De Divino Furore – Albecht Durer & Marsilio Ficino

Melencolia I (B. 74; M., HOLL. 75)*engraving *24 x 18.8 cm*1514

The case of Albrecht Durer’s engraving, known as Melancholia I has left many scholars ultimately confounded. This article doesn’t pretend to answer all questions surrouding this work of art. However to the best of my knowledge nobody has actually looked at the humours of Durer and Ficino from a Traditional astrological perspective. That is to say that the humours are discerned by astrological delineation. The question of what they actually meant by the Divino Fuore and how it relates to melancholia is complex.

The dictionary definition of Melancholy is fairly straightforward. Melancholia (from Greek μελαγχολία – melancholia, “sadness”, literally black bile),[See Lidell & Scott’s Greek- English Dictionary in the Files section] also lugubriousness, from the Latin lugere, to mourn; moroseness, from the Latin morosus, self-willed, fastidious habit; wistfulness, from old English wist: intent, or saturnine. secondly ,in contemporary usage, is a mood disorder of non-specific depression, characterized by low levels of both enthusiasm and eagerness for activity.

We know of Durer’s relationship with Marsilio Ficino and have ample evidence he was familiar with the ideas found in Three Books of Life. He was also familiar with the work of Cornelius Agrippa. Ficino complains of, and lists remedies for, what he refers to as scholarly melancholy: a leaden preponderance brought on by an excess of black bile. The gravitas required of great scholars, artists and intellectual therefore comes at a price. The remedies are either Solar or Jupiterian, so we have a number of choices ranging from amethyst to aloe and the company of fair women.

Albrecht Durer’s Melancholy angel is something of a sphinx and has resisted definitive explanation for several decades.  It’s claimed by many scholars that the work is a self-portrait of the artist.. The idle tools, symbolic repesentations of the Liberal Arts, the bat, the oppressive lifelessness is dramatically contrasted by the angel’s eyes that seem to imply a kind of frenzy coming out of the darkness.

In a letter to Peregrino Agli, Ficino, speaks of a particular kind of frenzy

It does not look up to the heavens, for in its black prison it is shuttered by night. But when those whose spirit is drawn away and freed from the clay of the body first see form and grace in any one, they rejoice, as at the reflection of divine beauty. But those people should at once recall to memory that divine beauty, which they should honour and desire above all; as it is by a burning desire for this beauty that they may be drawn to the heavens. This first attempt at flight Plato calls divine ecstasy and frenzy. I have already written enough about that frenzy which, I have said, arises through the eyes. (The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, Volume 1)

Detailed iconographic interpretation is to be found in abundance. But many scholars have either missed the obvious or else known too little of the nature of Syncetic Neo Platonism in the time of Ficino and Durer.  However,

Durer Self Portrait at Age 26 - Detail

Durer Self Portrait at Age 26 – Detail

in 1923 Erwin Panofsky and Fritz Saxl published their findings on the sources of Melancholi I In the former’s biography, The Life and Art of Albrecht Durer (1943),  Panofsky concluded that the engraving “is in a sense a spiritual self-portrait of Albrecht Durer.”


Nativity – Albrecht Durer

The writer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art writes :

Melancholia I depicts the intellectual situation of the inspired artist and is thus, by extension, a spiritual self-portrait of Dürer.

In medieval philosophy, everyone was considered to be dominated by one of the four humors. In practise however, there is usually a combination.

Melancholy is associated with black gall, was the least desirable of the four, and melancholics were considered most likely to succumb to insanity. Renaissance thought, however, also linked melancholy with creative genius; thus, at the same time that this idea changed the status of this humor, it made the self-conscious artist aware of the terrible risks that came with his gift.

The theory of the Humours is at least as old as Hippocrates and  developed by Galen. The humours were at the core of medicine and indeed the understanding of why people are they way they are prior to the Elighhtenment. Chaucer introces charcaters as being of a particular humour as an indication of personality. The Humours also had Universal significance because they were the children of the four elements.

Albrecht Dürer Adorazione dei Magi

Albrecht Dürer Adorazione dei Magi

Durer created many self portraits of himself, and in more than one he is appears in the traditional likeness of Christ.

In tradition,  the Magus bringing gold to Jesus was an old, grey haired man named Melchior. In Durer’s Adoration of the Magi we find the artist looking resplendent, first in line with the gift of gold. Gold was the most important antidote to the destructive form of melancholy according to Ficino. He gave it Jupiterean as well as Solar significance. It’s no coincidence that Duere has painted himself in this way.

When comparing this to the other self portraits, the resemblance is striking.What we know of the Melancholic humour from classical points of view are the qualities of cold and dry and of being the heaviest element, Earth.

There is no obvious reason from a classical point of view why the humour would take on this singular role as bringing on a divine frenzy or melancholy madness. – a madness so powerful it could destroy its human vessel or raise him to the level of demiurge.

If we refer to Durer’s chart it will readily be seen that it is not Melancholic in the classical sense at all. It is decidedly Sanguine.

If we are looking for an oppressive Saturnine presence in the chart, it is not to be found in any extraordinary degree. Here we have an otherwise unafflicted Saturn under the beams.

Mercury is parallel Aldebaran and conjunct Algol. Saturn is also conjunct Aldebaran. The meaning of Algol is The Ghoul, the demon and beheadings. Aldebaran  is associated with blindness as well as being the eye of God. Saturn is in the Decanate of Jupiter, Term of  Mercury and in favourable Sect.

Jupiter is separated from the square to Saturn and will soon be trine. Mercury disposits the Sun and the Ascendant is in Leo.This chart fits a

Marsilio Ficino - Portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci'

Marsilio Ficino – Portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci’

remarkably developed intellect, but not a melancholic. in the classical sense.

Ficino - Nativity

Ficino – Nativity

We have some choices to make. We can claim that Durer is merely posing, garnering key ideas from thinkers such as Ficino and expressing them artistically… or that he was a megalomaniac who couldn’t stop painting himself. However, it is most likely that Durer and Ficino are pointing to something else altogether. I would however suggest there is a grain of truth in all three assumptions. What is increasingly apparent is that the the Melancholic state of the artist or scholar is not identical as the element itself.

When we turn to Ficno’s chart the first thing most will notice is that Saturn is sitting right on the Ascendant. It’s a partile conjunction. Saturn is however dignified The Moon is in an applying Trine to Venus. The Sun is in a loose but applying square to Saturn. The Sun and Mercury in the Ninth House bestows a deep and religious focus. Mercury is direct and clear of the beams.

Both Saturn and Jupiter are in Hayz. The chart Alumuten is Mars.  The Hour of the Nativity is Saturn. Jupiter is Lord of the Tenth and Eleventh House.

When we delineate the chart, we find the Humour is Sanguine, a light humour with none of the characteristics of Melancholy. Melancholy is about 15% and Choleric one third.The charts shows the almost unprecedented support Ficino enjoyed in his writing of Theologia Platonica, his translations of Plato and the Hermetica. He was well taken care of by enormously wealthy Medicis and spent plenty of time sharing ideas with the greatest minds of his generation.

In short, he doesn’t seem like the first candidate for what we might call major depressive disorder or melancholia. The mere fact that he was so extraordinarily productive testifies to that. Once again, let look at this from the point of view of a Renassance Magus

Cornelius Agrippa write in his comprehensive Three Books on Occult Philosophy:

[the melancholy humour] when it is stirred up, burns and stirs up a madness conducing to knowledge and divination, especially if it is helped by any celestial influx, particularly of Saturn … By melancholy saith [Aristotle], some men are made as it were divine, foretelling things to come, and some men are made poets.


Jupiter – Magic Square

So it’s not a questioin of Humours in the classical sense, it is specifically Saturn and Agrippa leaves us with the strong impression that one can induce, by stirring it up. I’m reminded of Hermes or Mercury in Botticelli’s Primavera. He appears to be strirring the either with a wand. Given Botticelli’s close relationship to Ficino, this might offer some context.

To add to this theme, there is the question of the magic square in Melancholia It has been called the Jupiter square because of the numerical values. The sum 34 can be found in the rows, columns, diagonals, each of the quadrants, the center four squares, and the corner squares (of the 4×4 as well as the four contained 3×3 grids). This sum can also be found in the four outer numbers clockwise from the corners (3+8+14+9) and likewise the four counter-clockwise.

The more the engraving is studied, the more it becomes clear that the angel is not fettered in any way other than by the sheer weight of gravitas. Jupiter is regarded as the antidote to Saturn in Ficino’s system. I beelieve thre are levels of meaning in this work that may forever evade us, but the relationship between Melancholia and the kind of genius Plato discusses saturates its significance.


Leonardo Da Vinci as Plato – Detail of Raphael’s Academy of Athens

This state of divine possession – the Dyonysian artist Intellectual as both man and god was not foreign to the Renaissance imagination. And this did in fact lift the status of poetry and music to heights hitherto unknown since Classical times. Music could embody divine qualities and have the effect raising the soul to a similar ecstatic union through sympathetic magic or resonance. Sympathetic magic is at the core of Ficino’s thinking.

Aristotle wrote : those in whom the bile is considerable and cold become sluggish and stupid, while those with whom it is excessive and hot become mad, clever or amorous and easily moved to passion or desire, and some become more talkative. But many, because this heat is near to the seat of the mind, are affected by the diseases of madness or frenzy, which accounts for the Sybils, soothsayers, and all inspired persons. (Problems 30.1, translation in J. Radden OUP, 2000

To look for a strongly Melancholic humour in the normal sense is to miss the point. Earth is Cold and Dry. To conjure heat near to the seat of the mind to induce inspiration from the same source is an act of remarkable chemistry – the work the Magi such as Pico speaks of in his Oration on the Dignity of Man. But in simple terms, this “black bile” of the Earthy Element is fuel for the wise. It’s not the element itself, it’s what’s done with it.

Although not quite in the same context, there is some correlation between brilliance and what Winston Churchill refered to as “being in the jaws of the black dog.”  When the humour overwhelms, quagmire ensues. But when turned to fuel, genius is unleashed. I leave Plotinus with the last word:  In reference to the power of the stars, he suggests it lies in the human ability to perceive their patterns as analogy  “the wise man is the man who in any one thing can read another” (Enneads II.3.7 trans. S. Mackenna).

Quintessence & the Circle of Spirit

eye of horusThe survey of the elements hardly seems complete without discussion of the Quintessence, also known as Aether, Anima Mundi, Spirit and root of the word ethereal

It’s the primary source element present in all things. It’s an animating force or principle, providing space, relatedness and balance for all Elements to exist.

The Quintessence is mentioned throughout the Alchemical Teachings, by Plato in the Timeaus and is integral to the Hermetic Philosophy.

As a sister science, Astrology requires an awareness of the Quintessence, even though for practical purposes it isn’t discussed much. The Four Elements we know is what is manifest and part of our daily lives. But they wouldn’t exist without Aether.

We couldn’t directly calculate a given person’s Humour using Aether, but not to have understanding of the source is very great liability. The Quintessence is in a very real sense our source and our way home to the Circle of Spirit. You might say it’s the *solution* with the varying meanings of the word. It permeats and animates all of Creation.

Sri Yantra, formed by the interpenetration of two sets of triangles, four, apex upward, representing the male principle and five, apex-downward, representing the female principle. Rajasthan, c. 170

Sri Yantra, formed by the two sets of triangles, four, apex upward, representing the male principle and five, apex-downward, representing the female principle. This is a virtually universal mandala – Rajasthan, c. 1700

The symbol for Aether is the Circle of Spirit, one of the three forms used in astrological glyphs. It is the same as the symbol for the Sun and Spirit, without the dot in the middle. The Solar symbol is found in the  glyphs of Sun, Mercury, Venus and Mars.

The task of representing what cannot be seen directly in relation to the elements has been the impetus for many exquisite forms of art

The Four Element System with a Quintessence, sometimes implied rather than expressed, is virtually universal among our spiritual traditions, from the earliest Siberian Shamans to the Celts, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sufis and the Judea Christian tradition. Any one of them would easily recognize the mandalas of the Hopi. There are of course mostly superficial cultural differences of expression, but the core symbols remain to be seen and interpreted..mandala

Some, such as the Navajo Sand Paintings are ritual artifacts, primarily used for many different kinds of healing. The same can be said for the 17 th Century Ragistani Mandala above, but the actual ritual would look very different until you could see the essence of the Great Work..

In celebration and invocation of this Circle of Spirit there is usually ritual  music. and dancing. The rituals are performed in a a clockwise direction.

We’ve seen how the Pentagram is ubiquitous in astrology, including that of the eight year Venus cycle. Five elements  are recognized by the Indians in a way that parallels our own. The Chinese also have a Five Element system, with notable differences. The Fifth Element in the Chinese System is Metal.5elements

In the Pentagram on your right we find the Four Natural Elements and Four Primary Directions with Spirit at the top and occupying the center. Aether is the origin of everything and the source of all being. It’s associated with Prajna, a divine energy spoken of by yogis and adepts.

Sacred Geometry – The Vesica Piscis

This is something of a footnote to my recent article on Pisces. I’m posting it here to augment some of my comments and queries in that article, for reasons which will become fairly obvious.

The Pisces / Virgo axis is one of the core meanings of the Vesica.  The  Vesica Piscis is a shape – the intersection of two circles with the same radius, intersecting in such a way that the center of each circle lies on the perimeter of the other.  The name literally means the “bladder of a fish” in Latin.


Here we have Isis and Aphrodite with the Divine Mother, described by the Vesica Piscis

Depending on whether you look at it vertically or horizontally, it looks like a fish or the birth passage.The pointed oval  is the a universal symbol of the Divine Feminine. In Glastonbury, the site normally attributed to Avalon in England is known as the Island of the Goddess.

This is where the Chapel of St. Mary is located — the latter is patterned with the use of the Vesica Pisces

The Vesica Pisces has been called the Womb of the Universe. scan0036The Vesica is often related to Christ and the Pope wars a “fish hat” based on the Vesica itself, Although it work with Christianity it is of course much older than any religion on Earth.

It is a likely origin of the Sign of the Fishes. and introduces a dimension to Pisces that has been lost to modernity

The goddess of all religions that celebrate her power and significance invariably use the Vesica Pisces to represent her.  We find her in overlapping pools of water and and the chalice well cover in the garden of the goddess in Glastonbury .

Further, representations of the Tree of Life and the ability of the goddess to create and give birth to new life is celebrated, using this sacred geometry.

17th C. Central Tibeten Thanka o Guhyasamaja Akshobhyavajra Rubin Museum of Art : Divine Duality in the Vesica Pisces

17th C. Central Tibeten Thanka o Guhyasamaja Akshobhyavajra Rubin Museum of Art : Divine Duality & Unity in the Vesica Pisces

Pisces – A Bridge Between the Worlds

Matsya_avatarI have wanted to write a short piece on Pisces for some time. There have been a few reasons holding me back, not least the fact that I’m a solar Pisces and could be considered biased.

However, I have no interest in elevating Pisces beyond its station. That would serve no useful purpose. I also find my self at odds with one or two classical writers. In any case, my argument holds true for all signs to a greater or lesser degree.

My intent is constructive and corrective. I’m writing as a Traditional astrologer who knows that valuable elements of the Tradition have been lost I would like to make some small attempt to correct that.

It is “every astrologer’s duty to avail himself, with the utmost of understanding, of all knowledge that is applicable to the science, whereby to arrive at the true and correct explanations which alone can bring the improved technic that will enhance Astrology’s value to society.” (Nicholas DeVore: Encyclopaedia of Astrology)

The crux of the matter is an obvious problem with Traditional astrology. It tends to fall down and fail us when it comes to the spiritual and the emotional.  I have chosen the Sign Pisces to demonstrate what I mean for fairly obvious reasons — a particular spirituality and emotionality are strong in Pisces.

This process is deeply ironic because Traditional astrology evolved in a highly spiritual tradition. It wasn’t materialistic but I see elements of the art that are becoming so. Much of Medieval astrology shows astonishing ignorance of true spirituality. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s universal, but it is pervasive. This is not actually part of the tradition. It’s something the tradition lost along the way and needs to be reclaimed. . Let’s take a look at what Vettius Valens has to say about the sign PiscesDetail, fish, fountain Piazza Navone, Rome Italy

Pisces is the celestial sign which is feminine, moist, quite wet, bicorporeal, with many offspring, mossy, scaley, sinewy, humpbacked, leprous, two-formed, mute, motile, with rough skin, in conflict with itself because one Fish is northern, the other southern.  It is moist, downward-trending, servile, changeable, with many offspring, bicorporeal, sociable/lewd, with some limbs missing, the cause of wandering, varied.  Men born under this sign are unsteady, unreliable, changing from bad fortune to good, sexy, theivish, shameless, prolific, popular.

As a whole, Pisces is cool and breezy.  By parts it is as follows: the first parts are temperate, the middle moist, the last destructive and worthless…

If you didn’t know what Valens was describing, I’m not at all sure that *human being* would be the first thing to come to mind.  Although there are one or two half truths in his description, he is spectacularly lacking in ability when he tries to describe a complete human., albeit a hypothetical one.. .matsyafish

There is nothing  in what he says that’s really of any use to us at all, unless of course we want a Pisces to jump from a tall building.. In any case, once someone has made the statement that Pisceans are “humpbacked, scaly” thieves who “have some limbs missing” and are “worthless”  it’s very hard to take him seriously.

That is not to say that Valens was not the conduit for some Hellenistic thought and techniques that many find useful. It merely tells us he has no grasp of his subject matter in this case and many others. It has been suspected that Valens was not a practising astrologer and these sorts of things strengthen that hypothesis.  Moreover, the same can be said for his description of  all the signs. I have discussed Valens in relation to Aquarius already. It doesn’t sound like he’s describing authentic archetypes or human beings.

By way of comparison, let’s see what William Lilly has to say:

Pisces is of the Watry Triplicity, Northern, cold Sign, moyst, Flegmatick, feminine, ; nocturnal, the house of Jupiter, and exaltation of Venus, a  Bycorporeal, common or double-bodied Sign, an idle, effeminate, sickly Sign, or representing a party of no action.

I find his description to be correct and believable in all respects. I have no difficulty believing the writer is actually an astrologer with useful information. However, I do not find it complete by any means. The core and essence of  Pisces is its otherworldly spirituality that only *looks* like a party of no action. I suppose one could say the same of virtually any monk or poet  No credible human being has ever accused Pisces of being shallow. There is nothing of the selflessness or finely tuned nervous system, but then Lily’s main work appears to have been Horary. . There is certainly nothing about self sacrifice, Avatars or Messiahs.  This is part of the other side of Pisces missing from many traditional sources, but not all.

I just read an article by a fine astrologer who nevertheless claimed that Jupiter “struggles” in Pisces. I wonder if any traditional astrologer has made the same argument about any other planet in his or her domicile?  How can it be that the Greater Benefic rules such a sign?

David Frawley cites a short hymn to Jupiter:” I worship Jupiter the teacher of the gods and the seers, who has the luster of gold endowed with wisdom, the ruler of the three worlds.” (Astrology of the Seers p. 26). Obviously there is no “struggle” for Jupiter here. This fits Pisces and Sagittarius very well. Frawley’s longer section on the Sign Pisces is a fair balance of positive and negative, weaknesses and strengths.

In Babylonian times and beyond, the constellation was known and named. In Babylon as well as China, the primary concern was calendrical and focused on the position and phases of the  stars rather than constellations ( Glendow Origin of Zodiac p. 28).

Pisces is among the oldest recorded constellations. – and this in spite of the fact that the physical constellation is quite unremarkable and comparatively faint. It was first named the Tails or Shiny Tails. The association of the fish with Christianity is a much later attribution and has in many ways confused the original significance .

The Fishes is a symbol that appears to precede the constellation. They show up in myths that are very similar , even though from vastly different cultures. As such we can fairly call it an archetype. The theme of redemption in one form or another is at the heart of each on the stories.

vishnu matsya

Vishnu – Matsya

The Ikhthyes (or Ichthyes) were a pair of large Syrian river fish who rescued Aphrodite and Eros when they were fleeing from the monster Typhon. Another version of the myth says that the two gods disguised themselves as fish to escape the monster, or that the fish assisted in the birth of Aphrodite. In another version of this myth, the fish “Pisces” carry Aphrodite and her son out of danger. In all versions of the story, they were placed amongst the stars as the Constellation Pisces. It doesn’t mater in the end because one way or another two fish saved Aphrodite and Eros and then became the constellation of the Fishes.

Paul Klee - Around the Fish - Note the Various Symbols

Paul Klee – Around the Fish – Note the Various Symbols from Pentagrams, Cross and Vesica Pisces

Here’s a bit more on the ubiquitous Fish from the deep archetype.  Salmon were sacred to the ancient Celts,  sometimes referred to as the Salmon of knowledge or wisdom. If you caught one with your hands and held it up to your ear, it would whisper wise ranns to you.

Salmon leaping from a river were symbolic of self-transcendence. The Salmon at the bottom of a well is a well known image to anyone familiar with Celtic spirituality. Wells and springs had a special significance as a means to communicate with the waters of the earth. The natives of the Pacific Northwest where I live take the Salmon as on of their main totem animals

Pisces Symbol derived from Vesica Piscis

Pisces Symbol derived from Vesica Piscis

Indian, Greek and Persian astrologers had a great deal of contact  during the greatest days of Alexandria.

According to Hindu belief, it is a Fish who is Matsyu  that warns Manu of the impending flood, urging him to store all manner of grains in a boat. We learn that Matsyu is among  the primary manifestations of  Vishnu. Manu escapes with the “Seven Sages”  and the Fish then pulls and protects the boat until the mariners are safe and the grain is planted on dry land. Matsya may be depicted as a giant fish, or with a human torso connected to the rear half of a fish.

Vishnu as Matsya Returning the Vedas to Brahma

Vishnu as Matsya Returning the Vedas to Brahma

In later versions of this story, the Sacred Vedas are hidden by a demon whom Matsya slays. Manu is again rescued and the holy scriptures recovered.

To find out what Indian astrologers think of the sign, I consulted Vedic astrologers.  Apparently Indian astrologers remember what the Western tradition had forgotten or discarded.

Some of the themes for Pisces were: The veils-scales between Two Worlds  and similarly the Bridge-Pathways to the world of the Ancestors and Private Guidance toward the development of personal, interior Wisdom and Compassion (Guru).  Private, sentient guidance across the bridge from material, waking life to meditative, astral dream life. The contrast, particularly in relation to Valens, is enormous and substantial.

There is  of course much of the standard Piscean traits listed such as: “emotional, expansive, intuitive, and imaginative…. they can be amorphous, hard to pin down … tend toward emotional disorders and have sensitive nervous and digestive systems.” (Frawley p. 125)

These insights are genuinely helpful because they embrace the whole person: body, mind and soul. This is what is lacking in much of  Traditional Western Astrology as understood and practised in the third millenium.

Somewhere along the way the integral spirituality of  Traditional astrology was discarded. It is not lost however. I was very much impressed with Ibn Arabi’s Mystical Astrology and we are amongst several cultures who do not have spiritual amnesia. Indian astrologers have maintained a high level of awareness in this regard. It’s important to know your roots.

If you take the living archetypes out of astrology all you have is dry method, capable of telling you where you lost your credit card, but doing precious little for the soul. Read Plato on the Forms and you may never see the archetypes n the same way.738194_517251011638684_1237929645_o

Fire Incarnate – The Choleric Humour

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It seems to be very easy for people to forget the actual physical attributes of the elements and think of them as symbolic only. This is regrettably the case with some some students of astrology. It’s easy to say “I’m a Fire Sign” without thinking much about what Fire really is and how it relates and interacts with the other elements.

With this in mind I’ve put together a four part series on the elements in the hope of elucidating the physical characteristics and symbolic power of the Elements at the same time. There is no contradiction here. What is above is also below.

The element of Fire in Astrology is Initiated by Cardinal Aries. Zero degrees Aries marks the Spring Equinox and the transit of the Sun through the sign of its exaltation.

It’s the astrological New Year in the Northern Hemisphere and charts are drawn in order to divine the nature of the following twelve month cycle. This chart is also how we determine the Lord of the Year.

The Fire triplicity then moves to Leo – Fixed Fire – and Sagittarius common or mutable. The unfolding of this triplicity gives us a great deal of insight into the nature of Fire in astrology. Fixed Fire is Solar and Mutable is Jupiterean. The latter disseminates the essence of Fire.

The ingress of Aries is a time of renewed hope in the waxing Sun and the subsequent growth it produces – think of photosynthesis as well as long, warm days to nurture the crops.

Zoroastrian Chaharshanbe Suri

Zoroastrian Chaharshanbe Suri

Fire and Sun worship is ubiquitous. This should come as no surprise  because it satisfies two very basic human needs –  heat and light. The second of these has been raised to the level of divinity by virtually every spiritual teaching, even if be as metaphor for the inner light or light of God.

There are many, many fire festivals held at this time of year in a multitude of cultures.

Amongst the most ancient is the Zoroastrian Festival of Naruz or Chaharshanbe Suri. Fire worship and a Solar deity are central to Zoroastrianism.

The Hindu Festival of Colors, Holi, is among the greatest of ceremonies in the world, with many million ecstatic participants. The festival takes place in honour of a youth who escaped, without injury, from the clutches of a demoness named Holika after she lit him on fire.

The festival also marks the beginning of spring and is celebrated with bonfires, throwing colored powder and water on everyone

Perhaps just as ancient are the Rites of  Spring celebrated by the Celts in honour of the waxing Sun and renewed life. They were all Solar or Fire festivals and the theme of fertility is integral to them all. The Celts refer to the Vernal Equinox as Alban Eiler which translates as “Light of the Earth.” At this time, when the day is equal to the night and waxing , is a traditional time for sowing crops. Solstices and Equinoxes were powerful places places on the wheel. This time of balance between.the forces of day and night were highly auspicious events for the Druids

Festival of Holi - India

Festival of Holi – India

Let’s look at the element of Fire and it’s relationship to the other elements. Fire needs Earth for fuel and Air to sustain it. In the process of burning, water is usually released. So what do we mean when we say someone is “fiery”?

The traditional response would be to refer to the Choleric humour. But please keep in mind that the Sun sign gives very little information about humours. It is quite possible for a Solar Pisces to be more Choleric than a Sagittarius, although they are likely to express it differently. It’s unusual to find someone with only one humour active, so the art is to learn how the four of them interrelate, combine and repel.

Galen’s system gives us the bodily fluid Yellow bile, for choleric. The season is Summer. The primary organ of interest is the Spleen. The humour is warm & dry, the native often idealist However the Choleric Humour is easily angered and bad tempered. You will find that very often those who have a strong choleric Humour dominant tend to treat people like fuel. Fire is volatile. It is visible but has no fixed form. It can burn us as well as cook our food. 4_body_fluids

This is immediately recognized in the physical element of fire. When channeled properly it provides us with warmth and light. There is something about flames that fascinates us.

However, if it gets out of  control,, all Hell can break loose : the fire consuming everything in its path, feeding on Earth and sustained by Air. It repels water, but water can extinguish the flame if caught in time or in a massive enough measure.

Fire is a purifying, masculine energy. It is the source of strong will and energy, just as we temper steel in a forge. Fire creates and destroys. Learning to start and harness fire must have been the single most significant event for human beings.

If you can think of human interaction in these terms, imagining all the possibly combinations, interactions and repulsions, you will have a deeper understanding of Traditional astrology.


Alchemical Symbol for Fire

Alchemical Symbol for Fire

Towards a Living Tradition


This is a purely editorial piece – my first and probably my last.  It’s meant to raise some issues I think need to be discussed in the astrological community. My remarks should not be construed as referring to any particular individual. It’s an open letter to the Astrological community and all interested readers.

The resurrection of several texts from the Hellenistic and Medieval periods, in particular, have contributed to a Renaissance in astrology. Many of these sources were unavailable for one reason or another until the last three decades. This is a wonderful time to be an astrologer.

Unfortunately, this new knowledge has helped to create an atmosphere of elitism,  expressed most strongly in those who know the least. We have cases of ‘famous’ teachers teaching predictive astrology who have never accurately predicted anything. When asked for the specifics of a given prediction they become vague and reluctant to connect it to a specific astrological event, sometimes even contradicting themselves in the process – granted that is the extreme.

Common English words are translated into Latin to add that special patina to an otherwise mostly empty vessel. Of course, the programs offered by these astrologers are very expensive, so the recipients of the diplomas, degrees and titles naturally become defensive if any of the techniques they learned are in any way held up to scrutiny or their brand name questioned. This is not conducive to astrology as a living tradition.

Try to imagine going for a reading with William Lilly or John Dee only to find certificates on their wall declaring them competent. It doesn’t work that way and it never did.  Mentorship is a necessary and wonderful thing, but the greatest astrologers we have even known didn’t have a brand name mentality and usually had many teachers. Putting letters after your name might be useful for lawyers and physicians, but has little or no meaning in astrological life. William Lilly consistently referred to himself as s student of astrology.  Of course, some students are more advanced and experienced than others, but students they remain.

The study necessary to be a great Traditional Astrologer is immense and takes decades. One doesn’t just take a course in Hermetic or Neo-Platonic philosophy and then claim to be a Classicist. .Obviously, you are not going to get a full understanding of Neo-Platonism without being thoroughly familiar with Plato.

If you embrace the Hermetic Philosophy you will need to know a great deal about the various forms of Hermes. You will need to have a full grasp of the cosmology that lies deep in the roots of Traditional astrology. In fact, it can never be separated, otherwise, you will never be anything more than a mechanic. Astrology without spirit and soul is nothing more than parroted dogma. It cannot ultimately work and it certainly cannot produce anything useful to the soul. There is a pervasive aversion to the idea of the soul, perhaps as much as to psychology.  Many Traditional astrologers have somehow got the idea that astrology is purely utilitarian. This is an enormous overreaction to the excesses of New Age astrology, which in fact has no coherent foundation at all. – as psychology perhaps, but not astrology.

In India, knowledge is often passed down from generation to generation. But this transmission, no matter in which culture it occurs, does not produce photocopies. Mimicry is anathema to any Art. What we need is emulation and a deep understanding that Astrology is a living Art. I have seen far too many so-called Traditional astrologers cling to dogma and find themselves superior, thus negating the ability to learn anything.

As for myself, I have studied for over forty years. I’ve been blessed by many, many great teachers. I had an extraordinary master of yoga as my teacher at the age of sixteen. I subsequently read the Upanishads, the Rig Veda and any Indian sacred texts I could find. Later on, I practised Tibetan Buddhism. The wisdom and beauty of these traditions astounded me, but what amazed me, even more, was how much they paralleled the western tradition. It’s been said that Buddhism is the closest thing to Gnosticism in the West, a sentiment with which I heartily agree. I sought my Western roots and found many marvellous things. We have all but forgotten our sacred roots. Through all this, astrology was never far away from my focus.

I spent a decade in Academia studying Greek and Roman Classics, Ancient History, and philosophy – particularly Hermetica and Platonica.  My Doctoral studies were on Marsilio Ficino and the School of Alexandria.  It was my great pleasure to go on and profess the summation of these studies I’ve found that none of this has conflicted in essence with my Druidic roots to which I feel a powerful bond. I make no special claims other than those required of any astrologer who has mastered the Art to the extent that I have. That doesn’t mean I never err. We all do.

Not everyone would have the opportunities I’ve had and my studies have taken me beyond what is required of a great astrologer. We can measure a great astrologer in any number of ways: first, he or she will enjoy a high degree of accuracy and a strong spirituality complete with humility. It’s not our doing that we have great teachers or extraordinary opportunities for the transference of wisdom.  Gratitude is an appropriate attitude, arrogance is not. He will be devoted to a lifetime of study.

Contact with our ancestors in one way or another is a great necessity. From them, we receive knowledge wisdom and inspiration. This is probably the greatest forgotten gift of  Modernity.

It’s not my intent to offend anyone and I recognize many wonderful teachers of the Art. These things needed to be said and I hope they stimulate some fruitful discussion in the astrological community

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 practised. 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 a 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 find his Mystical Astrology in the books he wrote on the subject. His worldview was saturated 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 practices. Ibn ‘Arabi also studied the traditional sciences, as did virtually all astrologers.

His full name, of great importance in the Islamic tradition, consisting of most 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

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

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 the Earth (al-ardh) than the Sun (ash-shams), and Venus (az­

zuhrah), 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 seven


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.

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 as Solar Man – The first is the 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 the 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 the 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 that 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 the 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 guttural 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 between 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 the 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


John Dee – Arch-Conjuror

John Dee

John Dee

John Dee (1527 – 1608) was a British alchemist, geographer, mathematician, navigator, astrologer and a double-agent for Queen Elizabeth I . He was a precocious child, educated in mathematics, philosophy and the occult. He also enjoyed the patronage of Sir Philip Sydney and Lord Dudley. He was an associate of Sir Francis Bacon, who may also have played the role of spy on occasion.

Elizabeth used an insignia  for private communiques between her Court and John Dee. It was the first occasion of 007 being associated with British spies. 007The 007 was the insignia number that Elizabeth was to use for private communiques between her Court and Dee.

He studied at Cambridge and on the European mainland, where he traveled widely. He brought back many astrological instruments and gained the reputation of a sorcerer. Dee studied astrology with the celebrated Jerome Cardan from 1552.  His combined skills allowed him to give sound advice to those seeking routes to the New World and the Far East.

He helped write the first English edition of Euclid. He was student of the Neo Platonic philosophy of Marsilio Ficino and drew no distinction between mathematics, geometry and  his investigations of the Hermetic Philosophy and Angel Magick..

John Dee - The Great Siglium

John Dee – The Great Siglium

He spent almost half his life attempting to commune with angels, to learn the universal language of creation, in the hope that he might bring about the pre-apocalyptic unity of humanity. He amassed one of the largest libraries in England. His occult work, mostly published, has had an enormous influence on the Western Magical Tradition.

Dee married three times and was the father of eight children. He is best know today as the astrologer and long-term advisor to Elizabeth I about almost anything to do with statecraft. Dee died in late 1608 or early 1609, Mortlake, England.

John Dee - Magical Equipment

John Dee – Magical Equipment

Here is Dee’s chart using Porphyry houses: for July 13, 1527, 4:02 PM in: Mortlake (London) – United Kingdom.johndeechart

This gives us a chart for the Day of Saturn and Hour of Mars

The first thing to notice is that it’s 1° from a Full Moon on the Cancer – Capricorn Axis, but the Moon has already left Capricorn for Aquarius. From an astrological point of view we can’t treat this as any Full Moon because the signs are not in Opposition. Technically we call this  Waxing Gibbous, perfecting in it’s last degree. This contributes to a strong will and deep sense of purpose

Using Porphyry houses,  Pisces and Virgo are Intercepted. This could be misleading because Venus deposited by Mercury is in Cancer and in her Fall in Virgo in the Ninth House. The Ninth House is disposited by the Sun.NPG 520,Francis Bacon, Viscount St Alban,by; after John Vanderbank; Unknown artist

The Almuten is a tie between Jupiter and Saturn, but I’m taking  Jupiter to hold that position in this case.. Mars is the Lord of the Geniture due to an abundance of Accidental Dignity.

Mercury in Cancer is free from the Beams and Direct. He is with an Exalted Jupiter, Lord of the Ascendant. Jupiter is unafflicted and conjunct the very powerful Fixed Star, Canopus, the Celestial Navigator. Canopus is of the Nature of Saturn and Jupiter and perfect for those involved in the Celestial Arts and Sciences.

The Ascendant at 3°57 Sagittarius is Conjunct Antares, one of the four Royal Stars of Persia. This is also a very powerful star of the Nature of Mars and Jupiter. Unfortunately, Mars is in his domicile, but in the twelfth House of hidden enemies.  In fact his enemies are stronger that he is. ws

This is where the chart starts

to fall apart. Jupiter and  Mercury are in the house of open enemies, the MC is disposited by Venus in her Fall and there is no support from the Eleventh House. We know he was highly considered and taken care of very well by the Queen and Court, but this charts doesn’t show that. We have a man who had eight children, but his Fifth House is in an infertile house and home to Saturn, disposited by a barren Venus in her Fall..

The Sun in the Eighth can certainly be interpreted as a  spy with  powerful occult interests, but much of the chart doesn’t describe what we know about Dee.

Sir Philip Sydney

Sir Philip Sydney

If we look at the chart using Whole Signs, many things become a lot clearer. The Eighth House now have Sun, Jupiter and Mercury. Considering the House is Disposited by the Moon in Saturnine Aquarius and Jupiter with Canopus, this looks a lot more like te chart of an alchemist and occultist. It is also ideal for a spy.

The previous open enemies of the Seventh House are replaced with the Par Fortuna. We still have a dignified Mars in the House of hidden enemies. He is in the Arabic Lunar Mansion of The Sting, as well as the Ascendant.

John Dee’s “Angelorum Bonorum” of Enochian angel names

John Dee’s “Angelorum Bonorum” of Enochian angel names

Saturn however moved from the Fifth to the Sixth House. This tips the balance on the subject of Children. The House is still Dispoisted by Mars but with Saturn and his Dispositor out of the picture this is much more conducive. The Sun of Course is applying to a Trine with the Ascendent, but as with the Lunar – Solar Axis, the aspect is out of Sign. The Trine is actually separating from Mars, which bodes well. Mercury is applying. The Almuten is now slightly weighted towards Saturn. To me it’s a better fit for what we know about John Dee..UnknownChild1

Finally we consider the planetary Parts as set out by Al Biruni. the Part of Venus sits just inside the Cusp of the First. Mercury is another six degrees into the House. The Ascendant is very strong and well disposed. With no major contradictions to this in the chart, we would expect a long and fairly healthy life. It gives a commanding presence.

Regarding support for the Eleventh House, perhaps we can can consider it’s Dispositor, Venus in Virgo as the Virgin Queen. This is the same in both charts.

The reader can decide for themselves which system yields the most accurate results. I prefer the Whole Sign because irt explains three very important issues in the chart – the degree and extent of occult interest and talent, to some extent his status as spy and the fact that he had eight children. I don’t see the4se in the first chart. I’m always happy to hear connstructive feedback.