Caption Persian astronomy. Historical artwork showing a group of astronomers led by Persian astronomer Nasir al-Din Tusi (Nasireddin or Tusi, 1201-1275) at his observatory near Meraga (Maragheh) in what is now northwestern Iran. The observatory was established in 1259. Several other prominent astronomers worked here with Tusi. Twelve years of observations produced the Ilkhanic Tables of planetary movements, completed in 1272. This artwork is a miniature painting from the manuscript ‘Tevarih-i guzide’ (circa 1563).

With respect to the great Persian astrologers of the pre and early Islamic period of the Sassanian dynasty  (224-651 CE)  one requires some working knowledge of the influential Bundahisn, meaning “Primal  Creation,” also known as the Zoroastrian Book of Creation.

A series of cataclysmic invasions of Persia resulted in the destruction of the bulk of the Zoroastrian scriptures, namely the Avesta. The first assault was suffered during Alexander of Macedonia’s invasion in 330 BCE. This was accompanied by devastation and mass killings of priests who had preserved the work in an oral tradition. Then between 640-650 CE came the Arab Muslim invasions bent on mass conversions and the burning of Persian texts, including the Avesta. What fragments remained were largely destroyed in the Mongol and Turkic invasions. The result is that “today, out of the twenty-one books of the Sassanian era Avesta, only one complete book and fragments of others survive. The surviving texts are nevertheless one and a half times the size of the Koran, and are arranged as five books plus fragments.” (See K. E. Eduljee).

This reality makes the recovery of the Greater Bundahishn that much more important. This brief article is meant as a concise introduction to the work and its enormous significance.

The Persian contribution to early astronomy and astrology should not be underestimated, At the time of Persian history, particularly from the last decades of the fifth century BC until Alexander’s conquest was the most fertile period of Babylonian mathematical astronomy.:

“Astronomical schools existed in Uruk, Sippar, Babylon and Borsippa. The Achaemenians maintained an atmosphere favourable to the development of science. Under Darius, a great Babylonian astronomer, Nabu-rimanni (Naburianus), was instructed to carry out a study of lunar eclipses and arrived at calculations more accurate than those of Ptolemy and Copernicus. His works were translated and used for many centuries by all including Seleucid and Parthian rulers of Persia. His picture of Heavens was borrowed by the Greeks and eventually reached the famous Greek scientist Democritus. The terminology employed by Naburianu includes spheres, orbits, ecliptic, inclination, celestial equator, poles, circular motion, revolutions, retrogression, moon’s highest north and south latitudes. All were used extensively by Greek astronomers including the brilliant Eudoxus of Cnidus, precursor of Euclid. Another well known Babylonian astronomer under Persian rule, Kidinnu (Cidenas) of Sippar, distinguished the solar year from the lunar, discovered the precession of the equinoxes and arrived at an exact calculation of the length of the year, making an error of only 7 minutes, 41 seconds.” See Astrology & Astronomy in Iran and Ancient Mesopotamia by Massoume Price.

As I have indicated elsewhere:, The Greater Bundahishn is a compendium of ideas that are believed to pre-date Zoroastrianism, but the core is true to the cosmology of that religion. There are also some elements that would indicate knowledge relatively contemporary to its ninth-century appearance.

Fortunately, a brilliant new critical edition and translation of this work was completed by Domenico Agostini & Samuel Thrope and published by OUP in 2020 All references to the Bundahisn in the current article to this edition, unless otherwise stated.

I will focus specifically on the Creation of the Lights as described in The Greater Iranian Bundahishn. I would contend that without an understanding of this, the astrological writers of the period can be but partially understood. It will become apparent that although the text is first and foremost a Zoroastrian and Persian text, it reveals the extent to which Hellenistic and Indian traditions were well understood by the Persian author(s).

It behoves us to familiarize ourselves with the philosophical, cosmological or mystical underpinnings of any given system. This is an essential step in understanding the context of extant writings in Persian astrology, of which there is an abundance, most of which has only recently been translated into English.

It is also important to understand that: “Astronomy and its companion ‘applied science’ of astrology, were central features of the intellectual landscape of the early Islamic period . Observations of the heavens as well as the science of astronomy, have long pedigrees in Iranian culture generally and in Zoroastrian texts specifically. During the Sassanian period, Babylonian, Greek, and Indian traditions were synthesized in a single science that was part of the inherited Islamic intellectual tradition. “A special class of professionals were active in the art at the Sasanian court, producing horoscopes and predictions, as well as serving as translators and specialists on mathematical and scientific issues.” (Bundahisn p.16).

In a commentary to his own translation, Zeke J.V. Kassock states that “The Bundahishn is a collection of ideas, cosmogonies, cosmologies, histories, genus species and geographies. Most information is from pre-Sassanian Iran and Sassanian Iran, though some are from post-Islamic Iran. It can be divided into two categories, the Greater (Iranian) Bundahishn, and the Lesser (Indian) Bundahishn.” (The Greater Iranian Bundahishn A Pahlavi Student’s 2013 Guide p.i )

This Greater Bundahishn is approximately twice as long. as the Lesser (Indian ) Bundahishn. Neither is considered scripture. The Greater, in particular, draws heavily from the Avesta and Zoroastrianism, often starting sentences with “Gōwēd pad Dēn
kū”, “It is said in the Religion.” (ibid.)

The Bundahishn, or Zoroastrian ‘Primal Creation’ 17th or 18th Century – British Library Mss Avestan 22The text of the Bunda­hišn “probably grew through different redactions, but it is not possible to provide a precise date the first compilation was made. . Most scholars subscribe to the view … that it is “an original work on cosmology in which the scattered teachings of the Avesta were coordinated and brought into a system by an author who, living presumably towards the end of the Sassanian epoch, possessed an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Avestic literature … This author also had some knowledge of the Greek scientific literature that had reached Iran under the Sassanians. For example, the contents of chapter XXVIII bear a similarity to the Hippocratic treatise Peri hebdomádōn. Chapter II on astronomy manifests, besides nearly prehistoric views, an acquaintance with Greek and Indian science..” See the article in Encyclopedia Iranica for a more complete treatment of this.

The recent Oxford edition is splendid, distinguishing itself not only in its linguistic brilliance but also with respect to its insightful and extensive commentary. It is however expensive and is not likely to be available to most of my readers. I, therefore, quote from Zand-Akashi: Iranian or Greater Bundahishn. Trans. Behramgore Tehmurus Anklesaria Published for the Rahnumae Mazdayasnan Sabha by its Honorary Secretary Dastur Framroze A. Bode. Bombay 1965.

What follows is the complete text of the second chapter of The Bundahishn. using that edition. The entire chapter is less than three printed pages in length, but contains the essence of Persian astronomical sensibility.

CHAPTER II: As regards the procreation of the Luminaries.

Illustration of the zodiac in the Bundahišn, ed. and tr. M. Bahar, 1990, p. 58.

1. Ohrmaz created [forth] the Luminaries, between the Sky and the Earth; the stars of the constellations and also those which were not of the constellations [were stationed], then the Moon, and then the Sun.

2. As, He first created the firmament; the stars of the constellations were fixed thereon, especially these twelve, whose names are: the Ram, the Cow, the Twins, the Crab, the Lion, the Husk of Corn, the Balance, the Scorpion, the Centaur, the Goat, the Pot, and the Fishes, which are subdivided into twenty-eight asterisms of reckoning, the names of which [are these]: Padevar, Pesh-parviz, Parviz, Paha, Aze-sar, Beshn, Rakhvat, Taraha, Azara, Nahn, Maian, Avdem, Mashaha, Spor, Husru, Sroi, Nur, Gelu, Grafsha, Varant, Gao, Goi, Muru, Bunda, Kaht-sar, Vaht, Mayan, Kaht; all the original material creations made their residence thereon, so that when the Adversary, would arrive, they might fight against their own enemy and the creatures might be saved from their antagonist; each of these constellations is a specimen of a soldier and veteran, who is

posted for battle; six thousand four hundred eighty (thousand) small stars are created forth, for help, [those which the astronomers now number, besides those innumerable, as, they are for their mutual-help.]

3. Over these constellations, He appointed four chieftains, in four directions; He appointed a chieftain over these chieftains; He appointed many innumerable stars that are [33] recognised by name, in various directions and various places, as givers of vigour, by cooperation, to these Constellations.

Constellations of Ursa Major, detail, from Persian Manuscript 373. Zodiac. MS PERSIAN (373). Work ID: mcauucez.

4. As one says: “Sirius [Tishtar] is the chieftain of the East, Sataves the chieftain of the South, Antares [Vanand] the chieftain of the West, the Seven Bears [Haptoring] the chieftain of the North; the Lord of the throne, Capicornus, whom they call the Lord of Mid- Heaven, [is the chieftain of chieftains; Parand, Mazd-tat, and others of this list are also chiefs of the directions

5. And astronomers call these stars of the directions and sides as leaders; and they mention the first magnitude, the third magnitude, …… as to the big, small, and middling stars.

6. He ordained this firmament in the semblance of a year: the twelve constellations like twelve months every constellation having thirty degrees, just as every month has thirty days.

7. He appointed the Seven Bears [Haptoring] in the Northern direction, thither where Dozakh [=hell -JHP] was, when the Adversary came in; a band from every region, out of the seven regions, is attached to it, for the organisation of the regions, in the mingled state: for that reason, it is called the’ Seven Thrones.’

8. He ordained the sphere, nature and class of these constellations so that they might remain in motion, in the mingled state.

9. Again, He arrayed, above them, the unmixable stars, so that, when the Adversary would arrive, they might repel him in the combat, and would not let him mingle with the higher sphere; He appointed the Glory of the good Mazdayasnian Religion, as chieftain

The horoscope of the world, after D. N. MacKenzie, “Zoroastrian Astrology in the ‘Bundahišn’,” BSOAS 273, 1964, p. 514.

over them; the place is called the brunt of the battle, the manifestation of purity in the mingled state; for this reason, they are called unmixable stars, because, when the Adversary came, they did not mingle with him; astronomers name a firmament which is above the firmament, where through there is no ebb and descent, for they cannot judge the mixable stars and the substance of the pure-bodies.

10. Above that, He created the Moon having the seed of the Beneficent Animal.

11. Above that, He created the shining swift-horsed Sun.

12. He appointed the Moon and [35] the Sun, as chieftains of those mixable stars; that is, they are all bound to the Sun and the Moon.

13. Above the Sun. He created the Throne of the Beneficent Immortals, which is attached to the Endless Light, the Throne of Ohrmazd.

14. These, too, are the six stations of the six creations, just as the creations of material life are six.

15. And in the midst of the half of the firmament, He appointed the Wind, the Cloud and the Fire Vazisht, so that, when the Adversary would arrive, they might seize the water of Sirius and produce rain; with the Spirit of the Water; He formed their connection, too, also with the Sun; the Moon, and the Stars; His valiant Sirius, who is the Chieftain of the East, is co-worker and associate of the Fire Vazisht, the Wind and the Cloud.

16. Of these stars, the big ones are as large as an eagle which is of the magnitude of a house, the middling are as large as a four-sided granary, and the small ones are as large as the head of a domestic ox; the Moon is as large as a race-course of two hathras; as, each hathra on earth is like an average frasang; the Sun is as large as Eranvej.

17. Until the coming of the Adversary, the Moon, the Sun and the stars were standing still, they did not move, and were passing their time with purity, and it was always mid-day; after the coming of the Adversary, they were in motion and would not desist from that motion, until the end.

18. The motion of the Sun is like that of a very large three-feathered arrow, when a very big man darts it from a very large bow; the motion of the Moon is just like that of an average three-feathered arrow, when an average man darts it, from an average bow; the motion of the stars is like that of a small three-feathered arrow, when a short man darts it from a small bow.

19. Of these constellations; Tishtar [Orion], Besn, Taraha, Azara, Pateywar, and Pesh-parviz are of very swift motion.

Sirius (bottom) and the constellation Orion (right). The three brightest stars in this image—Sirius, Betelgeuse (top right) and Procyon (top left)—form the Winter Triangle. The bright star at top center is Alhena, which forms a cross-shaped asterism with the Winter Triangle.

20. The mean duration of the Sun, from the time when it leaves a constellation until it attains to the next, is as much as is requisite for a man who takes up a stone and throws it.

This brief introduction to the core of the Zoroastrian myth as it relates specifically to the operation of the planets, luminaries and fixed stars provides valuable context in relation to the study of Persian astronomy and  astrology. In a subsequent article, we may address the nature of the constellations in greater detail.

Understanding the Nebra Sky Disc

This is a brief, but well narrated documentary on the Nebra Sky Disk. This find and other recent archaeological discoveries put the history of astronomical sophistication in Northern Europe and Briton to a much earlier time than had been thought..

I’m sure there will be many more discoveries. For much of the the last two millennia, the oral traditional cultures of Northern Europe had been thought of as barabaric backwaters compared to Rome or Greece. This is largely because the latter are the ones who wrote about the *barbarian hordes.*


We now know that Stonehenge is 5,000 yrs old and signicantly predates the pyramids of Egypt. Archeologists are learning more of this incredibly innovative and comparatively egalitarian society who built this complex as well as the nearby Woodhenge.

Head and Tail of the Dragon : The Lunar Nodes


From the point of view of own planet, the Sun and the Moon appear to be about the same size. This is because the Sun is four hundred times larger than the Moon, but also about four hundred times the distance from Earth. From earliest times this has exerted a strong psychological relationship to the two luminaries, encouraging the belief that they are of equal but different importance. The Sun may be the source of all energies, but it is the Moon that determines the tides and has the most immediate effect on our moods and earthly activities. The Moon in astrological practise is therefore of great significance. In fact, in most systems, she is given much more importance than the current frenzy for Sun sign astrology would imply! The Moon’s Nodes are not planets. They are points in space indicating the intersection of two orbits.

The elements to be considered are a) the Ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun around the Earth, which is actually the orbit of the Earth around the Sun; and b) the orbit of the Moon that which revolves around the Earth. The planes of these two orbits intersect each other at 5 degrees, 8 minutes and 40 seconds. The line of intersection is the axis formed by the Moon’s Nodes. (See Rupert, Cycles of Becoming: The Planetary Pattern of Growth. 1978 p.54). The Nodes do not move at an entirely predictable speed and vary from day to day.A total solar eclipse – but cloud cover means Australia's best viewing area might get only a glimpse

They are either calculated as “True” or “Mean.” True is the ‘ exact’ position of the Nodes at any given time, while Mean is the presumed position based on the average speed. With the assistance of computers, most astrologers have opted to use the True Node, but the matter of which is more eloquent is still debated. The Mean Node is always retrograde, whilst the True Node may occasionally be direct as if it’s wobbling. That’s because the True Node takes the gyroscopic relationship of the Sun/Moon into account. It may be argued, then, that it now makes little sense to use the Mean Node when it is just as easy to calculate the True Node. However, this is somewhat illusory: Since “in the strict sense of the word, even the ”true” nodes are true only twice a month, viz. at the times when the moon crosses the ecliptic. Positions given for the times in between those two points are just a hypothesis. They are founded on the idea that celestial orbits can be approximated by elliptical elements. This works well with the planets, but not with the moon, because its orbit is strongly perturbed by the sun.

Another procedure, which might be more reasonable, would be to interpolate between the true node passages. The monthly oscillation of the node would be suppressed, and the maximum deviation from the conventional ”true” node would be about 20 arc minutes” See the Swiss Ephemeris for further explanation. I would, therefore, recommend experimenting with both systems. An obvious advantage of using the Mean Node is that it is what was used traditionally, so most commentaries of the meanings will have used this method. The North and South Nodes of the Moon are also known in Vedic astrology as Rahu and Ketu respectively. The North Node is considered as the head of the dragon, while the south is considered to be the tail. In Vedic astrology, the Nodes are considered malefic, with Rahu being comparable to Saturn as Ketu is to Mars. But this is true only as a loose planetary analogy, as “Ketu when inauspiciously placed, can ruin significations in an uncommonly awful and devious way. Whereas Rahu disturbs by way of lethargy, grossness and insensitivity: it does so in a manner that is much less intense and purposeful (Braha, James T. Ancient Hindu Astrology 1986. p.34).

The fascinating myth of Rahu and Ketu is told in the Mahabharata. The Hindu gods wanted to generate soma, an elixir of immortality. The idea was that the gods were to drink the elixir and become immortal. This was not an easy task, so the gods asked for help from the demons to stir the oceans to produce the elixir. Out of this churning ocean the Sun, Moon, goddesses, and magical things were produced together with the soma. Vishnu took charge of distributing the freshly made soma to the gods. However while the soma was being passed out, the demons began to battle with the gods for a taste of the elixir. There was much confusion and Rahu, one of the demons, disguised himself as a god and drank some of the elixir. The Sun and Moon recognized the imposter and advised Vishnu. As Rahu was swallowing the soma, Vishnu sliced off his head with a sword. However, because the soma had passed into the throat the head had already become immortal. To avenge the Sun and Moon, Rahu chased the Sun and Moon across the sky and tried to eat them, occasionally catching and swallows one of them. This caused an eclipse, but when the victims fell out of Rahu’s mouth, the eclipse ends.


Eclipse as seen from Hinode Satellite

We do know that the Nodes are an important element in predicting eclipses of the Sun or Moon. NASA ‘” confirms that eclipses only occur if the satellite of a planet is located within 0.5 degrees of the plane of the Ecliptic, on a line which passes through the centre of the Sun and the Earth. The Moon travels along an orbit which is inclined by 5 degrees to the Ecliptic plane, so there are only two opportunities each month when it passes through the plane of the Ecliptic, called the ascending and descending nodes. These two points connected to the barycentre of the Earth-Moon system ( roughly the centre of the Earth ) define a ‘line of nodes’, and eclipses of the Sun and Moon will occur if this line of nodes coincides with the line drawn between the centre of the Earth and Sun. Again, the Moon also has to be within 0.5 degrees of one or the other of the nodes so that the disk of the Sun is partially or totally covered in a solar eclipse. A similar argument explains why lunar eclipses do not happen every full moon at the node opposite the Sun from the Earth.” See NASA for more information.


The image above shows the conditions necessary for an eclipse. Note that the North Node is pointing to the Sun. Modern Western astrologers do not tend to see the Nodes in the same light as either Vedic or Traditional Western astrologers and have invented some very exotic meanings without much coherent rationale. Often they take the politically correct route, suggesting nothing can be wrathful or malefic in the ‘New Age’ and that the very idea of ‘malefic’ belongs to a less ‘enlightened’ age. There are many who consider the nodes as essentially karmic signatures, but then become surprisingly vague or aggressively retributional and dogmatic. In the case of the latter, I’m thinking of the ‘tone’ of much of Schulman’s work on the subject.

William Lilly writes that

“The Head of the Dragon is Masculine, of the nature of Jupiter and Venus, and of himself a Fortune; yet the Ancients doe say, that being in Conjunction with the good he is good, and in conjunction with the evil Planets they account him evil. The Tayle of the Dragon is Feminine by Nature, and clean contrary to the Head; for he is evil when

Al Biruni

Al Biruni

joyned with good Planets, and good when in conjunction with the malignant Planets. This is the constant opinion of all the Ancients, but upon what reason grounded I know not; I ever found the North Node equivalent to either of the Fortunes, and when joyned with the evil Planets to lessen their malevolent signification; when joyned with the good to increase the good promised by them: For the Tayle of the Dragon, I always in my practise found when he was joyned with the evil Planets; their malice or the evil intended thereby was doubled and trebled, or extreamly augmented, &c. and when he chanced to be conjunction with any of the Fortunes who were significators in the question, though the matter by the principal significator was fairely promised, and likely to be perfected in a smal time; yet did there ever fal out many rubs and disturbances, much wrangling and great controversie, that the businesse was many times given over for desperate ere a perfect conclusion could be had; and unlesse the principal significators were Angular and wel fortified with essential dignities, many times unexpectedly the whole matter came to nothing.” (CA. I. 82)


Lunar Eclipse_Al-Biruni

I don’t know why Lilly suggests that “it’s the constant opinion of the ancients because it isn’t.” Nevertheless his own position is clear.

Consider this : “the original meaning of the Sanskrit word ketu is “light,” “clarity”
(synonymous with the etymologically related adjective citra of the Pahl. gōchihr), which is in apparent contradistinction to the light-devouring function of Ketu as eclipse demon.” ( Dragon in Medieval East Christian and Islamic Art.(2011)  Sara Kuehn p. 144. Significance becomes highly complex :

The esoteric conceptualisation of the dragon
is illuminated in the allegory of a hero’s spiri-
tual journey in A Tale of Occidental Exile written
by the mystic Shihāb al-Dīn yaḥyā Suhravardī :

If you desire to be delivered along with your
brother [i e , speculative reason, the guide (ʿāṣim)],
do not put off traveling Cling to your rope, which
is the dragon’s tail (jawzahr) of the holy sphere
that dominates the regions of the lunar eclipse
[the realms of the eclipse denoting the world of
ascetic practice]

Solar Eclipse from Ibrahim Hakkı of Erzurum Marifetname The Book of Skills &Enlightenment

The hero passes beyond the material world and
reaches a light, the active intellect, which is the
governor of this world He places the light in the
mouth of the dragon, the world of the elements,
that “dwelt in the tower of the water-wheel [i e ,
the sky which turns like a wheel], beneath which
was the Sea of Clysma [i e , the water below the
sky] and above which are the stars the origin of
whose rays was known only to the Creator and
those “who are well-grounded in knowledge ””

(Kuehn p. 142-3).

This is fascinating material; but for all practical purposes, it restates the words of the Buddha: astrology no longer applies to those who are enlightened.

I have changed my view more than once over the years. I have read everything I could get my hands on regarding Traditional Astrology. There is no consensus but I’m giving the last word to Al Biruni. He is discussing the relative conditions of the luminaries:

“When both the luminaries are in aspect to each other, and to the benefics, and are in their own sections of the signs of the benefics, both of them are strong. But if they are in situations unsuitable to them, and the malefics, full of enmity are above them, and the benefics below, or are eclipsed, or near the dragon’s head or tail, especially the latter by less than 12 degrees, both of them are weak.” (Instructions p. 110.)

Elswhere he writes: “Some say the Head of the Dragon is Male and Diurnal and the Tail Female and Diurnal, but this is quite illogical.” (Instructions p.  27- 28 ) He then proceeds to explain the many ways any element of the chart can be changed by its relation to other elements.

Neither statements are dogmatic. In fact, it’s quite nuanced. But the nodes needing to be less than 12 degrees in either direction speaks volumes. There are conditions that can ameliorate the influence but that doesn’t stop the nodes from being the ‘light eating monster’ when unrestrained by a number of balancing factors. Clearly, he isn’t making much of distinction here between the head or the tail.

 I have found this approach to be most useful and accurate. This work as well in the Judgment of Nativities as they do for Electional and Mundane. The nodes have a special place in the astrology of vulcanology as I hope to demonstrate in a future article.