The Planets and the Faculties of the Mind

Titus Burckhardt wrote another book, “Introduction to Sufi Doctrine” (you can view an excerpt of the book here.) which might be considered a companion volume to his “Mystical Astrology according to Ibn ‘Arabi”. This volume could help many readers clarify many of the questions that arise in “Mystical Astrology”.

I would like to paraphrase one passage as it is of interest in our previous discussion about the “perfect man”. And this passage, dear reader, is astrological!

“The heart is to the other faculties what the Sun is to the planets: it is from the Sun that these receive both their light and their impulsion…According to this symbolical order [in ‘Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī’s book Al-Insān al-Kāmil (Universal Man)], Saturn, the most distant of planets…corresponds to intellect-reason (al-‘aql). Just as the heaven of Saturn includes all the other planetary heavens, intellect-reason embraces all things; moreover the “abstract”, cold, and “Saturnian” character of reason is opposite to the solar and central nature of the heart [qalb], which marks intellect in its “total” and “existential” aspect. Mercury symbolizes thought (al-fikr), Venus imagination (al-khayāl), Mars the conjectural faculty (al-wahm), Jupiter spiritual aspiration (al-himmah) and the Moon the vital spirit (ar-rūh). Titus Burckhardt, “Introduction to Sufi Doctrine” p.86

Now let us look at the planets in pairs with the Sun at the center:

  • Saturn – Moon: reason contrasted with vital spirit
  • Jupiter – Mercury: spiritual aspiration contrasted with thought
  • Mars – Venus: conjecture contrasted with imagination
  • Sun – intellect

The first pair caused me the most difficulty to understand until I came across a passage where Ibn ‘Arabi says that the word ‘aql is derived from ‘iqāl, fetter. (See William Chittick’s “Ibn al-‘Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination, the Sufi Path of Knowledge” pp. 106-107). Fetter describes precisely the Saturnian quality. Reason defines and thus limits the object of knowledge. The object is bound by logic. This is contrasted with the lunar “vital spirit”. What is this “vital spirit” you might ask? It is considered to be intermediary between body and soul and can best be understood if you examine what happens when you breathe. Transfer that to the “breathing” that happens in thought, that underlying constant waxing and waning of attention which has no definition and which requires an impulse from one of the other faculties to receive direction.

Jupiter – Mercury is a little easier to understand. What is “spiritual aspiration”? It is that faculty of mind which strives to unite all things into one. Let us call it synthesis – bringing together. That fits quite well with the expansiveness of Jupiter. Contrasted is “thought” which would be that faculty which picks things apart in order to understand them. Let us call it analysis. There you have mercurial multiplicity.

The last pair Mars – Venus, contrast conjecture with imagination. Now at first we might ask, “Aren’t they both the same thing?” Well, conjecture is that faculty of the mind which throws things together and forms a conclusion, not always with proof. If you consider how many fundamentalist ideologies work in the world then it is not difficult to see the martial connection. Conjecture rarely allows itself to be tempered by the influence of the other faculties. Conjecture hammers together the non-sensible with the sensible into a form that conforms to itself. Imagination on the other hand forms a bridge. It allows the sensible world and the non-sensible world to interact in such a way that both conform to themselves and are yet something different. Dreaming is a good example of how this faculty works.

The Sun as intellect. Again what is meant by “intellect”? Intellect is understood here as that core faculty that is able to intuitively grasp the fluctuation between transcendence and immanence. It is that faculty that can grasp the microcosm in the macrocosm and the macrocosm in the microcosm and it is the mirror of the Real. Note although the passage quoted above contrasts Saturn and Sun as opposites. There is no contradiction here. Saturn and the Moon are also opposites.

You might, dear reader, examine your chart from this standpoint. Aspects between planets might give some idea of how these faculties interact with each other on an individual basis. So for example if Mars forms an harmonious aspect to Jupiter the conjectural faculty can indeed be tempered a little bit by the aspirational faculty. That means that the structure formed by conjecture takes a long time to be pieced together. Mars with Mercury might indicate that the conjectural construct is quickly finished and may not necessarily have room for tolerance (of course other factors in the chart must always be considered so if you have Mars square Mercury don’t be disturbed consider the rest of the chart in respect to this aspect.)

Here is how I imagine what the planetary spheres would echo about the question, “What is truth?”:

  • Saturn: Truth is what can be logically explained.
  • Jupiter: Truth is like an ocean without a shore. The more you encompass it the greater it becomes.
  • Mars: My truth is plausible. Let me tell you about it.
  • Sun: Do you mean truth or the Truth?
  • Venus: Truth has many semblances but is always the same.
  • Mercury: Just look at it, truth is everywhere. You can even count it.
  • Moon: Truth is like incense that wafts by. Breath it in and exhale it.

2 thoughts on “The Planets and the Faculties of the Mind

  1. How did you arrive to the conclusion that the Sun is the intellect? The paragraph you quoted states twice that it holds the position of the heart, and that is in keeping with Sufi philosophy. Aql/Saturn is the intellect and that is regarded as an inferior function in Sufism, certainly not the center that gives vitality to all the rest as is clearly emphasized here. That mistakes makes your analysis miss the core of the matter, literally.

    • Hello Joumana,

      Thank you for visiting altairastrology and taking the time to comment.

      I am not sure whether you are familiar with Titus Burckhardt’s books. They are challenging. I am sure there are many readers who appreciate some exposition on their content. I don’t think you understand the ‘core’ of my article (see below). I think you have jumped too quickly to the conclusion that I have literally missed the point.

      ‘The Sun as intellect. Again what is meant by “intellect”? Intellect is understood here as that core faculty that is able to intuitively grasp the fluctuation between transcendence and immanence. It is that faculty that can grasp the microcosm in the macrocosm and the macrocosm in the microcosm and it is the mirror of the Real.’

      I think that Burckhardt’s approach to understanding the intellect is not linear but multifaceted. This means that the intellect may be seen as active in all planetary spheres, that is the context of the article, and finds an expression appropriate to each.

      Of course I may very well have missed the point. To say that I have made a mistake and literally missed the core is not enough. You should then please explain, for my benefit and that of other readers the how and why and present the correct version.

      best regards

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