Al Biruni & Ptolemy on Aspects

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Abu Ma’shar

This is one more very brief introduction to the schemata of astrological aspects as expressed by Al Biruni in his Book of Instruction. The aspects he uses include the Inconjunct or Quincunx, refered to by Claudius Ptolemy as an aversion, rather than an aspect . Al Biruni has discussed the Inconjunct immediately before the insertion of the schemata. Oddly enough he opts not to include it in the visual presentation but gives a full written explanation. We will lok at what he has to say as well as Ptolemy’s comments on the subject in his Tetrabiblos.

Al Biruni provides a commentary for the schemata. Much of it is self explanatory, such as Gemini and Sagittarius forming and opposition. In section 373 he writes:

As the complex must follow the simple,we have now to consider the relations of the signs to each other.

Each sign is in Sextile aspect to the third and seventh left and right of it, and there is s sixth of the zodiac (60 ° ) between any degre of that sign and the same degree of those named. Similarly the Quartile aspect is a between a sign the fourth and tenth, left and right,  separated by 90  ° , and the Trine between the fifth and ninth, distant 120°  and the Opposite sign is the the seventh, 180 ° There are therefore seven signs to which the sign in question turns its face and which are consequently considered to be bound in aspect to it. The two signs which are each side of the one in question and their opposites viz. the second and the twelfth and the sixth and the eighth are not in aspect and are inconjunct. (Instructions p. 20).

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In section 375 though he discusses the relative strength or “power” of the aspects:

The  following is the order of power of the various aspects. The most powerful is Conjunction. i.e. meeting in the same same, then the opposite [Opposition] then the dexter Quartile, sinister Quartile, dexter Trine, sinister Trine, dexter Sextile, sinister Sextile, When there are two aspects the powerful renders the weaker one incompetent and takes away its power.  (Instruction 21).

Ptolemy writes :

All signs, between which there does not exist any familiarity in any of the modes above specified, are inconjunct and separated. For instance, all signs are inconjunct which are neither commanding nor obeying, and not beholding each other nor of equal power, as well as all signs which contain between them the space of one sign only, or the space of five signs, and which do not at all share in any of the four prescribed configurations: viz. the opposition, the trine, the quartile, and the sextile.Aspects-ptolemy-tetrabiblos-1533_Hervagius

All parts which are distant from each other in the space of one sign only are considered inconjunct, because they are averted, as it were, from each other; and because, although the said space between them may extend into two signs, the whole only contains an angle equal to that of one sign: all parts distant from each other in the space of five signs are also considered inconjunct, because they divide the whole circle into unequal parts; whereas the spaces contained in the configurations above-mentioned, viz. the opposition, trine, quartile, and sextile, produce aliquot divisions.

(Tetrabiblos p. 27)

Although there is overall agreement, there are significant differences. Ptolemy doesn’t specifically mention the Conjunction that Al Biruni put at the top of the list of aspect power is concerned. I get the impression that here is simply taking it for granted.  He was universally understood as including the Conjunction as far as I know.Astronomes_-_miniature_ottomane_XVIIe

Ptolemy makes no distinction between Dexter and Sinister. Most importantly, he doesn’t provide a hierarchy of power to the aspects at all. Neither Al Biruni nor Ptolemy discuss aspect patters, such as Grand Trines, Grand Crosses or even T- Squares.

Al Biruni’s statement that the most powerful aspect renders the weaker one incompetent is broad in its compass. When reading a specific chart we may have some difficult choices to make in judgement but he dose provide us many toosl to make that choice easier. However, as the statement stands alone, it seems reductionist.

Consider for a moment a hypothetical chart with a tight Air Trine. One of the   planets is forming a square or opposition to a fourth planet. Particularly if the square is applying, that is very strong aspect. It may even be  in aspect to a malefic, making it far worse. But I still can’t see how the grand trine is entirely erased from the equation.. massively weakened perhaps but not without any life at all.

Al Biruni on Directions

This beautiful compass is a few hundred years old. It is a part of Middle East exhibition in Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Compass – Part of Middle East exhibition in Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

This is but a simple introduction to determining and interpreting directions, using astrological methods according to Al Biruni. Abū al-Rayhān Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Bīrūnī known as Alberonius in Latin and Al-Biruni in English, was a Persian-Chorasmian Muslim scholar and polymath of the 11th century.

Today he is well known and respected by Traditional Astrologers, a well as by students of the history of medicine, mathematics, his insightful views on India and other nations from the point of view of one of the most learned men of his generation. In his The Book of Instructions in the Element of the Art of Astrology, written in 1029 AD Al Biruni provides a chart of directions. It’s very easy to read and has obvious applications in different forms of astrology It seems to me this would have the most immediate use in Horary as well as Weather Prediction. If you wish to go deeper, he provides a great deal of information about the nature of the elements and how they interact, giving very specific examples of  precise weather prediction among many other things.

directions The table can also be used as a stand alone reference for Horary and Electional work.  But there is more to it.  Al Biruni writes:

 “Aries denotes the middle of the East, Leo a point to the left of that towards the North and Sagittarius one to the right toward the South; similarly with each of the other triplicities. This Taurus indicates the centre of the South, Virgo a point to its left toward the East and Capricorn one to the right and West. Gemini occupies the centre of the West, Libra a point to its left and South and Aquarius one to its right and North. Cancer is in the centre of the North, Scorpius a point to the left and  West, Pisces to the right and east.” (Instructions p.8).

Astrolabe of 'Umar ibn Yusuf ibn 'Umar ibn 'Ali ibn Rasul al-Muzaffari,

Astrolabe of ‘Umar ibn Yusuf ibn ‘Umar ibn ‘Ali ibn Rasul al-Muzaffari,

If you use this simple reference tool with the knowledge of what combinations of signs, planets, fixed stars and other elements of chart delineation, produce what results you’ll find it very useful in predicting the weather, including such details as the direction of the wind This system could be used to find lost objects and  play a role in casting Elections.

Al Biruni is something of a genius when it comes to simplifying what might otherwise be off-putting to many readers.  He is deceptively simple.