Astrology in Islam

It is He Who maketh the stars (as beacons) for you, that ye may guide yourselves, with their help, through the dark spaces of land and sea: We detail Our signs for people who know. (Surah Al-An‘am, 97)

Lunar Calendar – detail of an almanac cover page. Topkapi Palace Museum Library, MS B 309. “This calendar was important in defining the times of religious observances that were new to the Muslim community. The Islamic religion, whose rituals were based on the lunar calendar, frequently calls the attention of Muslims to the heavens in the Koran, demonstrating the close relationship with astronomy in Muslim culture. ” Dr. Salim Ayduz  (Muslim Heritage)

If you were to conduct a search on the subject of Islam and Astrology, you find several rulings by Muslim scholars. It is neither my place nor my interest in contradicting them. But I take exception to the way that astrology is falsely presented and I mean to show how the art is a part of the Islamic experience.  This passage will serve to provide a fair representation of the position of the naysayers:

“Not only is the practice of astrology is [sic] haram, but also visiting an astrologer and listening to his predictions, buying books on astrology or reading one’s horoscope are also forbidden. Since astrology is mainly used to predicting the future, those who practice it are considered fortune-tellers. Consequently, one who seeks his horoscope comes under the ruling contained in the Prophet’s statement. ” (See Sunnah Online). The prophet’s statement is concerned with fortune tellers and the annulment of prayers for those who visit one.

When the passage is distilled, we find that the chief complaint is that astrologers predict the future.  For now, I will simply state that predictions are also made by the weather bureau,  ordinary farmers, physicians,  political commentators and so on. The is no supernatural force at work, although as with the other livelihood a knowledge of the subject and a keen intuition are part of the skill. I mean to address this and other issues regarding what is haram or halal with respect to the celestial sciences.

To begin, I will attempt to create a rough context for the practise of astrology in Islam, recognizing that this is the same or identical in other faiths. The question of whether or not astrology is permitted in Islam is not a simple question by any means. I have worked to place the question in the context of various forms of Islamic understanding, including the Quran itself. I find that the question isn’t so much whether astrology is haram or halal, but how astrology is interpreted in the first place.

This is a key passage:

“Your Guardian-Lord is Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is firmly established on the throne (of authority): He draweth the night as a veil o’er the day, each seeking the other in rapid succession: He created the sun, the moon, and the stars, (all) governed by laws under His command.s it not His to create and to govern? Blessed be Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds! “(Surah Al-A‘raf, 54)

There is no question that the stars and planets are governed by laws that are above them. Plato, Plotinus, Aristotle, Ficino, Hinduism, the Abrahamic faiths along with all Islamic astrologers agree on that. This is why it is completely wrong-headed to consider authentic astrology as idolatry or placing the Creation above the Creator. That isn’t how it works.

The passage is a clear parallel to Genesis, which shouldn’t be surprising. There were large Jewish communities in centers like MekKa and Medina at the time of Muhammad. At the same time, the epithets for Allah – “Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds’ sounds more Hindu than Jewish. This is what Hindus call Vishnu. I make this comment to get the idea across that ancient Arabia was a culture of trade and with trade go ideas. They were not isolated.

Again this is made plain: “He has made subject to you the Night and the Day; the sun and the moon; and the stars are in subjection by His Command: verily in this are Signs for men who are wise. (Surah An-Nahl, 12)

There is no more fundamental belief in Islam than the concept of Tawhid. Islamic scriptures are replete with  This is but one.  Here we have the instruction to “follow what thou art taught by inspiration from the Lord: there is no god but He: and turns aside from those who join gods with Allah. (Surah Al-An‘am, 106). A term related to this is shirk – attributing partners to Allah.  It would take either a great misunderstanding of Islam and astrology to conclude that the wisdom conveyed via the stars denies the oneness of Allah.

The modifier “Sign for men who are wise” is crucial. Without special knowledge and insight, the further dimensions of meaning remain hidden. Indeed, there is no reason why everyone would need to know the greater workings of the celestial science.

Nevertheless, everyone needs to know the everyday calendrical information. In Islam, the Moon is of great significance for this and many other reasons, as the flags and mosque symbols of Islam attest. In the desert the Sun is pitiless and the cool of the evening a welcome respite. Pre-Islamic Middle Eastern lunar deities were ubiquitous and often considered male.

The image shows the phases of the moon in a month. This is a page taken form a calendar prepared by Sayyid Ahmed b. Mustafa Al-La’li, who presented this calendar to the Sultan Selim II in 1566. Courtesy of Sam Fogg – London.

Classical astrologers have learned much of what they know from the ancient sources of the Middle East, Greece, Persia & India. In what were the European Middle Ages and Renaissance, Islamic astrology came into what has become known as a Golden Age.  So the question as to whether or not Islam permits the use of astrology isn’t likely to trouble many practitioners.

I do not write this article with a mind to changing anyone’s point of view. I would, however, like to make it as clear as possible how classical astrologers, including historical Islamic ones, understand their own craft. In doing so, I make one short digression.  The idea of belief is itself somewhat problematic. It lies somewhere in a grey area between faith and the void.  We might also say that it’s like faith without understanding. For example, do I have to ‘believe in’ mathematics in order for it to work? Probably not.  However, I’m not likely to derive much utility from mathematics if I refuse to employ the tools it offers. Belief has no sincere interest in the examined truth and is content to accept what others have said is true.  The apprehension of truth takes time and effort.  If this were not true, the world would have far fewer bigots.

The unexamined life is not only not worth living, it is scarcely a life at all. Sometimes the question is as important as the answer. It very often happens that one is like the proverbial fish in the bowl, not cognizant of the fact that he is swimming in water because there is no experience of otherness to create that awareness.

I was impressed by a very fine article “Is Astrology Permissible in Islam.” by Ugur Alkan, a freelance writer who holds a B.A. in Communication and an MBA in Management from Fort Hays State University, Kansas. The article is well written, but what attracted me most to the article was the stark boldness of the title in the form of a question. To some extent, this article is a response and dialogue with Alkan.

Alkan rightly points out at the beginning of the article that :

“Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, condemns fortune-tellers and praise genuine sciences. In The Holy Koran, Surah Al-Maida commands “Forbidden also is to use arrows seeking luck or decision; all that is disobedience of Allah and sin”Quran 5:3. In this case, the critical question involves the application of astrology. Is it used to find propitious times in our lives or to benefit as a helping profession in social and psychological sciences? According to some scholars in Sufism (Islamic Mysticism), astrology may be permissible in Islam because it is neither illusion nor demonic practice. Instead, astrology is based on statistical knowledge which motivates people for further research and comprehension of the human condition.”

The implication is that the two chief reasons for rejecting astrology are that it is either an illusion or else demonic. The first stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of how astrology works. Many have argued, for example, that the planets cannot possibly affect us because they are too far away. Even Jupiter’s gravity cannot reach us. The planets are just rocks in space. Usually, that’s where the investigation ends. However, the planets don’t ‘do’ anything to us.  The Quran also makes this plain. The celestial bodies are guides to the wise. The best analogy that comes to mind is that of a clock. The clock doesn’t ‘make’ time, but it can tell us what time it is. Those who seriously want to know how astrology can work will find scores of articles on this blog, dealing with that question in one way or the other

Imam Ali Conquers Jinn, unknown artist, Ahsan-ol-Kobar (1568) Golestan Palace

The demonic issue appears to be more complex in Islam than in the other Abrahamic religions because Islam includes the Jinn. One is not free to imagine there are no Jinn, any more than one is free to deny the existence of angels. These are elements of the Islamic faith. They are as much a part of Islam as who vastly outnumber humans and are invisible unless they choose to take a particular form. They are smokeless fire beings associated Iblis, the Islamic Lucifer. However, there are apparently many beneficial Jinns. The prophet Sulyman employed Jinn to great effect and this is celebrated in the Quran. They have also been associated with arts such as astrology. We are then faced with the situation of interrogating Hamlet’s ghost to determine whether the spirit is good or evil – a liar or a speaker of the truth. Although one might turn this into an impossible quest, thwarted at every step by the haunting possibility that a bad Jinn is deceiving us into believing it good, there is a way through. We can know what is good by what it produces. If true astrologers can provide medical insights, auspicious dates for doing anything from starting the building of Baghdad to planting celery, identifying areas of conflict between nations and between a brother and sister, we ought to rule out the agency of evil beings.

Jinn vastly outnumber humans and are invisible unless they choose to take a particular form. They are smokeless fire beings associated with Iblis and they can live for several hundred years.

However, there are beneficial Jinn. The prophet Sulyman employed Jinn to great effect and this is celebrated in the Quran. They have also been associated with arts such as astrology. We would otherwise be faced with the situation of interrogating Hamlet’s ghost to determine whether the spirit is good or evil – a liar or a speaker of the truth. Although one might turn this into an impossible quest, thwarted at every step by the haunting possibility that a bad Jinn is deceiving us into believing it good, there is a way through. We can know what is good by what it produces. There is nothing particularly different about this than things we do every day. A good recipe is judged by what the dish tastes like. If true astrologers can provide medical insights, auspicious dates for doing anything from starting the building of Baghdad to plating celery, identifying areas of conflict between nations and between a brother and sister, we ought to rule out the agency of evil beings. However, I’m in no position to deny that some forms of mediumship involving an alleged communication with spirits is mere fiction. Such is neither my expertise or interest.

Although one might turn this into an impossible quest, thwarted at every step by the haunting possibility that a bad Jinn is deceiving us into believing it good, there is a clear way through. We can know what is good by what it produces. If competent astrologers can provide invaluable medical insights, auspicious dates for doing anything from starting the building of Baghdad to planting celery, predicting the weather, identifying areas of conflict between nations and between a brother and sister, we ought to rule out the agency of evil beings.

In the Tasfir of Ibn Khatir – Imam Ahmad recorded from Az-Zubayr that he commented on the Ayah:

“A group of [Jinn] went towards Tihamah and found Allah’s Messenger while he was at a place called Nakhlah along the way to the `Ukaz market. He was leading his Companions in the Fajr prayer. When the Jinns heard the recitation of the Qur’an, they stopped to listen to it, and then they said: `By Allah! This is what has prevented you from eavesdropping on the news of the heavens.’ Then they returned to their people and told them: `Our people! We certainly have heard an amazing recitation (the Qur’an), it guides to the right path. So we have believed in it, and we will join none in worship with our Lord.’ So Allah revealed to His Prophet,”

﴿قُلْ أُوحِىَ إِلَىَّ أَنَّهُ اسْتَمَعَ نَفَرٌ مِّنَ الْجِنِّ

That the Quran was a revelation to both humans and the Jinn is a central element in Islamic thought. There is a very moving document from the 15th Century that has the animals of the world pleading to the King of the Jinn for humans to treat them better. There is a copy in the archives

Yet the Jinn are not be universally trusted by any means. There is an Islamic account, which might be apocryphal, that nevertheless holds a lot of weight. The story goes that angels get together to discuss the future, only to be overheard by evil Jinn who then corrupt the truth while leaving enough factual content to deceive the fortune teller and impress the querent.

The Stars and Human Temperaments – this model, derived from Greek sources, such as Galen and explains the theory that illustrates correlations between celestial bodies and human temperaments. This was well-received throughout the Islamic world.

“The word Jinn means “hidden” in Arabic. In The Holy Koran, they are described as being created from smokeless fire. Jinns are the descendants of Satan like Humans are descendants of Adam but most of them are very deceptive and dangerous for humans. When God has a certain event planned in our lives, he commands the angels to create the conditions to fabricate them. Before implementing God’s plan, Angels discuss this future event. In some cases, jinn sneaks up and overhear the future event and passes this information to the fortune-tellers through Tarot, I-ching or any other objects. Of course, the Jinns don’t intend to be favorable of humans; therefore, they muddle up the truth of future events with deception. As a result, the truthful events overheard from Angels are embellished with lies to cause confusion.” (Alkan).

Further to this view, we find a great deal of confirmation for credence in astrology as such:. “In Islamic teachings, every prophet was gifted with diverse miracles. Prophet Idris, also known as Enoch in the Old Testament, was blessed with his immense knowledge of heavenly sciences. As compared to modern science, he had a more complex knowledge of astronomy. Some Sufi schools consider him as the founder of the science of the stars, also called “ilm al nujum” in Arabic. Historical records illustrate his birth in Babylonia and his migration to Egypt later in life. History also collaborates that astrology was first born in Babylonia and then spread to Egypt. Prophet Idris was supposedly known to be the first person to educate mankind that living creatures are under the influence of cosmic rays.”

“In Islamic teachings, every prophet was gifted with diverse miracles. Prophet Idris, also known as Enoch in the Old Testament, was blessed with his immense knowledge of heavenly sciences. As compared to modern science, he had a more complex knowledge of astronomy. Some Sufi schools consider him as the founder of the science of the stars, also called “ilm al nujum” in Arabic. Historical records illustrate his birth in Babylonia and his migration to Egypt later in life. History also collaborates that astrology was first born in Babylonia and then spread to Egypt. Prophet Idris was supposedly known to be the first person to educate mankind that living creatures are under the influence of cosmic rays.” (Alkan)

Alkan then refers to modern horoscopes wherein the Sun is regarded as the only star and therefore the knowledge that belonged to the ancients is lost.  First of all, no serious astrology considers newspaper horoscopes as having anything to do with authentic astrology. True practitioners of the art pay a great deal of attention to fixed stars.

For some, this may be all the scriptural references to prophets such as Daniel and Enoch may be all they need to accept the halal relevance of reading the stars.  However, it is very difficult for many people to understand the difference between fortune telling and authentic astrology. In large part, the difference is not merely in the technique, but in the intent.  If I say we are in for a very cold winter because I have learned how to read the signs of nature, such as the curling of leaves or the activity of crows, I’m merely stating that this is what happens when these signs manifest. This kind of divination is common among people who interact with and live close to the natural nature. In fact, a Muslim colleague from Pakistan once told me that reading the stars is reading the signs of nature. If this is the case, astrology doesn’t differ much from meteorology. To refer to it as polytheistic is to completely misunderstand the nature of astrology.

But what if I say you will meet a man in a white suit on Sunday 21 August. He has brown eyes and you will marry him? Here, we have gone from reading the signs of nature and no matter what technique is used there are several problems.  We are talking about humans here and humans have choices to make. Even if this mas were to show up on this date in that suit, neither of you have indicated an interest in marriage. Can the reader be certain that the man won’t spill chocolate sauce over his suit, causing him to change it? The point here is that we are not really reading the signs of nature – I do not know of an astrologer who could predict with such personal detail, for a specific date. It is on these occasions that dark forces might be implicated, not only with Muslims but other belief systems as well. It is precisely because we cannot point to the action of crows of the entrance of a planet into a new sign, to explain the findings.

Muhammad Splits the Moon

A great deal is riding on the answer to the simple question “is astrology permitted in Islam.” This question ultimately goes far beyond astrology itself. There are very many sub-sects of Sunni and Shia Islam, There are many Muslims who insist that music is haram, yet music and dance are very much part of the Islamic legacy.

Some groups in Pakistan and Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, systematically destroy Sufi shrines or anything at all that could leave the impression that Sufism was ever a part of regional cultures. Islam has taken the Abrahamic hatred for idolatry to the most extraordinary heights, being seemingly unable to distinguish between the evocative value of art from the worship of idols at all. This was why the Bamiyan Buddhist statues were destroyed. It was considered a holy act and I think they were sincere, even if regrettably misguided. The world lost an extraordinary heritage site, going back to the Buddhist period of what is now called Afghanistan, but to a literalist who considers all religions but his own as idolatrous, their destruction was an act of piety.

The answer, if you get one at all, to the question: is astrology permissible in Islam will depend on who you ask, which source texts they consult and how they interpret them.  All three criteria are subject to a multitude of considerations. I have been in touch with various Islamic scholars over the years and while most will deny that Islam supports astrology, there have been a few that do. In all cases of those who rejected astrology, I found that they had a vastly different concept from me regarding what astrology actually is. Although there is a rich tradition of astrological use, including from highly respected Islamic sources. The fact that the timing of the construction of Baghdad was trusted to astrologers and that medicine was so inextricably connected to astrology appears to be better known outside of Islam than within it. Clerics differ wildly on many subjects, but with respect to astrology, polarized views are adamantine. Attempts to explain the true nature of astrology are mostly doomed before they begin. One of the fruitful paths is to show how astrology has been used by Muslims and particularly during what is considered the Golden Age of Islam.

Canopus the “Celestial Navigator.” – The star used for the orientation of the Kaaba. Canopus shines 1400 times brighter than our Sun.

Take for example the celebrated “Book of Wonders” by Zakarīyā ibn Muhammad al-Qazwīnī (circa 1203–83). He was a distinguished Iranian scholar who was conversant in poetry, history, geography, and natural history. He served as legal expert and judge in several localities in Iran and at Baghdad.  After traveling throughout Mesopotamia and Syria, he wrote his famous Arabic-language cosmography, ‘Aja’eb ol-makhluqat wa qara’eb ol-mowjudat (The wonders of creation, or literally, Marvels of things created and miraculous aspects of things existing).

This treatise has been translated into Persian, Turkish, and German and is concerned with subjects such as astrology, cosmology, and the natural sciences. The author was very fond of Pliny the Elder and other Greek classical works. as well as the rich sources then found in the Middle East, Northern Africa, and India.

“Book of Wonders” by Zakarīyā ibn Muhammad al-Qazwīnī (circa 1203–83).

This is but a drop in the ocean. Masters of several arts, like Ibn Sina,  born in what is now Uzbekistan, wrote voluminous medical works filled with thousands of pages of pharmacopeia and used even in Europe until a bit more than a hundred years ago. He was also an astrologer and he used this as an integral part of his medical practise.  He spoke several languages, was extraordinarily well versed in philosophy and theology among many other things. His correspondence with Al Biruni is extant and illuminating, for anyone wishing to get a deeper insight into the Islamic culture of the period.

There is a statement attributed to Hippocrates, although the written location of the quote remains a mystery. Nevertheless, it is by no means out of place with what we know about Greek humoral medicine. This was certainly taken to heart by Islamic translators of Hippocrates, Galen and others.  The alleged quote is “A physician without a knowledge of astrology has no right to call himself a physician”  We can also look forward to Guido Bonatti and others who were instrumental in the transmission of Islamic astrological ideas and methodologies. Bonatti was a great influence on the English Astrologer, William Lilly, who in turn imparted medically relevant knowledge to Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654). Culpeper was a friend and student of the astrologer William Lilly who worked with Culpeper on the attribution of astrological characteristics of both herbs and the patients being treated. What is seldom mentioned is that Culpeper knew of Avicenna and had access to his work. Culpeper refers to this as “astrologo-physical discourse of the vulgar herbs.” In his most celebrated work on medicine, The English Physician (1652), Culpeper’s lays out the relationship between plants and astrological considerations in the service of medicine.

The uses of authentic astrology are immense and have been passed on for the most part in scrupulous detail. This is not to say that the tradition is a monolith that can never be changed. In the words of Gustav Mahler: “tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire. ” In this case, the tradition involves a number of disciples working together.  We need to be clear that astrology was “NOT a hobby you performed in your spare time. It required a very good grasp of mathematics, astronomy, and writing, among many other things. Ergo, something you would

definitely not encounter among the general populace, as it would have required academic studies proportionally arduous to what you’d find today- the content might have been different, but you’d have to learn critical thinking, defending your theories, and learn about all the available material that preceded their “modern” education.” (Sid Meier’s Civis.)

Abū-ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn ibn-ʿAbdallāh Ibn-Sīnā [Avicenna]

Avicenna’s breadth of learning is extraordinary by any standard. His important is summed up in this entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“Avicenna synthesized the various strands of philosophical thought he inherited—the surviving Hellenic traditions along with the developments in philosophy and theology within Islam—into a self-consistent scientific system that explained all reality. His scientific edifice rested on Aristotelian physics and metaphysics capped with Neoplatonic emanationism in the context of Ptolemaic cosmology, all revised, re-thought, and critically re-assessed by him. His achievement consisted in his harmonization of the disparate parts into a rational whole, and particularly in bringing the sublunar and supralunar worlds into an intelligible relation for which he argued logically. The system was therefore both a research program and a worldview.”

Al Biruni spoke several languages, wrote an incredibly detailed and insightful book on the history, religion, and philosophies of India was also an extraordinay astrologer and is still studied today. There are dozens of others that can be cited, but this will not convince anyone who has decided that astrology is haram. Indeed, many of the most brilliant minds in Islam were accused of heresy and/or exiled.

Page from Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine – Courtesy of The National Library of Medicine

Muslims often opine that the decline in Islam is a result of not following the literal interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah closely enough. In light of the achievements realized when Islam was a relatively open religion, respecting and admiring, for example,  Classical, Indian and Persian antiquities, the appeal to fundamentalism as a cure for what ails Islam is not a case one can make without distorting history beyond recognition. The philosopher Al-Ghazali was rather like the Savonarola of Andalusia – except that Islam has not yet fully recovered from his eloquent but misguided call for literalism and fundamentalism, effectively closing the door on the extraordinary developments in Europe. If Averroes had won the debate, Islam would most likely have had its own Renaissance and Enlightenment. However, he lost and was sent into exile.

Of course, other religions, particularly some versions of Christianity have had their own iconoclasts and toters of pitchforks and torches, accusers and inquisitors. Even today I would wager that the vast majority of Christians would denounce astrology, if asked, only to check the horoscope in the newspaper because “it’s for entertainment only.” Few are aware that astrological ideas and imagery are woven into what was once called “high Church.” Many of the Popes had astrologers.

“Night Journey” attributed to Sultan Muhammad

This combined with a short survey of Qu’ran quotes will cause some to view astrology with an open mind and the rest will essentially go into a sort of denial. It’s very easy to find lists, for those interested.

Muhammad’s only son died at approximately age two and the passing coincided with a solar eclipse. Understandably, the father was stricken with grief, but he did something that might seem odd to us. He summoned all his companions.

“Prophet Muhammad wanted Arabs to eradicate the pre-Islamic era paganism and superstitious beliefs. Distraught by the death of his son, he gathered his community and told them that solar eclipse is an irrelevant event and does not occur in correlation to someone’s birth or death. The experience of Prophet Muhammad is considered proof that there is no celestial influence or synchronicity between such phenomenon and human events. ” (Alkan) This may well seem to contradict the Quran, but it does, in fact, agree with it. A single and fleeting astrological event like this shouldn’t be blamed on the eclipse.

The story of Muhamad urging his followers not to consider the eclipse as in any way related to the death of his son, because that is a pre-Islamic superstition isn’t a reason in itself  That is to say one cannot divine that something is a mere superstition just by saying so. The understanding and accurate forecasting of eclipses preceded Islam by thousands of years. The pre-Islamic astronomers were sophisticated enough to name and track the unfolding of saros cycles. At the same time, we are asked to believe that the prophet literally split the Moon into two pieces. We are also told that shooting stars (comets or meteorites) “are made as “lamps as missiles to drive away the shayatin (devils).” Al-Qur’an 67:5

 

Eclipse Lunar Moon phases and eclipse illustrated by the great tenth-century Persian scholar Al-Biruni.

For many years, I assumed that all Muslims took these stories as metaphors od a mystical experience as do I. The alternative is rife with problems, even more so than the Night Journey. The prophet literally flew to Jerusalem on the back of the buraq steed. met all the Abrahamic prophets and returned without being seen. Again, as a metaphor, it’s a wonderful story, but if I have no choice than to believe it’s literally true, that’s all well and good, but one cannot then claim a distaste for faith based on unverifiable facts.  It is impossible to ignore the fact that before and after the prophet, there was a highly evolved science of the stars that had precious little to do with superstition with demonstrative techniques and stunning accuracy.

I cannot help but think that Muhammad knew this. Perhaps the story has become corrupted over the years because the Quran is not so dismissive. Also, as a merchant, he had traveled a great deal and interestingly included the Chaldeans along with the People of Book. Abraham himself is said to have come from Ur of the Chaldees.  The name Chaldean is virtually synonymous with astrology and we still refer to the Chaldean order of the planets. The Chaldean star lore derived from Egypt, Persia, and India, but they no doubt influenced these cultures as much as they were informed by them. It is impossible to imagine that the prophet was unaware of the core of their beliefs of the Sabians (/ˈseɪbiənz/; Arabic: الصابئة‎‎ al-Ṣābiʼah or الصابئون‎ al-Ṣābiʼūn). The religious group is  mentioned three times in the Quran as a People of the Book: ie “the Jews, the Sabians, and the Christians”

“It is supposed that they influenced the practices of the Hellenic Theosebeis. While their angelology,  was based around the movements of the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. They found its greatest development in the community which was based in the Harran region of south-eastern Anatolia and northern Syria, who were distinguished as the Sabians of Harran from the south Mesopotamian Sabi’una Hunafa by later Islamic writers like Ibn al-Qayyim” (Creative Commons).  It isn’t unusual to think of the planets and luminaries as angels or messengers. Indeed, that is the most common understanding of the part they play in astrology among traditional astrologers from virtually all traditions.

Sabian “Star-Worshipers.”

The Sabians are a monotheistic religious group who worshiped in the names of stellar angels. This religion understandably became confused with the worship of the celestial bodies themselves, rather than their creator, as the dwellings or mansions of the powers above the visible orbs. Sabeanism was one of the archaic religions found all over the world in different forms.  In its origins,  Sabianism was undoubtedly a continuation of the rich tradition of star lore in the Middle East which go back to deepest antiquity. There was a later tradition that tells us that Muhammad was himself a Sabian before his conversion. The Sabians are monotheistic and the celestial world was of the utmost importance to all groups in the region and far beyond it. It is interesting that Canopus is used as the star of orientation regarding the Kaaba because the star is known as the Celestial Navigator. The greatest irony, of course, is that Muslims who consider astrology haram, really don’t know what it is.

The question of whether or not astrology is permitted in Islam, will, of course, be the decision of individual Muslims as well as sects of Islam. Nevertheless, from an objective point of view, the fact that astrology has been integral to the development of Islam and was used by its most brilliant proponents is compelling.  The Quran itself is replete with variations on the idea that the Stars are guides for the wise. Beyond that, I sympathize and understand potential problems in the misuse of astrology.

Jupiter and Mercury Conjunction Personified

The first part is the need for the discernment of spirits, as it is known in European cultures, but in fact emphasized by St. Paul. The true astrologer is conscious. The techniques take many years to learn, and much more to master, but in the end, one cannot dispel higher intuition out of the nexus.  One needs to be clear with potential clients who treat astrology as of it were a slot machine or something to enforce an illusion. Astrology is good and strong medicine, but like any medicine, the quality of the practitioner is the greatest consideration.

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Cancer Ingress of the Sun – Summer Solstice

The Solstices and the two Equinox are of great significance.  For Mundane astrologers, they are consulted along with the ingress of the planets, eclipses and a variety of other elements, depending on exactly what is being sought.

The rule has it that Fixed Signs signify a longer period of the effect than Cardinal, and Mutable is even shorter.  A Solstice or Equinox chart is valid for the season it heralds. Most obviously, each season is greeted by a different element. All are in Cardinal Signs. Cardinal initiates.  Aries is Cardinal Fire and heralds the Spring, Libra heralds Autumn & Capricorn, winter. Along with these markers of the seasons, there are some interesting elements that are seldom considered. For example. Capricorn is the Detriment of the Moon and Libra is the Fall of the Sun. Cancer is the domicile of the Moon, as Leo is the domicile of the Sun. The luminaries are considered to be Peregrine, so in all the aforementioned cases of the four divisions, there is always intrigue.

But first and foremost, these times are particularly powerful and should be greeted in the spirit of reverence and celebration, of conscious reception. This moment is a point in a much larger cycle. The Summer Solstice heralds not only Summer itself but the two Royal Signs – indicative of the Queen & King. The Sun and Moon rule only one sign each.   These archetypes are particularly powerful and the Summer Solstice sparks celebrations all over the world. It’s also the great pivotal point between the waxing and waning light. Just as Winter Solstice is the longest night,  Summer Solstice is the longest day. In a Celtic tradition, a flaming arrow was shot towards the Sun as it rose, adding fire to fire.

The Celts had eight major festivals and four of them coincided with the tow Equinoctial and Solstitial periods. The Summer Solstice is called Litha. It was a time of clearing, a time to banish evil spirits to make way for a celebration of the light at its zenith and assure an abundant harvest. Feasting, music, and dancing took place. Bonfires were lit in celebration.

This is where the grand picture of astrology comes into play. We are reminded that events of this magnitude affect us all in some way and recognition of this is important. This isn’t primarily a personal chart, but it is certainly a collective one. The image blow shows the stars in the constellation of Cancer the Crab: Manilus writes:

“Shining at the hinge of the year by the blazing turning-point which when recalled the Sun rounds in his course on high, the Crab occupies a joint of heaven and bends back the length of day. Of a grasping spirit and unwilling to give itself in service the Crab distributes many kinds of gain, and skill in making profits; he enables a man to carry his investment of foreign merchandise from city to city and, with an eye on steep rises in the price of corn, to risk his money upon sea-winds; to sell the world’s produce to the world, to establish commercial ties between so many unknown lands, to search out under foreign skies fresh sources of gain, and from the high price of his goods to amass sudden wealth. With heaven’s favor he also sells seasons of idleness at rates of interest to his liking, wishing the swift passage of time to add to the principal. His is a shrewd nature, and he is ready to fight for his profits.” [Astronomica, Manilius, 1st century AD, book 4, p.235.]

Most of the stars in Cancer are relatively obscure and rarely mentioned. However, the left claw holds the Arabic-named Acumen’s, which translates to ‘the Claw.’ Arabian astrologers also give this name to one of the Lunar Mansions. This should not be confused with two stars in Libra, named Zubenelgenubi, Zubeneshamali, the”Northern Claw” and Southern Claw respectively.

The initial portion of Cancer relates to the eighth Lunar Mansion (0 Cancer to 12 Cancer 51) named Aluayra or Al Nathra. In Indian tradition, this Mansion is good for cutting new clothes, for women’s jewelry and putting it on. Rain will bring benefits, not damage, but this is not a good time to travel, except for the third part of the night. Arabian astrologers added that it causes love, friendship, and society of fellow travelers.

With all these things in mind, the chart for the exact moment of the Ingress of the Sun in Cancer takes on greater meaning.

Recueil d’astronomie et de mathématiques. This is a magnificent crab, even if it looks like someone who never met one. The primary interest of this painting is the positions of the stars that make up the constellation.

There are a few salient elements I would like to point out in this chart. Such charts often either lean on the gloomy side or are manically, even blindly, optimistic.

Mars and the Moon are never a good mix. The Moon is Martial Scorpio is in her Fall and Mars is in his Fall in Cancer.  Like Saturn,  Mars is worst when the most afflicted. In the 7th House, he is an open enemy. He’s in the decanate of Mercury which makes him that much more explosive; nevertheless, something needs to trigger the outburst. This position on a chart for the Pacific coast is prime for a maritime disaster, but nothing on a grand scale, such as a major earthquake.

Mars in his Fall From: Metaliʿü’l-saadet ve yenabiʿü-l-siyadet Seyyid Mohammed i

The second focus is the 5th House. The Moon is Exalted in Taurus, with Venus in her Domicile and the Parts of Courage and Necessity. Moreover, Mercury is strong and resilient in Gemini with the Part of Venus (Eros). This is a veritable garden of Venusian creativity, involving Mercury, and the Sun. This ought to be an encouragement to creativity versus negativity, despair or simple lethargy.

Jupiter is in the Exaltation of Saturn, but he’s still Jupiter and in the 10th House. The 11th House of Greater Fortune has the Part of Spirit and Victory, but also Nemesis.

Human life on this plane is always an admixture of fortunes. The Summer Solstice is a time to celebrate the light in whatever way speaks to you.

Spring Equinox / Nouruz – 2017

Wishing Everyone a Great Spring Equinox / Nouruz The Chart is Set for GMT.

The celebration of the New Year in one way or another is virtually universal, although what is recognized as the new year differs. In the Western world, including that of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Winter Solstice is central in the Northern Hemisphere. Some forms of European Paganism take Samhain or All Saint’s Day as the marker for the New Year.  In Mithraism, the Winter Solstice, while Zoroastrianism, often conflated with Mithraism, takes the Spring Solstice and Entrance of the Sun into Aries, the Sun’s place of Exaltation

In Mithraism, the Winter Solstice, while Zoroastrianism, often conflated with Mithraism, takes the Spring Solstice and Entrance of the Sun into Aries, the Sun’s place of Exaltation

Reporter Shuka Kalantari records the sounds of a Persian New Year’s celebration at her friend’s home. Jumping over the fire is a symbolic gesture to start a fresh new yea

Traditional Astrologers always use 00°Aries. This calculation holds a very important place because it’s considered the Chart of the Year. The planet or luminary with the greatest Essential and Accidental Dignity is the Lord of the Year (LOY).  This year, the Sun is overwhelmingly the LOY! If the chart were cast elsewhere, where the Sun were below the horizon, and perhaps in a cadent house, it would not be surprising to find another body take his place as LOY.

Because this chart is of greatest use in the GMT Time Zone and with a northerly latitude, it speaks most obviously to the UK. I invite you to reproduce this chart for different regions. However, no matter where it is, that tight conjunction of the Moon and Saturn by itself doesn’t bode well.

Apadana relief depicting Armenians bringing wine to Nouruz in Persepolis

Nevertheless, this is no time to be worrying.  Nouruz has things in common with Easter, such as fertility (including eggs) and the theme of resurrection – the triumphant return of the Sun is all its blazing glory. These are metaphors to be sure.

Zoroastrianism is almost certainly the oldest monotheistic religions, with roots in  Sumer, Babylon, Assyria,  Persia, India and Central Asia.   Today, it is also celebrated in Afghanistan Azerbaijan, Russian Federation Kazakhstan Uzbekistan Pakistan and Turkey.

That Nouruz survives after thousands of years and calculated at the same time of year, testifies to its extraordinary power. Zoroastrianism is famously optimistic and the eternal flames are kept in her temples. This fire festival is one of sheer exuberance, joy, and gratitude. The Sun is the bringer and origin of life

Revelers jump bonfires and eat ashes to celebrate the first day of Spring and the Sun in his Exaltation.

“All evil vanishes from he who keeps the Sun in his heart.” – Indian proverb

Literary & Religious Aspects of Myth

In everyday parlance, the word myth means little more than fiction. However, properly understood, myth is not fiction at all.  Myth may be true, even if it never occurred as an historical event.  It is another kind of knowledge such as that we gain through dreams. An understanding of ancient astrology and astronomy requires a receptivity to mythic knowledge. Please note that the videos below are part of a much larger series on YouTube.

Ikhthus Unbound – Part One

Pisces in the horoscope of Timurid Prince Iskandar, islamic miniature, 1411, Iran - Wellcome Library, London

Pisces in the horoscope of Timurid Prince Iskandar, Islamic miniature, 1411, Iran – Wellcome Library, London You can see that the fish are not tied together. We can see the cord (rivers) in the background.

Those who follow my articles will know that I have all the time in the world, but not much for dogma. This is one those short pieces that ask about the origin of things. To get to the root of ideas, we could do much worse than study the Creation myths of a given culture. We will find that there is a great deal more in common across cultures than was once believed,

The interpretation of Pisces is, by and large, cliched and vague.  This is in no small part due to the modern astrological mis-association with Neptune. This is regrettable and I find that even some traditional astrologers have not been able to shake off all this misinformation off. It ought to be clear that a sign ruled by the Greater Benefic (Jupiter) and exalted in the Lesser Benefic (Venus) must have better qualities than are usually assigned to Pisces.

There has always seemed to be something not quite right about the assumption and teaching that the Fishes are bound together, causing all manner of difficulties, including psychological and spiritual pathology. I recently read comments on Pisces which claimed that the upper fish was Christ and the other, Antichrist. At very least, the bound fish represent conflicting natures

Turkey - 16th century manuscript - The whale ejecting Prophet Jonah. Ottoman miniature, end of 16th century

Turkey – 16th century manuscript – The whale ejecting Prophet Jonah. Ottoman miniature, end of 16th century

that almost always work against each other,  in a never-ending tug of war. Yet the venerable Vettius Valens also tells us that Pisces is “in conflict with itself because one Fish is northern, the other

southern.” (Anthologies, Book I. p.6). In the same paragraph, however, he states that the sign is ” scaley, sinewy, humpbacked [and] leprous. He by no means stops there. He adds “lewd, with some limbs missing” to his description. While admitting the great value of his Anthologies in the study of Classical Astrology, I think most of us are baffled by this and numerous other passages in his work. It doesn’t engender great faith in his views regarding the Sign. One has the sense that he’s actually referring to something else or he chose to write like this to put off casual readers.

Moreover, there is no particular myth that would insist on the binding of the fishes. The Pisces myths most familiar to us are variations on one Greek myth. The essence of all the variations is for all intents and purposes the same.

According to different versions of this legend, either Aphrodite and Eros turn into fish, two fish approach them and swim them away to safety, or they turn into fish AND two other fish take them to safety.  Whichever version you prefer, truth be told, it doesn’t really matter.  One way or another, the two escape from Typhon, thanks to two fish.

zeus-battles-typhon

Zeus-battles-Typhon

Threatened by Typhon, Aphrodite and Eros either turn into fish or else two fish approach and rescue them.  In either case, Aphrodite and her son, Eros are saved by fishes.  The Greeks were also familiar with the original Syrian story in which the fish of Pisces assisted at the birth of Ashtarte. The theme of Venus born from the sea foam is most famously portrayed in Botticelli’s Nascita di Venere. In other versions of the myth, Aphrodite and Eros are specifically on the shores of the Nile when Typhon, a chthonic force. tried to take them. This points again to an oriental origin of the story. Zeus is in an eternal struggle with Typhon. Again, this sounds more Oriental than Classical Greek.

Typhon corresponds to a significant extent to Seth, an Egyptian god associated with winds, storms, chaos, evil, darkness, strength, war, conflict. Zeus as a perpetual adversary of Typhon Ra shares many of the attributes of Zeus, such as being credited as the creator of all things. He was also the father of other gods like Zeus. Jupiter is of course now associated with Jupiter, but in this myth, he is primarily Solar.

The name for the constellation that has come down to us as Pisces which comes from the Indo-European root *peisk– ‘Fish’. Derivatives: fish (from Old English fisc, fish). Suffixed form *piski; piscary, piscatorial, Pisces, pisci-, piscina. [Pokorny peisk– 796. Watkins]

mapofgavinwhite1

From Gavin White’s. Babylonian Star-Lore

As Ovid tells the tale “”Piscis [Pisces], heaven’s horses. They say that you and your brother–for your stars gleam together–ferried two gods on your backs. Once Dione [Aphrodite], in flight from terrible Typhon [Typhoeus]–when Jupiter [Zeus] armed in heaven’s defense–, reached the Euphrates with tiny Cupidos [Eros] in tow and sat by the hem of Palestine’s stream.  Poplars and reeds dominated the tops of the banks; willows, too, offered hope of concealment. While she hid, the wood roared with wind. She pales with fear, and believes a hostile band approaches. As she clutched son to breast, she cries : ‘To the rescue, Nymphae (Nymphs), and bring help to two divinities.’ No delay; she leapt. Twin fish went underneath them; for which, you see, the present stars are named. Hence timid Syrians think it wrong to serve up this species; they defile no mouths with fish.” (Fasti 2. 458 ff . Trans. Boyle). There’s not a cord in sight.

fig06fish-avatar-of-vishnu

Fish Avatar of Vishnu – The Universality of the Fish as Salvation

The associations of Babylonia, Sumerian, Assyrian, Greek, Persian Indian, Persian, and Greek were highly significant. We are only now realizing the full extent of this exchange, adoption, adaptation and assimilation. The meaning of Pisces actually becomes clearer the further back we go. In doing so, it becomes increasingly apparent that the Ikhthus with an unbreakable cord forever holding it in thrall is probably both apocryphal and misleading.

“There is every reason to believe that the idea of the cord would only have been applied to these stars in the latter half of the 1st millennium when they came to mark the position of the spring equinox. Before this time the two component parts of the cord would have been envisioned as the two great rivers of Mesopotamia, the Tigris, and Euphrates. The origin of the ‘knot’ that unites the two cords represents the Shat-al-Arab where the two great rivers join together before flowing into the Gulf of Bahrain.” (White, Gavin. Babylonian Star-Lore p 216)

Ancient cultures understood that whatever appeared or happened on the Earth corresponded to the heavens. I have mentioned that the Egyptians referred to the Milky Way as the true Nile. Hindus believe the same of the Ganges. The Tigris and the Euphrates are of up-most importance for creating a fertile land that was home to some of the most ancient civilizations and believed to be the location of the Garden of Eden, variations of which abound in ancient narratives.

Kitab al-Bulhan Persian Miniature. 14th C.

Kitab al-Bulhan Persian Miniature. 14th C.

The place of the confluence of the two rivers corresponds to the Fishes, with the fixed star at the point of contact. None of the stars in Pisces are particularly bright. but if you know where to look, this star should easy enough to find. The name that has come down to us through Arabic means knot, but the image we usually see of Pisces with two fishes yoked and swimming in different directions is only one interpretation, unfounded in any definitive source. However, if remember that the cord is actually two rivers supporting civilizations and a great variety of agricultural endeavours.

The symbol of the Cosmic Fish is ubiquitous. I personally `find explorations of how such symbols manifest in various cultures, and even more so of those cultures have influence one another. The Fish is recognizable from Babylonian Cosmology, Greek Myth, and symbols in Hindu Metaphysics. From there, we can take a deeper, more informed understanding of the Sign and Constellation of Ikhthus

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” – T.S. Eliot:

 

jaffa-wishing-piscespisces-name-sign-and-glyph-on-the-wishing-bridge-at-jaffa-israel

Pisces name sign and glyph on the wishing bridge at Jaffa, Israel

The Magi & the Flame Part I

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The Nativity story is powerfully evocative, even for those who do not profess to be Christian, despite the fact that it is almost or entirely apocryphal. For centuries the festival of Christmas, allegedly marking the birth of the Messiah, has almost seamlessly blended with parallel traditions and folklore, such as Santa Claus and Christmas trees, flying reindeer and gift-giving. Few theologians still believe that 25 December is the actual birthday of Jesus. As we will see, literalism is not at home here. The original Christian Nativity narrative is related only in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The two remaining canonical Gospel writers don’t mention the Nativity and Paul never refers back to it.  The Christ of Paul is Christ Crucified. He shows no real interest in the life of the historical Jesus.

I doubt very much that there could ever be a definitive explanation of The Procession of the Magi which could take all elements and traditions into account. Rather, this is an exploration of the theme as it has expressed itself, even before the Christian narrative. I suggest that the story itself has so much power that it can accommodate, expand and deepen several traditions that coincide in some way with Christmas. It’s as if nature itself anticipates the “return” of the Sun. Yet there are no records, either Jewish or Roman that could confirm or deny the event. Nevertheless, the story endures and is passed on even by people who have little idea of its origin.

Interestingly, Luke makes no mention of the Magi.  Surely such an extraordinary event would have been recorded, if only by the other apostles. The meaning or identity of the star they followed has also given also rise to a great deal of speculation, but no clear evidence has settled the debate.  In the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew (KJV) the apostle writes:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

Benozzo Gozzoli, - "the Young King" (detail) Procession of the Magi.

Benozzo Gozzoli, – “the Young King” (detail) Procession of the Magi.

When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

Benozzo Gozzoli, - "the Middle King" (detail) Procession of the Magi

Benozzo Gozzoli, – “the Middle King” (detail) Procession of the Magi

And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

zfflorenz-via-cavour-kapelle-des-palazzo-medici-riccardi-zug-der-hl-drei-konige-konig-melchior-von-benozzo-gozzoli-chapel-procession-of-the-magi

Benozzo Gozzoli, – “the old King” (detail) Procession of the Magi.

The two accounts agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the time of Herod the Great to a betrothed virgin whose name was Mary.

There are, however, major differences. Matthew has no Census to report, no annunciation to the shepherds or a presentation in the Temple.and has him born in a house there and an unnamed angel appears to Joseph to announce the birth.

In Luke there are no Magi, no flight into Egypt, or Massacre of the Innocents, Joseph is a resident of Nazareth, the birth appears to take place in an inn instead of the family home, and the angel (named as Gabriel) announces the coming birth to Mary.[1]

While it is possible that Matthew’s account might be based on Luke or Luke’s on Matthew, the majority of scholars conclude that the two are independent of each other. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that tale of the Magi may well pre-date Christianity. The inclusion of them adds another dimension and underscores the status of The Prince of Peace.

a-magian-worshipping-at-a-fire-altar

a magian worshipping at a-fire altar

This is neither plagiarism nor wishful thinking. Those with a familiarity with the Gospel of John and the work of Philo will find them speaking the same language. Philo was a Hellenized Jew and prolific author of a large body of Neo-Platonic thought, set in the context of Judaism. His work On Creation is almost certainly the immediate source of the Logos or Word, which gives us the opening of John’s Gospel.

Philo wrote well before any Christian writing. John appears to be strongly influenced by Philo throughout hos own writings. Christianity and Neo-Platonism have enjoyed a harmonious relationship at the heart of much of Christian theology.

The Persian Magi were philosophers and priests. They were learned and skilled in medicine and natural science, including Astrology. They were prophets, although Christians preferred to use the term “soothsayers.”  The Magian religion was Zoroastrianism. Which had greatly informed Judaism, Sorcery was forbidden. They resembled the Brahmans in function and status. Their position and role in society were very much like that of the Druids.

Tradition has it that the Magi arrive at their destination on Epiphany, the final day of what became the Twelve days of Christmas. The Twelve Days is associated with Saturnalia. Twelfth Night is a holiday on January 5 that marks the 12th and final night of the Christmas season. The Twelve Days of Christmas are the twelve days beginning on the night of Christmas (December 25) and ending on Epiphany on January 6.  We can say that among other interpretations, the Epiphany is the recognition of Christ

Moreover, the number twelve has great significance. It’s the number of astrological Signs and the Apostles. It should come as no surprise that in ancient times the Sun was worshiped as a god.  If there is no Sun, there is no life. The association of the Sun with life itself became spiritualized, perhaps we should say internalized – a guiding light. We are in fact made of stardust. The Solstice is an astronomical event with major implications for life on Earth.

By the time of the European Renaissance, the Magi are invariably portrayed in the finery one might expect of a courtier. It became common to portray the Magi as representing the three stages of life. In fact what we find over the centuries is a practice of applying ever more meaning, as if projected upon them. This is surely the intent and the effect is to create a Universal story, with clear roots in the Solar Mithraism and Zoroastrianism expressed through Christian mysticism. The favoring of evocation over definition is part of the nexus.

Sirius

Sirius – The Star in the East

The “three kings” have also been associated with the three bright stars in Orion’s belt.  Depending on your point of view, this either confuses or enriches the story. The “Three Kings” illustrated here is part of a much grander design in the “Chapel of the Magi” commissioned by the elder Cosimo and the family has been insinuated into the paintings, creating the sense that the Magi and the Medicis are part of the same story. The artist has included the three sisters of Lorenzo which offers up the idea that the Procession or Adoration of the Magi is a Universal, one in which we all share in one way or another. Our culture will determine the details and some may never understand the mystical significance. It would be a mistake to insist on literalism or historicity.

The Three Sisters of Lorenzo de Medici

The Three Sisters of Lorenzo de Medici

Similarly, it is not at all out of the question that the Three Kings are related to the Trinity in the Renaissance Magi, but in the sense of one to adore each Person of the Trinity. These kinds of associations were in congruence with the syncretic philosophy of Marsilio Ficino, a Catholic Priest who was also a Magus, translator of the Hermetica and almost all the works of Plato. His magnum opus was his Theologia Platonica. They were also at home in the antiquity of India, Persia, Egypt and other rich cultures who, to a greater or lesser extent, informed each other.

The origin of the word Magi is Persian. They are astrologers and sages. not kings. The star in the East was almost certainly Sirius. The coincidence with the Winter Solstice is no accident. What we have is a Solar festival, but also a mystical vision. The Epiphany and the Procession of the Magi are not just something that happened more than two thousand years ago. If that were the case, the story would have little relevance.  They were perhaps not so much following a star as acknowledging and venerating a great light that drew them to an epiphany. We can associate it of course with the Winter Solstice, the longest night followed by the waxing of the light. The Yule log, the lighting of candles and merry-making seem to fit seamlessly into the story.

In Polish tradition, the “star of Bethlehem” is the first star seen to rise on Christmas Eve. Gwiazdka is a symbol of the “Star of Bethlehem, whose appearance was accompanied by the birth of Jesus. Thanks to the Star of Bethlehem, the Magi could reach the place of birth of the Savior. Today, we expect the first star, which appears in the Christmas sky during Christmas Eve (Wigilia). Only after it shines, Poles sit at the table, divide the wafer and exchange Christmas greetings.” ( see Polish Toledo)  The spirit of Christmas takes precedence over identifying a particular star. Literalism misses the point.

fire-temple-sadeh-zoroastrian-celebration

Zoroastrianism Fire – Temple Sadeh Zoroastrian

The Epiphany and the Procession of the Magi are not just something that happened more than two thousand years ago. If that were the case, the story would have little relevance.  They were not so much following a star as seeing a great light that drew them to an epiphany. We can read the event as a Solar pilgrimage and celebration that includes a rich tapestry of related traditions,  with sources reaching back to remote antiquity.

Ficino is most eloquent on this point: that the Magi were embraced in the same way that the Academy of Florence had embraced Hermes Trismegistus, Zoroaster, Orpheus, Pythagoras and of course, Plato. Ficino accepted that all these sages had drunk from the same well of the prisca thelogia.  He often referred to the Nativity in his writings, particularly in his letters and in the Apologia. He had a life-long fascination with the Magi.

Just as the Zoroastrian is not worshipping fire. The flame is an outer manifestation of an inner state of being. We are drawn to the light in many ways and in many vessels.

In Part II of this article, I will examine the astronomy and astrology of the event as seen from 7BC.

(This article was originally published December 21, 2016)

This Sumerian bas-relief evokes most of the core themes of the Magian pilgrimage with which we are familiar. In this case, there are Four gods standing before the Tree of Life with a Winged Solar Disk above them, which is the symbol of Zoroastrianism.