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

The Abbasid Caliphate 750–1258

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

The Pahlavi Sassanian Stream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Known Translations of Pahlavi Originals

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

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

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

The Greek Stream

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

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

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

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

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

The Sanskrit Indian Stream

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

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

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

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

Judar the Indian: Nativities

Sanjahil the Indian: Secrets of the Questions

Naq (Nahaq) the Indian: Nativities [33]

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

Works Consulted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[10] Holden. p.107.

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

[12] Holden. p. 105.

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

[14] Holden. p. 111.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Towards a western interpretation of the Lunar nodes

Martien Hermes

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


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

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

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

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

What’s the problem?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sēlenē above the solar orbit, Sēlenē below the solar orbit

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

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

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

The north node and Sēlenē

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The south node and Hēlios

Valens says of Hēlios.

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

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

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

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

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

Sēlenēs’ nodes and Christian morality

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

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

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

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

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

Ironic, a complete reversal of astrological meaning.

The bendings

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

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

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

A secular philosophy of the nodes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further issues, speculations and research questions

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


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

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

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

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

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

FINIS – Zeist, 2018 – 18 March 2022

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

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

Did the Greeks Invent Astrology?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Adoration Of The Magi By Fra Angelico 1433

Let me begin by stating clearly that I make no pretence to have finally solved the riddle of the Magi. I do hope that this short piece will contribute in a positive way to the ongoing study of the subject. In writing articles of this type, one needs to study the most recent scholarship as well as the ancient sources still extant. We may never know how much knowledge has been lost over the centuries, but we do know it was a great deal. These losses included the library of Alexandria and wholesale destruction of libraries during the Muslim invasions from North Africa, Persia and as far as India.

This continues from the two previous articles on the identity and nature of the Magi in particular relation to the Christmas story which combines Jewish and Persian elements. But first, it must be remembered that it is a story and it cannot be assumed that the narrator himself thought it to be an account of a temporal event. A story is not necessarily untrue, but it is a different kind of truth than the recalling of an historical event.

Further, our modern notion of historical accuracy is a fairly recent development. All cultures have maintained a mythological dimension to their own histories and it is often the case that the mythological tells us more about the society and its part in the greater cosmology than a historical “fact” might do.  The latter is also subject to selective memory and various interpretations, while the former is more or less deliberately symbolic in nature. A popular and condescending euphemism for this second type of writing is “pious fiction.” The modern world needs to recover the meaning of an epiphany if it expects to understand ancient texts as they were intended to be read.

I intend to take a circuitous approach to explain what I have come to understand about the story of the Magi, involving solid astrology, interpreting mythological traditions as well as cultural realities.

Mark Kidger, an astronomer, writes that if the object was as bright as is reported in the Protovangelium of James, it would have to be at least as bright as the Moon and would have been recorded all over the world. He asks: was the star really brilliant? Did these early accounts use artistic license? Which of the accounts, if any, was the “correct” one? Where we even supposed to take the story of the Star literally?  The Bible and the Apocryphal Gospels were never intended to be exact histories of the life of Jesus …. they are works written by the faithful for the faithful, and for those the writers hoped to convert.” (The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomer’s View p. 19).

The interconnectedness and relative familiarity with different cultures in the Middle East, Rome, Greece, Egypt, and Persia are well documented but often trivialized. One cultural advantage of empires is the massive and facilitated flow of ideas, including familiarity with other languages. The Jews had been subjugated by the Romans, Babylonians, and Persians. Since the conquest of Alexander, they lived in a Hellenized world and it made for a heady mix. What emerged was a high degree of syncretism. One example was the existence of the Pharisees, a corruption of Parsi. The Jews appear to have adopted the idea of an afterlife in the Pharisee tradition, where the Sadducee school remained disinterested. The idea of an afterlife was shared by other cultures, but it would appear to be Zoroastrianism and the Persian influence that was primary

Depiction of Cyrus the Great by Jean Fouquet, 1470.Cyrus II_le Grand_et les_Hébreux

Certainly, the existence of the Magi was well known and their reputation was all but universally considered one of benevolence. Just as importantly, the Zoroastrian tradition had influenced the Greeks long before Plato, as well as Judaism. Jesus is considered by many scholars to be an Essene or at least influenced by them.  The theme of the sons of darkness and sons of light has no other obvious equivalence than Zoroastrianism. We don’t find this theme in Greek or Jewish thought. Neither do we find it in Egyptian religion.

When we consider the details of the Christmas story, the role of the Magi is fascinating. First of all, the Jews were expecting a triumphant Messiah – a King of Kings from the House of David. The story of the virgin birth of a holy child, destined to redeem humanity and openly challenge the Judaism of the times is not what they had in mind. The humble birthplace of Jesus has become a symbol of humility to Christians, but it couldn’t have helped the Jews to accept him as the Messiah. Beyond Talmudic teachings, the case against Jesus being the Messiah derives from several key Scriptures: Isaiah 11:1-9, Isaiah 2:3-4, and Micah 4:2-3 among them.

The Christmas story might be seen as an attempted rebuttal to the disdain in the Jewish community. However, there is far more to it than that. The story may have been an attempt to illustrate a number of things, even if that meant excessive embellishment and resorting to “pious fiction.”

There have been countless attempts to identify the “star of wonder” ranging from a possible conjunction of Jupiter and Venus to a comet and a supernova. None of the theories so far has triumphed and we are left with the distinct possibility that the star being followed was of a spiritual nature – what we might call an inner light. No astronomer has been able to identify what it was –  or if anything extraordinary was seen at all. My personal view is that the theories set forth haven’t taken the whole astrological picture into account.

Keplers_trigon. A series of great conjunctions and trigons from Kepler’s book De Stella Nova.

The first “modern” attempt to discover what identifiable astronomical events could explain the star over Bethlehem really was conducted by Johannes Kepler identifiable astronomical phenomenon lies behind the biblical story of the so-called Star of Bethlehem was effectively begun by the astronomer  Kepler (1571–1630),. Kepler was the mathematician to Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor1576–1612.

Johannes Kepler, ‘De stella nova in Pede Serpentarii’ (1606)

“In the years 1604–5 a supernova appeared in the constellation Ophiuchus and excited considerable discussion in Europe. Kepler kept a detailed record of his observations of the star. In the preceding year, 17 December 1603, at Prague he had also witnessed a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn with Mars moving into the vicinity soon after, which interested him in his capacity as court astrologer. The supernova appeared in the neighbourhood of these three planets.

Jupiter-Saturn Conjunction Chart. Image credit: Star of the Magi

In medieval times the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, known as the “great conjunction” (recurring only once every 19·86 [incorrect] years on average), was regarded as of great astrological significance. Kepler calculated that a similar conjunction with Mars moving into the vicinity soon after had occurred in the year 7 B.C. = Julian year 39. On that occasion, the conjunction had been a triple conjunction, a very much rarer event than the normal single conjunction.” (Sachs, A., & Walker, C. (1984). Kepler’s View of the Star of Bethlehem and The Babylonian Almanac for 7/6 B.C). At the end of the day, it turned out that Kepler had miscalculated and ever since then, one attempt after another to identify the star has failed.

William Eamon provides a summary of the process: “Kepler believed that the new star was a portent of deep significance. It was, he concluded, “an exceedingly wonderful work of God.” In 1606, he published a pamphlet, De Stella Nova in Pede Serpentarii (On the New Star in the Foot of Serpens), describing his discovery. Kepler was convinced that the new star was the same as the one that the Three Kings followed on their way to Bethlehem. With somewhat tortured logic, he reasoned that the new star was the equivalent of one that appeared in the same constellation around the time of the birth of Christ. He identified the supernova with a star that appeared in a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn during the years 7-5 B.C. Since the supernova of 1604 appeared in the same conjunction, he reasoned, it had to be the same as the Star of Bethlehem that showed the Magi the way to Jesus.” (Kepler and the Star of Bethlehem)

It is crucial to remember that the Christmas story was written down long after the alleged events. Although not all scholars are in agreement, the majority believe that Mark was the first Gospel to be written, sometime around the year 70. This consensus has it that the Gospel of Matthew and the  Gospel of Luke was written down sometime in the 9th or final decade of the 1st century. Obviously, this casts the authorship into doubt. It has been countered that the original four evangelists had completed gospels that were then transcribed by others at a much later date. However, the record doesn’t support this at all. Even the choice of which gospels would be included had a political and tendentious element in their selection.

Nevertheless, those who insist that everything written in the Bible is to be taken as literal truth will need to deny any metaphorical meaning at all. For the rest of us, we are free to consider the possibility that some passages or stories in the Bible are powerfully metaphorical and that metaphor and elaboration can add to the power of the truth being told, even if it had no actual historical existence. It does not seem out of place here to mention that the modern understanding of history conforms to linear time. The very idea of linear time is an extreme abstraction with no modern scientific basis. It is part of the materialist creed.

Zoroastrianism, like Christianity, is a Universal religion.  As mentioned, the Jews also had every reason to venerate the Magi, emissaries from the East: The following is what is known as the Proclamation of Cyrus from Ezra 1:1-8 (ESV):

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:

Modern Persian carpet showing Cyrus the Great, seen in Tehran

2“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”

Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered. Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah.

Among the classical Jewish sources, besides the Bible, Josephus (1st century AD) mentions that Cyrus freed the Jews from captivity and helped rebuild the temple. He also wrote to the rulers and governors that they should contribute to the rebuilding of the temple and assisted them in rebuilding the temple. A letter from Cyrus to the Jews is described by Josephus.:


“I have given leave to as many of the Jews that dwell in my country as please to return to their own country, and to rebuild their city, and to build the temple of God at Jerusalem on the same place where it was before. I have also sent my treasurer Mithridates, and Zorobabel, the governor of the Jews, that they may lay the foundations of the temple and may build it sixty cubits high, and of the same latitude, making three edifices of polished stones, and one of the wood of the country, and the same order extends to the altar whereon they offer sacrifices to God. I require also that the expenses for these things may be given out of my revenues. Moreover, I have also sent the vessels which king Nebuchadnezzar pillaged out of the temple, and have given them to Mithridates the treasurer, and to Zorobabel the governor of the Jews, that they may have them carried to Jerusalem, and may restore them to the temple of God. Now their number is as follows: Fifty chargers of gold, and five hundred of silver; forty Thericlean cups of gold, and five hundred of silver; fifty basons of gold, and five hundred of silver; thirty vessels for pouring [the drink-offerings], and three hundred of silver; thirty vials of gold, and two thousand four hundred of silver; with a thousand other large vessels. [Note] I permit them to have the same honour which they were used to have from their forefathers, as also for their small cattle, and for wine and oil, two hundred and five thousand and five hundred drachma; and for wheat flour, twenty thousand and five hundred artabae; and I give order that these expenses shall be given them out of the tributes due from Samaria. The priests shall also offer these sacrifices according to the laws of Moses in Jerusalem; and when they offer them, they shall pray to God for the preservation of the king and of his family, that the kingdom of Persia may continue. But my will is, that those who disobey these injunctions, and make them void, shall be hung upon a cross, and their substance brought into the king’s treasury.”

And such was the import of this epistle. Now the number of those that came out of captivity to Jerusalem were forty-two thousand four hundred and sixty-two.”

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn – Daniel and Cyrus before the Idol Bel

The somewhat terse account in Matthew is expanded upon, with both similarities and differences in the apocryphal Protoevengelium of James. This work is overwhelmingly concerned with Mary, Joseph, establishing the legitimacy of the Christ child and answering all the kinds of questions that might be asked about virgin birth and the birth of the Christ child. James also gives us this:

“21. And, behold, Joseph was ready to go into Judæa. And there was a great commotion in Bethlehem of Judæa, for Magi came, saying: Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him. And when Herod heard, he was much disturbed and sent officers to the Magi. And he sent for the priests, and examined them, saying: How is it written about the Christ? Where is He to be born? And they said: In Bethlehem of Judæa, for so it is written. And he sent them away. And he examined the Magi, saying to them: What sign have you seen in reference to the king that has been born? And the Magi said: We have seen a star of great size shining among these stars, and obscuring their light so that the stars did not appear; and we thus knew that a king has been born to Israel, and we have come to worship him. And Herod said: Go and seek him; and if you find him, let me know, in order that I also may go and worship him. And the Magi went out. And, behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them until they came to the cave, and it stood over the top of the cave. And the Magi saw the infant with His mother Mary, and they brought forth from their bag gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by the angel not to go into Judæa, they went into their own country by another road. .”

If we come to these passages expecting to learn of a physical celestial event, that is what we will understand. However, this is not the only possible interpretation of ” a star of great size shining among these stars, and obscuring their light, so that the stars did not appear; and we thus knew that a king has been born to Israel, and we have come to worship him.” Could this not be written in the same spirit as “The light shineth in the darkness” in the Gospel of John?  As I mentioned, the greatest irony of a belief in literalism is that it ignores that the very act of writing or story-telling is

Grotto of-the Nativity Close-up of the star at the birthplace of Jesus (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

metaphorical. They are part of how we process what we see. Even a technical manual will, more often than not, contain language that is not entirely literal. Turning to Judeo-Christian scripture we recognize that a direct command to “love your neighbour: can be taken at face value, even if understanding precisely what that means is subject to interpretation. The story of Jonah and the whale is a good case in point. We know that what happens in the story is impossible to explain using scientific principles. People cannot live inside whales, but if we out our material doubts aside, the story is rich in metaphorical meaning. Not believing that humans can live in whales is not cause for accusations of blasphemy except perhaps by the most steadfast fundamentalist.

Many stories in the Bible are replete with metaphorical thought and in many cases re-telling of stories from other cultures, such as Egypt and Babylon. They are not primarily historical documents, although that are many who treat them as if they were.The first task of scripture is to impart spiritual truths and present material that illustrates the way of righteousness and the consequences of ignoring the wise. In that sense, Hindu scripture is of the same kind. There may very well be historical references, but history itself is not the most important factor.

There are many elements here that are immediately germane to the art of astrology. The more mystical the content, the more literalism falls away. What is above, is below. We are born of stars and the light we experience is microcosmic as well as macrocosmic. We speak of illuminated minds and inner light. We also speak of the benighted consciousness and the “outer darkness.” In the Gospels, the “exterior darkness” or “outer darkness” is a place referred to three times in the Gospel of Matthew (8:12, 22:13, and 25:30) into which a person may be “cast out”, and where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.

The Sages and the Star-Child: An Introduction to the Revelation of the Magi, An Ancient Christian Apocryphon” is the title of a PhD dissertation by Brent Christopher Landau of The Faculty of Harvard Divinity School.

Landau “analyzes a poorly-known ancient Christian apocryphal writing, termed the Revelation of the Magi. This document purports to be the personal testimony of the biblical Magi on the coming of Christ, and is the longest and most complex narrative devoted to the Magi surviving from antiquity.” The thesis is compelling and at the very least provides a fairly detailed first-hand account of the experience from the Magi point of view.

The entire dissertation is available online, so I see no useful purpose in rehearsing it here, but there are several things that need to be said.  The purpose and general focus of this series of articles on the Magi are on magic, metaphor, and astrology.  Here we have an astronomical event that probably didn’t occur at all, read by Magi who were astrologers. The realization that the star was Christ himself, in perhaps a similar sense as we see in his transfiguration. All three Synoptic Gospels tell the story of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-9; Luke9:28-36). With a remarkable agreement, all three place the event shortly after Peter’s confession of faith that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus’ first prediction of his passion and death.

Perhaps the greatest anathema to astrology according to Christian theologians is the mistaken view that astrologers believe the stars dictate what will happen to individuals and societies.  In their view, this somehow circumvents the will of a supreme being, when in fact the astrologer reads the signs to gain knowledge of divine will. Sorcerers and fortune tellers are considered to be cut from the same cloth as astrologers. However, in Judaism and Zoroastrianism, the stars are clearly understood to be useful and several books in the Jewish Bible, such as The Book of Daniel are saturated with astrological meaning. The metaphor of the clock and time is germane here. The clock doesn’t create time, it just tells you what time it is.

It’s increasingly apparent that the importance of astrology in Judaism increased during the Babylonian captivity and the strong and friendly contacts with the Persians, who maintained a fairly practical form of the art.

It should be noted that there very few Jews would deny the presence of astrology in the Tanakh, but there would be reservations s well.  – However, “two biblical passages dealing with the diviner (menaḥesh) and soothsayer (me’onen; Lev. 19:26; Deut. 18:10) were understood by the rabbis as bearing relation to astrology (Sanh. 65b–66a; cf. Maim. Yad, Avodah Zarah 11:8, 9). The prophets were aware of the practices of “star-gazers” (ḥoverei ha-shamayim) among the Babylonians and other peoples but they scoffed at them (Isa. 47:13; Jer. 10:2). In the book of Daniel the Babylonian astrologers arecalled kasdim (Chaldeans), and in Aramaic kasda’ei (2:2, 4, 5, 10; 4:14; 5:7, 11). The Sibylline Oracles (219–231) praise the Jewish people for refraining from astrology, which is a delusion. The Book of Jubilees (12:16–18) depicts the patriarch Abraham as overcoming the beliefs of the astrologers. The first Book of Enoch (8:3) includes astrology among the sins spread among mortals by the primeval giants (nefilim). Josephus, however, writes that astrology was common among the Jews in his days and that Jewish misinterpretation of celestial signs was partially responsible for the outbreak of the revolt against the Romans and its continuation for four years (Jos., Wars, 6:288ff.)”Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 .

Ketubbah – Jewish Marriage Contract, Leghorn, Italy, 1728 with astrological symbols

1300 years later, Moses Maimonides was vehemently opposed to the practise of astrology, but his view had virtually no influence on subsequent Jewish writers. Astrology had become an integral element of Judaism. After all, the Yiddish mazel tov derives from Hebrew words meaning a constellation of good stars and destiny. Considering the extraordinary influence and reputation of  Maimonides, this stands as a  strong endorsement of astrology by the Jewish community.

“With the exception of Joseph Judah ibn Aknin and his enthusiastic admirer R. *Jedaiah ha-Penini (Bedersi), none of the Jewish philosophers of the succeeding generations opposed or deprecated astrology. Even the rationalistic *Levi b. Gershom maintained that the activities and events of a man’s life were predestined by the positions and movements of celestial bodies. The astrologers fail, he asserted, first of all because of insufficient knowledge about the movements of the stars and the effects of their changed positions on sublunar beings, and secondly, because of the intervention of intellect and free will, “for the intellect and the will are empowered to carry us beyond the limitations imposed by the celestial bodies” (Milḥamot Adonai 2:2). Shem-Tov ibn *Falaquera also considered astrology a true science and made use of it. Many of the great rabbis, commentators, preachers, and ethical teachers dealt with astrology and were favourably disposed toward it; *Abraham b. David of Posquières, in his Hassagot, a commentary on Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah; *Naḥmanides (Commentary on Gen. 1:16; Lev. 23:24, and passim) and his pupil Solomon b. Abraham *Adret (Responsa, no. 652); *Baḥya b. Asher (Commentary on Ex. 11:4; and passim); Isaac *Aboab (Menorat ha-Ma’or, 143; passim); Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ *Duran (Magen Avot, 72bff., and Tashbeẓ, no. 513); Isaac *Abrabanel , who cited many proofs “from the science of astronomy in regard to the celestial conjunctions” for his opinion that the redemption of Israel would begin in 1503 and come to completion in 1531 (Ma’yenei ha-Yeshu’ah, 12:2); Isaac *Arama (Akedat Yiẓḥak, 34, 56), though he disapproved of eschatological reckonings based on astrology; Moses b. Ḥayyim *Alshekh ; *Judah Loew b. Bezalel (Maharal) of Prague, who is reputed to have practiced astrology in the company of his friend Tycho Brahe; David *Gans ; Leone of *Modena ; Joseph Solomon *Delmedigo of Candia, Jonathan *Eybeschuetz ; and *Elijah , Gaon of Vilna (Commentary on Sefer Yeẓirah). A definitely negative attitude toward astrology was assumed by Azariah dei *Rossi” (Me’or Einayim, 42, 43). Source: Enyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008c

Detail of the ancient kibbutz Beth Alpha mosaic, Israel: a zodiac wheel with all 12 symbols and names of the zodiac, surrounded by four female figures at the corners, identifying the seasons of the year; at the centre, Helios, the sun god driving a quadriga, with moon and stars. (Picture: Art Resource, NY; @Inés Peschiera Kežman Pfeifer)

Most importantly, traditional astrology views the stars as microcosm and macrocosm. In most cases, we study the macrocosmic heavens to shed light on the microcosm. In the case of the Star Child, we have the Magi reading the advent of Christ by an inner illumination. This appears to be the message when we have looked at all the sources and considered the identity of the players in this cosmic drama. We talk about “outer space” but there is a corresponding “inner space.”

Of course, the proclamation that the Kingdon of Heaven is within you is used only by Matthew. Mark and Luke used “kingdom of God” Compare Matthew 11:11-12 with Luke 7:28; Matthew 13:11with Mark 4:11 and Luke 8:10; Matthew 13:24 with Mark 4:26; Matthew 13:31 with Mark 4:30 and Luke 13:18; Matthew 13:33 with Luke 13:20; Matthew 18:3 with Mark 10:14 and Luke 18:16; and Matthew 22:2 with Luke 13:29. The two phrases clearly mean the same thing.

If we revisit words of the Magi in Matthew:

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East [or at its rising and have come to worship Him ” we are left with a tantalizing and evocative image, but we still don’t have any idea what this rising star was. It was common to refer to planets as stars, but there isn’t anything close to bright enough to match the description.

If we take this account at face value and ignore the impossible exaggerations which have, ironically, obscured all the main points, we would have a chart very similar to this.

This chart shows the rising of Jupiter the king planet, in the royal sign of Leo and with the Kings’ star, Regulus. This certainly fits with the description of the Star in the East. It is ascending ahead of the Sun with enough clearance from the Sun to allow visibility.

Regulus, in Leo (The Lion), means “little king,” named by Copernicus. It is the heart of the Lion and associated with generosity and ambition. If well aspected it will raise the person to high positions in life and denotes successful activity. Its nature is Mars and Jupiter. Bayer name Alpha Leo. Apparent magnitude +1.3 This star rising with Jupiter would have been considered a strong indicator of the birth of a king when combined with the other elements present.

Some have suggested that “born of a Virgin” means the Sun in Virgo. I see no compelling reason to take this view, but it may be worthy of further research. We can say that the Sun in Virgo is suggestively positioned.

The triple conjunction of Venus and Mercury and the Ascendant with Jupiter would make for a convincing candidate for the birth of a great king in Babylonian as well as Persian astrology. The Moon is in her domicile in Cancer and Mars in his Exaltation is safely in the 6th house, like a tiger in a cage. This is where Mars has his Joy.

Saturn retrograde and conjunct the Midheaven is more sinister. The Jews are under the governance of Saturn and this new king is not welcome by the highest authorities. There is a tight conjunction of  Saturn with the fixed star Rigel, the brightest star in Orion, The Hunter (Apparent magnitude +0.3) The star is of the nature of Jupiter and Saturn and associated with fame, wealth, and lasting honours.  Rigel is a fortunate star and a very powerful one.  This would serve as a protective element.

This is the most likely way that the Magi determined the location of the birth. Saturn conjunct the MC is in the place of authority. It is only natural that they would visit Herod.

I make no claims to this being the exact date, but the time would be close enough to provide us with an accurate enough and relatively short window for this configuration to occur, making this a strong candidate for something approaching what must have occurred.

It seems ironic that many of the attempts to embellish and exaggerate the message of the Magi have obscured what might otherwise have been obvious.

The Magi are what scripture and tradition say they are – highly skilled astrologers, almost certainly from Persia. There has been a number of attempts over the years to make them appear to be like a Unicef greeting card depicting them as all Jewish kings from Yemen.

I don’t believe that The Star-Child account is meant to be taken entirely literally, but it is a rather lovely narrative of the Star leading to the Child. For approximately two billion  Christians, Christ is their Guiding Star

Rigel, one of the brightest stars in the sky, intrinsically as well as in appearance. A blue-white supergiant in the constellation Orion. Image courtesy of Encyclopaedia Brittanica.


The purpose of this article is to shed some light on the importance of stars and parans. For this, I used the chart of Scott Fitzgerald, the great American author. I will make some considerations using medieval techniques and then I´ll use the stars that were in parans or in angles during the day of his birth.

As for longevity, Scott only lived 44 years and we have to look for an explanation. I will delineate the chart based on medieval techniques, at first.

The Sun cannot be hyleg because it is cadent, so we have to choose the Moon as hyleg and alchocodem. She’s at an angle and her years will be 108, but she’s opposed to Saturn, outside the orb.

These orb issues are very relative. Let´s see: the Moon has a 12° orb and Saturn a 9°. Adding the two together, we get 10.5. In this case, the Moon would be far from the orb, as Saturn is at 16° and the opposition ends at 10.5 in Scorpio.

What occurs to me is that the Moon walks throughout the day of birth (a technique used by the ancient Egyptians), until it reaches the orb with Saturn.

If this Moon is really in opposition to Saturn, Saturn will be Alchocodem and would give its greatest years, 57 years, being angular. As Robert Zoller would say, ten years more, ten years less. Even so, the native died before he was 47 years old. He died at the age of 44.

Very well: It is clear from the natal chart that the author had a talent for writing and writing well: Mars in the house of creativity trine Venus, in her domicile, Libra. Venus is conjunct to Mercury.

The cadent planets in the ninth house can provide a lot of virtuosity, but they don’t last a lifetime.

I have cases that show exceptional musical talent, but if the astrological configuration is cadent, it doesn’t generate a profession and the talent fades along the way.

Fitzgerald’s chart continues to show many mysteries. At first glance, in short, the chart does not reveal the unstable and extraordinary life of the author, and other people have aspects like those lacking the popularity of Scott´s name as a writer.

When he died, the firdar was Saturn, sub-ruler Mars, the profection fell on the 9th house, the house where the Sun is, and the solar revolution shows the following chart:

Next, I’ll show you some parans and stellar positions, which, in my opinion, explain more of the chart and make it exceptional.

Stars that rise with the Sun:


Native takes a life close to the limit to seek intense emotional encounters

Aldebaran – In the orb of Nadir 02 minutes 33 seconds –

The principles and integrity are the compass and foundation of your life and afterlife.

Denebola while Mercury is rising orb 01 min 46 secs –

Having a different point of view about language and culture

Stars of his Prime

Antares with Saturn is culminating in the orb 00 min 02 secs –

Black and white, a life full of struggle with polarities

Phact is with the Moon in Nadir 00 minutes and 34 seconds –

The love of reading or writing

Algol is with Venus in the nadir orb 00 minutes 46 seconds –

Be a victim or a savior

Stars in the NADIR – Stars that are the BASE of the card

Sirius is with Jupiter:

Inspiring in artistic, architectural or athletic endeavors

Antares with Saturn, the orb 00 minutes 06 seconds –

Black and white, a life full of struggle with polarities

Phact with Mercury orb 00 min 36 secs –

An original thinker or a foolish mind, always looking for new ideas

Mirach with Jupiter orb 01 min 36 secs –

An insatiable appetite for the physical world, money or people

Zosma with Mercury in Nadir 01 min 40 sec –

Worrying about the difficulties of others

Menkar with Venus culminating orb 01 min 55 secs –

Social confronting  or trying to represent other people

Well, now I’m going to write the native biography taken from the Encyclopedia Britannica, in order that you compare it with the stars. 

“Scott Fitzgerald, in full Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, (born September 24, 1896, St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.—died December 21, 1940, Hollywood, California), American short-story writer and novelist famous for his depictions of the Jazz Age (the 1920s), his most brilliant novel being The Great Gatsby (1925). His private life, with his wife, Zelda, in both America and France, became almost as celebrated as his novels. Fitzgerald was the only son of an unsuccessful, aristocratic father and an energetic, provincial mother. Half the time he thought of himself as the heir of his father’s tradition, which included the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Francis Scott Key, after whom he was named, and half the time as “straight 1850 potato-famine Irish.” As a result, he had typically ambivalent American feelings about American life, which seemed to him at once vulgar and dazzlingly promising.
He also had an intensely romantic imagination, what he once called “a heightened sensitivity to the promises of life,” and he charged into experience determined to realize those promises. At both St. Paul Academy (1908–10) and Newman School (1911–13), he tried too hard and made himself unpopular, but at Princeton University he came close to realizing his dream of a brilliant success. He became a prominent figure in the literary life of the university and made lifelong friendships with Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop. He became a leading figure in the socially important Triangle Club, a dramatic society, and was elected to one of the leading clubs of the university. He fell in love with Ginevra King, one of the beauties of her generation. Then he lost Ginevra and flunked out of Princeton.

He returned to Princeton the next fall, but he had now lost all the positions he coveted, and in November 1917 he left to join the army. In July 1918, while he was stationed near Montgomery, Alabama, he met Zelda Sayre, the daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court judge. They fell deeply in love, and, as soon as he could, Fitzgerald headed for New York determined to achieve instant success and to marry Zelda. What he achieved was an advertising job at $90 a month. Zelda broke their engagement, and, after an epic drunk, Fitzgerald retired to St. Paul, Minnesota, to rewrite for the second time a novel he had begun at Princeton. In the spring of 1920 it was published, he married Zelda, and “This Side of Paradise” was a revelation of the new morality of the young; it made Fitzgerald famous.

Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1921

This fame opened to him magazines of literary prestige, such as Scribner’s, and high-paying popular ones, such as The Saturday Evening Post. This sudden prosperity made it possible for him and Zelda to play the roles they were so beautifully equipped for, and Ring Lardner called them the prince and princess of their generation. Though they loved these roles, they were frightened by them, too, as the ending of Fitzgerald’s second novel, “The Beautiful and Damned “(1922), shows. The Beautiful and Damned describes a handsome young man and his beautiful wife, who gradually degenerate into a shopworn middle age while they wait for the young man to inherit a large fortune. Ironically, they finally get it, when there is nothing of them left worth preserving.
To escape the life that they feared might bring them to this end, the Fitzgeralds (together with their daughter, Frances, called “Scottie,” born in 1921) moved in 1924 to the Riviera, where they found themselves a part of a group of American expatriates whose style was largely set by Gerald and Sara Murphy; Fitzgerald described this society in his last completed novel, Tender Is the Night, and modeled its hero on Gerald Murphy.

Shortly after their arrival in France, Fitzgerald completed his most brilliant novel, “The Great Gatsby “(1925). All of his divided nature is in this novel, the naive Midwesterner afire with the possibilities of the “American Dream” in its hero, Jay Gatsby, and the compassionate Yale gentleman in its narrator, Nick Carraway. The “Great Gatsby” is the most profoundly American novel of its time; at its conclusion, Fitzgerald connects Gatsby’s dream, his “Platonic conception of himself,” with the dream of the discoverers of America. Some of Fitzgerald’s finest short stories appeared in ” All the Sad Young Men” (1926), particularly “The Rich Boy” and “Absolution,” but it was not until eight years later that another novel appeared.

The next decade of the Fitzgeralds’ lives was disorderly and unhappy. Fitzgerald began to drink too much, and Zelda suddenly, ominously, began to practice ballet dancing night and day.

In 1930 she had a mental breakdown and in 1932 another, from which she never fully recovered. Through the 1930s they fought to save their life together, and, when the battle was lost, Fitzgerald said, “I left my capacity for hoping on the little roads that led to Zelda’s sanitarium.”

He did not finish his next novel, “Tender Is the Night”, until 1934. It is the story of a psychiatrist who marries one of his patients, who, as she slowly recovers, exhausts his vitality until he is, in Fitzgerald’s words, un homme épuisé (“a man used up”). This is Fitzgerald’s most moving book, though it was commercially unsuccessful.
With its failure and his despair over Zelda, Fitzgerald was close to becoming an incurable alcoholic.

By 1937, however, he had come back far enough to become a scriptwriter in Hollywood, and there he met and fell in love with Sheilah Graham, a famous Hollywood gossip columnist.

For the rest of his life—except for occasional drunken spells when he became bitter and violent—Fitzgerald lived quietly with her. In October 1939 he began a novel about Hollywood, The “Last Tycoon”. The career of its hero, Monroe Stahr, is based on that of the producer Irving Thalberg.

This is Fitzgerald’s final attempt to create his dream of the promises of American life and of the kind of man who could realize them. In the intensity with which it is imagined and in the brilliance of its expression, it is the equal of anything Fitzgerald ever wrote, and it is typical of his luck that he died of a heart attack with his novel only half-finished. He was 44 years old.”
Arthur MizenerThe Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica


Sassanian Empire

This article touches briefly on a very important issue in the history and transmission of ideas, and in particular to those that are related to the celestial arts and related cosmologies. This should be read as one might read the newly exposed contents of a roll-top desk. The topic is potentially so extensive, that a small library would be required to cover even the main points. It should, however, serve as a decent introduction and I have referenced some particularly useful sources for those who wish to delve further. My hope is that this and the articles which follow will ignite further interest in this topic by cultivating informed reflection and discussion.

By way of extending this discussion, I’ve decided that it will best be done by a reasonably detailed account of the part played by three Persian astrologers and polymaths: Māšāʾallāh b. Aṯarī, a Persian Jew from Baṣra, was one of the leading astrologers in the ʿAbbasid caliphate from the founding of Baghdad in 145/762, Biruni, Abu Rayhan (362/973- after 442/1050), scholar and polymath of the period of the late Samanids and early Ghaznavids and one of the two greatest intellectual figures of his time in the eastern lands of the Muslim world, the other being Ebn Sīnā (Avicenna) and Abū Ḥafṣ ʿOmar b. Farroḵān Ṭabarī was an astrologer from Ṭabarestān who translated Pahlavi works into Arabic (for example, the five books on astrology by Dorotheus of Sidon) and paraphrased Ptolemy’s Apotelesmatica Tetrabiblos in 812. The few astronomical theories with which his name is associated are Indian; he presumably derived them from Pahlavi books.  Biographical details courtesy of Encyclopedia Iranica.

There is a great volume of scholarly editions and studies of the Greek Hermes Trismegistus. Although the origins remained murky in the early European Rennaissance, that did nothing to quell the enthusiasm of Marsilio Ficino and those 0f ensuing generations of scholars, philosophers, and demagogues.  However, when we look to the Hermes of the Persians and Arabs, there are precious few studies. One exception to this otherwise bleak outlook is the work of Kevin Van Bladel The Arabic Hermes. The title of this article is the name of a pivotal chapter in that work. In the 2010 edition of the Classical Review, Bryn Mawr provides a useful summary of the work:

Modern Iran

“Kevin van Bladel has produced an admirable study of the Arabic Hermetic tradition, fleshing out in considerable detail the evolution of Hermes’ image, his identification with Qur’anic prophet Idris as well as the forces driving this transformation, and his connections, real, imagined, and still controversial, with the Harranians, the last organized group of astrolators to continue functioning within Islamic civilization.”.

The most direct source of the reception of Hermetic knowledge in the oriental tradition was Sassanian Persia, the last period of the Persian Empire before the Islamic invasion. The empire took its name from the  House of Sasan who governed from 224 to 651 AD. The Sassanians succeeded the Parthian Empire and was a leading regional and ‘world’ power,  alongside the Roman-Byzantine Empire. Iy held this position for four centuries. This empire was perfectly situated to be a  cultural conduit between India, Greece, Rome and the Middle East and this had been the case for a very long time. Even to this day, the strategic geography of Iran is extraordinary, sharing borders with Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan,, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and beyond. The US military currently has Iran surrounded in ten countries to make sure she is contained. Persia had long had relations with Asia, including China long before the onslaught of Alexander the Great and the subsequent Hellenizing of much of the known world.

In Alexandria, Priests of Isis mixed with Hindus and Buddhists as well as  Jews, Christians, a wide array of Greek philosophers, Gnostics, and Pythagoreans. Ideas, traditions, and wisdom were not merely shared but in many cases, syncretized.  It has been said of the Parsis in India that they are like sugar in milk. This is true of many traditions. It is difficult, for example, to read Plotinus without being reminded of Hindu metaphysics or to read St, John’s Gospel without being reminded of Philo, a brilliant Hellenized Jew. It is not always an easy task to see where one tradition ends and another begins.

Until the Islamic conquests, which began in the lifetime of Muhammad and spread from Spain to India within 60 yrs of his death, the desert-dwelling Arabs had a primitive, but fascinating desert culture. It mostly consisted of an oral tradition and the level of literacy was not high. Written language had no great utility beyond that used in trade. Indeed the Prophet himself was known to be illiterate. The Arab tribes were frequently at war with each other, which further impeded a scholarly tradition, As a trading people, they did, of course, come into contact with other cultures.  However, there were no centres of learning and those who were identified as learned were most often the Christians, Jews and to some extent the Chaldeans. The work of transposing the spoken word of the Prophet into the written Quran would have mostly fallen to Jewish scribes.

Massive invasions are usually violent and demonstrate little or no interest in the culture being conquered unless it can be readily turned into profit,  either of monetary or propagandistic value.  The second form takes place when sites of indigenous worship are destroyed and replaced with the religious symbols of the invading force. This has been the key to the creation of hegemony since the earliest times. Typically, indigenous languages are also replaced by the language of the conqueror. This was certainly the case with Arabic. The Persians had not taken the threat of an Arab invasion seriously. That was a fatal mistake and one that proved that a sufficiently riled up group of illiterate desert dwellers could do hitherto unimaginable damage to a greatly advanced society. The Armies of Islam would prove the same point, time and time again. Temples were razed. Religions outlawed and Mosques built where previously sacred places were celebrated by the vanquished indigenous culture. Conversely, invading forces are exposed to cultural ideas, including ones seen as scientific, that serve to edify the culture of the invader.

Van Bladel writes: “Middle Persian, the language of the Sasanian court and administration of government, as well as their Magian (Zoroastrian) religion, was displaced by Arabic after the Arab conquest and colonization of Iran in the seventh and eighth centuries.3 Arabic, the prestigious language of the new rulers and of their new religion, Islam, superseded written Iranian languages almost entirely. Education and literacy in Middle Persian and other Iranian languages became practically obsolete for Iranians who converted to Islam. The children of converts learned Arabic, the language of their scripture, as their own literary medium.” (p.21)

However, Persia had already suffered a much earlier blow at the hands of Alexander and, beyond the savagery and brutal destruction, Persian culture was to attain the advantage of being part of the Hellenized world which, ironically perhaps, helped preserve core texts, even if many were lost forever. Alexander must have seemed a perfect monster to the Persians and to this day he is known in Iran as “the horned one.”  It is an irony that beggars belief that Alexander would be included in the line of the Prophets of Islam.

An illustrated leaf from the Sharafnama of the Khamsa of Nizami: Queen Nushaba recognizes Iskandar [Alexander the Great] by his portrait, Persia, circa 1490-1500 miniature 15.5 by 11.2cm.
Even then, western knowledge of eastern religions was distorted, mostly out of disinterest. For example, both Greek and Latin sources treated the Magians somewhat vaguely as representatives of eastern cults.  Distinctions between a Magian, a Brahman, and a Chaldaean were of little interest:

“although it was known that they were from three different countries, Persia, India, and Babylonia. But their activities seemed interchangeable, at least from the first century CE onward. Therefore, the ‘wise men’ mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew are called Magians, although the correct term for people observing celestial omens would have been Chaldaeans, mathematicians or astrologers (Chaldaioi, mathematikoi or astrologoi).” (Magians after Alexander.

This is usually interpreted as a diminished occidental view of the orient and it may very well be that. Nevertheless, it may also be a case of general recognition and familiarity, since European groups such as the Druids were also similar in almost all respects. It may be a case of “a rose by any other name.” Certainly, all these came together in Ficino’s prisca theologia  This is the doctrine that asserts “that a single, true theology exists, which threads through all religions, and which was anciently given by God to man.” (Yates, F., Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Routledge., London, 1964, pp 14–18 and pp 433–434)

In light of the many considerations, it may very well have happened that the ‘un Islamic’ Persian Hermetica would have been lost to history. As it happens, much of it not only survived but made its way into the Islamic world and the Arabic language.

Van Bladel tells us: “The name Hermes was invoked in Sassanian Mesopotamia as a source of occult power. A few surviving texts of Syro-Mesopotamian origin provide the attestations: two Babylonian Aramaic incantation bowls containing the same formula, found at Nippur (modern Niffar) in Iraq, once part of the Sasanian Empire, and a magical amulet written in Syriac on parchment dating to Sasanian times.11 Incantation bowls are a type of popular magical apparatus inscribed with texts in different Eastern varieties of Aramaic made from about the fourth to the seventh century, that is, under the Persian Sassanid dynasty, in Mesopotamia.

Unfortunately little is known about exactly how they were used. The two bowls mentioning Hermes invoke him as a magical power, so that the protective operation is performed not only in the name of four angels but also in the name of “Hermes the Great Lord.” One of these bowls were made for the benefit of “Yazīdād, son of Yazdāndukh(t),” both Middle Persian names indicating a Persian, perhaps aristocratic, recipient. As for the parchment amulet, although it was written in Syriac, it was made for the protection of a certain ¢warrawehzād, called Yazdānzādag, daughter of De¯nag, whose name is also clearly Middle Persian” pp.25-6).

These types of bowls were not uncommon: “Across the ancient world, demons and other forces of evil were treated as genuine threats to reckon with. In Sasanian Mesopotamia from the fifth to the seventh centuries CE, clay Aramaic incantation bowls, commonly known as magic bowls were widely used to expel demons and protect houses.” See the work of Avigail Manekin Bamberger, a doctoral candidate in the department of Hebrew Culture Studies at Tel Aviv University. It needs to be said that these bowls were used for the same purposes by Jews and Christians.

Al Kindi

One could fairly ask, why the Islamic and Arabian world couldn’t have simply taken the Hermetic teachings from the Greeks. particularly during this time period, when there was no dearth of excellent translators and as has been mentioned, various cultures had been blending for a very long time. It was not a Persian, but Al Kindi who was largely responsible for the transmission:

Abu Yūsuf Yaʻqūb ibn ʼIsḥāq aṣ-Ṣabbāḥ al-Kindī, known as “the Philosopher of the Islamic empire.” He was an Arab Muslim philosopher, polymath, mathematician, physician, and musician. :

“A description of Hermes and his teachings is preserved in the collection of wise sayings made by al-Mubaššir ibn Fātik in Fātịmid Egypt, Kitāb Muxtār al-ḥikam. These passages are treated extensively in sections 5.2 and 5.3 in this volume, but a brief summary here will help to make this survey of testimony about Ḥarrānian Hermetica complete. Al-Mubaššir’s source describes Hermes:

“as a prophet teaching pious commandments in the form of maxims, as well as an outline of rules for Hermes’ religion and his wise advice. Although al-Mubaššir’s treatment of Hermes and his instructions include no direct references to Ḥarrānians or to Ṣābians in general, the religion taught by Hermes in this account is similar to as-Saraxsı’s description of the Ḥarrānian Ṣābian religion: it included feasts at astrological conjunctions and at the sun’s entry into a new zodiacal sign, as well as sacrificial offerings to the planets at the appropriate times. Hermes is also said to have commanded them “to perform prayers that he stated for them in ways that he described.” On the other hand, the religious laws of Hermes given here bear close resemblance to Islamic law: they require ritual purity, abstinence from intoxication, jihād against the enemies of the religion, alms (az-zakāt), and prescribed most of the punishments called ḥadd punishments in Islamic law. All this leads me to conclude that the “religion of Hermes” described here was developed and described well after the establishment of Islam and Islamic law.” (pp 94-5).

This was a clever manoeuvre but certainly not unprecedented. Most importantly, it ensured that something of the indigenous religion of Iran would prevail and with this many other elements entered the Islamic world.  This was also the case with the Angelology of Zoroastrianism. It not only survived but was exalted by Islamic Persian artists in some of the most exquisite miniatures. The core beliefs of the Persians were passed on. It may well be surmised that without this transmission the Golden Age of Islam would have been far less likely to have occurred.

Persian miniature (1555)

With regard to the import of the book, we began by discussing what is brilliantly summarized by “Bryn Mawr in the same classical review article.  I leave the closing words  of this first part of the study to him:

“Hermes the prophet of science is a combination of “ancient Judaean lore” concerning the biblical Enoch with Hellenistic astrology, including stories of heavenly ascents in order to receive science from the angels. ….. With Hermes as its prophet, science becomes revelation and as such is superior to the musings of the philosophers.” (Classical Review 2010.02.63).

In articles to follow, we will look at a variety of other Persian and Indian sources.

Midheaven: the concept of μεσουράνημα and the brawl over the house system.

It may be interesting to propose a careful revision of the term Midheaven with which we usually identify the tenth cusp in an astral figure. The original term in Hellenistic literature, both in astronomical and astrological texts, is the Greek word μεσουράνημα, which later became Latin as «medium coeli». The relevance of this concept lies in the fact that the bitter dispute regarding house systems depends on its definition, especially that between the defenders of domification by counting of signs (house equals sign) versus the defenders of systems by trisection of quadrants (uneven houses).

In the first centuries of our era there were three different concepts of μεσουράνημα, which caused a problem of unsuspected consequences at the time, since these three definitions gave rise to three different ways of thinking about how to distribute the twelve astrological houses. The first conceptualization is the one that understands by Midheaven the complete thirty degrees of the tenth sign counted from the ascending sign in zodiacal order. The second conceptualization is the one that defines Midheaven as the nonagesimal degree of the ecliptic, that is, exactly ninety ecliptic degrees above the ascendant. The third conceptualization is the one that fixes the Midheaven in the exact degree where the ecliptic intersects with the local meridian, that is, with the great circle that travels the north-zenith-south-nadir path.

It becomes clear that the whole sign house system is based on the first definition, the equal house system is based on the second, and the quadrant house systems are based on the third. This is the heart of the whole debate. Well, the reason behind the predilection of Medieval and Renaissance astrologers for systems by division of quadrants is based on a stricter astronomical conceptualization of the «medium coeli», since the Sun, the Moon, the planets and the stars culminate their drag by primary movement when their diurnal arc reaches the intersection of the local meridian in the upper half of the celestial sphere, not when they pass through the tenth zodiacal sign from the ascendant sign, nor when they pass through the nonagesimal ecliptic degree.

The idea behind this precision is that the sky is not something static, but is in permanent motion. As a result, all celestial bodies reach a certain point in their diurnal arc where they attain the highest possible altitude according to their declination. Being the Midheaven, in any of the possible definitions, the place where the stars reach their maximum elevation, it is quite obvious that the ideas associated with the 10th house such as advancement, promotion, profession, vocation, reputation and public image, derive of said elevated condition in the upper part of the celestial vault. Consequently, the exact point of highest elevation for the ecliptic degrees seemed the most logical choice under a more demanding astronomical and observational criteria.

However, it is clear to me from a long experience in traditional astrology that the resolution of the debate is to recognize that full-sign houses are extraordinarily useful for topical delineation purposes (meanings), while houses by division of quadrants are extremely necessary for determine the power or dynamism of the stars (angularity), so that a combined approach of both systems, topical and dynamic, is what gives the best results. The integration of both domifications, in practice, is something that takes time and experience. It is certainly not something recommendable for beginners, because it can confuse and make the learning process quite difficult for students, but for those who have already had more years of practice it is a necessary and beneficial effort. The integration of both approaches has come to generate a lot of consensus among the followers of medieval astrology of Perso-Arabic stamp.

Like many high-level colleagues, I have found in practice that the quadrant division house systems are also very useful in topical delineation, but it is convenient to contrast them with the whole sign house system to enrich and make the interpretation of astral figures more flexible. It can be somewhat complicated to have the same planet in a certain house by quadrant division, and in a different one by counting signs, but the fact that a planet can provide meanings to two adjacent houses enriches the astrologer’s hermeneutics, although at the same time it makes their work quite complex. Naturally, the integration of both systems can be somewhat messy at first, but eventually it is possible to learn to work in a coordinated and coherent way, trying to maintain balance in the midst of this duplicity in the domification.

Faced with the avalanche of misunderstandings and ill-founded criticisms on the part of the defenders of the whole sign house system against the systems by division of quadrants, it must be emphasized, from a traditional point of view, that it is a blunder to prefer only one system and completely discard the other, since the combination of both approaches, in an integrated work, was precisely one of the characteristic elements that distinguished the reform that gave rise to medieval astrology in the days of the Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad. But even before Mash’allah, Sahl ibn Bishr or Abu Ma’shar, some astrologers of the late Hellenistic period, such as Rhetorius of Egypt, had already begun to work with both forms of domification together. Consequently, a joint labor between both forms of houses constitutes a fundamental component in the good practice of our science.

Under a combined scheme of domification by whole signs and by quadrant trisection it will happen many times that a planet will be located in two different houses at the same time. Thus, for example, Jupiter could be in the beneficial 11th house per quadrant and at the same time in the difficult 12th house per whole signs. This would allow distributing the meanings associated with the planet in both locations simultaneously. And although it may seem strange at first, something similar did the Hellenistic astrologers with the meridian Midheaven, which usually transferred meanings of the 10th house to the adjacent places of the 9th and 11th houses. This overlap was common then, as was the superposition of planets on different houses among the Arabs, obtained by counting whole signs and dividing quadrants.

In many cases the houses of both systems will be fairly close to coinciding, especially if the ascending degree is at the beginning of a sign and if, at the same time, the latitude of the location is neither too far north nor too far south. But if the degree of the ascendant is very late in the sign, then the difference between the two forms of domification will be radically noticeable. To avoid making the work of combining systems too confusing, it may initially be easier to use whole sign houses for topical delineation issues and quadrant houses to determine the dynamism or angularity of the planets. This would be the simplest option to solve the matter, and it is the one that many tend to promote today, but it is not the best or the most complete. With a little practice it is possible to go further, and also give topical capacity to domification by division of quadrants, since there are thousands of examples in interrogations and nativities where the whole sign house system does not seem to reflect very well the reality of the horary figure or the natal chart.

Now, one wonders which of the numerous options for domification by division of quadrants should be used in conjunction with the whole sign house system. Obviously I do not pretend to give an absolute answer for a topic that causes so many discussions and differences of opinion, but we can say with certainty that a good answer to this question will always involve an astronomical understanding of how the intermediate cusps are calculated and distributed in the celestial sphere, so that we can make a decision based on the knowledge of the mathematical and astronomical structure of each system, and having in view the logic of the algorithm behind each proposal, in order to assimilate the literal and symbolic meaning of each one of the possible options. What does not seem very smart is to use a certain house system simply because it is the one our teacher used, or because it is the fashionable one.

While the Porphyry system simply divides the ecliptic segments of each quadrant into equal parts, being a pretty straightforward option to calculate, the Alchabitus system trisects the segments of the diurnal semi-arc of the ascendant for each quadrant, so that the division is based in ascensional time and not in a division of local space. In contrast, the Campanus system trisects every quarter of the prime vertical equally, that is, of the great circle that goes from the east point to the west point, passing through the zenith and the nadir, and then projects the division onto the ecliptic. The Regiomontanus system trisects every quarter of the celestial equator in equal parts, projecting the derived circles onto the ecliptic, while the popular Placidus system places the cusps in every sixth of the ascensional time of the ecliptic degrees, thus linking the houses with the division of planetary hours.

In my personal case, the Alchabitus system is by far the chosen one since, by dividing the diurnal arc of the ascending degree equally, it maintains the same logic of time displacement that we use in the Primary Directions, thus being an ideal domification scheme to be used in conjunction with this classic prognosis technique in a functional and consistent way. In addition, the division of houses by ascensional times of the diurnal arc of the horoscope or hour marker, gives us a work with a system based on a fundamental symbolic sense, since every astral figure starts from the ascendant, and the notion of angularity of the houses depends precisely on the primary movement of the celestial sphere, being the angular houses those that move from the four angles, the succeeding ones those that come from behind in the primary movement, and the cadent ones those that have already passed through the angles and lost their angularity condition. In these three positions lie the differences in strength or dynamism offered by the three types of houses to the planets positioned within them.

Now, to adopt a house system, it is necessary to get head first into the astronomical architecture of each proposal. Once it is well understood how the intermediate cusps are constructed, the symbolism behind each particular algorithm begins to be gradually clarified. And if in parallel a historical review of its origins is carried out, sooner or later it ends up finding the most suitable domification model for the function that corresponds to houses in astrology, which on the one hand is topical, but on the other it is dynamic, that is, it encompasses both meanings and angular force. And in the latter lies the key to understanding what is important when choosing, because between the end of the Hellenistic period and the beginning of the Middle Ages, all this disquisition reached its point of maturity and good sense. But from then on, and especially since the Renaissance, everything was confused and deformed, so it is necessary to investigate the origins of the problem.

Recapitulating what has already been said, there are three successive steps in the process of integrating the house system by whole signs with a house system by quadrant trisection. For students, first it is necessary to work with a single system in order to avoid confusion and unnecessary entanglement in the learning process. Then, for more advanced practitioners, proceed to work with the whole sign house system for topics related to accidental significators (topical function) and with a quadrant division system to determine the force or angularity of the planets (dynamic function). Finally, for astrologers with more experience, it is beneficial to move towards the full integration of both domification systems to interpret the topical or qualitative function, so that the meanings for a planet located in different houses are extracted under each of the two systems. At the same time, the domification of houses by quadrant trisection is also used to determine the dynamic or quantitative function. The latter is the way of working that the ancients used, but it requires agile handling and discrimination criteria that can only be acquired after a long time of practice.

To conclude, it should be noted that other options for the division of quadrants that differ from the one I have suggested are perfectly valid, insofar as they are based on a good understanding of the calculation and geometric structure of domification, together with the elaboration, from of this, of a logical argumentation and a symbolic interpretation that gives a reasonable basis to the preference, or at least an explanatory criterion that goes beyond the blind imitation of a house system whose formulation is unknown as much as that of its possible competing alternatives. And so, going back to the beginning of the question, it is essential to understand that the three historical definitions of the Midheaven do not have to throw us into an insoluble dilemma. Rather, they should invite us to carry out the task of studying in detail the astronomical coordinate systems and the reference points in the celestial sphere on which the different algorithms are built to domificate an astral figure.

Eclipse – Battle of Isandlewana

The Battle-of-Islanhlwan by Charles Edwin-Fripp

The Battle of Islandlwana on January 22, 1879, was the direst defeat of the British Army against any indigenous people in the Empire and it occurred at what might be considered the zenith of British power during what has become known as the Zulu Wars. This battle has been of great interest to military strategists and historians. I’ll be looking at this through the eyes of an astrologer.

Although they eventually realized that they were massively outnumbered, the British forces were confident. The battle had not been expected and in fact, the British also had 1500 oxen with them, presumably for settlers – certainly not what one takes to war. British forces had never encountered what was now bearing down upon them with unimaginable force.

They were well trained and seasoned soldiers, numbering 1800, including British, colonial and native forces. They also had approximately 400 civilians with them. They were using state of the art weapons and under the able command of Lt. Lord Chelmsford.

Of primary interest were the much-prized Martini-Henry rifles, equipped with bayonets. This was the first time it had been used in combat and it turned out that it had a flaw when used repeatedly for long periods of time. They tended to overheat, making reloading more difficult. It is unlikely that this would have been a problem in other battles. As well, the rocket battery was not mounted and became increasingly useless as the battle unfolded.

The effective firing range of Martini-Henry rifle was 400 yds or 370 m. I emphasize this because the range of sight needed to allow for this ability. This may seem obvious, but at the time the soldiers had no real doubts of being able to hold back the massive Zulu assault.

The army of 20,000 Zulus had no bows, horses or wheels for that matter. What they had were spears and clubs. According to the grandson of the Zulu chief, the warriors were given a variety of drugs that made them fearless, bloodthirsty and in fact visionary. At one point in the battle, the Zulus saw “strange birds” coming for them which they believed were evil spirits conjured by the British.

I have not found an exact, reliable time for the beginning of the battle, but it was close to Noon. The real problem came a couple of hours later. We do know there was a Solar Eclipse that sealed the fate of the British. From the blinding early afternoon Sun, there was a darkness, made worse by the excessive smoke and dust . This was at 2.00 PM LMT

The approaching Zulus became invisible long enough to advance well within the rifle’s range and therefore too close for the army to have the advantage of being able to shoot the approaching Zulus before they were close enough for arm to arm combat, an enormous disadvantage to the British. The fact that the Zulus were unflinching suggests their shaman had predicted the eclipse. I have not found any evidence that this particular eclipse was known to the British soldiers in advance of the event.

The Zulu soon breached the perimeters and were virtually face to face with the British before they could see what was coming at them.. The Zulu used a traditional formation known as the “horns of the bull.” The idea was to encircle and destroy the enemy. The motif of the bull and cattle is quite evident and it’s difficult to ignore the relationship to the Ascendant,

These were the days when armies wore brilliant colours proudly, rather than using camouflage. Yes, there were ambushes, but we cannot call this the age of stealth. Yet non-visibility is what won the day.

The Ascendant is the life force and this chart gives us a highly afflicted Taurus Ascendant. Along with the Part of Fortune, it is in tight conjunction with the highly malefic Fixed Star know as Algol. It has a reputation for making one lose one’s head, either figuratively or literally, and is associated with piled-up corpses.  The Ascendant is disposited by Venus, in turn, disposited by Saturn, She is Peregrine and Under the Beams. Saturn is in a weak sign in the Eleventh House, denying help from military associates and friends in general. Moreover, Saturn is Almuten of the chart and Venus is the Killing Planet.

Saturn in Halb can also be said to be Lord of the Eclipse, as he disposits both luminaries and both benefics. It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to suggest the Zulu association with the Tenth House Sun, as they are in effect eclipsed and maintain the high ground, retaining their sovereignty,serpens

The *enemy* is in the martial and stealthy sign of Scorpio, ruled by Mars, out of sect in the Eighth House of Death and dispositing the Twelfth House – all in all, a nasty piece of work in the context of the chart as a whole.  The Lord of the Eighth House is Jupiter, suggesting many dead.  Mars is conjunct Ras Alhague, the star in the head of the Serpent-charmer (Orphiucus), the Moorish El Hauwe.

Pliny said that it occasioned much mortality by poisoning. This constellation has also been called Aesculapius and held to rule medicines. By the Kabalists, it is associated with the Hebrew letter Oin and the 16th Tarot Trump “The Lightning-Struck Tower”. [Robson*, p.54.] It also has another role – that of a Shamanic Healer. The considerable participation of the shamanic priests shouldn’t be underestimated. From the concoctions given to the warriors to the healings during the battle. They evoked a powerful force that made the Zulus fight as one and without fear.

Given the inescapable association of the British with the Lion, I cannot but associate the Leo S. Node as the ‘end of the matter’ in the Fourth House. This can be taken as both the Lion defeated as well as resurgent. The Zulus won the battle but decidedly lost the war.

Back to the Past

This article was recently recovered by P. James Clark on Google Drive. It was
written by me in August 2017, 4.5 years ago. 

Here you have what I wrote at that time:

Cosmology by John Augustus Knapp (1853-1938) – Public Domain

“Thoughts expressed by Pablo Ianiszewski F. here on ISCA prompted me to write after a long silence because I had been busy writing my last book.

I have raised a few points which, even if they were not true, are most certainly worth discussing.

In my ancient studies of astrology, I tended to see the planets as the primary causation of the facts. The malefic planets caused harm, the benefics, benefits.

But after years, I have approached a non-causal, but synchronistic view of the facts. The understanding of this synchronicity, if it can be sought in the celestial configuration, will not occur because the planets caused harm or blessings on earth.

I would like to point out that I agree with my colleague Pablo Ianiszewsky that excess of heat or cold is not conducive to the development of life. This is not under discussion. Probably the fact that some planets are more distant from the Sun, the creator of life, led the astrologers to divide them in their basic characteristics. The more distant from the Sun, the more maleficient the planets turn out. Jupiter is an exception, probably because it has an affinity with Sagittarius which makes a trigon with the Sun, the diurnal luminary, and with Pisces that makes a sextile with the Moon, the nocturnal light. The mix of aspects with luminaries added to the distance of the Sun must have influenced the ancients in their classifications also in hot, cold, wet and dry.

Finally, this ground raises many questions that I do not want to discuss here, but what perhaps may be quite interesting is to have in mind that such classification depends on the human view of the elements and that it changes culturally, as we can see in the Eastern philosophy in which the elements wood or metal are also considered.

What I would like to bring about in these few lines is that the intrinsic planetary essence goes far beyond the earth and that we know nothing about the planets, which are beings, each of them has their own inscrutable cosmic purpose and must seek it far beyond the pettiness of our little world.

My view is that we, as human inhabitants of this part of the universe, the earth, embedded in one of the hundreds of galaxies, depend essentially on the Sun, the principle of all life. So we tend to classify the visible planets according to the effect they cause to us.

I remember that Alchabitius saw Saturn esoterically as the first planet to which all the others follow. He says that Saturn is the first to operate on conception after the shedding of semen in the womb, contracting and unifying the matter with which the being is formed. Also in the Poimandres, it is said that the soul descends through the celestial spheres. Rudolf Steiner followed more or less this tone when he explained that the soul comes from the universe and creates the skeleton through Saturn, until arriving at Venus that beautifies the flesh and finnally reaches the Moon, rounding of the forms, shortly before the birth.

Much is supposed, but nothing is known for certain of the planets and their intrinsic nature.

I have more and more the impression that the planets are not concerned with events on earth, but with their interplanetary relationships.

I have raised the hypothesis that the chaotic or harmonic events that we experience have to do with the way the planets treat each other.

Evil derives from the evil form as one planet deals with the other in a specific quadrature, and this is reflected in the life on earth, in a specular way, as in the entire universe.

For example, if Mars attacks Jupiter, without mutual reception and especially being in a higher position, that is, considering the primary movement, events will happen according to the nature of both, but the massacre will be especially bloody for everything that represents justice.

If things go the other way, and Jupiter is in a position above Mars, the result would be the victory over criminals, crushed by justice.

By this I mean that a square, just to name a kind of aspect, has a different meaning if one planet has a superior position to the other. This explains the fact that there are squares that come to good and others that come to evil.

Even the trigons, an aspect of friendship, in a case where a malefic makes aspect, can have a paltry result if the malefic is in a superior position.

I will provide an example of this – something that in my country, when our president, visibly suspected of criminality, was released by the court to follow his mandate, instead of suffering an impeachment.

Let me explain: Jupiter in Libra occupied in the 7th house, Libra when the Sun entered in Cancer and Saturn, the ruler of the MC was cadent and in retrogradation, occupying the 9th house.

Jupiter was then in an inferior position to Saturn and was direct, whereas Saturn also approached to Jupiter, for being retrograde. Faced with this relationship between the two, one planet in the sign of the other, Jupiter for regency and Saturn for exaltation, I predicted at the beginning of the third quarter of the year that the president would be supported.

In fact, he, Saturn, ruler of Midheaven, constrained the law, Jupiter, which weighed against him, and Jupiter obtained favours and facilities, in the generous manner of the sign of Sagittarius, which Jupiter rules.

Had the position of the planets been changed the result would be different.

But the result suffered in the country was neither bad nor good from a universal point of view.

In this way, duality, in my humble opinion, is only one facet of ONE and the same thing, that “thing” that the human mind does not reach and which in its smallness calls good or evil.

Clelia Romano, September 2017

Meditations on Phoebus

by Maria J. Mateus

A comparison of sun deities of the Mediterranean and Near East may give us deeper insights into antiquity’s understanding of what it meant to be under the influence of the solar light.

Anatolian Imports

It is thought that Apollo may have been imported into Dorian and Minoan tribes from a Syro-Hittite cult in western Anatolia, as his name closely resembles that of the Luwian god, Apaliunas, on whom the Etruscan god, Apulu was also based. Apaliunas appears as one of the named deities guaranteeing a 13th century BCE treaty between Hittite and Trojan kings.1 This practice of signing treaties and contracts under a solar deity is one that is seen frequently in the Near East and Mediterranean over several centuries, as other solar deities of the Hellenistic age seem also to have had something to do with contracts, oaths and treaties. Apaliunas’ name also appears as one of three deities named on the walls of Troy itself, which was enough to inspire Homer to cast his Apollon on the side of the Trojans in the Iliad.

In the Hittite kingdom’s religion, which had influences from Mesopotamia, but still retained many of its Indo-European characteristics, we find a solar deity named Istanu (or Tiwaz in the Luwian language). As we’ll find in other Near Eastern sun gods, he’s a god of judgment, normally depicted wearing a winged sun on his headdress and carrying a crooked staff.

The following is a Hittite Hymn to Istanu: 2

O Istanu, my lord, just lord of judgment, king of heaven and earth! You alone rule the lands. 
And the boundaries you alone set; you alone give strength, to [the land] you give life.
You alone are just, you alone have mercy, you alone fulfill prayers.
You are a Sun-god of mercy, you always have mercy.
The just person is dear to you alone, and you alone value him. 
Istanu, fully grown son (of) Ningal, your beard (is) of lapis lazuli. 
Behold! The child of mankind, your servant, has bowed to you, is speaking to you:
In the circumference of heaven and earth, Istanu, you alone (are) the source of light. 
O Istanu, mighty king, son (of) Ningal, you alone establish custom and law in the lands. 
O Istanu, mighty king, among the gods you alone are established.
Strong lordship is given to you.
You (are) the just lord of government, you (are) father and mother of the lands!
When Istanu rises up early through the sky, your light alone, Istanu's, enters all the upper and lower lands,
(and) decides the case of the dog and the pig.
And the case of animals who do not speak with their mouth, that too he (Istanu) decides.
'The case of the bad and evil man you alone decide, 
and the man whom the gods scorn, (whom) they reject, him you reconsider and show mercy.
And this your mortal servant, Istanu, sustain, 
(and when) he begins offering bread and beer to Istanu; him, your just servant, Istanu, take by the hand.

We note from this hymn several significant characteristics about Istanu. First, he is above all, a “just lord of judgment”, not to be confused with a law-establishing deity such as Marduk. Istanu, like the Mesopotamian solar deities, judges and decides the fate of those who are to be shown favor as well as those who have defiled the established order. He is a champion of the lowly, and considers “the case of the man whom the gods scorn” and “shows him mercy”. He is the giver of life and strength. He takes the downtrodden and lifts them up, takes his servants by the hand, offers them bread and beer, and guides them on their path…

We also note that Istanu is the son of the goddess Ningal, the same deity who gives birth to Utu, the Sun god of Sumer. She was the consort of the male Moon good Nanna, and both were worshipped in southern Mesopotamia and in Harran, a major religious center in northern Syria. Not only is Istanu’s foreign lineage directly given in this hymn, but the hymn itself is remarkably similar in style and content to those dedicated to the solar deities of Mesopotamia.

Utu and Shamash in Mesopotamia

Mesopotamia is the birthplace of an astral religion that develops into a complex form of astrology. There, the planets and gods are one and the same. Unlike Greece, here an existing pantheon did not lend its names to the planets, which were perceived to be divinely possessed by their powers. Instead, the planets were deities themselves and part of the Assembly of the Gods that met regularly as a court of law, and who had the authority to elect or depose public officials, including the King.3 Thus, Utu was not ‘the star of the Sun’ but was in fact, the Sun itself.

His image is a personification of the shining light of the Sun, which brings forth life on earth. He is described as “long-armed”, since his influence is far-reaching, and he’s typically depicted wearing a horned hat and sporting a beard, although he is also frequently described as “youthful Utu”. In the morning, he’s believed to emerge from the doors of heaven located between two mountains to the east, then journey across the sky during the day, and enter the ‘interior of heaven’ through a second set of doors to the west at dusk. Presumably, the arched pruning-saw with serrated teeth that he carries is used to cut his way through these passages. He had two temples called ‘E-babbar’ or ‘White House’. One was located in the Sumerian city of Larsa, the other to the north in Akkadian Sippar.

This placement of solar temples both to the north and south of Sumeria is significant and tied to the Sun’s seasonal movement north and south along the eastern horizon over the course of the year. This journey of the Sun essentially divided the year into two seasons, one of growing light when Utu was traversing the northern lands and one of growing darkness, when Utu traveled in the south. The Babylonian preoccupation with balance is illustrated by the ritual practice that took place during the solstice months (IV and X) of exchanging priestesses from the temple of Esagil (House-of-the-Daytime) in the north, with those from the temple of Ezida (House-of-the-Night).4 This was thought to balance the fact that at the start of the summer, the nights are shorter and require the daughters of Esagil to go to Ezida, while in the winter, the reverse was desired.

An examination of a Hymn to Shamash — Utu’s Akkadian name — makes the Sun’s geographical scope even more clearly connected to one of his roles in society.5

You climb the mountains surveying the earth,
You suspend from the heavens the circle of the lands. 
You care for all the peoples of the lands, 
And everything that Ea, king of counselors, had created is entrusted to you.
Whatever has breath you shepherd without exception, 
You are keeper in upper and lower regions.
Regularly and without cease you traverse the heavens,
Every day you pass over the broad earth...
Shepherd of that beneath, keeper of that above,
You Shamash, direct, you are the light of everything.[...]
Of all the lands of varied speech,
You know their plans, you scan their way.
The whole of mankind bows to you,
Shamash, the whole of the universe longs for your light...[21-52]

The ability of Shamash’s rays to cover all of the known world make him truly an international deity capable of ‘caring for all the peoples of the lands’. It is for this reason that Shamash is often linked to travelers, as is explicitly related in the list of those who seek his protection:

Shamash, there confronts you the caravan, those journeying in fear.
The traveling merchant, the agent who is carrying capital. [138-139]

No other story exemplifies better Shamash’s role as personal guide to those on journey than the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. In it, Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, and his friend Enkidu decide to make a trip to the Cedar Forest to seek their fame. They are accompanied throughout their long journey through distant lands by Shamash, whose main role is as their protector. It is to him that they pray when they are fearful and in need of guidance. But because Shamash also spends half of his time in the Underworld at night, he is also protector of those about to travel below the earth. This is exemplified in the stories involving Dumuzi, the shepherd-king and his betrothed Inanna, the goddess of love and Utu’s sister. When an impudent Inanna sentences her lover to the Underworld for his neglect of her danger, Dumuzi appeals to his future brother-in-law Utu, for his protection from the demons that seek to imprison him below.

The two examples point not only to the Sun god’s role as protector and guide, but they point to his particular affinity with shepherd-kings, whose responsibility in Mesopotamia, it is to protect and guide their citizens, or “earthly flock”. Scholars have described Gilgamesh as a solar hero, and there are many reasons for this classification, not the least of which is his lineage, which makes him the son of the nomad shepherd king Lugalbanda. Like the story, which calls Gilagmesh’s city, ‘Uruk, the Sheepfold’, the hymn to Shamash also describes him as a ‘shepherd without exception.’

The metaphor extends to Shamash’s cosmic role of as divine shepherd. The astrological treatise, the Enuma Anu Enlil says:

The road (KASKAL) of the Sun at the end (šēpīt = foot)of the cattle-pen (TÙR) is the path of Ea (šūt Ea); the road of the Sun at the middle (mišil) of the cattle pen is the path of Anu; the road of the Sun at the beginning (SAG = head) of the cattle-pen is the path of Enlil.6

Reiner and Pingree interpret the ‘cattle-pen’ as the equatorially bound region along the eastern horizon – stretching from the northeast at the summer solstice to the southeast at the winter solstice – over which the Sun is seen to rise. The metaphor of the Sun’s path as a cattle-pen and the planets as wild oxen moving within this region is alluded to in tablets that refer to Utu or Šamaš as “shepherd of the land,” and where, says Samuel Kramer, “the ‘little ones’, the stars, are scattered about him like grain while the ‘big ones,’ perhaps the planets, walk about him like ‘wild oxen’.”7 Thus, as divine shepherd, it is Shamash’s role to designate the boundaries inside of which the planets are themselves permitted to travel. It is for this astronomical reason that in the myth called “Enki and the World Order”, we are told that Utu is placed in charge of both earthly and heavenly boundaries.8 It is curious that although the Sun did not ever occupy the head of the Babylonian pantheon, his cult became increasingly important at the same time as astrological developments begin to accelerate sometime after the 8th century BCE.

Just like his Anatolian counterpart, the most salient of Shamash’s functions is as judge and guardian of justice:

You give the unscrupulous judge experience of fetters,
Him who accepts a present and lets justice miscarry you make bear his punishment.
As for him who declines the present but nevertheless takes the part of the weak,
It is pleasing to Shamash, and he will prolong his life...[...]
You hear and examine them; you determine the lawsuit of the wronged.
Every single person is entrusted to your hands...[97-128]

As judge and protector of the law, it is under his vigilance that contracts and agreements are made and upheld. This chief role of solar deities is maintained well into the late Roman Empire where we find Roman soldiers swearing oaths in the name of Mithras, the Persian sun god.

Lastly, the Hymn to Shamash alludes to one final role for the solar king: that of seer and grantor of omens.

You manage their omens; that which is perplexing you make plain.[...]
You grant revelations, Shamash, to the families of men,
Your harsh face and fierce light you give to them...
The heavens are not enough as the vessel in which you gaze,
The sum of the lands is inadequate as a seer’s bowl...[129-155]

It is the light afforded by him that enlightens and gives clarity. We find a similar divinatory function displayed by Apollo, the Greek Sun God.

Apollon in Greece

There are actually two deities associated with the Sun in the Greek mythological literature: Helios, who personifies the actual Sun and Apollo, who represents the solar light, as well as having multiple other functions. Helios is the Sun who rises from a swamp in the East, rides in his chariot pulled by white winged horses, and sets to the West in the ocean in the Hesperides.

Like Shamash who sees all, Helios is said by Pindar to be: ‘the god who plumbs all hearts, the infallible, who neither mortals nor immortals can deceive either by action or in their most secret thoughts.’9 For Helios there are no secrets and it is he who tells Demeter of her daughter’s rape and abduction and who divulges Aphrodite’s adultery to Hephaestus.

However, unlike Shamash, Helios needs to seek out the king of gods in order to attain justice. This hierarchy is illustrated by an episode in Homer’s Odyssey, when his sacred horses are killed and eaten by Odysseus’ men and he must seek restitution from Zeus, rather than act directly. His sacred sanctuary is at Rhodes where a giant statue of him (the Colossus of Rhodes) once straddled the harbor where ships sailed under his legs.

While Helios may have represented the actual Sun, he was not nearly as important a figure in the Olympian pantheon as was Apollo, the son of Zeus and second in importance, after his father. He was given dozens of epithets sometimes being called Phoebus‘the brilliant’, or Xanthus, ‘the fair’, or Chrysocomes ‘of the golden locks’,10 and like Utu, he represents the epitome of youthful masculinity. As the god representing the Sun’s beneficent rays, he was responsible for the growth of fruits and was protector of crops. Perhaps due to the Sun’s beneficent qualities, Apollo, like his son Asclepius, the god of medicine, was also given patronage over healing. In this capacity, Apollo was invoked in purification rites and healing oracles.

But just as the sun’s rays can be murderous, Apollo had the power to cause sudden death with his arrows and was also a god of plague. It is not uncommon to find plague and disease associated with extreme heat in deities of the western Levant and Anatolia. An old form of Apollo’s name is a verb meaning ‘to destroy’.11 Like his sister Artemis, his bow and arrows also point to his role as god of hunting and he is sometimes associated with a stag or roe or pictured with lions.

In the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, we read that “at birth he said: ‘Dear to me shall be the lyre and bow, and in oracles I shall reveal to men the inexorable will of Zeus.’ As god of music, it is no surprise then that song and dance are signs of his presence and that he is often depicted playing a lyre constructed and given to him by his brother Hermes.

Similar to Shamash, one of Apollo’s functions is to grant the gift of prophecy and divination. He was especially invoked at Delphi by the Pythia, a priestess who entered into a trance to make her pronouncements. One of his most well-known stories involves the slaying of the Serpent Python, whose place of death consecrated the sacred site at Delphi where the Oracle was established in his name. The Homeric hymn to Apollon may be divided into two parts: one that takes place in Delos, and involves his mother Leto’s delivery of the god, and the other in Delphi, which involves his journey to establish cult centers all over the Greek islands culminating with Delphi. It has been noted by Charles Penglase, who draws on many parallels between this hymn and the Mesopotamian myths involving the cult of the shepherd Dumuzi, that both sections of the Homeric hymn involve several journeys:

“These journey sequences and activities in them express many ideas about the god, but as in Mesopotamian myths, where they are also central features, they are employed to establish and express the god’s power.”12

Again, the same motif of the journey we saw in the Epic of Gilgamesh, are present in this and countless other stories involving solar heroes and deities.

Sol Invictus in Rome

the Sun’s favor among the Greeks did not go unnoticed by the Romans, who not only adopted Apollo as one of their own, but transformed his religious significance into a handy instrument to legitimate political power during the unsettled years of the late Empire. As deliverer of Augustus’ victory at Actium, Apollo soon gave way to Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun, who would be adopted as protector of the state and official state religion by Emperor Aurelian. However, the cult of the Sun went through various stages of transformation from the early Republic to its disappearance after the reign of Constantine and the conversion to Christianity—but not without some syncretization between the two religions. In Rome, there was an ancient indigenous cult to the Sun, Sol Indiges on the Quirinal, which was celebrated in the ancient Republican calendar on August 9th. As early as the 3rd century BC, coins appear with the Sun god shown with rays radiating from his head. However, this indigenous Sun god bears little resemblance to the solar god that would be imported from Syria centuries later.13

Still, the practice of equating living Emperors with the solar deity began soon after Augustus’ homage to the Greek Apollo. It was the Emperor Caligula that compared the ascension of the emperor to power as the invincibility of the Sun rising upon the eastern horizon. And the Emperor Nero is said to have been received by the king of Armenia who said to him: “I have come to you as my god, to worship you as Mithras.”14 But it was Commodus who first used Invictus as part of the official imperial title.

During the 3rd century, the Syrian solar deity called Elagabalus made a brief intrusion into Roman politics through Emperor Septimus Severius’ marriage to Julia Domna, the daughter of a Syrian high priest to the god. Her 14-year old grand-nephew, himself a high priest of Elagabalus, adopted the deity’s name and briefly became Emperor of Rome after Severus’ death, until the incursion of his foreign religion got him assassinated.

The cult of Sol Invictus reached its maximum heights with the Emperor Constantine, who was considered the personification of the Sun on earth and used the title Sol Invictus Imperator. In 325, Constantine proclaimed Sunday the official day of rest of the state. While, it is true that Constantine moved away from the worship of pagan deities and eventually converted to Christianity, the central position of the Sun continued unchallenged. Scholars claim that it was during this time that Christ became associated with the Sun: “Constantine’s god was a fusion of the Unconquered Sun and Christ the Victorious, but he remained god of power, not of love.”15

The Astrological Sun

Astrological interpretation is a product of historical imprinting. To ignore centuries of deity associations in regions that practiced astrology all over the Near East, while fixating solely on rote delineations in astrological manuals, is to miss the understanding of astrology as historical process. Having said that, for the purposes of discerning cultural influence, I will nevertheless include the typical delineations found in Hellenistic astrological texts on the Sun:

The all-seeing Sun, then, being truly fire-like and the light of the mind, the organ of perception of the soul, is significant at birth for kingly office, hegemony, mind, practical wisdom, outward form, motion, height of fortune, public registration, action, popular leadership, judgment, father, mastership, friendship, persons of high repute, the honors of images, statues, and crowns of office, arch-priests of the fatherland…of places.16

Having made a peripheral inquiry into the mythological history of this deity, certain odd attributes from this list become clearer. Friendship, and practical wisdom, for example, are attributes found in eastern solar deities, such as Mitra and Shamash. While judgment, is also a prominent attribute of eastern deities, here it appears late in the list, only after several other significations. What is conspicuously absent in the list of solar significations is the Sun’s oracular capacity. Yet we do find in the astrological tradition, that the 9th place in the chart – considered the place of ‘the Sun’s joy’—is the place of divination, astrology, and oracles. In the same way that Apollo presided over the Pythia’s pronouncements at Delphi, this subtle difference, may indicate that the Sun was not understood to possess oracular skills himself, but to delight in and enable their occurrence in others.

The predominance of the motif of recognition, leadership and the attainment of kingly office, clearly derives from the oldest and most ubiquitous practice of considering kings to be manifestations of the Sun, whether they be shepherd-kings in Mesopotamia, the Invincible Sun in Rome, or the personifications of Ra in Egypt. One can only speculate on who ‘the arch-priests of the fatherland’ were. But if we are to believe that the Sun is ‘phos noeron’ (the light of the mind), than one might reasonably expect that an Aristotelian influence, which describes the Good ‘as like the Sun’ or “Father”17 was a part of the astrological tradition and the arch-priests of the fatherland as those who worshipped some form of the Sun, such as in the case of Mithras. For this reason alone, there is traditional precedence for considering the Sun emblematic of the father.

As 21st century astrologers, we can begin to look at the Sun as carrier of all these motifs, yet dressed in a modern guise. Above all, the Sun illustrates one’s capacity to elevate one thing over another, that is, to choose, and to do so with practical wisdom, judgment and clarity. The Sun is never just a neutral vehicle for one’s Zodiac sign. He represents the soul’s perception, its ability to focus the will in the direction of its choosing, and in so doing, to forge the path that will carry us forth along our journey. To invoke him, is to dispel the dark clouds that have rendered that path indistinct. To swear an oath to him, is to make one’s vision become Truth.


1 John Lawrence Angel, Machteld Johanna Mellink. Troy and the Trojan War: a symposium held at Bryn Mawr College, October 1984. (PA: Bryn Mawr Commentaries, 1986). p.42.

2 Jonathan Slocum and Carol Justus trans. Great Sun Hymn. KUB XXXI 128: I, 1-21 & 39-51. Indo-European Texts. Linguistics Research Center. The University of Texas at Austin.

 3 Thorkild Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion (London: Yale University Press, 1976). pp. 86-87.

4 Mark E. Cohen, The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient near East (Bethesda, MD: CDL Press, 1993). p. 319.

5 W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1960). p. 127 ff.

6 Reiner and Pingree, Babylonian Planetary Omens, Part 2. p.43.

7 Samuel Kramer, Sumerian Mythology. A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievements in the Third Millennium B.C., revised ed. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961).

8 Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion. p. 85.

9 New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. p. 142.

10 New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. p. 113.

11 New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. p. 119.

12 Charles Penglase. Greek Myths and Mesopotamia. (New York: Routledge, 1994). p. 99.

13 John Ferguson, The Religions of the Roman Empire. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1970); and Halsberghe, Gaston H.. The Cult of Sol Invictus. (Leiden. Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1972).

14 Ferguson, p.46. Mithraism was a secret hierarchical mystery cult inspired by astrological symbolism based on the Persian solar deity known as Mithra, a god of light who ruled over truth, contracts, oaths, and order. Mithras became quite popular throughout the late Roman Empire among soldiers and his name was often used interchangeably with the title of Sol Invictus. See Franz Cumont. The Mysteries of Mithras. Dover Publications, Inc. NY 1956, among others.

15 Ferguson, John. The Religions of the Roman Empire. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1970). p.46.

16 Vettius Valens, The Anthology: Book I, trans. Robert Schmidt, 1st ed., vol. IV, Project Hindsight Greek Track (Cumberland, MD: The Golden Hind Press, 1993). p.1.

17 See the entry on Nous, #16, p.137 in F.E. Peters, Greek Philosophical Terms, (New York: New York university Press, 1967).