He also wrote to the rulers and governors that they should contribute to the rebuilding of the temple and assisted them in rebuilding the temple. A letter from Cyrus to the Jews is described by Josephus.:

KING CYRUS TO SISINNES AND SATHRABUZANES SENDETH GREETING:

“I have given leave to as many of the Jews that dwell in my country as please to return to their own country, and to rebuild their city, and to build the temple of God at Jerusalem on the same place where it was before. I have also sent my treasurer Mithridates, and Zorobabel, the governor of the Jews, that they may lay the foundations of the temple and may build it sixty cubits high, and of the same latitude, making three edifices of polished stones, and one of the wood of the country, and the same order extends to the altar whereon they offer sacrifices to God. I require also that the expenses for these things may be given out of my revenues. Moreover, I have also sent the vessels which king Nebuchadnezzar pillaged out of the temple, and have given them to Mithridates the treasurer, and to Zorobabel the governor of the Jews, that they may have them carried to Jerusalem, and may restore them to the temple of God. Now their number is as follows: Fifty chargers of gold, and five hundred of silver; forty Thericlean cups of gold, and five hundred of silver; fifty basons of gold, and five hundred of silver; thirty vessels for pouring [the drink-offerings], and three hundred of silver; thirty vials of gold, and two thousand four hundred of silver; with a thousand other large vessels. [Note] I permit them to have the same honour which they were used to have from their forefathers, as also for their small cattle, and for wine and oil, two hundred and five thousand and five hundred drachma; and for wheat flour, twenty thousand and five hundred artabae; and I give order that these expenses shall be given them out of the tributes due from Samaria. The priests shall also offer these sacrifices according to the laws of Moses in Jerusalem; and when they offer them, they shall pray to God for the preservation of the king and of his family, that the kingdom of Persia may continue. But my will is, that those who disobey these injunctions, and make them void, shall be hung upon a cross, and their substance brought into the king’s treasury.”

And such was the import of this epistle. Now the number of those that came out of captivity to Jerusalem were forty-two thousand four hundred and sixty-two.”

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn – Daniel and Cyrus before the Idol Bel

The somewhat terse account in Matthew is expanded upon, with both similarities and differences in the apocryphal Protoevengelium of James. This work is overwhelmingly concerned with Mary, Joseph, establishing the legitimacy of the Christ child and answering all the kinds of questions that might be asked about virgin birth and the birth of the Christ child. James also gives us this:

“21. And, behold, Joseph was ready to go into Judæa. And there was a great commotion in Bethlehem of Judæa, for Magi came, saying: Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him. And when Herod heard, he was much disturbed and sent officers to the Magi. And he sent for the priests, and examined them, saying: How is it written about the Christ? Where is He to be born? And they said: In Bethlehem of Judæa, for so it is written. And he sent them away. And he examined the Magi, saying to them: What sign have you seen in reference to the king that has been born? And the Magi said: We have seen a star of great size shining among these stars, and obscuring their light so that the stars did not appear; and we thus knew that a king has been born to Israel, and we have come to worship him. And Herod said: Go and seek him; and if you find him, let me know, in order that I also may go and worship him. And the Magi went out. And, behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them until they came to the cave, and it stood over the top of the cave. And the Magi saw the infant with His mother Mary, and they brought forth from their bag gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by the angel not to go into Judæa, they went into their own country by another road. .”

If we come to these passages expecting to learn of a physical celestial event, that is what we will understand. However, this is not the only possible interpretation of ” a star of great size shining among these stars, and obscuring their light, so that the stars did not appear; and we thus knew that a king has been born to Israel, and we have come to worship him.” Could this not be written in the same spirit as “The light shineth in the darkness” in the Gospel of John?  As I mentioned, the greatest irony of a belief in literalism is that it ignores that the very act of writing or story-telling is

Grotto of-the Nativity Close-up of the star at the birthplace of Jesus (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

metaphorical. They are part of how we process what we see. Even a technical manual will, more often than not, contain language that is not entirely literal. Turning to Judeo-Christian scripture we recognize that a direct command to “love your neighbour: can be taken at face value, even if understanding precisely what that means is subject to interpretation. The story of Jonah and the whale is a good case in point. We know that what happens in the story is impossible to explain using scientific principles. People cannot live inside whales, but if we out our material doubts aside, the story is rich in metaphorical meaning. Not believing that humans can live in whales is not cause for accusations of blasphemy except by the most extreme and demented American Evangelical Fundamentalist.

Many stories in the Bible are replete with metaphorical thought and in many cases re-telling of stories from other cultures, such as Egypt and Babylon. They are not primarily historical documents, although that are many who treat them as if they were.The first task of scripture is to impart spiritual truths and present material that illustrates the way of righteousness and the consequences of ignoring the wise. In that sense, Hindu scripture is of the same kind. There may very well be historical references, but history itself is not the most important factor.

There are many elements here that are immediately germane to the art of astrology. The more mystical the content, the more literalism falls away. What is above, is below. We are born of stars and the light we experience is microcosmic as well as macrocosmic. We speak of illuminated minds and inner light. We also speak of the benighted consciousness and the “outer darkness.” In the Gospels, the “exterior darkness” or “outer darkness” is a place referred to three times in the Gospel of Matthew (8:12, 22:13, and 25:30) into which a person may be “cast out”, and where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.

The Sages and the Star-Child: An Introduction to the Revelation of the Magi, An Ancient Christian Apocryphon” is the title of a PhD dissertation by Brent Christopher Landau of The Faculty of Harvard Divinity School.

Landau “analyzes a poorly-known ancient Christian apocryphal writing, termed the Revelation of the Magi. This document purports to be the personal testimony of the biblical Magi on the coming of Christ, and is the longest and most complex narrative devoted to the Magi surviving from antiquity.” The thesis is compelling and at the very least provides a fairly detailed first-hand account of the experience from the Magi point of view.

The entire dissertation is available online, so I see no useful purpose in rehearsing it here, but there are several things that need to be said.  The purpose and general focus of this series of articles on the Magi are on magic, metaphor, and astrology.  Here we have an astronomical event that probably didn’t occur at all, read by Magi who were astrologers. The realization that the star was Christ himself, in perhaps a similar sense as we see in his transfiguration. All three Synoptic Gospels tell the story of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-9; Luke9:28-36). With a remarkable agreement, all three place the event shortly after Peter’s confession of faith that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus’ first prediction of his passion and death.

Perhaps the greatest anathema to astrology according to Christian theologians is the mistaken view that astrologers believe the stars dictate what will happen to individuals and societies.  In their view, this somehow circumvents the will of a supreme being, when in fact the astrologer reads the signs to gain knowledge of divine will. Sorcerers and fortune tellers are considered to be cut from the same cloth as astrologers. However, in Judaism and Zoroastrianism, the stars are clearly understood to be useful and several books in the Jewish Bible, such as The Book of Daniel are saturated with astrological meaning. Yet in the Tanakh, we find The metaphor of the clock and time is germane here. The clock doesn’t create time, it just tells you what time it is.

It’s increasingly apparent that the importance of astrology in Judaism increased during the Babylonian captivity and the strong and friendly contacts with the Persians, who maintained a fairly practical form of the art.

It should be noted that there very few Jews would deny the presence of astrology in the Tanakh, but there would be reservations s well.  – However, “two biblical passages dealing with the diviner (menaḥesh) and soothsayer (me’onen; Lev. 19:26; Deut. 18:10) were understood by the rabbis as bearing relation to astrology (Sanh. 65b–66a; cf. Maim. Yad, Avodah Zarah 11:8, 9). The prophets were aware of the practices of “star-gazers” (ḥoverei ha-shamayim) among the Babylonians and other peoples but they scoffed at them (Isa. 47:13; Jer. 10:2). In the book of Daniel the Babylonian astrologers arecalled kasdim (Chaldeans), and in Aramaic kasda’ei (2:2, 4, 5, 10; 4:14; 5:7, 11). The Sibylline Oracles (219–231) praise the Jewish people for refraining from astrology, which is a delusion. The Book of Jubilees (12:16–18) depicts the patriarch Abraham as overcoming the beliefs of the astrologers. The first Book of Enoch (8:3) includes astrology among the sins spread among mortals by the primeval giants (nefilim). Josephus, however, writes that astrology was common among the Jews in his days and that Jewish misinterpretation of celestial signs was partially responsible for the outbreak of the revolt against the Romans and its continuation for four years (Jos., Wars, 6:288ff.)”Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 .

Ketubbah – Jewish Marriage Contract, Leghorn, Italy, 1728 with astrological symbols

1300 years later, Moses Maimonides was vehemently opposed to the practise of astrology, but his view had virtually no influence on subsequent Jewish writers. Astrology had become an integral element of Judaism. After all, the Yiddish mazel tov derives from Hebrew words meaning a constellation of good stars and destiny. Considering the extraordinary influence and reputation of  Maimonides, this stands as a  strong endorsement of astrology by the Jewish community.

“With the exception of Joseph Judah ibn Aknin and his enthusiastic admirer R. *Jedaiah ha-Penini (Bedersi), none of the Jewish philosophers of the succeeding generations opposed or deprecated astrology. Even the rationalistic *Levi b. Gershom maintained that the activities and events of a man’s life were predestined by the positions and movements of celestial bodies. The astrologers fail, he asserted, first of all because of insufficient knowledge about the movements of the stars and the effects of their changed positions on sublunar beings, and secondly, because of the intervention of intellect and free will, “for the intellect and the will are empowered to carry us beyond the limitations imposed by the celestial bodies” (Milḥamot Adonai 2:2). Shem-Tov ibn *Falaquera also considered astrology a true science and made use of it. Many of the great rabbis, commentators, preachers, and ethical teachers dealt with astrology and were favourably disposed toward it; *Abraham b. David of Posquières, in his Hassagot, a commentary on Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah; *Naḥmanides (Commentary on Gen. 1:16; Lev. 23:24, and passim) and his pupil Solomon b. Abraham *Adret (Responsa, no. 652); *Baḥya b. Asher (Commentary on Ex. 11:4; and passim); Isaac *Aboab (Menorat ha-Ma’or, 143; passim); Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ *Duran (Magen Avot, 72bff., and Tashbeẓ, no. 513); Isaac *Abrabanel , who cited many proofs “from the science of astronomy in regard to the celestial conjunctions” for his opinion that the redemption of Israel would begin in 1503 and come to completion in 1531 (Ma’yenei ha-Yeshu’ah, 12:2); Isaac *Arama (Akedat Yiẓḥak, 34, 56), though he disapproved of eschatological reckonings based on astrology; Moses b. Ḥayyim *Alshekh ; *Judah Loew b. Bezalel (Maharal) of Prague, who is reputed to have practiced astrology in the company of his friend Tycho Brahe; David *Gans ; Leone of *Modena ; Joseph Solomon *Delmedigo of Candia, Jonathan *Eybeschuetz ; and *Elijah , Gaon of Vilna (Commentary on Sefer Yeẓirah). A definitely negative attitude toward astrology was assumed by Azariah dei *Rossi” (Me’or Einayim, 42, 43). Source: Enyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008c

Detail of the ancient kibbutz Beth Alpha mosaic, Israel: a zodiac wheel with all 12 symbols and names of the zodiac, surrounded by four female figures at the corners, identifying the seasons of the year; at the centre, Helios, the sun god driving a quadriga, with moon and stars. (Picture: Art Resource, NY; biblicalarchaeology.org/via @Inés Peschiera Kežman Pfeifer)

Most importantly, traditional astrology views the stars as microcosm and macrocosm. In most cases, we study the macrocosmic heavens to shed light on the microcosm. In the case of the Star Child, we have the Magi reading the advent of Christ by an inner illumination. This appears to be the message when we have looked at all the sources and considered the identity of the players in this cosmic drama. We talk about “outer space” but there is a corresponding “inner space.”

Of course, the proclamation that the Kingdon of Heaven is within you is used only by Matthew. Mark and Luke used “kingdom of God” Compare Matthew 11:11-12 with Luke 7:28; Matthew 13:11with Mark 4:11 and Luke 8:10; Matthew 13:24 with Mark 4:26; Matthew 13:31 with Mark 4:30 and Luke 13:18; Matthew 13:33 with Luke 13:20; Matthew 18:3 with Mark 10:14 and Luke 18:16; and Matthew 22:2 with Luke 13:29. The two phrases clearly mean the same thing.

If we revisit words of the Magi in Matthew:

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East [or at its rising and have come to worship Him ” we are left with a tantalizing and evocative image, but we still don’t have any idea what this rising star was. It was common to refer to planets as stars, but there isn’t anything close to bright enough to match the description.

If we take this account at face value and ignore the impossible exaggerations which have, ironically, obscured all the main points, we would have a chart very similar to this.

This chart shows the rising of Jupiter the king planet, in the royal sign of Leo and with the Kings’ star, Regulus. This certainly fits with the description of the Star in the East. It is ascending ahead of the Sun with enough clearance from the Sun to allow visibility.

Regulus, in Leo (The Lion), means “little king,” named by Copernicus. It is the heart of the Lion and associated with generosity and ambition. If well aspected it will raise the person to high positions in life and denotes successful activity. Its nature is Mars and Jupiter. Bayer name Alpha Leo. Apparent magnitude +1.3 This star rising with Jupiter would have been considered a strong indicator of the birth of a king when combined with the other elements present.

Some have suggested that “born of a Virgin” means the Sun in Virgo. I see no compelling reason to take this view, but it may be worthy of further research. We can say that the Sun in Virgo is suggestively positioned.

The triple conjunction of Venus and Mercury and the Ascendant with Jupiter would make for a convincing candidate for the birth of a great king in Babylonian as well as Persian astrology. The Moon is in her domicile in Cancer and Mars in his Exaltation is safely in the 6th house, like a tiger in a cage. This is where Mars has his Joy.

Saturn retrograde and conjunct the Midheaven is more sinister. The Jews are under the governance of Saturn and this new king is not welcome by the highest authorities. There is a tight conjunction of  Saturn with the fixed star Rigel, the brightest star in Orion, The Hunter (Apparent magnitude +0.3) The star is of the nature of Jupiter and Saturn and associated with fame, wealth, and lasting honours.  Rigel is a fortunate star and a very powerful one.  This would serve as a protective element.

This is the most likely way that the Magi determined the location of the birth. Saturn conjunct the MC is in the place of authority. It is only natural that they would visit Herod.

I make no claims to this being the exact date, but the time would be close enough to provide us with an accurate enough and relatively short window for this configuration to occur, making this a strong candidate for something approaching what must have occurred.

It seems ironic that many of the attempts to embellish and exaggerate the message of the Magi have obscured what might otherwise have been obvious.

The Magi are what scripture and tradition say they are – highly skilled astrologers, almost certainly from Persia. There has been a number of attempts over the years to make them appear to be like a Unicef greeting card depicting them as all Jewish kings from Yemen.

I don’t believe that The Star-Child account is meant to be taken entirely literally, but it is a rather lovely narrative of the Star leading to the Child. For approximately two billion  Christians, Christ is their Guiding Star

Rigel, one of the brightest stars in the sky, intrinsically as well as in appearance. A blue-white supergiant in the constellation Orion. Image courtesy of Encyclopaedia Brittanica.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE STARS TO UNDERSTAND A CHART

The purpose of this article is to shed some light on the importance of stars and parans. For this, I used the chart of Scott Fitzgerald, the great American author. I will make some considerations using medieval techniques and then I´ll use the stars that were in parans or in angles during the day of his birth.

As for longevity, Scott only lived 44 years and we have to look for an explanation. I will delineate the chart based on medieval techniques, at first.

The Sun cannot be hyleg because it is cadent, so we have to choose the Moon as hyleg and alchocodem. She’s at an angle and her years will be 108, but she’s opposed to Saturn, outside the orb.

These orb issues are very relative. Let´s see: the Moon has a 12° orb and Saturn a 9°. Adding the two together, we get 10.5. In this case, the Moon would be far from the orb, as Saturn is at 16° and the opposition ends at 10.5 in Scorpio.

What occurs to me is that the Moon walks throughout the day of birth (a technique used by the ancient Egyptians), until it reaches the orb with Saturn.

If this Moon is really in opposition to Saturn, Saturn will be Alchocodem and would give its greatest years, 57 years, being angular. As Robert Zoller would say, ten years more, ten years less. Even so, the native died before he was 47 years old. He died at the age of 44.

Very well: It is clear from the natal chart that the author had a talent for writing and writing well: Mars in the house of creativity trine Venus, in her domicile, Libra. Venus is conjunct to Mercury.

The cadent planets in the ninth house can provide a lot of virtuosity, but they don’t last a lifetime.

I have cases that show exceptional musical talent, but if the astrological configuration is cadent, it doesn’t generate a profession and the talent fades along the way.

Fitzgerald’s chart continues to show many mysteries. At first glance, in short, the chart does not reveal the unstable and extraordinary life of the author, and other people have aspects like those lacking the popularity of Scott´s name as a writer.

When he died, the firdar was Saturn, sub-ruler Mars, the profection fell on the 9th house, the house where the Sun is, and the solar revolution shows the following chart:

Next, I’ll show you some parans and stellar positions, which, in my opinion, explain more of the chart and make it exceptional.

Stars that rise with the Sun:

Alphard

Native takes a life close to the limit to seek intense emotional encounters

Aldebaran – In the orb of Nadir 02 minutes 33 seconds –

The principles and integrity are the compass and foundation of your life and afterlife.

Denebola while Mercury is rising orb 01 min 46 secs –

Having a different point of view about language and culture

Stars of his Prime

Antares with Saturn is culminating in the orb 00 min 02 secs –

Black and white, a life full of struggle with polarities

Phact is with the Moon in Nadir 00 minutes and 34 seconds –

The love of reading or writing

Algol is with Venus in the nadir orb 00 minutes 46 seconds –

Be a victim or a savior

Stars in the NADIR – Stars that are the BASE of the card

Sirius is with Jupiter:

Inspiring in artistic, architectural or athletic endeavors

Antares with Saturn, the orb 00 minutes 06 seconds –

Black and white, a life full of struggle with polarities

Phact with Mercury orb 00 min 36 secs –

An original thinker or a foolish mind, always looking for new ideas

Mirach with Jupiter orb 01 min 36 secs –

An insatiable appetite for the physical world, money or people

Zosma with Mercury in Nadir 01 min 40 sec –

Worrying about the difficulties of others

Menkar with Venus culminating orb 01 min 55 secs –

Social confronting  or trying to represent other people

Well, now I’m going to write the native biography taken from the Encyclopedia Britannica, in order that you compare it with the stars. 

“Scott Fitzgerald, in full Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, (born September 24, 1896, St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.—died December 21, 1940, Hollywood, California), American short-story writer and novelist famous for his depictions of the Jazz Age (the 1920s), his most brilliant novel being The Great Gatsby (1925). His private life, with his wife, Zelda, in both America and France, became almost as celebrated as his novels. Fitzgerald was the only son of an unsuccessful, aristocratic father and an energetic, provincial mother. Half the time he thought of himself as the heir of his father’s tradition, which included the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Francis Scott Key, after whom he was named, and half the time as “straight 1850 potato-famine Irish.” As a result, he had typically ambivalent American feelings about American life, which seemed to him at once vulgar and dazzlingly promising.
He also had an intensely romantic imagination, what he once called “a heightened sensitivity to the promises of life,” and he charged into experience determined to realize those promises. At both St. Paul Academy (1908–10) and Newman School (1911–13), he tried too hard and made himself unpopular, but at Princeton University he came close to realizing his dream of a brilliant success. He became a prominent figure in the literary life of the university and made lifelong friendships with Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop. He became a leading figure in the socially important Triangle Club, a dramatic society, and was elected to one of the leading clubs of the university. He fell in love with Ginevra King, one of the beauties of her generation. Then he lost Ginevra and flunked out of Princeton.

He returned to Princeton the next fall, but he had now lost all the positions he coveted, and in November 1917 he left to join the army. In July 1918, while he was stationed near Montgomery, Alabama, he met Zelda Sayre, the daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court judge. They fell deeply in love, and, as soon as he could, Fitzgerald headed for New York determined to achieve instant success and to marry Zelda. What he achieved was an advertising job at $90 a month. Zelda broke their engagement, and, after an epic drunk, Fitzgerald retired to St. Paul, Minnesota, to rewrite for the second time a novel he had begun at Princeton. In the spring of 1920 it was published, he married Zelda, and “This Side of Paradise” was a revelation of the new morality of the young; it made Fitzgerald famous.

Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1921

This fame opened to him magazines of literary prestige, such as Scribner’s, and high-paying popular ones, such as The Saturday Evening Post. This sudden prosperity made it possible for him and Zelda to play the roles they were so beautifully equipped for, and Ring Lardner called them the prince and princess of their generation. Though they loved these roles, they were frightened by them, too, as the ending of Fitzgerald’s second novel, “The Beautiful and Damned “(1922), shows. The Beautiful and Damned describes a handsome young man and his beautiful wife, who gradually degenerate into a shopworn middle age while they wait for the young man to inherit a large fortune. Ironically, they finally get it, when there is nothing of them left worth preserving.
To escape the life that they feared might bring them to this end, the Fitzgeralds (together with their daughter, Frances, called “Scottie,” born in 1921) moved in 1924 to the Riviera, where they found themselves a part of a group of American expatriates whose style was largely set by Gerald and Sara Murphy; Fitzgerald described this society in his last completed novel, Tender Is the Night, and modeled its hero on Gerald Murphy.

Shortly after their arrival in France, Fitzgerald completed his most brilliant novel, “The Great Gatsby “(1925). All of his divided nature is in this novel, the naive Midwesterner afire with the possibilities of the “American Dream” in its hero, Jay Gatsby, and the compassionate Yale gentleman in its narrator, Nick Carraway. The “Great Gatsby” is the most profoundly American novel of its time; at its conclusion, Fitzgerald connects Gatsby’s dream, his “Platonic conception of himself,” with the dream of the discoverers of America. Some of Fitzgerald’s finest short stories appeared in ” All the Sad Young Men” (1926), particularly “The Rich Boy” and “Absolution,” but it was not until eight years later that another novel appeared.

The next decade of the Fitzgeralds’ lives was disorderly and unhappy. Fitzgerald began to drink too much, and Zelda suddenly, ominously, began to practice ballet dancing night and day.

In 1930 she had a mental breakdown and in 1932 another, from which she never fully recovered. Through the 1930s they fought to save their life together, and, when the battle was lost, Fitzgerald said, “I left my capacity for hoping on the little roads that led to Zelda’s sanitarium.”

He did not finish his next novel, “Tender Is the Night”, until 1934. It is the story of a psychiatrist who marries one of his patients, who, as she slowly recovers, exhausts his vitality until he is, in Fitzgerald’s words, un homme épuisé (“a man used up”). This is Fitzgerald’s most moving book, though it was commercially unsuccessful.
With its failure and his despair over Zelda, Fitzgerald was close to becoming an incurable alcoholic.

By 1937, however, he had come back far enough to become a scriptwriter in Hollywood, and there he met and fell in love with Sheilah Graham, a famous Hollywood gossip columnist.

For the rest of his life—except for occasional drunken spells when he became bitter and violent—Fitzgerald lived quietly with her. In October 1939 he began a novel about Hollywood, The “Last Tycoon”. The career of its hero, Monroe Stahr, is based on that of the producer Irving Thalberg.

This is Fitzgerald’s final attempt to create his dream of the promises of American life and of the kind of man who could realize them. In the intensity with which it is imagined and in the brilliance of its expression, it is the equal of anything Fitzgerald ever wrote, and it is typical of his luck that he died of a heart attack with his novel only half-finished. He was 44 years old.”
Arthur MizenerThe Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

HERMES IN SASSANIAN IRAN

Sassanian Empire

This article touches briefly on a very important issue in the history and transmission of ideas, and in particular to those that are related to the celestial arts and related cosmologies. This should be read as one might read the newly exposed contents of a roll-top desk. The topic is potentially so extensive, that a small library would be required to cover even the main points. It should, however, serve as a decent introduction and I have referenced some particularly useful sources for those who wish to delve further. My hope is that this and the articles which follow will ignite further interest in this topic by cultivating informed reflection and discussion.

By way of extending this discussion, I’ve decided that it will best be done by a reasonably detailed account of the part played by three Persian astrologers and polymaths: Māšāʾallāh b. Aṯarī, a Persian Jew from Baṣra, was one of the leading astrologers in the ʿAbbasid caliphate from the founding of Baghdad in 145/762, Biruni, Abu Rayhan (362/973- after 442/1050), scholar and polymath of the period of the late Samanids and early Ghaznavids and one of the two greatest intellectual figures of his time in the eastern lands of the Muslim world, the other being Ebn Sīnā (Avicenna) and Abū Ḥafṣ ʿOmar b. Farroḵān Ṭabarī was an astrologer from Ṭabarestān who translated Pahlavi works into Arabic (for example, the five books on astrology by Dorotheus of Sidon) and paraphrased Ptolemy’s Apotelesmatica Tetrabiblos in 812. The few astronomical theories with which his name is associated are Indian; he presumably derived them from Pahlavi books.  Biographical details courtesy of Encyclopedia Iranica.

There is a great volume of scholarly editions and studies of the Greek Hermes Trismegistus. Although the origins remained murky in the early European Rennaissance, that did nothing to quell the enthusiasm of Marsilio Ficino and those 0f ensuing generations of scholars, philosophers, and demagogues.  However, when we look to the Hermes of the Persians and Arabs, there are precious few studies. One exception to this otherwise bleak outlook is the work of Kevin Van Bladel The Arabic Hermes. The title of this article is the name of a pivotal chapter in that work. In the 2010 edition of the Classical Review, Bryn Mawr provides an admirable summary of the work:

Modern Iran

“Kevin van Bladel has produced an admirable study of the Arabic Hermetic tradition, fleshing out in considerable detail the evolution of Hermes’ image, his identification with Qur’anic prophet Idris as well as the forces driving this transformation, and his connections, real, imagined, and still controversial, with the Harranians, the last organized group of astrolators to continue functioning within Islamic civilization.”.

The most direct source of the reception of Hermetic knowledge in the oriental tradition was Sassanian Persia, the last period of the Persian Empire before the Islamic invasion. The empire took its name from the  House of Sasan who governed from 224 to 651 AD. The Sassanians succeeded the Parthian Empire and was a leading regional and ‘world’ power,  alongside the Roman-Byzantine Empire. Iy held this position for four centuries. This empire was perfectly situated to be a  cultural conduit between India, Greece, Rome and the Middle East and this had been the case for a very long time. Even to this day, the strategic geography of Iran is extraordinary, sharing borders with Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan,, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and beyond. The US military currently has Iran surrounded in ten countries to make sure she is contained. Persia had long had relations with Asia, including China long before the onslaught of Alexander the Great and the subsequent Hellenizing of much of the known world.

In Alexandria, Priests of Isis mixed with Hindus and Buddhists as well as  Jews, Christians, a wide array of Greek philosophers, Gnostics, and Pythagoreans. Ideas, traditions, and wisdom were not merely shared but in many cases, syncretized.  It has been said of the Parsis in India that they are like sugar in milk. This is true of many traditions. It is difficult, for example, to read Plotinus without being reminded of Hindu metaphysics or to read St, John’s Gospel without being reminded of Philo, a brilliant Hellenized Jew. It is not always an easy task to see where one tradition ends and another begins.

Until the Islamic conquests, which began in the lifetime of Muhammad and spread from Spain to India within 60 yrs of his death, the desert-dwelling Arabs had a primitive, but fascinating desert culture. It mostly consisted of an oral tradition and the level of literacy was not high. Written language had no great utility beyond that used in trade. Indeed the Prophet himself was known to be illiterate. The Arab tribes were frequently at war with each other, which further impeded a scholarly tradition, As a trading people, they did, of course, come into contact with other cultures.  However, there were no centres of learning and those who were identified as learned were most often the Christians, Jews and to some extent the Chaldeans. The work of transposing the spoken word of the Prophet into the written Quran would have mostly fallen to Jewish scribes.

Massive invasions are usually violent and demonstrate little or no interest in the culture being conquered unless it can be readily turned into profit,  either of monetary or propagandistic value.  The second form takes place when sites of indigenous worship are destroyed and replaced with the religious symbols of the invading force. This has been the key to the creation of hegemony since the earliest times. Typically, indigenous languages are also replaced by the language of the conqueror. This was certainly the case with Arabic. The Persians had not taken the threat of an Arab invasion seriously. That was a fatal mistake and one that proved that a sufficiently riled up group of illiterate desert dwellers could do hitherto unimaginable damage to a greatly advanced society. The Armies of Islam would prove the same point, time and time again. Temples were razed. Religions outlawed and Mosques built where previously sacred places were celebrated by the vanquished indigenous culture. Conversely, invading forces are exposed to cultural ideas, including ones seen as scientific, that serve to edify the culture of the invader.

Van Bladel writes: “Middle Persian, the language of the Sasanian court and administration of government, as well as their Magian (Zoroastrian) religion, was displaced by Arabic after the Arab conquest and colonization of Iran in the seventh and eighth centuries.3 Arabic, the prestigious language of the new rulers and of their new religion, Islam, superseded written Iranian languages almost entirely. Education and literacy in Middle Persian and other Iranian languages became practically obsolete for Iranians who converted to Islam. The children of converts learned Arabic, the language of their scripture, as their own literary medium.” (p.21)

However, Persia had already suffered a much earlier blow at the hands of Alexander and, beyond the savagery and brutal destruction, Persian culture was to attain the advantage of being part of the Hellenized world which, ironically perhaps, helped preserve core texts, even if many were lost forever. Alexander must have seemed a perfect monster to the Persians and to this day he is known in Iran as “the horned one.”  It is an irony that beggars belief that Alexander would be included in the line of the Prophets of Islam.

An illustrated leaf from the Sharafnama of the Khamsa of Nizami: Queen Nushaba recognizes Iskandar [Alexander the Great] by his portrait, Persia, circa 1490-1500 miniature 15.5 by 11.2cm.
Even then, western knowledge of eastern religions was distorted, mostly out of disinterest. For example, both Greek and Latin sources treated the Magians somewhat vaguely as representatives of eastern cults.  Distinctions between a Magian, a Brahman, and a Chaldaean were of little interest:

“although it was known that they were from three different countries, Persia, India, and Babylonia. But their activities seemed interchangeable, at least from the first century CE onward. Therefore, the ‘wise men’ mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew are called Magians, although the correct term for people observing celestial omens would have been Chaldaeans, mathematicians or astrologers (Chaldaioi, mathematikoi or astrologoi).” (Magians after Alexander.

This is usually interpreted as a diminished occidental view of the orient and it may very well be that. Nevertheless, it may also be a case of general recognition and familiarity, since European groups such as the Druids were also similar in almost all respects. It may be a case of “a rose by any other name.” Certainly, all these came together in Ficino’s prisca theologia  This is the doctrine that asserts “that a single, true theology exists, which threads through all religions, and which was anciently given by God to man.” (Yates, F., Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Routledge., London, 1964, pp 14–18 and pp 433–434)

In light of the many considerations, it may very well have happened that the ‘un Islamic’ Persian Hermetica would have been lost to history. As it happens, much of it not only survived but made its way into the Islamic world and the Arabic language.

Van Bladel tells us: “The name Hermes was invoked in Sassanian Mesopotamia as a source of occult power. A few surviving texts of Syro-Mesopotamian origin provide the attestations: two Babylonian Aramaic incantation bowls containing the same formula, found at Nippur (modern Niffar) in Iraq, once part of the Sasanian Empire, and a magical amulet written in Syriac on parchment dating to Sasanian times.11 Incantation bowls are a type of popular magical apparatus inscribed with texts in different Eastern varieties of Aramaic made from about the fourth to the seventh century, that is, under the Persian Sassanid dynasty, in Mesopotamia.

Unfortunately little is known about exactly how they were used. The two bowls mentioning Hermes invoke him as a magical power, so that the protective operation is performed not only in the name of four angels but also in the name of “Hermes the Great Lord.” One of these bowls were made for the benefit of “Yazīdād, son of Yazdāndukh(t),” both Middle Persian names indicating a Persian, perhaps aristocratic, recipient. As for the parchment amulet, although it was written in Syriac, it was made for the protection of a certain ¢warrawehzād, called Yazdānzādag, daughter of De¯nag, whose name is also clearly Middle Persian” pp.25-6).

These types of bowls were not uncommon: “Across the ancient world, demons and other forces of evil were treated as genuine threats to reckon with. In Sasanian Mesopotamia from the fifth to the seventh centuries CE, clay Aramaic incantation bowls, commonly known as magic bowls were widely used to expel demons and protect houses.” See the work of Avigail Manekin Bamberger, a doctoral candidate in the department of Hebrew Culture Studies at Tel Aviv University. It needs to be said that these bowls were used for the same purposes by Jews and Christians.

Al Kindi

One could fairly ask, why the Islamic and Arabian world couldn’t have simply taken the Hermetic teachings from the Greeks. particularly during this time period, when there was no dearth of excellent translators and as has been mentioned, various cultures had been blending for a very long time. It was not a Persian, but Al Kindi who was largely responsible for the transmission:

Abu Yūsuf Yaʻqūb ibn ʼIsḥāq aṣ-Ṣabbāḥ al-Kindī, known as “the Philosopher of the Islamic empire.” He was an Arab Muslim philosopher, polymath, mathematician, physician, and musician. :

“A description of Hermes and his teachings is preserved in the collection of wise sayings made by al-Mubaššir ibn Fātik in Fātịmid Egypt, Kitāb Muxtār al-ḥikam. These passages are treated extensively in sections 5.2 and 5.3 in this volume, but a brief summary here will help to make this survey of testimony about Ḥarrānian Hermetica complete. Al-Mubaššir’s source describes Hermes:

“as a prophet teaching pious commandments in the form of maxims, as well as an outline of rules for Hermes’ religion and his wise advice. Although al-Mubaššir’s treatment of Hermes and his instructions include no direct references to Ḥarrānians or to Ṣābians in general, the religion taught by Hermes in this account is similar to as-Saraxsı’s description of the Ḥarrānian Ṣābian religion: it included feasts at astrological conjunctions and at the sun’s entry into a new zodiacal sign, as well as sacrificial offerings to the planets at the appropriate times. Hermes is also said to have commanded them “to perform prayers that he stated for them in ways that he described.” On the other hand, the religious laws of Hermes given here bear close resemblance to Islamic law: they require ritual purity, abstinence from intoxication, jihād against the enemies of the religion, alms (az-zakāt), and prescribed most of the punishments called ḥadd punishments in Islamic law. All this leads me to conclude that the “religion of Hermes” described here was developed and described well after the establishment of Islam and Islamic law.” (pp 94-5).

This was a clever manoeuvre but certainly not unprecedented. Most importantly, it ensured that something of the indigenous religion of Iran would prevail and with this many other elements entered the Islamic world.  This was also the case with the Angelology of Zoroastrianism. It not only survived but was exalted by Islamic Persian artists in some of the most exquisite miniatures. The core beliefs of the Persians were passed on. It may well be surmised that without this transmission the Golden Age of Islam would have been far less likely to have occurred.

Persian miniature (1555)

With regard to the import of the book, we began by discussing what is brilliantly summarized by “Bryn Mawr in the same classical review article.  I leave the closing words  of this first part of the study to him:

“Hermes the prophet of science is a combination of “ancient Judaean lore” concerning the biblical Enoch with Hellenistic astrology, including stories of heavenly ascents in order to receive science from the angels. ….. With Hermes as its prophet, science becomes revelation and as such is superior to the musings of the philosophers.” (Classical Review 2010.02.63).

In articles to follow, we will look at a variety of other Persian and Indian sources.

Midheaven: the concept of μεσουράνημα and the brawl over the house system.

It may be interesting to propose a careful revision of the term Midheaven with which we usually identify the tenth cusp in an astral figure. The original term in Hellenistic literature, both in astronomical and astrological texts, is the Greek word μεσουράνημα, which later became Latin as «medium coeli». The relevance of this concept lies in the fact that the bitter dispute regarding house systems depends on its definition, especially that between the defenders of domification by counting of signs (house equals sign) versus the defenders of systems by trisection of quadrants (uneven houses).

In the first centuries of our era there were three different concepts of μεσουράνημα, which caused a problem of unsuspected consequences at the time, since these three definitions gave rise to three different ways of thinking about how to distribute the twelve astrological houses. The first conceptualization is the one that understands by Midheaven the complete thirty degrees of the tenth sign counted from the ascending sign in zodiacal order. The second conceptualization is the one that defines Midheaven as the nonagesimal degree of the ecliptic, that is, exactly ninety ecliptic degrees above the ascendant. The third conceptualization is the one that fixes the Midheaven in the exact degree where the ecliptic intersects with the local meridian, that is, with the great circle that travels the north-zenith-south-nadir path.

It becomes clear that the whole sign house system is based on the first definition, the equal house system is based on the second, and the quadrant house systems are based on the third. This is the heart of the whole debate. Well, the reason behind the predilection of Medieval and Renaissance astrologers for systems by division of quadrants is based on a stricter astronomical conceptualization of the «medium coeli», since the Sun, the Moon, the planets and the stars culminate their drag by primary movement when their diurnal arc reaches the intersection of the local meridian in the upper half of the celestial sphere, not when they pass through the tenth zodiacal sign from the ascendant sign, nor when they pass through the nonagesimal ecliptic degree.

The idea behind this precision is that the sky is not something static, but is in permanent motion. As a result, all celestial bodies reach a certain point in their diurnal arc where they attain the highest possible altitude according to their declination. Being the Midheaven, in any of the possible definitions, the place where the stars reach their maximum elevation, it is quite obvious that the ideas associated with the 10th house such as advancement, promotion, profession, vocation, reputation and public image, derive of said elevated condition in the upper part of the celestial vault. Consequently, the exact point of highest elevation for the ecliptic degrees seemed the most logical choice under a more demanding astronomical and observational criteria.

However, it is clear to me from a long experience in traditional astrology that the resolution of the debate is to recognize that full-sign houses are extraordinarily useful for topical delineation purposes (meanings), while houses by division of quadrants are extremely necessary for determine the power or dynamism of the stars (angularity), so that a combined approach of both systems, topical and dynamic, is what gives the best results. The integration of both domifications, in practice, is something that takes time and experience. It is certainly not something recommendable for beginners, because it can confuse and make the learning process quite difficult for students, but for those who have already had more years of practice it is a necessary and beneficial effort. The integration of both approaches has come to generate a lot of consensus among the followers of medieval astrology of Perso-Arabic stamp.

Like many high-level colleagues, I have found in practice that the quadrant division house systems are also very useful in topical delineation, but it is convenient to contrast them with the whole sign house system to enrich and make the interpretation of astral figures more flexible. It can be somewhat complicated to have the same planet in a certain house by quadrant division, and in a different one by counting signs, but the fact that a planet can provide meanings to two adjacent houses enriches the astrologer’s hermeneutics, although at the same time it makes their work quite complex. Naturally, the integration of both systems can be somewhat messy at first, but eventually it is possible to learn to work in a coordinated and coherent way, trying to maintain balance in the midst of this duplicity in the domification.

Faced with the avalanche of misunderstandings and ill-founded criticisms on the part of the defenders of the whole sign house system against the systems by division of quadrants, it must be emphasized, from a traditional point of view, that it is a blunder to prefer only one system and completely discard the other, since the combination of both approaches, in an integrated work, was precisely one of the characteristic elements that distinguished the reform that gave rise to medieval astrology in the days of the Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad. But even before Mash’allah, Sahl ibn Bishr or Abu Ma’shar, some astrologers of the late Hellenistic period, such as Rhetorius of Egypt, had already begun to work with both forms of domification together. Consequently, a joint labor between both forms of houses constitutes a fundamental component in the good practice of our science.

Under a combined scheme of domification by whole signs and by quadrant trisection it will happen many times that a planet will be located in two different houses at the same time. Thus, for example, Jupiter could be in the beneficial 11th house per quadrant and at the same time in the difficult 12th house per whole signs. This would allow distributing the meanings associated with the planet in both locations simultaneously. And although it may seem strange at first, something similar did the Hellenistic astrologers with the meridian Midheaven, which usually transferred meanings of the 10th house to the adjacent places of the 9th and 11th houses. This overlap was common then, as was the superposition of planets on different houses among the Arabs, obtained by counting whole signs and dividing quadrants.

In many cases the houses of both systems will be fairly close to coinciding, especially if the ascending degree is at the beginning of a sign and if, at the same time, the latitude of the location is neither too far north nor too far south. But if the degree of the ascendant is very late in the sign, then the difference between the two forms of domification will be radically noticeable. To avoid making the work of combining systems too confusing, it may initially be easier to use whole sign houses for topical delineation issues and quadrant houses to determine the dynamism or angularity of the planets. This would be the simplest option to solve the matter, and it is the one that many tend to promote today, but it is not the best or the most complete. With a little practice it is possible to go further, and also give topical capacity to domification by division of quadrants, since there are thousands of examples in interrogations and nativities where the whole sign house system does not seem to reflect very well the reality of the horary figure or the natal chart.

Now, one wonders which of the numerous options for domification by division of quadrants should be used in conjunction with the whole sign house system. Obviously I do not pretend to give an absolute answer for a topic that causes so many discussions and differences of opinion, but we can say with certainty that a good answer to this question will always involve an astronomical understanding of how the intermediate cusps are calculated and distributed in the celestial sphere, so that we can make a decision based on the knowledge of the mathematical and astronomical structure of each system, and having in view the logic of the algorithm behind each proposal, in order to assimilate the literal and symbolic meaning of each one of the possible options. What does not seem very smart is to use a certain house system simply because it is the one our teacher used, or because it is the fashionable one.

While the Porphyry system simply divides the ecliptic segments of each quadrant into equal parts, being a pretty straightforward option to calculate, the Alchabitus system trisects the segments of the diurnal semi-arc of the ascendant for each quadrant, so that the division is based in ascensional time and not in a division of local space. In contrast, the Campanus system trisects every quarter of the prime vertical equally, that is, of the great circle that goes from the east point to the west point, passing through the zenith and the nadir, and then projects the division onto the ecliptic. The Regiomontanus system trisects every quarter of the celestial equator in equal parts, projecting the derived circles onto the ecliptic, while the popular Placidus system places the cusps in every sixth of the ascensional time of the ecliptic degrees, thus linking the houses with the division of planetary hours.

In my personal case, the Alchabitus system is by far the chosen one since, by dividing the diurnal arc of the ascending degree equally, it maintains the same logic of time displacement that we use in the Primary Directions, thus being an ideal domification scheme to be used in conjunction with this classic prognosis technique in a functional and consistent way. In addition, the division of houses by ascensional times of the diurnal arc of the horoscope or hour marker, gives us a work with a system based on a fundamental symbolic sense, since every astral figure starts from the ascendant, and the notion of angularity of the houses depends precisely on the primary movement of the celestial sphere, being the angular houses those that move from the four angles, the succeeding ones those that come from behind in the primary movement, and the cadent ones those that have already passed through the angles and lost their angularity condition. In these three positions lie the differences in strength or dynamism offered by the three types of houses to the planets positioned within them.

Now, to adopt a house system, it is necessary to get head first into the astronomical architecture of each proposal. Once it is well understood how the intermediate cusps are constructed, the symbolism behind each particular algorithm begins to be gradually clarified. And if in parallel a historical review of its origins is carried out, sooner or later it ends up finding the most suitable domification model for the function that corresponds to houses in astrology, which on the one hand is topical, but on the other it is dynamic, that is, it encompasses both meanings and angular force. And in the latter lies the key to understanding what is important when choosing, because between the end of the Hellenistic period and the beginning of the Middle Ages, all this disquisition reached its point of maturity and good sense. But from then on, and especially since the Renaissance, everything was confused and deformed, so it is necessary to investigate the origins of the problem.

Recapitulating what has already been said, there are three successive steps in the process of integrating the house system by whole signs with a house system by quadrant trisection. For students, first it is necessary to work with a single system in order to avoid confusion and unnecessary entanglement in the learning process. Then, for more advanced practitioners, proceed to work with the whole sign house system for topics related to accidental significators (topical function) and with a quadrant division system to determine the force or angularity of the planets (dynamic function). Finally, for astrologers with more experience, it is beneficial to move towards the full integration of both domification systems to interpret the topical or qualitative function, so that the meanings for a planet located in different houses are extracted under each of the two systems. At the same time, the domification of houses by quadrant trisection is also used to determine the dynamic or quantitative function. The latter is the way of working that the ancients used, but it requires agile handling and discrimination criteria that can only be acquired after a long time of practice.

To conclude, it should be noted that other options for the division of quadrants that differ from the one I have suggested are perfectly valid, insofar as they are based on a good understanding of the calculation and geometric structure of domification, together with the elaboration, from of this, of a logical argumentation and a symbolic interpretation that gives a reasonable basis to the preference, or at least an explanatory criterion that goes beyond the blind imitation of a house system whose formulation is unknown as much as that of its possible competing alternatives. And so, going back to the beginning of the question, it is essential to understand that the three historical definitions of the Midheaven do not have to throw us into an insoluble dilemma. Rather, they should invite us to carry out the task of studying in detail the astronomical coordinate systems and the reference points in the celestial sphere on which the different algorithms are built to domificate an astral figure.

Eclipse – Battle of Isandlewana

The Battle-of-Islanhlwan by Charles Edwin-Fripp

The Battle of Islandlwana on January 22, 1879, was the direst defeat of the British Army against any indigenous people in the Empire and it occurred at what might be considered the zenith of British power during what has become known as the Zulu Wars. This battle has been of great interest to military strategists and historians. I’ll be looking at this through the eyes of an astrologer.

Although they eventually realized that they were massively outnumbered, the British forces were confident. The battle had not been expected and in fact, the British also had 1500 oxen with them, presumably for settlers – certainly not what one takes to war. British forces had never encountered what was now bearing down upon them with unimaginable force.

They were well trained and seasoned soldiers, numbering 1800, including British, colonial and native forces. They also had approximately 400 civilians with them. They were using state of the art weapons and under the able command of Lt. Lord Chelmsford.

Of primary interest were the much-prized Martini-Henry rifles, equipped with bayonets. This was the first time it had been used in combat and it turned out that it had a flaw when used repeatedly for long periods of time. They tended to overheat, making reloading more difficult. It is unlikely that this would have been a problem in other battles. As well, the rocket battery was not mounted and became increasingly useless as the battle unfolded.

The effective firing range of Martini-Henry rifle was 400 yds or 370 m. I emphasize this because the range of sight needed to allow for this ability. This may seem obvious, but at the time the soldiers had no real doubts of being able to hold back the massive Zulu assault.

The army of 20,000 Zulus had no bows, horses or wheels for that matter. What they had were spears and clubs. According to the grandson of the Zulu chief, the warriors were given a variety of drugs that made them fearless, bloodthirsty and in fact visionary. At one point in the battle, the Zulus saw “strange birds” coming for them which they believed were evil spirits conjured by the British.

I have not found an exact, reliable time for the beginning of the battle, but it was close to Noon. The real problem came a couple of hours later. We do know there was a Solar Eclipse that sealed the fate of the British. From the blinding early afternoon Sun, there was a darkness, made worse by the excessive smoke and dust . This was at 2.00 PM LMT

The approaching Zulus became invisible long enough to advance well within the rifle’s range and therefore too close for the army to have the advantage of being able to shoot the approaching Zulus before they were close enough for arm to arm combat, an enormous disadvantage to the British. The fact that the Zulus were unflinching suggests their shaman had predicted the eclipse. I have not found any evidence that this particular eclipse was known to the British soldiers in advance of the event.

The Zulu soon breached the perimeters and were virtually face to face with the British before they could see what was coming at them.. The Zulu used a traditional formation known as the “horns of the bull.” The idea was to encircle and destroy the enemy. The motif of the bull and cattle is quite evident and it’s difficult to ignore the relationship to the Ascendant,

These were the days when armies wore brilliant colours proudly, rather than using camouflage. Yes, there were ambushes, but we cannot call this the age of stealth. Yet non-visibility is what won the day.

The Ascendant is the life force and this chart gives us a highly afflicted Taurus Ascendant. Along with the Part of Fortune, it is in tight conjunction with the highly malefic Fixed Star know as Algol. It has a reputation for making one lose one’s head, either figuratively or literally, and is associated with piled-up corpses.  The Ascendant is disposited by Venus, in turn, disposited by Saturn, She is Peregrine and Under the Beams. Saturn is in a weak sign in the Eleventh House, denying help from military associates and friends in general. Moreover, Saturn is Almuten of the chart and Venus is the Killing Planet.

Saturn in Halb can also be said to be Lord of the Eclipse, as he disposits both luminaries and both benefics. It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to suggest the Zulu association with the Tenth House Sun, as they are in effect eclipsed and maintain the high ground, retaining their sovereignty,serpens

The *enemy* is in the martial and stealthy sign of Scorpio, ruled by Mars, out of sect in the Eighth House of Death and dispositing the Twelfth House – all in all, a nasty piece of work in the context of the chart as a whole.  The Lord of the Eighth House is Jupiter, suggesting many dead.  Mars is conjunct Ras Alhague, the star in the head of the Serpent-charmer (Orphiucus), the Moorish El Hauwe.

Pliny said that it occasioned much mortality by poisoning. This constellation has also been called Aesculapius and held to rule medicines. By the Kabalists, it is associated with the Hebrew letter Oin and the 16th Tarot Trump “The Lightning-Struck Tower”. [Robson*, p.54.] It also has another role – that of a Shamanic Healer. The considerable participation of the shamanic priests shouldn’t be underestimated. From the concoctions given to the warriors to the healings during the battle. They evoked a powerful force that made the Zulus fight as one and without fear.

Given the inescapable association of the British with the Lion, I cannot but associate the Leo S. Node as the ‘end of the matter’ in the Fourth House. This can be taken as both the Lion defeated as well as resurgent. The Zulus won the battle but decidedly lost the war.

Back to the Past

This article was recently recovered by P. James Clark on Google Drive. It was
written by me in August 2017, 4.5 years ago. 

Here you have what I wrote at that time:

Cosmology by John Augustus Knapp (1853-1938) – Public Domain

“Thoughts expressed by Pablo Ianiszewski F. here on ISCA prompted me to write after a long silence because I had been busy writing my last book.

I have raised a few points which, even if they were not true, are most certainly worth discussing.

In my ancient studies of astrology, I tended to see the planets as the primary causation of the facts. The malefic planets caused harm, the benefics, benefits.

But after years, I have approached a non-causal, but synchronistic view of the facts. The understanding of this synchronicity, if it can be sought in the celestial configuration, will not occur because the planets caused harm or blessings on earth.

I would like to point out that I agree with my colleague Pablo Ianiszewsky that excess of heat or cold is not conducive to the development of life. This is not under discussion. Probably the fact that some planets are more distant from the Sun, the creator of life, led the astrologers to divide them in their basic characteristics. The more distant from the Sun, the more maleficient the planets turn out. Jupiter is an exception, probably because it has an affinity with Sagittarius which makes a trigon with the Sun, the diurnal luminary, and with Pisces that makes a sextile with the Moon, the nocturnal light. The mix of aspects with luminaries added to the distance of the Sun must have influenced the ancients in their classifications also in hot, cold, wet and dry.

Finally, this ground raises many questions that I do not want to discuss here, but what perhaps may be quite interesting is to have in mind that such classification depends on the human view of the elements and that it changes culturally, as we can see in the Eastern philosophy in which the elements wood or metal are also considered.

What I would like to bring about in these few lines is that the intrinsic planetary essence goes far beyond the earth and that we know nothing about the planets, which are beings, each of them has their own inscrutable cosmic purpose and must seek it far beyond the pettiness of our little world.

My view is that we, as human inhabitants of this part of the universe, the earth, embedded in one of the hundreds of galaxies, depend essentially on the Sun, the principle of all life. So we tend to classify the visible planets according to the effect they cause to us.

I remember that Alchabitius saw Saturn esoterically as the first planet to which all the others follow. He says that Saturn is the first to operate on conception after the shedding of semen in the womb, contracting and unifying the matter with which the being is formed. Also in the Poimandres, it is said that the soul descends through the celestial spheres. Rudolf Steiner followed more or less this tone when he explained that the soul comes from the universe and creates the skeleton through Saturn, until arriving at Venus that beautifies the flesh and finnally reaches the Moon, rounding of the forms, shortly before the birth.

Much is supposed, but nothing is known for certain of the planets and their intrinsic nature.

I have more and more the impression that the planets are not concerned with events on earth, but with their interplanetary relationships.

I have raised the hypothesis that the chaotic or harmonic events that we experience have to do with the way the planets treat each other.

Evil derives from the evil form as one planet deals with the other in a specific quadrature, and this is reflected in the life on earth, in a specular way, as in the entire universe.

For example, if Mars attacks Jupiter, without mutual reception and especially being in a higher position, that is, considering the primary movement, events will happen according to the nature of both, but the massacre will be especially bloody for everything that represents justice.

If things go the other way, and Jupiter is in a position above Mars, the result would be the victory over criminals, crushed by justice.

By this I mean that a square, just to name a kind of aspect, has a different meaning if one planet has a superior position to the other. This explains the fact that there are squares that come to good and others that come to evil.

Even the trigons, an aspect of friendship, in a case where a malefic makes aspect, can have a paltry result if the malefic is in a superior position.

I will provide an example of this – something that in my country, when our president, visibly suspected of criminality, was released by the court to follow his mandate, instead of suffering an impeachment.

Let me explain: Jupiter in Libra occupied in the 7th house, Libra when the Sun entered in Cancer and Saturn, the ruler of the MC was cadent and in retrogradation, occupying the 9th house.

Jupiter was then in an inferior position to Saturn and was direct, whereas Saturn also approached to Jupiter, for being retrograde. Faced with this relationship between the two, one planet in the sign of the other, Jupiter for regency and Saturn for exaltation, I predicted at the beginning of the third quarter of the year that the president would be supported.

In fact, he, Saturn, ruler of Midheaven, constrained the law, Jupiter, which weighed against him, and Jupiter obtained favours and facilities, in the generous manner of the sign of Sagittarius, which Jupiter rules.

Had the position of the planets been changed the result would be different.

But the result suffered in the country was neither bad nor good from a universal point of view.

In this way, duality, in my humble opinion, is only one facet of ONE and the same thing, that “thing” that the human mind does not reach and which in its smallness calls good or evil.

Clelia Romano, September 2017

Ichthys Unbound

Turkey – 16th-century manuscript – The whale ejecting Prophet Jonah. Ottoman miniature, end of 16th century

This is but a brief inquiry into the origins of something generally taken for granted. To get to the essence or root of the signs, we do well to study the Creation myths of a given culture. We will find that there is a great deal more commonality across cultures than was once imagined, There has also been an erosion of essential significance over time in several cases.

The interpretation of Pisces is, by and large, cliched and vague. This is in no small part due to the modern astrological mis-association that replaces Jupiter for Neptune as the ruler of Pisces. This is a regrettable development and I find that even some traditional astrologers have not been able to shake off all this misinformation. It ought to be clear that a sign ruled by the Greater Benefic (Jupiter) and exalted in the Lesser Benefic (Venus) must have better qualities than are usually assigned to Pisces.

Kitab al-Bulhan Persian Miniature. 14th C.

There has always seemed to be something not quite right about the assumption and teaching that the Fishes are bound together, causing all manner of difficulties, including psychological and spiritual pathology. Note the emphasis on imagined psychologies, rather than any serious attempt to present a coherent description of what the sign actually is.  I recently read comments on Pisces which claimed that the upper fish was Christ and the other, Antichrist.  At least, the bound fish represent conflicting natures that almost always work against each other,  in a never-ending tug of war, while the venerable Vettius Valens also tells us that Pisces is “in conflict with itself because one Fish is northern, the other southern.” (Anthologies, Book I. p.6). In the same paragraph, however, he states that the sign is ” scaley, sinewy, humpbacked [and] leprous.” He by no means stops there. He adds “lewd, with some limbs missing” to his description. While admitting the great value of his Anthologies in the study of Classical Astrology, I think most of us are baffled by this and numerous other passages in his work. It doesn’t engender great faith in his views regarding the Sign. One has the sense that he’s actually referring to something else or he chose to write like this to put off the casual reader.

Moreover, there is no particular myth that would insist on the binding of the fishes. The Pisces myths most familiar to us are variations on one Greek myth. The essence of all the variations is for all intents and purposes the same.

According to different versions of this legend, either Aphrodite and Eros turn into fish, two fish approach them and swim them away to safety, or they turn into fish AND two other fish take them to safety.  Whichever version you prefer, truth be told, it doesn’t really matter.  One way or another, the two escape from Typhon, thanks to two fish. Surely, that is core to the story of Ichthus.

The Greeks were also familiar with the original Syrian story in which the fish of Pisces assisted at the birth of Astarte. The theme of Venus born from the sea foam is most famously portrayed in Botticelli’s Nascita di Venere. In other versions of the myth, Aphrodite and Eros are specifically on the shores of the Nile when Typhon, a chthonic force. tried to take them. This points again to the oriental origin of the story. Zeus is in an eternal struggle with Typhon.

Typhon corresponds to a significant extent to Seth, an Egyptian god associated with winds, storms, chaos, evil, darkness, strength, war and conflict. Zeus as a perpetual adversary of Typhon Ra shares many of the attributes of Zeus, such as being credited as the creator of all things. He was also the father of other gods like Zeus. Jupiter is of course now associated with Jupiter, but in this myth, he is primarily Solar.

The name for the constellation that has come down to us as Pisces comes from the Indo-European root *peisk– ‘Fish’. Derivatives: fish (from Old English fisc, fish). Suffixed form *piski; piscary, piscatorial, Pisces, pisci-, piscina. [Pokorny peisk– 796. Watkins]

From Gavin White’s. Babylonian Star-Lore

As Ovid recounts the tale in his Fasti, a wok somewhat in the same spirit as Hesiod’s Work and Days”:

Now the light Water-Carrier (Aquarius) sets with
his tilted urn : next in turn do thou, O Fish, receive
the heavenly steeds. They say that thou and thy
brother (for ye are constellations that sparkle side
by side) did support twain gods upon your backs.
Once on a time Dione, fleeing from the dreadful
Typhon, when Jupiter bore arms in defence of
heaven, came to the Euphrates, accompanied by
the little Cupid, and sat down by the brink of the
Palestinian water. Poplars and reeds crowned the
top of the banks, and willows offered hope that the
fugitives also could find covert there. While she
lay hid, the grove rustled in the wind. She turned
pale with fear and thought that bands of foes were
near. Holding her child in her lap, ” To the rescue,
nymphs! ” she said, ** and to two deities bring
help ! ” Without delay, she sprang forward. Twin
fish received her on their backs, wherefore they now
possess the stars, a guerdon meet. Hence scrupulous
Syrians count it sin to serve up such fry upon the
table, and will not defile their mouths with fish. :( Trans J. G. Frazer II. 454-480.)

There’s not a cord in sight.

fig06fish-avatar-of-vishnu
Fish Avatar of Vishnu – The Universality of the Fish as Salvation

The associations of Babylonia, Sumerian, Assyrian, Greek, Persian Indian, Persian, and Greek were highly significant. We are perhaps only now realizing the full extent of this exchange, adoption, adaptation and assimilation. The meaning of Pisces actually becomes clearer the further back we go. In doing so, it becomes increasingly apparent that the Ichthus with an unbreakable cord forever holding it in thrall is probably apocryphal as well as misleading.

“There is every reason to believe that the idea of the cord would only have been applied to these stars in the latter half of the 1st millennium when they came to mark the position of the spring equinox. Before this time the two component parts of the cord would have been envisioned as the two great rivers of Mesopotamia, the Tigris, and the Euphrates. The origin of the ‘knot’ that unites the two cords represents the Shat-al-Arab where the two great rivers join together before flowing into the Gulf of Bahrain.” (White, Gavin. Babylonian Star-Lore p 216)

Ancient cultures understood that whatever appeared or happened on the Earth corresponded to the heavens. I have mentioned that the Egyptians referred to the Milky Way as the true Nile. Hindus believe the same of the Ganges. The Tigris and the Euphrates are of up-most importance for creating a fertile land that was home to some of the most ancient civilizations and believed to be the location of the Garden of Eden, variations of which abound in ancient narratives.

The place of the confluence of the two rivers corresponds to the Fishes, with the fixed star at the point of contact. None of the stars in Pisces are particularly bright. but if you know where to look, this star should be easy enough to find. The name that has come down to us through Arabic means the knot, but the image we usually see of Pisces with two fishes yoked and swimming in different directions is only one interpretation, unfounded in any definitive source.

Pisces in the horoscope of Timurid Prince Iskandar, Islamic miniature, 1411, Iran – Wellcome Library, London You can see that the fish are not tied together. We can see the *cord, *  actually rivers, in the background.

However, if we remember that the cord is actually two rivers supporting civilizations and a great variety of agricultural endeavours, we see that this makes clear the essence of Ichthus.

The symbol of the Cosmic Fish is ubiquitous. I personally `find explorations of how such symbols manifest in various cultures, and even more so of those cultures have influenced one another. The Fish is recognizable from Babylonian Cosmology, Greek Myth, and symbols in Hindu Metaphysics. From there, we can take a deeper, more informed understanding of the Sign and Constellation of Ichthus

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” – T.S. Eliot:

Meditations on Phoebus

by Maria J. Mateus

A comparison of sun deities of the Mediterranean and Near East may give us deeper insights into antiquity’s understanding of what it meant to be under the influence of the solar light.

Anatolian Imports

It is thought that Apollo may have been imported into Dorian and Minoan tribes from a Syro-Hittite cult in western Anatolia, as his name closely resembles that of the Luwian god, Apaliunas, on whom the Etruscan god, Apulu was also based. Apaliunas appears as one of the named deities guaranteeing a 13th century BCE treaty between Hittite and Trojan kings.1 This practice of signing treaties and contracts under a solar deity is one that is seen frequently in the Near East and Mediterranean over several centuries, as other solar deities of the Hellenistic age seem also to have had something to do with contracts, oaths and treaties. Apaliunas’ name also appears as one of three deities named on the walls of Troy itself, which was enough to inspire Homer to cast his Apollon on the side of the Trojans in the Iliad.

In the Hittite kingdom’s religion, which had influences from Mesopotamia, but still retained many of its Indo-European characteristics, we find a solar deity named Istanu (or Tiwaz in the Luwian language). As we’ll find in other Near Eastern sun gods, he’s a god of judgment, normally depicted wearing a winged sun on his headdress and carrying a crooked staff.

The following is a Hittite Hymn to Istanu: 2

O Istanu, my lord, just lord of judgment, king of heaven and earth! You alone rule the lands. 
And the boundaries you alone set; you alone give strength, to [the land] you give life.
You alone are just, you alone have mercy, you alone fulfill prayers.
You are a Sun-god of mercy, you always have mercy.
The just person is dear to you alone, and you alone value him. 
Istanu, fully grown son (of) Ningal, your beard (is) of lapis lazuli. 
Behold! The child of mankind, your servant, has bowed to you, is speaking to you:
In the circumference of heaven and earth, Istanu, you alone (are) the source of light. 
O Istanu, mighty king, son (of) Ningal, you alone establish custom and law in the lands. 
O Istanu, mighty king, among the gods you alone are established.
Strong lordship is given to you.
You (are) the just lord of government, you (are) father and mother of the lands!
When Istanu rises up early through the sky, your light alone, Istanu's, enters all the upper and lower lands,
(and) decides the case of the dog and the pig.
And the case of animals who do not speak with their mouth, that too he (Istanu) decides.
'The case of the bad and evil man you alone decide, 
and the man whom the gods scorn, (whom) they reject, him you reconsider and show mercy.
And this your mortal servant, Istanu, sustain, 
(and when) he begins offering bread and beer to Istanu; him, your just servant, Istanu, take by the hand.

We note from this hymn several significant characteristics about Istanu. First, he is above all, a “just lord of judgment”, not to be confused with a law-establishing deity such as Marduk. Istanu, like the Mesopotamian solar deities, judges and decides the fate of those who are to be shown favor as well as those who have defiled the established order. He is a champion of the lowly, and considers “the case of the man whom the gods scorn” and “shows him mercy”. He is the giver of life and strength. He takes the downtrodden and lifts them up, takes his servants by the hand, offers them bread and beer, and guides them on their path…

We also note that Istanu is the son of the goddess Ningal, the same deity who gives birth to Utu, the Sun god of Sumer. She was the consort of the male Moon good Nanna, and both were worshipped in southern Mesopotamia and in Harran, a major religious center in northern Syria. Not only is Istanu’s foreign lineage directly given in this hymn, but the hymn itself is remarkably similar in style and content to those dedicated to the solar deities of Mesopotamia.

Utu and Shamash in Mesopotamia

Mesopotamia is the birthplace of an astral religion that develops into a complex form of astrology. There, the planets and gods are one and the same. Unlike Greece, here an existing pantheon did not lend its names to the planets, which were perceived to be divinely possessed by their powers. Instead, the planets were deities themselves and part of the Assembly of the Gods that met regularly as a court of law, and who had the authority to elect or depose public officials, including the King.3 Thus, Utu was not ‘the star of the Sun’ but was in fact, the Sun itself.

His image is a personification of the shining light of the Sun, which brings forth life on earth. He is described as “long-armed”, since his influence is far-reaching, and he’s typically depicted wearing a horned hat and sporting a beard, although he is also frequently described as “youthful Utu”. In the morning, he’s believed to emerge from the doors of heaven located between two mountains to the east, then journey across the sky during the day, and enter the ‘interior of heaven’ through a second set of doors to the west at dusk. Presumably, the arched pruning-saw with serrated teeth that he carries is used to cut his way through these passages. He had two temples called ‘E-babbar’ or ‘White House’. One was located in the Sumerian city of Larsa, the other to the north in Akkadian Sippar.

This placement of solar temples both to the north and south of Sumeria is significant and tied to the Sun’s seasonal movement north and south along the eastern horizon over the course of the year. This journey of the Sun essentially divided the year into two seasons, one of growing light when Utu was traversing the northern lands and one of growing darkness, when Utu traveled in the south. The Babylonian preoccupation with balance is illustrated by the ritual practice that took place during the solstice months (IV and X) of exchanging priestesses from the temple of Esagil (House-of-the-Daytime) in the north, with those from the temple of Ezida (House-of-the-Night).4 This was thought to balance the fact that at the start of the summer, the nights are shorter and require the daughters of Esagil to go to Ezida, while in the winter, the reverse was desired.

An examination of a Hymn to Shamash — Utu’s Akkadian name — makes the Sun’s geographical scope even more clearly connected to one of his roles in society.5

You climb the mountains surveying the earth,
You suspend from the heavens the circle of the lands. 
You care for all the peoples of the lands, 
And everything that Ea, king of counselors, had created is entrusted to you.
Whatever has breath you shepherd without exception, 
You are keeper in upper and lower regions.
Regularly and without cease you traverse the heavens,
Every day you pass over the broad earth...
Shepherd of that beneath, keeper of that above,
You Shamash, direct, you are the light of everything.[...]
Of all the lands of varied speech,
You know their plans, you scan their way.
The whole of mankind bows to you,
Shamash, the whole of the universe longs for your light...[21-52]

The ability of Shamash’s rays to cover all of the known world make him truly an international deity capable of ‘caring for all the peoples of the lands’. It is for this reason that Shamash is often linked to travelers, as is explicitly related in the list of those who seek his protection:

Shamash, there confronts you the caravan, those journeying in fear.
The traveling merchant, the agent who is carrying capital. [138-139]

No other story exemplifies better Shamash’s role as personal guide to those on journey than the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. In it, Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, and his friend Enkidu decide to make a trip to the Cedar Forest to seek their fame. They are accompanied throughout their long journey through distant lands by Shamash, whose main role is as their protector. It is to him that they pray when they are fearful and in need of guidance. But because Shamash also spends half of his time in the Underworld at night, he is also protector of those about to travel below the earth. This is exemplified in the stories involving Dumuzi, the shepherd-king and his betrothed Inanna, the goddess of love and Utu’s sister. When an impudent Inanna sentences her lover to the Underworld for his neglect of her danger, Dumuzi appeals to his future brother-in-law Utu, for his protection from the demons that seek to imprison him below.

The two examples point not only to the Sun god’s role as protector and guide, but they point to his particular affinity with shepherd-kings, whose responsibility in Mesopotamia, it is to protect and guide their citizens, or “earthly flock”. Scholars have described Gilgamesh as a solar hero, and there are many reasons for this classification, not the least of which is his lineage, which makes him the son of the nomad shepherd king Lugalbanda. Like the story, which calls Gilagmesh’s city, ‘Uruk, the Sheepfold’, the hymn to Shamash also describes him as a ‘shepherd without exception.’

The metaphor extends to Shamash’s cosmic role of as divine shepherd. The astrological treatise, the Enuma Anu Enlil says:

The road (KASKAL) of the Sun at the end (šēpīt = foot)of the cattle-pen (TÙR) is the path of Ea (šūt Ea); the road of the Sun at the middle (mišil) of the cattle pen is the path of Anu; the road of the Sun at the beginning (SAG = head) of the cattle-pen is the path of Enlil.6

Reiner and Pingree interpret the ‘cattle-pen’ as the equatorially bound region along the eastern horizon – stretching from the northeast at the summer solstice to the southeast at the winter solstice – over which the Sun is seen to rise. The metaphor of the Sun’s path as a cattle-pen and the planets as wild oxen moving within this region is alluded to in tablets that refer to Utu or Šamaš as “shepherd of the land,” and where, says Samuel Kramer, “the ‘little ones’, the stars, are scattered about him like grain while the ‘big ones,’ perhaps the planets, walk about him like ‘wild oxen’.”7 Thus, as divine shepherd, it is Shamash’s role to designate the boundaries inside of which the planets are themselves permitted to travel. It is for this astronomical reason that in the myth called “Enki and the World Order”, we are told that Utu is placed in charge of both earthly and heavenly boundaries.8 It is curious that although the Sun did not ever occupy the head of the Babylonian pantheon, his cult became increasingly important at the same time as astrological developments begin to accelerate sometime after the 8th century BCE.

Just like his Anatolian counterpart, the most salient of Shamash’s functions is as judge and guardian of justice:

You give the unscrupulous judge experience of fetters,
Him who accepts a present and lets justice miscarry you make bear his punishment.
As for him who declines the present but nevertheless takes the part of the weak,
It is pleasing to Shamash, and he will prolong his life...[...]
You hear and examine them; you determine the lawsuit of the wronged.
Every single person is entrusted to your hands...[97-128]

As judge and protector of the law, it is under his vigilance that contracts and agreements are made and upheld. This chief role of solar deities is maintained well into the late Roman Empire where we find Roman soldiers swearing oaths in the name of Mithras, the Persian sun god.

Lastly, the Hymn to Shamash alludes to one final role for the solar king: that of seer and grantor of omens.

You manage their omens; that which is perplexing you make plain.[...]
You grant revelations, Shamash, to the families of men,
Your harsh face and fierce light you give to them...
The heavens are not enough as the vessel in which you gaze,
The sum of the lands is inadequate as a seer’s bowl...[129-155]

It is the light afforded by him that enlightens and gives clarity. We find a similar divinatory function displayed by Apollo, the Greek Sun God.

Apollon in Greece

There are actually two deities associated with the Sun in the Greek mythological literature: Helios, who personifies the actual Sun and Apollo, who represents the solar light, as well as having multiple other functions. Helios is the Sun who rises from a swamp in the East, rides in his chariot pulled by white winged horses, and sets to the West in the ocean in the Hesperides.

Like Shamash who sees all, Helios is said by Pindar to be: ‘the god who plumbs all hearts, the infallible, who neither mortals nor immortals can deceive either by action or in their most secret thoughts.’9 For Helios there are no secrets and it is he who tells Demeter of her daughter’s rape and abduction and who divulges Aphrodite’s adultery to Hephaestus.

However, unlike Shamash, Helios needs to seek out the king of gods in order to attain justice. This hierarchy is illustrated by an episode in Homer’s Odyssey, when his sacred horses are killed and eaten by Odysseus’ men and he must seek restitution from Zeus, rather than act directly. His sacred sanctuary is at Rhodes where a giant statue of him (the Colossus of Rhodes) once straddled the harbor where ships sailed under his legs.

While Helios may have represented the actual Sun, he was not nearly as important a figure in the Olympian pantheon as was Apollo, the son of Zeus and second in importance, after his father. He was given dozens of epithets sometimes being called Phoebus‘the brilliant’, or Xanthus, ‘the fair’, or Chrysocomes ‘of the golden locks’,10 and like Utu, he represents the epitome of youthful masculinity. As the god representing the Sun’s beneficent rays, he was responsible for the growth of fruits and was protector of crops. Perhaps due to the Sun’s beneficent qualities, Apollo, like his son Asclepius, the god of medicine, was also given patronage over healing. In this capacity, Apollo was invoked in purification rites and healing oracles.

But just as the sun’s rays can be murderous, Apollo had the power to cause sudden death with his arrows and was also a god of plague. It is not uncommon to find plague and disease associated with extreme heat in deities of the western Levant and Anatolia. An old form of Apollo’s name is a verb meaning ‘to destroy’.11 Like his sister Artemis, his bow and arrows also point to his role as god of hunting and he is sometimes associated with a stag or roe or pictured with lions.

In the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, we read that “at birth he said: ‘Dear to me shall be the lyre and bow, and in oracles I shall reveal to men the inexorable will of Zeus.’ As god of music, it is no surprise then that song and dance are signs of his presence and that he is often depicted playing a lyre constructed and given to him by his brother Hermes.

Similar to Shamash, one of Apollo’s functions is to grant the gift of prophecy and divination. He was especially invoked at Delphi by the Pythia, a priestess who entered into a trance to make her pronouncements. One of his most well-known stories involves the slaying of the Serpent Python, whose place of death consecrated the sacred site at Delphi where the Oracle was established in his name. The Homeric hymn to Apollon may be divided into two parts: one that takes place in Delos, and involves his mother Leto’s delivery of the god, and the other in Delphi, which involves his journey to establish cult centers all over the Greek islands culminating with Delphi. It has been noted by Charles Penglase, who draws on many parallels between this hymn and the Mesopotamian myths involving the cult of the shepherd Dumuzi, that both sections of the Homeric hymn involve several journeys:

“These journey sequences and activities in them express many ideas about the god, but as in Mesopotamian myths, where they are also central features, they are employed to establish and express the god’s power.”12

Again, the same motif of the journey we saw in the Epic of Gilgamesh, are present in this and countless other stories involving solar heroes and deities.

Sol Invictus in Rome

the Sun’s favor among the Greeks did not go unnoticed by the Romans, who not only adopted Apollo as one of their own, but transformed his religious significance into a handy instrument to legitimate political power during the unsettled years of the late Empire. As deliverer of Augustus’ victory at Actium, Apollo soon gave way to Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun, who would be adopted as protector of the state and official state religion by Emperor Aurelian. However, the cult of the Sun went through various stages of transformation from the early Republic to its disappearance after the reign of Constantine and the conversion to Christianity—but not without some syncretization between the two religions. In Rome, there was an ancient indigenous cult to the Sun, Sol Indiges on the Quirinal, which was celebrated in the ancient Republican calendar on August 9th. As early as the 3rd century BC, coins appear with the Sun god shown with rays radiating from his head. However, this indigenous Sun god bears little resemblance to the solar god that would be imported from Syria centuries later.13

Still, the practice of equating living Emperors with the solar deity began soon after Augustus’ homage to the Greek Apollo. It was the Emperor Caligula that compared the ascension of the emperor to power as the invincibility of the Sun rising upon the eastern horizon. And the Emperor Nero is said to have been received by the king of Armenia who said to him: “I have come to you as my god, to worship you as Mithras.”14 But it was Commodus who first used Invictus as part of the official imperial title.

During the 3rd century, the Syrian solar deity called Elagabalus made a brief intrusion into Roman politics through Emperor Septimus Severius’ marriage to Julia Domna, the daughter of a Syrian high priest to the god. Her 14-year old grand-nephew, himself a high priest of Elagabalus, adopted the deity’s name and briefly became Emperor of Rome after Severus’ death, until the incursion of his foreign religion got him assassinated.

The cult of Sol Invictus reached its maximum heights with the Emperor Constantine, who was considered the personification of the Sun on earth and used the title Sol Invictus Imperator. In 325, Constantine proclaimed Sunday the official day of rest of the state. While, it is true that Constantine moved away from the worship of pagan deities and eventually converted to Christianity, the central position of the Sun continued unchallenged. Scholars claim that it was during this time that Christ became associated with the Sun: “Constantine’s god was a fusion of the Unconquered Sun and Christ the Victorious, but he remained god of power, not of love.”15

The Astrological Sun

Astrological interpretation is a product of historical imprinting. To ignore centuries of deity associations in regions that practiced astrology all over the Near East, while fixating solely on rote delineations in astrological manuals, is to miss the understanding of astrology as historical process. Having said that, for the purposes of discerning cultural influence, I will nevertheless include the typical delineations found in Hellenistic astrological texts on the Sun:

The all-seeing Sun, then, being truly fire-like and the light of the mind, the organ of perception of the soul, is significant at birth for kingly office, hegemony, mind, practical wisdom, outward form, motion, height of fortune, public registration, action, popular leadership, judgment, father, mastership, friendship, persons of high repute, the honors of images, statues, and crowns of office, arch-priests of the fatherland…of places.16

Having made a peripheral inquiry into the mythological history of this deity, certain odd attributes from this list become clearer. Friendship, and practical wisdom, for example, are attributes found in eastern solar deities, such as Mitra and Shamash. While judgment, is also a prominent attribute of eastern deities, here it appears late in the list, only after several other significations. What is conspicuously absent in the list of solar significations is the Sun’s oracular capacity. Yet we do find in the astrological tradition, that the 9th place in the chart – considered the place of ‘the Sun’s joy’—is the place of divination, astrology, and oracles. In the same way that Apollo presided over the Pythia’s pronouncements at Delphi, this subtle difference, may indicate that the Sun was not understood to possess oracular skills himself, but to delight in and enable their occurrence in others.

The predominance of the motif of recognition, leadership and the attainment of kingly office, clearly derives from the oldest and most ubiquitous practice of considering kings to be manifestations of the Sun, whether they be shepherd-kings in Mesopotamia, the Invincible Sun in Rome, or the personifications of Ra in Egypt. One can only speculate on who ‘the arch-priests of the fatherland’ were. But if we are to believe that the Sun is ‘phos noeron’ (the light of the mind), than one might reasonably expect that an Aristotelian influence, which describes the Good ‘as like the Sun’ or “Father”17 was a part of the astrological tradition and the arch-priests of the fatherland as those who worshipped some form of the Sun, such as in the case of Mithras. For this reason alone, there is traditional precedence for considering the Sun emblematic of the father.

As 21st century astrologers, we can begin to look at the Sun as carrier of all these motifs, yet dressed in a modern guise. Above all, the Sun illustrates one’s capacity to elevate one thing over another, that is, to choose, and to do so with practical wisdom, judgment and clarity. The Sun is never just a neutral vehicle for one’s Zodiac sign. He represents the soul’s perception, its ability to focus the will in the direction of its choosing, and in so doing, to forge the path that will carry us forth along our journey. To invoke him, is to dispel the dark clouds that have rendered that path indistinct. To swear an oath to him, is to make one’s vision become Truth.

Notes

1 John Lawrence Angel, Machteld Johanna Mellink. Troy and the Trojan War: a symposium held at Bryn Mawr College, October 1984. (PA: Bryn Mawr Commentaries, 1986). p.42.

2 Jonathan Slocum and Carol Justus trans. Great Sun Hymn. KUB XXXI 128: I, 1-21 & 39-51. Indo-European Texts. Linguistics Research Center. The University of Texas at Austin. http://www.utexas.edu/cola/centers/lrc/iedocctr/ie-texts/great_sun_hymn.html

 3 Thorkild Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion (London: Yale University Press, 1976). pp. 86-87.

4 Mark E. Cohen, The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient near East (Bethesda, MD: CDL Press, 1993). p. 319.

5 W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1960). p. 127 ff.

6 Reiner and Pingree, Babylonian Planetary Omens, Part 2. p.43.

7 Samuel Kramer, Sumerian Mythology. A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievements in the Third Millennium B.C., revised ed. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961).

8 Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion. p. 85.

9 New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. p. 142.

10 New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. p. 113.

11 New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. p. 119.

12 Charles Penglase. Greek Myths and Mesopotamia. (New York: Routledge, 1994). p. 99.

13 John Ferguson, The Religions of the Roman Empire. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1970); and Halsberghe, Gaston H.. The Cult of Sol Invictus. (Leiden. Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1972).

14 Ferguson, p.46. Mithraism was a secret hierarchical mystery cult inspired by astrological symbolism based on the Persian solar deity known as Mithra, a god of light who ruled over truth, contracts, oaths, and order. Mithras became quite popular throughout the late Roman Empire among soldiers and his name was often used interchangeably with the title of Sol Invictus. See Franz Cumont. The Mysteries of Mithras. Dover Publications, Inc. NY 1956, among others.

15 Ferguson, John. The Religions of the Roman Empire. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1970). p.46.

16 Vettius Valens, The Anthology: Book I, trans. Robert Schmidt, 1st ed., vol. IV, Project Hindsight Greek Track (Cumberland, MD: The Golden Hind Press, 1993). p.1.

17 See the entry on Nous, #16, p.137 in F.E. Peters, Greek Philosophical Terms, (New York: New York university Press, 1967).

A Validade Astrológica de Planetas a 5º de uma cúspide

Clélia Romano, DMA

04/11/2020

Muitos astrológos fazem desse tópico um dogma a ser amplamente considerado.

Mas é preciso entender os fundamentos de qualquer técnica que formos usar,é preciso pensar e pesquisar, não repetir, baseados simplesmente em ideias que nunca chegamos a entender bem.

O caso de um planeta a 5 graus da cúspide de uma casa ter influência sobre a casa é um desses fatos que não tem sentido, junto com outros que não cabe nominar aqui e que continuamos usando.

A questão citada sobre os 5º começou com Ptolomeu.

Este autor considerou as casas com alguma irrelevância, mas a questão de Qual Método de construção de casas ele se referiu provocou um grande debate.

Sua constante sobreposição das palavras “lugar” e “signo”, e a maneira como ele se refere ao meio do céu como “o sinal culminante”, foi usada para sugerir que ele considerava “lugares” .

Resta, no entanto, uma passagem altamente significativa, na qual ele oferece uma definição das casas. É o que está contido em seu método de determinação da duração da vida, sendo que os planetas dos quais extraímos tal julgamento devem estar localizados nos lugares poderosos, que ele descreve como segue:

“Em primeiro lugar, devemos considerar aqueles lugares … em que o planeta receberá o senhor da prorrogação; a saber, a décima segunda parte do zodíaco em torno do horóscopo de 5 ° acima do horizonte real para cima, e os o 25 ° que resta, que está subindo em sucessão ao horizonte [isto é, 1ª casa]; a parte sextil destra a esses trinta graus, chamada de Casa do Bom Daemon [11ª casa]; a parte no quartil, o meio do céu [10ª casa]; a parte em trígono, chamada de Casa de Deus [9ª casa]; e a parte oposta, o Ocidente [7ª casa]. ” (Tetrabiblos III.10). Vemos que o autor só aceita como Hyleg um planeta acima do céu.

Isso é tudo o que Ptolomeu tem a dizer sobre a base técnica das casas. Ao avaliar sua importância, o comentário introdutório sobre a 1ª casa é o mais pertinente: tal casa é composta pos 5 graus acima da cuspide do ASC e 25 graus abaixo, 5 ° acima do horizonte real até os 25 ° restantes, aqueles que vão subindo sucessivamente para o horizonte.

Esses 5 ° de deslocamento do ascendente causou muito debate, porque não é bem explicado, mas é a única forma de entender essa “fixação” dos 5º que atribui a cada casa uma influência de um planeta a 5 ° antes da cúspide, como no uso tradicional.

Como disse, essa abordagem é usada hoje por astrólogos treinados em técnicas tradicionais, de modo que , se um planeta estiver a 5 graus da cúspide da próxima casa, ele terá sua influência no contexto daquela casa.

Esta definição é enganosa, porque é claro que o princípio de reconhecimento dos cinco graus que precedem uma cúspide de uma casa é tradicional APENAS considerando-se a primeira casa, independentemente do método de divisão de casas utilizado por Ptolomeu.

Portanto, isso deve ser considerado um princípio de interpretação da casa 1 para localizar o Hyleg ou prorrogador e não um método que funcionaria em todas as casas, pois, nesse caso, cada casa teria que começar 5 graus antes do que começa por qualquer método de divisão, e terminar 25 graus depois!

Tal concepção poderia ter validade em caso de não haver divisão alguma de casas e as constelações se misturarem às seguintes.

Mas essa não é nossa prática: dividimos os zodíacos em 12 signos.

Além disso, se considerarmos que os planetas andam na direção dos ponteiros do relogio e as casas e seu movimento primário em direção contrária aos ponteiros dos relogios, um planeta a 5 graus da cuspide esteve na casa ha um tempo atras, havendo portanto um natural afastamento entre casa e planeta referidos.

A posição do planeta é de se tornar mais distante da casa onde esteve, dado o movimento secundário.O mesmo ocorre com a casa, dado seu movimento diurno ou primário.

Sob o ponto de vista filosófico um planeta a 5 graus de qualquer cúspide e a Casa onde se localizou estão em relação de distanciamento e finalização de relações, não havendo qualquer sentido em usar a técnica de Ptolomeu para todas as casas, quando foi usada por ele para encontrar o hyleg na primeira casa.

Como um aparte, em minha opinião, sugere-se que ele usava signos completos, mas essa é apenas uma sugestão, baseada no parágrafo inicial e que repetiremos aqui:”Em primeiro lugar, devemos considerar aqueles lugares … em que o planeta deve estar que receberá o senhor da prorrogação; a saber, a décima segunda parte do zodíaco em torno do horóscopo, de 5 ° acima do horizonte real para cima para o 25 ° que resta, que está subindo em sucessão ao horizonte [isto é, 1ª casa]; a parte sextil destra a esses trinta graus, chamada de Casa do Bom Daemon [11ª casa]; a parte no quartil, o meio do céu [10ª casa]; a parte em trígono, chamada de Casa de Deus [9ª casa]; e a parte oposta, o Ocidente [7ª casa] “.

Tal parágrafo sugere o uso de signos completos, pois se baseia no sextil com o ascendente, na quadratura , no trigono e na oposição com ele, elementos que outro tipo de divisão de casas não levam em conta.

04/11/2020

 

Astrology in Islam

It is He Who maketh the stars (as beacons) for you, that ye may guide yourselves, with their help, through the dark spaces of land and sea: We detail Our signs for people who know. (Surah Al-An‘am, 97)

The image shows the phases of the moon in a month. This is a page taken form a calendar prepared by Sayyid Ahmed b. Mustafa Al-La’li, who presented this calendar to the Sultan Selim II in 1566. Courtesy of Sam Fogg – London.

If you were to conduct a search on the subject of Islam and Astrology, you find several rulings by Muslim scholars. It is neither my place nor my interest in contradicting them. But I take exception to the way that astrology is falsely presented and I mean to show how the art is a part of the Islamic experience.  This passage will serve to provide a fair representation of the position of the naysayers:

“Not only is the practice of astrology is [sic] haram, but also visiting an astrologer and listening to his predictions, buying books on astrology or reading one’s horoscope are also forbidden. Since astrology is mainly used to predicting the future, those who practice it are considered fortune-tellers. Consequently, one who seeks his horoscope comes under the ruling contained in the Prophet’s statement. ” (See Sunnah Online). The prophet’s statement is concerned with fortune-tellers and the annulment of prayers for those who visit one.

When the passage is distilled, we find that the chief complaint is that astrologers predict the future.  For now, I will simply state that predictions are also made by the weather bureau,  ordinary farmers, physicians,  political commentators and so on. The is no supernatural force at work, although as with the other livelihood a knowledge of the subject and a keen intuition are part of the skill. I mean to address this and other issues regarding what is haram or halal with respect to the celestial sciences.

To begin, I will attempt to create a rough context for the practise of astrology in Islam, recognizing that this is the same or identical in other faiths. The question of whether or not astrology is permitted in Islam is not a simple question by any means. I have worked to place the question in the context of various forms of Islamic understanding, including the Quran itself. I find that the question isn’t so much whether astrology is haram or halal, but how astrology is interpreted in the first place.

Lunar Calendar – detail of an almanac cover page. Topkapi Palace Museum Library, MS B 309. “This calendar was important in defining the times of religious observances that were new to the Muslim community. The Islamic religion, whose rituals were based on the lunar calendar, frequently calls the attention of Muslims to the heavens in the Koran, demonstrating the close relationship with astronomy in Muslim culture. ” Dr. Salim Ayduz  (Muslim Heritage)

This is a key passage:

“Your Guardian-Lord is Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is firmly established on the throne (of authority): He draweth the night as a veil o’er the day, each seeking the other in rapid succession: He created the sun, the moon, and the stars, (all) governed by laws under His command.s it not His to create and to govern? Blessed be Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds! “(Surah Al-A‘raf, 54)

There is no question that the stars and planets are governed by laws that are above them. Plato, Plotinus, Aristotle, Ficino, Hinduism, the Abrahamic faiths along with all Islamic astrologers agree on that. This is why it is completely wrong-headed to consider authentic astrology as idolatry or placing the Creation above the Creator. That isn’t how it works.

The passage is a clear parallel to Genesis, which shouldn’t be surprising. There were large Jewish communities in centers like MekKa and Medina at the time of Muhammad. At the same time, the epithets for Allah – “Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds’ sounds more Hindu than Jewish. This is what Hindus call Vishnu. I make this comment to get the idea across that ancient Arabia was a culture of trade and with trade go ideas. They were not isolated.

Again this is made plain: “He has made subject to you the Night and the Day; the sun and the moon; and the stars are in subjection by His Command: verily in this are Signs for men who are wise. (Surah An-Nahl, 12)

There is no more fundamental belief in Islam than the concept of Tawhid. Islamic scriptures are replete with  This is but one.  Here we have the instruction to “follow what thou art taught by inspiration from the Lord: there is no god but He: and turns aside from those who join gods with Allah. (Surah Al-An‘am, 106). A term related to this is shirk – attributing partners to Allah.  It would take either a great misunderstanding of Islam and astrology to conclude that the wisdom conveyed via the stars denies the oneness of Allah.

The modifier “Sign for men who are wise” is crucial. Without special knowledge and insight, the further dimensions of meaning remain hidden. Indeed, there is no reason why everyone would need to know the greater workings of the celestial science.

Nevertheless, everyone needs to know the everyday calendrical information. In Islam, the Moon is of great significance for this and many other reasons, as the flags and mosque symbols of Islam attest. In the desert the Sun is pitiless and the cool of the evening a welcome respite. Pre-Islamic Middle Eastern lunar deities were ubiquitous and often considered male.

Classical astrologers have learned much of what they know from the ancient sources of the Middle East, Greece, Persia & India. In what were the European Middle Ages and Renaissance, Islamic astrology came into what has become known as a Golden Age.  So the question as to whether or not Islam permits the use of astrology isn’t likely to trouble many practitioners.

I do not write this article with a mind to changing anyone’s point of view. I would, however, like to make it as clear as possible how classical astrologers, including historical Islamic ones, understand their own craft. In doing so, I make one short digression.  The idea of belief is itself somewhat problematic. It lies somewhere in a grey area between faith and the void.  We might also say that it’s like faith without understanding. For example, do I have to ‘believe in’ mathematics in order for it to work? Probably not.  However, I’m not likely to derive much utility from mathematics if I refuse to employ the tools it offers. Belief has no sincere interest in the examined truth and is content to accept what others have said is true.  The apprehension of truth takes time and effort.  If this were not true, the world would have far fewer bigots.

The unexamined life is not only not worth living, it is scarcely a life at all. Sometimes the question is as important as the answer. It very often happens that one is like the proverbial fish in the bowl, not cognizant of the fact that he is swimming in water because there is no experience of otherness to create that awareness.

I was impressed by a very fine article “Is Astrology Permissible in Islam.” by Ugur Alkan, a freelance writer who holds a B.A. in Communication and an MBA in Management from Fort Hays State University, Kansas. The article is well written, but what attracted me most to the article was the stark boldness of the title in the form of a question. To some extent, this article is a response and dialogue with Alkan.

Alkan rightly points out at the beginning of the article that:

“Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, condemns fortune-tellers and praise genuine sciences. In The Holy Koran, Surah Al-Maida commands “Forbidden also is to use arrows seeking luck or decision; all that is disobedience of Allah and sin”Quran 5:3. In this case, the critical question involves the application of astrology. Is it used to find propitious times in our lives or to benefit as a helping profession in social and psychological sciences? According to some scholars in Sufism (Islamic Mysticism), astrology may be permissible in Islam because it is neither illusion nor demonic practice. Instead, astrology is based on statistical knowledge which motivates people for further research and comprehension of the human condition.”

The implication is that the two chief reasons for rejecting astrology are that it is either an illusion or else demonic. The first stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of how astrology works. Many have argued, for example, that the planets cannot possibly affect us because they are too far away. Even Jupiter’s gravity cannot reach us. The planets are just rocks in space. Usually, that’s where the investigation ends. However, the planets don’t ‘do’ anything to us.  The Quran also makes this plain. The celestial bodies are guides to the wise. The best analogy that comes to mind is that of a clock. The clock doesn’t ‘make’ time, but it can tell us what time it is. Those who seriously want to know how astrology can work will find scores of articles on this blog, dealing with that question in one way or the other

Imam Ali Conquers Jinn, unknown artist, Ahsan-ol-Kobar (1568) Golestan Palace

The demonic issue appears to be more complex in Islam than in the other Abrahamic religions because Islam includes the Jinn. One is not free to imagine there are no Jinn, any more than one is free to deny the existence of angels. These are elements of the Islamic faith. They are as much a part of Islam as who vastly outnumber humans and are invisible unless they choose to take a particular form. They are smokeless fire beings associated Iblis, the Islamic Lucifer. However, there are apparently many beneficial Jinns. The prophet Sulyman employed Jinn to great effect and this is celebrated in the Quran. They have also been associated with arts such as astrology. We are then faced with the situation of interrogating Hamlet’s ghost to determine whether the spirit is good or evil – a liar or a speaker of the truth. Although one might turn this into an impossible quest, thwarted at every step by the haunting possibility that a bad Jinn is deceiving us into believing it good, there is a way through. We can know what is good by what it produces. If authentic, seasoned astrologers can provide medical insights, auspicious dates for doing anything from starting the building of Baghdad to planting celery, identifying areas of conflict between nations or between a brother and sister, we ought to rule out the agency of evil beings for the same reasons we don’t ascribe demons as essential to weather forecasts of seasonal agricultural considerations. To do so, would be indicative of a noxious paranoia, rather than a healthy discernment.

The Jinn vastly outnumber humans and are invisible unless they choose to take a particular form. They are smokeless fire beings associated with Iblis and they can live for several hundred years.

However, there are beneficial Jinn. The prophet Sulyman employed Jinn to great effect and this is celebrated in the Quran. They have also been associated with arts such as astrology. We would otherwise be faced with the situation of interrogating Hamlet’s ghost to determine whether the spirit is good or evil – a liar or a speaker of the truth. Although one might turn this into an impossible quest, thwarted at every step by the haunting possibility that a bad Jinn is deceiving us into believing it good, there is a way through. We can know what is good by what it produces. There is nothing particularly different about this than things we do every day. A good recipe is judged by not only what the dish tastes like, but whether it is nutritious or detrimental to health.  However, I’m in no position to deny that some forms of mediumship involving an alleged communication with spirits is mere fiction. Such is neither my expertise nor interest.

Although one might turn this into an impossible quest, thwarted at every step by the haunting possibility that a bad Jinn is deceiving us into believing it good, there is a clear way through. We can know what is good by what it produces. If competent astrologers can provide invaluable medical insights, auspicious dates for doing anything from starting the building of Baghdad to planting celery, predicting the weather, identifying areas of conflict between nations and between a brother and sister, we ought to rule out the agency of evil beings.

In the Tasfir of Ibn Khatir – Imam Ahmad recorded from Az-Zubayr that he commented on the Ayah:

“A group of [Jinn] went towards Tihamah and found Allah’s Messenger while he was at a place called Nakhlah along the way to the `Ukaz market. He was leading his Companions in the Fajr prayer. When the Jinns heard the recitation of the Qur’an, they stopped to listen to it, and then they said: `By Allah! This is what has prevented you from eavesdropping on the news of the heavens.’ Then they returned to their people and told them: `Our people! We certainly have heard an amazing recitation (the Qur’an), it guides to the right path. So we have believed in it, and we will join none in worship with our Lord.’ So Allah revealed to His Prophet,”

﴿قُلْ أُوحِىَ إِلَىَّ أَنَّهُ اسْتَمَعَ نَفَرٌ مِّنَ الْجِنِّ

That the Quran was a revelation to both humans and the Jinn is a central element in Islamic thought. There is a very moving document from the 15th Century that has the animals of the world pleading to the King of the Jinn for humans to treat them better. There is a copy in the archives

Yet the Jinn are not be universally trusted by any means. There is an Islamic account, which might be apocryphal, that nevertheless holds a lot of weight. The story goes that angels get together to discuss the future, only to be overheard by evil Jinn who then corrupt the truth while leaving enough factual content to deceive the fortune teller and impress the querent.

The Stars and Human Temperaments – this model, derived from Greek sources, such as Galen and explains the theory that illustrates correlations between celestial bodies and human temperaments. This was well-received throughout the Islamic world.

“The word Jinn means “hidden” in Arabic. In The Holy Koran, they are described as being created from smokeless fire. Jinns are the descendants of Satan like Humans are descendants of Adam but most of them are very deceptive and dangerous for humans. When God has a certain event planned in our lives, he commands the angels to create the conditions to fabricate them. Before implementing God’s plan, Angels discuss this future event. In some cases, jinn sneaks up and overhear the future event and passes this information to the fortune-tellers through Tarot, I-ching or any other objects. Of course, the Jinns don’t intend to be favourable of humans; therefore, they muddle up the truth of future events with deception. As a result, the truthful events overheard from Angels are embellished with lies to cause confusion.” (Alkan).

Further to this view, we find a great deal of confirmation for credence in astrology as such:. “In Islamic teachings, every prophet was gifted with diverse miracles. Prophet Idris, also known as Enoch in the Old Testament, was blessed with his immense knowledge of heavenly sciences. As compared to modern science, he had a more complex knowledge of astronomy. Some Sufi schools consider him as the founder of the science of the stars, also called “ilm al nujum” in Arabic. Historical records illustrate his birth in Babylonia and his migration to Egypt later in life. History also collaborates that astrology was first born in Babylonia and then spread to Egypt. Prophet Idris was supposedly known to be the first person to educate mankind that living creatures are under the influence of cosmic rays.”

“In Islamic teachings, every prophet was gifted with diverse miracles. Prophet Idris, also known as Enoch in the Old Testament, was blessed with his immense knowledge of heavenly sciences. As compared to modern science, he had a more complex knowledge of astronomy. Some Sufi schools consider him as the founder of the science of the stars, also called “ilm al nujum” in Arabic. Historical records illustrate his birth in Babylonia and his migration to Egypt later in life. History also collaborates that astrology was first born in Babylonia and then spread to Egypt. Prophet Idris was supposedly known to be the first person to educate mankind that living creatures are under the influence of cosmic rays.” (Alkan)

Alkan then refers to modern horoscopes wherein the Sun is regarded as the only star and therefore the knowledge that belonged to the ancients is lost.  First of all, no serious astrology considers newspaper horoscopes as having anything to do with authentic astrology. True practitioners of the art pay a great deal of attention to fixed stars.

For some, this may be all the scriptural references to prophets such as Daniel and Enoch may be all they need to accept the halal relevance of reading the stars.  However, it is very difficult for many people to understand the difference between fortune-telling and authentic astrology. In large part, the difference is not merely in the technique, but in the intent.  If I say we are in for a very cold winter because I have learned how to read the signs of nature, such as the curling of leaves or the activity of crows, I’m merely stating that this is what happens when these signs manifest. This kind of divination is common among people who interact with and live close to nature. In fact, a Muslim colleague from Pakistan once told me that reading the stars is reading the signs of nature. If this is the case, astrology doesn’t differ much from meteorology. To refer to it as polytheistic is to completely misunderstand the nature of astrology.

“The Hour (of Judgment) is nigh, and the moon is cleft asunder. But if they see a Sign, they turn away, and say, “This is (but) transient magic.” —Quran 54:1–2 (Yusuf Ali) Image- Muhammad (veiled figure on the right) splitting the Moon in a 16th-century watercolour from a Falnama, a Persian book of prophecy. Unknown artist.

A great deal is riding on the answer to the simple question “is astrology permitted in Islam.” This question ultimately goes far beyond astrology itself. There are very many sub-sects of Sunni and Shia Islam, There are many Muslims who insist that music is haram, yet music and dance are very much part of the Islamic legacy.

Some groups in Pakistan and Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, systematically destroy Sufi shrines or anything at all that could leave the impression that Sufism was ever a part of regional cultures. Islam has taken the Abrahamic hatred for idolatry to the most extraordinary heights, being seemingly unable to distinguish between the evocative value of art from the worship of idols at all. This was why the Bamiyan Buddhist statues were destroyed. It was considered a holy act and I think they were sincere, even if regrettably misguided. The world lost an extraordinary heritage site, going back to the Buddhist period of what is now called Afghanistan, but to a literalist who considers all religions but his own as idolatrous, their destruction was an act of piety.

The answer, if you get one at all, to the question: is astrology permissible in Islam will depend on who you ask, which source texts they consult and how they interpret them.  All three criteria are subject to a multitude of considerations. I have been in touch with various Islamic scholars over the years and while most will deny that Islam supports astrology, there have been a few that do. In all cases of those who rejected astrology, I found that they had a vastly different concept from me regarding what astrology actually is. Although there is a rich tradition of astrological use, including from highly respected Islamic sources. The fact that the timing of the construction of Baghdad was trusted to astrologers and that medicine was so inextricably connected to astrology appears to be better known outside of Islam than within it. Clerics differ wildly on many subjects, but with respect to astrology, polarized views are adamantine. Attempts to explain the true nature of astrology are mostly doomed before they begin. One of the fruitful paths is to show how astrology has been used by Muslims and particularly during what is considered the Golden Age of Islam. Fortunately, the Qi’ran itself may be consulted for clarification.

The core concern regarding astrology in the Islamic world is whether or not it is shirk – this simply means that it is forbidden to assign partners to Allah.  In the context of celestial science, a good example is to be had in a passage within The Star Sura (53:49). “He is the Lord of Sirius” sound deceptively simple. Sirius is known as Shiera in Arabic and is the brightest star in the heaven. It is also known as Mirzam al-Jawza, al-Kalb al-Akbar, al-Kalb al-Jabbar, Ash-Shira al-Abur, etc. It was believed that Pre-Islamic cultures worshipped the stars. For example,  the Egyptians were said to worship Sirius as Isis. Of course, the word “worship” may not apply in usually understood meaning of the term.

Sirius has her heliacal rising at a time that coincided with the time of the season when annual floods, inundated the Nile, which augered for abundant harvests from the nutrient-rich silt of the river. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the Egyptians referred to the Milky Way as the “true Nile,” displaying a clear understanding of what is above, is below.  The Pre-Islamic Arabs also held the belief that Sirius ‘influenced human destinies.’ This is a fundamental way in which astrology is misunderstood. No reputable, traditional astrologer will tell you that the stars dictate your fate. This what is meant by the simple statement that destinies are not made and controlled by Shiera but by the Lord of Shiera. This could take into a philosophical discussion regarding essence and emanation, but that is not required. The point is simple and easy to understand, just as the Qu’ran claims to be.

Canopus the “Celestial Navigator.” – The star used for the orientation of the Kaaba. Canopus shines 1400 times brighter than our Sun.

Originally and in essence, the Islamic tradition was a sophisticated system of knowledge that embraced all known areas of enquiry and it did so with considerable exuberance! Take for example the “Book of Wonders.” This treatise has been translated into Persian, Turkish, and German and is concerned with subjects such as astrology, cosmology, and the natural sciences. The author was very fond of Pliny the Elder and other Greek classical works. as well as the rich sources then found in the Middle East, Northern Africa, and India.

the author, Zakarīyā ibn Muhammad al-Qazwīnī (circa 1203–83) was a distinguished Iranian scholar who was conversant in poetry, history, geography, and natural history. He served as legal expert and judge in several localities in Iran and at Baghdad.  After travelling throughout Mesopotamia and Syria, he wrote his famous Arabic-language cosmography, ‘Aja’eb ol-makhluqat wa qara’eb ol-mowjudat (The wonders of creation, or literally, Marvels of things created and miraculous aspects of things existing).

“Book of Wonders” by Zakarīyā ibn Muhammad al-Qazwīnī (circa 1203–83).

This is but a drop in a vast ocean. Masters of several arts, like Ibn Sina,  born in what is now Uzbekistan, wrote voluminous medical works filled with thousands of pages of pharmacopoeia and used even in Europe until a bit more than a hundred years ago. He was also an astrologer and he used this as an integral part of his medical practise.  He spoke several languages, was extraordinarily well versed in philosophy and theology among many other things. His correspondence with Al Biruni is extant and illuminating, for anyone wishing to get a deeper insight into the Islamic culture of the period.

There is a statement attributed to Hippocrates, although the written location of the quote remains a mystery. Nevertheless, it is by no means out of place with what we know about Greek humoral medicine. This was certainly taken to heart by Islamic translators of Hippocrates, Galen and others.: “A physician without a knowledge of astrology has no right to call himself a physician”  We can also look forward to Guido Bonatti and others who were instrumental in the transmission of Islamic astrological ideas and methodologies. Bonatti was a great influence on the English Astrologer, William Lilly, who in turn imparted medically relevant knowledge to Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654). Culpeper was a friend and student of the astrologer William Lilly who worked with Culpeper on the attribution of astrological characteristics of both herbs and the patients being treated. What is seldom mentioned is that Culpeper knew of Avicenna and had access to his work. Culpeper refers to this as “astrologo-physical discourse of the vulgar herbs.” In his most celebrated work on medicine, The English Physician (1652), Culpeper’s lays out the relationship between plants and astrological considerations in the service of medicine.

The uses of authentic astrology are immense and have been passed on for the most part in scrupulous detail. This is not to say that tradition is a monolith that can never be changed. In the words of Gustav Mahler: “tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire. ” In this case, the tradition involves a number of disciples working together.  We need to be clear that astrology was “NOT a hobby you performed in your spare time. It required a very good grasp of mathematics, astronomy, and writing, among many other things. Ergo, something you would

definitely not encounter among the general populace, as it would have required academic studies proportionally arduous to what you’d find today- the content might have been different, but you’d have to learn critical thinking, defending your theories, and learn about all the available material that preceded their “modern” education.” (Sid Meier’s Civis.)

Abū-ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn ibn-ʿAbdallāh Ibn-Sīnā [Avicenna]

Avicenna’s breadth of learning is extraordinary by any standard. His importance is summed up in this entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“Avicenna synthesized the various strands of philosophical thought he inherited—the surviving Hellenic traditions along with the developments in philosophy and theology within Islam—into a self-consistent scientific system that explained all reality. His scientific edifice rested on Aristotelian physics and metaphysics capped with Neoplatonic emanationism in the context of Ptolemaic cosmology, all revised, re-thought, and critically re-assessed by him. His achievement consisted in his harmonization of the disparate parts into a rational whole, and particularly in bringing the sublunar and supralunar worlds into an intelligible relation for which he argued logically. The system was therefore both a research program and a worldview.”

Al Biruni spoke several languages, wrote an incredibly detailed and insightful book on the history, religion, and philosophies of India was also an extraordinary astrologer and is still studied today. There are dozens of others that can be cited, but this will not convince anyone who has decided that astrology is haram. Indeed, many of the most brilliant minds in Islam were accused of heresy and/or exiled.

Page from Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine – Courtesy of The National Library of Medicine

Muslims often opine that the decline in Islam is a result of not following the literal interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah closely enough. In light of the achievements realized when Islam was a relatively open religion, respecting and admiring, for example,  Classical, Indian and Persian antiquities, the appeal to fundamentalism as a cure for what ails Islam is not a case one can make without distorting history beyond recognition. The philosopher Al-Ghazali was rather like the Savonarola of Andalusia – except that Islam has not yet fully recovered from his eloquent but misguided call for literalism and fundamentalism, effectively closing the door on the extraordinary developments in Europe. If Averroes had won the debate, Islam would most likely have had its own Renaissance and Enlightenment. However, he lost and was sent into exile.

Of course, other religions, particularly some versions of Christianity have had their own iconoclasts and toters of pitchforks and torches, accusers and inquisitors. Even today I would wager that the vast majority of Christians would denounce astrology, if asked, only to check the horoscope in the newspaper because “it’s for entertainment only.” Few are aware that astrological ideas and imagery are woven into what was once called “high Church.” Many of the Popes had astrologers.

“Night Journey” attributed to Sultan Muhammad – one of fourteen full-page illustrations included in a copy of the poems of the celebrated Persian poet Nizami which was especially created for the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp (ruled 1524-76). This painting depicts the Prophet’s journey to heaven on the angelic steed, Buraq.
This combined with a short survey of Qu’ran quotes will cause some to view astrology with an open mind and the rest will essentially go into a sort of denial. It’s very easy to find lists, for those interested.

Muhammad’s only son died at approximately age two and the passing coincided with a solar eclipse. Understandably, the father was stricken with grief, but he did something that might seem odd to us. He summoned all his companions.

“Prophet Muhammad wanted Arabs to eradicate the pre-Islamic era paganism and superstitious beliefs. Distraught by the death of his son, he gathered his community and told them that solar eclipse is an irrelevant event and does not occur in correlation to someone’s birth or death. The experience of Prophet Muhammad is considered proof that there is no celestial influence or synchronicity between such phenomenon and human events. ” (Alkan) This may well seem to contradict the Quran, but it does, in fact, agree with it. A single and fleeting astrological event like this shouldn’t be blamed on the eclipse.

The story of Muhammad urging his followers not to consider the eclipse as in any way related to the death of his son, because that is a pre-Islamic superstition isn’t a reason in itself  That is to say one cannot divine that something is a mere superstition just by saying so. The understanding and accurate forecasting of eclipses preceded Islam by thousands of years. The pre-Islamic astronomers were sophisticated enough to name and track the unfolding of saros cycles. At the same time, we are asked to believe that the prophet literally split the Moon into two pieces. We are also told that shooting stars (comets or meteorites) “are made as “lamps as missiles to drive away the shayatin (devils).” Al-Qur’an 67:5

Eclipse Lunar Moon phases and eclipse illustrated by the great tenth-century Persian scholar Al-Biruni.

For many years, I assumed that all Muslims took these stories as metaphors of a mystical experience as do I. The alternative is rife with problems, even more so than the Night Journey. The prophet literally flew to Jerusalem on the back of the buraq steed. met all the Abrahamic prophets and returned without being seen. Again, as a metaphor, it’s a wonderful story, but if I have no choice than to believe it’s literally true, that’s all well and good, but one cannot then claim a distaste for faith-based on unverifiable facts.  It is impossible to ignore the fact that before and after the prophet, there was a highly evolved science of the stars that had precious little to do with superstition with demonstrative techniques and stunning accuracy.

I cannot help but think that Muhammad knew this. Perhaps the story has become corrupted over the years because the Quran is not so dismissive. Also, as a merchant, he had travelled a great deal and interestingly included the Chaldeans along with the People of Book. Abraham himself is said to have come from Ur of the Chaldees.  The name Chaldean is virtually synonymous with astrology and we still refer to the Chaldean order of the planets. The Chaldean star lore derived from Egypt, Persia, and India, but they no doubt influenced these cultures as much as they were informed by them. It is impossible to imagine that the prophet was unaware of the core of their beliefs of the Sabians (/ˈseɪbiənz/; Arabic: الصابئة‎‎ al-Ṣābiʼah or الصابئون‎ al-Ṣābiʼūn). The religious group is  mentioned three times in the Quran as a People of the Book: ie “the Jews, the Sabians, and the Christians”

“It is supposed that they influenced the practices of the Hellenic Theosebeis. While their angelology was based around the movements of the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. They found its greatest development in the community which was based in the Harran region of south-eastern Anatolia and northern Syria, who were distinguished as the Sabians of Harran from the south Mesopotamian Sabi’una Hunafa by later Islamic writers like Ibn al-Qayyim” (Creative Commons).  It isn’t unusual to think of the planets and luminaries as angels or messengers. Indeed, that is the most common understanding of the part they play in astrology among traditional astrologers from virtually all traditions.

Sabian “Star-Worshipers.”
The Sabians are a monotheistic religious group who worshipped in the names of stellar angels. This religion understandably became confused with the worship of the celestial bodies themselves, rather than their creator, as the dwellings or mansions of the powers above the visible orbs. Sabeanism was one of the archaic religions found all over the world in different forms.  In its origins,  Sabianism was undoubtedly a continuation of the rich tradition of star lore in the Middle East which go back to deepest antiquity. There was a later tradition that tells us that Muhammad was himself a Sabian before his conversion. The Sabians are monotheistic and the celestial world was of the utmost importance to all groups in the region and far beyond it. It is interesting that Canopus is used as the star of orientation regarding the Kaaba because the star is known as the Celestial Navigator. The greatest irony, of course, is that Muslims who consider astrology haram, really don’t know what it is.

The question of whether or not astrology is permitted in Islam, will, of course, be the decision of individual Muslims as well as sects of Islam. Nevertheless, from an objective point of view, the fact that astrology has been integral to the development of Islam and was used by its most brilliant proponents is compelling.  The Quran itself is replete with variations on the idea that the Stars are guides for the wise. Beyond that, I sympathize, recognize and understand potential problems in the misuse of astrology.

The first part is the need for the discernment of spirits, as it is known in European cultures, but in fact, emphasized by St. Paul. The true astrologer is conscious. The techniques take many years to learn, and much more to master, but in the end, one cannot dispel higher intuition out of the nexus.  One needs to be clear with potential clients who treat astrology as of it were a slot machine or something to enforce an illusion. Astrology is good and strong medicine, but like any medicine, the quality of the practitioner is the greatest consideration.

The Angel Ruh from The Wonders of Creation and the Oddities of Existence by cosmographer Zakariya ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini (b. 1203 Widely read in the Islamic world, this manuscript was an exploration of the heavenly & earthly realms. Courtesy of the Ashmolean

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