Isra and Mi’raj in the Zubdat-al Tawarikh

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Celestial map, signs of the Zodiac and lunar mansions in the Zubdat-al Tawarikh, dedicated to the Ottoman Sultan Murad III in 1583

First and foremost, I’m fascinated that a book on the natural world is prefaced with a painting of how that world is both sustained and came into being. The Celestial Map or Macrocosm above is the opening miniature in the Turkish Zubdat al Tawarikh or History of the World commissioned by the Ottoman Sultan Murad III. These very fine paintings were on vellum and the work was completed C. 1583.

The visual arts and astrology have long been inseparable.  The earliest star-lore was depicted visually in Sumer and far back into the Paleolithic period. The movements of the Heavens has always been of great importance and one picture really can be worth a thousand words when it comes to explaining Cosmologies.

Today, what we call history is not prefaced with a primary reference to the mystical creation. This makes these works most intriguing because they offer us a window into a mostly forgotten, but essential cosmologies. That is because we live in what we think is a linear, largely material reality. Other cultures, including the Turks, believed that time unfolded in spirals.

Miniature painting of a parade of two riding Gazi - Veterans from Rumelia - in front of Sultan Murat III from the Surname i hümayun 16th century CE

Miniature painting of a parade of two riding Gazi – Veterans from Rumelia – in front of Sultan Murat III from the Surname Ihümayun 16th century CE

Most importantly, we no longer live with the concept of divine origin. Traditional Astrology is very much aware of this reality The image contains an enormous amount of information. Most fundamentally, we have circles within circles At the centre is the source. Next the seven planets and luminaries are shown in their orbits following the Chaldean order. Beyond the orbit of Saturn have the realm of the Fixed Stars and it appears that the artist has chosen to place the zodiac beyond the black circle.

The seven planets and luminaries are shown in their orbits following the Chaldean order in a spiral. Beyond the orbit of Saturn we have the realm of the Fixed Stars and it appears that the artist has chosen to place the zodiac beyond the black circle.

What makes this a particularly fine work, is that it includes the Decans in relation to Lunar Phases as well as the twenty-eight Lunar Mansions, with Angels guarding the Four Directions.

Although the style is very much Turkish and Islamic in style, it is entirely recognizable as what has become known as the Ptolemaic Universe, The relationship between this cosmology and the Night Journey of Muhammad will become clear.

Muhammad-208Muhammad travels the seven heavens on Buraq

Muhammad travels the seven heavens on Buraq

Muhamad’s Night Journey is in Sura Al Nisra of the Quran and further embellished in the Hadiths It’s controversial these days. Many modern Muslims consider this to be a literal event that occurred at a particularly time and place.  – The Prophet rides on Buraq as is taken to Jerusalem where he ascends to meet the various Prophets from what is now known as the  Dome of the Rock.

The mystical version has is that the Prophet rose through levels of consciousness. In either case, there is an ascent of Seven spheres, an essential theme that has repeated over and over again. In Ayat 11 we have the following exhortation “And We have made the night and day two signs, and We erased the sign of the night and made the sign of the day visible that you may seek bounty from your Lord and may know the number of years and the account [of time]. And everything We have set out in detail.”

Portrait of Humayun, posthumously painted c. 1700

Portrait of Humayun, posthumously painted c. 1700 He was an avid astrologer.

This and other passages in the Quran support astrology as a guide to the wise. The usual context is in ‘to show the way’ which clearly refers to the use of stars in navigation but also implies other uses, such as choosing the correct time for an event,, medical diagnosis military matters and affairs of State.  If this were not the case, Islam would have had no cause to compose the type of artwork that we see here, or produce some of the finest astrologers in the Middle Ages and beyond.

The exhortations against astrology are most specifically related to attempting to know such things as the time of the last day and the resurrection. This is the prerogative of the Creator. Common fortune telling won’t find any more support in the Quran as it does in the Bible. Indeed, many sects of Christianity regard astrology as forbidden. In much of my work, I have tried to show the massive difference in intent, method, and applications of divination compared to the disreputable and unwise world of fortune telling.

Imagine for a moment that you visit your physician and she tells you that you have a serious illness and may not have long to live. That physician has just made a prognostication based on medical knowledge. This could be construed as prediction and in fact, it is. When a skilled astrologer reads a chart it for many of the same reason a medical professional might be consulted. Questions about physical, spiritual and mental health can and are addressed by competent astrologers.  Likewise, you might be concerned about making a choice between two or more things. The astrologer won’t make the choice for you, but they can offer very valuable information

Likewise, you might be concerned about making a choice between two or more things. The astrologer won’t make the choice for you, but they can offer very valuable information  There is time to seed and a time to reap. One of the greatest uses of astrology are, as far as I’m concerned, is in the medical field. Knowing your humour, the strengths and weakness you have are all sound applications of the Celestial Science. If you read scripture carefully, you will not find thes4e applications of astrology to be forbidden.

Makhzan al-Asrār by Niẓāmīمخزن الاسرار Folio 3v The Prophet on Burāq

Makhzan al-Asrār by Niẓāmīمخزن الاسرار Folio 3v The Prophet on Burāq

Above, we what is essentially the sane theme found in the previous paintings, but with a slight twist. This Persian Sufi painting describes the Night Journey of the Prophet. This work is far more complex than first meets the eye. The painting has deteriorated, but we can still see the planets, represented anthropomorphically. The Sun and Moon are represented as disks. occupying the first and fourth sphere, as per the Chaldea order. We can also see the constellations, but they are projected in such as a way that we have the illusion of looking through the spheres. Remember that this is illustrating Muhammad’s mystical Night Journey.

Returning to the Quranic position on astrology, let’s examine a few more quotations. There is a Sura in the Quran known as Buruj, an Arabic word meaning ‘Constellation’ or ‘Zodiac sign’. Surah Buruj is the 85th Surah in the Quran. The starting of the Surah is : “I swear by the sky where there are buruj…” (i.e Allah swears by th sky where are  zodiac signs.)

“I have created buruj  [Zodiac signs] in the sky and decorated them for viewers and I have also protected them from evils…” (Surah Hizr 16)

Prophet Muhammad-Miraj Isra

Prophet Muhammad-Miraj Isra

“How great he is, who has created buruj in the sky and placed the Sun and shining Moon over there…” (Surah Furkan 61 )

In Arabic Astrology, we find that the sign Leo is named ‘Asad Buruj’. ‘Asad’ means a lion thus the Arabic name of Leo, which is represented by a lion, is ‘Asad Buruj’. Similarly, Libra is named, ‘Meejan Buruj’. The Arabic word ‘Meejan’ means a balance.

The emphasis on the creation of constellations, given the context we have, does nothing to indicate that a study of the same is somehow haram.

Finally, we can take a brief survey of some of Islam’s most esteemed astrologer. Most are surprised to find that the poet Omar Khyyam was an accomplished astrologer(1019-1135)  He was a an astrologer of Khorasan.  He was so accurate in his predictions that he even understood about his own death. This isn’t exactly the same as knowing the time of his death, but points to a deep understanding of the art.  Many will be familiar with Sahl Ibn Bishr, Al Kindi, Ibn Arabi, Al Biruni and others.

However, I think the crown should go to Ibn Sina (980-1037) He was brilliant Muslim scientist who developed Alchemy. He was also very much devoted to astronomy and astrology, but other than his prolific philosophical works his contributions to medicine are immeasurable. His massive pharmacopeia is still in use among medical astrologers and natural healers.

This may seem trivial to some, but we have a great deal at stake worldwide. Literal Fundamentalism is not compatible with peace and has the effect of numbing the mind. The golden age of Islam did not flourish because of  a stricter adherence to Shariah, as is commonly thought by contemporary Muslims, but because it was a period of openness, serious study of Classical antiquity and a willingness to work with people of divergent faiths and ethnicities.

The Return of the Sun King

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What, you may ask, does the Philosophy of the Renaissance Neo-Platonist have to do with the Winter Solstice and Christmas? The key is in the image and nature of the Sun itself. Astrologically, the Sun is King and the Moon is Queen. At the time of the Winter Solstice, we have the longest night, to be followed three days later by the ‘return’ of the Sun, as he makes his way Northward in that hemisphere, bringing us ever longer days, until the advent of the Summer Solstice, just as the Sun enters the Lunar sign of Cancer..

It has become very popular to conflate all Solar Deities, to carelessly list their attributes, then to take a rather large leap of logic and dogmatically state that they are mere myths and that therefore the Christian version must be a fraud – a cheap knock off — devised to enthral the foolish masses. . It is said that the myths are really just the same story, based on astronomy and recycled to suit the zeitgeist. However, that is to miss the point entirely.

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Mercurial messenger of the lights

From the beginning of Christianity, it was received among others by Hellenized Jews.The Christ is Logos. Christian Neoplatonists were quite aware of a plethora of Solar Myths, but remained undeterred in affording Pre- Eminence to Christianity  The story of the Winter Solstice and Yule can be told from many different cultural perspectives. Here we have what might be called a Neoplatonic Christmas tale. It is among the most significant of all interpretations.

In his earlier years, Marsilio Ficino had an uneasy relationship with astrology, but by the time he wrote his treatise “On the Sun.” he had managed to wed Platonism and Hermetica with Christianity. He had become more completely syncretic. He seems at this point to be first and foremost a Neo-Platonists, just as many of the best known Christian apologists had been. from before Clement of Alexandria to the Late Renaissance. The newly translated Hermetica was in harmony with the traditions that Ficino was already at home with. He has now translated the Works if Plato, Hermes and Plotinus. Plotinus is regarded as perhaps the most brilliant of the Neoplatonusrs. Ficino was also a priest, so he was in a particularly advantageous position to talk about the Sun from a Christian Neoplatonic point of view that was very much in harmony with his form of Astrology.

The newly translated Hermetica was in harmony with the traditions that Ficino was already at home with. He has now translated the Works if Plato, Hermes and Plotinus. Plotinus is regarded as perhaps the most brilliant of the Neoplatonusrs. Ficino was also a priest, so he was in a particularly advantageous position to talk about the Sun from a Christian Neoplatonic point of view that was very much in harmony with his form of Astrology.

Ficino writes: “According to the Platonists there are three principles: the good itself, the divine intellect and the world soul. Only light clearly contains all of them in itself. It reveals the good itself, since while it surpasses wonderfully all things, it also spreads itself through all things, and recalls them to sublime planes at the same time with its miraculously preserved excellence and purity.”

These are of course  divine attributes and the image of the Sun becomes a symbol of the Soul, made in the Image of God. We are no longer generally accustomed to experiencing the natural cycles of the year as divine, in these days marked by conspicuous consumption, ignorance of the skies and a contempt for virtually any form of authentic philosophy. We have mostly abandoned true wonder for fancy and Truth for distraction.

The Sun is studied by scientists, not Christian Neoplatonists. For scientists, the very idea of Soul is synonymous with delusion and naivete. Yet is has recently been discovered that the Sun has what appears to be a kind of heartbeat. Who could reasonably deny that the Sun is alive? Who could fault early humans with worshipping the Sun itself, the bringer of light, warmth and without which there can be no life at all.

The three monotheistic religions are said to be under the following luminaries and planets: Judaism is Saturn, Islam is Venus and Christianity is the Sun. The days held to be holy by each is reflective of this. The Jewish

sol-invictus

Sol Invictus

Sabbath is Saturn’s Day; the Islamic is Friday and the Christian is Sunday. In fact, any Solar religion, such as  Zoroastrianism or Mithraism would take on the same association. Hinduism is under Jupiter. All the planets can be considered as children of the Sun King. Each of us is a child of the Sun, physically and spiritually.

 

Marsilio Ficino writes in Chapter Six of the Book of the Sun:

“All [traditions] locate the Sun, like a lord, in the center of the world, although by different arguments. The Chaldeans, for instance, [place it] in the middle of the planets, the Egyptians actually [place it] between two quintuple worlds, as surely the five planets are above it, and below it are the Moon and the four elements…. [Some] actually postulate the disposition of the Sun in this way, such that Saturn, Jupiter and Mars are elevated above him, while on the other hand, Venus, Mercury and the Moon are below the Sun. which proceeds as a king, taking the middle way. Going by other ways, weaker ones avoid him.”

Plato uses the metaphor of the Sun repeatedly. Perhaps the best known is in the Allegory of the Cave. Slaves are chained before a wall watching a shadow play they assume to be real. When one manages to leave the darkness, he is overwhelmed by the brightness of the Sun.    The Sun is a metaphor for truth or even God Himself. The Sun makes life possible by enabling a world of light. On a literal level, without the light of the Sun, we would be in darkness. It could hardly be more primal.

 

The Sun is a metaphor for truth or even God Himself. The Sun makes life possible while enabling by enabling a world of light. On a literal level, without the light of the Sun, we would be in darkness. It could hardly be more primal. James writes: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning;” (James 1:17)

Following the lead of Zoroastrian priests, Ficino is often seen in red gowns. This association of fire and the colour red lives on in a parallel tradition wherein Santa Claus dons read cloths and enters homes by way of the fireplace. It could hardly be more solar and it’s quite natural that Christians adopted this time of year to celebrate the birth of Christ. I should think that by now most Christians are aware that this isn’t necessarily the birthday of Jesus. Most are also aware of other traditions that celebrate Solar deities, many of whom preceded historical Christianity. That doesn’t change the fact that this time of year is sacred

I should;d think that by now most Christians are aware that this isn’t necessarily the birthday of Jesus. Most are also aware of other traditions that celebrate Solar deities, many of whom preceded historical Christianity, while some came after. That doesn’t change the fact that this time of year is sacred to a wide range of traditions, each understanding the deity in their own way.

At the time of the Winter Solstice, we have the longest night as well as a promise of the resurgence of the light force. In mystical Christianity, it is perfectly understood that what  is above, is below. That is, after all, the essence of John’s Gospel and in many other parts of the New Testament.

We live in times where if something isn’t literally true, it must be false. This has been adopted by what I call “scientific fundamentalists” such as Richard Dawkins. I have great respect for science,  but when there is a complete denial of spiritual vision I have to question its veracity.

Stellar Iconography of the Black Madonna

 

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Our Lady of Częstochowa Silver Plated Icon #3 (Matka Boska Częstochowa, “Black Madonna”) Handcrafted by Polish metal smith

I’ve been  drawn to all things Polish of late and any fascination with Poland will soon lead you to the Black Madonna. The word icon has been disrespectfully assigned to graphic links in computer technology or we use the wo5d iconic to refer to a famous building and even to the owner of Virgin Airlines. I wonder if it’s possible to miss the irony.

The astrological relevance is in part how the Feminine might better be approached. The Greco-Roman mindset is notoriously biased towards the masculine.

However, the word had a very different meaning until comparatively recently. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word as “A devotional painting of Christ or another holy figure, typically executed on wood and used ceremonially in the Byzantine and other Eastern Churches.” It is this particular icon above that I want to to explore here, to see to what extent the symbolism conveys the meaning of the Queen of Heaven.

Right at Christmas, at the celebrated birth of Christ, there are many constellations of interest, including the Norther Cross sitting on the horizon (or close to it) at 8:15 pm local time, assuming a flat horizon. The Three Kings that paid homage to the Christ child are associated with the stars in Orion’s belt. Nevertheless, although the icon is of Mary and Jesus, there isn’t anything that would imply that this is actually the Nativity.

You will be familiar with other “Madonnas” such as Isis who gave birth to a divine child.This icon and probably all others, do not describe a historical event, but an eternal mystical truth. In that sense, the icon becomes a window to the divine.

There have been ridiculous obsessions in recent years that have attempted to reduce Christian imagery to different versions of Baal worship as if the advent of the Christ was no more than a forgery to fool the masses into obedience. Such vicious cynicism in most unseemly coming, as it always seems to do, from those who have little more than the faintest idea of what they profess.

Isis & Horus. (Ptolemaic period?)

Isis & Horus. (Ptolemaic period?)

The painting is in the style of a Byzantine icon of the Hodegetria type – which is a Greek word that means, “She who shows the Way.” The description refers to an iconographic depiction of the Virgin Mary in which she holds the Child Jesus at her side while pointing to Him as the source of salvation for mankind. In the painting of the Black Madonna, the Child Jesus holds a book in His left hand, “extending His right hand like a teacher, ruler or in a gesture of blessing.” Tomziński and Golonka, Shrine of Our Lady of Jasna Góra Guide, 77.

Mary is called Queen of Heaven, as were Ishtar, Inanna, Isis, Astarte and others. There is an evening blue background and a frame of twelve six-pointed stars. I think the six-pointed star might refer to Solomon’s Seal, now on the flag of Israel, but it surely refers to the signs of the zodiac and the twelve apostles.

We discussed the Eternal Feminine in relation to Inanna. Taking the Madonna as the Queen of Heaven, she may also be associated with Prima Materia,

The eternal feminine has been defined as “a psychological archetype or philosophical principle that idealizes an immutable concept of “woman”. It is one component of gender essentialism, the belief that men and women have different core “essences” that cannot be altered by time or environment.” See Susan Abraham’s “Justice as the Mark of Catholic Feminist Ecclesiology” in Frontiers in Catholic Feminist Theology (Fortress Press, 2009), p. 207.

I think that’s fair as far as it goes, but with respect the writer has fallen short of the element of the Divine.  The eternal essence from which all is born.

Both Mary and Christ have halos that look lunisolar and they are identical, except for the stars. Christ is born, as we all are, of the Divine Feminine and she holds and sustains him. She is not Mary so much as the Queen of Heaven at this point. As I mentioned elsewhere, this is not primarily an historic event. In fact I believe the event is outside of time. This coming into being is perennial.

I have no real expertise in the iconography of the Orthodox Church, so I’m coming to these images as if I were doing so for the very first time. That is of course impossible, but the fewer preconceptions the better. The icon demands to be meditated upon and will slowly offer up its secrets.

I invite you to spend some time with some of the icons. I think you find, as did I, that they can speak more words ever could.The icon below is from another related iconic tradition, that of the Ethiopian Coptic Church.

Notice the four Evangelists, represented by the human (Aquarius) the Lion (Leo) and the Bull (for Taurus) However, the Eagle for Scorpio has been replace with a dove. The twelve apostles , the directions and all else produces a cosmic map, but I don’t feel it yields the same kind of mystical presence.

Ethiopian Icon Christ in Glory with Symbols of the Four EvangelistsCopticEvangelists