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.

More on the Grammar of Astrology

In response to the last essay, Andrew Carter has made the following very important comment:

“The Alif is determinative, the Mîm is possessive, the Lâm is copulative; with the air signs (for example) it is of interest that in the case of Libra, the scales are never balanced, but are definitely “either/or”! In the case of Aquarius, there is an Islamic depiction of a mule carrying two baskets, duty and discipline. And in the case of Gemini, there is “the self and the other,” though perhaps that should be “the self or the other.” So there seems to be a way to approach an understanding of the signs through the three letters in combination with the intrinsic qualities of the signs; it is a kind of linguistic shorthand, though that description is (I realize) inadequate.”

In describing alif as determinative, lâm as copulative, mîm as possessive Andrew has pointed to a grammatical quality on which it is worthwhile to elaborate further. The arabic letters themselves show this. Until now I only had an abstract understanding why grammar was considered one of the seven liberal arts. In this context it becomes clear that grammar was deemed so important because language and its structure was considered a revelation of the language of God. Without grammar there can be no science or philosophy!

Back to grammar. Each of these qualities can have an active and a passive expression.

  • to determine or be determined by
  • to engage (copulate) or be engaged by
  • to possess or be possessed by

This is very essential as it shows that the signs can have both these qualities. Andrew has given a nice description of the air signs and so I’ll demonstrate this with the water signs.

Let us begin with the cardinal water sign, Cancer. It should be noted that each cardinal sign is also the impulse giver for its respective group of elemental signs. (We will look at the signs in the cardinal, mutable, fixed order as given by the alif, lâm, mîm paradigm.) The angel of Cancer holds the keys to the creation of this world. This means the world in its pristine state. The angel of the mutable water sign Pisces holds the keys to the creation of the animals. We have seen that each of the mutable signs is related to one of the realms of Nature. The watery realm is particularily exemplary of the substance of the soul (nafs) not only in expression but also in Form. The variety of Form in the animal world unfolds in an imagal fashion. Each animal in effect representing a particular expression of on of the flowing qualities of the soul. So the nature of an alligator is expressed not only in his behavior but also in his Form. The same applies to any other animal whether, fish, reptile, amphibian, fowl, or mammel. Man contains within his soul the whole animal world. In him each expression however remains as possibility and does not take on material form. Instead it is expressed in how he engages with the world. So the rapacious human being expresses his reptilian nature through his deeds. He has the conscious choice of expressing himself as an alligator. The alligator does not and is therefore innocent. Now if the human being carries the engagement with a particular soul quality to the extreme he possesses it, or more likely, becomes possessed by it. Here we come to the third sign in the group. Scorpio’s angel holds the keys to the creation of infernal fire. Here the soul quality freezes, becomes ice. Infernal fire does not warm but burns the soul. And so emotion that no longer has motion is held, is possessed and possesses. The human being whose emotion becomes fixed does indeed feel it as unquenchable fire!

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.

Astrology’s Sacred Arithmetic

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

Titus Burckhardt presents the symbolic arithmetic that may be found in astrology. Presented in a tabular form we have:


He devotes some attention to the three movements and the elements. He discusses the elements and the qualities out of which they arrive first. The quaternary arises out of the manifested contrasts that can be experienced through the equinoxes and solstices which determine the differentiation of the signs of the zodiac. There are two pairs of contrasting qualities; heat and cold; dry and humid. The first pair are active and the second are passive qualities. These are fundamental tendencies of universal Nature (at-tabi’ah). Each pair are polar opposite to one another. It is not possible for them to manifest together. For example hot and cold would negate each other and so prevent manifestation. In order for the sensible world to manifest, a combination of an active and a passive tendency is necessary. This is the principle of gender. So In Aries we have the active tendency of hot combining with the passive tendency of dry, giving fire. The same occurs in Leo and Sagittarius. Note that something important happens here. We have for each of the four elements (manifestation of Nature) a ternary grouping. The same is the case in the three ternary movements of the Spirit in respect to the elements.

Let us look now at the three movements in more detail. Here again it is helpful to look at them in tabular form:


Notice that the three worlds do not explicitly include a past world. You may wonder why that is so. It may seem confusing but these worlds are not identical with the timeframes of past, present and future. One has a vertical orientation while the other is horizontal. There are of course correspondences. The most interesting is the intermediate or imaginal world. Here all three conditions of time can be “present”. This “presence” is the presence of the Divine Word, the Real, the metacosm, as mirrored in the macrocosm and most particularly in man (Adam) the microcosm. So it is, for example, not surprising that the the mutable earth sign, Virgo, is associated with the human body or that the other mutable signs are associated with the other realms of Nature (mineral, plant and animal).

This diagramme might help:

the Real
––––––––––— the intermediate or imaginal world (bazarkh)

The line represents the bazarkh. It seemingly faces an above and below and appears to divide them. But this is not so. The line is a mirror of both the Real and creation which in turn mirror each other. If you look behind a mirror you won’t find a reflection. The reflection always faces that which is reflected. When the Real shines into creation the barzakh is the shadow that is cast. The shadow is as real as that which casts it, but it is not tangible. Ever try to catch your own shadow?