Friday, February 10, 2006

Glossary: Conjunctions and Astrology

In Moorish Spain universities arose in cities like Toledo, dominated by Moor and Jewish scholars, with great emphasis on the fields of astronomy and astrology.

By the 12th century, European Christians also attended these centers of learning and began translating Arabic works, including some of the lost Greek works preserved only in Arabic. Gerard of Cremona translated Ptolemy's Almagest in Toledo, which was the world's foremost translation center of Arabic works into Latin.

So it should come as no surprise that Wolfram von Eschenbach claimed that the bard Kyot had translated Arabic texts that he obtained from the "heathen" known as Flegatanis.

The heathen Flegetanis could tell us how all stars set and rise again...With his own eyes, the heathen Flegetanis saw and told of hidden secrets, that he was shy to speak of, in the constellations. He declared the Grail, whose name he read in the stars..."

-- Parzival

In Parzival itself, Cundrie the prophetess from near the Ganges recites the names of the stars in Latino-Arabic revealing that such knowledge as found in Toledo was possessed by von Eschenbach himself.

Conjunctions of stars and planets signaled the advent of new cycles and holy messengers according to the Muslim astrologer Albumasar. First translated by Joannis Hispalensis (John of Seville) in the mid-12th century, his works al-Madkhal al-kabir (Introductorium maius) and Dalalat al-ashkhas al-ulwiyya (De magnis coniunctionibus et annorunt revolutionibus) had great influence on Western thinking.

In particular, Albumasar introduced the idea that the great religions or philosophies were all revealed after special conjunctions of Jupiter with one of the six planets. He also created an Islamicized version of the 'three Hermes' legend found in the Greco-Egyptian Hermetic tradition.

According to Albumasar, various incarnations of Hermes visit the earth to introduce new religions or philosophies. In the west, the first Hermes was Idris known in the Old Testament as Enoch. The second was Budhasaf of Babylon and the third Aris (Horus) of Egypt. Interestingly all these prophets were said, by either Albumasar or his followers, to have originated in, or to have learned their arts in the Indies (al-Hind) or China.

An eastern connection is not surprising when you consider that Albumasar hailed from Balkh in Afghanistan and was probably familiar with medieval Zoroastrian millennarianism.

Roger Bacon and Pierre d'Ailly, following Albumasar, propounded that five prophets corresponding to five of the six planets had already appeared on earth during conjunctions with Jupiter. Each had introduced a major world religious or philosophical system.

The last (false) prophet in their view, the Antichrist, would come with the grand conjunction of Jupiter and the Moon.

Indian tradition also links the last age with a conjunct Jupiter-Moon but in reference to the savior king Kalki rather than the Antichrist.

At this time the Lord will incarnate in a brahmin family in the village known as Sambhala, and will be known as Kalki. With unrivalled majesty he will soar across the sky, destroying millions of brigands in ruler's disguise. Then will the Satyayuga [Age of Truth] commence -- an age of righteousness and holiness. Satyayuga will begin when the Sun, Moon and Jupiter rise together in the same house with Pushya asterism in the ascendant.

-- Bhagavata Purana 12:2

Albumasar popularized as well the concept that regular conjunctions of the two slowest-moving planets -- Saturn and Jupiter -- heralded grand world events, both good and bad. Beginning in about the 14th century, these Saturn-Jupiter conjunctions were of great interest to Europeans particularly in light of the frequent plagues that ravaged the continent. People from royalty to the peasantry payed close attention to publications of conjunction-linked prophecies by astrologers like Cristoforo Landino, Marsilio Ficino and Roger Bacon.

By far the most famous of these prophets was Michel de Nostradamus of Provence, France. In his writings, he may have referred to the last prophetic conjunction of Jupiter with the Moon when he mentions "the sixth bright celestial splendor" (C1:Q80).

Frequently Nostradamus tells of a king or other significant person of the East quite reminiscent of the Zoroastrian prophecies of the savior king from Kangdez. And he mentions a king linked with line of Hermes:

Long awaited he will never return
In Europe, he will appear in Asia:
One of the league issued from the great Hermes,
And he will grow over all the Kings of the East.

-- Les centuries C10:Q75

Given the state of affairs in European astrology at the time, this could certainly be a reference to the Hermes of the sixth Jupiter conjunction described by Bacon and d'Ailly.

Astrological conjunctions throughout the world

Astrological conjunctions also appear at the beginning of new epochs in India, China, Mesopotamia and Mesoamerica.

In India, China and Mesopotamia, all planets are said to have been aligned in the same location at the start of the great age. The sexagenary cycles of China and India appear to originate from the Saturn-Jupiter conjunction cycle. As discussed earlier in the blog, such cycles may also have influenced the Mayan calendar.

The conjunction of the Sun with the Moon, Venus, the Pleiades, Orion and Sirius is widely observed in many cultures. The ancient Polynesians saw conjunctions as signs and omens, and the navigator Hawai`iloa was advised to sail toward an auspicious conjunction involving Jupiter during his discovery voyage to Hawai`i.

Many Austronesian peoples looked for auspicious times for battles and other events in the conjunction of the Moon with certain fixed stars or planets.

According to Chinese accounts like the P'ing-chou k'o-t'an, the inhabitants of Sanfotsi were expert astronomers, and especially skilled in the prediction of eclipses.

Paul Kekai Manansala


McCluskey, Stephen C. Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe, Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Needham, Joseph. Science and Civilisation in China: Volume 5, Chemistry and Chemical Technology, Part 4, Spagyric..., Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 412.

Selin, Helaine and Sun Xiaochun. Astronomy Across Cultures: The History of Non-Western Astronomy, Springer, 2000.


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