Songs from the Gathas – Removing Spells & Illness

A Persian Zoroastrian King and his young son, Salmân al-Fârisî, enter a fire temple administered by three priests,

This is another of those topics which deserve a lengthy article, but for now, a blog entry will have to suffice as an introduction to a highly complex topic. The video, shown below, was made available on YouTube by a Zoroastrian gentleman who has an extraordinary channel at Fereydoun Rasti Zoroastrianism & Iran If this material interests you, I heartily recommend looking through the extensive archives of videos. 

I posted this rather lengthy video because it uses the Zoroastrian scriptures known as the Gathas. The similarity to the Vedic word Gita (song) is no accident: Maneckji Nusservanji Dhalla states that “It is an uncontested fact that there is a marked closeness between the grammar, meter, and style of the Rig Veda and the Gathas.” (History of Zoroastrianism p11).. The power of words is emphasized in both and the verses are meant to be sung, as the title suggests.

Zoroastrianism posits, quite sensibly in my estimation, that this world is in a battle between good and evil. There are no specific scriptural comments on astrology per se in the Gatha period at least, but astrology certainly became an important element of Persian beliefs. It was already ubiquitous. Zoroastrianism is not known as a superstitious religion. It is widely believed that Zoroaster was a priest and a prophet, associated with the Magi. He is considered a magician in the true sense.

The creator, Ahura Mazda, has always affected human reasoning and therefore actions. The aim is to reveal to humanity their innate connection to the source of light and consciousness. It should come as no surprise that Zoroastrianism was the impetus and source of Mahayana Buddhism.

There is also an angelology – the idea of celestial forces that could be called upon.  Ahura Mazda is ineffable.  The point for our immediate concerns are that the Gathas were sung for devotional reasons and also used to mitigate or cast out what were considered evil forces, including common illnesses. This cosmology lends itself very well to an astrological framework, but not one in which the planets or angels had a will of their own, as it were. We come back to the to the question as to whether the stars impel or compel us. The creed of Zoroastrianism comes down to “good thoughts, good speech, and good action..” With this thing in mind the practise of singing the Gathas, we find that this is more a practical application of divine principles than superstition.

The counterpart to Ahura Mazda is Angra Mainyu also known as the “evil spirit.” This dark manifestation is ultimately set to be destroyed according to Zoroastrian eschatology  In the meantime, the kinds of practises described in the video presentation are regarded as wise and efficacious, much in the way a Hindu or Buddhist might consider a mantra. We don’t consider the practise of such things as being indicative of superstitious minds and certainly neither do those employing these remedies. This is the source of confusion for many when being introduced to the Good Religion, as it is frequently called. A Monotheistic faith that recognizes dual forces of light and darkness within that wholeness is actually a fair and apt description of life.

 

The study of ancient and classical astrology inevitably including spending a great deal of time on the history, culture and particularly the religion of ancient Persia. There are several reasons for this, but the primary one can be realized immediately by the strategic location of a land that once included most of what is now Afghanistan and beyond. She borders India and the Sik Road to China, promoting trade and the exchange of ideas. Moreover, she also bordered and later ruled Babylon, Assyria, and Sumeria.

The capturing of Babylon also include the liberation of the Jews by Darius, who went further and paid to gave the temple re-built. darius forbid the use of slaves.  Later on, Persia was conquered by Alexander the Great, whose teacher was no less than Aristotle, Alexander’s conquest of Asia was a bloody affair and many scholars and written material were lost forever when he set the torch to Persepolis, burning the city to the ground amongst an orgy of violence, in spite of the fact that the inhabitants have surrendered. That was one of the best cases that have ever been made against the excessive abuse of alcohol in decision making in all of history.

Even the most unjustly founded empires do in fact has some advantages and this is very much the case in the transmission of knowledge. The Hellenistic world united Greece with Egypt and  Persia with both. The School of Alexandria was among the greatest venues for shared knowledge, from Hindu astronomers and astrologers, Buddhists, Pythagorean, numerous Solar religions, Neo-Platonists, devotees of Isis, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians. This place of extraordinary learning was to meet its own demise under the Muslim invasions.

It’s a Persian, Indian and Greek alchemy that produced what we now call Hellenistic astrology. But that is only the beginning.

Astrology of the Bubonic Plague

(Detail() Triumph of Death fresco, circa 1448; Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo, Italy. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Not long after the Vernal Equinox of 1348 King Philip VI ordered a report on the causes of the Bubonic Plague from the University of Paris Faculty of Medicine. The response came by way of an astrological explanation. If the cause was understood, a cure might be found. The Faculty pointed to a chart for 1.00 pm 20 March 1345 there was a conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars in the House of Aquarius. Moreover, there had been a significant Lunar Eclipse on March 18 at 9:38 pm.

There is another chart of great importance in this matter. It’s the Solar Revolution for the year that the first known strains of the Black Death made landfall in Byzantium and spread rapidly throughout the eastern Empire, killing 100,000 people a year. At this time the Empire contained the lands on the Mediterranean coast and stretched far into the heartland of Europe. The plague went as far as Denmark and Ireland, ultimately killing about half the population of Europe. The Emperor Justinian contracted the disease in Constantinople but miraculously survived.

Byzantium frequently imported large amounts of grain from Egypt. The shipments became infested with vermin, who in term carried fleas infected with the plague. It has been suggested that the Plague was a Pandemic originating in China at a time unknown. It is not certain however that it was the same strain, In light of this, our focus is on the European experience.

The Byzantine historian Procopius first reported the epidemic in AD 541 from the port of Pelusium, near Suez in Egypt (Wade, 2010). We are not given a date. The chart is set for 0°Aries at Suez, constituting a Solar Revolution.

First of all, a quick word about the symptoms of the Plague.

Plagues have been the result of various forms of Human y pestis infection, taking three main forms pneumonic, septicemic, and the notorious bubonic plagues. See Ryan KJ, Ray CG (2004). Sherris Medical Microbiology (4th ed.). pp. 484–488.

At first glance, we can see the Byzantium Chart is not good, but perhaps not bad enough to signify what we are looking at. However, we have Saturn in Martian Scorpio in Partile conjunction to the Ascendant. His dispositor is in the Eighth House of Death.

Mars is conjunct the South Node and Almuten of the chart as well as the Ascendant, adding considerable strength to the malefics. Mars is the Killing Planet. The angles are in Fixed Signs lending more power and longevity to the influences.

Less obvious is Venus in her domicile in Taurus.  In most cases, this is a good placement for her. However, she is exactly conjunct the highly malefic Fixed Star, Algol named by the Chinese as ‘piled up corpses’ and by others as losing one’s head. as in decapitation or madness. The deaths were so numerous that the corpses were literally piled up.

You could say that Venus is a devil in disguise. She is in Hayz and Lady of the Year.  She is also Lord of the two most unfortunate houses, the Twelfth and the Sixth. Mercury is in his Fall and disposits Mars and Moon in the Eighth without benefit. However, he is in the fruitful sign of Pisces. It seems that everything is conspiring to ensure this Plague has all it needs to spread without hindrance.

The Ascendant is the only candidate for Hyleg. Being in a malefic sign and conjunct another, this is dire indeed. The humour of the chart is an airy sanguine, warm and wet. So what is promised by other elements of the chart has the advantage of the best conditions for the Plague to thrive. If it were too hot or cold and dry, it would have been arrested. The Piscean Mercury is Lord of the Eighth House, brings more wetness that only serves to spread the contagion

Let’s now consider the  Eclipse chart referred to by the astrologers from the Faculty of Medicine. The chart is for Paris, France. 18 March 1345 at 9:38 pm. There are some similarities between this and the previous chart.

The Part of Fortune is Hyleg and Conjunct Algol, as Venus had been.  She is again in Taurus and in the 7th House. She is Almuten of the chart. Saturn is the Almuten of health according to the rules set down by Omar.

The eclipse is the 6 / 12 axis denoting health and hidden enemies respectively. We know that by this time the plague had become airborne being passed from one to another on the breath. The Killing Planet is Saturn in his own domicile and dispositing Jupiter and Mars. The malefic element of Mars and Saturn are made larger by Jupiter in this case.

The eclipse would have been read as an omen

Finally, we look at the chart delivered to King Philip showing the conjunctions of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars in the Fixed Air sign of Aquarius. This is on 20 March 1345, Paris France at 1:00 pm.

As physicians reading the chart there are many things that would have been clear. It’s Sunday in the Hour of Mars. The Moon is in Via Combusta. Saturn is in the 7th House

Offsetting the emphasis on Air is the Leo Ascending and the Sun and Mercury in Aries.  The Hyleg is the Sun. We end up with a Choleric chart, being hot and dry, hosting the two malefics in Aquarius with Jupiter Parallel Sirius (searing heat). Again, Saturn is the Killing Planet. This happens not two days after the Lunar Eclipse. More often than not, Eclipses auger bad fortune for those under its influence.

We now have the same air considerations, but the humour is now more a raging fever being driven by the forces of air. The close proximity of the Descending Node to the Sun merely aggravates and exacerbates the situation. The force is unstoppable and all the physicians can do is try to lessen the fatalities.  The Moon represents the people. She is about to slip into the sign of her fall in Scorpio and in the Fourth House. This has among other significations, that of ancestry and the end of the matter.

The Plague in Byzantium was bubonic, but the one referred to King Philip’s physicians appears to have been pneumonic. The first is primarily spread by blood, as in flea bites and the second is carried in the air. This is at the heart of the issue with the charts comprising Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars in the Fixed Air sign Aquarius.

The symptoms, in either case, include boils and ultimately, several organs can be affected, including the spleen and brain. The infection, accompanied by violent fever causes immunologic breakdown, leading to disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), resulting in bleeding and necrotic skin and tissue, particularly of the hands. This resembles gangrene. Historically, the disease was almost always fatal.

We can see then that the disease displays symptoms attributed to Saturn, Mars and Jupiter. Richard Saunders lists these in his Astrological Judgment & Practice of Physic (esp. pp. 52 -53). When we think of fever, Mars is what comes to mind. Indeed, Saunders duly lists, adds red Cholera, Smallpox, breaking of the veins and  great deal more that applies quite specifically to the Bubonic Plague.  Less well known are the attributes of Jupiter in the study of disease. Saunders includes all “diseases of the veins and proceeding from corruption of the blood, windiness and all putrefaction in the blood or fevers proceeding from too much abundance thereof.” (p. 50).

In the airy and Saturnine sign of Aquarius, these would be emphasized.  It would also make Mars and Jupiter * sympathetic* to Saturn in the Ficinian sense. Finally, we look at Saturn himself. The first quality is to make the disease persistent. Although victims didn’t last long and the disease wreaked havoc more or less continuously for more than a thousand years that we know of . Saunders also tells us the Saturn, if, in ill aspect with Venus, he corrupts the blood, with Jaundiesy and Melencholy (Black Bile) . We have noted Venus in all three charts and in the last two she is applying to a square with Saturn. The latter also “brings Black Jaundice and a super abundance of Flegm and crude humours”  Of course this is but a sampling of the attributes. but what can be seen most clearly is how the planets work together

Astrology can still be used for prediction and diagnosis with the same accuracy as in the time of King Philip. But what was an unmitigated tragedy on an epic scale would today be read as a warning, perhaps. The Plague is still with us and surfaces every now and again. Today we have effective treatments that make it no much more serious than a bad case of the flu. This doesn’t negate the fact of the accuracy of astrology and the validity of using it to warn of epidemics. seismic activity or extreme weather.

The Horoscope of the World in the Greater Bundahishn – Part I

Combat between Isfandiyar and Simurgh, from Firdawsi’s Book of Kings, circa 1330.

This is but a cursory introduction to the Greater Bundahishn which will be followed by articles with a sharper focus.  The work contains a concise narrative of the Zoroastrian creation myth, including the first conflicts between Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu for the hegemony of the world. In the process, the Bundahishn recites an exhaustive compendium on the nature of things, including the properties of the elements and significant astrological material. For those interested, there is a pdf version of the work here.

The Bundahishn exists in two forms, the Greater, and the Lesser. The first is the longer Persian version and the shorter or lesser is an Indian version. Here we will be discussing the former only. The title of the work translates as ‘primal creation”  The work concerns itself with every imaginable question that might be raised about the Creation, including the origin and nature of the dark force and it’s antagonism to the light force, ultimately for a greater good. Compared to comparable works, such as Genesis, it is concise, to the point and quintessentially Persian in its optimistic point of view, even in the face of cosmic adversity.  Although the work is late, almost certainly the ninth century, it harks back to the ancient religion of Zarathustra.

As stated by the author at Encyclopedia Iranica, “it’s a major Pahlavi work of compilation, mainly a detailed cosmogony and cosmography based on the Zoroastrian scriptures but also containing a short history of the legendary Kayanids and Ērānšahr in their days. There is also a Ṣad dar-e Bondaheš, a considerably later (ca. 8th-9th/14th-15th century) work in Persian of a hundred miscellaneous chapters on the Zoroastrian religion, morals, legends, and liturgy.” (Encyclopedia Iranica)

As David Pingree has observed,  “the Sassanian horoscope is quite different from the normal Greek Thema Mundi. with which it has been compared.” (Masha’allah: some Sasanian and Syriac sources. pp. 5) The most immediately noticeable feature of the Sassanian horoscope is that it is diurnal, with Aries, the exaltation of the Sun occupying the tenth house, rather than the Sun with Leo in the second house in the diurnal Thema Mundi. Instead of the planets and luminaries being placed in their respective domiciles, they take the place of their exhalations.  However, there are some interesting anomalies. The Ninth House is occupied by the sign Pisces with Venus and Mercury, the first is exalted in Pisces, but Mercury falls in the sign of the Fishes.

The degrees assigned to the signs and planets is crucial to the overall meaning. We know that Persians translated Greek astrological material. Less often mentioned is the influence of Indian astrology.

Thema Mundi

The Ascendant is in Cancer at the same degree as Sirius, “know as Tishtar in the Khurta (Lunar constellation) Azrarag, which corresponds to the Indian naksatra, Aslesa [9th of the 27 nakshatras in Hindu astrology.] (Cancer 16;40° – 30°)” Pingree p. 5-6.

The other most striking difference is in relation to the nodes, in the exaltation but occupying the unfortunate houses. The house of the Evil Spirit is given to the North Node (Rahu) and Gemini. The S. Node (Ketu) is given to Sagittarius.

However, the exaltation of the Sun in Aries is shown at 19° which concords with the Greek assignment. The Indian degree of exaltation is 9°. The Persian sources appear to be troubled by the Sun being in a nocturnal chart of creation. This makes perfect sense considering the importance and symbolism of the Sun in indigenous Persian religion. The Lunar Mansions and Fixed Stars clearly play a role in the placement of the planets and luminaries but beyond that, we need to refer to the Persian accounts of Creation.

The Hermetic Thema Mundi is an astrological teaching tool and it is also decidedly Platonic in its expression of a perfect world of the Forms to be referred to for those who practise astrological divination. It may very well be more than that, but the Sassanian version is something quite different. It appears, after all, in a text describing every element of creation, according to ancient Persian and specifically Zoroastrianism cosmology:

“According to the spherical model assumed in Sasanian Iran under the impact of Greek and Indian astral sciences, the inferior sphere was called the spihr ī gumēzišnīg “sphere of mixture;” it comprised the twelve constellations (Pahl. 12-axtarān) which were subjected to the “mixture” with the demoniac and evil forces (planets, falling stars, comets, etc.); this sphere, of course, included the Zodiacal belt (see Ir. Bd., II, 8-9; cf. Henning, 1942, pp. 232-33, 240; Belardi, 1977, pp. 125-26) with its 12 constellations (Gignoux, 1988); here a most important battle between astral demons and divine star beings takes place, according to the Pahlavi sources. In the framework of the fight between stars and planetary demons, the Zodiacal constellations were considered as bayān, in its early meaning of “givers” of a good lot in opposition to the planets, who are “bandits” (gēg) and robbers of the human fortune.” (Encyclopedia Iranica)

The Greater Bundahishn is a compendium of ideas that are believed to pre-date Zoroastrianism, but the core is true to the cosmology of that religion. There are also some elements that would indicate knowledge relatively contemporary to its ninth century appearance. It appears to be putting preserved knowledge in one place after the horrific destruction in the wake of the Islamic invasion.

‘Buddha offers fruit to the devil’ from 14th-century Persian manuscript ‘The Jāmi

Reading Māshā’allāh: Sassanian Ayanamsa

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 This is in most respects as well sourced as can be expected. What I would like to, 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. 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 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 normally 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 would 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 a decade ago. It has always seems 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 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.  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.

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 dikes forming the city’s irrigation system were destroyed. The attack ended 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.

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 and hear we see them on the angles. However, the Sassanian model put the emphasis on Sirius. canopus is used in Islam for the orientation of places of worship. For those reasons, I have included them. 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 House of death at 24°18.  I cannot see how he could have missed this. 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 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.

Most strikingly, we have both Sun and Moon in Leo in the tenth house. This is a great place for the Sun, but the Moon is weak as a Lord of the Ninth House – a very important placing when higher education, the meeting of foreign cultures and of course, religion. We find Mercury Retrograde and conjunct the South Node.

The Eighth House of Death is lord of the Twelfth House of hidden enemies and Venus also takes the place of open enemies. Jupiter that rises in the charts using the tropical zodiac is here relegated to the Second House (the purse) in his dignity, but retrograde. Saturn is in his Fall in an unfortunate, but an unproductive house.

I see no useful reason to further elaborate on this. It is after all entirely speculative, even if plausible. I realize this turns the old enigma in 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. 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.

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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.

Spirit and Fortune: What’s the Difference? – Part 3

Most sources tell how these Lots are calculated. Some explain further, how, for example, the Lot of Fortune was a potential candidate to be the hyleg in length of life calculations. There are a few sources where we can actually learn about how these two important Lots were delineated.[1]

Vettius Valens[2] is one of the few that takes great pains to describe these Lots. He quotes from an earlier text when discussing the Lot of Fortune,

For him who wishes to ascertain the matter of happiness more exactly, I will return to the Lot of Fortune, which is the most necessary and sovereign place, as the king[3] mysteriously explained beginning in the 12th book saying,

“. . . for those who are born in the day, it will next be necessary to count distinctly from the Sun to the Moon and back from the Hōroskopos to prescribe an equality, and for the resulting place to see whatever star it meets with [conjoins], and what or which are in relation to it [i.e. aspects it] – – the squares or triangles, all in all, as it was placed among the stars. For from this consciousness of places you can make a clear judgement beforehand of the circumstances of those who are brought forth.”

Petosiris also explained the matter similarly in the Boundaries’, though others have treated it differently, which we will also set out in the appropriate place along with other guidance for clarifying the argument concerning happiness. But for now we must discuss the method in question.[4]

For in the 13th book, after the prooemium and the disposition of the zōidia, the king attacks the Lot of Fortune from the Sun, the Moon, and the Hōroskopos, which he mostly works with and makes mention of throughout the whole book, and which he judges to be a supreme place. Concerning the Lot of Fortune, he has indeed presented the inversion and reversal as a riddle.[5]

It would appear from Valens comment, “which he mostly works with”, that this earlier sage worked primarily from the Lot of Fortune indicating something of its former importance. Very inaccurately, many today call these the Arabic Parts. They are not Arabic and in fact, pretty much all of the lots the Arabic Era astrologers used were from a much earlier period.[6] But especially the Lot of Fortune is very old in origin.

There are other sources such as Paulus Alexandrinus who wrote:

And fortune signifies everything that concerns the body, and what one does through the course of life. It becomes indicative of possessions, reputation and privilege.

Spirit happens to be lord of soul, temper, sense and every capability, and there are times when it cooperates in the reckoning about what one does.[7]

When we come to the Arabic Era, Abu Ma’shār writes extensively on the Lots in the 8th treatise of his “Greater Introduction”,

This lot [Fortune] is called the lot of well-being [happiness], and it signifies those same things that are signified by the luminaries. But the peculiar qualities that it signifies are those things that concerns the soul (nafs): its fortune and its vigour and what concerns the life and the body and wealth and the poverty, gold and silver, those things which are easy and those difficult, praise and reputation, on recognition and the authority which one is born to, the support, the reign, the power, the elevation and all things which are desirable. It signifies moreover that which is present and that which is absent; that which is manifest and that which is hidden . . . This lot is first above the other lots in the same way that the Sun prevails in splendour on all stars and it is the highest and noblest of the lots.

Bonatti, later in the 14th century, paraphrases Abu Ma’shār’s earlier work and writes in his “Liber Astronomiae”,

The extraction of the pars fortunae is extracted from the luminaries, which, as the ancients said, are of equal strength for good . . . And this part is preferred above all the other parts in the same way as the luminaries are preferred above all the other stars. Similarly, the Sun is more splendid than all the other stars and called the diurnal luminary because day occurs by his rising and is removed and made night by his setting. The Sun signifies the natural life and the other things, which have been discussed in the chapter on his signification, and the Moon is the luminary of the night and the benefic significatrix of bodies and of all things, just as was said elsewhere in her chapter . . .. This part signifies the life, the body, and also its souls, its strength, fortune, substance and profit, that is: wealth and poverty, gold and silver, heaviness or lightness of things bought in the marketplace, praise and good reputation, and honours and recognition, good and evil, present and future, hidden and manifest, and it has signification over everything.[8]

In order to clearly distinguish the differences and similarities between Fortune and Spirit, I would like to start by examining two quotes from Vettius Valens’ “Anthology”.

Whence the Lot of Fortune and the Spirit will have much power over the imposing and turning back of actions. For, the one [Fortune] shows matters concerning the body and handicrafts, the Spirit and its ruler, matters concerning the soul and the intellect, and actions through discourse and through giving and receiving. It will be necessary, then, to consider in what kind of zōidia [sign] the places [topical houses] and their rulers are, and to combine the natures of these zōidia for the determination of action and fortune, and for the kind of action.[9]

Actions,[10] then, are always taken especially from [the lot of] Spirit and its ruler. For there are some who have bodily actions such as working with their hands and bodily afflictions as a result of bearing burdens or exercise, and others [who have actions] from speech and knowledge and actualisations of the soul. Wherever more stars should incline,[11] whether to the lot [of Fortune] or to [the lot of] Spirit, [from] thence will be indicated the matter of action. It is necessary, then, to compare the actions and the general support, whether the nativity is notable or mediocre, or else happy or poor, or in dispute or irregular, so that the effects in the distributions should also become clear ahead of time.[12]

In the first citation, Valens tells us that both Fortune and Spirit are essential to, or have much power over, a person’s actions or “what they do” [the greater praxis]. He tells us that there are two essential distinctions:

1.) Fortune and its ruler signify matters concerning the body, bodily actions and “handicrafts” and the “qualities of the soul”. He further elucidates what he means in the second citation by emphasizing, “…such as working with their hands and bodily afflictions as a result of bearing burdens or exercise”. There is the direct connection between a person’s physical well-being and skills producing actions that are either fortunate or unfortunate.

2.) Spirit and its ruler signify matters concerning intellect and ‘actualisations’ of the soul (will). In the second citation, he further explains that Spirit produces actions originating in the intellect, speech, knowledge, and what he calls “actualisations of the soul”, what we call ‘the will’.

In order to clearly understand what is meant, since both the significance of Fortune and Spirit directly imposes or hinders actions, then, we perhaps need to examine a little closer what ideas the Greek word for action, praxis, is conveying. Praxis is an awkward word. Grabbing hold of it is difficult because it sounds so much like ‘practice’ and ‘practical’. All these words are of course related. In its most general sense, it did mean the actual experience of doing particular activities, which is the sense of the word used in the English translation.

It would appear that Valens, like the Stoics, Aristotle and Epicurus, accepted the principle laid down by Plato that all action is goal-directed, having a purpose or serving a purpose, and is undertaken in order to get something worth having for the agent or to avoid something it would be better not to have.

In its greater sense, praxis meant the process of doing things or of putting into effect and it included almost any activity which stood open to a free man of that time and it excluded from this wide frame only the manual labour connected with the work of the slave and to a certain degree, of course, also the theoretical activities of thinking, reflecting, and “gazing” or theoria.

Seen more precisely though, a further distinction between actions[13] was made by Aristotle in his Nicomacean Ethics, which has enormous bearing on our topic. In it, he makes a distinction which he calls praxis and poiesis. Poiesis represented a productive making, which means the artistic production and manufacture of goods and/or works, and the efficient management of concrete tasks. It was characterized by a type of technical (techno) knowledge, skill or ability (a.k.a. qualities of the soul). Praxis, on the other hand, referred to responsible, self-determined, ideal-guided action (doing), as is manifested for example in political or religious life. In this kind of action, praxis has qualities not necessarily found in poiesis.

Poietic actions always aim at a result, a product—the manufactured object—and its meaning and value are determined only to the doer by the outcome.

 Praxis actions, on the other hand, always carry their meaning and value in the act. They fulfill their purpose only when “something good and just” is done, something that is greater than the merit to the individual acting. The greater purpose is independent of whether or not the action actually also succeeds in reaching what was wanted through the doing.

For example, building a bridge represents poietic action whose value is determined only by its result: the built bridge over which one can cross a ravine. On the other hand, a gift donated to the needy out of compassionate, brotherly love is good, even if for some reason it never reaches those for whom it was intended.

Let’s try and put these distinctions in terms that are more current. The recording studio technicians’ actions are to make a recording that is in itself both worthy to sell and is a reflection of his personal aptitude and technical skills. This is poietic action. On the other hand is the musician who is creating the music, the actualisations of the qualities of his soul, intellect and communicative processes. The music carries its worth in its making and it is directed for the “good” and “pleasure” of others! This is praxis action.

In these distinctions, we also find the essential differences between the significations of the Lot of Fortune (poiesis) and the Lot of Spirit (praxis) and the actions (the greater praxis) imposed or hindered by them.

Valens appears to simply reiterate Aristotle’s distinctions in the second citation when he says, “Actions, then, are always taken especially from [the lot of] Spirit and its ruler”. This is as Aristotle distinguishes in Nicomacean Ethics;

Choice is the starting point of action: it is the source of motion but not the end for the sake of which we act [praxis] . . . The starting point of choice, however, is desire and reasoning directed toward some end. That is why there cannot be choice either without intelligence and thought or without some moral characteristic [hexis]; for good and bad action in human conduct is not possible without thought and character. Now thought alone moves nothing; only thought which is directed to some end and concerned with action can do so.[14]

In both types of action, choice is the starting point. But the inherent difference is that praxis includes such motivational distinctions as character, human conduct, social awareness and that the end of the action is for some good greater than the individual. With poiesis, choice and the motivation for choice do not require any particular conviction, moral or otherwise – only necessity and desire. Praxis on the other hand requires these other convictions to set it in motion. Following Aristotle, Valens saw this type action as the most important action!

The Greek philosophy proposed an interaction/transformation of “matter” to “form”.[15] The Sun was attributed to “sameness” [nous] and the Moon was “otherness”.  The Sun was archetypically seen as the perfect thought of Divine Intelligence while the moon was seen as the form that thought took which was something “other” than pure thought.  Quite simply, the Sun represented “spirit” and the Moon “physical manifestation”.  The cyclic change of seasons was considered one of the best examples of this.

The extraction of these Lots is from these individual parts, i.e. the Sun, the Moon and the Ascendant. The Sun was the author of life, the natural vitality or natural life, actualisations of the soul, eminence, reputation and honours. The Moon was more than just physical life, it was the soul incarnated in a physical body; the author of generation and corruption of all bodies (material form), and the Ascendant is the native’s physical body and qualities of the soul. When we consider then either the Lot of Fortune or Spirit, we are considering the native’s life and its well-being, his actions and how the qualities of the soul ultimately translated into such things as a native’s wealth and reputation and what one is endowed with in order to obtain those things.

The Part of Fortune is the Lot of the Moon and closely associated with the Moon and the physical manifestations. It was regarded as just what made a person not only happy but successful or unsuccessful, eminent or unknown, and was an indication of physical illnesses.

The Part of Spirit was associated to the Sun and therefore more interested in the “why” we do things, the action of doing, the moral convictions (or lack of them), will, character and the intellectual state as well as the related illnesses.

The Lot of Fortune then, originating in the Divine Will and executed through relational proportions of the planets, is a passive process setting parameters wherein the “source of motion” [choice] is influenced in regards to the physical and material actions of the native and what they can and cannot produce. It either “imposes or turns back” the realm of purely material actions. It will give significations for health, wealth, profession, eminence, reputation and all material things that profit the native physically and materially.

In like manner, the Lot of Spirit sets parameters influencing actions. These actions are vitally different carrying their significations and values in the act and fulfil their purpose only when something is done that is greater than the merit to the individual acting. Like the Lot of Fortune, Spirit will also give significations relevant to health, wealth, profession etc. –But with this difference; it will be useful in determining motivation distinctions such as character, human conduct, and social awareness telling us something of the actualisations[16] of the qualities of the natives’ soul, intellect and discourse!

Which is more Important – Fortune or Spirit?

It is clear that Valens considered the Lot of Spirit important for indicating actions that were “worthy of merit” by virtue of the action itself. These noble and ideal actions could bring reputation, honor and wealth to the native.

In practice, however, both the Lot of Fortune and Spirit were important, each giving a particular signification.

And I will set down this [division], which is a potent one … from the Lot of Fortune and Spirit, which signify the Sun and the Moon. For the Moon, being cosmically fate and body and breath (since it is near the earth and sends its effluence to us) produces something of like kind as it is the lady of our body. The Sun, being cosmically mind and spirit through its own activity and pleasant nature, since it arouses the souls of men in undertakings, is established as a cause of action and motion.[17]

The Lot of Fortune, which is the lot of the Moon and derived from the Moon, signifies material well-being because of actions (poiesis) influencing material fortune. It signified in what ways a man’s material destiny was apportioned. That is to say, it is to a great extent about what happens to someone because of their “passions”, in the original sense of the word. But the Lot of Spirit, being relative to the Sun, signifies ones actions (praxis) and what one does based on some motivation originating in ones will and ‘moral’ character, which is the polar counterpart to passions. Valens then explains in which way these two should be differentiated,

When, then, we seek times for bodily matters, such as crises or weaknesses or bloodshed, falls, injuries, sufferings and whatever appertains to the body, for strength, enjoyment, pleasure, beauty, and loveliness, then it is necessary to project zodiacally from the Lot of Fortune… If we are inquiring about action or reputation, then we will make the beginning of the releasing zodiacally from the Lot of Spirit…[18]

This consideration of the Lot of Fortune as pertaining to the ‘physical’ or material manifestations surrounding an individual is why it was used as a potential ‘hyleg’ in length of life calculations. It is also, why it was considered to have the same “power” as the Ascendant! We further see the distinctions between the Lots of Fortune and Spirit in Valens general delineations of the Profections of these Lots.

The Lot of Fortune giving or taking over in prospering places, with benefics present or testifying, indicates good fortune and advancement, actions and reputation and setting matters aright and the fulfillment of expectations, and benefits arising from deaths. But when it is declining [being profected to a cadent sign] or witnessed by malefics, it makes actions and reputation less and transitory, or it makes whatever the natives might accomplish be with impediments and dangers and judgments and insults.[19]

In this delineation, we can see the clear emphasis on the purely material actions that benefit the native in the form of wealth, reputation, health and general good fortune. There is nothing idealistic or noble in these actions since their benefice or malfeasance is to the native in doing them.

Spirit giving or taking over in prospering places, with benefics present, produces resolutions [decisions and will] pertaining to what is on one’s mind, discerning and easily effected reckonings, helpful counsels of friends, alliances with superiors, gifts and reputation; and it produces those who are successful in regard to attacks, and those who are puffed up in intellect, having very many beliefs. But, when it falls amiss or is witnessed by malefics, it introduces suspense and mental tortures, insensibilities and contrary purposes; it produces those who consider their own errors to be successes and those who bring charges against others, and those who miss the mark in most things. Whence such persons loose heart at times and contrive something dangerous for themselves by themselves and they are regarded as mad and come into a state of mental distraction.[20]

We see different actions at work in this delineation, that is those actions that have worth because the actions are worthy in themselves e.g. taking decisions and counselling a friend. There are vital differences between Fortune and Spirit, and while both produce actions in the greater sense of the word action, i.e. the actual experience of doing particular activities, each signifies its own particular and specific type of action.

In the post Hellenic and Arabic Era, we can also read this differentiation. Abu Ma’shār called the Lot of Fortune the most important Lot and in his opinion,

This lot is first above the other lots in the same way that the Sun prevails in splendor on all stars and it is the highest and noblest of the lots.[21]

His opinion, reflecting the ancients’ opinion also, was obviously that the material well-being, reputation and honours of a native were the most important. Material good, reputation, and honours are no doubt the criteria for how the world in general judges “well-being” and “happiness”.  As it applies to any particular human, it is the most relevant and as I pointed out in the previous chapter, it is essential to understanding the essence of how Divine Will apportions and binds together the circumstances of a man’s life making it unique.

Bonatti in paraphrasing Abu Ma’shār’s treatise on the Lots writes,

After the Part of Fortune, which exceeds the other parts in strength and fortune, the part of things to come or pars futurorum, which is called the pars solis,[22] ought to be spoken of.

This, immediately after the Part of Fortune exceeds and is more worthy than all the other parts, although some astrologers seem to care little about it, but it does not seem consistent to me since it is reputed by the wise to be extremely useful for this work…

The pars futurorum signifies the soul and the body after the pars fortunae and the quality [esse] of these, and faith, prophecy, religion and the culture of God and secrets, cogitation, intentions, hidden things and everything which is absent, and courtesy and liberality, praise, good reputation, heat and cold… and so these two parts [Fortune and Spirit] work above all others both for good and for evil. And their significations are similar to the significations of the luminaries.[23]

It is very important that we take time to consider carefully what Bonatti (and ultimately Abu Ma’shār) is saying in this quotation. First off, he recognizes the importance of this Lot saying that “This, [the Lot of Spirit] immediately after the Part of Fortune exceeds and is more worthy than all the other parts”. It is so important he considered it inconsistent of some astrologers to not consider its signification and worth. The difference in opinion as to which of these two lots is most important is not really an issue in my opinion. Both Valens and the later medieval astrologers recognized that both were extremely important. Their differences in preference as to which was most significant lies predominantly in the delineation of their operations and Aristotle’s philosophy in his Nicomacean Ethics that says that true actions are those that are praxis and not just poiesis. Outside of Valens’ single statement saying that, “Actions, then, are always taken especially from [the lot of] Spirit and its ruler”, there is nothing to indicate that he recognized any preferential differences other than both lots’ inherent essential differences.

Secondly, and this is very important, Bonatti states, “The pars futurorum signifies the soul and the body after the pars fortunae and the quality [esse] of these.” This is something that most modern astrologers do not realize, that the Lot of Spirit signified, like the Lot of Fortune, the well-being of the soul and body. To demonstrate just how consistent this was with the practice of Vettius Valens, consider this quote from Valens,

Often, then, when the Lot of Fortune or its lord falls amiss, the Lot of Spirit divides both bodily matters and those that pertain to action. Similarly also, Fortune will divide both [bodily matters and actions] when the Lot of Spirit or its lord falls amiss.[24]

If the Lot of Fortune or its lord “fell amiss” in the nativity, then the Lot of Spirit would give signification for the same things that Fortune would have if it had not fallen amiss. What Valens is giving us in this quote is a qualifier that justifies the Lot of Spirits importance! To understand this qualifier, we must understand what he meant by “falls amiss”.

To fall amiss was a general term used to describe certain accidental conditions of the planetary ruler(s) of a sign, house or Lot. A planet that fell in a “foreign” sign where it had no essential dignity, i.e. peregrine, was said to have fallen amiss. A planet falling in an evil house, e.g. the 6th, 12th or 8th was said to have fallen amiss. In this particular case, as we’ll see a little later, when Valens says the ruler falls amiss, he is also referring to a planetary ruler that falls inconjunct (what he also calls aversion) or cadent the sign the Lot falls in, or its own domicile. This was a standard Hellenistic concept that if a planet that could not see[25] its domicile then it could not properly administrate the affairs of the house signified by the sign.

Thirdly, it is also important to see that Bonatti, in his quote, recognizes the primary difference between the Lot of Spirit and the Lot of Fortune, i.e. “faith, prophecy, religion and the culture of God and secrets, cogitation,[26] intentions, hidden things and everything which is absent, and courtesy and liberality, praise, good reputation, heat and cold”. This list contains the actions and source (motivation) of Aristotle’s praxis actions, namely, “there cannot be choice … without some moral characteristic [hexis]; for good and bad action in human conduct is not possible without thought and character. Now thought alone moves nothing; only thought which is directed to some end and concerned with action can do so.” This thought and moral character (or lack of it) is found in religion and secular religion, faith, and moral philosophy, ones intentions, courtesy and liberality and character! These are all qualities that describe moral intent and motivation, things indicated by the Lot of Spirit rather than fortune!

The reason the Lot of Fortune was sought first and foremost is because its signification was above all concerned with the physical and material well-being and happiness of the native! If the Part of Fortune was in good condition, the relationship between the native and their physical world was supportive and enabled them to live well. If the Part of Fortune was in poor condition, the native had a harder time living in relationship with the world that supports them. The same can also be said about the relationships of the Part of Fortune and health. The ancients, being pragmatic realists, knew happiness was not just a “state of mind”. The reason both are important is because if one or the other should be inoperative for some reason, e.g. the Lot or its lord(s) falling amiss, then the other would be sought for both indications.

[1] See Appendix 1 – “Quotes and Commentary from the Historical Record”

[2] Born 125 C.E. died ca 175 C.E. A contemporary of Ptolemy he wrote a massive compendium consisting of 12 treatises on Greek Astrology. It is probably the largest Greek astrological text still extant from this period. He offers over 135 astrological charts and delineations that he says he himself made.

[3] This “king” is believed to be Nechepso, the Egyptian pharaoh who presumably wrote an important astrological textbook along with Petosiris between 200 – 400 B.C.E

[4] Section 3 of Book 2 – – “The Anthology” – – by Vettius Valens, translated by Robert Schmidt and published by The Golden Hind Press 1994 (Project Hindsight)

[5] Section 11 of Book 3 – – “The Anthology” – – by Vettius Valens, translated by Robert Schmidt and published by The Golden Hind Press 1994 (Project Hindsight)

[6] There are some lots that are very special exceptions. Those were primarily dealing with mundane astrology, the rise and fall of religions and dynasties and their prophets and kings. Those appear to be of either a Persian or a Babylonian origin and extracted specifically for mundane considerations. Al Bīrūnī considered that some astrologers took extracting Lots too extreme.

[7] Chapter 23 – “Late Classical Astrology: Paulus Alexandrinus and Olympiodorus” – translated by Dorian Gieseler Greenbaum, M.A. – published by ARHAT

[8] Mathematici de Astronomia Tractus X universum quod judiciariam rationem nativitatum or simply Bonatti on the Arabic Parts as translated by Robert Zoller © 2000 New Library Limited.

[9] Book II, section 20 – The Anthology – by Vettius Valens, translated by Robert Schmidt – Golden Hind Press © 1994

[10] Praxis – ‘what one does’

[11] Prosneuō – This is a criterion for determining whether the Lot of Fortune or the Lot of Spirit should be used for ‘activities’. The astronomical term ‘incline’ means to approach, in other words to apply to [aspectually or by conjunction].

[12] Book IV, section 7 – The Anthology – by Vettius Valens, translated by Robert Schmidt – Golden Hind Press © 1996

[13] What I will refer to as the greater praxis

[14] EN 1139a31-36

[15] What we call individuation today! Excerpt from Robert Hand in his article, “On Matter and Form in Astrology” – 2006

[16] ac•tu•al•ize -ized¿, -izingvt.

1          to make actual or real; realize in action

2          to make realistic

ac¿tu•al•i•za¿tionn.

Webster’s New World Dictionary ©1995 Zane Publishing, Inc.   ©1994, 1991, 1988 Simon & Schuster, Inc.

[17] Book IV, section 4 – The Anthology – by Vettius Valens, translated by Robert Schmidt – Golden Hind Press © 1996

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid – section 25

[20] Ibid

[21] Book VIII – “The Great Introduction” – by Abu Ma’shār

[22] These are two of the Latinised words used to call the Lot of Spirit.

[23] This is from the 2nd part of Bonatti’s treatment of the Revolutions of the Year of the World in his astrological compendium Liber Astronomiae. The Latin title is Mathematici de Astronomia Tractus X universum quod judiciariam rationem nativitatum or simply Bonatti on the Arabic Parts as translated by Robert Zoller © 2000 New Library Limited. This particular treatise is a paraphrase by Bonatti of Abu Ma’shār’s Book VIII in his “The Great Introduction”.

[24] Book IV, section 4 – The Anthology – by Vettius Valens, translated by Robert Schmidt – Golden Hind Press © 1996

[25] This is within the Greek conception of aspects where the planets did not have aspects but had them because the signs had them!

[26] I.e. serious or deep thoughts and meditations