Did Abū Ma’shār use whole sign houses or houses using a division?

20196756_321493324964826_121579938_nI was recently reading Chris Brennan’s “12 reasons why whole sign houses is the best system of house division.” It is a very interesting and helpful analysis and in typical Chris Brennan style well documented and thought out. I have been using whole sign houses since the 90’s and would not go back to any other. Like Chris explains, I also note where the Midheaven and Ascendant fall as the Midheaven is valuable but interpretations can be very different when using the whole sign or quadrant division. As an example I would like to refer to Abū Ma’shār.

In “Argument 3” Chris states, “By the time of Abū Ma’shār (c. 850 CE) and after there was a sudden shift to quadrant houses.” I am not sure here if Chris is stating that Abū Ma’shār was using a quadrant house division, but I would like argue, that at least where Abū Ma’shār was concerned, he used whole sign houses.   In Abū Ma’shār’s Book of Religions and Dynasties there are four charts presented.[1] In two of the charts, all the house cusp degrees are mentioned whereas the other 2 only mark the ascendant and Midheaven and are clearly whole sign house charts much as Māshā’āllāh  and his colleagues used. So just from the charts listed in the manuscript it is 50/50 and any of the charts could be the elaboration of later transcribers. The charts, as evidence by themselves, do not necessarily indicate or prove the use whole sign houses. However the written proof is probably the most reliable and for that we can look at one section from his text in chapter 8 of Part 2, the same chapter that we find one of his charts using cusp degrees of a quadrant based system of houses.

“[31] We say that, if Saturn and Mars are in conjunction in the ascendant, this indicates general harm common to the subjects as a whole. If this happens in the second or eighth place, it indicates the corruption of properties, the obscurity of the reputation of the rich, and the appearance of need, poverty, and weakness among the common people. If it happens in the third or ninth place, it indicates the appearance of blight in mosques and houses of worship, and hated occurrences, together with calamities concerning building and worship. If this happens in the fourth and tenth place, it indicates that ruin occurs to building in the cities. If this happens in the fifth or eleventh place, it indicates the death of babies, and a great number of soldiers and arms. If this happens in the sixth or twelfth place, it indicates a great number of gazelles and riding animals and the taking of them, and that sometimes harm occurs to these two kinds of animal. If this happens in the seventh place, it indicates the insurgence of enemies and of harmful people against most of the regions. If this happens in the Midheaven, it indicates the death of the greatest of the kings in the climes, especially the kings of the countries indicated by the sign in which they conjoin.”

The text is Charles Burnett’s translation direct from Arabic manuscripts. I have emphasized certain words because they illustrate an interesting distinction that needs a comment. He says a little earlier in this paragraph; «If this happens in the fourth and tenth place, it indicates that ruin occurs to building in the cities». At the end of the paragraph he says, «… if this happens in the Midheaven it indicates the death of the greatest of the kings…» In all of the preceding delineations he assiduously uses the term “place” which tells me he is using whole signs as houses (by counting) but when talking about the degree of the Midheaven it is clear he is referring to its division. In my humble opinion he is pointing out the fact that the 10th place and the Midheaven are not necessarily the one and same sign! You will find these same distinctions as well in Māshā’āllāh.

We can look at a couple of charts in Māshā’āllāh which are presented much the same way and in his delineations he makes a clear distinction between a “place” which he calls “by counting”[2] to the Midheaven which he calls “by division”[3].

Mashaallah chart 1a

Mashaallah chart 1

Modern rendition by Ben Dykes

The first chart is the Ingress at the Great Conjunction indicating the Great Flood. In the delineation he says,

“No planet except Jupiter can be found for the guardianship of this year because it is the Lord of the ascendant, and the lord of its triplicity is the sun alone and it confers its power upon it, and (it receives power) from Venus because she (Venus) is the lord of the domicile of the moon, and she is in her exaltation, and it (the Moon) is in the sixth place displaced from its position, and Saturn is in the twelfth, retrograde, and Jupiter and Mars in the eleventh, they will be by division  in the tenth,…”

You will notice that Jupiter and Mars are in the 11th whole sign, Libra. And Māshā’āllāh says clearly, “Jupiter and Mars in the eleventh…”  Yet he says as well that “…they will be by division in the tenth.” This was the practice of the time.

In another chart, the chart indicating the rise of Islam and the birth of the Prophet.

Mashaallah chart 2b

Mashaallah chart 2

Modern rendition of the chart by Ben Dykes

“Māshā’āllāh said that when he looked at this picture and the position of its planets, he found the strongest of them and the strongest in witnesses to be Saturn, because it entered the ascendant and it is the lord of its exaltation; and the Moon is lord of the light of the night, conferring its counsel upon it (Saturn) from the tenth by counting and (this is) the ninth by division, the place of prophecy, and Jupiter confers counsel upon it (the moon). Mars is found in Gemini, it being the ninth by counting in the highest (part) of the orb (mințaqa) ascending to its extreme. It accepts the counsel of the sun, Venus, and Mercury, (which is) retrograding. All that: plus the place of the first lot, it being Saturn in Scorpio, and its lord in the place of religion, indicate that there would be born in the second year of this conjunction a prophet in Tihama, the land of the Arabs, and that is because the place of the first lot is in Scorpio, and because of the connection of the moon with Venus. If the ascendant was a sign having two bodies and Saturn was in a sign having two bodies, I would have said that his birth would be in the second conjunction because of the reception of Venus and Mars in their places. The place of the moon in upper midheaven indicates that he will be secure from being killed, and because Venus escaped combustion (he means [its] emergence from the ray), this indicates that he will meet hardships and go into hiding for a while; then he will establish connections and be strengthened, and become well known, and the people of his doctrine will rule. Because the place of the moon is in upper midheaven and Mars is in the house of religion (these) indicate that he will seek religion and its being established by struggle. And because of the connection of the moon with Venus the people of his doctrine will have the nature and manners of Venus.”

Again the astrologer distinguishes between places arrived at by counting the signs, “by counting”, and the place arrived by division! “Moon is lord of the light of the night, conferring its counsel upon it (Saturn) from the tenth by counting and (this is) the ninth by division…” And more than once he re-iterates that the Moon in the ninth by division yet in the tenth by counting “…is in the upper midheaven…”

It is obvious in the charts drawn and explicated that Māshā’āllāh is using whole signs (by counting) with his floating Midheaven (by division)…. just as Abū Ma’shār does. There is no difference. It is not inference of whole sign houses when they use identical language! It is a common tradition! Looking at the tradition and the charts given and explained it is easy to understand there was no problem of house division because the signs determined the houses. It was such a tradition that no one even bothered to take the time to explain in their texts.

In a comment to this original post in my Notes on Facebook, Chris Brennan says, “Benjamin Dykes actually found a passage recently in the Arabic version of Abū Ma’shār’s book on solar returns where he talks about the difference between whole sign houses and quadrant houses quite explicitly. What is interesting is that it looks like this passage was not translated into the Greek and Latin versions of the work, and so it would not have been transmitted to the later Medieval and Renaissance astrologers. Ben and I were talking a bit about how this could have contributed to the loss of whole sign houses in the later tradition.”

It is clear that from the 9th & 10th centuries, the changes were happening with regards to house systems. Ibn Hibintā was a contemporary astrologer with Abū Ma’shār and reproduced Māshā’āllāh’s book on the Great Conjunctions and world history. Within that volume we find Ibn Hibintā’s chart of the true conjunction indicating the rise of the Buwayhids.  That chart as well is without house cusps only listing the ascendant and Midheaven.

As Chris mentions it is very hard to pinpoint where and when house cusps began being an issue. It would appear that especially the Persian line was clearly persuaded of the Hellenistic tradition of whole sign houses. However as astrology spread among the Arabs, it seems house division became more and more an issue.

I would tend to argue that from the 9th century and the change of caliphate in Islam, astrology came under very hard attack from Islam. In my own opinion the astrologers tried more and more to align astrology and its practice with “science”. Its existence as a conceptual language came under hard attack on its spiritual principles and therefore compromise and accommodation began. This accommodation has been continuing since and especially during the 15th century Europe to reconcile it with another religious law maker, Catholicism. I would say starting in the 10th century a war was made to make astrology as scientific as possible. The result, like today, is something that is no longer astrology but falls under psychology and archetypal psychology. It has been placed under the pseudo-science of psychology to maintain its credibility to sell to the masses. Of course that is my own opinion.

[1] 1 chart is found in Part 2, chapter 8 and the other 3 in Part 8 chapter 2

[2] In Arabic ´adad or ‘by number’

[3] In Arabic, qisma