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.

Astrology and the Perfect Man (2)

Looked at more closely Titus Burkhardt’s, “Mystical Astrology according to Ibn ‘Arabi” jumps immediately into the subject. For an unprepared reader this can be bewildering.

Titus Burckhardt assumes that the reader already knows something about Ibn ‘Arabi and his role as a carrier of wisdom. It also assumes that the reader has at least a basic familiarity with the Islamic tradition. And most importantly it is not directed toward the astrologer! Instead it is directed toward readers who would like to understand how astrology fits into ‘Ibn Arabi’s cosmology. This doesn’t mean that it is not of interest to the astrologer. In fact it engenders questions which normally are not asked in the astrological literature. Questions that should be asked. Questions that can be highly individual.

William Chittick in his “Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul: The Pertinence of Islamic Cosmology to the Modern World”, gives a succinct and easily understandable description of the Islamic intellectual tradition, ‘In speaking of traditional Islamic thought I mean intellectual, not transmitted, learning.… four main areas of inquiry dominated the concerns of the Muslim intellectuals… metaphysics, cosmology, spiritual psychology and ethics…The basic characteristic…was its unitary vision. The various sciences were not understood as separate and independent realms of inquiry, but as complementary domains. The more one investigated the external world – the domain of cosmology – the more one gained insight into the internal world, the domain of spiritual psychology…In short, the purpose of intellectual studies was to prepare the ground for achieving human perfection. Perfection can only be reached by “returning” to God, that is, by bringing oneself back into harmony with the true nature of things. Both philosophers and Sufis were striving to become what it is possible for human beings to become. To use the expression that was made famous by Ibn ‘Arabi, the goal of human life was the achievement of the status of insān kāmil, “A perfect human being.” ‘ (pp. 44-45)

When Ibn ‘Arabi speaks of astrology, his main interest is not in astrology as it is practiced. We could best describe what he shares as how astrology can be understood in respect to the Real, that is God. If you read his work you will not learn anything about astrology in the sense of transmitted knowledge, technique and such, instead you will be called to think about astrology and its goal. This means you will have to actualize your intellect and that, dear reader, is where it becomes tedious. Our intellect belongs to our inner core of being and an act of will is required to call upon it. This is not something we learn at school!

Astrology and the Perfect Man

Titus Burckhardt’s “Mystical Astrology according to Ibn ‘Arabi” gives a brief but concentrated overview of a complex cosmology. In this article I would like to explore a little one of the central ideas in Ibn ‘Arabi’s thought. The pole between the Absolute and the Perfect Man. I think an exploration of this can provide help in understanding Bruckhardt’s exposition and also clarify how Ibn  ‘Arabi viewed the planetary spheres. It also expands an understanding of the hermetic maxim, “As above, so below” that is considered one of the basic cosmological cornerstones of astrology.

Who is the Perfect Man? He is the one who embodies, fully realized, all of the attributes of God, the Divine Names. He is in effect the macrocosm, not the microcosm as one might first be tempted to believe. We are the microcosm, embodying in ourselves the potential of full realization and partial realization, just as the sensible world that is not man (also) embodies the Divine Names. And the Absolute? The Absolute is unknowable and therefore beyond the bounds of the macrocosm. It could be called metacosm (see our discussion in “Microcosm, Macrocosm and Metacosm”). It is transcendant Reality just as the microcosm is immanent Reality. Between the poles of the Absolute and the Perfect Man or shall we say transcendant and immanent Reality is the microcosm. The microcosm surprisingly forms the center. This means that the planetary spheres are both within us, as potential, and without us as actuality. And so no matter how trivial, each event and object is contained within the spheres and can thus be described and explored using astrological imagery and insight.

Here is a provocative thought. Could it be that the pole between the Absolute and the Perfect Man also defines the limits of astrology? The astrologer is only capable in those areas where one of the Divine Names has grown in him. In all other areas he is blind, his vision cannot adequately grasp the chart before him. Hence the admonition not to trivialize astrology and the proclamation found at the beginning of any astrological text in the Christian-Judaic-Islamic traditions, “For the Glory of God”. To trivialize or to forget the source of insight means to risk becoming blind. The chart loses depth and becomes flat.

to be continued…

At your Stations!

The heaven of the fixed stars, which is contained in the sphere of the ‘towers’ of the zodiac, is called the heaven of the ‘stations’ (manâzil), because the movements of the planets project themselves upon it. The seven planets, which represent the cosmic intermediaries between the immutable world of the archetypes and the earthly centre, actualise, by their combined rhythms and the reciprocal positions which ensue, the spatial relations virtually contained in the indefinite sphere of the skylimit, the sphere being no other than the totality of the directions of the space and hence the image of the universe.

from: Titus Burckhardt, “Mystical Astrology according to Ibn ‘Arabi” p.26

One volume of Astrology concentrated in two sentences. Titus Burckhardt’s booklet weighs heavier than many an astrological tome. But what is he saying? Let us go through each sentence phrase by phrase.

The heaven of the fixed stars…

Seems straightforward but note he says ‘heaven’ and not ‘sphere’. He speaks of a ‘sphere’ later, so the question here is, are they identical or is there a subtle difference? If they are identical then each of the planetary spheres is a ‘heaven’ and it is here that we have to ask ourselves what we mean when we use the word ‘heaven’. If we explore the etymology then we know that when we speak ‘heaven’ we speak of a covering, a canopy, a ceiling. Titus Burckhardt is speaking of the canopy of the fixed stars in an imaginative sense. When we look up at the starry sky we experience it not as empty and infinite but as a spherical ‘cloak’ covered with stars and these, in relation to each other, are fixed in place like jewels set in a piece of cloth – with the exception of the planets.

…which are contained in the sphere of the “towers” of the zodiac…

The constellations are are not the zodiac. The zodiac is invisible. Each sign is a ‘tower’. The boundry we have discussed before. The border of the sky canopy and the ‘towers’ opens to the mundus imaginalis, the world of imagination, which has its own ‘dimension’.

…is called the heaven of the ‘stations’ (manâzil) because the movements of the planets project themselves upon it.

The stations are in a sense activated by the planets. Note that the stations and the zodiac are not identical, we are speaking roughly of the constellations although major fixed stars such as Aldebaran can also define a ‘station’.

…the seven planets …actualise, by their combined rhythms and the reciprocal positions which ensue, the spatial relations virtually contained in the indefinite sphere of the sky-limit…

The movement of the planets is projected onto not only the sphere of the fixed stars but also onto the sphere of the zodiac and the border that both the fixed stars and the zodiac share – the world of imagry/imagination.

…the indefinite sphere of the sky-limit, the sphere being no other than the totality of the directions of space and hence the image of the universe.

It is not emptiness that is activated — it would be empty if there were no movement— but the fullness of the universe, as image.

A Prolog for the Barker, l.m.

I don’t want to give the impression that planetary positions in the lunar mansion as Simak are necessarily prominent in charts that deal with revolution. Revolution is only one possibility for how ideals find their expression in the sub-lunar realm. So that means that any major cultural upheaval whether peaceful or militant may find signification there, but it is too early to say whether this is exclusive, after all there are still 27 mansions to explore!

Now unlike the signs of a zodiac, the mansions have no subdivision into elements (fire, air, water, earth) and qualities (mutable, cardinal, fixed). There is another principle of order. Instead of 3 x 4 we have 4 x 7. The first seven mansions show the movement of the Divine Essence to the Divine Throne. The next seven mansions express the supra-solar spheres, from the Divine Footstool to the Sphere of the Sun. The next sequence encompasses the inner planets and the Spheres of the Elements with the last seven mansions reflecting the Spheres of created Being; Minerals, Plants, Animals, Angels, Jinn, Humanity and lastly the Degrees of Existence. Unlike the zodiac signs – where planets in succeeding signs do not form aspects – succession is important to understanding the mansions. This means that in order to understand one mansion better it is a good idea to also look which mansions are on other side of it and also the one directly across from it. For example the Sphere of the Throne has the element Earth as its counterpoint.

Al Simak should therefore be compared to the mansion across from it, al Batn al Hut, the mansion before it, al Awwa, and the mansion following it, al Ghafir. This also means that once one has a reference point of understanding one can expand into one of the next mansions –which we will do when we look at the mansion al Awwa.

Here in table form:


As it is important to understand the mansions as articulations of the Divine Breath we need to look at the sounds first and that means at the basic level of how they are physically produced – remember Man is an image of God.

The sounds “L”, “N”, and “R” are pronounced with the tip of the tongue against the ridge of the gums. With “N” the airflow is stopped suddenly. With “R” it is a trilled or rolled like the “R” in the Italian word terra. With “L” and “W” it narrows but never really is brought to an abrupt stop. “W” is spoken through an open mouth with slightly rounded lips. Then again “N”, “R” and “W” share air flowing over the tongue instead of around the sides as is the case with “L”.

Our starting point for the lunar mansion al Awwa, the Barker will be the following: the sound “L”, the Sphere of Mars as counterpoint to the Realm of Humanity, the Arabic letter lam and the Prophet Aaron.