This article is little more than a footnote that concerns an intriguing passage I had the good fortune to read while perusing a publication of The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1997) : Following the Stars: Images of the Zodiac in Islamic Art by Stefano Carboni. The book is out of print, but you can find a digital version @ Google books.
Mercury is known as many, many things, from the Trickster to the Psychopomp, the Magician & the Physician. His very nature is protean and either gender may be applied, depending on the relative position of the Sun. He is also known as Quicksilver and the Patron of Scribes. Mercury is by nature duplicitous. The glyph for Mercury suggests he is a messenger of the Sun and Moon But the term ‘hypocritical’ has further implications, specifically professing a virtue that not only one does not possess while impugning a lack of the same virtue in others. The term ‘two-faced’ applies and that may be one of Mercury’s greatest possessions.
The word munafiqun (‘hypocrites’, Arabic: منافقون, singular munāfiq) was a group decried in the Quran as those who professed to be Muslims but were secretly holding antipathy to the Islamic cause and sought to defeat the Muslim community. For example, sura ‘Al-Munafiqun’, Quran 4:61, Quran 9:67, Quran 8:49, Quran 4:140, Quran 9:64, Quran 4:145. Hypocrisy itself is called nifāq (Arabic: نفاق).
The Islamic context exceeds the negative connotations of the English word hypocrite. The Munafiq is considered worse than an unbeliever, with the tribal connotations of a traitor.
When he is represented as one of the seven planets and luminaries, the traditional iconography is maintained. However, when the same planet is read in actual astrology, “he “hypocritical” association is operative. Carboni explains that Mercury was considered a munafiq because it “did not have positive or negative influences (in conjunction with a lucky planet, he brought good fortune, and with an unlucky one, ill fortune.) His neutral and ultimately weak nature was reflected in his image as conveyed by the representatives of the two Zodiac signs he presides over, Gemini and Virgo… that Mercury not only did not maintain his attributes of the pen and scroll but also was superseded by the more powerful image of the Head and Tail of the Dragon.” (p.13)
.This particular twist would seem to be in accordance with the Sassanian schema I discussed in the previous article. The horoscope of the World is based on Exaltations, rather than the Domicile basis of the Greek Thema Mundi. It is probably the case that the Sassanian model sought one that placed the Sun not only in Dirunal charts but one that places the Sun in his Exaltation in Aries the Tenth House The Exaltation of the Head of the Dragon is Gemini.
We know the Persian influence on Arabian astrology was enormous and we also have the Persian Al Biruni’s view, albeit indirectly expressed. In this regard, we can look to the talismanic assignments given by Biruni who places a Serpent in the right hand of Mercury. Carboni touches on this briefly in the same article.
>This ought to show that although a great deal of imagery and meaning is shared from one culture to another, that in some cases the meaning can seem virtually alien. This should always be borne in mind when taking concepts from foreign cultures, even when they seem to have a great deal in common. On the other hand, the cognitive jolt one might experience from such interactions can force one to see connections that would otherwise have been missed.
There is a legend that St. John was once given a poisoned cup of wine. He discerned the presence of the poison, blessed the cup and the poison was drawn out of the wine in the form of a snake. John then drank the cup unharmed. Discernment and the skill to act on it is key to all wisdom and of great importance in divination.
At the Carter Memorial Lecture, given at the Astrological Association Conference and the Astrological Lodge of London, September 2009, John Frawley made the following comments.
“The idea that seeks perfection in the past – there was once perfection and we’ve fallen away since – is no more than the mirror image of the idea that there will be perfection in the future, if only we can piece together enough new stuff: discover enough new planets, for example. The story of the Tower of Babel should persuade us against this idea of a man-made perfection in the future. But when we see those who seek for authority in the past beating each other on the head with their weighty volumes, we see that reaching into the past brings us just as certainly to Babel.”
The address is concluded with the words “Truth is not back there somewhere, nor over there somewhere, but only, always, and ever, up there.” He evokes the painting of St. John the Baptist by Leonardo de Vinci, with his right hand held up to heaven as emblematic of the traditional astrologer.
Undoubtedly this “beating each other on the head” is one of the greatest and most recent curses in astrological circles and there is really no reason why we should assume that the older something is, the better it must be. Antiquities do of course have a great deal of value in and of themselves. They show us where we come from and where we might be going. But antiquity is not the guarantor of truth. We don’t believe that the newest ideas are inherently better, either.
The truth of the matter is that the longer we practise and study astrology and study the greatest sources, the better our chances are of using astrology as a divinatory method. One has to be careful about the sources we employ. The truth is that we would be very fortunate indeed to find a mere 20% of astrological theory to be of any useful purpose at all.
To put things in the simplest possible terms, modern astrologers subscribe to the theory that more is always better. Every new asteroid discovered might be just the thing to fill the void. If a handful of asteroids helps us, then surely scores of them will finally paint the full picture and we will finally realize why we are the way we are, And how can there be any question that three Liliths are better than one?
The great divorce between Traditional and Modern was perhaps most greatly felt in the addition of Uranus. Neptune and Pluto. It was more of a loss than an extension because it meant that the meaning of the traditional planets would be trivialized and mostly lost altogether. Indeed, for many contemporary astrologers, the outer planets are seen as the most significant and the significance of these was taken directly from the original seven sacred planets and luminaries.
Those who subscribe to Traditional or Classical Astrology face a rather different kind of dilemma: One soon finds out that Traditional Astrologers throughout history didn’t agree with each other. Of course, many of the differences are slight. But when we study horoscopic astrology from the Hellenistic period to the Seventeenth Century, we find that in some cases the differences are irreconcilable. They may negate one another altogether.
The process is an art. To be an excellent astrologer. one needs to read and understand to the best of one’s abilities the essence of what out forbearers wanted to pass on. We find that there are certain elements of the art that remain more of less constant – such as the association of Planets to Signs and the projection of mostly agreed upon specific archetypal constellations – although not necessarily universally understood. William Lilly very much admired Guidi Bonatti, but he didn’t follow him in every respect.
Further, sometimes famous astrologers break their own rules. Rather than accept these facts, there are some, like the one’s Frawley mentions, who find the oldest and most arcane sources to beat their fellow astrologers over the head with. This is a form of snobbery that does little or nothing to further our art.
More puzzling are those traditional astrologers who have returned to using the outer planets in specialized forms of astrology, such as horary and the astrology of horse racing. Ironically these are mostly the followers of John Frawley, whose The Real Astrology seemed for a time to define Traditional Astrology as understood in the school of William Lilly.
The composer Gustav Mahler, is alleged to have said that “Tradition is not to preserve the ashes but to pass on the flame”
The fact is that neither uniformity or an insatiable appetite for the exotic for its own sake has ever been the cause of greatness, at any time in the history of the world. The one is born of fear and a lack of imagination and the second a sign of undisciplined self-indulgence.
This shouldn’t be the cause of undue anxiety or doubt in the process. We would neither expect nor desire that all painters throughout history used the same techniques or resorted to the same subject matter. No art worth seriously considered stands still. However, all great art is mindful of its place among the wider body of art.
To take tradition to a place of inspiration, we need to look closely at the idea of divination.
The Oxford English Dictionary defined divination as “The practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means.” The core term is “divine” or “divining.”
The concept of the unknown is something scientists can easily embrace, but the term “supernatural” is associated with a lack of rationality and superstition and is therefore highly problematic to them. It infers a higher level of consciousness when applied to the idea of divination.
Albert Einstein’s familiar quote that “”No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it” is germane to this discussion. The question becomes: how may we reveal something hitherto unknown to us by discerning its divine essence.
My favourite Gospel is that of John the Divine. It provides a succinct, and the immeasurably deep way in which the divine is manifest or “takes flesh” John was probably a Hellenized Jew, which means he would be have been intimate with the works of Plato and the concept of the creative word or Logos. It is regarded by many as the most mystical Gospel. Some have said it is itself Neo-Platonic in expression.
The already introduced painting at the head of this article depicts John the Divine luring a serpent from a chalice. This is in part an allusion to an event at the Marriage at Cana The serpent rising out of the chalice is a symbol of poison in this case and the blessing draws it out making the wine or water pure. The Logos is understood as a heightened sense of Wisdom. It is the essence and origin of the light. Like all mystical writers. as well as more prosaic ones. John uses metaphors to convey his ideas with great efficacy.
” 1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2The same was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
Marin V. Vincent does an admirable job of explaining the meaning of ‘Logos’ in the Prologue of John’s Gospel: “Λόγος is from the root λεγ, appearing in λεγω, the primitive meaning of which is to lay: then, to pick out, gather, pick up: hence to gather or put words together, and so, to speak. Hence λόγος is, first of all, a collecting or collection both of things in the mind, and of words by which they are expressed. It, therefore, signifies both the outward form by which the inward thought is expressed and the inward thought itself, the Latin oratio and ratio: compare the Italian ragionare, “to think” and “to speak.” The Meaning of ‘Logos’ in the Prologue of John’s Gospel Marvin R. Vincent, vol. 2 (New York1887), p. 25
The metaphor is developed by reference to Moses .In John 3:13-15 we find ” 13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
The earlier Italian painting by Piero di Cosimo (Piero_di_Lorenzo) in 1500 is more stylized and the artist has portrayed John as a Renaissance Magus. The majority of his opus is decidedly Neo-Platonic The developed metaphor of the blessing of the serpent suggests a transformation by Divine blessing that brings forth wisdom out of venom.
Pieri di Cosimo he had a reputation for being highly eccentric and is perhaps best known for his “Portrait de Femme dit de Simonetta Vespucci” which features a benign looking serpent entwined in the necklace. of a young lady, apparently a great beauty of Florence who also inspired Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.” Here the artist appears to be taking the theme and altering the significance. This is more like the Renaissance Neoplatonic doctrine of beauty drawing the soul to the divine, in which case the serpent is rendered harmless. I don’t find this as effective an allegory, but it does strive to expand the relevance.
If we apply this metaphor to divination, we already know that everything and every person comes to us from a divine source and the chart we use is like a mirror of the soul. It has the stamp of its origin, the Image of God. Interpretation comes as a heightened sense of consciousness or divine intuition. The master astrologers of the past usually prayed before reading a chart. There are many ways to do this and each must find their own way of opening the gate.
When we have drawn up a Nativity for example, we have the seed, or the particular vintage if you will, that can be read because it is Form.. in the Platonic sense – or the Logos in the more specific and mystical Hellenistic sense.
Once we know what we have to do, choosing a system that will best serve us is made much easier’ All the elements of our astrological palette may be selected, just as one chooses the right brush, the wisdom of our ancestors and our own experience come together. There is no place for rote learning and certainly not for snobbery. Ours is a divine art.
I leave the Apostle James with the final words.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” James. 1.17