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 Michelangelo.org 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

Songs from the Gathas – Removing Spells & Illness

A Persian Zoroastrian King and his young son, Salmân al-Fârisî, enter a fire temple administered by three priests,

This is another of those topics which deserve a lengthy article, but for now a blog entry will have to suffice as an introduction to a highly complex topic. The video, shown below, was made available on YouTube by a Zoroastrian gentleman who has an extraordinary channel at Fereydoun Rasti Zoroastrianism & Iran If this material interests you, I heartily recommend looking through the extensive archives of videos. 

I posted this rather lengthy video because it uses the Zoroastrian scriptures known as the Gathas. The similarity to the Vedic word Gita (song) is no accident: Maneckji Nusservanji Dhalla states that “It is an uncontested fact that there is a marked closeness between the grammar,metre, and style of the Rig Veda and the Gathas.” (History of Zoroastrianism p11).. The power of words is emphasized in both and the verses are meant to be sung, as the title suggests.

Zoroastrianism posits, quite sensibly in my estimation, that this world is in a battle between good and evil. There are no specific scriptural comments on astrology per se in the Gatha period at least, but astrology certainly became an important element of Persian beliefs. It was already ubiquitous. Zoroastrianism is not known as a superstitious religion. It is widely believed that Zoroaster was a priest and a prophet, associated with the Magi. He is considered a magician in the true sense.

The creator, Ahura Mazda, has always affected human reasoning and therefore actions. The aim is to reveal to humanity their innate connection to the source of light and consciousness. It should come as no surprise that Zoroastrianism was the impetus and source of Mahayana Buddhism.

There is also an angelology – the idea of celestial forces that could be called upon.  Ahura Mazda is ineffable.  The point for our immediate concerns are that the Gathas were sung for devotional reasons and also used to mitigate or cast out what were considered evil forces, including common illnesses. This cosmology lends itself very well to an astrological framework, but not one in which the planets or angels had a will of their own, as it were. We come back to the to the question as to whether the stars impel or compel us. The creed of Zoroastrianism comes down to “good thoughts, good speech, and good action..” With this thing in mind the practise of singing the Gathas, we find that this is more a practical application of divine principles than superstition.

The counterpart to Ahura Mazda is Angra Mainyu also known as the “evil spirit.” This dark manifestation is ultimately set to be destroyed according to Zoroastrian eschatology  In the meantime, the kinds of practises described in the video presentation are regarded as wise and efficacious, much in the way a Hindu or Buddhist might consider a mantra. We don’t consider the practise of such things as being indicative of superstitious minds and certainly neither do those employing these remedies. This is the source of confusion for many when being introduced to the Good Religion, as it is frequently called. A Monotheistic faith that recognizes dual forces of light and darkness within that wholeness is actually a fair and apt description of life.

 

The study of ancient and classical astrology inevitably including spending a great deal of time on the history, culture and particularly the religion of ancient Persia. There are several reasons for this, but the primary one can be realized immediately by the strategic location of a land that once included most of what is now Afghanistan and beyond. She borders India and the Sik Road to China, promoting trade and the exchange of ideas. Moreover, she also bordered and later ruled Babylon, Assyria, and Sumeria.

The capturing of Babylon also include the liberation of the Jews by Darius, who went further and paid to gave the temple re-built. darius forbid the use of slaves.  Later on, Persia was conquered by Alexander the Great, whose teacher was no less than Aristotle, Alexander’s conquest of Asia was a bloody affair and many scholars and written material were lost forever when he set the torch to Persepolis, burning the city to the ground amongst an orgy of violence, in spite of the fact that the inhabitants have surrendered. That was one of the best cases that have ever been made against the excessive abuse of alcohol in decision making in all of history.

Even the most unjustly founded empires do in fact has some advantages and this is very much the case in the transmission of knowledge. The Hellenistic world united Greece with Egypt and  Persia with both. The School of Alexandria was among the greatest venues for shared knowledge, from Hindu astronomers and astrologers, Buddhists, Pythagorean, numerous Solar religions, Neo-Platonists, devotees of Isis, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians. This place of extraordinary learning was to meet its own demise under the Muslim invasions.

It’s a Persian, Indian and Greek alchemy that produced what we now call Hellenistic astrology. But that is only the beginning.

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.

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

Commentary on Averrores – BBC

Abū l-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn ʾAḥmad Ibn Rushd‎ (Latinized as Averroes), lived from 14 April 1126 – 10 December 1198. He was a Medieval Andalusian polymath who wrote profusely on logic, Aristotelian and Islamic philosophy, theology, the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence,  psychology, political and Andalusian classical music theory, geography and mathematics, Averroes is of great importance in Islamic philosophy for multiple reasons. He argued for the reconciliation of reason with revealed religion, pointing out passages from the Qu’ran to support his position. He was a powerful proponent of Astrology for the same reasons. He was accused of shirk or polytheism, for referring to the planets, and most particularly Venus, as if they were divine. He was exiled but eventually embraced back into court in Morroco.

Vernal Equinox & Nowruz 2015

Bas-relief in Persepolis, Fars province of Iran. A Zoroastrian symbol of Nowruz – on the vernal equinox the powers of the eternally fighting bull (personifying the Earth) and lion (personifying the Sun) are equal.  (Licence Wikipedia)

Bas-relief in Persepolis, . A Zoroastrian symbol of Nowruz – on the vernal equinox the powers of the eternally fighting bull (personifying the Earth) and lion (personifying the Sun) are equal. (Licence Wikipedia)

Nowruz is among the most ancient and significant astrologically based holy days celebration in the world. It began with Mithraism and Zoroastrianism and is still celebrated with zeal in several countries from Azerbaijan, Russia, Syria, Turkey , India and of course Iran. A repeating theme is the allegory of the balance of light and darkness illustrated by the bas-relief shown above. This is echoed in the celebration of Ostera or Easter which falls on the first Sunday after the first full Moon in Spring. It represents earthly fertility in the waxing day force as well as spiritual resurrection. What is above, is below.

The Aries Equinox chart is always of great significance, but here we have the confluence of a Solar Eclipse just hours before the Ingress, @ 29°27′ Pisces. This is a rare event and worthy of our close attention. This is a rare event and worthy of our close attention. We start with a reading of the chart of the year. The undisputed Lady of the Year is Venus in Taurus: Occidental, direct, free of the beams, in sect and of course in her domicile She protects from external enemies. .Mars is also in his domicile,in sect and in hiss house of Joy.and Aries is the Exaltation of the Sun. Noname1 The sixth house is the house of the common people in Mundane charts and here there are in a strong position, even with the unfortunate Moon in Aries. That leaves us with an unremarkable Mercury in Pisces, in his Fall but nicely placed by house and both Social Planets retrograde. Saturn in Sagittarius, Peregrine isn’t well placed at the best of times, but in the Second House income is seriously restricted and curtailed

This applies to the nation more specifically than to the individual. Jupiter in Leo, the domicile of the Sun occupies the Tenth House and is indicative of rulers, Although he enjoys some elemental sympathy from the Common People, we can say Jupiter is inflated and worst of all retrograde, symbolically moving away from the “throne.” The sympathy is amplified by the Sun in the Sixth House.This denotes the fall of a leader, Considering the pomp and circumstance of Leo, this may very well refer to a prominent member of the aristocracy or Royal Family. Noname2a The video below shows the progress and visibility of the eclipse. Eclipses affect most those nations and cities that fall under the sign of the eclipse as well as where it is visible. This would include Egypt, Normandy, North Africa, Portugal and Scandinavia.  My primary focus is on the United Kingdom and those places in the same time zone and visibility of the eclipse although much of what I have to say would apply in a lesser extent to Europe, Western Russia and  the Piscean nation of Egypt, the latter of course in a very volatile state. The time if the eclipse at GMT falls ominously in the 10th House. It`s almost as if the eclipse sets the stage for the fall of the *monarch* Jupiterean Pisces turns off the lights while Saturn holds the Seventh House.  It isn’t hard to read this fairly literally.  We could say that the strong Mars in the Eleventh House lends support to the Tenth, but with the S, Node and really no mitigating elements, it might very well do more harm than good.

The significance of an Eclipse is in the larger picture of the nation or nations rather than on the lives of individuals specifically, but of course whatever affects the nation will affect the people, sometimes in major ways and more often in ways that are not immediately detected. If you celebrate only one or two things a year, the Vernal Equinox is highly significant – the forces of darkness and light are balanced with the forces of light, with the Sun waxing in the Sign of his exaltation.

Shah Tahmasp I and Humayun. Novrouz festival From Chehel Sotoun Palace, Isfahan. Artist unknown. C. 1820

Shah Tahmasp I and Humayun. Novrouz festival From Chehel Sotoun Palace, Isfahan. Artist unknown. C. 1820

Magic and the Occult in Islam: Ahmad al-Buni

What follows is a very fine lecture by Saiyad Nizamuddin Ahmad (Department of Arabic and Islamic Civilizations, American University in Cairo) delivered at the Warburg Institute, University of London, May 2003.

This is an important lecture in it’s own right, but I’m also posting this as an introduction to my next post, regarding the decoding of a manuscript using astrological elements such as Lunar Mansions, Constellations and significant stars; while making reference to the Picatrix. I’m delighted to see so much research and scholarship brought to bear on the astrological tradition and it’s association with Alchemy, Geomancy. & Theurgy.