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

The Astrological Mysticism of Shaykh al-Akbar Ibn Arabi

 Ibn Arabi Portrait - Muhammad Ibn Arabi

Astrology is a mystical art. As far as Occidental, Arabian, Persian and to a large extent Indian astrology is concerned, its basis is the Syncretic Neo Platonic and Hermetic Philosophy as it flourished in Alexandria. Of course these different but compatible philosophies had far more ancient roots. It is also true that astrology differed in its expression, depending on the culture in which it was practiced. But the differences are for the most part quite superficial. At the core of all these strains is the Hermetic dictum : As above, So below. This isn’t just a saying or something that is true some of the time. It is Divine Spark and Living truth. This is but a brief introduction to the underlying spiritual principles ,from the point of view of  a Sufi master.

I wonder if anyone understood this better than Ibn Arabi. You won’t just finds his Mystical Astrology in the books he wrote on the subject. His world view was soaked in and consumed by the expression of mysticism – a cosmos where all was inextricably connected. I recommend his book Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom for deeper insight.

Ibn ʿArabī was an Arab Andalusian Sufi mystic and philosopher, nicknamed “Son of Plato.” He is also one of the best know Astrologers of the Islamic Golden Age. Born: July 28, 1165, Murcia – Died: November 10, 1240 in Damascus. One of his greatest gifts is what I will call meta – astrology, and articulation of the manifestation of the divine through astrology.

At about the age of fifteen. he had an extraordinary mystical unveiling or “opening.”  This is mentioned in his famous account of  his meeting with Averroes. The experience changed him and only after this original divine “attraction did he begin his Sufi practice . Ibn ‘Arabi also studied the traditional sciences, as did virtually all astrologers.

15 th Century Map of Andalusia

15 th Century Map of Andalusia

His full name, of great importance in the Islamic tradition, consisting of mostly titles and references to his lineage is Muhyī al-dīn Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muhammad bin ‘Alī bin Muhammad bin Ahmad bin ‘Abd Allāh bin al-‘Arabī al-Tā’ī al-Hātimī al-Andalusī

The title Muhyī al-dīn appears in early manuscripts written during the lifetime of Ibn ‘Arabī, and would seem to have been not simply an honorific title but a conscious appeal to the common Muslim view that in every century of Islam there would appear

Ibn Arabi

Ibn Arabi

someone who would “renew” the religion (mujaddid). AbūHāmid al-Ghazzālī had been generally accepted as the “reviver of religion” in the sixth century of the Hijra, and another great renewer was expected for the

seventh. Ibn ‘Arabī himself was certainly very aware of al-Ghazzālī’s legacy, and named several of his works in imitation of his great predecessor.[4] While there is no evidence that he openly portrayed himself with such a title, he equally did nothing to prevent its ascription to him during his lifetime. (by Stephen Hirtenstein -Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Society, Vol. 41, 2007.)

Titus Burkhardt writes in his Introduction to The Mystical Astrology of Iban Arabi :

Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi englobes in a certain fashion the essential reality of heliocentricism in his cosmological edifice : like Ptolemy and like those all th rough the Middle Ages he assigns to the sun, which he compares to th e ‘Pole’ (qutb) and to the heart of the world’ (qalb al-‘alam), a central  p0sition on in the hierarchy of th e celestial spheres, and this by assigning equal numbe rs of superior skies and inferior skies to the sky of the sun; he amplifies nevertheless the system of Ptolemy by yet again underlining the

Medieval list of Ibn_Arabi_Books

Medieval list of Ibn_Arabi_Books

symmetry of the spheres with respect to the sun : according to his cosmological system, which he probably holds from the Andalusian Sufi Ibn Masarrah, the sun is not only in the centre of the six known planets -Mars (al-mirik.h ), Jupiter (al-mushtari) and Saturn (az-zuhal) being further away from theibnarabi-cosmos Earth (al-ardh) than the Sun (ash-shams), and Venus (az­zuhrah), Mercury (al-utarid) and the Moon (al-qamar) being closer -but beyond the sky of Saturn is situated the vault of the sky of th e fi xed stars (falak al-kawakib), th at of the sky with­out stars (al-falak al-atlas), and the two supreme spheres of the ‘Divine Pedestal’ (al-kursi) and of th e ‘Divine Throne’ (al­’arsh), concentric spheres to which symetrically correspond the four sub-lunar spheres of ether (al-athir), of air (al-hawa), of water (al-ma) and of earth (aJ-ardh ). Thus is apportioned sevenmansions

degrees to either side of the sphere of the sun, the Divine (Throne) symbolizing the synthesis of all the cosmos, and the centre of the earth being thereof both the inferior conclusion and the center of fixation (Burkhardt p. 12).

Ibn Arabi’s mysticism is in most respects universal, but with regard to the Moon for example, his beliefs coincided with Islamic esotericism. The Moon plays a particular visual role in Islamic culture. Most Islamic countries have the Moon as part of their flag, Islam itself  however is under the governance of Venus as all Arab and Persian astrologers have made clear.

Ibn_Arabi

Ibn_Arabi

I would like to focus on this Lunar material because of course it directly relates to the Lunar Mansions. For Ibn Arabi, the Moon receives all influences which she then collects to transmit to Earth.  Adam is considered Lunar Man and Enoch is Solar Man – The first is Primordial and individual man and the latter the Divine Man. The full extent of this system requires considerable study and certainly more than I am able to do here. Still, these simple but profound things are important to keep in mind.

Ibn Arabi compares the “‘unique man ‘, which receives th e revelation (tajaili) of the Divine Essence (dhat); this heart changes form continually according to the different ‘essential truths’ (haqc1 iq) which leave successively therein their imprint” (Burkhardt 34).He has a masterful understanding of the archetypes and employs them in a mystical astrologer that is also accurate. We are after all referring to Divine Essence.

The qualities of the Divine Names are of necessity innumerable, because this Essence cannot be the “subject” of a science because that would imply distinction, in a similar sense as the infinite cannot be grasped by a finite mind.

” the Master makes th e 28 mansions of the Moon correspond to as many Divine Names. On the other hand, these, which all have an active or creative character, have as complements or as direct objects the same number of cosmic degrees, so th at their connection forms a second analogous cycle. The series of these cosmic degrees produced by the series of the Divine Names go from the first manifestation of the In­tellect down to the creation of man. ” (Burkhardt 37.) Ibn Arabi ‘s is a living breathing and divine creation.

Returning to the Moon, Ibn Arabi explains that it is this Lunar mediation that relates to what he calls the “transformation of the Primordial Sound” that is the vehicle of spiritual revelation, in articulated language. Islamic mysticism creates a correspondence between the  28 Mansions of the Moon and Twenty Eight letters or sounds of the sacred language.

It is not like people think,’ – says Muhyid din Ibn ‘Arabi, – ‘that the mansions of the Moon represent the models of the letters; it is the 28 sounds which determine the  lunar mansions.” These sounds represent in fact the micro­ cosmic and human expression of the essential determinations of th e Divine Breath, which is itself the prime motivation of cosmic cycles. The Master counts the 28 sounds of the Arabic alphabet from the first lunar mansion, which follows the Spring Equinox, in the successive order of their phonetic exteriorisation, beginning with the hiatus (al-hamzah), and going on through the gutteral consonants to the labials passing through the palatals and the dentals. If one takes into account the fact that the initial hiatus is not properly speaking a so und, but only a transitory instant be tween silence and locution, the series of sounds attributed to the lunar mansions begins with the haand ends with the waw, these two letters composing the Divine Name huwa, ‘ He’, symbol of th e Essence one and identical to Itself.  (Burkhardt p.35)document-image8

In this brief but admittedly dense introduction to Ibn Arabi’s metaphysics and astrological mysticism we can find deep insight into the entire astrological tradition, most specifically Arabian, but really of all true forms of the art. I hope it encourages readers to delve further into this fascinating and rich material. I would be very happy to discuss it with you. I might follow-up with an article on a specific element of Ibn Arabi’s astrology in the near future