An Introduction to the Individual Mansions

Prerequisite to understanding the individual mansions, or for that matter any other astrological element, it is absolutely necessary to understand that as a traditional science astrology deals with essence and the essential. Since we have been using Ibn ‘Arabi’s cosmological work as our basic orientation it might be important to remember that we have to enter into the texture of his thought and its climate. It is strongly embedded in Islamic thinking, where the written Revelation, the Qur’an and the Ka’aba have a central symbolic function. The letters/sounds in which the Qur’an is written are an reflection/expression of Divine Essence, they are not an abstraction. The qibla, the direction in which prayer is focussed, is directed toward the Ka’aba, so there is a very strong sense of space. This means in order to understand the signs of the zodiac and the lunar mansions you also have to have a feeling for the direction in which you face. Above and below, right and left, in front and in back all are qualitatively different spatial experiences. (this is reflected by the cubic form of the Ka’aba).

If we take Ibn ‘Arabi seriously the letters are the key in understanding the mansions and that is where we should begin when we look at them individually. There are three things we have to consider. First we must imagine the space around us, from that touching our skin outwards towards the “indefinite” (through the Spheres). Then we have to be aware of the direction in which we face. If we are the centre then there will be mansions before us and mansions behind us, to the left and to the right and each has extension, above and below us. Lastly we have to experience the nature of the sound that expresses each mansion. How it is spoken, how it is heard (these are independent of written language) and how it is written. Remember the Qur’an is not only written it is also recited. In our exploration of the individual sounds I will present the written form in Arabic, Latin, Devangari and Hebrew. The differences and resemblance’ in the letter forms are quite interesting and worth pursuing in their own right. Each giving a different texture to the sound. As we are exploring the Arabic “climate” I will place Arabic in the foreground of our consideration, that doesn’t mean that the other letter forms are unimportant or secondary. I might also add, there are certain Sura’s of the Qur’an that begin with one or more letters to which no semantic meaning can be attached. They do not represent words as such, they can be said to represent pure sound, the Power behind the word. Non-conceptual, pre-Existent.

We will begin with the letter “Nun” (pronounced with a long “u” as in the German word “Gut”, good, and not like the short “u” in nut!) For the moment I will present a diagram which I would like you, dear reader, to consider until the next posting. You might also want to explore the sound itself. How is it spoken and in what different ways?


Until the next posting.

PS You might also want to reread the post “Which centric? How centric?”

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.

More on the Lunar Mansions

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

Some may have difficulty bringing together a division of 28 given by the lunar mansions and a division of 12 given by the signs of the zodiac. Doesn’t this make things more complicated? A division of roughly 12 3/4 degrees?

We generally look at a chart on paper, that is as a plane and it is easiest to present all the relevant information in this form. This is legitimate as all of these details fit in with each other in one form or the other. It might however be helpful to consider an intersecting vertical plane.

As in all Semitic languages Arabic words are based on three letter roots. A root word can sometimes be helpful in understanding a basic meaning of a word. The word for a lunar mansion in Arabic is manzil. Its root is n-z-l. The root word is nazala, which means “he descended”. So it is very plausible to put the mansions on a vertical axis with respect to the signs of the zodiac which can be placed on the horizontal axis of a chart.


The first lunar mansion is an expression of the letter hamza ` (hiatus). The twenty-eighth lunar mansion is an expression of the letter waw. As Titus Burckhardt rightly says, the initial hiatus is not properly speaking a sound. It is a transitory instant between silence and locution. (The instant before “BE” is spoken!) The first sound is given by the letter ha, which expresses the second mansion. If we join the first and last sounds ha-waw to a word we have huwa which means ‘He’, “…the symbol of essence one and identical to Itself.” What is also interesting is that the first Intellect, associated with the first mansion has its culmination in Man (twenty-seventh mansion), who is the last in the whole vertical descent. The twenty-eighth mansion is associated with the hierarchisation of the degrees of existence, not their manifestation. So we have in the lunar mansions an expression of the descending degrees of Divine emanation. The Divine Intellect at the beginning and at the last degree of manifestation, Man, His image.

I would like to elaborate on this further in the next post.

Lunar Mansions: A Small Excursion

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

I’ve never given the Lunar Mansions very much attention but it seems that they stand at the same level of significance as the the signs of the zodiac. Although Titus Burckhardt deals with them later in his book I would like to at least go into them a little in this posting.

The Moon passes through each Mansion in more or less one day. It covers a day of life experience. That is why it is not so difficult to see how such trivial things as cutting one’s hair have found their way in the “interpretation tables”. But these interpretations seem to lack a secure basis. It is as if something has been lost in translation. I think the connection with everyday affairs has a much deeper basis. And Ibn ‘Arabi’s writings do indeed give us access to a deeper level.

The Lunar Mansions are called manzil (manazil in the plural) in arabic. The word means at one level a station or waystation, a stop on the way. Ibn ‘Arabi however uses the word also to describe different stations of spiritual development. They are the stopping places in the soul’s pilgrimage to its Source. At each station God unveils one further Aspect of Himself. In the Futuhat al Mekkiya he speaks of a manzil as,

“The place on which God descends to you, or where you descend upon Him.”

But the manzil are also the daily stopping place of everyday life. Just as the Moon daily travels a further station between the stations of fullness and newness and back again, so to does each human being go through the daily stations of his life between birth and death. The Moon is an image of the pilgrimage of life. It is in our daily life that the themes which we bring with us at birth and which are shown in each individual horoscope are tackled. It is the choices we make in daily life, even when we fail, that development occurs. If we speak with Ibn ‘Arabi we face the veiled form of God Himself, only we don’t realize this. The Qur’an describes this quite succintly,

“And God’s is the east and the west: and wherever you turn there is God’s countenance.” (Sura 2, 115)

Or St. Paul,

“For now we see in a glass darkly, but then face to face.” (1 Cor. 13:12)

In a sense the mansions that are highlighted in the horoscope by planetary placement may very well give a clue to the unique lessons in life that the native faces. If we take into account that each mansion has a letter associated with it, then we could say, if we tried to form an imaginative picture, that the positions of the planets spell out one word in the book of Life and it is up to the native to find it and voice it, give it expression.

Each human being is like the Moon facing the Source of his or her Light. God.

Towers and Mansions

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

A comparison between the twelve Towers or the Signs of the Zodiac and the twenty-eight lunar Mansions might be useful for further astrological speculation and experimentation. The mansions are one of the more neglected areas in western astrology. Neil Mann in his web site devoted to W. B. Yeats “A Vision” gives a nice summary:

“The focus (of using the Mansions, ed.) is almost entirely on ‘catarchic’ astrology, that is the selection of propitious times to begin things and, with respect to what is favoured by the Moon’s position in the various Mansions. Abenragel’s list is a summary of Indian and Hellenistic traditions rather than an exposition of Arabian astrology or any ideas of his own. The enterprises involved vary from the important to the trivial, from marriage to when to put on new clothes, and Dorotheos also comments on the outcome of processes started involuntarily under a particular Mansion, such as captivity. Certain enterprises are favoured and others particularly cautioned against depending on the Moon’s position, though, for good fortune in the ventures favoured by a Mansion, the Moon must also be free from bad aspects from other planets … It is interesting that in European adoption the practice seems to have moved away somewhat from the deciding when to start a venture to focus more on magical operations and the making of talismans, although the matters favoured may be similar. This seems more superstitious in some respects, but it also takes the burden off waiting for the appropriate time to do something, as long as the talisman has been made at the right time. The lists here are incidentally a fascinating side-light on the possible pre-occupations of their period, though probably more the time of the original sources, than of ‘Alî ibn abi ’r-Rijal himself, or of the Latin translators. Certain things like when to have a haircut and put on new clothes seem strangely unimportant, while Dorotheos’ terms of reference, in particular, are very much those of a male, slave-owning soldier, in danger of capture.”

In his “Futuhat Makkiya”, Ibn ‘Arabi devotes the second chapter to the Science of Letters. There he says,

“The science of letters can thus not be looked at independantly of the science of the heavenly bodies or of the cosmic cycle.” (The Meccan Revelations, ed. Michel Chodkiewicz, p.108)

I don’t want to go into any further detail here, as the material is very complex. What should be noted is that each of the Mansions corresponds to one of the letters or the arabian alphabet, which has twenty-eight letters.

As we have seen it is the Sun whose movement helps to “define” the twelve Towers. The Lunar Mansions of course come into differentiation through the movement of the Moon. The beginning is where the Moon crosses the path of the ecliptic, but for all practical purposes the vernal equinox is usually taken as a starting point.

There are two thoughts that you might consider. First, it is possible to integrate the Mansions, astrologically, by taking into account the correspondances given by Ibn ‘Arabi. (There is a table included in “Mystical Astrology according to Ibn ‘Arabi”. It is however very hard to read as the middle of it disappears into the binding. For ease of reading you can refer to the above website, there the table is in a readable tabular form.) And secondly, considering that each Mansion is in a sense a resting place (a station) for the Moon, it is not so far fetched to look closer to the earthly sphere for signification. One shouldn’t forget however, that Ibn ‘Arabi’s “mundane” approach to the letters is in respect to the Divine Names. Each is a doorway or a station to remember (dhikr) God.