Father Christmas & The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

The Longest Night must pass before the waxing of the Light. A Blessed and Merry Yule to all my friends, family and associates. At the time of the Solstice, we have the image of the Centaur giving way to Capricorn with the Holly King, appropriately riding a Goat.

St. Nicholas magazine cover art by Canadian-born illustrator Norman Price, Christmas Number, December 1912

There are some variations on the theme of the Holly and the Oak Kings. First of all, they are two faces of the same life force, with strong natural, seasonal, agricultural and mythical significance. Form a traditional astrological point of view, the two signs of Saturn oppose both luminaries – Capricorn opposes the domicile of the Moon and Aquarius the domicile of the Sun. It is, after all, a dark time of year with the seeds of the waxing light.Beyond all other considerations, the celebrations taking place cross-culturally and around the world celebrate and exalt this seed of light.

The story of Pan and his contest with Apollo is an archetypal portrayal of Saturn vs the Sun. Pan is remembered for competing with his flute against Apollo’s lyre. Rhe contest was judged by Timolus to be inferior to Apollo’s lyre. Everyone present agreed with the judgment except for King Midas, who considered it unjust. For his insolence, Midas acquired, by the will of Apollo, the ears of an ass, which he tried, unsuccessfully, to conceal under a turban.

I’m also reminded of the passage by C.S. Lewis wherein Mr. and Mrs. Beaver tell the children that Narnia is under the spell of a malevolent despot. There is neither joy nor peace. Narnia has become a land where hope is little more than an act of folly and oppression is the order of the night,  Every day is as if it is “always winter but never Christmas.” Not long after, there is the sound of sleigh bells and it becomes apparent that the dark force is losing its strength.

Lewis is drawing from ancient sources and a theme that is ubiquitous. Christmas is, of course, a Christian festival, but The Oak King and the Holly King each rule for half the year. The evergreen holly and the sacred oak symbolically vanquish each other every six months, to rule for half the year. In reality, they are two sides of the same force. Indeed, the etymology of the word Holly in Latin means the holm-oak or evergreen oak (Quercus ilex).

These battles are usually considered to take place at the Solstices, but this seems to be the result of a misunderstanding regarding the nature of the seasons.

The battles take place at the Equinoxes – Samhain, and Beltane so that the Oak King is at his strongest during Midsummer or Litha, and the Holly King is dominant during Yule. In the Celtic tradition, Samhain is the end of Summer and the beginning of a new year. Beltane is a time of new life – a celebration of mating and regeneration. The association of Pan with Capricorn shouldn’t be missed. At his peak, the Holly King is very much like the Lord of Misrule, thriving as he does under two consecutive Saturnine signs.

Pan and Daphnis 4, the inventor of the bucolic poem. 7222: Gruppo marmoreo di Pan e Dafni. Collezione Farnese. Forse da un prototipo dello scultore rodio Eliodoro. National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

I think Lewis is also pointing to a parallel tradition in which a faun might be interpreted as a child of Pan. In the engraving above, Father Christmas or the Holly King has an unmistakably lecherous grin and he appears to be well- stocked up with wine. The goat is synonymous with lust and of course, Pan himself is half goat.  We have a mischievous  Father Christmas who could also be seen as the Lord of Misrule, found at the center of Saturnalia. The Holly Kings is also merry. The mythic elements are also decidedly chthonic and celebratory of nourishment found in barren places. Goats thrive in the most hostile environments due to their extraordinary sure-footedness and ability to find food even in the most remote places, including high elevations and extreme temperatures.

This 1835 drawing depicts “Father Christmas” being ferried by a goat.
Wikimedia Commons / University of St Andrews Library

It would be naive to interpret the Holly King as a Santa Claus, but the fact is they will forever be associated with most of the same themes that we associate with Christmas and Yule and the dozens of other festival occurring at the same time. Pan is the Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Syd Barret, a Capricorn, chose this title for Pink Floyd’s first studio lp. No doubt, he got the namer and the inspiration from ‘The Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame; illustrated by Nancy Barnhart and  Published 1913. The Piper goes back much further, however, and he was the subject of Pre-raphaelite artists.

Pan’s is a primal music and his nature is the origin of the word ‘panic.’ But authentic music is not merely cerebral. It evokes other states of consciousness – some sweet and some dark

The Season is a celebration of Peace and Good-Will as much as it is a recognition of our most primal nature and the transmutation required to embrace both. We are all the Piper at the Gates.

The Turning of the Wheel – Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice – Capricorn Ingress of the Sun – Dec 21 2017, 4:27:52 PM  GMT

I believe that the pivotal charts for the two Equinoxes and Solstices are not so much a time for analysis as they are of seasonal observation. They are times of celebration. I will make just a few brief observations on the chart for the time of the Solstice. Before we do that, I’d like to take some time to recognize the nature and symbolism of the Winter Solstice.

This is a particularly auspicious day for people of widely diverse cultures, ranging from the St Lucia Day celebrations in Scandinavia, Saturnalia and its modern variants, Chanukah, Christmas and many Pagan celebrations that go back to the dawn of time. Less well known perhaps is the Persian festival Yalda, or Shab-e Yalda . It’s a celebration of the Winter Solstice in Persia that began in ancient times. It marks the end of the month of Azar. Yalda is symbolic of the victory of light over dark ar the time of the longest night. It is the birthday assigned to the Sun god, Mithra.  There are family celebrations with traditional foods like nuts and pomegranates. The intent is to stay awake all night long in order to welcome the rising Sun.

In my indigenous Celtic tradition, we bring the symbolism of Father Christmas, holly, the Yule Log, Mistletoe, the Christmas Tree and almost everything else we think of at this time of year in European cultures and increasingly in Asian ones as well. Yule is a Pagan holiday that celebrates the Winter Solstice. Every detail has significance. While it is true that Santa Claus and the Christmas tree also originate in part from different, but parallel traditions, the core symbolism of the point of greatest darkness is the seed for the renewal of the light – the waning of the light gives way to the waxing of the light force.

The Celtic Wheel of the Year

The symbolism is shown in the wheel of the year, constantly turning, waxing and waning throughout the year. On this spoke of the wheel,  the Oak King, representative of the light half of the year, changes places with the Holly King, representing the dark half of the year. This ensures that the light and warmth of the Sun will begin to wax each day until the cycles begin again. The universality of celebrations with similar themes are evidence of our deep connection to the cycles of Earth and Heaven.

On this particular Winter Solstice, of particular note is that Saturn enters his own domicile of Capricorn on the day of the Solstice. This is a very good thing. Saturn is relatively miserable in Sagittarius and when Saturn is in a sign that is not congenial, it augurs for more difficulties. You might think of this as something of a homecoming, with Saturn stepping into Capricorn with the Sun.

The warm expressiveness of the Sun is contrasted with the cold, dry astringency of Saturn.  Still, I see this as more of a congenial meeting, particularly because Saturn is in Cazimi. This is a very rare occurrence for the Sun and Saturn to be in this relationship right at the moment of the Winter Solstice. Saturn ends up with the highest score when accidental dignities are considered. It’s an auspicious event to see Saturn enter into his own domicile in this way.

To better understand Cazimi, it’s important to note that traditional astrologers maintain that the proximity of Saturn to the Sun, within approximately 10 degrees, is combust. Combustion is a term of Medieval origin that indicates that a planet is, as it were,  swallowed by the beams or fire of the Sun. When a planet is combust, it won’t be visible. Because light is an essential element in traditional astrology, this further points towards the poor condition of the planet. However, the ancient astrological tradition also recognizes an important exception. This exception is named Cazimi, a transliteration of the Arabic term kaṣmīmī. This empowers the planet greatly. Saturn, as William Lilly stated  “will be ’wonderous strong.’

The Almuten or Guardian Spirit of the moment is Jupiter.  He is the Face ruler of the Sun but has none of the essential Dignity rulers of the Sun.  Jupiter then collects light from both luminaries. This makes him a more powerful participant than may be obvious at first glance.  Mars has greater dignity and is in his domicile. These two in the Fifth House under Mars can be a boisterous combination.  The more difficult elements are not so easily obvious either. For example, the Moon is in the Eighth House. This is the House of death and the place of Aquarius in the Thema Mundi and she is the ruler of the Ascendant. This augurs caution, particularly in London at this time.  This a wonderful time to celebrate at home with family and loved ones.

Feat on Yalda Night

Reading Māshā’allāh : Sassanian Ayanamsa

The Sassanid Palace at Sarvestan Shiraz Iran – Persian: kakh-eh Sassani-ye Sarvestan – Photo- Javad Jowkar

Before we begin, I would like to make it abundantly clear that it is not my intention to replace the chart we have for the foundation of Baghdad This is in most respects as well sourced as can be expected. What I would like to, however, is to explore what happens when we decide not to take the best of intentions as the only possible motivation and that, further, the shifting of one element in the charts’ construction can change the meaning dramatically and with often unexpected results. Scientists and other researchers understand the necessity of ridding ourselves, as much as is humanly possible, of preconceptions. I think it only fair to read Māshā’allāh using the Sassanian Ayansama to see what might be found. I will add that this study makes me uncomfortable for all the right reasons and I most certainly mean no disrespect to Māshā’allāh.

Māshā’allāh (from mā shā’ Allāh, i.e. “that which God intends”) was a Jewish astrologer from Basra. Ibn al-Nadīm says in his Fihrist that his name was Mīshā, meaning Yithro (Jethro).  Māshā’allāh was one of the leading astrologers in the eighth- and early ninth-century Baghdad under the caliphates from the time of al-Manṣūr to Ma’mūn, and together with al-Nawbakht worked on the horoscope for the foundation of Baghdad in 762. (See Māshā’allāh ibn Atharī (or Sāriya) [Messahala]

13-th century manuscript, drawn by Al-Wasiti of the celebrated book “The Assemblies”. Written by Hariri, shows a library in Baghdad

The chart that he was commissioned for the construction of Baghdad comes down to us from Al Biruni, a fellow Persian from modern-day Uzbekistan / Turkmenistan, in his monumental work The Chronology of Nations.  He is less commonly known by his full name of Abū Rayḥān Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Al-Bīrūnī (4/5 September 973 – 13 December 1048).  Biruni gives us the time, place and date, but makes no mention of the House System or Ayanamsa used for the chart. It’s normally considered that Māshā’allāh used Whole Signs and we know his most famous student did also. This still leaves the thorny question of which Ayanamsa he used.

If he used the Sassanian Ayanamsa along with material available to him in the Greater Bundahishn. This would change a great many things and would certainly challenge some of our more cherished notions, such as the Chart for Baghdad being done in good faith in the hope of the greatest possible benevolence. Before proceeding any further, it needs to be said that this chart has been subjected to all kinds of tortuous logic by several astrologers, including my initial article on this chart a decade ago. It has always seems to have been discussed with a touch of reticence.

This is no more than a ‘what if’ because we cannot absolutely prove it either way.  As a Persian Jew, Māshā’allāh had good reasons to dislike and resent the Islamic invasion of Persia and the slaughter of Jewish tribes in the Arabian peninsula and elsewhere. Jews had enjoyed a good life in Persia for millennia, as they do to this day. It would be extraordinary if he had no reservations whatsoever.

Here we have the chart with all the information passed on to us by Al Biruni, using Whole Sign houses, calculated using the Sassanian Ayanamsa.  This strikes me as a struggling chart with little to commend it.  But the chart has never been unequivocally beneficent in any of its forms, using other house systems and the sidereal zodiac, for example. This has been part of the confusion. Baghdad was indeed a great centre of learning with widespread influence, both through space and time. However, it has also suffered excessive calamities and violence over the centuries and still suffers to this day.

A brief history of the city shows us that Baghdad’s early meteoric growth was stifled due to problems within the Caliphate itself, including a relocation of the capital to Samarra (during 808–819 and 836–892), the loss of the western and easternmost provinces, and periods of political domination by the Iranian Buwayhids (945–1055) and Seljuk Turks (1055–1135).

Nevertheless, Baghdad held her place and continued as a major cultural and commercial centre in the Islamic world. Then tragedy struck on a massive scale. On February 10, 1258,  the city was sacked by the Mongols under the command of Hulagu Khan. The Mongols killed most of the inhabitants, including the Abbasid Caliph Al-Musta’sim. They also destroyed large sections of the city. Even the canals and dikes forming the city’s irrigation system were destroyed. The attack ended Abbasid Caliphate. It has often been noted that Islamic civilization never completely recovered.

In 1401, Baghdad was again vanquished by Timur. So it continued, until the incursion of the Ottoman Turks. It’s difficult to make the case that Bagdad has not had far more than its share of sorrows and reversals of fortune.  It is equally difficult not to recognize the measure of success and abundance.

We are used to thinking of the Royal Stars of Persia – the Watchers of the Directions –  as Regulus, Aldebaran, Fomalhaut, and Antares, representing the four Fixed Signs and hear we see them on the angles. However, the Sassanian model put the emphasis on Sirius. canopus is used in Islam for the orientation of places of worship. For those reasons, I have included them. It is crucial to consider the Horoscope of the World which we examined in a previous article. In that schema, the House of Life (the Ascendant) was at the nineteenth degree of Cancer, the asterism Azara too was disposed in the star Sirius, which in the chart we have falls in the House of death at 24°18.  I cannot see how he could have missed this. He was certainly aware of the Horoscope and the extraordinary power of Sirius.

In the Great Bundahishn

in Chapter 2, sections 3 & 4, in the translation by Behramgore Tehmuras Anklesariawe, we find:

“3. Over these constellations, He appointed four chieftains, in four directions; He appointed a chieftain over these chieftains; He appointed many innumerable stars that are recognized by name, in various directions and various places, as givers of vigour, by cooperation, to these Constellations.

4. As one says: “Sirius [Tishtar] is the chieftain of the East, Sataves the chieftain of the South, Antares [Vanand] the chieftain of the West, the Seven Bears [Haptoring] the chieftain of the North; the Lord of the throne, Capricornus, whom they call the Lord of Mid- Heaven, [is the chieftain of chieftains; Parand, Mazd-tat, and others of this list are also chiefs of the directions.”

Ibn al-Nadīm lists some twenty-one titles of works attributed to Māshā’allāh; these are mostly astrological, but some deal with astronomical topics and provide us information (directly or
indirectly) about sources used which included Persian, Syriac, and Greek)  He was a learned, brilliant and extremely talented man. We wouldn’t expect him to simply make a mistake.

Most strikingly, we have both Sun and Moon in Leo in the tenth house. This is a great place for the Sun, but the Moon is weak as a Lord of the Ninth House – a very important placing when higher education, the meeting of foreign cultures and of course, religion. We find Mercury Retrograde and conjunct the South Node.

The Eighth House of Death is lord of the Twelfth House of hidden enemies and Venus also takes the place of open enemies. Jupiter that rises in the charts using the tropical zodiac is here relegated to the Second House (the purse) in his dignity, but retrograde. Saturn is in his Fall in an unfortunate, but an unproductive house.

I see no useful reason to further elaborate on this. It is after all entirely speculative, even if plausible. I realize this turns the old enigma in its head, but sometimes an entirely new way of looking at something can be useful.  At the very least, it ought to raise awareness of just how different a chart can appear when the astrologer is using an Ayanamsa that may not have occurred. It also asks the astrologer to consider the cultural differences between practitioners that may very well, on the source be in agreement on virtually everything. This demands that we read far beyond the astrology itself, to the very ground of being which informs us all.

 

Beginning in 1211, Genghis Khan and his nomadic armies burst from Mongolia and swiftly conquered most of Eurasia. The Great Khan died in 1227, but his sons and grandsons continued the expansion of the Mongol Empire across Central Asia, China, the Middle East, and into Europe.

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Note: shortly after publishing this brief article, I became aware of another, written in 2003: The Horoscope of Baghdad: historical, astronomical, and astrological notes by Juan Antonio Revilla. The topic is not identical, but Revilla does well in describing context, methodologies and sensibilities involved in deriving the chart.  He has a familiarity with Sassanian astrology and discusses many things, such as the Tables of al-Kwarizm, which go beyond the limitations of a single blog post.

Hermes in Sassanian Iran – Transmission Part 1

Sassanian Empire

This article barely touches 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 an admirable 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 and 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 centers 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.  The second form takes places when places 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 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)

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.

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 complete monster to the Persian 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.

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 a 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 Sasanid dynasty, in Mesopotamia.

Unfortunately little is known about exactly how they were used.12 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 was 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 had 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, gˇihād against the enemies of the religion, alms (az-zakāt), and prescribe 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 maneuver 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 survived but was exalted by Islamic Persian artists in some of the most exquisite miniatures. 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 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.

Mercury : The Hypocritical Planet?

Gemini – Horoscope from ‘The book of the birth of Iskandar” Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

This article is little more than a footnote that concerns an intriguing passage I had the good fortune to read while perusing a publication of The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1997) : Following the Stars: Images of the Zodiac in Islamic Art by Stefano Carboni.  The book is out of print, but you can find a digital version @ Google books.

Mercury is known as many, many things, from the Trickster to the Psychopomp, the Magician & the Physician. His very nature is protean and either gender may be applied, depending on the relative position of the Sun. He is also known as Quicksilver and the Patron of Scribes. Mercury is by nature duplicitous.  The glyph for Mercury suggests he is a messenger of the Sun and Moon But the term ‘hypocritical’ has further implications, specifically professing a virtue that not only one does not possess while impugning a lack of the same virtue in others. The term ‘two-faced’ applies and that may be one of Mercury’s greatest possessions.

The word munafiqun (‘hypocrites’, Arabic: منافقون‎, singular munāfiq) was a group decried in the Quran as those who professed to be Muslims but were secretly holding antipathy to the Islamic cause and sought to defeat the Muslim community.  For example, sura ‘Al-Munafiqun’, Quran 4:61, Quran 9:67, Quran 8:49, Quran 4:140, Quran 9:64, Quran 4:145.  Hypocrisy itself is called nifāq (Arabic: نفاق‎).

The Islamic context exceeds the negative connotations of the English word hypocrite. The Munafiq is considered worse than an unbeliever, with the tribal connotations of a traitor.

Ancient Persian gold cup featuring two faces gazing in opposite directions, with entwined serpents. 4th century B.C.E.

When he is represented as one of the seven planets and luminaries, the traditional iconography is maintained. However,  when the same planet is read in actual astrology, “he “hypocritical” association is operative.  Carboni explains that Mercury was considered a munafiq because it “did not have positive or negative influences (in conjunction with a lucky planet, he brought good fortune, and with an unlucky one,  ill fortune.) His neutral and ultimately weak nature was reflected in his image as conveyed by the representatives of the two Zodiac signs he presides over, Gemini and Virgo… that Mercury not only did not maintain his attributes of the pen and scroll but also was superseded by the more powerful image of the Head and Tail of the Dragon.” (p.13)

.This particular twist would seem to be in accordance with the Sassanian schema I discussed in the previous article.  The horoscope of the World is based on Exaltations, rather than the Domicile basis of the Greek Thema Mundi. It is probably the case that the Sassanian model sought one that placed the Sun not only in Dirunal charts but one that places the Sun in his Exaltation in Aries the Tenth House The Exaltation of the Head of the Dragon is Gemini.

Bichitr, A Scribe, ca. 1625.

 We know the Persian influence on Arabian astrology was enormous and we also have the Persian Al Biruni’s view, albeit indirectly expressed.  In this regard, we can look to the talismanic assignments given by Biruni who places a Serpent in the right hand of Mercury. Carboni touches on this briefly in the same article.

>This ought to show that although a great deal of imagery and meaning is shared from one culture to another, that in some cases the meaning can seem virtually alien. This should always be borne in mind when taking concepts from foreign cultures, even when they seem to have a great deal in common. On the other hand, the cognitive jolt one might experience from such interactions can force one to see connections that would otherwise have been missed.

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