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in Natural Astrology

History of Arabic astrology in the Middle Ages
by Richard Pellard
English translation by Julien Rouger

After the intellectual splendor of the Hellenistic period, the irruption of Christianity and the partition of the Roman Empire (in 395 AD), astrology had practically disappeared from European concerns. Towards the 7th century, no reference text reporting progress or a renewal of astrological knowledge has come down to us since the Tetrabiblos of Ptolemy (140 AD). It is thanks to the Arab civilization and the intellectual development driven by original Islam that astrology in the Hellenistic tradition reappeared on the old continent, from the 12th century.

The appearance of astrology in the Arab world

Between the 9th and the 12th century, we are witnessing an unmistakable period of intellectual hegemony in the Arab-Muslim world, while the West sinks into the thick and inert cloud of ignorance of the Christian Middle Ages, stirred up only by a few storms of Byzantine theological disputes.

When Islam was born in Arabia around 620 AD, the Arab civilization had not developed a very great curiosity towards science in general and astrology in particular, and philosophical abstractions were to a very large extent foreign to it.

During the phase of expansion and conquest of Islam, the Arabs, by invading other territories and thus confronting other civilizations, encountered a whole heritage in the field of exoteric sciences or esoteric, of which astrology was a part. The Bedouins were certainly used to examining the stars before the revelation of the Koran to Muhammad, but this embryonic astrology had no relation to the rich and complex technical astronomy developed before them by the Greeks following the Chaldeans. This primitive astrology, simple observation of the stars with an essentially meteorological aim, gradually annexed the astrological knowledge that already existed in the countries affected by Zoroastrianism and even by Hinduism.

But the natural foundations of Arabic astrology come from the encounter of conquering Islam with the scientific and philosophical heritage of the ancient Greeks, which at the time was extremely well preserved in Syria and Egypt. The Arabs adopted and very quickly appropriated, apparently without complexes, the Aristotelian conception of the world. The great texts of Greek astrology, such as the Tetrabiblos of Ptolemy, will be quickly translated into Arabic, and the practice of “western” astrology by the Muslims probably started as early as the 7th-9th century AD.

Could astrology, exogenous knowledge, come into contradiction with the word of Islam, as it happened with Christianity? One of the essential dogmas of Islam affirms that all human life is finalized according to obedience to the divine law as it is revealed in the Koran, and that there resides the essence of the Muslim being-to-the-world. A gnostic and immanent vision such as that developed by astrology was not foreseen by prophetic and transcendent Islam. But on the other hand, the prophet himself encouraged believers to study science: knowledge cannot be the enemy of faith, provided it contributes to a better understanding of God’s creation. Thus medieval Islam was generally extremely tolerant towards all forms of knowledge: from the moment when one respected at least the external norms of Koranic law, Muslim theologians could tolerate and even encourage many attitudes cognitive and spiritual: astrology has benefited greatly from this.

Astrology and Greek Philosophy in Islam

There is no doubt that Arab scholars, especially in the 9th and at the 10th century, have developed powerful encyclopedic temptations, somewhat like what happened in the West during the Renaissance (all things considered of course). The areas of knowledge were divided into two main categories: the first included the Islamic sciences, specifically religious and Arabic, which served for individual salvation and the collective organization of the community of believers, such as Muslim law, Koranic theology and Arabic grammar. The second category included the “foreign sciences”, in fact almost all from the Hellenistic heritage: philosophy, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and astrology, alchemy, known from the Arabic translations of ancient Greek texts.

The most daring of Muslim thinkers have taken up Aristotelian thought and the astrological heritage of Ptolemy, and tried to show how this knowledge could be articulated with Islamic thought, in such a way that prophetic revelation and philosophical knowledge come together in a kind of common wisdom.

Arab intellectuals therefore integrated the Aristotelian conception into their vision of the world, which could quite easily be combined with Islamic theology: the unique and concrete God of the Koran, commanding all things, was not in itself contradictory with the abstract God of Aristotle, conceived as “first engine” of the causal chains of creation, ordering the world through the intermediary of the celestial spheres.

What makes Arabic astrology special is therefore its encounter with the Hellenistic tradition, which is a science still alive in Syria and Egypt at the time of the Arab conquest. The two main sources of Arabic astrology are Aristotelian physics and Ptolemy’s astronomy.

Let us recall that the Aristotelian and Ptolemaic conception of the cosmos is geocentric. It postulates that there exist around the Earth seven spheres which are like immense transparent globes revolving around their axis; on the surface of each of them is a planet. There is also an additional sphere called “fixed stars” on which are all the stars and constellations which apparently do not move, unlike the planets and the two luminaries; finally, a last sphere encompasses the previous ones and delimits the universe.

This Aristotelian datum served as the basis for the conception of the world of all the intellectuals of the time. Astrology intervened from the moment when one posed the problem of the effectiveness that one gives to these celestial spheres. The thought that everything that happens on our Earth is in fact generated and determined by the position of the stars was accepted by a majority of Arab intellectuals, astrologers or not.

For Aristotelianism, a scientific, causal foundation explained the nature of the cosmos. For example, the explanation of movement, act and power, final, efficient, material, formal causes, all these mechanistic concepts were used to analyze the movement of the stars and their influence on the Earth. Moreover, one could start from Aristotle himself, from his Meteorological, where he affirmed that all the movements of the lower, sublunary world are in contiguity with the celestial movements, so that the astrologers could find a philosophical justification for this action of the stars on the things of the Earth. For the Arab astrologers, it was therefore a matter of operating the passage between philosophy, the almost abstract metaphysics of Aristotle, and its insertion in the concrete world where one can see the act and the power in action, and observe the effects of the stars in Nature.

Under the leadership of Caliph Al Mamoun in the 9th century a very powerful movement of translation of Greek and Persian texts developed. Al Mamoun founds in Baghdad a “house of science” where the scientists had among other things the mission of verifying the theories of Ptolemy. These astronomers (Muslims, pagans, Jews) created the astronomical tables; most of these scholars were also astrologers. The first director of the “house of science” was an astronomer-astrologer who wrote astrological works.

Allah and the planets

Could astrology be articulated with the notion of the Koranic God? Allah, very voluntarist, intervening at every moment for every phenomenon that takes place in the world, does he not risk finding himself in competition with the influence of the stars? It is according to this question that the positions taken for or against astrology have been situated. The most common theological position — and the least disturbing — was to say that the stars certainly influence or can influence the course of human life, but that they do so by express authorization of divine authority, which can very well at any time, by supreme decision, interrupt their influence.

The debates between theologians pro or anti-astrologers took place by interposed treaties. In seances between scholars, we discussed how astrology could be true or not, and all the debates focused on two fundamental points. The first is rather philosophical and scientific: “Is astrology true, do the stars have an impact and really allow us to plan events?

To this, certain rationalist Muslim scholars will respond, such as Avicenna (950–1037, Iranian philosopher and physician, disciple of Aristotle) that astrology is not demonstrative, that it cannot predict anything, because one cannot experiments likely to empirically validate the assertions of astrologers. Example: “It is said that Mars influences in the direction of combat, of war; but there is no observation that allows us to systematically verify this assertion. So astrology is pure conjecture.

Other types of anti-astrological arguments, moral and theological, will also come from the doctors of Koranic law: “Is it licit to practice astrology even though one knows and believes that God is responsible for all actions in the world?” To this question, a great Muslim theologian gave an answer according to which astrology can bring nothing good to Man; even if it were true, which he doubted, in any case it could only distract Man from his faith in God and from his individual responsibility in the face of his own destiny; so there was no benefit in practicing it and no harm in ignoring it. Other commentators of the Koran, on the contrary, supported the idea that all knowledge is good, that the more one knows, the more power one has to direct one’s life well, and considered that it was therefore better to know astrology, because it could eventually help to better discern Good from Evil and thus become a better Muslim.

During the first centuries of Egira (8th, 9th and 10th century of our era), astrology was in any case present everywhere, even in the Arab souks, and almost systematically at the court of the powerful. In the end, however, it is the opinion of the anti-astrologers, whether they are rationalist Aristotelians like Avicenna or fundamentalist theologians who will eventually prevail… It must be said that the Arab astrologers, ultra-determinists, had given their enemies serious weapons!

Specificity of Arabic astrology

The relation of participation that we find in the indices of all the stars, and which are marked on all the things in the world below, this relation is known with certainty. Association and differentiation occur in the component parts of plants and minerals, as well as in colors. The white color comes from the Moon, the Sun and Venus; red is brought by Mars, with participation of the Sun; the black color is brought by Saturn, especially if conjunct Mercury; yellow belongs to the Sun and Mars with participation of Jupiter. The color blue and the color green are related to Venus, and the rest of the colors have their origin according to the participation they imply. The same is true for flavors and perfumes. And as for the generation, the giving of a round, long, short, square, curved shape, all these qualities carry hints emanating from the world above in all things.

This text, taken from the work of Abou Marchar, the most illustrious of learned Arab astrologers, illustrates well one of the essential characteristics of Arab astrology: the hyper-deterministic conception that it had of the relations between Man and Heaven.

Man is caught in a sort of vice of forces which are eternal, unchanging, continually in action and which can go so far as to threaten his own individual freedom. Abou Marchar goes so far as to say that “Man only decides what the planets have already decided before him”. And it is in the name of an abstract Aristotelianism mixed with Muslim mysticism that he defends astrology:

The generation and corruption of things are produced in this world by the movement of the planets and their entry into each location of the circle by order of God. Thus one is led to affirm first that the movement of the circle is caused by the power of the first cause. Let us recall the words of Aristotle when he declares ‘since the sphere is moved, it is necessary that its movement come from an immobile source’, because if what moves were moved in turn, there would follow a process of infinity. Then, the movement of the sphere is eternal by virtue of its cause which is itself eternal. Now, as its power is eternal, it is not possible for it to be of corporeal essence, although it can move bodies. Finally, as its power has no end, it does not diminish and is not corruptible. See how by things visible and accessible to the senses, we reached the Creator, that is to say, he is eternal, of a power without end or limit, unmoved and imperishable, the Most High. May his name be blessed and exalted in supreme exaltation.

From the perspective of Arabic astrology, it is through their movement and their light that the stars act. Abu Marchar blames Ptolemy for claiming that the stars had qualities of hot and cold, dry and humid, the four elementary qualities of the sublunar world. He claimed that the Elements were creations of the stars through light and movement. This is probably a trace of ancient Zoroastrianism for which the deity was the light, which gave an aura of divine respectability to this astral constraint.

Astrological treatises became independent technical works quite early, but it was especially with Abou Marchar (Introduction to the science of the judgments of the stars) that astrology begins to structure itself in totalizing knowledge, and in fact totalitarian, absorbing astronomy, metaphysics, physics and science medicine ; the number of introductory books to the science of acts that have appeared following that of Abu Marchar is quite enormous, and historians are still far from having explored all the astrological manuscripts of that time.

Greek astrology had been forgotten in the West, and his vocabulary was gone. Only two classic Latin texts circulated, for the initiates, the poem by Manilius Astronomica, and the treatises of Firmicus Maternus who had collected some traditional terms of Greek astrology like “horoscopes”. But this had been forgotten and astrology was very little widespread before the 12th century. From the translation of Greek texts into Arabic, then from Arabic to Latin, the ancient Greek terms returned to the West, enriched with Arabic conceptions, much more concrete than the Greek ones. For example, the Greek horoscope (literally: “who watches the time”) became thanks to the Arab astrologers the Ascendant (“who rises”), a concept that described more precisely the ascent of the stars in the diurnal hemisphere from the intersection between the horizontal plane and the ecliptic plane.

Arabic astrology, at the same time as being hyper-deterministic, is indeed also incredibly lively and concrete in its multiple applications: no human activity, however trivial it may be, can be foreign to it and escape astral predictions and determinations. In the Centiloquium, an astrological work by one of the disciples and successors of Abou Marchar, we thus find the reflection of the everyday life of the Islamic societies of Egypt or Baghdad. The influence of the stars on the slightest profession, the slightest custom is described and clarified with the meticulousness of a maniacal entomologist.

Through the Aristotelianism that Arabo-Ptolemaic astrology carries within it, Aristotelianism becomes concrete, alive, for better and for worse. For the better of course, the abstract concepts of Aristotle begin to move, put into daily life, take to the streets to live the test of reality, which may have made the joy of experimental philosophers. But everyone is invited to see if the astrologers are right or not. The flagrant contradiction between the character anti-conditional and purely speculative of the Arab astrological theory, and the hyper-lively, ultra-concrete, and therefore easily verifiable illustrations-descriptions of the effects of the stars, which astrologers will not cease to offer in their writings, this contradiction will have to the long devastating effects on belief in astrology, effects that the worst anti-astrologers could not have produced themselves.

Finally, note that Arabic astrology is very little psychologist. Describing in itself the behavior of the Subject through its chart is of little interest to Muslim astrologers. Their conception and practice of astrology, as in all ancient societies, is more focused on the predictive (best dates to build a city or start a war, for example) and the relational (comparisons of charts to seal alliances or marriages).

Arabic astrology has also gone very far in the relational field, to the point of building a real “astral love theory”. In Arabic astrological documents, it is clearly written that two beings whose horoscope contains certain data which correspond to Venus (favorable aspects of other planets, positions in Signs, Houses, quadrants of the local sphere, etc.) cannot stop loving each other. In the Centiloquium Arabic, this theory is attributed to Ptolemy, which is false: it is specifically Arabic, Ptolemy being much more… conditionalist in his astrological assertions.

Thus among the medieval Arabs, astrology penetrated all aspects, all ramifications of society, including in this “love theory”, where even all the “perversions” sex are precisely attributed to planetary configurations or justified by other astrological elements. Thus the attempt to concretize the Aristotelian system by the Arab astrologers has “Safe” Hellenistic astrology historically; but by confining astrology to the Aristotelian conception of the world, it has forced it to share its epistemological fate: if the Aristotelian paradigms are abandoned, astrology risks suffering the same fate. No one knows what happened to it during the Renaissance.

The fact of being at the same time philosophers, astrologers and astronomers did not bother the Arab scholars. As a good philosopher, the author of Centiloquium said that the astrologer must never pronounce a particular judgment, but always a universal judgment, because in the universal, there is always a possibility that it is true, and that everyone has a possibility of lodging the will. This is an elegant and abstract way of not really dealing with an essential problem posed by astrology: that of free will.

Abou Marchar himself was not exempt from the contradictions due to his different statuses, and did not always manage to reconcile these different approaches. As an astrologer “pure”, he went so far as to say that man can only do what the stars have decided for him in advance, which excludes the will and free will, while stupid philosopher, he constantly defended the will and made the difference between natural acts (pure products of environmental influences) and voluntary acts, the fruit of a decision independent of the environment. In voluntary acts, there is for him a margin of freedom insensible to the influence of the stars. But he is content to claim, artificially and arbitrarily, that it is only in the domain of the will, which he is careful not to define precisely.

We therefore feel that Abu Marchar, like many medieval Arab scholars, torn between his status as a philosopher and his status as an astrologer, paradoxically wants to defend free will while affirming that everything is directed by the stars, and without rationally reconciling these contradictory points of view. We cannot, however, criticize this attitude by arguing that it was Muslim-medieval: after all, our modern astrologer-tartuffes practice the same contortions when they claim that “everything that happens is written in an individual’s horoscope, but not everything written in their horoscope necessarily happens”…

To end this section, an extract from the work of Abou Marchar:

We therefore say that any individual among the animals, plants and metals in this world is composed of the four Elements, that is to say, Fire, Earth, Air and Water. Each Element on the other hand is subject to increase, decrease and transformation into one another. There exists in each individual the potentiality of undergoing mutual increase, decrease and transformation, and their change and passage to corruption and composition are by virtue of the Signs and Planets upon them. But Aristotle affirms that the planets are animated and that they possess rational souls. Their indications proceed from the gifts of their natural movement that they announce the fusion of the rational soul and the vital soul in the body, according to the good will of God. The rational soul therefore has the power to think and choose, and the body the power to receive possibilities. If therefore the planets indicate the fusion of the rational soul with the vital soul and with the body, they therefore indicate the necessary, the impossible and the possible.

Astrologers in the Abbasid period (750/1258)

The role of the astrologer is to consider the things in which there is the potentiality of the accomplishment of a thing and of the opposite to which it returns, but does not stop at their properties; indeed, by his exercise of the stars, the astrologer does not stop to consider whether the fire burns or not, because he knows full well that it burns. What he tries to find out is whether tomorrow such a fire will burn a body capable of combustion or not. When by their movements the planets have indicated that one of the things in question will not occur, it will be impossible for it to occur. If, on the other hand, they indicate that a thing will occur at the expected time and without disturbance, the existence of the thing will necessarily occur. Likewise, a man whose ability to speak is not prevented by any impediment has the power to speak until the moment he begins to speak. As soon as he speaks, his speaking falls at that moment into the category of the necessary. It is thus proved that the planets are the indicators of the contingent and of the election” (Abu Marchar)

Astrology was widespread in all strata of medieval Arab societies during the Abbasid period: there were both quite simple people who went to the souk to consult their astrologer in order to know when they were going to treat their child, marry their daughter or at what time to buy a goat, etc., and at the same time the caliphs and the princes who almost all had their appointed astrologers to decide the moment of a battle.

This presence of astrology punctuates the daily life of the common people, but also irrigates the upper classes with scientific thought through the Aristotelian dimension that astrology conveys. The Astrologer “learned” himself (as opposed to the Tartar astro-charlatans who at the time flourished with as much vigor as today) is at the center of an often extremely rich debate during these three centuries, between people who were a little like the “honest men” of the Islamic Middle Ages, intellectual elites who were at the same time philosophers, theologians, mathematicians, musicians and astrologers. Those who were not astrologers themselves often consulted astrologers, and many practiced and studied astrology alone, even if they did not declare themselves as such.

The idea was quite common in the medieval Muslim world, that there are various ways of accessing the truth, that is to say that one can find in a character both a Koranic theological approach, and a a philosophical approach which may not refer to the Muslim tradition at all; finally, this same character can also write entire treatises in which he speaks of esotericism or astrology in a much more gnostic sense.

At that time, we find among Arabic-speaking astrologers people of various ethnic origins and various religious denominations: Arabs, Persians, Sunnis, Shiites, Jews, Christians, Sabians or Mazdeans, etc. But the essential criterion for choosing his astrologer was that of competence, regardless of his ethnic origin or his religion.

To pursue a career as an astrologer, two main paths were available to candidates: the court or the souk, the second possibly leading to the first. By the sector “court”, he approached the condition of the poet who is looking for a patron, the courts functioning as places of social promotion and places where professional notoriety is made. An astrologer becomes appointed to an important figure in the kingdom thanks to the accuracy of his predictions. This way of the court explains the many movements of the astrologers: Baghdad was the capital of the Abbasid caliphs, and any Arab astrologer in search of notoriety had to make at least one stay there, if only because Baghdad was very rich, full of circles and saturated with officials and wealthy merchants. Wealthy merchants could afford to maintain an appointed astrologer.

The status of the souk, itinerant or permanently installed astrologer was equivalent to that of a barker mountebank. He practiced alone or in a group. Documents from this period attest to the existence of these “gang” of astrologers, posted regularly in the same alley, on the same square, or for example at the threshold of the entrance door of the Umayyad mosque at the end of the 10th century in the souk of Damascus. Certain merchants, such as barbers and herbalists, who ran a shop, certainly had knowledge of astrology and magic that enabled them to also practice the profession of astrologer.

These souk astrologers were generally not specialized. With some incomplete and fragmentary knowledge in astrology, these “horoscopes” Medievals added in their practice Arabic numerology, the sale and making of talismans, various magical practices, etc. In certain Abbasid cities, they were sometimes treated as a profession in their own right. It was then for the city officials to regulate their public actions, but generally it was not the function of the astrologer itself that was targeted, but the possible scams of which some members of this profession could be guilty. It is also in the souks that the idea was gradually born that those who predict the future can threaten public order because of the charlatans-crooks who swarmed in their ranks. Astrology soon became an integral part of the general socio-culture of the Abbasid elites, inseparably combining moral and aesthetic qualities with an eclectic knowledge. the social scale, from the caliph to the average person, and the income gap between the richest court astrologers and the poorest souk astrologers is 1 to 800 in the second half of the 9th century.

The richest were of course those who best mastered global” astrology. The part of global astrology was indeed enormous: we know that those who played a political role, who had to undertake or decide wars, battles, strategic marriages constituted the clientele par excellence of astrologers. Wise people, experienced in the exercise of power and court intrigues: not really weak minds or cracks. These people might ask astrologers about the weather when they were planning a hunt, when to start a military campaign, or questions about the outcome of a marriage with the princess of a neighboring kingdom. Some astrologers have even begun to calculate the lifespan of such and such a dynasty, and even, O sacrilege, that of the Muslim religion (Haroun AI Rachid, caliph of Baghdad made famous by the Thousand and one Night, had ordered his vizier to have astrologers compose a work containing horoscopes for all the circumstances of life and for that had brought to Baghdad specialists from Byzantium, India, Persia). Some governments were capable of going to extremes to conform to the predictions of their astrologers (a Fatinid Caliph of the 10th century had an underground dug and disappeared underground for a year because his horoscope marked a period when he was in danger of death, and even gave up power to his son during this period).

Astrologers were also used for the foundation of cities and buildings. The construction of the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus began at the exact moment defined by the astrologers, and eighteen years passed between the decision to build it and the laying of the first stone, only because the Caliph’s astrologers had decided that was the most favorable moment!

Court astrologers were protected, but they could also fall out of favor. A calculation error in the forecasts generally did not entail any sanction: once the error was recognized and the new calculations made, the assistance waited for the new predictions and the new deadline which they promised with confidence. The astrologer therefore had room for error. Rare were the astrologers persecuted by the State, At the beginning of the 11th century, the Fatimid caliph El Hakim (who himself practiced astrology!), forbade the study of astrology, in a fit of ill humor or disappointment, and had those who practiced it expelled from Cairo. addicted, but this act was judged by his contemporaries as an act of madness.

Historical documents also report manipulation of astrologers by princes and vice versa, which is not surprising, insofar as the belief in astrology was the subject of an almost general consensus. among government, friend or foe. Thus astrologers took part in court intrigues, and could subtly but powerfully influence their sovereign. The astrologer attached to a caliph could also astrologically intoxicate a colleague under the guidance of an enemy, and be intoxicated by him through the channel of astrological diagnoses or prognoses.

Astrology and medicine

Among the doctors of the cities, there are some whose ignorance is considerable and whose intelligence is incapable of recognizing the things which are indispensable to them. If they had read the doctors’ books, they would have known that astrology is useful to their art and that they need it. There are certain days, critical days when doctors need to examine the condition of the patient, his strength or his weakness; strengthening or weakening of the disease. Now it is according to this that they determine these things. Hippocrates and Galen, the two sages, deal with this in their books, and all the medical scholars of antiquity said that the science of the stars is the principle of medical science” (Abu Marchar).

In the strictly medical works that were written during Greek antiquity, there were very few elements that could encourage the use of astrology. Nevertheless, those who have wanted to use astrology in medicine have referred to a sentence or two from the works of Hippocrates and part of a book by Galen. Indeed, in one of his works, Hippocrates has a sentence that will be tirelessly quoted by medieval astrologers: “The science of the stars, far from being of little use to the doctor, brings him a lot.” Actually, what Hippocrates had in mind was more the rhythm of the seasons. In all of the Hippocratic works, there are very few manifestations of a very thorough astronomical knowledge, not at all of astrology, but on the other hand Hippocrates paid great attention to the seasons, and therefore to the determination of the seasons according to the course of the stars. In Galen, the role of astrology was a little larger, although also very limited. He mentions astrology as a possible recourse for the physician to determine critical days and cycles of acute illnesses. For example, he writes that the Sun governs chronic diseases and the Moon acute diseases. In the Arab medical world, there was very early a debate opposing Pro and anti-astrologers. Indeed, if the purely medical Greek texts dealt only marginally with the astrological influence on health, the specifically astrological texts approached very largely the relations between stars, human body and diseases. There was a whole gradation between the astrologer-doctors, like Abou Marchar, for whom astrology brought to medicine the certainty of the diagnosis, and the anti-astrologer doctors, like Avicenna, who refused any recourse to astrology. Like any medieval thinker, Avicenna certainly believed in the influence of the stars on the terrestrial world, but he thought that man could not know this influence. He thus refused any scientific validity to astrology and advised doctors, in his treatises, not to deal with “remote causes”, and thus to completely drop astrology in their practice of medicine:

We surely know that cold and hot belong as qualities to the four Elements and worldly objects composed of these Elements. But on the contrary, that the celestial bodies and their orbits are of an entirely opposite nature, and that not being linked to these qualities nor composed of terrestrial elements, they bear the name of fifth element. As for this assertion that any terrestrial event which undergoes the influence of Saturn is cold and unhappy, but that its qualities do not belong to the celestial body itself, that the same is true of the other virtues granted to the other planets, we have only this to reply to them: these assertions lack all proof and all demonstration. Who can know whether the coldness of the earth comes from Saturn and the warmth from Mars and so on of the other qualities which they attribute to celestial bodies? Although it is certain that the stars exert a certain influence on the things of the world, it is nevertheless very risky to specify this influence and to say whether it produces cold or heat or any other effect.” (Great Astrologer Rebuttal by Avicenna).

The majority of doctors in the Arab Middle Ages actually stood between these two extremes, which was not always the case for their patients. Example: in the time of Haroun Al Rachid, a wealthy woman had set up a room in her palace which was reserved for meeting doctors and astrologers when she was sick. They were talking and if they couldn’t agree, this woman had decided that the astrologer had the last word. The literature of the time puts much emphasis on the rivalry between doctors and astrologers, often giving the advantage to the latter.

The main contribution of the Arabs in medical astrology (rather than in astrological medicine) was to found by systematic texts the astrological technique applied to medicine. The theoretical principles are simple: celestial bodies influence everything down here. There is a deep unity in the sublunary world, everything is formed from the four elements. In the human body, we can isolate four humors: bile, blood, phlegm and melancholy, and these four humors are known as an Arab author says “daughters of the elements”. So the humors, like any part of the body, however small, are closely related to the original Elements, hence: the blood is warm and moist, etc. Medical astrology had thus arrived at “plan” thanks to the sky of birth all the diseases imaginable. Particularly crisp example:

The epileptics are those in whose nativity the Moon is not in union with Mercury, nor any of these is in union with the Ascendant. With that Saturn, in the diurnal nativities is in a cardinal point, or Mars in the nocturnal nativities. As for the lunatics, they have the same causes, except that Saturn is at some Angle in a nocturnal nativity, or Virgo or Pisces.

We thus better understand the prejudices of Avicenna with regard to the medical astrology. Arab astro-doctors also used the sectors of the local sphere, and more precisely two important Houses in their eyes: the first House or Ascendant which determines the physical characteristics of the individual, and the sixth in which diseases are traditionally placed. As we can see, current astro-doctors are the worthy successors of Arab astrologers!

In works of astrological medicine, astrology can be used as knowledge of general weather modifying agents that can induce particular health problems (air quality, weather, winds, etc.), or in the theory of “critical days”, for bleeding, for example.

Combined with numerology disguised as a pseudo-theory of prenatal ages, Arab astro-medicine distinguished itself by focusing on the development of the fetus: Hippocrates said that the fetus of 7 months was viable, but not that of 8 months, based on what he believed to be rational and purely medical arguments. Under the probable influence of hermetic-astrological texts, the Arab astrologers developed following him a theory according to which the fetus of 8 months was not viable, because of the influence of Saturn which was exerted according to them during the eighth month. Indeed, each month of pregnancy was arbitrarily attributed the influence of a planet (1st months under the influence of Saturn, then the other planets until the 7th, then 8th month was again under the malefic (cooling and drying) influence of Saturn… C.Q.F.D.!)

It should be noted, however, that those who claimed both the status of doctor and that of astrologer, including the most illustrious, generally made very moderate use of medical astrology. We would like those who practice it today to have the same moderation and similar caution: after all, experience has clearly demonstrated since Avicenna that most of the medical recipes of astrology are false, archi-false… To be continued…

The transmission of Arab astrological knowledge to the medieval West

At 12th century in the West, the Church exercises an almost absolute spiritual and intellectual magisterium. Astrology has for many centuries been eradicated from the cognitive universe of European peoples. The transmission of Arab astrological knowledge to the medieval West took place in the 12th century through the regions long occupied by the Arabs, through Arabic-Latin translations and through two essential routes: Muslim Spain and Sicily. In Spain the movement appeared in the first half of the 12th century and in Italy a little later, and continues until the 13th century in Italy.

These translations were made initially thanks to the patronage of the Archbishop of Toledo in Spain (the invasion of Spain by the Arabs bore its astro-philosophical fruits) and of King Roger II of Sicily. The translators for the most part did not know all the languages they had to translate; in Spain for example, they translated most of the time from Arabic into Castilian, then a second translator translated from Castilian into Latin, which could significantly alter the meaning of these texts already translated from Greek into Arabic… to John of Seville and Herman of Carinthia that we owe the translation of the complete works of Abou Marchar, the main Arab astrologer, who will be a reference figure in the West for quite a long time.

There are four fundamental parts to astrology as transmitted by Arabic-Latin translations: nativities, that is to say birth horoscopes based on the natal sky or that of conception; the Revolutions, which are subdivided into two sub-parts: the study of the horoscopes of annual revolutions (solar revolutions), making it possible to make forecasts annuals based on the study of the horoscope of the spring equinox or that of the lunation which preceded this equinox, and the conjunctions which play a fundamental role in Arabic astrology, based on a doctrine of Sassanid origin, seeing in the conjunctions of the superior planets, in particular Saturn and Jupiter, the essential cause of a whole series of fundamental events in human history both on the religious, political and meteorological level. Third category: Elections, that is to say, the choice of the most favorable moment to undertake such and such a thing: founding a city, getting married, starting a war, etc. Fourth category: Questions, which imply the existence of a wealthy clientele wanting to ask a specific question to an astrologer on a generally very concrete point: “I lost my breviary, where is it? Is my wife cheating on me and with whom? Etc.” It is in fact a systematic theorization of horary astrology.

The Church tolerated relatively, in the 12th century, the first two categories, but assimilates the other two to superstition and therefore condemns them. The first theological oppositions were born in the 13th century, when the astral determinism taught by Arabic astrology gave birth to an absolute or almost absolute determinism, incompatible with the doctrine of the Church, which resulted in the condemnations of astrology in 1270 and 1277 by the bishop of Paris. Faced with these condemnations of neo-Augustinian theologians, there were attempts at agreement between Arab philosophy and Christian theology, in particular on the part of Albert the Great in his Speculum Astronomiae (circa 1265), very favorable to astrology, and that of his pupil Thomas Aquinas through the famous formula “the stars incline but do not require”.

These ecclesiastical condemnations apparently had only a mitigated effect on the sovereigns. One anti-astrologer columnist of the time admittedly believed that “a king must have firm hope in God and forsake and flee all sorcery and the judgments of spells of the ‘good times’ and other superstitions which Astronomia advises, and shall suffice the hope in God and good government in just matters to conduct and to provide just enterprises”, but another columnist also wrote:

If a King wanted to live wisely, he would assemble five good astronomers, the best renowned in experience that could be found, and let them know the time, month, day and hour of his birth, and yawn to them in writing, asking them that on this, they make a figure as usual, to know the good and bad inclinations, to which by the judgment of the stars he would be prone, and make them swear to tell him the truth without sparing, that he may multiply the good conditions to which he would be inclined and obviate, by the counsel of wise men, to the evil conditions to which he would incline, and so would make his profit, for he would pursue the good to which he would be inclined, and kick out, by prudence, advice and advice and good works, the male task to which his nativity would have inclined him. And so did Hippocrates, Alexander, Caesar, Pompey, Charlemagne and Trajan, the emperor as we find it written. And how much that none say that one should not be proud in astronomers the reverence of them saves, this can not harm the prince to stand in virtue and obviate the inclination of perilous conditions, and become a better man, and better stands in continual virtue.

A highly elitist scholarly practice

Scholarly astrology remained an elitist practice until the end of the Middle Ages, because there was no scientific astrology possible without long and tedious astronomical calculations. However, until around 1320, the astronomical tables used in the West were very difficult to use (Tables of Toledo or adaptation of the Toledo Tables to the local meridian). In 1320 appear the Alphonsine Tables (attributed to Alphonse X of Castile but probably composed by Parisian astronomers). They greatly simplify astronomical calculations, and astrology can thus spread more in a literate, Latinist and therefore almost necessarily clerical environment. It was only in the 14th century that King Charles V commissioned a series of translations from Latin into French of astrological texts.

Astrology, as transmitted by the Arabs, then experienced a veritable apogee in the 16th century, both from a practical and a theoretical point of view. There have never been so many court astrologers, individual horoscopes (see the correspondence of Nostradamus with an extraordinarily varied clientele throughout the West). But at the same time, there is a refocusing of astrology towards its Greek origins. The Renaissance brings a better knowledge of the Greek language, and therefore a return to the Greek texts of Ptolemy, which brings a relative discredit to Arabic astrology. From about 1524–1525, Abu Marchar, who was on par with Ptolemy as a reference among Western astrologers, is losing its credibility. In the 17th century the decline of Arab astrology is even clearer, in particular following the particularly lamentable fiasco of the predictions relating to the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction of 1524 in Water Sign (Pisces) which should have succeeded, according to a majority of astrologers, to a second flood. The Arab theory dealing with the effects, at least meteorological, of “great conjunctions”, was thus spectacularly refuted.

At the level of the universities the transmission of astrology declines in the 17th century. Astrology is popularized by Almanacs, but is less and less represented in the framework of universities because it is considered incompatible, not only with traditional Christian doctrine, but also with the new vision of the physical world resulting from the Enlightenment, and Arabic astrology will soon be no more than a distant memory…

Article published in issues No. 4 & 5 of the Fil d’ARIANA (October 1996 & April 1997).

This article was brought to you by Richard Pellard
English translation by Julien Rouger

See also:

▶ Une brève histoire de l’astrologie occidentale
▶ A new translation and edition of Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos
▶ Johannes Kepler, astrologer and astronomer
▶ Nostradamus, astro-prophet or mythomaniac clairvoyant?
▶ A brief history of interplanetary aspects
▶ The world according to Claudius Ptolemy, astronomer-astrologer and lighthouse of Alexandria
▶ L’astrologie et le Bouddhisme
▶ Astrologie et religion : savoir ou croire ?
▶ Astrologie conditionaliste et spiritualité
▶ R.E.T. et théologie chrétienne
▶ L’anti-astrologisme chrétien

Les significations planétaires

par Richard Pellard

620 pages. Illustrations en couleur.

La décision de ne traiter dans ce livre que des significations planétaires ne repose pas sur une sous-estimation du rôle des Signes du zodiaque et des Maisons. Le traditionnel trio Planètes-Zodiaque-Maisons est en effet l’expression d’une structure qui classe ces trois plans selon leur ordre de préséance et dans ce triptyque hiérarchisé, les Planètes occupent le premier rang.

La première partie de ce livre rassemble donc, sous une forme abondamment illustrée de schémas pédagogiques et tableaux explicatifs, une édition originale revue, augmentée et actualisée des textes consacrés aux significations planétaires telles qu’elles ont été définies par l’astrologie conditionaliste et une présentation détaillée des méthodes de hiérarchisation planétaire et d’interprétation accompagnées de nombreux exemples concrets illustrés par des Thèmes de célébrités.

La deuxième partie est consacrée, d’une part à une présentation critique des fondements traditionnels des significations planétaires, d’autre part à une présentation des rapports entre signaux et symboles, astrologie et psychologie. Enfin, la troisième partie présente brièvement les racines astrométriques des significations planétaires… et propose une voie de sortie de l’astrologie pour accéder à une plus vaste dimension noologique et spirituelle qui la prolonge et la contient.

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Pluton planète naine : une erreur géante

par Richard Pellard

117 pages. Illustrations en couleur.

Pluton ne fait plus partie des planètes majeures de notre système solaire : telle est la décision prise par une infime minorité d’astronomes lors de l’Assemblée Générale de l’Union Astronomique Internationale qui s’est tenue à Prague en août 2006. Elle est reléguée au rang de “planète naine”, au même titre que les nombreux astres découverts au-delà de son orbite.

Ce livre récapitule et analyse en détail le pourquoi et le comment de cette incroyable et irrationnelle décision contestée par de très nombreux astronomes de premier plan. Quelles sont les effets de cette “nanification” de Pluton sur son statut astrologique ? Faut-il remettre en question son influence et ses significations astro-psychologiques qui semblaient avérées depuis sa découverte en 1930 ? Les “plutoniens” ont-ils cessé d’exister depuis cette décision charlatanesque ? Ce livre pose également le problème des astres transplutoniens nouvellement découverts. Quel statut astrologique et quelles influences et significations précises leur accorder ?

Enfin, cet ouvrage propose une vision unitaire du système solaire qui démontre, chiffes et arguments rationnels à l’appui, que Pluton en est toujours un élément essentiel, ce qui est loin d’être le cas pour les autres astres au-delà de son orbite. Après avoir lu ce livre, vous saurez quoi répondre à ceux qui pensent avoir trouvé, avec l’exclusion de Pluton du cortège planétaire traditionnel, un nouvel argument contre l’astrologie !

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