Al-Biruni mentioned a foundation chart for Baghdad, calculated by the court astrologer, Nawbakht with the assistance of the great Mashallah. This occurred under the caliph Abu Ja’far Al-Mansur who believed Baghdad would be the ideal capital of the Islamic empire under the Abbasids. They were appointed to select a favourable time to begin construction of the capital. It was a truly massive project that would ultimately hire 100,000 labourers.
The date given is 31 July 762 02:40 pm, using Alchabitius Semi-Arc, placing Jupiter precisely on the Ascendant and allowing the builders to indulge in a late brunch. Here is the result:
The first question likely to arise in the modern metaphysical mind, is ‘were they completely mad?’ The first element most likely to strike fear and loathing into the sensitive New Age soul is the Grand Cross, that most hated and damning of all aspect patterns. There is a chart showing the aspects and modern planets here.
Saturn is in the fifth house, squaring Mercury and the Nodes. Worst of all, he opposes the Moon. As if they couldn’t botch things any worse, Jupiter opposes Mars. This is a fair presentation of how a modern astrologer would view this chart.
From a traditional point of view the chart is an entirely different entity and a stroke of electional genius. Let’s forget about geometry for one minute and think instead of essential nature. An aspect such as an opposition has meaning only insofar as natures oppose each other. In this case, the Moon is in the late degrees of Libra and Saturn in the early degrees of Taurus. The opposition of nature would occur if the Moon were in Scorpio.
Planets and luminaries, not aspects, have orbs. The Nodes emit no light and therefore have no orbs, for that is the basis of orbs in the first place. They are orbs of light. Although a modern aspectarian would view Saturn as squared the Nodes, by nature they are in fact trine and of the same element.
In fact, we can see that the astrologers were working within a relatively small window to find the closest thing to a perfect time. The perfect election exists only in the mind of God. A good election is comprised of the best possible moment, accentuating the beneficial and minimizing the malefic towards a desired end.
It is surely no coincidence that the Moon has entered the 12th Lunar Mansion, Al Simak. The meaning of this Mansion is “The Unarmed. Causes marital love, cures the sick … With Moon here, dig but do not marry or travel.” The astrologers might have prefered it were at the entrance degree of 22 Libra 43; but that would have left Mars above the horizon and the election would have been spoiled.
What we said about the Moon and Saturn, we can say about Mercury and Saturn. We find Mercury in the late degrees of Cancer which, like Libra is Cardinal. Fixed does not square or oppose Cardinal. It is a question of essential nature. So, the “Grand Cross” is in fact a geometric illusion and nothing more. Being in orb is not the point. Essential nature is.
Now, let’s look at the Mars / Jupiter opposition. The sixth house is considered an unfortunate house, along with the eighth and twelfth. One reason given for this is that it cannot ’see’ the Ascendant.
Mars has just set. It is also the perfect place to put Mars because in the sixth House he is like a tiger in a cage. He is said to be in his Joy in this house. The astrologers probably thought that Mars was rendered far less harmful because of his house placement and the fact that he’s in sect. At any rate, this is the chart the astrologers selected and must have felt that Mars was sufficiently subdued. The only other explanations that occur to me at this time is that their intentions were malicious or they were incompetent beyond imagination, neither of which are at all convincing.
This great new centre of learning has Jupiter in his own sign as the life blood of this new city, as the Ascendant is the health of the native. The Sun in the eighth place, by the rule of 5 is in the ninth house. This is the House of God and the Sun finds his Joy here in the royal sign of Leo. Here we find the Lord of the Geniture. The Arabic Part of Faith is found in the same house. The Part of Spirit is in partile conjunction with the Midheaven.
A protective Venus, disposited by the eleventh house Moon in Venusian Libra is placed in the house of partners and enemies. The enemies of Baghdad are rendered benign, as they have been for the majority of the city’s history. The eleventh house supports the tenth, which is in turn informed by the ninth. Baghdad was the greatest centre of learning and culture when Europe was a comparatively primitive backwater.
In this cursory reading of this election, it is evident that these astrologers were truly masters of the art. This also serves as a striking example of how a modern and traditional astrologer would view this election in the first place. The timing is ingenious from a classical point of view; yet the same chart seems mere folly when viewed through the lense of post enlightenment astrological theory.
In response to several thoughtful comments and queries (and two really obnoxious ones) regarding this article, I’ve added two other versions of the same chart. The first is Whole Sign. The second is Whole Sign using the Sidereal zodiac. The latter was mentioned by Mark and I think it deserves some close study. I’ve set the charts up as thumbnails so you can comment on them individually if you prefer.
Whole Sign – Tropical
Whole Sign – Sidereal