The Case For Sidereal

I have been wanting to address this rather thorny issue for some time. There is a great deal of misunderstanding with regards to the tropical in relation to the sidereal, which requires a relatively simple approach. Strictly speaking, whatever that has been employed profitably for millennia requires no defence; but at this time. in the light of so much misinformation, an introductory case needs to be made. I shall begin with a brief explanation of the phenomenon responsible for the split between sidereal and tropical in the first place.

Figure 1 Earth Axis & Procession.

In understanding the nature of the sideral zodiac in relation to the tropical, we need to consider the Precession of the Equinoxes. The motion of the equinoxes along the ecliptic is caused by the cyclic precession of Earth’s axis of rotation.

Upon the compilation of the renowned star catalogue, which he completed in 129 BCE, Hipparchus observed that the positions of the stars had shifted from that recorded in earlier Babylonian (Chaldean) measures. He concluded that it was not the stars that were drifting. but instead the point of terrestrial observation. This apparent drifting backwards from the point of view on Earth is called precession and consists of a cyclic wobbling in the orientation of Earth’s axis of rotation with a period of 25,772 years

Hipparchus discovered another gem in his account of his discovery in On the Displacement of the Solsticial and Equinoctial Points, which Ptolemy subsequently described in his Almagest III.1 and VII.2).

Hipparchus measured the ecliptic longitude of the star Spica during lunar eclipses. He found that Spica was approximately  6° west of the autumnal equinox.  He then compared his own measurements with those of Timocharis of Alexandria, a contemporary of Euclid, who worked with a lesser-known Aristillus early in the 3rd century BC.  He realized that Spica’s longitude had lessened by approximately 2° Unfortunately. precise years are not offered in Almagest.

For many modern astrologers in the West, including contemporary traditionalists, the idea of using a sidereal zodiac is considered irrelevant or anathema. The single most common reason for rejecting sidereal out of hand is in something that is neither technical nor based on the perceived accuracy of outcome per se. It has to do with understandable protestations against changes in natal charts when tropical is converted to.sidereal.

There are other reasons, but this is by far the most common. That is to say, the detractors of sidereal do not act from a scientific or technical point of view. There position is understandable and not entirely without merit. One would require a very solid reason to switch from one zodiac to another. The better position from my point of view is to embrace both systems and apply either one of them wherever they are the better choice.  I will add here that reading both systems for a Nativity is not without reward.

The Precession of the Equinoxes produces an apparent drift of approximately one degree every 71.6 years. and it does so as if in reverse. A random tropical chart for 05 April 2019 – 3.50 PM GMT gives is the Sun at 16.32 Aries. If we calculate the same chart employing Fagal-Allen (sidereal) we have the Sun @ 21.32 Pisces..

Hipparchus of Nicaea (c.190 – c.120 BC), An image of Hipparchus from the title page of William Cunningham‘s Cosmographicall Glasse (1559)

Kenneth Bowser writes: “Late in the first millennium B.C., probably during the lifetime of Hipparchus of Rhodes (mid-second century B.C.), the Greeks introduced an innovation in zodiac reckoning that had heretofore been sidereal in the Near East and Eastern Mediterranean world for many centuries: they began to reckon the positions of planets and stars from the northern hemispheric vernal equinox. Until that time the equinox had been described in terms of the degree of the zodiac the Sun traversed when it reached the equinox, variously in the Greek world as 15°, 12°, 10°, 8°, 5° and 3° of Aries as precession slowly changed the Sun’s position in the zodiac at the time of the equinox.” The Tropical-Sidereal Debate, Part 2: The Sidereal Point of View

Sidereal comes from the same root as consider- From Latin sīdereusfrom sīdussīder-constellation, star. The Sidereal view is anchored in the stars and not based in reference to the Solstice and Equinoxes in the Northern Hemisphere – the latter is a Greek invention and certainly has its uses, by the word astrology itself refers to the study or wisdom of the stars. Western sidereal astrology is based on the Babylonian sidereal zodiac

A common criticism of sidereal is that the constellations are massively unequal in size, but of course the same is true for tropical observations. In fact, if anything, sidereal ought to be commended for the emphasis it places on the stars themselves. Indeed the Indian use of nakshatras stresses the importance of individual or small clusters of stars, usually three.

Often  when the subject of fixed stars comes up with modern astrologers. it becomes plain that the stars are of some interest but in the same way that asteroids, outer planets or even hypotheticals are considered. They are seen as one more thing you can add if you so wish, whereas to a traditional astrologer, particularly a sidereal one. the stars are primary and the name of our art tells us this.

figure 1 Spherica Precession Diagram

One of the most vexing issues for Tropical practitioners interested in the stars is the issue of stars being ‘pushed’ out of their constellations, For example, one may have a Sagittarius Ascendant conjunct Antares, the Heart of the Scorpion. What can one do in such a situation? Most obviously, we can pretend it doesn’t matter. But when the Heart of the Scorpion is ripped out only to be artificially re-located to another sign, of a different element and in aversion., one either accepts the contradictions or looks more deeply into what we really mean by signs and constellations, as they work in a tropical zodiac.

However, things are not quite so simple in practise. Western astrology has been heavily invested in the tropical view for at least two millennia. Our view of the zodiac has become a brittle one. Even though the Hellenistic methods came to us from astrologers who either used both sidereal and tropical or (less likely) they didn’t know which they were using because at that time the two systems were close to the same. From what I have gleaned, Hellenistic astrologers before Claudius Ptolemy used a sidereal zodiac for at least some purposes.

They took this sideral zodiac from the Babylonians. The Indians almost certainly took their system at least in part from Babylon, although many Indian traditionalists claim that Vedic is of greater antiquity. However, the only genuine solution, if one’s aim is to is retain the original positions of stars in relation to sign. – in which case the stars are back where they are in their own signs. Few things illustrate this better than the 27 Indian Nakshatras with four Padas each, arriving at a total of 108 – a sacred number.

I mentioned that the Hellenistic astrologer used sidereal at least some of the time, but there is evidence that even in very early Indian astrology, the tropical zodiac was used. The reason for this seems rather obvious. The tropical zodiac is designed so that the first degree of Aries always falls on the Spring Equinox. In other words, this system measures and marks the seasons as we experience them in the Northern Hemisphere. There were no ancient forms of astrology known in the Southern Hemisphere, that resemble those of the Northern Hemisphere, but astrologers in the South either ignore the distinction or reverse the horoscope so that Spring in the North is Autumn in the South.

Fig. 2 Fragments of a Babylonian Star Calendar

Here, we are back to the wold of Hesiod, where stars and asterism mark the times of the year for various agricultural activities, rainy and dry periods and so on.  It seems quite plain that tropical is by far the better Farmer’s Almanac and other forms of astrology such as Mundane would usually operate with the tropical zodiac. see figure 2.

So it is my contention that sidereal works best when used in Indian astrology because the whole system is essentially based on the primacy of the stars, but was also a central concern for mansy Hellenistic and other astrological tradiitions. it. For those particularly interested in the stars sidereal is the obvious choice. I would add that Indian astrology – by far the greatest group of siderealists today, are also interested in the circumpolar stars  . Ursa Major or the Big Dipper has seven stars known to Indian as Rishis or Sages. This constellation is almost certainly the origin of the ancient swastika symbol. See figure 2. The ladle-like arms mark the seasons.

figure 3

It is my hope that this has served as a decent introduction to the two zodiacs. It’s intended to shed light on the technical side of the subject in a simple way. In a forthcoming article, we will look more closely at how the sidereal works seamlessly with Indian astrology. It is certainly the case that exploring sidereal astrology from an Indian point of  view will not  ultimately interest everyone. Nevertheless, I contend that study in this area will prove to be  time well spent. In subequent articles, I will examine the use of sidereal by Hellenistic astrologers.


The problem of describing the beginning and the end of Astrological ages is notoriously chaotic; yet it is widely assumed that this information is readily available. Nothing could be further from the truth. This article cuts a wide swath across the subject.

A colleague recently questioned my assignment of the current Age to Aquarius, when both the sidereal and tropical Vernal point is in Pisces. The enormity of the differentials in calculations require some history and knowledge of what is referred to as “The Great Year.” (Timaeus (39d). There have been concerted efforts to equalize the boundaries of the constellations, but the fact remains that there are massive differences in the number of degrees covered by a given constellation.  The attempts, much of it in the 20th century, has left us with the illusion that each constellation matches a sign of thirty degrees. Yet the constellations such as Leo, Virgo, Pisces and Sagittarius are much larger. Artificially equalizing the constellations causes as many problems as it is meant to solve.

Where the blue circle in the diagram (right), represents the path of the pole in the northern hemisphere over a complete cycle.

Many consider astronomy to settle these kinds of things. Surely, astronomy can provide rational and lucid answers based on science.  Let’s look at “the Age of Aquarius from an astronomical perspective.”

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) – which in the 20th century assumed the duty of officially naming and defining all things astronomical – created official constellation boundaries in 1930. From the perspective of astronomy, then, the beginning of the Age of Aquarius is based upon IAU constellation boundaries, which astrologers or New Age practitioners might or might not choose to use in their computations.:” See Bruce McClure at EarthSky.

I find the term””official constellation boundaries” amusing. In reality, the constellation boundaries are what they are. Making them precisely equal in size in an attempt to tidy up the heavens has no useful purpose, not least because the  “official boundaries.” are merely a convenient substitute and a construct. It doesn’t solve the problems of determining where the boundaries are and muddied the subject, doing nothing regarding the exact placement of the Vernal Equinox.

This entire approach lacks the required self-reflection to address the question as to whether or not the constellation gives us the sign or the sign gives us the name of the constellation, but this is what happens when astronomical busy-bodies try to make elements of the universe official.

So far, we still don’t have a direct relationship between signs and constellations. Of course, for everyday practical use. the questions will be ignored. Nevertheless, this presents a problem if we are attempting to ascertain the beginning or end of an astrological Age.

There is also an Indian version of this. This system is associated with metals and references to India concepts, such as Sattva and the Kali Yuga. There is no attention given to arriving at equal-sized periods., The ages are also incredibly long.

The Mahabharata (which was used by Aryabhatta in his calculations) and the Manu Smriti have the original value of 12,000 years for one half of the Yuga cycle. According to one Puranic astronomical estimate, the four Yuga have the following durations: Satya Yuga equals 1,728,000 human years, Treta Yuga equals 1,296,000 human years, Dvapara Yuga equals 864,000 human years, Kali Yuga equals 432,000 human years

Puranic sources, tell us that Krishna’s departure from the world marks the end of Dvapara Yuga and the start of Kali Yuga, which is dated to 17/18 February 3102 BCE We are also given a precise time of birth for Krishna. However, the detailed qualities of the Yuga largely revolve around Krishna. The Dvapara Yuga follows the Treta Yuga and precedes the Kali Yuga. According to the Puranas, this yuga ended at the moment when Krishna returned to his eternal abode of Vaikuntha There are two main pillars of religion during this age: compassion and truthfulness. The Dvapara Yuga lasts 864,000 years.. Knowledge of the Vedas is specific to the Yugas. The Dvapara Yuga is restricted to two.  

Krishna Stealing the Gopis Clothing, folio of the Isarda Bhagavata Purana, India, Delhi-Agra area, 1560-65

The Kali Yuga is the lowest point of descent. It is a time marked by avarice and ignorance. an Age associated with the demon Kali (not the goddess).

The term has two main meanings. In scientific astronomy, it is defined as one complete cycle of the equinoxes. This translates to a period of about 25,800 years”. A more precise figure of 25,772 years.] The position of the Earth’s axis in the northern night sky currently almost aligns with the star Polaris.

The Platonic Year also called the Great Year, has a different more ancient and mystical significance. Plato theorized that winding the orbital motions of the Sun, Moon and naked eye planets forward or back in time would arrive at a point where they are in the same positions as they are today. He called this time period the Great Year and suggested that such a unified return would take place about every 36,000 years. There is no evidence that such a realignment has ever or ever will take place. (]Walter Cruttenden, Lost Star of Myth and Time (St. Lynn’s Press, 2006), p.xix–xx. Plato did not have knowledge of the Precession of the EquinoxThe origin of the Platonic Year would appear to have no connection with the precession of the equinoxes because that was unknown in Plato’s time.

Age of Taurus – Marduk became associated with Jupiter and is sometimes shown with Solar symbols including lions

The crucial knowledge of the Precession of the Equinox came with the Greek astronomer Hipparchus (second century B.C) is credited Ptolemy considered Hipparccus his most important and much of what we know of his work is in the Almagest of Ptolemy.

Claudius Ptolemy has been accused of fraud for giving us the figure of 36,000 years when he had adequate information or a far lesser period. See R.R. Newton  The Authenticity of Ptolemy’s Eclipse and Star Data. (1974)

No study of the Precession in Astrology, as well as the Great Ages, is complete without reference to the work of Nicholas Campion, “The Great Year: Astrology, Millenarianism and History in the Western Tradition” (Arkana/Penguin Books, 1994) Campion. in The Book of World Horoscopes, indicates that he has collected over 90 dates provided by researchers for the start of the Age of Aquarius and these dates have a range of over 2,000 years commencing in the 15th century AD. The range of dates for the possible start of the Aquarian Age range from 1447 to 3621.

The 20th-century British astrologer Charles Carter famously stated that “It is probable that there is no branch of Astrology upon which more nonsense has been poured forth than the doctrine of the precession of the equinoxes.“See ]Nicholas Campion, The Book of World Horoscopes, The Wessex Astrologer, Bournemouth, Great Britain, 1999, p. 485

Lastly, we assign events and ideas to different ages which may bring us important insights or lead us astray. For example, the Age of Aries is associated with the wars and the beginnings of monotheism and not a great deal more We might want to include Solar Cults, for example, but these were strongly represented in the Age of Taurus and the Age of Piscis. The fleeting monotheism in Egypt was soon stamped out. Judaism is touted as full-blown monotheism. Yet the Bible is replete with goddesses. If we put this n context, Judaism was a small tribal entity and monotheism outside of that world was non-existent. If we take a global view, then monotheism will not appear to be dominant in the Age of Aries. The Age of Taurus is perhaps more self eloquent because it’s a sense of beauty attracts us. Every sign will have a specific meaning for us. and it’s likely that similar themes will not be interpreted differently according to our cultural milieu. When all these elements are considered, we can say that the themes of the Ages have more in common that is commonly believed.

That we are still not in agreement on the beginning or end of any Age, may be extraordinary, but is not a failure. Indeed. we have not fallen prey to the demands of astronomical exactitude at the expensive of the visionary. Astrology is not entirely mechanical.

Michael Wood brings a literary sensibility to this piece on The Platonic Year

“The Platonic Year, or the Great Year, is a traditional name for the period in which all the planets and fixed stars complete a cycle and return to a configuration they have occupied before, some 26,000 years according to the calculation Yeats is using — his instructors, he said, meaning the spirits who spoke to him through his wife, ‘have … adopted the twenty-six thousand years of modern astronomy instead of the thirty-six thousand years Spenser [in The Faerie Queene] took from the Platonic Year’. This Year could be divided into twelve ‘months’ that became for Yeats the spells of two thousand plus years between catastrophic historical incarnations. Such a month would, in turn, have its months, and every division, including what we ordinarily call a calendar year, would have its seasons and phases of the moon and would allow us to think, at the most immediate level, of what Yeats calls a ‘symbolical or ideal year’, incredibly long or reasonably short, ‘each month a brightening and a darkening fortnight, and at the same time perhaps a year with its four seasons’. The pattern runs all the way through the different levels and dimensions, and it’s easy to see how the Platonic Year could become for Yeats an emblem of remote but undeniable regularity, and a figure for whatever there is that ultimately, however belatedly and at whatever cost, refutes randomness and asserts the enduring principle of order, or perhaps simply of the possibility of such a principle.”

An illustration of W.B. Yeats’s “gyre” as described in “A Vision.”

I believe that the Aquarian Age began in the early decades of the 20th century. In no small part, I’m indebted to W.B. Yeats for his visionary poetry and drama. The Second Coming is particularly notable. I’m also indebted to his A Vision and his theory of the gyres. I also find it impossible to deny the Aquarian nature of modern warfare and the proliferation of secular totalitarian states, the rapid development of technologies and a cooling of human interaction and the extreme distractions brought about by information technology. Yates was himself a Sun sign Aquarian. and close friend of Rabindranath Tagore. Yeats also provides a bridge, for those that can find it, with the Renaissance through Blake and the Romantics.

The Indian Yugas are not standardized and Swami Sri Yukteswar was convinced that Kali Yuga had already passed at the end on the 19th Century. He also believed in sub-ages. Dwapara Yuga is “known as the age of energy, a time of awakening consciousness and rapid advancements. The ascending Dwapara Yuga started it’s 200 year transition period in 1700 AD and the 2,000-year-long Dwapara Yuga proper period started in 1900 AD.. We have seen electricity discovered, the atomic age and the age of computers begin, in an explosion of new developments. Within this period quantum physics, space travel and digital phone/cameras have become commonplace. The science of psychology is less than 100 years old and we see how it has merged with so many other modalities to expand our awareness. With this understanding, the myriad examples of society’s changes and the surge in energy and complexity that we all feel is seen in a new light.” See Indra Rinzner The Yugas

Swami Sri Yukteswar arrived at the same period that I allocated to the Age of Aquarius, matching the Dwapara Yuga proper period started in 1900 AD. Yet there is no specific astrological reference at all  The agreement where we find it is energetic. The qualities he mentions are compatible with Aquarius, if not entirely essential.



The Sassanid Palace at Sarvestan Shiraz Iran – Persian: kakh-eh Sassani-ye Sarvestan – Photo- Javad Jowkar

Before we begin, I would like to make it abundantly clear that it is not my intention to replace the chart we have for the foundation of Baghdad  The data, but not the chart, came down to us from a venerable source  What I would like to do, however, is to explore what happens when we decide not to take the best of intentions as the only possible motivation and that, further, the shifting of one element in the charts’ construction can change the meaning dramatically and with often unexpected results. I do this with the full recognition that the perfect chart exists only in the Mind of God.

At the centre of my argument is the simple fact that this chart has been read with the unsupported assumption that Māshā’allāh used an exclusively Tropical zodiac. There is no evidence for this.

Scientists and other researchers understand the necessity of ridding ourselves, as much as is humanly possible, of preconceptions. I think it only fair to read Māshā’allāh using the Sassanian Ayansama to see what might be found. I will add that this study makes me uncomfortable for all the right reasons and I most certainly mean no disrespect to Māshā’allāh.

Māshā’allāh (from mā shā’ Allāh, i.e. “that which God intends”) was a Jewish astrologer from Basra. Ibn al-Nadīm says in his Fihrist that his name was Mīshā, meaning Yithro (Jethro).  Māshā’allāh was one of the leading astrologers in the eighth- and early ninth-century Baghdad under the caliphates from the time of al-Manṣūr to Ma’mūn, and together with al-Nawbakht worked on the horoscope for the foundation of Baghdad in 762. (See Māshā’allāh ibn Atharī (or Sāriya) [Messahala]

13-th century manuscript, drawn by Al-Wasiti of the celebrated book “The Assemblies”. Written by Hariri, shows a library in Baghdad

The chart that he was commissioned for the construction of Baghdad comes down to us from Al Biruni, a fellow Persian from modern-day Uzbekistan / Turkmenistan, in his monumental work The Chronology of Ancient Nations.  He is less commonly known by his full name of Abū Rayḥān Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Al-Bīrūnī (4/5 September 973 – 13 December 1048).  Biruni gives us the time, place and date, but makes no mention of the House System or Ayanamsa used for the chart. It’s reasonably considered that Māshā’allāh used Whole Signs and we know his most famous student did also. This still leaves the thorny question of which Ayanamsa he used.

If he used the Sassanian Ayanamsa along with material available to him in the Greater Bundahishn, this would change a great many things and certainly challenge some of our more cherished notions, such as the Chart for Baghdad being done in good faith in the hope of the greatest possible benevolence.

Before proceeding any further, it needs to be said that this chart has been subjected to all kinds of tortuous logic by several astrologers, including my initial article on this chart more than a decade ago. It has always seemed to have been discussed with a touch of reticence.

This is no more than a ‘what if’ because we cannot absolutely prove it either way.  As a Persian Jew, Māshā’allāh had good reasons to dislike and resent the Arab Islamic invasion of Persia and the slaughter of Jewish tribes in the Arabian peninsula and elsewhere. Jews had enjoyed a good life in Persia for millennia, as they do to this day. It would be extraordinary if he had no reservations whatsoever.


Here we have the chart with all the information passed on to us by Al Biruni, using Whole Sign houses, calculated using the Sassanian Ayanamsa.  This strikes me as a struggling chart with little to commend it if continued good fortune was intended when all is said and done. But the chart has never been unequivocally beneficent in any of its forms, using other house systems and the sidereal zodiac, for example. This has been part of the confusion. Baghdad was indeed a great centre of learning with widespread influence, both through space and time. However, it has also suffered excessive calamities and violence over the centuries and still suffers to this day. We see all this in the chart presented here.

The chart is not without considerable merit, but this is undercut by the very real and existential threats that are also illustrated. It is likely that only a seasoned astrologer may detect these in short order, but they cannot be unseen once they have been discovered.

The Sun in the Royal sign if Leo and magnificently placed with Regulus, one of the Royal Stars of Persia, known as the Watchers of the Directions,. Regulus is the Heart of Leo,  Watcher of the North and associated with the Archangel Raphael

Isrāfīl.-” Angel with Fish.” Mughal 1590 – Hossein Naqqash

The significance of this star is that it leads to immense good fortune, provided that revenge is avoided.  The Fixed Stars are stronger when well connected to a better planet. That is established. But reversals of fortune are part of the bargain if revenge is enacted.

In the ninth house, the Sun with Regulus is a powerful testament to the higher ideals of the proposed purposes and is placed in a near-perfect relation to Jupiter and the Ascendant.  This is also ideal when considering the meeting of foreign cultures and of course, religion provided that they don’t come in war. The Sun is in his Joy and in Hayz.

We find Mercury Retrograde and conjunct the South Node in the house of Death. This is most unfortunate. It also brings us back to the Moon. Cancer is her only domicile. The chart would do well to support a strong clerical and other positions falling under the influence of Mercury. At this level, always a crucial one in any system. They will be the keepers of the record and the ones who disseminate information of all kinds to keep the Caliphate strong.

Jupiter is in his own domicile and strong, in fine relationship to the Caliph and supportive of the goals desired  This reads like a great blessing and is very likely what Māshā’allāh would emphasise when presenting his election.

However, the fatal signatures of the chart should give us pause.

A brief history of the city shows us that Baghdad’s early meteoric growth was stifled due to problems within the Caliphate itself, including a relocation of the capital to Samarra (during 808–819 and 836–892), the loss of the western and easternmost provinces, and periods of political domination by the Iranian Buwayhids (945–1055) and Seljuk Turks (1055–1135).

Nevertheless, Baghdad held her place and continued as a major cultural and commercial centre in the Islamic world. Then tragedy struck on a massive scale. On February 10, 1258,  the city was sacked by the Mongols under the command of Hulagu Khan. The Mongols killed most of the inhabitants, including the Abbasid Caliph Al-Musta’sim. They also destroyed large sections of the city. Even the canals and dykes forming the city’s irrigation system were destroyed. The attack ended the Abbasid Caliphate. It has often been noted that Islamic civilization never completely recovered.

In 1401, Baghdad was again vanquished by Timur. So it continued, until the incursion of the Ottoman Turks. It’s difficult to make the case that Bagdad has not had far more than its share of sorrows and reversals of fortune.  It is equally difficult not to recognize the measure of success and abundance during its golden age.

We are used to thinking of the Royal Stars of Persia – the Watchers of the Directions –  as Regulus, Aldebaran, Fomalhaut, and Antares, representing the four Fixed Signs as the primary consideration in Persian astronomy.  However, the Sassanian model clearly puts the emphasis on Sirius.

Canopus is used in Islam for the orientation of places of worship. For those reasons, I have included it here. It is crucial to consider the Horoscope of the World which we examined in a previous article. In that schema, the House of Life (the Ascendant) was at the nineteenth degree of Cancer, the asterism Azara too was disposed in the star Sirius, which in the chart we have falls in the seventh house at 24°18.  I cannot see how he could have missed this detail. He was certainly aware of the Horoscope and the extraordinary power of Sirius.

In the Great Bundahishn

in Chapter 2, sections 3 & 4, in the translation by Behramgore Tehmuras Anklesariawe, we find:

“3. Over these constellations, He appointed four chieftains, in four directions; He appointed a chieftain over these chieftains; He appointed many innumerable stars that are recognized by name, in various directions and various places, as givers of vigour, by cooperation, to these Constellations.

4. As one says: “Sirius [Tishtar] is the chieftain of the East, Sataves the chieftain of the South, Antares [Vanand] the chieftain of the West, the Seven Bears [Haptoring] the chieftain of the North; the Lord of the throne, Capricornus, whom they call the Lord of Mid- Heaven, [is the chieftain of chieftains; Parand, Mazd-tat, and others of this list are also chiefs of the directions.”

Ibn al-Nadīm lists some twenty-one titles of works attributed to Māshā’allāh; these are mostly astrological, but some deal with astronomical topics and provide us with the information (directly or indirectly) about sources used which included Persian, Syriac, and Greek)  He was a learned, brilliant and extremely talented man. We wouldn’t expect him to simply make a mistake.

We should not ignore the fact that the chart was drawn up for the Day of Saturn – the Jewish Sabbath. No work is to be done on this day.

We find the Moon in Venusian Libra in the house of the Good Spirit. The Moon can refer to the common people in a Mundane chart and is feminine in any chart. Most interesting, however, is that she is disposited by a Mercurial Venus in the Anorectic degree in the house of open enemies. She is spent.  The benefits we might anticipate with Venus in this placement are such that Mars dominates in the sign of the N. Node’s exaltation.  Mars is doubly dangerous because he is also the Lord of the 12th house in Scorpio – this house is hidden enemies and self-undoing among other designations. Saturn is in his Fall and in a productive house.

I see no useful purpose to further elaborate on this. It is after all entirely speculative, even if plausible. I realize this turns the old enigma on its head, but sometimes an entirely new way of looking at something can be useful.  At the very least, it ought to raise awareness of just how different a chart can appear when the astrologer is using an Ayanamsa that may not have occurred to a modern reader. It also asks the astrologer to consider the cultural differences between practitioners that may very well, on the source be in agreement on virtually everything. This demands that we read far beyond the astrology itself, to the very ground of being which informs us all.


Beginning in 1211, Genghis Khan and his nomadic armies burst from Mongolia and swiftly conquered most of Eurasia. The Great Khan died in 1227, but his sons and grandsons continued the expansion of the Mongol Empire across Central Asia, China, the Middle East, and into Europe.


Note: shortly after publishing this brief article, I became aware of another, written in 2003: The Horoscope of Baghdad: historical, astronomical, and astrological notes by Juan Antonio Revilla. The topic is not identical, but Revilla does well in describing context, methodologies and sensibilities involved in deriving the chart.  He has a familiarity with Sassanian astrology and discusses many things, such as the Tables of al-Kwarizm, which go beyond the limitations of a single blog post.

The Transmission of Astrology into Abbasid Islam (750-1258 CE)

The Abbasid Caliphate 750–1258

Much discussion often arises as to the origins of astrology – most of it centered on whether what we know of the discipline, as it is practiced today, was birthed in Greece, where horoscopy was defined, or in Mesopotamia, where man first began to track the movements of the stars in order to interpret their language. However, the astrological tradition has been long-lived and well proliferated; it may then perhaps, be as accurate to argue that what has come down to us as astrology is as much as multicultural product as it is of either Greek or Babylonian genesis. In its lengthy and diverse history, there have been several significant astrological points of transmission crossroads. One of the most significant cosmopolitan intersections transpired in the Near East after the Islamic conquests of the Sassanian Empire in the 7th century. Arabic astrology as it developed during the Islamic Abbasid Dynasty (750-1258), flourished as a high science which synthesized intellectual influences from Indian, Greek, and Persian scholars, with some cultural influences also streaming in from the Jewish and Sabian traditions. The following essay examines these different streams as they were represented by the Arabic authors and translators active at the Abbasid courts. While I have organized this survey by assigning astrologers to the stream that best represents the language of the majority of sources which they consulted, the majority of the Abbasid astrologers clearly relied on sources from all of these traditions.

The Pahlavi Sassanian Stream

All of the astrology of Persian origin which has been recovered can be traced to the second great Persian Empire period – that of the Sassanid dynasty (224-642). The Sassanians under Ardashir I, overthrew the Parthians and established an empire that rivaled in size that of the Acheamenids seven centuries earlier. At the time of Shapur I (241-272), the Empire stretched from Armenia and Iberia (Georgia) in the North, to the Mazun region of Arabia in the South, to the Indus Valley in the East, and to the Tigris and al-Qadisiya in the West. [1] Under Shapur’s reign, scholarship flourished and a massive translation project of Eastern and Western scholarly works into Pahlavi (middle Persian language) was undertaken.

Since no extant astrological manuscripts in Pahlavi  have been recovered, most of the corpus of Persian astrology was transmitted directly and indirectly to the Islamic courts of the 8th century via two, often culturally intersecting, geographical streams:one from the Indian tradition in the East, and one from the civilizations built upon the Near Eastern conquests, particularly Greece and Babylon. Of the non-astrological sources in Pahlavi containing astrological references, the most specific is a passage in the Bundahishn (the 9th century Zoroastrian scripture), which makes reference to a horoscope of the world. This horoscope is taken to be an adaptation of a chart found in the Yavanajataka – a manuscript of Hellenistic astrology but containing Indian adaptations and probably written by a Greek residing in India.[2] The Persian horoscope in the Bundahishn attests to Greek and Indian influences, but also contains what Pingree asserts to be a Sassanian innovation. Of Greek influence is the concept of a Thema Mundi – a chart for the creation of the world – while the practice of including both of the Lunar Nodes in the same categorical considerations as the other seven planets is typical of Indian practice. But it is the fact that both of the Nodes are also given exaltation signs (Sagittarius and Gemini) that Pingree considers to be a Sassanian innovation.[3]

While the Arabic translations of Pahlavi astrology reflect a mixture of influences – “largely Sassanian and Greek in origin, with Indian material entering in through its intermingled with the Greek and Iranian elements in Sassanian astrology” – most of the astrologers in the Abbasid courts of the 8th and 9th centuries were Iranians.[4] The following authors translated Pahlavi originals or Persian adaptations of foreign works into Arabic at the Abbasid courts, and were either of Persian origin or lived in Sassanian Iran:[5]

Newbakht  or al-Naubakht (679-777): Newbakht was a Persian who became an astrologer at the court of the 1st Abbasid Caliph: al-Mansur (the Victorious). It is said that he arrived at the court as a Zoroastrian, but soon converted to Islam. He wrote seven works but only fragments have come down to us. It is documented by al-Biruni, that he was chosen to head a group of astrologers in charge of electing[6] a chart for the founding of Baghdad in 762 CE. His son and grandsons succeeded him as Abbasid court astrologers.

Musa ibn Nawbakht (c.840-c.940): Musa ibn Nawbakht was a 6th generation removed descendant of Nawbakht the Persian (see above). He was the author of an extensive treatise on astrological history in the vein taught by Albumasar entitled Al-Kitab al-Kamil of which a modern Spanish translation, Horóscopos Históricos was made. His sources would have been both Arabic and Pahlavi.

id ibn Khurasankhurrah (probably writing c. 747-754): Sa‘id is the author of Kitab al-mawalid (The Book of Nativities),  “the oldest surviving genuine Arabic translation of a Pahlavi astrological work that we possess”. [7] The work is attributed to the sage Zaradusht but Sa’id asserts that he did not translate his version from the original Zaradusht manuscript, but rather from a version in newer Persian written by Mahankard in about 637. Pingree thinks the original work was written by a Greek astrologer known as ‘Aelius the Wise’ who would have lived in Harran around the 3rd century, where he may indeed have been a teacher to Zaradusht. The work contains methods of genethlialogy found in both Dorotheus of Sidon’s and Vettius Valens Greek treatises, but also Arabic transliterations of Pahlavi technical terms possibly representing Sassanian developments in natal astrology.

Umar ibn al-Farrukhan al-Tabari (writing c. 800): Al-Farrukhan, also known as Omar of Tiberius was a translator of Persian descent of the Arabic translation from Pahlavi of Doretheus of Sidon’s 5 books on genethlialogy and catarchic astrology. While Masha ‘allah also translated Dorotheus’ works in  the 770s, of which we quite extensive fragments, Umar’s version, although contaminated, is thought to be more complete.[8] The contaminations consist of charts that postdate Dorotheus’ life, references to Hermes, Valens and Qitrinus al-Sadwali, and the typical Sassanian inclusions of Indian concepts. He is also known to have paraphrased into Arabic a Pahlavi version of  Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos in 812. His natal astrological work Book on Nativities, was translated into Latin by John of Seville.

Masha’ allah ibn Athari (c.740-c.815): Masha’ allah or Messahalla, as he is sometimes referred to in the west (a phrase meaning ‘what has God done’), was a Persian Jew living in Basra who became one of the leading astrologers of the late 8th century. According to medieval sources, his Hebrew name was Menasseh.[9]  Masha’ allah was among those who participated in the selection of the chart for the founding of Baghdad, even though he was still young at the time. He was familiar with Persian and Indian astrology and used astronomical tables compiled by a Persian in the 6th century but based upon earlier Indian versions.[10] His bibliography is extensive and consists of more than two dozen works, some of his own authorship, some of Pahlavi translations of earlier Greek works. In the 770’s, Masha’allah translated Dorotheus’ five volume genethlialogical treatise, Pentateuch into the Arabic Book of Nativities (Kitab al-mawalid) and then in his later years used it as the basis for his own genethlialogical work: Kitab al-mawalid al-kabir. While his natal treatise is fundamentally Greek in character, Maha’ allah transformed Dorotheus’ fifth book on Greek catarchic astrology into a work on interrogations after the style introduced via Indian astrology.[11] Masha’ allah also seems to have translated Vettius  Valens’ Anthology, which appeared in Pahlavi under the title Bizidaj (Choice) based upon a 6th century version by a Persian commentator named Buzurjmihr.

Some of the works attributed originally to Masha’allah are: The Revolutions of the Years of Nativities, a work on Solar Returns, The Revolutions of the Years of the World, an  astrological history based upon Aries Ingresses, Conjunctions, Letter on Eclipses, Reception of the Planets or Interrogations, a work on horary techniques, and The Construction of the Use of the Astrolabe.[12]

Sahl ibn Bishr (9th century): Sahl was also known as Zael or Zahel, and was a Jew from Khurasan, who also relied on Pahlavi sources. He was considered a master in horary astrology and was often cited by later Medieval astrologers who were in possession of his five works in Latin.

Ja‘far in Muhammad Abu Ma‘shar al-Balkhi (c.787-886): Albumasar, as he became known to the Latin West, was born near Balkh in Khurasan (present day Afghanistan). Balkh had been an outpost of Hellenistic culture and became during the Sassanian period, “a center for the mingling of Indians, Chinese, Scythians, and Greco-Syrians with Iranians”.[13] Holden says Albumasar is “the most imposing” of all the Arabic writers on astrology. [14] He began studying astrology at the age of  47, after having studied hadith (the teachings of Muhammad), because of an intellectual disagreement he had with Caliph al-Madhi’s renowned court philosopher, Al-Kindi. He “wrote what became the canonical textbooks on all branches of Arabic astrology.”[15]

Abu Ma‘shar was a member of the third generation of “Pahlavi-oriented intellectual elite”

“but he himself relied entirely on translations for his knowledge of Sassanian science. He mingled his already complex cultural inheritance with various intellectual trends current in Baghdad in his time, and became a leading exponent of the theory that all national systems of thought are ultimately derived from a single revelation (thus, in a sense, paralleling in intellectual history the Neoplatonic doctrine of emanation, which he accepted philosophically in its Harranian guise).” [16]

Thus, Abu Ma‘shar contributed to the Pahlavi stream in so far as he grew up amongst and promoted the corpus of work begun by his Pahlavi-speaking colleagues and predecessors. At the same time, his original works drew upon such a culturally diverse array of sources that he should actually be classified amongst the key figures in the transmission of Greek, Indian, Iranian, and Syriac astrological, mathematical, cosmological, and philosophical thoughts. Among his sources, we find:

“the Pahlavi Greco-Indo-Iranian tradition in astrology, astronomy, and theurgy as preserved in Buzurjmihr, Andarghar, Zaradusht, the Zij al-Shah, Dorotheus, and Valens; upon a Sanskrit Greco-Indian tradition in astrology and astronomy from Varahamihira, Kanaka, the Sindhind, the Zij al-Arkand, and Aryaghata; upon the Greek tradition in philosophy, astrology, and astrology through Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Theon; upon Syriac Neoplatonizing philosophy of the astral influences and theurgy from al-Kindi and the books of the Harranians; and upon the earlier, less complete attempts at such vast syntheses among Persian scholars writing in Arabic…”[17]

Other Known Translations of Pahlavi Originals

There are a number of Arabic translations which have survived in manuscripts that claim to be of Pahlavi originals. According to Pingree, some of the translations are of genuine Pahlavi sources, while others are either more recent forgeries or of dubious origin. I will only list here those which have been attributed to a transcriber or translator and for which enough substantiated information remains.[18] All of them appear in a manuscript known as the Paris Arabe 2487, which was copied in Egypt in 1492.

Book Concerning the Judgments of the Conjunctions (Kitab fiahkam al-qiranat ): This work is purported to have been transcribed by Jamasb the Wise in 1181 from an original unidentified manuscript that was brought to the court of the Caliph al-Iman al-Nasir sometime between 1180 and 1225. The work contains the an astrological world history based upon the 20-year cyclic conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn and their millennial recurrence in the sign of Aries. The history begins at about 2800 BC (thought to be when Zaradusht lived) and continues to 2300 CE. One curiosity about the work is that it makes reference to the planetary deities as having many hands, in the same vein as the Indian devatas.

 The Book of Conjunctions (Kitab al-qiranat): The work is attributed to Zaradusht the Wise, but also lists an ‘author’ by the name of Yahya ibn Muhammad al-Halabi. [19] Judging from internal astrological references, the work would have been transcribed c.1150. It too consists of an astrological history cataloguing every Jupiter/Saturn conjunction occurring with the Sun in Aries from a period of 1145-1624.

The Greek Stream

 Theophilus of Edessa (c.695-785): Theophilus originated in the city of Edessa, which became a major Christian center in the 3rd century, and which was located near Harran, a strategically placed city on the Nineveh trade route and major center for the cultivation of Greek astrology, astronomy, and Neoplatonism. He served in the court of the Caliph al-Madhi (775-785). Although a Christian, Theophilus saw no contradiction between its doctrines and astrology, which he makes clear in his Christian defense of astrology in the preface to Astrological Effects. Theophilus’ native tongue was Syriac but he was clearly also fluent in Greek and translated several texts from Greek into Syirac, including the two books of Homer on the fall of Troy, Aristotle’s Sophistici elenchi, Galen’s De methodo medendi. His Greek sources included Ptolemy’s Almagest, his Handy Tables and Astrological Effects, Dorotheus’ 1st century poem, Valens’ Anthologies, Rhetorius the Egyptian’s  7th century compendium, and Hephaistion of Thebes’ 5th century work entitled Apotelesmatics.[20]

His own three original extant works are all in Greek: 1) Labors Concerning Military Initiatives, a work on military astrology which shares many resemblances to Varahimira’s Sanskrit Brhadyatra, such as an indication that “the invader is indicated by the Ascendant, while the besieged is shown by the Descendant”.2) Apotelesmatics, his own introductory textbook with the same title as Hephaistion’s. It too contains some elements of Indian origin such as a zodiacal topothesia, similar to that found in the Yavanajataka. 3) On Various Initiatives, a work on interrogational astrology which shows influences from Dorotheus and Hephaistion and Pingree also suggests of Indian horary preserved through Syriac materials. [21]

It also appears that Theophilus may have spoken Pahlavi because his work on astrological history attests to the influence of Persian theory and techniques, and also because his work on military astrology above, would have been available to him in Pahlavi. [22]

Masha’ allah ibn Athari [also see above in the Pahlavi Sassanian and below in the Sanskrit Indian streams] Along with his translations from Pahlavi, it appears that Masha’ allah received a Greek compendium by Rhetorius of Egypt from Theophilus of Edessa at the court of al-Mansur.[24] Of the three Greek authors which he relied heavily upon (Dorotheus, Valens and Rhetorius), the latter is the only source written in its original language, but “he was also acquainted with some Greek material (perhaps through Arabic versions of Syriac texts”.[25]

As one of the 1st generation astrologers at the Abbasid courts, according to Hand, Masha’ allah is grouped together with Omar of Tiberias, Abu Ali Al-Khayyat and Sael as representing “a stage in Arabic era astrology in which Greek astrology provided almost the only basis for astrological practice”.[26] In contrast to what is found in Pingree, Hand asserts that elements of the Persian stream were introduced into the Abbasid courts subsequent to the introduction of the Greek influences, particularly because they surface “in a fully elaborated form in the writings of Abu Mashar, an ethnic Persian who would no doubt have had access to the pre-Islamic Persian astrological tradition”.[27] While it is true that the astrology found in the above mentioned authors is characteristically more Hellenistic than some of Abu Mashar’s work, this may be explained rather by Abu Mashar’s eagerness to synthesize Aristotelian philosophy and physics with his astrology and possibly incorporating many of Ptolemy’s Aristotelian astrological departures than because of any delayed introduction of Sassanian sources. Pingree clearly indicates that he was working with Arabic translations of Pahlavi sources which presumably would have been made by the ethnically Persian scholars of the late 8th century.

The Sanskrit Indian Stream

Theophilus of Edessa [see his entry in the Greek stream above for Indian influences apparent into his Greek works.]

Masha’ allah ibn Athari [see also above in both Greek and Pahlavi streams] In Greek fragments written by Masha’ allha, he describes the Indian theory of the navamsas and also describes methods for finding these lords in his Kitab al-mawalid al-kabir. There are also references to the Indian theory of planetary chords and to the “Era of the Flood” and its divergence from the Indian Kaliyuga in the Latin translations of De elementis et orbibus coelestibus (On the elements and celestial orbits) and in citations by al-Rijal of his Arabic work.[28]

Indian Astrologers at al-Mansur’s court:[29] In either 771 or 773, an embassy of astrological and astronomical scholars from the city of Sind in the Indus Valley, is reported by Ibn al-Adami in his Nazm al-‘iqd to have come to the court of al-Mansur. Among these scholars, one brought with him a text (probably entitled Mahasidhanta), a version of which was later rendered into Arabic by al-Fazari under the title Zij al-Sindhind al-kabir and by al-Khwarizmi in his own Zij al-Sindhind  (813-833). “Zij al-Sindhind” literally means the tables by the Hindu from Sind (al-Sindhind), and the lack of a name to identify this Indian scholar has generated some confusion among Arabic chroniclers. In the 12th century, Abraham ibn Ezra identified this unnamed Indian astronomer as Kankah al-Hindi (Kankah the Hindu). Abu Ma‘shar also expounded on Kankah as one of his 3 manifestations of Hermes – the founders of science in his astrological history Book of Thousands.[30] It is on the basis of this work that several legends involving an Inidan named Kankah were generated and taken as historical fact. Nevertheless, Pingree recognizes that there were probably two astrologers named Kanaka (the Indian version of the name) from Western India, one who wrote in Sanskrit and one who came to the Abbasid court.[31] The great Arabic bibliographer, Ibn al-Nadim lists several works by the second Kankah in his famous Fihrist. Among Kankah’s works are also listed works by other Indian scholars:

Kankah, the Indian: Book of the Secret of Nativities; Book of the Namudar Concerning (the Lengths of) Lives; Book of Conjunctions.[32]

Judar the Indian: Nativities

Sanjahil the Indian: Secrets of the Questions

Naq (Nahaq) the Indian: Nativities [33]

Pingree rejects the idea that the legendary Kankah listed in al-Nadim’s bibliography is the same Hindu of the al-Zij al-Sindhind[34]  since he says it was based upon the Sanskrit Mahasidhanta which “belonged to the Brahmapaksa of Indian astronomy”.[35] Of the Arabic speaking Kankah he says: “everything that we can discover concerning the doctrines propounded by Kanaka the Indian links him intellectually to Sasanian Iran, and not to India…Unfortunately, we do not know whether he learned this astrology while he was in India…or whether he picked it up in Iraq from his colleagues at the Abbasid court.[36]

Works Consulted

Armstrong, Karen. Islam; A Short History. A Modern Library Chronicles Book. New York. 2000.

Burnett, Charles, Keiji Yamamoto, and Michio Yano editors and translators. “Abu Ma ‘shar. The Abbreviation of the Introduction to Astrology”. Islamic Philosophy Theology and Science. Volume XV. H. Daiber and D. Pingree editors. E. J. Brill. New York. 1994.

Campion, Nicholas. The Great Year. Arkana. London. 1994.

_______ “The Concept of Destiny in Islamic Astrology and its Impact on Medieval European Thought”.

Grant, Edward. The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press. New York. 1998.

Gurney, Gene. “The Dynasties of Iran (Persia)” Kingdoms of Asia the Middle East and Africa. Crown Publishers, Inc. New York. 1986.

Holden, James Herschel. A History of Horoscopic Astrology. American Federation of Astrologers. Tempe, AZ. 1996.

Kennedy, E.S. and David. Pingree. The Astrological History of Masha’ allah. Harvard University Press. Cambrisge, MA. 1971.

Kusuba, Takanori and David Pingree. “Arabic Astronomy in Sanskrit. Al-Birjandi on Tadhkira II, Chapter 11 and its Sanskrit Translation. Islamic Philosophy Theology and Science. Volume XLVII. H. Daiber and D. Pingree editors. E. J. Brill. New York. 2002.

Omar of Tiberias. Three Books on Nativities. Robert Hand trans. Project Hindsight. Latin Track. Vol. XIV.  

Pingree, David. From Astral Omens to Astrology; From Babylon to Bikaner. Instituto Italiano Per L’Africa e L’Oriente. Roma.1997.

_______ The Thousands of Abu Mashar. The Warburg Institute University of London. London. 1968.

_______ “From Alexandria to Baghdad to Byzantium. The Transmission of Astrology”. International Journal of the Classical Tradition. Vol. 8, No. 1, Summer 2001.

_______ “The Sabians of Harran and the Classical Tradition”. International Journal of the Classical Tradition. Vol. 9, No. 1, Summer 2002.

_______ “Astrology”. The New Encyclopedia Britanica. Vol. 25. 15th edition.

_______ “Abu Ma‘shar”. Dictionary of Scientific Biography. ed. Charles Gillespie. Vol. II. Charles Scribner’s Sons. New York. 1974.

_______ “Masha’ allah”. Dictionary of Scientific Biography. ed. Charles Gillespie. Vol. IX. Charles Scribner’s Sons. New York. 1974.

_______ “The Indian and Pseudo-Indian Passages in Greek and Latin Astronomical and Astrological Texts”. Viator, Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Vol. 7. University of California Press. Berkeley. 1976.

 Tester, Jim. A History of Western Astrology. The Boydell Press. Rochester, N.Y. 1987.

Yamamoto, Keiji and Charles Burnett editors and translators. Abu Ma ‘shar. “On Historical Astrology”. Volumes One and Two. Islamic Philosophy Theology and Science. Volume XXXXIV. H. Daiber and D. Pingree editors. E. J. Brill. New York. 2000.


[1] Harper Collins Atlas of World History. p.78-79.

[2] Pingree, David. From Astral Omens to Astrology, From Babylon to Bikaner. 1997. p.39.

[3] Pingree, David. From Astral Omens to Astrology, From Babylon to Bikaner. 1997. p.40.

[4] Pingree, David. From Astral Omens to Astrology, From Babylon to Bikaner. 1997. p.41

[5] Compiled from Holden pp. 99-129; Pingree’s four essays as specifically cited; and Tester pp. 156-175.

[6] Refers to the astrological technique of selecting the most propitious time and location for undertaking any enterprise. Elections are known in the Hellenistic tradition as catarchic astrology.

[7] Pingree. From Astral Omens to Astrology, From Babylon to Bikaner. 1997. p.44.

[8] Pingree. From Astral Omens to Astrology, From Babylon to Bikaner. 1997. p.46.

[9] Hand. Masha’allah, On Reception. p.ii.

[10] Holden. p.107.

[11] Pingree. From Astral Omens to Astrology, From Babylon to Bikaner. 1997. p.47.

[12] Holden. p. 105.

[13] Pingree. Dictionary of Scientific Biography. p. 32.

[14] Holden. p. 111.

[15] Pingree. From Astral Omens to Astrology, From Babylon to Bikaner. 1997. p.66.

[16] Pingree, Dictionary of Scientific Biography. p. 32.

[17] Pingree, Dictionary of Scientific Biography. p. 33.

[18] For the complete list see Pingree. From Astral Omens to Astrology, From Babylon to Bikaner. 1997. pp. 43-45.

[19] Pingree calls this the ‘author’ which I can only assume from his Arabic name that he is also the translator. It is common in ancient civilizations for the authorship of texts to be attributed to religious or wise sages or to mythological figures thought to be imbued with divine knowledge. Often, but not always, the text also names the transcriber or redactor, who may either be the divinely inspired author, or be copying an earlier work said to have been authored by the sage. In this case, I’m assuming the original Pahlavi authorship is being attributed directly to the sage Zaradusht but redacted into Arabic by al-Halabi.

[20] Pingree. “From Alexandria to Baghdad to Byzantium. The Transmission of Astrology”. p. 14.

[21] Pingree. “The Indian and Pseudo-Indian Passages in Greek and Latin Astronomical and Astrological Texts”. Viator. p. 148 and “From Alexandria to Baghdad to Byzantium. The Transmission of Astrology”. pp. 16-17.

[22] Pingree. “From Alexandria to Baghdad to Byzantium. The Transmission of Astrology”. pp. 16-17.

[23] Abu Ma’shar. The Abbreviation of the Introduction to Astrology. Burnett, Yamamoto, and Yano trans. p. ii.

[24] Pingree. “Classical and Byzantine Astrology in Sassanian Persia” Dumbarton Oaks Papers. pp. 236-237.

[25] Pingree, Dictionary of Scientific Biography. p. 160.

[26] Omar of Tiberias. Three Books on Nativities. Robert Hand translation. p.ii.

[27] Omar of Tiberias. Three Books on Nativities. Robert Hand translation. p.iii.

[28] Pingree. “The Indian and Pseudo-Indian Passages in Greek and Latin Astronomical and Astrological Texts”. Viator. pp. 149-150.

[29] Pingree, “The Indian and Pseudo-Indian Passages in Greek and Latin Astronomical and Astrological Texts”. Viator. pp. 151-152; in From Astral Omens to Astrology, From Babylon to Bikaner. 1997. pp.51-62. and Holden pp. 103-104.

[30] Abu Ma‘shar. The Book of Thousands.

[31] Pingree. From Astral Omens to Astrology, From Babylon to Bikaner. pp.54-55.

[32] Pingree. From Astral Omens to Astrology, From Babylon to Bikaner. p.55

[33] The previous 3 authors are listed by Holden. p. 103-104.

[34] From Astral Omens to Astrology, From Babylon to Bikaner. p.52.

[35] “The Indian and Pseudo-Indian Passages in Greek and Latin Astronomical and Astrological Texts”. Viator. p. 151[36]From Astral Omens to Astrology, From Babylon to Bikaner. p.55.

Towards a western interpretation of the Lunar nodes

Martien Hermes

I thank Nicola Smuts Allsop for her review of this article back in 2018.


The interpretation of the lunar nodes in Western astrology is strongly influenced by the Vedic/Jyotish idea of their signification. In short, and perhaps too briefly stated, it comes down to the idea that the south node has something to do with previous lives and represents issues that (should) form the basis or starting point of a necessary pathway to travel towards the north node. The north node is thus interpreted as something the native needs to acquire, strive for, lessons to be learned, necessary developments on your evolutionary path.

Steven Forrest once put it (on a forum I read, cannot remember which one) as follows: “In evolutionary astrology, the south node is a big karmic pull toward repeating old behaviors, while the north node has to do with the soul’s evolutionary aim. You get a lot of inner peace, if you make progress toward your north node, but it’s hard because your instincts go the other direction. It’s a big subject.”

I think it is exactly the other way around, the south node has much more to do with an ideal, an aspiration, let’s say with the detachment of material form. The reason for this is that matter, embodiment, is a Lunar signification (Sēlenē has the body as one of its significations), and she dominates and therefore determines the trajectory that starts at the location of the north node where the Sēlenē moves above the trajectory of Hēlios. Hēlios determines the trajectory that starts at the south node as he there moves above the trajectory of Sēlenē. So it seems more logical that it is rather the north node that indicates something unconscious or instinctive (at least, if one wants to interpret Sēlenē that way), because it is Sēlenē that determines the trajectory that starts at the location of the north node.

This reversal of meaning has to do with which of the two lights determines the node cycle. This is a detail that is overlooked or misunderstood – as far as I know – in the modern astrology books I know of. In this article, I will present a different interpretation of the lunar nodes, based on their traditional astrological symbolism, an interpretation in line with what the (long) western astrological tradition has to say about the nodes. This explains why it was interpreted the way it was in the old texts.

What’s the problem?

The problem is that the interpretation of the nodes in the quote by Forrest was never formulated that way in Western astrological traditions. The role of the nodes has always been quite modest. These points became dominant in the 20th century with the rise of psychological and evolutionary astrology, and from thereon interpreted very differently.

If we read the old texts, we get very brief information about the effect of the nodes.

Vettius Valens (2nd century A.D.) for instance says the following.[1] “It will be necessary, then, to consider whether there are benefics in these places, and especially on the Ascending Node. For, the birth will be successful and practical. Even if the birth should be found in middling circumstances or in subjugation, it will be raised up and come into reputation. The malefics, however, produce banishments and accusations.”

Of the nine books in his anthology, that is all Valens has to say about it (Steven Birchfield quoted by me). With one exception: elections, which I will return to later. On this issue, Valens says the same as the Liber Hermetis does.

Medieval astrologer Guido Bonatti (ca. 1210 – 1300) in his Liber Astronomiae, Tractatus Tertius Chapter VIII: “But the Head of the Dragon (Caput Draconis) is by nature a benefic and by nature masculine, but by accident, sometimes it becomes a malefic. Its nature is composed of the nature of Jupiter and Venus. It signifies increase and things which are increased, e.g. kingdoms, dignities, sublimity and good fortune.”

“The Tail of the Dragon (Cauda Draconis) is malefic by nature, feminine, it is of the nature of Saturn and Mars. And it signifies diminution, dejection, fall and poverty. And it signifies the diminution of every good and of every good fortune. When it is with the benefics, it diminishes their good and when it is with the malefics it diminishes their malice.”

So: the north node ‘increases’, promotes things; the south node ‘decreases’ and even indicates ‘demise’ in relation to every planet with which they have contact.

This ‘increase’ and ‘decrease’ as expressed by Bonatti has to do with the astronomical phenomenon of the crossings of the orbit of Hēlios and Sēlenē, which are the two nodes.

Sēlenē above the solar orbit, Sēlenē below the solar orbit

The key to a quite different understanding of the traditional interpretation of the lunar nodes can be found in the traditional conception of Sēlenē and Hēlios in relation to the astronomical picture of figure 1. And, very importantly, the lunar nodes relate mainly to Sēlenē as a phenomenon. Everything that can be said about the nodes is first and foremost about lunar significations. And like everything that has to do with the Sēlenē, it is about a growth and decay cycle, the world of ‘coming to be and passing away’, comparable to the symbolism of the four phases Sēlenē has in relation to Hēlios (see figure 2 below).

My reversal of the generally accepted modern interpretation of the nodes is based on the fact that in the trajectory from the north node to the south node the orbit of Sēlenē is above the orbit of Hēlios, thus emphasizing her significations, raising her significations above those of Hēlios. In the trajectory from the south node to the north node, the orbit of Sēlenē is underneath the orbit of Hēlios.

This explains first of all the idea of the north node ‘increasing’ and the south node ‘decreasing’, which follows from the traditional meanings of Hēlios and Sēlenē.

The north node and Sēlenē

Vettius Valens mentions the following for Sēlenē (not all of which can be used to explain the significations of the nodes).

Sēlenē, being truly generated by the reflection of the solar light and… possessing a counterfeit light, is significant at a birth for man’s life, body, mother, conception, …, one’s person, goddess, living together or legal marriage, nurse, older brother, house-keeping, queen, mistress of the house, property, fortune, city, gathering of crowds, receipts, expenditures, home, ships, living abroad, wanderings (for, it does not maintain a straight line through Cancer).[1]

Hēlios is the principle that brings forth life, that sows something, that awakens something (think of dawn), but it is Sēlenē that makes room for things to grow (think of the womb). Valens: ‘… being truly generated by the reflection of the solar light…’ So Hēlios is conception, Sēlenē is pregnancy, gestation, growing things, concretizing. So Sēlenē increases things, makes things grow, expands them, she materializes.

So Sēlenē increases and concretizes. This is reflected in a number of important significations Valens attributes to the Sēlenē as the bodily receptacle of the light of the Hēlios: … life; body; mother; conception; … nurse ….

If we take into account the remarks of the medieval astrologers, that the north node increases things, then herein lies the reason for it. Starting from the north node, Sēlenē is in a trajectory above Hēlios’ orbit and with that her growth and concretization principle wins over that of Hēlios. So, she increases, grows, multiplies, according to her nature.

That is why the north node is favourable and beneficial when there is a benefic nearby. The qualities of these planets grow, thrive, gain strength, they come to ‘life’ as it were. For the same reason, it is not favourable when a malefic is with the north node. It’s more harmful as the negative influence then ‘grows’ and thrives.

Bernadette Brady likens the north node to the volume control on a radio, which turns it up. What is turned up? The material, concretizing significations of Sēlenē. And that is apparently transmitted when a planet is with the north node, its qualities are turned up, get louder, they grow in strength.

The south node and Hēlios

Valens says of Hēlios.

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

At the south node, the opposite is the case. It is the start of the trajectory where the lunar orbit goes below that of the Hēlios, only to ‘resurface’ again at the place of the north node.

That symbolism suggests that the lunar significations decrease in strength or power. That is of course the principle of the ‘reducing’ that is always mentioned in the old aphorisms concerning the south node. No longer growth, but things instead decrease, becoming less, smaller.

That is the reason why the south node is favourable and more beneficial when there is a malefic with her or nearby. The qualities of these planets are lessened, they lose strength, are diminishing. For the same reason, it is not beneficial for a benefic to be with the south node. Its qualities and effects ‘diminish’. The emphasis now is more on the Solar qualities of internalization or perhaps spiritualization, no longer on Sēlenēs’ qualities of growth and propagation.

In Bernadette Brady’s imagery, at the south node Sēlenēs’ is turned softer and Hēlios’ is turned up. What is turned softer? The materiality, the concretisation function of the Sēlenē. And that is apparently transferred to a planet with the south node, its qualities diminish, made less concrete.

Sēlenēs’ nodes and Christian morality

The modern evolutionary idea about lunar nodes in astrology is perhaps not only indebted to Vedic astrology but a continuation of the Platonic-Christian idea that the physical (Sēlenē) must die, in favour of the spiritual (Hēlios).

In that conception, everything physical, the ‘flesh’, the worldly stuff, is a trap. It is that which keeps us away from the (better) spiritual through our slavery to the senses and sensual (Forrest: ‘the instinctive’). Forrest: ‘…but it’s hard because your instincts go the other direction…’ [2]

The view explained here suggests that the evolutionary idea (you must move towards the north node because that is where the spiritualizing or inspiration begins) is actually a reversal of the principles of Hēlios and Sēlenē. It is a mistaken notion because it reverses the meaning of what actually takes place astronomically at the north node (where Sēlenē ‘wins’) and the south node (where Hēlios ‘wins’).

Because if the north node – as explained here – is the point where Sēlenē rises above the Solar impulse, and thus indicates multiplication and an increasing or concretization, then it is the north node that indicates the instinctive pulling force that Forrest mentions – “… a big karmic pull toward repeating old behaviors”, because there Sēlenēs’ influence will prevail over that of Hēlios.

Nowadays, Sēlenē is understood – among other things – as representing the ‘unconscious’. And since spiritualization (the modern ‘consciousness’ and ‘self-realization’) is the holy grail in religion and spirituality, it probably explains the modern desire to make something a goal, something to embrace and further develop. And perhaps for that reason, the north node is chosen as representative of that. But according to the view explained here, that should be the south node I believe. That is the point where Hēlios is going to win over Sēlenēs’ impulse.

Ironic, a complete reversal of astrological meaning.

The bendings

In addition to the north- and south node themselves, two other points are mentioned in this cycle, called the ‘bendings’, always lying exactly 90 portions/degrees beyond the location of the north- and south node. As said before, this strongly resembles the idea of the Sēlenēs’ four phases, see figure 2.

About the location of the nodes and these two points, the Liber Hermetis is very explicit (as is Valens) when it comes to elections: don’t plan or start things when there are planets with them or configure. This warning probably has to do with the principle of change.

At each of these four points in the node’s cycle, something is changing. That often rings alarm bells when doing elections, as you want certainty and clarity, and not have the risk of unexpected change in the course of things developing (Sēlenē). Better not take chances! The situation is perhaps unstable when significators are with the nodes or at the bendings in elections.

A secular philosophy of the nodes

Is it possible to develop a less moralizing philosophy about the nodes, taking into account the symbolism explained here? Looking for the concept behind it? A philosophy that reverses the evolutionary idea that the north node is, or should be, a goal, and the south node an instinctive pattern of habit (again, I think it’s the other way around)?

The idea of a developmental or growth model can lead to a moralizing interpretation (‘let go of this, do that, focus on that issue’). The rhythm of the cycle of the nodes of Sēlenē simply show a (neutral) process, a concept, without an implicit advice about what is better for the native or his or her development and what is not (depending on the context of course).

For this more secular idea, we can use the Greek-philosophical ideas which were expressed in Greek astrology.

In Greek astrology, Hēlios was seen as nous, the ancient Greek term for spirit or intellect (and much, much more). What Valens poetically calls ‘the light of the mind, the organ of perception of the soul’.

Sēlenē was given the predicate tuchē which has to do with chance and fortune, what simply comes your way (without an intention). Hēlios = spirit/soul, Sēlenē = body/physical.

So that could mean that on the trajectory from the north node going to the south node Sēlenē determines Hēlios’ action and thus is a more concretizing (incarnating?) trajectory. The orbit of Sēlenē moves above that of Hēlios: indicating growth, coming to be, becoming more and more concrete or more physical. When there is a planet with the north node, then that would be an indication that the operation of this planet is becoming more concrete, more manifest (?), more tangible. It is growing, increasing, as the ancient astrologers had it. Tuchē above Nous? Planets that are actually in the same Image as the north node, indicate that the planet is entering (starting) a trajectory of ever-increasing or growing concreteness, propagation, ‘multiplication’. Sēlenēs’ trajectory: more body-like, physical.

On the trajectory from the south- to north-node, Hēlios’ action determines that of Sēlenē and could be conceived as a spiritualizing trajectory perhaps. Here, Sēlenē’s orbit moves below the orbit of the Hēlios, and Hēlios’ orbit is above that of the Sēlenē: indicating that his principle is above that of Sēlenē. A stronger emphasis on the essence? The spiritual even, Nous? Turned to (more) abstraction. What is or needs to be disconnected from an embodiment? Nous above Tuchē? For Hēlios is an impulse, let’s call it an inspiration, an incentive for something. And in this trajectory, it determines (runs above) Sēlenēs’ impulse of concretion.

When a planet is near the south node or in the same Image, then that could be an indication that the workings and effects of this planet have reached their biggest concretisation (as associated with Sēlenē’s full phase). Now, its outer manifestations need perhaps to be reduced to what the planet potentially represents, as a seedling. Not a focus on its concrete manifestations (which begins symbolically, start to grow, at the north node starting point), but a focus on its essence. So less concretely, the process starts at the south node. The planet is becoming more and more spiritualized, reduced to its essence. Hēlios’ trajectory: more spiritual, soul-like.

I’m reminded of both the synodic cycle and the heliacal phases, this has sort of the same ring to it. Planets heliacally setting loose ‘strength’, and seem to be less and less forceful in manifesting their significations. Growing weaker. Planets heliacally rising gain strength and become more and more powerful as they move away from Hēlios (or he from them). Not quite the same I guess, yet same-like.

Hēlios is seen as a promise, an intent, something not concrete yet, an idea, as yet indefinable, a possibility instead of a reality (which is the domain of the Sēlenē).

Further issues, speculations and research questions

  1. The Node axis divides the zodiac in each horoscope into two parts, i.e. a lunar growth partition (from k to ?) and a spiritualizing Hēlios partition (from k to ? ). See figure 4. Is that noticeable? How should we interpret that?
  2. What is the difference when a transit of a planet passes the north node/south node, compared to the transit of the nodes over the planet in question?
  3. What is the meaning of the node cycle, their return, in light of the reversal of meaning that I have explained here? The intersections of the lunar and solar orbits are not fixed, but move backwards through the zodiac. After 18 years and 7 months and a few days the node is in the same place, and that repeats itself at 37 years and 2 months, 55 years and 9 months, 74 years and 4 months, 92 years and 11 months, and so on.
  4. Does the syzygy, the conjunction (or opposition) of Hēlios and Sēlenē before birth have anything to do with this?


The idea that the north node is a goal to move to, to steer at, probably has roots in the nautical metaphor as explained by Robert Schmidt, a point of departure – south node – and something to direct your course to, the north node.

It is this view that I contest, as it doesn’t acknowledge the astronomical scenario of what happens at the nodes, i.e. what the trajectory of the lights seems to indicate.

It’s a bit ironic that in the model I demonstrated here, the evolutionary ideal is actually materialistic (Sēlenē) instead of spiritual (Hēlios), as the north node symbolizes the point where the domination of Sēlenē starts, the concretely growing impulse.

It also seems to neglect the fact that this node-cycle is primarily about the workings of Sēlenē. So, to put it a bit bluntly, things at the north node grow all by themselves, nothing needs to be done there, as Sēlenē’s action is simply to concretise. So, if you put your efforts there as sort of a spiritual goal of acquiring these north node ‘things’, that is of no use, as they grow all by themselves.

The north node interpreted as the place to go to, lessons to be learned, things you need to acquire, is a misnomer in that sense. They will grow and manifest all by themselves, (probably) without effort.

FINIS – Zeist, 2018 – 18 March 2022

[1]Valens, Vettius. The Anthology Book I. Translated by Robert Schmidt. Edited by Robert Hand. Project Hindsight. Greek Track Volume IV.

[2] “In evolutionary astrology, the south node is a big karmic pull toward repeating old behaviors, while the north node has to do with the soul’s evolutionary aim. You get a lot of inner peace, if you make progress toward your north node, but it’s hard because your instincts go the other direction. It’s a big subject.”

Did the Greeks Invent Astrology?

Since the 1980s there has been an increase in interest in the history of astrology with the resulting revival of the translation of ancient astrological texts into modern languages (Holden 1996: 209). This academic curiosity seems to have given rise to a debate concerning the origins of western astrology and of the civilization that fathered it. Pointing to the fundamental theological and technological differences that clearly separate Hellenistic Greek astrology, which appeared around 200 BC, from the more rudimentary forms inherited from the Babylonians, certain sources have defined astrology in terms that are characteristic of Greek astrology, and then ascribed its origins to that culture on the basis that it meets these criteria (Culianu 1987: 472; Hoskin 1999: 20; Tester 1987:12). This is akin to arguing that all of physics was born in 20th century Germany because the innovations of special relativity are such an obvious departure from the simplistic Newtonian view of earlier physics. The issue of defining astrology is not only an important one in terms of communicating perceived and projected differences between the astrological distinctions of these two cultures, as Nicholas Campion points out (2000; 2), but it is — as will be argued — the foundation upon which rest the arguments that incorrectly place the birth of astrology in Alexandria. To this end, and before we can say anything about whether the arguments fit them, it is important to examine some of these operational definitions that appear to be constructed for the sole purpose of confirming an already established conclusion about the origins of astrological thought and practice.

The modern word astrology comes from the Greek which combines astron meaning star and logos meaning discourse (Webster’s Dictionary 1988). It implies therefore, nothing more than a discourse between man and the heavens. Webster’s however, has chosen to define the word as “the art of predicting or determining the influence (emphasis mine) of the planets and the stars on human affairs”. This is a misleading definition of astrology because it implies a physical interaction between celestial phenomena and earthly existence. In fact, the terms astrology and astral divination have been deliberately used by some sources to distinguish Babylonian divination from the Greek version which “drew on causation and physical influence.” (Campion 2000;1). But as we shall see, there is no evidence that leads us to think that either the Greeks or the Babylonians believed in this type of causative relationship.

Culianu, in the Encyclopedia of Religion, proposes a thorough definition that makes no mention of causative influences:

Astrology superimposes 2 different complex systems: that of the heavens and that of the collective and individual destinies of the human beings on earth. Through the observation of the heavens (and the interpretation of those observations according to a framework of theoretical, non-observational assumptions), these systems attempt to account for the changes within the human system which are otherwise unpredictable, unobservable, and systematic“. (1987: 473).

Stating that astrology was a product of Hellenistic society, Culianu also mentions briefly, 3 pages later, that “Mars and Saturn were specifically designated as ‘malefics,’ a feature inherited from Babylonian astrology.” While he admits that Hellenistic astrology is a combination of “Greek science and Chaldean and Egyptian astral lore,” nowhere else in his essay does he mention the extent to which that “astral lore” influenced Greek astrology and astronomy. At the same time we are left with his definition of astrology, which can arguably be applied to the astral practices of the Babylonians if we recognize that any theology rests on both “theoretical and non-observational assumptions”.

Let us examine now the arguments and definitions that Tester — who also places the birth of modern astrology in the resumé of the Greeks — puts forth. While he does not deny that Babylonian astronomy and astrology were introduced into Greece via Egypt by the Chaldeans, Tester argues that this influence was little more than descriptive astronomical records combined with some omen literature. His definition of astrology thus reads:

Astrology is the interpretation and prognostication of events on earth, and of men’s characters and dispositions, from the measurements and plotting of the movements and relative positions of the heavenly bodies, of the stars and planets, including among the latter the sun and moon“. (1987: 11)

There are two arguments that push the development of astrology, according to Tester, forward into the 5th century BC. One is the assertion that the Babylonian astronomy had not advanced mathematically or theoretically enough to be able to track planetary movements accurately enough to make prognostications, and the other is that even in the 7th century when it finally did, it was more concerned with the accuracy of lunar positions and eclipses. However, Tester’s definition says nothing about technical accuracy. It merely demands four things: 1) that astrology be able to interpret celestial phenomena; 2) that it be able to prognosticate earthly events based upon those phenomena; 3) that it do so for individuals; and 4) that all the heavenly bodies be plotted in the sky. The first two requirements of his definition can be seen to be fulfilled as early as 1600 BC in the Venus Tablets of Ammizaduga, which consist of systematic observations of the planet Venus along with prognostications based on its phases, and again in circa 1000 BC in the records of the Enuma Anu Enlil, a series of tablets consisting of some 7000 celestial omens and their interpretation. A typical entry reads: ‘When Jupiter enters the midst of the Moon, the market of the land will be low. When Jupiter goes out from behind the Moon, there will be hostility in the land’ (Tester 1987: 13).

Both these tablets attest to the diligent observation and recordings which the Babylonians made not only for all the known planets, but also for the earthly events that they observed to correlate with them. While it is true that the individual is not addressed in this early form of mundane astrology, the earliest known individual birthchart is also Babylonian and dates to 410 BC (Hand: 4). And while the heavenly bodies are not plotted against an astronomical system of measurement at this early point — such as is done after the introduction of the Zodiac circa the 4th century BC in Babylonia — there is evidence that many of the known constellations had been named as early as 687 BC in the Mul Apin (Hand:4). The insistence that astrology also be defined in terms of its ability to plot and measure the celestial bodies rules out early Babylonian efforts by regarding them as indistinct from other types of practiced divination methods, such as the reading of the entrails of sacrificed animals. But as Tester himself states, “the name ‘astrology’ appears to cover anything from a vague acceptance of stellar ‘influences’ on the lives of men to precise and fatalistic predictions of the future” (1987: 2). While he adopts a more restrictive definition upon which to base his conclusions about its origins, at its core and in its ancestral roots, astrology is “the divinatory use of celestial phenomena” (Campion 2000: 1). Holden also confirms that the Enuma Anu Enlil tablets were essential because they established the fundamental principle that celestial phenomena were related to mundane occurrences and spawned a rudimentary form of electional and natal astrology (1996:1)

However, even while one can restrict the definition of astrology to the terms that Tester requires and thereby place its origins no earlier than the 5th century BC, there is still the problem of the evidence that following the second Babylonian Empire (612 BC) and the Persian invasions (539 BC) the Mesopotamians were already practicing a more mathematically sophisticated astronomy for they had developed the fixed Zodiac system of twelve equal 30 degree signs along the ecliptic, approximately calculated the synodic cycles of the 5 known planets and their future geometrical relationships to the luminaries and to each other. A valuable tablet dated 523 BC basically indicates the existence of the first ephemeris (Cumont 1912: 12). During this pre-Socratic Greek period, philosophers and mathematicians in Greece such as the Milesians and the Pythagoreans were already developing mathematical and geometrical cosmological theories indicting perhaps a receptivity to the scientific influences that would come from the East. Admittedly, one can recognize that by the time Alexander the Great conquered Mesopotamia (331 BC), it becomes difficult to ascertain who influenced whom. But there are some early sources that attest to the influence of the Babylonians — or Chaldeans as the new Babylonians of the time of Nebuchadnezzar (612-538 BC) were known. Quoting Vitruvius (a Roman architect of the late 1st century BC), Tester acknowledges this influence through the teachings of Berosus, the first Babylonian to have introduced and taught astrology to the Greeks (1987: 15-16): ‘It must be allowed that we can know what effects the twelve signs, and the sun, moon and five planets, have on the course of human life, from astrology and the calculations of the Chaldeans. For the genethlialogical [natal astrology] art is properly theirs, by which they are able to unfold past and future events from their astronomical calculations. And many have come from that race of the Chaldeans to leave us their discoveries, which are full of acuteness and learning.’ Although Holden reminds us that the astrology that came out of Berosus’ school on the island of Cos was not the horoscopic astrology which was invented a century later in Alexandria (1996: 9), there is no doubt that even a crude form of natal astrology was already being practiced by the Chaldeans. The term Chaldean  itself becomes an honorary title being used by the Greeks who had the privilege to have studied under Babylonian schools (Cumont 1912: 27).

Modern astrological historians, delving into the intermingling of the Egyptian, Babylonian and Greek civilizations in Alexandria after 323 BC like to see in the huge philosophical advancements of Classical Greece — which would give rise to much of the astronomical and cosmological debates of the Renaissance — the impetus for the current forms of astrology that we study today. In particular, there is a tendency to draw lines in the metaphorical Alexandrian sands that separate the Hellenistic version of astrology from the Babylonian on the basis of some pseudo-scientific distinction. And here again we are back to our operational definitions.

The most characteristic of these definitions, which resonates with a modern proclivity to separate astrological convictions from astronomical certitude and to see our present day astrology as a distinct “species” that developed from a more “scientifically” oriented branch of the evolutionary tree, is to be found in The Cambridge Concise History of Astronomy (Hoskin ed. 1999: 20). It states: “The early Babylonian skywatchers are often thought of as astrologers, but if astrology is to be understood in the Greek sense, as the study of the direct and unavoidable consequences for individuals that result from the configurations of heavenly bodies, this is a mistake”. The argument here is that the Babylonians considered the heavenly changes as omens of potential events that could be avoided not the causes of those events. In other words, the Babylonians did not see a causal relationship between the movements of the heavens and the events that they presaged. This is basically correct, since both were attributed to the will of their Gods and it was thought this will could be appeased. But what is implied by these correspondences, and what we can assume is that they perceived a correlative relationship. The other part of the argument here is that the Greek version of astrology does by contrast assume direct and unavoidable consequences for the individuals due to the influence of these bodies. A “consequence” implies a cause and effect relationship, and indeed Hoskin points to the early Milesians as indicative of the fundamental shift from early mythological cosmology to one in which an impersonal mechanistic law is seen to operate through nature. (1999: 25). And then two pages later, we are told by him that Plato and Aristotle’s agreement that there was structure (“cosmos”) to the Universe and that this structure, manifesting as correspondences between the microcosm and the macrocosm — formed the theoretical underpinnings for astrology. While this statement is perfectly true, there are two things wrong with his argument in terms of the Greek influence on astrological thought: 1) there is no causative physical influence between heavenly bodies and human events implied in the Greek perception of the Universe as ordered, and 2) the macrocosm/microcosm conception which he attributes to these Greek philosophers is actually a basic Babylonian concept that underlies their religion as much as their astronomy and forms the basis for astrology (Cumont 1912: 18).

Of particular interest to the first point speaks Plato’s “Myth of Er” in the Republic Dialogues (Jowett 613e-621d).  Plato recounts a story wherein Er, the hero, is temporarily taken to the heavens and shown what happens to men’s souls between lives. Man is asked to choose his fate and with the aid of the three Fates (Greek goddesses) and the planets who form the mechanism that will accomplish this — man’s fate is sealed by his own free choice. This myth indicates the need for even Plato to rely on theological speculations to explain the mechanisms at work in the fate of humans within his ordered cosmos. The Greeks, although they attempted to reform their religion by removing the Gods from the secular activities of humans, could not completely divorce them from the fate of those individuals. It seems to the Greek philosopher/astrologers that there was a rational ordered process at work in the fate of humanity, but we cannot explain Hellenistic astrology by assuming that the mathematical and mechanistic cosmologies prevalent at the time constituted a fundamental break in the theoretical basis of astrology as it was handed down to the Greeks. It seems more likely that astrology went through expected evolutionary developments throughout history that built upon its fundamental essence as “the divinatory use of celestial phenomena” (Campion 2000: 1).


Campion, Nicholas. “Babylonian Astrology: Its Origin and Legacy in Europe”. Astronomies Across Cultures. Forthcoming Kluwer Academic Press, 2000.

Culianu, Ioan Petru. “Astrology” in Eliade, Mircea. Encyclopedia of Religion. New York: MacMillian, 1987.

Cumont, Franz. Astrology and Religion among the Greeks and Romans. Montana: Kessinger Publishing Co., 1912.

Hand, Robert. Chronology of the Astrology of the Middle East and the West by Period. Archive for the Retrieval of Historical Texts.

Holden, James Herschel. A History of Horoscopic Astrology. Tempe: AZ: American federation of Astrologers. 1996.

Hoskin, Micheal. The Cambridge Concise History of Astronomy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 1999.

Perry, Marvin. Western Civilization – A brief History. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1997.

Plato. “The Rewards of Justice after Death. The Myth of Er”, Republic.

Plato. Timaeus, trans. R.G. Bury, Cambridge, Mass., London: Harvard University Press 1929..

Tester, Jim. A History of western Astrology. Woodbridge: UK: The Boydell Press. 1987.


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.:


“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 perhaps by the most steadfast 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. 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; @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 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:


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


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 a useful 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.