The Lunar Mansions: Tropical or Sidereal?

If one reads the available literature a case is made for both a tropical or a sidereal division of the mansions. Let us look at the arguments for both cases and examine how they can be put into practice.

The Sidereal argument:

The lunar mansions are based on positions of certain fixed stars that were originally used for orientation. It is argued that although the Arabians clearly used the tropical zodiac the lunar houses are quite clearly sidereal, particularly if one takes Al Biruni’s description in determining the lunar mansions in the astronomical part of his “The Elements of Astrology”. It is also argued that the determining name of the mansions is given by a major fixed star or grouping of stars. This argument however is also used to support the use of a sidereal zodiac. The only factor that is mystifying is how does one arrive at a clean division of the zodiac into 28 even parts of 12 degrees and 51 minutes? If you look for example at the distances between the defining stars of the first three lunar mansions, you can already see that they are not even! The distance between the group of stars that form the horns and brow of Aries (Sheratan/Mesarthim/Hamal) and the three stars that form the tail of Aries is for example much further away than that between these stars and the Pleiedes in the Shoulder of Taurus. The siderealists say that Tycho Brahe calculated the equal divisions (this I must admit I haven’t followed up). Another argument is that Ibn ‘Arabi occasionally refers to the Sphere of the Fixed Stars as the Sphere of the Stations and thus implies that they are sidereal.

The tropical argument:

Just as the signs of the zodiac are determined by the movement of the Sun (please refer to previous postings) so the lunar mansions are determined by the movement of the Sun and the Moon. The lunar mansions may be named after certain prominent stars but so too are the the signs of the zodiac named after constellations on the ecliptic! The equal division into 28 parts gives 4 septads, with each septad exactly equal to ninety degrees. That means with a tropical division each septad begins at 0 degrees Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn respectively. There is another argument that favours a tropical division and that is that each mansion is determined by one sound/letter of the Arabic alphabet. The sounds being part of the Divine Breath of creation. The letters according to Ibn ‘Arabi are not accorded to the mansions but the other way around. The mansions arise out of the letters/sounds!

I am more inclined towards the tropical argument but if someone can give a more convincing argument for a sidereal attribution I am willing to listen! In the next posts I will try to tackle the difficult task of coming towards a signification for each of the mansions that might have a more practical astrological application than the very sketchy and not very satisfying “delineations” that are currently copied from one book to the next.


5 thoughts on “The Lunar Mansions: Tropical or Sidereal?

  1. Ibn ‘Arabi places the signs of the zodiac in the sphere of the starless sky rather than the sphere of the fixed stars (which contains the figures of the constellations).

    I would submit that:

    He also places the mansions of the moon in the sphere of the starless sky rather than the sphere of the fixed stars (which contains the stations of the moon).

    Neil Mann writes: “The true start of the Mansions appears to correspond with the Moon’s Ascending Node, but for symbolic purposes it is aligned with the Vernal Equinox.”

    Alexandre Volguine also aligns the start of the Mansions with the Vernal Equinox.

  2. An additive comment:

    The solar stations are the constellations in the sky of the fixed stars, and the lunar stations are the manazils in the sky of the fixed stars. But the mansions of the solar zodiac as well as the mansions of the lunar zodiac are anchored in the starless sky.

    In the words of James Edwards: “We forget that — to use a Nietzschean image — perspective is not just an accident of this or that particular vocabulary or social practice; perspective is the necessary condition of any seeing at all. We are not gods, and our lack of a divine standpoint is not an unfortunate accident perhaps at some point to be remedied. All our seeing is, and always will be, a perspectival seeing; all our seeing will come as the result of a ‘revealing,’ that is, as the result of some contingent concatenation of opportunities and abilities, conceptual and otherwise.”

    The Mission Statement of Princeton Theological Seminary states: “All our seeing is limited and all our judgments are partisan.”

    I would submit that our assessments of the signs of the zodiac and the mansions of the moon must be measured from the perspective of the starless sky. Just my opinion!

  3. Yes, I think that is a good way to formulate it; the differentiation between solar and lunar mansions and solar and lunar stations. Translations are always a difficulty as one can’t compare the original text if you don’t have it handy! I included the argument as it is one that is sure to pop up in any discussion on this topic. The proponents of sidereal lunar mansions all seem to fudge it when it comes to calculating the borders, primarily because they don’t give the Spheres any credence or aren’t even aware of them. This complication doesn’t arise when you make a distinction between the Sky of Fixed Stars and the Sky without Stars. This is such an important idea that it surprises me that so little attention is paid to it. But I suppose that distinguishes the natural philosopher from the copyist.

  4. Current research I am doing concerns this very topic. I see evidence for the validity of both the tropical and sidereal zodiacs and mansions (meaning equal divisions of the circle, since I am not looking at the uneven constellations at present). The real question in my view is not which zodiac is valid. Both have been in use for thousands of years and it is hard to imagine such a gross error carried on for so long by one half of the world.

    The real questions are these: Which zodiac relates to areas of life or levels of experience better? Which division (meaning 8, 10, 12, 24, 27, 28, etc, signs/houses/mansions) works better with the tropical vs. sidereal reference point? How do these relate to the various planets? Etc.

    Both the tropical and sidereal systems will have validity in one way or another. The quest is to hone in on proper application in terms of division, areas of life, levels of experience, planets, and so forth. Plenty of basic research will need to be carried out to get definitive answers to these questions. This is something that ancient man didn’t have to do as they had a much more direct experience of the stars.

  5. Yes I think that both the tropical and sidereal systems have their validity. The problems arise when they are mixed. The vedic system has an entirely different cosmological base and that is what is central to understanding it. This is reflected in the 27 Indian mansions as compared to the 28 Arabic mansions. (Vedic astrology for example ignores the Sphere of the Starless Sky). The same applies to the Moon’s Nodes. Katu and Rahu also describe the nodes but they have an entirely different place in vedic astrology than in western astrology.

    I think that one of the real sources of confusion is that one set of mansions is attached to the sidereal zodiac, the Sphere of Fixed Stars and the other set is attached to the tropical zodiac which belongs to the Sphere of the Sky without Stars. If one uses sidereal astrology one confines oneself to the Sphere of the Fixed Stars as constellation and zodiacal sign are considered equivalent. With the tropical zodiac it is otherwise. The constellations and the signs of the zodiac are not equivalent. The “tropical” astrologer considers the fixed stars individually. It might be worthwhile to look at the shift in the symbology (you see it in the difference between 27 and 28) when one uses the one or the other system.

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