Navarasa – Nine States of Mind

I claim no special expertise in this element of South Indian culture, but I do admit to a longtime fascination and deep affection for elements of traditional Indian culture. I was introduced to Indian classical music and dance at an early age and remain fascinated by the traditional Indian ability to incorporate such a high degree of eloquence in dance and music. In turn, this has a cosmic and astrological dimension which would fascinate any passionate astrologer. What animates the body and how we experience various states of being is ultimately a mystical experience. As described in the scriptures, these are the nine primary emotions experienced by ‘Shiva’ the Lord of Dance.

Navarasa or the nine moods and expressions come from Southern India, including Tamil Culture, The system is useful for a variety of reasons, but perhaps most particularly  in the training of traditional dancers, Indian dancing is meticulous in detail and that includes attention to mudras, the movements of the eyes and what the hand, eyes and expressions. Hindu architecture has sometimes been referred to as sculpture, simply because much of it is carved. Every form in ancient Indian art is rich in significance, transcending simple beauty to evoke the divine and the cosmic.

Every Rasa corresponds to a particular Bhava. The Natyshastra have carefully described the Bhavas used to create Rasa. The following table shows the nine moods (Navarasa) and the corresponding Bhava. Every Rasa is identified with a specific colour for the use in performing arts. Presumably, Bhavas may be co-mingled in the same way that planetary energies can work together, but there is a great advantage in distinguishing each by itself.

The number nine holds a special place in ancient Indian culture and indeed in many world cultures, both Oriental and Occidental. Ranee Kumar writes “The ‘Fruit of the Spirit’ comprises nine graces: love, peace, suffering, gentle, good, faith, meek and temperance. The ‘gifts of the Spirit’ are 9 in number: the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues, and interpretation of tongues.”  (The Hindu 06 October 2011).


Shringar(Erotic) Rati Delight Pale Light Green
Hasya (Humorous) Hasa Laughter White
Karuna (Pathetic) Shoka Sorrow Grey
Raudra (Terrible) Krodh Anger Red
Veera (Heroic) Utsaha Heroism Pale Orange
Bhayanaka (Fearful) Bhaya Fear Black
Bibhatsa (Odious) Jugupsa Disgust Blue
Adbhuta (Wonderous) Vismaya Wonder Yellow
Shanta (Peaceful) Calm Peace White

Navarasa: Reimagined Photo by Kiran Mirsa

An anonymous Indian source confirms that these relate to the planets thusly:

Adbhuta : Surya (Sun)

Karuna : Chandra, (Moon)

Veera : Kuja, (Mars)

Hasya : Budha,  (Mercury)

Shanta : Guru, (Jupiter)

Shringara : Shukra, (Venus)

Raudra : Shani,  (Saturn)

Bhayanaka : Rahu and (North Node)

Bhibhatsa : Ketu. (South Node)

So, these nine ‘moods’ or states of representing the motions of the indestructible soul on Earth. The fact that each has a direct correspondence with a planet (Indian astrologer consider the Node as planets) reveals a core belief that these nine energies are interwoven into every element of life. You will also note that relating these states of being to planets, tells us more about the planet and the Bhava itself. The idea that so much may be conveyed through dance is a thing of great beauty.


Prisca Theologia

Hermes Trismegistus, floor mosaic in the Cathedral of Siena

This brief article is intended as an introduction to a much larger study of the relationship between enlightened wisdom versus narrow-minded dogma. In the process, I will focus on the Universal approach to religion as taught by Zoroaster and demonstrated by the extraordinary tolerance and benevolence of Darius I,  king of the Persian Achaemenid Empire.  The Persian Empire at this time included most West Asia, the Caucasus,  Thrace, -Macedonia, and Paeonia. It also reached the Black Sea coastal regions, the North Caucasus, and Central Asia

Darius was the author of the first bill of rights, was the liberator of the Jews, banishment of slavery and subscribed policy of noninterference with the religions of other groups.  This meant that the religion of Zoroaster had been spread through most of the known world. long before Alexander.

The Prisca Theologia is one of the most important ideas in the history of at least the last two millennia. This is true for a number of reasons. First and foremost it frees the mind to consider all sources of wisdom on an equal basis – without pre-conceived ideas. If we can allow that all religions might be called Pagan by somebody, even if they don’t match the definition. The most problematic religious beliefs are the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

A girl watches over her sheep and goats as they graze before one of the destroyed Bamiyan Buddhas.

The problem lies in an extraordinary and ingrained intolerance in virtually all forms of these religions. With particular reference to the last two, it is common for one sect to be at war with others, even though the differences in thought do not seem extreme enough to warrant the degree of conflict we see on an ongoing basis. Sufis have a reputation for deep and benign mysticism expressed through music and art, including dancing. Yet Sunni Muslims destroy their shrines in Pakistan and parts of Africa.

Afghanistan used to be a Buddhist country, but in the contemporary nation of Afghanistan, under the Taliban, saw fit to destroy the Bamiyan Buddhas. The religious scholars could not distinguish art from idolatry. In my mind, the inability to distinguish shows a spiritual blindness. This paranoid mindset has dogged us through the centuries, sapped our creativity as well as our acceptance of other points of view and other values as well. It is both ironic and inevitable that these qualities have ultimately lead to a preference for atheism.and secularism.

The Abrahamic religions tend to take the position of ‘us and them.’ Certainly, something like astrology takes more than it’s fair share of abuse, even though all three Abrahamic religions support at least some forms of astrology. Rigid religious think has never been capable of expressing great creativity and closed minds are considered safe minds. If it could be shown that all true wisdom comes from a single source, we could no doubt diminish conflict. However, it is not true that all paths lead to Paradise. The latter is a New Age view which is patently false. We make little or no progress by pretending that all paths as laid down are the same, but we make the ultimate progress when we discover common roots and through the process of learning and inspired discernment, we can indeed find the pearl of great price. The metaphor of the pearl and also the that of the mustard seed show us what needs to be done.

If we turn the clocks back to the European Renaissance and the fortunate fall of Byzantium the means by which the opening of an inexhaustible mine of wisdom and inspiration became apparent.  The details of the various traditions will be spelled out in further articles, although some have already been covered in some depth.

The philosophy of Plotinus, a Neo-Platonist, is full of imagery – such as a fountain of light – that provide powerful insights into the nature of creation and the divine.  Plato himself, as well as Pythagoras, claimed connections with the Magi. Judaism would be almost unrecogbizable if the Zoroastrian influence was somehow removed.

Zoroastrian sky burial

The Hermetic Philosophy is so radically compatible with neo-Platonism, Pythagoreanism, Gnosticism, mystical Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism, that it can come as no surprise that Marsilio Ficino put everything else aside to translate the Hermetica – this included putting some of the translations of Plato aside to focus on the translation of the new prize. This is highly significant because Ficino’s ultimate creation was his Theologia Platonica. He was fascinated by what was alleged to be Plato’s astrological chart. it would be exceedingly difficult to find anyone with a greater devotion, some would say obsession with all things Platonic.

Recently, I had the good chance to come upon a paper on the subject of the Hermetica. The author was clearly well versed in the many traditions that shadow or are informed by the tradition. I had only recently written a modest piece on Zoroastrian magic.  Ficino is usually studied with an understanding of his fascination with the prisca theologia or “ancient theology,” the doctrine that asserts that a single, true theology exists, was drawn from a common divine source. The term appears to have been first used by  Ficino.  Nevertheless, I’m not sure that it is well understood how right Ficino really was!

There are essentially two sources of knowledge regarding the date of Zoroaster and the first revealed monotheistic religion. The first is Greek. It tells us he was born in about 6,000 b.c. The second is also Greek and places him at around 600 n.c. The latter appears to be a fairly arbitrary date prior to the invasion of Alexander the Great. There is no actual evidence for the latter date whatsoever. The earlier date was the one accepted by Plato, Pythagoras and others who clearly had contact with magi and Zoroastrians. What we lack in incontrovertible facts, we have in abundance the testimonies of ancients and the unmistakable similarities that point us to a single source. I admit that this requires a willing suspension of disbelief, but the usual alternatives are not available. If we consider the earlier date, then the earliest Hindu writings and the person of Abraham may be considered as deriving from Zoroastrianism.  It has been said that Abraham and Sara are Ram and Saraswati. We may never know and that is part of the point.

Cristian Violatti provides an excellent and concise account of the arguments for an earlier date from classical; sources: “The dates of Zoroaster are also discussed by some classical authors. Herodotus, who we would expect to deal with this issue, does not mention Zoroaster. Plutarch estimated that Zoroaster lived 5,000 years before the Trojan War; the ancients believed that the date of the Trojan War was 1184 BCE (according to Eratosthenes’ estimations), which would make 6184 BCE a date consistent with Plutarch’s opinion. In the 3rd century CE, Diogenes Laertius, based on a claim of Xanthos of Lydia (a contemporary of Herodotus), places Zoroaster’s life 6,000 years before Xerxes’ military campaign against the Greeks, which took place in 480 BCE. Thus, according to Diogenes, 6480 BCE was the time when Zoroaster lived.” (Ancient History Encyclopedia).

One of Ficino’s most brilliant students was a young scholar named Pico della Mirandola. He is most famous for his Oration on the Dignity of Man In it, he addresses ‘the fathers’ – representative of the religious and moral establishment  — with a fiery, eloquent and extraordinarily erudite oration. He was just 22 years of age,  The flowering of the Italian Renaissance was in some respects more impressive that the Classical culture it wanted to emulate. It was like a precious bloom that fell as a result of its own weight.

Girolamo Savonarola

It is necessary here to make a mercifully short digression. The world that had meant to be a renaissance of the Platonic Academy and more was to fall by way of a very stupid, possibly psychotic priest named  Girolamo Savonarola (Italian: [dʒiˈrɔːlamo savonaˈrɔːla]; 21 September 1452 – 23 May 1498). He was an Italian Dominican friar and preacher active in Renaissance Florence. He gained a reputation prophecy and was clearly strongly charismatic. He was obsessed with the destruction of secular art and culture. He managed to terrify Florence to such an extent that its citizens jettisoned books and magnificent works of art on the original bonfire of the vanities. He managed to get the population to turn on itself. Sexuality was demonized and creativity suspected of evil intentions. Whenever and wherever these thoughts become dominant, death of all kinds is at hand. Creativity and sexuality are part of a healthy life.

Not for the last time in history, reason, creativity, and passion were swapped for mortification of the flesh, morbid and delusional fears, mixed with paranoia and absurd accusations (read projections). A salivating lunatic, barking mad as he obviously was, convinced the mobs that he was a holy man. Eben Pico succumbed. Savonarola effectively snuffed one the greatest flourishings of art and culture. It seems particularly ironic that his central prophecy was that a second Darius would come from the North and restore Christianity. When the French king invaded, he saw that as proof that his prophecy had been genuine.

The Middle Persian word ʾhlmn’ (Ahreman) in Book Pahlavi script. The word is traditionally always written upside down as a sign of contempt..

The most tragic element here is that there was an early chance for Christianity to take its place as a cherished expression of the prisci theologia, confident enough to stand without wanting to see everyone else fail. The ensuing years saw the fracturing of the Church, a Reformation that for the most part only made things worse, while inadvertently creating the perfect soil for nutty extremists who saw witches behind every tree. The cult of accusation is always evil. It always seeks a guilty verdict no matter what. A decent Christian or Zoroastrian would see the evil for what it was. The witch hunts didn’t only target witches. It was an easy way to appropriate land and wealth while inflicting the most awful suffering. We see this same spirit at work today.

The ugly religion of Savonarola and his ilk would be considered symptomatic of dark forces and druje in Zoroastrianism.: Jayaram V points out that “Angra Mainyu is the architect of evil, the anti-God principle, who represents evil, untruth, arrogance and death and subjects people to torment once they come under his influence, Ahura Mazda created the twin spirits, the good Spenta Mainyu and the other named Angra Mainyu or Ahirman.”  (Zoroastrianism, The Battle Between Good and Evil).

Some years ago, when Pakistan acquired the atomic bomb, I recall a young man in Islamabad stating “the Christians have the bomb, the Hindus have the bomb and now the Muslims have the bomb.’ The celebrations around this event were quite extraordinary, but my first thought was that this young man and many others. saw the world as being divided up by religions – not as a matter of choice, but as a matter of birth. Hindus were not like Muslims. This kind if thinking should have extinguished itself centuries ago, but in fact, it is strong and unlikely to reverse anytime soon. It’s obvious that the world is still reeling under the weight of massively scaled conflicts. These conflicts are migrating and attempts at multiculturalism on a grand scale fail largely due to religious intolerance.

The beginning of wisdom might be a revisiting of Ficino’s vision with both a mystical and a practical eye.  Ficino was an ordained priest. He was the mentor of Botticelli, Raphael, a score of poets, scholars, and philosophers. He had part of his villa painted with astrological images. His medical knowledge was commendable. It isn’t easy to understand that before Ficino, all but a few, relatively unimportant works by Plato and none of the Corpus Hermeticum was available to the west  His wealthy patrons arranged for the purchase of valuable greek texts that survived the fall of Constantinople. Intellectual and scholarly life before and after Ficino were entirely different.  Italian scholars finally had what they needed to revive something of the Classical world.

[Raphael, School of Athens, fresco, 1509-1511 (Stanza della Segnatura, Papal Palace, Vatican) Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker, Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.]

Nevertheless, the Judeo Christian heritage wasn’t something to be ignored and Pico had no qualms about Moses imbibing from the same source as Hermes. This was most easily done by reference to the Kabbalah. It is however surely noteworthy that Moses is not a central character in the co,[osition. Aristotle was no longer the last Classical word and the mystical quality of Plato became the preferred mode. The famous painting of The Academy shows Aristotle pointing toward the Earth while Plato points to the Heavens. This point in time was the first in which a prisci thelogia could have realistically been envisioned since antiquity.

In 1320 Dante Alighieri completed his Divina Commedia one year before he died. He was considered progressive insofar as he wrote literature in the vernacular. Beyond that, he lived in a Latin world, minimally touched by Greek thought. He had a degree of sympathy with only one Pagan and that was Virgil, a fellow poet and a Roman one at that. Most tellingly, Virgil plays an increasingly small role in

Dante Alighieri

the Comedia after leaving the Inferno. By the end of the people, he is given no voice at all. The Roman Catholic Church must have had the sense of perfect dominion in Europe, even it was threatened on other fronts. As in the works of Chaucer, there is a sense of Europe under a fairly comfortable siege. The notion os a Universal religion or a Prisci Theologia could not have found a footing during those times. A simple comparison of the two periods yields a great deal of insight into the massively expanded view of the late 15th Century.

Let’s take one more example. Dante had placed Guido Bonnati in the Inferno in Canto XX.  He was to be eternally punished for seeking to see the future, in keeping with Dante’s ideas of Divine Retribution. Fortune Tellers and Diviners have their heads on backward and their eyes are full of tears. These are the souls who, on Earth, tried to see too far ahead of them, and thus will spend eternity forever looking behind with blurred vision. Following the teachings of the papacy, the theme of religion is broached, because the papacy did not approve of sorcery in any form.” This is the most perverse hatred and fear of vision. That such a punishment could be considered either wise or just is abundantly symptomatic of a religious view putrid to the core. .

Ficino, on the other hand, was an ordained priest who practised astrology and astrological medicine. He could hold to the Christian faith while being a mage and drawing inspiration from several Pagan sources. It needs to be said that Ficino didn’t need to mention the historical Jesus in his Theologia Platonica, which would rule him out as a Christian in the minds of some. Ficino was so well protected from attacks by extraordinarily wealthy and powerful patron, including ones in the church itself, that we can imagine that a blind eye might have been turned towards his eccentric life.

However, it was by no means that cut and dried. For the most part, the upper echelons of the Church were as enamored with Ficino’s circle of artists, philosophers, magi, statesmen and poets as the Medici themselves. It was a period of extraordinary learning. Latin scholars had been common since Rome itself, but greek ideas, texts, and the language enriched theology to the point that Marsilio Ficino could write The Theologia Platonica in the first place. Logos and Word were interchangeable, except that the word logos has both more specific and more general meanings. Consider this phrasing: “Grant us your favour, My Lord,  show us this day your star,  the one once you showed to the Magi. The star that led the Magi to Christ, may lead us to Christ’s mysteries.” De Stella Magorum

The figure who embodies the greatest number of traits and qualities of this magical Prisci Thelogia was Zarathustra. But how could he be distinguished from Hermes Trismegistus? We know that what the Renaissance scholars were reading was probably a third-century work. However, reading the essence of the Hermetica, it takes no imagination to see Zoroastrian elements as well as Pythagorean and Platonic ones. At this point in history, this ought to come as no surprise. But one of the greatest pitfalls to knowledge has been the weird insistence of linear time and inevitable progress.

There are many interesting twists and turns on the theme of Prisca Theologia. A good example is to be found in Michelangelo’s Bacchus. The unnamed writer at writes:

Mechelangelo – Baccus

“The statue of Bacchus was commissioned by the banker Jacopo Galli for his garden and he wanted it fashioned after the models of the ancients. The body of this drunken and staggering god gives an impression of both youthfulness and of femininity. Vasari says that this strange blending of effects is the characteristic of the Greek god Dionysus. But in Michelangelo’s experience, [the] sensuality of such a divine nature has a drawback for man: in his left hand the god holds with indifference a lionsksin, the symbol of death, and a bunch of grapes, the symbol of life, from which a Faun is feeding. Thus we are brought to realize, in a sudden way, what significance this miracle of pure sensuality has for man: living only for a short while he will find himself in the position of the faun, caught in the grasp of death, the lionskin. ”

What the patron had understood as an image of lewdness and inebriation, is subtly turned on its head, as it were. The creative process has brought into play to reveal that the Michelangelo of the Pieta and the Sistine Chapel are not so far removed from the theme of Dionysius or Baccus.

The traditions of Platonism, Hermetical, Qabala, Pythagoreanism and Zoroastrianism, all describe a universe in which humanity has the freedom to choose and create. All of these and other traditions integrate the reading of the heavens. In the next part of this article. I would like to address the consequences of a history of the western world that has mostly ignored the contribution made to augury and astrology itself by the cultures of Northern Europe – in particular, that of the Druids

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 Horoscope of the World in the Greater Bundahishn – Part I

Combat between Isfandiyar and Simurgh, from Firdawsi’s Book of Kings, circa 1330.

This is but a cursory introduction to the Greater Bundahishn which will be followed by articles with a sharper focus.  The work contains a concise narrative of the Zoroastrian creation myth, including the first conflicts between Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu for the hegemony of the world. In the process, the Bundahishn recites an exhaustive compendium on the nature of things, including the properties of the elements and significant astrological material. For those interested, there is a pdf version of the work here.

The Bundahishn exists in two forms, the Greater, and the Lesser. The first is the longer Persian version and the shorter or lesser is an Indian version. Here we will be discussing the former only. The title of the work translates as ‘primal creation”  The work concerns itself with every imaginable question that might be raised about the Creation, including the origin and nature of the dark force and it’s antagonism to the light force, ultimately for a greater good. Compared to comparable works, such as Genesis, it is concise, to the point and quintessentially Persian in its optimistic point of view, even in the face of cosmic adversity.  Although the work is late, almost certainly the ninth century, it harks back to the ancient religion of Zarathustra.

As stated by the author at Encyclopedia Iranica, “it’s a major Pahlavi work of compilation, mainly a detailed cosmogony and cosmography based on the Zoroastrian scriptures but also containing a short history of the legendary Kayanids and Ērānšahr in their days. There is also a Ṣad dar-e Bondaheš, a considerably later (ca. 8th-9th/14th-15th century) work in Persian of a hundred miscellaneous chapters on the Zoroastrian religion, morals, legends, and liturgy.” (Encyclopedia Iranica)

As David Pingree has observed,  “the Sassanian horoscope is quite different from the normal Greek Thema Mundi. with which it has been compared.” (Masha’allah: some Sasanian and Syriac sources. pp. 5) The most immediately noticeable feature of the Sassanian horoscope is that it is diurnal, with Aries, the exaltation of the Sun occupying the tenth house, rather than the Sun with Leo in the second house in the diurnal Thema Mundi. Instead of the planets and luminaries being placed in their respective domiciles, they take the place of their exhalations.  However, there are some interesting anomalies. The Ninth House is occupied by the sign Pisces with Venus and Mercury, the first is exalted in Pisces, but Mercury falls in the sign of the Fishes.

The degrees assigned to the signs and planets is crucial to the overall meaning. We know that Persians translated Greek astrological material. Less often mentioned is the influence of Indian astrology.

Thema Mundi

The Ascendant is in Cancer at the same degree as Sirius, “know as Tishtar in the Khurta (Lunar constellation) Azrarag, which corresponds to the Indian naksatra, Aslesa [9th of the 27 nakshatras in Hindu astrology.] (Cancer 16;40° – 30°)” Pingree p. 5-6.

The other most striking difference is in relation to the nodes, in the exaltation but occupying the unfortunate houses. The house of the Evil Spirit is given to the North Node (Rahu) and Gemini. The S. Node (Ketu) is given to Sagittarius.

However, the exaltation of the Sun in Aries is shown at 19° which concords with the Greek assignment. The Indian degree of exaltation is 9°. The Persian sources appear to be troubled by the Sun being in a nocturnal chart of creation. This makes perfect sense considering the importance and symbolism of the Sun in indigenous Persian religion. The Lunar Mansions and Fixed Stars clearly play a role in the placement of the planets and luminaries but beyond that, we need to refer to the Persian accounts of Creation.

The Hermetic Thema Mundi is an astrological teaching tool and it is also decidedly Platonic in its expression of a perfect world of the Forms to be referred to for those who practise astrological divination. It may very well be more than that, but the Sassanian version is something quite different. It appears, after all, in a text describing every element of creation, according to ancient Persian and specifically Zoroastrianism cosmology:

“According to the spherical model assumed in Sasanian Iran under the impact of Greek and Indian astral sciences, the inferior sphere was called the spihr ī gumēzišnīg “sphere of mixture;” it comprised the twelve constellations (Pahl. 12-axtarān) which were subjected to the “mixture” with the demoniac and evil forces (planets, falling stars, comets, etc.); this sphere, of course, included the Zodiacal belt (see Ir. Bd., II, 8-9; cf. Henning, 1942, pp. 232-33, 240; Belardi, 1977, pp. 125-26) with its 12 constellations (Gignoux, 1988); here a most important battle between astral demons and divine star beings takes place, according to the Pahlavi sources. In the framework of the fight between stars and planetary demons, the Zodiacal constellation were considered as bayān, in its early meaning of “givers” of a good lot in opposition to the planets, who are “bandits” (gēg) and robbers of the human fortune.” (Encyclopedia Iranica)

The Greater Bundahishn is a compendium of ideas that are believed to pre-date Zoroastrianism, but the core is true to the cosmology of that religion. There are also some elements that would indicate knowledge relatively contemporary to its ninth century appearance. It appears to be putting preserved knowledge in one place after the horrific destruction in the wake of the Islamic invasion.

‘Buddha offers fruit to the devil’ from 14th-century Persian manuscript ‘The Jāmi

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

A Time for Kali – The Indian Rebellion of 1857

Kali and Bhairava - terrible form of Shiva -  in_Union 18th C. Nepal

Kali and Bhairava – terrible form of Shiva – in_Union 18th C. Nepal

This has been a difficult article to write for many reasons. First of all, there is the scope and length of the subject matter. One can hardly do justice to a war by reading a single chart.. However, the beginning of a war, the initial attack can be read which will, in the process, give us the essence of the larger conflict. I have therefore elected to read the chart for the time of the beginning of the fomenting hostilities in Meerut The explosions occurred later in the day, but we cannot call that the beginning hardly’ There had, after all, been 20 acts of arson and the bazar had become frenzied – full of passionate intensity.

Secondly, the subject matter is particularly gruesome. It is as if Kali were unleashed to kill all indiscriminately. The was no mercy and in fact when a group of survivors were offered safe passage by what were believed to be sympathetic Indians, it turned out to be a trap. The survivors were set afloat and the boats set on fire.

Kali is a goddess of some complexity, but I doubt she has ever been accused of rationality or peaceful resolutions. Hers are primal and chthonic powers. She is known as the goddess of empowerment. She is the consort of the wrathful form of Shiva, who has been fairly compared to Dionysus by A. Danielou in Shiva and Dionysus (1984) The Hindu texts tell us that when she first entered the world, she killed everyone,  driven by blood lust and revenge, unable to stop the slaughter once it had begun. To suggest that she represents the Indians alone in the uprising would be too simplistic, but we can certainly say it was a time for Kali.


Jahangir investing a courtier with a robe o honour watched by Sir Thomas Roe English ambassador to the court of Jahangir at Agra from 1615-18,_

The British East India Company had been chartered by Elizabeth I in 1600 and formed a treaty with the Mughuls under Nuruddin Salim Jahangir (r. 1605–1627. India was not yet part of the British Empire and wouldn’t be for centuries. However, the company required an armed force, 80% of which was made up of native Indians

In some respects the essence of the conflicts seem modern – human versus religious rights imposed by an occupying force. The hegemony of the British was at the very heart of the matter At the centre of indigenous fears were the rights of women, It is not unlike the attempts of western groups to stamp out female circumcision, child marriages and the privation of an education. The British had banned Sati, where a Hindu wife is burned alive in the husbands funeral pyre. They had outlawed female

Family group of Thugees  (Robbers). The Indian thugs kill people by strangling them with their long kerchiefs which they carry on their shoulders.

Family group of Thugees (Robbers). The Indian thugs kill people by strangling them with their long kerchiefs which they carry on their shoulders.

infanticide and passed laws enabling Indian women to own property or get a divorce.  Even today, there are countries which will not permit a woman to drive a car.  In some instances,  it is virtually impossible not to have sympathies for both sides of a conflict; but today we have Boku Haram and the Taliban, both violently opposed to education for women and enforcing their brutal mentality through slavery and massacres while insisting they are acting in conformity with their religion.

For most of us this goes far beyond any concerns for religious freedom. Violent denial of the most basic rights isn’t something we can simply accept, even if we know we are powerless to change things in the short run. However we decide to act, it is imperative to understand that for many people the attempt to better the lives of women is seen as a religious attack.

The British had also brought 400 years of Moghul rule to an end. Orthodox Hindus or Muslims thought the traditional ways were being seriously challenged. William Wilberforce had pressed for a particular system of ethics which was alien to the Indians.

The Company had been rapacious in Bengal. Lands for which there was no legitimate heir could be subsumed into British India. There were unpopular revenue policies. Of course the humiliation of being governed by a foreign power contributed to the Rebellion. Indian aristocracy more than anyone else feared the changing society.

Bahadur_Shah_II_of_India - "the last Moghul"

Bahadur_Shah_II_of_India – “the last Moghul”

“The pretext for revolt was the introduction of the new Enfield rifle. To load it, the sepoys had to bite off the ends of lubricated cartridges. A rumour spread among the sepoys that the grease used to lubricate the cartridges was a mixture of lard and beef tallow.; thus, to have oral contact with it was an insult to both Muslims and Hindus. There is no conclusive evidence that either of these materials was actually used on any of the cartridges in question. ” (Indian Mutinee. Encyclopaedia Britannica).

There were also far more wide sweeping issues that had brought about the Rebellion Some Hindus were concerned that he British were undermining the caste system and one could in fact lose caste if their lips touched the flesh of the sacred cow, even if done in ignorance.  If the rumour had been correct both Hindu and Muslim would  expect retribution in this life and the next. The Sepoys were soon offered the older cartridge design for their rifles to allay their fears, but only a tiny fraction of them accepted them. It was so much more than cartridges. In the final analysis, the greatest concern was the fear of a Christianized and Anglicization India. We can say this was a religious war in that sense.

Sepoy C, 1857

Sepoy C, 1857

There are many excellent sources for the background of this nightmare. I particularly recommend The Last Moghul by William Dalrymple (Bloomsbury 2006) and Heaven’s Command by James Morris (Folio 1992) I have also added two videos below, that give a reasonable overview of an epically complex scenario.

Although the event has been called a mutinee, it was so much more than that. First of all, it was one of several mutinees, ignited for a variety of reasons and characterized by extreme brutality of mythic proportions. When all had settled down, there was a new social order and power structure and ironically, the mutinee lead to India becoming a part of the British Empire – The jewel in the crown. The last Moghul was pensioned off by the British and sent to Burma, where he died shortly thereafter.

The mutiny soon escalated into other mutinies and civilian rebellions largely in the upper Gangetic plain and central India, with the major hostilities confined to present-day Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, northern Madhya Pradesh, and the Delhi region


After Sunday Church services on 10 May 1857 in the cantonment of the town of Meerut, the inhabitants could not have imagined the horror to come. Meerut was not a military outpost per se.  It had minimal defences and there were women and children living there wh0 had been thought secure. It was like a barracks with family quarters.

There is no source fir the exact time for the beginning of hostilities , but by referring to other events I feel confident with this chart for 10.40 am. I f we turn to the chart, we find that it is at once quite literal and richly mythological at the same time .Picture2

The Lord of the Geniture is the Sun, the Lord of the Ascendant  Jupiter in Aries in the Ninth House is Almuten Figuris, ,Lord of the Eighth and in a Martian Sign. Jupiter is Peregrine. That could very well indicate many deaths with a religious causation, If we take the Leo Ascendant to be the British, the Solar Lord of the Ascendant is bringing the force of Algol or in this case Kali to bear on their lives.

The Ninth House informs the Tenth and the Eleventh House provides the support, What we find in the Tenth is truly extraordinary. The Lord of the Tenth is a strong Mercury in Gemini. The planets and luminary are all in Taurus, but Venus is Cazimi and both she and the Sun are conjunct Algol. The Sun is also Peregrine. Moreover, Venus is retrograde and transferring her light to Mars. It is just past Full Moon and the last Planetary Aspects made by the Moon is an opposition to Mars, she is also parallel the Fixed Star Facies, denoting ruthlessness.

Perseus from al-Sufi

Perseus from al-Sufi

Algol has the most malicious reputation and always seems to deliver what is promised – losing one’s head, often literally and significant of piled up corpses according to the Chinese. This is the eye of Medusa, the ultimate demonic star. More often than not, we will find Algol in the charts of extreme disasters. The hidden enemy is represented by Saturn in the Twelfth House, disposited by the Moon and conjunct the Fixed Star, Sirius — indicating searing heat.  Saturn is Lord of the Seventh House of open enemies. The attack was in the form of explosions and fires everywhere

The S. Node is in the House of the Goddess in Venusian Libra and the N. Node in the same sign as Jupiter. This is a volatile and violent chart and also one in which the power of the Feminine is overwhelming.

Perhaps in a later article, we might explore other charts for the myriad of events of the great rebellion , but for now we have what I would call the chart of its essence