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Arab and Persian Astrology

Arab and Persian astrology

Persian Astrology has its roots in the Zend-Avesta, parts of which are very similar to the Rig Veda. Much of the ancient cosmology of Persia/Iran has been lost because of the advent of the Koran and the systematic destruction of Pre-Islamic libraries. Nevertheless the ancient texts in the Zend-Avesta hold a lot of information of Persian Astrology. Many of the reverences in the Zoroastrian prayers in the Yasna are made to cosmological energies of the various constellations. Some of the science of the pre-Islamic Iran did eventually appear again amongst Islamic scientists. Much of the survival of classical sciences like astronomy, mathematics, geography and philosophy in the Western world is because it was preserved and used by the Muslim world from about the 8th Century, when Europe was going through its Dark Ages. Astrology, being linked to astronomy at this stage, was also one of those disciplines preserved.

Islamic Astronomy

Centres of learning in medicine and astronomy/astrology were set up in Baghdad and Damascus, and the Caliph Al-Mansur of Baghdad established a major observatory and library in the city, making it the world's astronomical centre. During this time knowledge of astronomy was greatly increased, and the astrolabe was invented by Al Fazari. So much was knowledge increased by the Arabs that even today a great many star names are Arabic in origin. Here is a short list for some of the most prominent, with their original meaning:

Achernar "River's End"
Aladfar "Claws"
Aldebaran "The Follower"
Alioth "Sheep's Tail"
Altair "The Flying"
Betelgeuse "Central Hand"
Deneb "Tail"
Mizar "Waistband"
Rasolgethi "Head of the Kneeling One"
Rigel "Foot of the Great One"
Vega "The Falling"

The meaning of the star names cannot really be understood without reference to the constellation of which they are a part. Further details of the star names, along with a greater list of others can be found in the article: List of traditional star names. Some astrologers still include a few of the stars in their charts today, along with the usual planets. For example, Aldabaran is said to signify confidence, energy and leadership qualities, while Vega is said to indicate good fortune in worldy ambitions.

Islamic Astrology

Muslim astrologers defined a new form of astrology called electional astrology that could be used for all manner of divination in everyday life, such as the discovery of propitious moments for the undertaking of a journey, or the beginning of a business venture etc. They also were the first to speak of 'favourable' and 'unfavourable' indications, rather than categorical events.

Albumasur or Abu Ma'shar (805 - 885) was the greatest of the Arab astrologers. His treatise 'Introductoriam in Astronomium' spoke of how 'only by observing the great diversity of planetary motions can we comprehend the unnumbered varieties of change in this world'. The 'Introductoriam' was one of the first books to find its way in translation through Spain and into Europe in the Middle Ages, and was highly influential in the revival of astrology and astronomy there.

Arab Astrology and Herbalism

Muslims also combined the disciplines of medicine and astrology by being linking the curative properties of herbs with specific zodiac signs and planets.[3] Mars, for instance, was considered hot and dry and so ruled plants with a hot or pungent taste - like hellebore, tobacco or mustard. These beliefs were adopted by European herbalists like Culpeper right up until the development of modern medicine.

Arabic Parts

The Muslims also developed a system called Arabic parts by which the difference between the ascendant and each planet of the zodiac was calculated. This new position then became a 'part' of some kind. For example the 'part of fortune' is found by taking the difference between the sun and the ascendant and adding it to the moon. If the 'part' thus calculated was in the 10th House in Libra, for instance, it suggested that money could be made from some kind of partnership.

Iranian Astrologers

Iranian Astrology predates Islam and flourished as early as the Achaemenid times. The Bible makes references to the three wise Magi from the east who are thought to have been Iranian. The Iranians made significant contribution to astronomy and astrology. Al Khwarizmi was the most famous of these. He was a great mathematician, astronomer, astrologer and geographer. He is considered to be the father of algebra and the algorithm, and introduced the concept of the number zero to the Western world.

The calendar calculated 1000 years ago by Omar Khayym Neyshabouri, Mathematician, Astronomer, Poet and Philosopher, is still in effect in Iran as the official Persian calendar. This is virtually the only calendar in the world which is based on the classical zodiac, in which the 1st degree of Aries represents the first day of the new year at the spring equinox(March 21), the beginning of the Persian new year or Nowruz. He is also the inventor of the decimal system and is believed to be the father of Algebra.

Another famous Iranians astrologer and astronomer was Qutb al-Din al Shirazi (12361311). He wrote critiques of the Almagest, the famous Arabic translation of the astronomical work of Ptolemy. The Almagest was the means by which Ptolemy's work was re-introduced into Europe, as the original European copies had been lost. He produced two prominent works on astronomy: 'The Limit of Accomplishment Concerning Knowledge of the Heavens' in 1281 and 'The Royal Present' in 1284, both of which commented upon and improved on Ptolemy's work, particularly in the field of planetary motion. Al-Shirazi was also the first person to give the correct scientific explanation for the formation of a rainbow.

Ulugh Beyg was a fifteenth-century Sultan of Iran and another notable Iranian mathematician and astronomer. He built an observatory in 1428 and produced the first original star map since Ptolemy, which corrected the position of many stars, and included many new ones.

Medieval refutations

The study of astrology was refuted by several medieval Muslim astronomers such as Al-Farabi (Alpharabius), Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), Avicenna, Abu Rayhan al-Biruni and Averroes. Their reasons for refuting astrology were often due to both scientific (the methods used by astrologers being conjectural rather than empirical) and religious (conflicts with orthodox Islamic scholars) reasons.

Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya (12921350), in his Miftah Dar al-SaCadah, used empirical arguments in astronomy in order to refute the practice of astrology and divination. He recognized that the stars are much larger than the planets, and thus argued:

"And if you astrologers answer that it is precisely because of this distance and smallness that their influences are negligible, then why is it that you claim a great influence for the smallest heavenly body, Mercury? Why is it that you have given an influence to al-Ra's and al-Dhanab, which are two imaginary points [ascending and descending nodes]?"

Al-Jawziyya also recognized the Milky Way galaxy as "a myriad of tiny stars packed together in the sphere of the fixed stars" and thus argued that "it is certainly impossible to have knowledge of their influences."

Modern Developments

Astrology was in favour in the Persian world when it was associated with the sciences of astronomy, mathematics and medicine. When in later times it became separated from those disciplines, it was regarded as linked to superstition and fortune-telling. Modern Persian views of astrology are therefore negative for the most part, as fortune-telling is forbidden in the Koran. Present day Astrologers in Iran have found a great deal of similarities to the Western Astrology. Iranian months of the year correspond exactly to the horoscope months.



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