Astrology and the Science of Letters

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

There is a very interesting passage in the al futuhat al makkiya in the chapter on the science of letters:

“Far from being original or simple entities … letters themselves are produced by the rotation and interaction of a specific number of celestial spheres … Along with bringing letters into existence, the rotation of the spheres combines physical qualities (heat, cold, dryness and humidity) together in pairs. The letters are located on the edge of the physical world, since these qualities or Original Elements give birth to the physical elements (fire, air, water and earth) when they combine. Each of the spheres from which the letters emerge, moreover, goes through a cycle that has a certain number of years, and passes through a set number of ‘mansions’ (manâzil) … The science of letters can thus not be looked at independently of the science of the heavenly bodies or of the cosmic cycle.” (The Meccan Revelations Vol. 2, trans. C. Chodkiewicz ans Denis Gril p. 108)

He later goes on to discuss the mysterious three letters that are at the beginning of the second Sura of the Qur’ân; Alif, Lâm and Mîm. I won’t go into detail on Ibn ‘Arabis text as I would have to quote too much. What I would like to do is elaborate on these three letters and their connection with the three directive qualities of cardinal, mutable and fixed. I think we can gain further insight into what these qualities are if we do so.


From the quotation above we can begin to have a more concrete idea of what the language of the spheres are. This means that it is important not only to look at the visual representation of the letter (in this case arabic) but the more immediate experience of how it is spoken.

  • Alif or “a” is an entirely open sound spoken in the back of the throat.
  • Lâm or “l” is a sound that is spoken toward the front of the mouth with the tongue pressed on the palate above the teeth.
  • Mîm or “m” is spoken with the lips closed and compressed. The air doesn’t pass through the mouth at all but is forced back and resonates there.

The cardinal quality corresponds to “a” and if we look at the arabic representation it stands alone, vertical, determining.

The mutable quality corresponds to “l” and here we also see in the arabic representation a letter that embodies the “a” at the beginning the verticality of the “a” but then it changes direction into the horizontal, connecting in the above case with the “m”.

It is quite easy to see that the fixed quality is shown quite definately in the arabic representation of the letter. Mîm encloses a space and then descends yet a level deeper, like a seed rooted into the earth.

Now let us try to apply this experience of sound to the earth signs:

  • Capricorn, a cardinal or mobile earth sign. It is of a cold and dry nature. Ibn ‘Arabi says that its angel holds the keys of day and night. To be spoken “a” requires an initial impulse (try it) before it opens. Now day and night are distinct qualities, we are not speaking of the transitional times of dawn and dusk. There is light or there is none (other than the stars, the Moon and any artificial light). We come closest when we have a room that is without windows. In order for the room to have an artificial day we must flip the light switch. The same if we want artificial night. An impulse is required that is determinative. Either or!
  • Virgo, a mutable or double-bodied earth sign. It is also of a cold and dry nature. Its angel rules the bodies, particularily the human body. The human body exemplifies mutability the best. There is no other body where there is such a determinative focus of the spirit and which at the same time is embedded, planted so to say in the world of matter. Like the “l” sound there is resistance (the pressure of tongue on front palate) and at the same time openess.
  • Taurus, a fixed earth sign. Ibn ‘Arabi describes its angel as holding the keys to the creation of paradise and hell. This is a more extreme polarity than that of day and night. If we consider the eschatalogical nature of this correspondence we see the conclusion of what is indicated in Virgo. The deeds of men are held, they are formative, either in the positive creative sense or in the destructive.

We could do the same for signs of the other elements.

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