Fate vs. Freewill

Exploring Titus Burckhardt’s “Mystical Astrology According to Ibn ‘Arabi” continued

In the middle ages the debate for or against astrology revolved primarily around the question of fate vs. freewill. In this context it is quite clear that astrology is neither Christian or Islamic in essence as both religions “…insist on the responsibility of the individual before its Creator and avoids…all that could veil this…by consideration of intermediate causes”.* These intermediate causes are the influence of the seven planets, particularly when seen as individual deities. So how was it possible that astrology was not completely suppressed in the Christian and Islamic cultures of the middle ages? What rendered it capable of being adopted and freed from this very serious failing? The mediating factor was Alexandrine hermeticism which enabled the primordial symbolism of astrology to be integrated with Christian and Islamic metaphysical principles. Titus Burckhardt uses the image of a precious stone to illustrate this. The stone is the primordial symbolism of astrology which scintillates and reflects the light of Christian and Islamic contemplative spirituality. The implication is that not all aspects of hellenistic astrology could be integrated either because it either existed in fragments or was not compatible.

Titus Burckhardt speaks of “…contemplative penetration of cosmic atmosphere, and the identification of spontaneous appearances – constant and rhythmic – of the sensible world with the eternal prototypes…” Now this passage is not easy to understand and so allow me to present it in the form of a table while also including the well known hermetic analogic principle of: “As above so below. As below so above”.


The use of the word “cosmic atmosphere” when referring to the planetary spheres arises out of contemplative insight. These spheres are not merely geometrical constructs but represent an environment that surrounds those beings within them. We’ll go into more detail later.

The constant and rhythmic movements of the planets means that their position is predictable. The planets themselves belong to the sensible world as they can be observed. The planets mark the boundaries of their respective spheres. These spheres embody the super-sensible prototypes. We can speak of spontaneous appearance, as the the potential of all possible combinations within this constant and rhythmic movement, find their individual and unique actuality, that is appearance, in any moment of time.

The above table can in its attempt to clarify also be misleading as it suggests that these elements are separate. This is not so. The sensible cannot be separated from the super-sensible. Titus Burckhardt makes a very important statement later in his text, “The traditional cosmology does not make an explicit differentiation between planetary skies in their corporal and visible reality, and that which corresponds to them in the subtle order; because the symbol is essentially identified with the thing it symbolises, and there is no reason for making a distinction between the one or the other…”

*All quotes unless otherwise indicated are from the text.

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