Astronomical Code of the Ṛgveda: I

Sky battle of Kurukshetra

It has been my contention for a very long time, that if we were to somehow remove the Indian influence on astrology, we would have precious little left at the end of the day. Moreover, this source of wisdom goes back to the sages who composed the first of the Veda, know as the RgVeda. This would take us back perhaps 6,000 years and we can safely estimate that the oral wisdom predated even that by a considerable period of time. It is thought that Zarathustra was a Vedic priest, which would speak to the far reach of the Vedic cultures which extended also well into what is now Afghanistan.

The purpose of this article is to stimulate further research and increased dialogue with practitioners of ancient Indian astrology. However, it is merely an incomplete introduction and if it raises more questions than it answers, I shall be content with that. The title of this article is taken from Subhash Kak’s The Astronomical Code of the Ṛgveda (Third Edition)  2011 which has kindly been offered.to the public for personal use at no charge.

There are some splendid Western scholars Indian astrology, including such greats as Dr. David Frawley, James T.Braha, Hart Defouw, Robert Svoboda, Komilla Sutton, and others. At the same time, we can learn a great deal from Indian, Greek, Egyptian, Babylonian, Zoroastrian and another form of astrology as they exchanged knowledge in Alexandria. I have always seen this as a kind of alchemy wherein the end is much greater than its constituent elements. Many astrologers have found that Greek astrology, for example, seems to be missing pieces of the picture and this is complicated further by the fact that Greek astrologers didn’t provide anything like consensus to posterity.

Nevertheless, the number of Western practitioners who welcome what ancient Indian astrology may have to offer them is minuscule. I suspect that one of the chief reasons for this is a lack of knowledge regarding the background and we stall at the difficulties of transference. Most obviously, it is difficult to ask even a seasoned practitioner to adopt one of the Sidereal zodiacs. The requires one to accept different Signs for the same periods. Also, the philosophy, mythology and indeed mysticism of Rahu and Ketu and immeasurable more advanced and developed than any Traditional Western system. Again, one needs to go to the ancient sour es and attempt to understand a way of being that, according to scholars of ancient Indian astronomy, actually belongs in a different Yuga – one in which the gods lived on earth.

The astronomical accuracy of the ancient rishis is astounding. In the ‘Hidden Mysteries’, publication, Osho states::  The deepest laws of astrology were first discovered in India,” says Osho while speaking about the origins of astrology and the relationship between the sun and the human body” Ch 5, Part 1 of 6. Oshos’s assertion is impossible to deny. There is simply nothing that comes close to Ancient Indian Astrology in terms of sophistication and astronomical accuracy involving virtually unfathomable periods of time.. This implies that all other schools of astrology owe their beginnings to that tradition. Of course, the fact is, we know very little about who these rishis actually were and even less about how they attained their level of knowledge.

Pages from the Rigveda

As is the case in Persian astrology, there is sophisticated interrelatedness between the Creation stories and astrology. In my mind, the Classical pantheon as related to astrology seems rather thin and derivative.  Venus, for example, is a mere caricature of the goddesses of India, Persia and the Middle East. Writing on the Nodes in the Western tradition are mostly vague and never very useful. It’s painful to read William Lilly fumble over the meaning of the Nodes. It is entirely understandable that any reader that he isn’t quite sure what to do with them. Personally, I prefer to try things out for myself and I can say that no western writer has been as clear and profound as Indian ones with regard to that topic.

One can, however, take what one has learned and apply it in the spirit of its significance rather than. with recourse to dogma. Indian and particularly Hindu culture is one in which nobody is held to account for worshipping and thinking what they see as truth. India is unique in this respect and is always amenable to diversity.  Dr. David Frawley writes”India’s vibrant democracy and diversity of spiritual and religious practices is owing to its Hindu majority culture and the vast rishi and yogic values it is based upon.”  This quality ought to suggest relative ease in incorporating Indian wisdom into Western astrology. As mentioned above, there are in fact significant hurdles today, which would have been far less so in antiquity.

Nevertheless, it should be borne in mind that there was indeed a great deal of transference in antiquity:

“The Vedic system of knowledge, with an assumed linkage between astronomical and terrestrial events, implies a system of astrology as well. The planetary periods [sic] evidence from the Rgvedic code is at least a thousand years before such knowledge outside India. With these dates and the attested presence of the Vedic Indians in West Asia in early second millennium BCE, it becomes easy to see how the astronomical ideas of the ¯re altars and the Rgveda could have been transmitted to Babylonia and Greece.” (See Subhash Kak. The Astronomical Code of the Ṛgveda (Third Edition)  2011. In later times, there was a reverse influence, notably from the Greeks and Persians.

Most perplexing of all is internal material in the RigVeda and what it tells us of the ancient origin of the work:

In the Rigveda, reference is made to a certain constellation of the stars which could only have occurred ninety-five thousand years ago. Because of this, Lokmanya Tilak concluded that the Vedas must certainly be even more ancient: the constellation of the stars as the Vedas described it could only have occurred at a certain moment ninety-five thousand years ago so that particular Vedic reference must be at least ninety-five thousand years old.

That particular Vedic reference could not have been added at a later period. Other, younger generations would not have been able to work out a constellation that existed many years before. But now we have scientific methods which we can use to discover where the stars were at a particular moment in the distant past.” (Osho, Hidden Mysteries, Ch 5 (translated from Hindi), Part 1 of 6.)

To accept this, we would have to radically change our concept of history – yet this ancient constellation would have to be accounted for. What possible reason could there be for the writers of RigVeda to invent such an elaborate fiction? Conversely, If we accept the internal evidence, we would have to admit that our knowledge of the distant past is sadly lacking.

It may come as a surprise that the Rigveda there “were two kinds of year in use. In one, the year was measured from one winter solstice to another; in the other, it was measured from one vernal equinox to another. Obviously, these years were solar and related to the seasons (tropical).” (Kak p. 177).  Most westerners consider the Sidereal Zodiac to be of the essence in Indian astrology, but there is reason to believe that it was a later, perhaps foreign idea. The division of the year into 12 Signs and 27 Nakshatras or constellations is illustrated thus:

© Subhash Kak

The 27 Nakshatras are roughly equivalent to the Lunar Mansions (28), except the Nakshatras are considered far more in modern Indian astrology and I suspect this goes back a very long way.

A Russian by the name of …. discovered that rishis were aware of an 11 years cycle in which the Sun produced a massive explosion. He realized that the cycle was immediately connected to human life. He got into trouble for suggesting that revolutions and other major upheavals mirrored a corresponding Solar disturbance. The point here is that the outer Universe was known to be inextricably connected to all forms of human life which is the most basic definition of ancient astrology.

Pythagoras traveled to India and  Egypt and was particularly impressed by spiritual practice and beliefs he found in India. From the record we have, which is by no means comprehensive, his theory of celestial correspondence appears to beat in part indebted to the essential knowledge he discovered there and that this provided the impetus to develop his own system.

It should be understood that this modest article does little more than point to the relevance of the Rigveda and Indian astrology. However, there are some things that the western astrologer can learn from Indian astrology and indeed the Vedas themselves. Most importantly is the spirit of ancient Indian astrology. It is immensely practical and deeply mystical. At this point in history, I am somewhat pessimistic about Indian and Western astrology can incorporate each other, but that is no small part due to the changes that have come to be in the unfolding of Indian astrology itself. The simple case of the sidereal and tropical zodiacs is one such barrier.

In a subsequent article, I will look more closely at how the rishis were able to achieve such extraordinary accuracy with respect to the length of the years, the yugas and planetary cycles. At least as interesting is why the felt they needed to map such massive periods of time.

The Hindu Trimurti: Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva seated on their respective mounts. (Public Domain)

 

On Earth As It Is In Heaven

Münster Cathedral’s astronomical clock. Detail.

I have written quite extensively about the importance of the stars and astrological practise in Judaism and Islam as well as in non-Abrahamic religions, such as Zoroastrianism and Hinduism. Here, I examine many of the same themes from the point of view of Christianity. I’ve been pondering this for a while now because authentic astrology has been under attack by both theologians and scientists for centuries, yet neither has taken the time to discover what astrology actually is. This makes this task a difficult one in which there is always the chance I will end up preaching to the converted.

To begin, I would like to distance myself from the various strands of the Zeitgeist Movement, that effectively attempts to destroy Christianity by discrediting it, claiming it is just one more Solar cult meant to deceives its followers for the benefit of an elite group. The gist is that a Solar cult was projected onto Christianity, rendering events such as the birth of Jesus as well as his Resurrection to be fabrications. Having said that, even people that are usually wrong can sometimes be right. It is nevertheless not a fruitful manner of investigating the relevance of stars in scripture or how they may have been read.

At any rate, I do not believe that astrology is for everyone, which, other than air, shelter, water and food, is true of everything else. Astrology is a kind of consciousness, one that engages in the language of the stars, from which we came, to explain and reveal certain realities. The stars do not make people do anything, any more than a clock makes time.  For those attuned to the Uranian Muse, the message of the stars is an inexhaustible mine of wisdom.

Very often the most difficult thing to communicate effectively is that which others think they already know –  even though they do not. The idea that astrology is inherently incompatible not only with Christianity but also with reason and science is taken for granted as if someone had proven it very long time ago,  I suggest a willing suspension of disbelief be maintained while the subject is examined.

The worst obstacle to grasping the essence of true astrology is dished up every day, in virtually every newspaper. The Sun sign column is pure fraud and meant only to entertain and thereby sell more newspapers. It really has nothing in common with authentic astrology except that it refers to the signs of the zodiac.

Scientists such as Richard Dawkins dismiss astrology with spectacular arrogance and utter scorn as if they had had actually disproved it. Dawkins is a well-respected scientist and obviously well versed in the procedures of the scientific method. Nevertheless, he claimed he had discredited astrology for all time by conducting the following mockery of the same scientific method. He cut out the Capricorn entry from the Sun Sign column in the Manchester Guardian and read it to less than 20 passers-by. He asked people at random if the column was accurate, although only a few of the people were actually Sun sign Capricorns.

Now, as we all know, Sun sign columns are deliberately vague. If they were not, then nobody with anything better to do would read them. Readers want the horoscope to apply to them to cater to a need to imagine that virtually no information can explain things. She wants those new shoes. He wants that girl on the bus to notice him. Let’s examine this entry for Capricorn in the Guardian:

★ CAPRICORN 22 Dec-19 Jan “Saturn, Capricorn’s ruler, represents the ability to survive and prosper regardless of circumstance, through stoicism or ruthlessness (delete as applicable). With the ringed planet now at the apex of your scope, new professional phase dawn, one where you can seize control rather than be buffeted about by circumstance. Scheme on. Short term, you’re in a busy, profitable phase where commerce and good company overlap. Enjoy.”

Not only is this vague enough to apply to anyone, but the writer actually invites the reader to delete as applicable.”

Dawkins received mostly luke-warm responses, the majority of which were uncertain. As a result of this travesty of the scientific method, Dawkins claims himself triumphant and moves on to discredit homeopaths. I’m quite familiar with negative opinions of astrology ranging from skeptical to scathing, but I’m particularly disappointed when a scientist refuses to employ their own methods to arrive at a conclusion, rather than falling into the pit of prejudicial opinion. I believe Dawkins in spite of his intelligence is not so different from fundamentalist religionists – both believe that their understanding and perception are the only viable ones available and all other beliefs are the subject of contempt. Sometimes the belief is so strong that the contempt can afford to be polite.

The seven planets with their associated symbols, within the four winds. – 15th-century astrological woodcut.

Most religious people are opposed to Astrology because they don’t know what it is, yet believe it to be forbidden in scripture. I wonder what these people make of the cathedrals of Europe, so frequently and lavishly decorated with astrological symbolism. I have to assume that when even Catholics are persuaded that it is forbidden, that they have not read the Church Fathers or the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas. I also have to wonder why they never asked why most of the Popes, until recent times, had astrologers.

In the history of astrology, particularly in Christian Europe,  particularly prior to the 18th Century, the formula was simple “the stars impel, they do not compel.” England’s most celebrated Astrologer, William Lilly, wrote his most complete work on astrology with the title “Christian Astrology.” Into the 18th century, we find Isaac Newton as comfortable with astrology as with mathematics and physics, theology and alchemy. His good friend Edmund Halley wondered how could believe in astrology. The rather saturnine Newton replied, “because I have studied the subject and you have not.”

Chartres Cathedral Stained Glass – Bay (Labours of the Months / Signs of the Zodiac)

In the words of, the writer at Fish Eaters, ” no Catholic is bound to believe in astrology — i.e., no Catholic must believe the that the Heavenly bodies can and do influence us. A Catholic can consider it to be complete hokum; all of that is a question of fact and, ultimately, a matter of science, not of eternal Truths or dogma that we need to know to save our souls. But a Catholic may believe that “the stars” influence us, and he can be perfectly orthodox while doing so. It is perfectly licit to cast a natal chart to try to determine the planetary influences that may affect your inclinations. What is forbidden is the casting of charts to foretell the future as if it’s cast in stone by the stars (a form of divination), or to believe in any form of astrology that denies free will.”

Chartres Cathedral Stained Glass

This is what we find in scripture regarding the stars and signs. “God created the stars (Gen. 1:16) and positioned them in their precise position in the universe (Ps. 8:3). Stars were, “for signs and for seasons, and for days and for years, in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” (Gen. 1:14, 15).  It’s very personal. The stars all have names: ” He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” (Ps. 147:4). The Tanakh is replete with astrological references, as demonstrated in the work of Yaakov Kronenberg.

Although Christianity as we know it takes a myriad of forms, the single best generalization is that is in fact, Pauline theology.  Most of the references to astrology are found in what Christian refer to as the “Old Testament.” In the New Testament,  Paul is offered as a key source of the condemnation of astrology. But even here, the names give – such as fortune teller, sorcerer and so on, betray a degree of superstition beyond what could be said about what Paul fears. The theme is “God wouldn’t like that because it’s his job.” The case against astrology in the NT is exceedingly weak and based on misinterpretations. To place an astrologer with sources and necromancers is both silly and lazy.

To be fair to Paul, most of what he is said to have written about astrology is more in the imagination of the reader. For example, I found this listed as the main source of the prohibition against astrology:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; …”  (1 Corinthians 13:1-13.)

This is among the most beautiful prose written by Paul and it takes quite a leap to imagine he is discussing astrology. As it happens I agree with him on all points.

Nevertheless, the crux of the matter is that Paul and his ilk were responsible for a great deal of destruction in the Pagan world, including the destruction of the Temple of Artemis. Frankly, he isn’t a very reliable source and the apostles, Peter and James among them, were disturbed at his interpretations of a teacher he had never met, that had been a companion to them for several years. Be that as he may. Paul tells us he is “all things to all men” which ought to prepare anyone before reading his Epistles. There is an enormous amount of scholarship which answers to these very reasonable questions.

Let’s get to the core of the issue. I for one would never refer to myself as a “fortune teller” and most certainly, not a sorcerer. Seasoned astrologers with an understanding of the basis of astrology, do not pretend to predict the future of anyone.  We deal with what the Tibetan Buddhists refer to as “causes and conditions.” This is precisely what we read in the Nativity. To indicate medical predispositions, forms of creativity and particular interests, strengths and weaknesses. Imagine that you have a collection of seeds and you have been trained by guidance and experience to identify them. With that knowledge, we can infer how the seed will grow and in what kind of soil. Imagine again, that you are a meteorologist. Predicting weather is not considered as “fortune telling.” The use of this term when applied to astrology is an attempt to discredit but says much more about the accuser. It shows that he has no real idea about what he is dismissing.

medieval astrological medicinal chart

Astrology has several forms. We have Electional Astrology. This is extremely difficult for a number of reasons, but it can provide the most auspicious moment to do something. I agree that this has a spiritual dimension, but in essence, this isn’t much different than consulting the meteorologist to find a sunny day for the wedding.  What we do is much more detailed, but again this is not fortune telling.

Medical Astrology is particularly useful. It tells us what kind of vessel we have to navigate through our lives. It also shows weakness and therefore allows for the avoidance of some kinds of food or activity.  astrology and Medicine have worked for hand in hand since the earliest times.

Mundane Astrology requires not only mastery of astrology, but plenty of associated knowledge, such as geography, history and politics. Mundane astrology was considered the jewel in the crown of all the available forms. It has also been used since the earliest of times, in no small part because it was useful to the governing and survival of states. Reason tells us that if what Mundane did was provide absolute knowledge of future events, with little or no interest in the season, the climate, the current political reality and so on. it would likely fail – and it has. If however, we look at the same issue as did the writer of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.

The desire to know which season fits which purpose is a pursuit of wisdom.  This can be known by way of consulting the stars. However, one of the greatest challenges facing ancient astrologers was whether it was better to tell the ruler what she wanted to hear or risk execution by telling an inconvenient truth,

Zodiac floor. Basilica of St Denis, Paris, France

Modern Mundane astrology takes different forms, depending on which tradition is being utilized. I believe a great deal of humility is required lest we become Icarus, falling from the heights of hubris.

This leaves us with Horary Astrology. This is a most peculiar beast. It allowed William Lily to find out who had stolen his fish and Portuguese onion. Horary is good for finding things and it responds best to yes, no or were questions.  It might be compared to hiring a cosmic private investigator – but it isn’t fortune telling.

The tragedy of the misunderstanding of what astrology actually is therefore found in the Epistles of Paul and in the popularization of the newspaper horoscopes.  None of the forms I have discussed above would be any more evil than meteorology, medicine or  But the illusion persists. What little souls don’t understand, they call evil or simply “unscientific.” even though a rigorous, scientific enquiry has never been conducted. Moreover, it may never take place because of the essential elements of astrological practise are ignored or misunderstood. One would think it would be obvious that no intelligent person is likely to believe that space rocks determine human destiny.  Sadly, such is not the case.

Fomalhaut – Watcher of the South

According to Ptolemy, Fomalhaut, in Piscis Australis and Watcher of the South, is of the nature of Venus and Mercury. It is generally a fortunate star and indeed very powerful and yet to cause “malevolence of sublime scope and character, and change from a material to a spiritual form of expression. Cardan stated that together with the stars rising with 12 Gemini it gives an immortal name.” [Robson*, p.165-166.]

The name Fomalhaut comes from the Arabic meaning Fish’s Mouth, which is how Ptolemy described it Fomalhaut is a very bright star among dim ones This makes it easy to see, but the constellation isn’t a great deal of help in finding it. In the heavens, the fish can be seen drinking water flowing from the jar of Aquarius. Other stories credit the stellar fish swallowing the waters of the great deluge, thus saving the world. The Fish is interpreted as a saviour in several traditions, including Hinduism and one of the main manifestations of Vishnu is as the Cosmic Fish.

According to the brief account of Eratosthenes, the Syrian fertility goddess Derceto (the Greek name for Atargatis) is supposed to have fallen into a lake at Bambyce near the Euphrates river in Syria and was saved by a large fish. Hyginus says, in a repetition of his note on Pisces, that as a result of this the Syrians do not eat fish but rather they worship the images of fish as gods. See Ian Ridpath Star Tales and my own article on the origins of Pisces entitled “Ikhthus Unchained.”

Canopus, alongside Achernar and Fomalhaut, which are corresponding stars in Eridanus and Piscis Australis, made up the Tre Facelle of Dante’s Purgatory, symbolizing Faith, Hope, and Charity:

“When the Southern Fish rises into the heavens, leaving its native waters for a foreign element, whoever at this hour takes hold of life will spend his years about sea-shore and river-bank he will capture fish as they swim poised in the hidden depths; he will cast his greedy eyes into the midst of the waters, craving to gather pellucid stones (pearls) and, immersed himself, will bring them forth together with the homes of protective shell wherein they lurk. No peril is left for man to brave, profit is sought by means of shipwreck, and the diver who has plunged into the depths becomes, like the booty, the object of recovery. And not always small is the gain to be derived from this dangerous labor (implying that a diver’s life was usually an unenviable one) pearls are worth fortunes, and because of these splendid stones there is scarcely a rich man left. Dwellers on land are burdened with the treasures of the sea. A man born to such a lot plies his skill along the shore; or he purchases at a fixed wage another’s labor and sells for a profit what it has brought him, a pedlar in the many different forms of sea products”. [Manilius, Astronomica, 1st century AD, book 5, p.333.]

To move from the absurd to the sublime, the association of Venus and Mercury is a very apt one. Gabriel is the messenger Archangel and Aquarius is the human face among the four Fixed Signs. An image of Gabriel can often be found in the Southern areas of Churches.

Saint St Archangel Gabriel Christian Russian Handpainted Orthodox Byzantine Icon

Fomalhaut can bring unexpected honours as symbolized in Gabriel’s role in the Annunciation.

The Babylonians are credited with identifying the water-bearer pouring out water to a giant fish. The water-bearer represented their god Ea, and he ruled the period either side of the winter solstice when Babylon was subject to flooding. The Great Fish was supposed to be the parent of the Pisces fishes, in both Babylonian and Greek myth.

The Mercurial nature becomes very clear in nativities that have a close association of Fomalhaut and Mercury. Conjunctions produce strong intellects unless otherwise diminished.

Secrets of the Antikythera Mechanism: 1 & 2

Approximately three hours of lectures on the Antikythera Mechanism. This is of great interest to Hellenistic astrologers, as well as astronomers, historians, and others. The mechanism even calculates Saros cycles, phases of the Moon, planetary motions and much more. The third video shows a Virtual Reconstruction of the Antikythera Mechanism (by M. Wright & M. Vicentini)

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.

______________________________________________________

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.

The Magi & The Star-Child

Depiction of Cyrus the Great by Jean Fouquet, 1470.Cyrus II le Grand et les Hébreux

Let me begin by stating clearly that I make no pretense to have finally solved the riddle of the Magi. I do hope that this short piece will contribute in a positive way to the ongoing study of the subject. In writing articles of this type, one needs to study the most recent scholarship as well as the ancient sources still extant.We may never know how much knowledge has been lost over the centuries, but we do know it was a great deal. These losses included the library of Alexandria and wholesale destruction of libraries during the Muslim invasions from North Africa, Persia and as far as India.

This continues from the two previous articles on the identity and nature of the Magi in particular relation to the Christmas story which combines Jewish and Persian elements. But first, it must be remembered that it is a story and it cannot be assumed that the narrator himself thought it to be an account of a temporal event. A story is not necessarily untrue, but it is a different kind of truth than the recalling of an historical event.

Further, our modern notion of historical accuracy is a fairly recent development. All cultures have maintained a mythological dimension to their own histories and it is often the case that the mythological tells us more about the society and its part in the greater cosmology than a historical “fact” might do.  The latter is also subject to selective memory and various interpretations, while the former is more or less deliberately symbolic in nature. A popular and condescending euphemism for this second type of writing is “pious fiction.” The modern world needs to recover the meaning of an epiphany if it expects to understand ancient texts as they were intended to be read.

I intend to take a circuitous approach to explain what I have come to understand about the story of the Magi, involving solid astrology, interpreting mythological traditions as well as cultural realities.

Mark Kidger, an astronomer, writes that if the object was as bright as is reported in the Protovangelium of James, it would have to be at least as bright as the Moon and would have been recorded all over the world. He asks: was the star really brilliant? Did these early accounts use artistic license? Which of the accounts, if any, was the “correct” one? Where we even supposed to take the story of the Star literally?  The Bible and the Apocryphal Gospels were never intended to be exact histories of the life of Jesus …. they are works written by the faithful for the faithful, and for those the writers hoped to convert.” (The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomer’s View p. 19).

The interconnectedness and relative familiarity with different cultures in the Middle East, Rome, Greece, Egypt, and Persia are well documented but often trivialized. One cultural advantage of empires is the massive and facilitated flow of ideas, including familiarity with other languages. The Jews had been subjugated by the Romans, Babylonians, and Persians. Since the conquest of Alexander, they lived in a Hellenized world and it made for a heady mix. What emerged was a high degree of syncretism. One example was the existence of the Pharisees, a corruption of Parsi. The Jews appear to have adopted the idea of an afterlife in the Pharisee tradition, where the Saducee school remained disinterested. The idea of an afterlife was shared by other cultures, but it would appear to be Zoroastrianism and the Persian influence that was primary

Certainly, the existence of the Magi was well known and their reputation was all but universally considered one of benevolence. Just as importantly, the Zoroastrian tradition had influenced the Greeks long before Plato, as well as Judaism. Jesus is considered by many scholars to be an Essene or at least influenced by them.  The theme of the sons of darkness and sons of light has no other obvious equivalence than Zoroastrianism. We don’t find this theme in Greek or Jewish thought. Neither do we find it in Egyptian religion.

When we consider the details of the Christmas story, the role of the Magi is fascinating. First of all, the Jews were expecting a triumphant Messiah – a King of Kings from the House of David. The story of the virgin birth of a holy child, destined to redeem humanity and openly challenge the Judaism of the times is not what they had in mind. The humble birthplace of Jesus has become a symbol of humility to Christians, but it couldn’t have helped the Jews to accept him as the Messiah. Beyond Talmudic teachings, the case against Jesus being the Messiah derives from several key Scriptures: Isaiah 11:1-9, Isaiah 2:3-4, and Micah 4:2-3 among them.

The Christmas story might be seen as an attempted rebuttal to the disdain in the Jewish community. However, there is far more to it than that. The story may have been an attempt to illustrate a number of things, even if that meant excessive embellishment and resorting to “pious fiction.”

There have been countless attempts to identify the “star of wonder” ranging from a possible conjunction of Jupiter and Venus to a comet and a supernova. None of the theories so far has triumphed and we are left with the distinct possibility that the star being followed was of a spiritual nature – what we might call an inner light. No astronomer has been able to identify what it was –  or if anything extraordinary was seen at all. My personal view is that the theories set forth haven’t taken the whole astrological picture into account.

Keplers_trigon. A series of great conjunctions and trigons from Kepler’s book De Stella Nova.

The first “modern” attempt to discover what identifiable astronomical events could explain the star over Bethlehem really was conducted by Johannes Kepler identifiable astronomical phenomenon lies behind the biblical story of the so-called Star of Bethlehem was effectively begun by the astronomer  Kepler (1571–1630),. Kepler was the mathematician to Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor

Johannes Kepler, ‘De stella nova in Pede Serpentarii’ (1606)

1576–1612. “In the years 1604–5 a supernova appeared in the constellation Ophiuchus and excited considerable discussion in Europe. Kepler kept a detailed record of his observations of the star. In the preceding year, 17 December 1603, at Prague he had also witnessed a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn with Mars moving into the vicinity soon after, which interested him in his capacity as court astrologer. The supernova appeared in the neighbourhood of these three planets. In

Jupiter-Saturn Conjunction Chart. Image credit: Star of the Magi

medieval times the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, known as the “great conjunction” (recurring only once every 19·86 [incorrect] years on average), was regarded as of great astrological significance. Kepler calculated that a similar conjunction with Mars moving into the vicinity soon after had occurred in the year 7 B.C. = Julian year 39. On that occasion, the conjunction had been a triple conjunction, a very much rarer event than the normal single conjunction.” (Sachs, A., & Walker, C. (1984). Kepler’s View of the Star of Bethlehem and The Babylonian Almanac for 7/6 B.C). At the end of the day, it turned out that Kepler had miscalculated and ever since then, one attempt after another to identify the star has failed.

William Eamon provides a summary of the process: “Kepler believed that the new star was a portent of deep significance. It was, he concluded, “an exceedingly wonderful work of God.” In 1606, he published a pamphlet, De Stella Nova in Pede Serpentarii (On the New Star in the Foot of Serpens), describing his discovery. Kepler was convinced that the new star was the same as the one that the Three Kings followed on their way to Bethlehem. With somewhat tortured logic, he reasoned that the new star was the equivalent of one that appeared in the same constellation around the time of the birth of Christ. He identified the supernova with a star that appeared in a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn during the years 7-5 B.C. Since the supernova of 1604 appeared in the same conjunction, he reasoned, it had to be the same as the Star of Bethlehem that showed the Magi the way to Jesus.” (Kepler and the Star of Bethlehem)

It is crucial to remember that the Christmas story was written down long after the alleged events. Although not all scholars are in agreement, the majority believe that Mark was the first Gospel to be written, sometime around the year 70. This consensus has it that the Gospel of Matthew and the  Gospel of Luke was written down sometime in the 9th or final decade of the 1st century. Obviously, this casts the authorship into doubt. It has been countered that the original four evangelists had completed gospels that were then transcribed by others at a much later date. However, the record doesn’t support this at all. Even the choice of which gospels would be included had a political and tendentious element in their selection.

Nevertheless, those who insist that everything written in the Bible is to be taken as literal truth will need to deny any metaphorical meaning at all. For the rest of us, we are free to consider the possibility that some passages or stories in the Bible are powerfully metaphorical and that metaphor and elaboration can add to the power of the truth being told, even if it had no actual historical existence. It does not seem out of place here to mention that the modern understanding of history conforms to linear time. The very idea of linear time is an extreme abstraction with no modern scientific basis. It is part of the materialist creed.

Zoroastrianism, like Christianity, is a Universal religion.  As mentioned, the Jews also had every reason to venerate the Magi, emissaries from the East: The following is what is known as the Proclamation of Cyrus from Ezra 1:1-8 (ESV):

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:

Modern Persian carpet showing Cyrus the Great, seen in Tehran

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”

Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered. Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah.

Among the classical Jewish sources, besides the Bible, Josephus (1st century AD) mentions that Cyrus freed the Jews from captivity and helped rebuild the temple. He also wrote to the rulers and governors that they should contribute to the rebuilding of the temple and assisted them in rebuilding the temple. A letter from Cyrus to the Jews is described by Josephus.:[12]  

بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم return to their own country, and to rebuild their city, and to build the temple of God at Jerusalem on the same place where it was before. I have also sent my treasurer Mithridates, and Zorobabel, the governor of the Jews, that they may lay the foundations of the temple, and may build it sixty cubits high, and of the same latitude, making three edifices of polished stones, and one of the wood of the country, and the same order extends to the altar whereon they offer sacrifices to God. I require also that the expenses for these things may be given out of my revenues. Moreover, I have also sent the vessels which king Nebuchadnezzar pillaged out of the temple, and have given them to Mithridates the treasurer, and to Zorobabel the governor of the Jews, that they may have them carried to Jerusalem, and may restore them to the temple of God. Now their number is as follows: Fifty chargers of gold, and five hundred of silver; forty Thericlean cups of gold, and five hundred of silver; fifty basons of gold, and five hundred of silver; thirty vessels for pouring [the drink-offerings], and three hundred of silver; thirty vials of gold, and two thousand four hundred of silver; with a thousand other large vessels. (3) I permit them to have the same honor which they were used to have from their forefathers, as also for their small cattle, and for wineand oil, two hundred and five thousand and five hundred drachme; and for wheat flour, twenty thousand and five hundred artabae; and I give order that these expenses shall be given them out of the tributes due from Samaria. The priests shall also offer these sacrifices according to the laws of Moses in Jerusalem; and when they offer them, they shall pray to God for the preservation of the king and of his family, that the kingdom of Persia may continue. But my will is, that those who disobey these injunctions, and make them void, shall be hung upon a cross, and their substance brought into the king’s treasury.”.

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn – Daniel and Cyrus before the Idol Bel

The somewhat terse account in Matthew is expanded upon, with both similarities and differences in the apocryphal Protoevengelium of James. This work is overwhelmingly concerned with Mary, Joseph, establishing the legitimacy of the Christ child and answering all the kinds of questions that might be asked about a virgin birth and the birth of the Christ child. James also gives us this:

“21. And, behold, Joseph was ready to go into Judæa. And there was a great commotion in Bethlehem of Judæa, for Magi came, saying: Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him. And when Herod heard, he was much disturbed and sent officers to the Magi. And he sent for the priests, and examined them, saying: How is it written about the Christ? Where is He to be born? And they said: In Bethlehem of Judæa, for so it is written. And he sent them away. And he examined the Magi, saying to them: What sign have you seen in reference to the king that has been born? And the Magi said: We have seen a star of great size shining among these stars, and obscuring their light so that the stars did not appear; and we thus knew that a king has been born to Israel, and we have come to worship him. And Herod said: Go and seek him; and if you find him, let me know, in order that I also may go and worship him. And the Magi went out. And, behold, the star which they had seen in the east went before them until they came to the cave, and it stood over the top of the cave. And the Magi saw the infant with His mother Mary, and they brought forth from their bag gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by the angel not to go into Judæa, they went into their own country by another road. .”

If we come to these passages expecting to learn of a physical celestial event, that is what we will understand. However, this is not the only possible interpretation of ” a star of great size shining among these stars, and obscuring their light, so that the stars did not appear; and we thus knew that a king has been born to Israel, and we have come to worship him.” Could this not be written in the same spirit as “The light shineth in the darkness” in the Gospel of John?  As I mentioned, the greatest irony of a belief in literalism is that it ignores that the very act of writing or story-telling is

Grotto of-the Nativity Close-up of star at birthplace of Jesus (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

metaphorical. They are part of how we process what we see. Even a technical manual will, more often than not, contain language that is not entirely literal. Turning to Judeo-Christian scripture we recognize that a direct command to “love your neighbour: can be taken at face value, even if understanding precisely what that means is subject to interpretation. The story of Jonah and the whale is a good case in point. We know that what happens in the story is impossible to explain using scientific principles. People cannot live inside whales, but if we out our material doubts aside, the story is rich in metaphorical meaning. Not believing that humans can live in whales is not cause for accusations of blasphemy except by the most extreme and demented American Evangelical Fundamentalist.

Many stories in the Bible are replete with metaphorical thought and in many cases re-telling of stories from other cultures, such as Egypt and Babylon. They are not primarily historical documents, although that are many who treat them as if they were.The first task of scripture is to impart spiritual truths and present material that illustrates the way of righteousness and the consequences of ignoring the wise. In that sense, Hindu scripture is of the same kind. There may very well be historical references, but history itself is not the most important factor.

There are many elements here that are immediately germane to the art of astrology. The more mystical the content, the more literalism falls away. What is above, is below. We are born of stars and the light we experience is microcosmic as well as macrocosmic. We speak of illuminated minds and an inner light. We also speak of the benighted consciousness and the “outer darkness.” In the Gospels, the “exterior darkness” or “outer darkness” is a place referred to three times in the Gospel of Matthew (8:12, 22:13, and 25:30) into which a person may be “cast out”, and where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.

The Sages and the Star-Child: An Introduction to the Revelation of the Magi, An Ancient Christian Apocryphon” is the title of a Ph.D. dissertation by Brent Christopher Landau of The Faculty of Harvard Divinity School.

Landau “analyzes a poorly-known ancient Christian apocryphal writing, termed the Revelation of the Magi. This document purports to be the personal testimony of the biblical Magi on the coming of Christ, and is the longest and most complex narrative devoted to the Magi surviving from antiquity.” The thesis is compelling and at the very least provides a fairly detailed first-hand account of the experience from the Magi point of view.

The entire dissertation is available online, so I see no useful purpose in rehearsing it here, but there are several things that need to be said.  The purpose and general focus of this series of articles on the Magi are on magic, metaphor, and astrology.  Here we have an astronomical event that probably didn’t occur at all, read by Magi who were astrologers. The realization that the star was Christ himself, in perhaps a similar sense as we see in his transfiguration. All three Synoptic Gospels tell the story of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-9; Luke9:28-36). With a remarkable agreement, all three place the event shortly after Peter’s confession of faith that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus’ first prediction of his passion and death.

Perhaps the greatest anathema to astrology according to Christian theologians is the mistaken view that astrologers believe the stars dictate what will happen to individuals and societies.  In their view, this somehow circumvents the will of a supreme being, when in fact the astrologer reads the signs to gain knowledge of divine will. Sorcerers and fortune tellers are considered to be cut from the same cloth as astrologers. However, in Judaism and Zoroastrianism, the stars are clearly understood to be useful and several books in the Jewish Bible, such as The Book of Daniel are saturated with astrological meaning. Yet in the Tanakh, we find The metaphor of the clock and time is germane here. The clock doesn’t create time, it just tells you what time it is.

It’s increasingly apparent that the importance of astrology in Judaism increased during the Babylonian captivity and the strong and friendly contacts with the Persians, who maintained a fairly practical form of the art.

It should be noted tht thee is no explicit mention of astrology in the Tanakh – However, “two biblical passages dealing with the diviner (menaḥesh) and soothsayer (me’onen; Lev. 19:26; Deut. 18:10) were understood by the rabbis as bearing relation to astrology (Sanh. 65b–66a; cf. Maim. Yad, Avodah Zarah 11:8, 9). The prophets were aware of the practices of “star-gazers” (ḥoverei ha-shamayim) among the Babylonians and other peoples but they scoffed at them (Isa. 47:13; Jer. 10:2). In the book of Daniel the Babylonian astrologers arecalled kasdim (Chaldeans), and in Aramaic kasda’ei (2:2, 4, 5, 10; 4:14; 5:7, 11). The Sibylline Oracles (219–231) praise the Jewish people for refraining from astrology, which is a delusion. The Book of Jubilees (12:16–18) depicts the patriarch Abraham as overcoming the beliefs of the astrologers. The first Book of Enoch (8:3) includes astrology among the sins spread among mortals by the primeval giants (nefilim). Josephus, however, writes that astrology was common among the Jews in his days and that Jewish misinterpretation of celestial signs was partially responsible for the outbreak of the revolt against the Romans and its continuation for four years (Jos., Wars, 6:288ff.)”Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 .

Ketubbah – Jewish Marriage Contract, Leghorn, Italy, 1728 with astrological symbols

1300 years later, Moses Maimonides was vehemently opposed to the practise of astrology, but his view had virtually no influence on subsequent Jewish writers. Astrology had become an integral element of Judaism. After all, the Yiddish mazel tov derives from Hebrew words meaning a constellation of good stars and destiny. Considering the extraordinary influence and reputation of  Maimonides, this stands as a  strong endorsement of astrology by the Jewish community.

Detail of the ancient kibbutz Beth Alpha mosaic, Israel: a zodiac wheel with all 12 symbols and names of the zodiac, surrounded by four female figures at the corners, identifying the seasons of the year; at the centre, Helios, the sun god driving a quadriga, with moon and stars. (Picture: Art Resource, NY; biblicalarchaeology.org/via @Inés Peschiera Kežman Pfeifer)

“With the exception of Joseph b. Judah ibn *Aknin and his enthusiastic admirer R. *Jedaiah ha-Penini (Bedersi), none of the Jewish philosophers of the succeeding generations opposed or deprecated astrology. Even the rationalistic *Levi b. Gershom maintained that the activities and events of a man’s life were predestined by the positions and movements of celestial bodies. The astrologers fail, he asserted, first of all because of insufficient knowledge about the movements of the stars and the effects of their changed positions on sublunar beings, and secondly, because of the intervention of intellect and free will, “for the intellect and the will are empowered to carry us beyond the limitations imposed by the celestial bodies” (Milḥamot Adonai 2:2). Shem-Tov ibn *Falaquera also considered astrology a true science and made use of it. Many of the great rabbis, commentators, preachers, and ethical teachers dealt with astrology and were favorably disposed toward it; *Abraham b. David of Posquières, in his Hassagot, a commentary on Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah; *Naḥmanides (Commentary on Gen. 1:16; Lev. 23:24, and passim) and his pupil Solomon b. Abraham *Adret (Responsa, no. 652); *Baḥya b. Asher (Commentary on Ex. 11:4; and passim); Isaac *Aboab (Menorat ha-Ma’or, 143; passim); Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ *Duran (Magen Avot, 72bff., and Tashbeẓ, no. 513); Isaac *Abrabanel , who cited many proofs “from the science of astronomy in regard to the celestial conjunctions” for his opinion that the redemption of Israel would begin in 1503 and come to completion in 1531 (Ma’yenei ha-Yeshu’ah, 12:2); Isaac *Arama (Akedat Yiẓḥak, 34, 56), though he disapproved of eschatological reckonings based on astrology; Moses b. Ḥayyim *Alshekh ; *Judah Loew b. Bezalel (Maharal) of Prague, who is reputed to have practiced astrology in the company of his friend Tycho Brahe; David *Gans ; Leone of *Modena ; Joseph Solomon *Delmedigo of Candia, Jonathan *Eybeschuetz ; and *Elijah , Gaon of Vilna (Commentary on Sefer Yeẓirah). A definitely negative attitude toward astrology was assumed by Azariah dei *Rossi” (Me’or Einayim, 42, 43). Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008

Most importantly, traditional astrology views the stars as in the microcosm and the macrocosm. In most cases, we study the macrocosmic heavens to shed light on the microcosm. In the case of the Star Child, we have the Magi reading the advent of the Christ by an inner illumination. This appears to be the message when we have looked at all the sources and considered the identity of the players in this cosmic drama. We talk about “outer space” but there is a corresponding “inner space.”

Of course, the proclamation that the Kingdon of Heaven is within you is used only by Matthew. Mark and Luke used “kingdom of God” Compare Matthew 11:11-12 with Luke 7:28; Matthew 13:11with Mark 4:11 and Luke 8:10; Matthew 13:24 with Mark 4:26; Matthew 13:31 with Mark 4:30 and Luke 13:18; Matthew 13:33 with Luke 13:20; Matthew 18:3 with Mark 10:14 and Luke 18:16; and Matthew 22:2 with Luke 13:29. The two phrases clearly mean the same thing.

If we revisit words of the Magi in Matthew: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East [or at its rising and have come to worship Him ” we are left with a tantalizing and evocative image, but we still don’t have any idea what this rising star was. It was common to refer to planets as stars, but there isn’t anything close to bright enough to match the description.

If we take this account at face value and ignore the impossible exaggerations which have, ironically, obscured all the main points, we would have a chart similar to this — in most respects, at least.

This chart shows the rising of Jupiter the king planet, in the royal sign of Leo and with the Kings’ star, Regulus. This certainly fits with the description of the Star in the East. It is ascending ahead of the Sun with enough clearance from the Sun to allow visibility.

Regulus, in Leo (The Lion), means “little king,” named by Copernicus. It is the heart of the lion and associated with generosity and ambition. If well aspected it will raise the person to high positions in life and denotes successful activity. Its nature is Mars and Itster. Bayer name Alpha Leo. Apparent magnitude +1.3 This star rising with Jupiter would have been considered a strong indicator of the birth of a king when combined with the other elements present.

Some have suggested that “born of a Virgin” means the Sun in Virgo. I see no compelling reason to take this view, but it may be worthy of further research.

The triple conjunction of Venus and Mercury and the Ascendant with Jupiter would make for a convincing candidate for the birth of a great king in Babylonian as well as Persian astrology. The Moon is in her domicile in Cancer and Mars is safely in the 6th house, like a tiger in a cage.

Saturn retrograde conjunct the Midheaven is more sinister. The Jews are under the governance of Saturn and this new king is not welcome by the highest authorities. There is a tight conjunction of  Saturn with the fixed star Rigel, the brightest star in Orion, The Hunter (Apparent magnitude +0.3) The star is of the nature of Jupiter and Saturn and associated with fame, wealth, and lasting honours.  Rigel is a fortunate star and a  powerful one.  This would serve as a protective element.

This is the most likely way that the Magi determined the location of the birth. Saturn conjunct the MC is in the place of authority. It is only natural that they would visit Herod.

I make no claims to this being the exact date, but the time would be close to accurate and the relatively short window for this configuration to occur, makes this a candidate for something approaching what must have occurred.

It seems ironic that the many of the attempts to embellish and exaggerate message of the Magi have obscured what might otherwise have been obvious.

The Magi are what scripture and tradition say they are – highly skilled astrologers, almost certainly from Persia. There has been a number of attempts over the years to make them appear to be like a Unicef greeting card or all Jewish kings from Yemen.

I don’t believe that The Star-Child account is not meant to be taken literally, but it is a rather lovely narrative of the Star leading to the Child. For approximately two billion  Christians, Christ is their Guiding Star