In the Footsteps of Angels: Medieval Arabic Astrology

Illustration of different phases of the moon, from manuscript of the Kitab al-Tafhim by Al-Biruni (973-1048).

As the newly formed Muslim caliphate extended beyond the Arabian Peninsula, it encountered Persian, Hellenistic, and Indian forms of astrology, integrating them into a refined science that would reach its medieval peak in Baghdad, a city whose fortune and fate would be foretold by the stars.

Gemini: The Twins

Sidney Hall’s (1831) astronomical chart illustration of the zodiac Gemini.

Mentally agile and curious, the mutable, Mercury-ruled air sign of Gemini gathers information, synthesizes, and reports. But at its mythological roots, this sign’s capacity to be two things at once reveals the unifying power of companionship.

2022 June – Gemini season and Saturn retrograde

Sunrise on June 1, 2022. Saturn leads the morning procession followed by Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury. (Chart created via astro.com)

Saturn turns retrograde early this month and Mercury turns direct. Both Mercury and Venus transiting Gemini and in a sextile aspect to the greater benefic Jupiter make this a very social month.

Taurus: The Bull

Sidney Hall’s astronomical chart illustration of the Taurus.

The fixed earth sign of Taurus represents the forward momentum of spring, with its placid nature and capacity for creation. But while the Bull’s impulse is toward taking root and building, if its Venusian peace is disturbed it can become a destructive force not to be trifled with.

2022 May – Jupiter Aries ingress and a lunar eclipse

Sunrise in New York, May 5, 2022. Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, and Venus are clearly visible before sunrise. A Mercury retrograde features this month (Chart created at astro.com)

Jupiter ingresses into Aries in May, setting up a generosity with Mars in Pisces that leads to the ominous May 16 total lunar eclipse along with a retrograde Mercury.

The Moon: The Nocturnal Luminary

Diana (Artemis) riding the chariot of the moon across the heavens.

As the luminary that rules the night, the Moon represents change, travel, the emotional or irrational soul and feminine energy, but its significations depend on its condition in the sky and its proximity to the earthly sphere.

Aries: The Ram

Sidney Hall’s astronomical chart illustration of Aries and Musca Borealis. A ram and a fly forming the constellations.

Filled with the vitality of spring, Aries is the sign of new beginnings. While the Ram rushes forward to meet any challenge head-on, the flame of this cardinal fire sign peters out just as quickly as it is lit.

2022 April – Jupiter heliacal rising and a Solar eclipse

Sunrise in New York, 1 April 2022. Mars, Saturn and Venus are clearly visible before sunrise. Jupiter makes his helical rising this month. (chart created at astro.com)

Jupiter makes his first appearance in the eastern sky in April and, with Venus also in Pisces, compassion and sensitivity are heightened this month. At the end of the month, we see the bound of Mercury/Taurus activated by the year’s first solar eclipse.

Firmicus Maternus: A skeptic among the stars

Port of Messina, Sicily, Italy

A lawyer turned astrologer turned devout Christian, Firmicus Maternus penned the eight-book Mathesis, one of the lengthiest extant works on Hellenistic astrology in Latin, giving sixteen centuries of readers insight into astrological practices during the Roman Empire.

Vettius Valens: Soldier of Fate

Alexandria in the late 18th century, painting by Luigi Mayer

Know to the Arabs as “Al-Rumi”, Vettius Valens gained near-mythical status in the East while his fame was largely eclipsed by Ptolemy in the West but his Anthologies remains the most important source contemporary readers have for the foundations and techniques of Hellenistic astrology.