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]
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
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.
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.
2 thoughts on “READING MĀSHĀ’ALLĀH : SASSANIAN AYANAMSA”
Peter, even if Massaallah was using a sidereal zodiac, some positions as the Moon in Libra and Mercury with the South Node would not change. You are right in my opinion that Messala was not happy with the Iranian invasion of Persia. Tthe disasters suffered by Bagdad more confirm the chart than not confirm it. Is it possible that Messala made it “ on purpose”?
Clelia, Yes. That has been a concern of mine for many years and what prompted me to look deeper into the situation. After all, he was not only Persian, but also Jewish and why would he not use a Persian Ayanamsa?.
I was first indroduced to this chart more than 20 years ago, My first impression is that it seemed flawed, but my knowledge of Persian astrology was far more limited at that time. My comments back then were met with some anger and no little derision. I do think this article is a meaningful contribution to the study, but I make no pretense to have had anything resembling the last word. I’m delighted that it interested you!