Origins of Star Wisdom


Unearthed in the mid-nineteenth century from ancient Ninevah, capital of Assyria in northern Mesopotamia, by British Museum archaeologists Austen Henry Layard and Hormuzd Rassam, the Mul Apin, two clay tablets, named from the first line of a text describing the stars was just one of some 10,000 cuneiform texts collected by Ashurbanipal (the last great king of ancient Assyria) in the seventh century BC into the world's first library. The Enuma Elish creation account, which reached back to the dawn of time, also came from the excavations in the long undisturbed mounds on the eastern bank of the river Tigris, near the modern city of Mosul. In these broken and worn clay bricks fashioned twenty-five centuries ago, there were extraordinary tales of gods and goddesses, and of stars and planets. Indeed, as in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, the Babylonian gods were always associated with the stars, including the "wandering stars," or planets (Greek planetos). The cuneiform tablets clearly showed that the Babylonian astronomers noticed five stars that moved in relation to the background of the fixed stars.1 They connected these five stars with the five gods belonging to the Babylonian pantheon: Ninib, Marduk, Nergal, Nebo and Ishtar.

From Babylonian cuneiform texts we know the characteristics of these five gods:2 Ninib, the god of justice; Marduk, the lord of wisdom; Nergal, the god of war; Nebo, the divine scribe; and Ishtar, the goddess of love. In addition to the five wandering stars visible to the naked eye, the movements of the Sun (Shamash) and Moon (Sin) were also observed against the background of the fixed stars (in the case of the Sun, this movement was deduced), making a total of seven planets.

Characteristics Babylonian Greek Roman

"god of justice"
"lord of wisdom"
"god of war"
"divine scribe"
"goddess of love"

 The Mul Apin tablets showed that the Babylonian astronomers observed that these seven planets always move within a belt through the same groupings of fixed stars, and that there were seventeen such groupings (constellations). Twelve of those constellations make up what we know today as the zodiac, or "circle of animals":

Mul Apin text name Translation Greek Zodiac Name
Mul Lu Hung Ga3 The "Hired Man" Aries (the Ram)
Mul Gud An Na The "Bull of Heaven" Taurus (the Bull)
Mul Mash Tab Ba Gal Ga The "Great Twins" Gemini (the Twins)
Mul Al Lul The "Crab" Cancer (the Crab)
Mul Ur Gu La The "Lion" Leo (the Lion)
Mul Ab Sin The "Furrow" Virgo (the Virgin)
Mul Zi Ba Ni Tum The "Scales of Heaven" Libra (the Scales)
Mul Gir Tab The "Scorpion" Scorpio (the Scorpion)
Mul Pa Bil Sag The "Grandfather" Sagittarius (the Archer)
Mul Suhur Mashû The "Goat Fish" Capricorn (the Goat)
Mul Gu La The "Great One" Aquarius (the Water-Carrier)
Mul Sim Mah The "Swallow" Pisces (the Fish)

The Mul Apin text included two other star paths - the "path of Anu," and the "path of Ea." As Anu was the Babylonian "God of the Sky," Ea was the "God of the Ocean," and Enlil was "Lord of the Wind," the fixed stars (forming the paths of Enlil, Anu, and Ea) were first and foremost seen by the Babylonians as the abode of divine beings.4 It is quite normal for the modern person to assume that - as with contemporaneous Egyptian, Australian, African, Oceanic, Asian, or later Greek and Roman mythology - the identification of the Babylonian pantheon with objects in the sky is a kind of innocent but erroneous imagination. This would be the gravest of errors, for both the mythic texts and the records of the Babylonian astronomers are testaments to an entirely different mode of consciousness and perception. These texts were made by individuals who possessed clairvoyance for the spiritual world. Though faded and continuing to fade amongst their peers at the moment when the scribes created these cuneiform tablets, the ancient clairvoyance allowed Babylonian priest-astronomers (for indeed, the inseparability of the divine deeds from the doings of the stars meant that the official Babylonian stargazers were simultaneously priests and astronomers) to see far beyond the physical realm, into the invisible world of the gods. Like the Orphic Hymns, the Enuma Elish is a cosmogony and cosmology, detailing the sequence of events involved in the creation of the cosmos - including the star path of the zodiac and the planetary wanderers upon that path.

Looking at the table above, it is striking how the ancient Babylonians gave almost exactly the same names to the zodiacal constellations as did the Greeks. One must refrain from assuming that the Babylonian priest-astronomers imposed these patterns and their associated myths upon the heavens. Although when we look to the night sky we see only the constellational patterns that we have learned from years of seeing "connect-the-dots" drawings, this in no way can be thought of as similar to what the ancient Babylonians experienced. Their clairvoyance afforded them an actual supersensory experience of the intrinsic essence or "beings" of the stars, with all of their variegated qualities, capacities, and "physiognomies."

 Some twenty-five centuries ago, the Babylonian stargazers became the world's first real astronomers, in the sense that their stargazing shifted from a strictly devotional activity to one whose systematic practice allowed them to make empirical descriptions - detailing the motion of the planets and the composition of the zodiacal path traveled by those planets - that would serve as the foundation for all subsequent astronomical science. The Mul Apin clay tablets from Ashurbanipal's great seventh century BC library were permanent remembrances of a vast accumulation of astronomical knowledge from many centuries before 700 BC, while also, in their transition to a mathematical/empirical astronomy, already representing an unfolding "forgetting" of the stars and planets as actual "gods" or beings.

The Zodiac and the World's First Horoscope

 Within two centuries after King Ashurbanipal collected the Enuma Elish, Enuma Anu Enlil, Mul Apin, and other cuneiform texts into his great library, the Babylonian priest-astronomers had made a further refinement of their picture of the "Paths of the Gods." In two cuneiform texts dating from 475 BC and excavated from Babylon, the zodiacal constellations are divided into twelve 30-degree signs.5 This is the original or sidereal zodiac (sidereal means "pertaining to the stars"). The sidereal zodiac is defined in such a way that: the star Aldebaran ("Bull's eye"), at the center (15 degrees) of the constellation of Taurus, is in the middle of the sign of Taurus; and the star Antares ("Scorpion's heart"), at the heart of the constellation of Scorpio, is at 15 degrees Scorpio, in the middle of the sign of Scorpio (see Figure - central star in Taurus is Aldebaran, and central star in Scorpio is Antares - both, as first magnitude stars, appear larger in the figure).

 These two stars comprise the fiducial axis, the defining axis of the sidereal zodiac given by the remarkable fact that Aldebaran and Antares lie diametrically opposite one another in the zodiac and are located at the center of their respective zodiacal signs. The stellar longitudes of other zodiacal fixed stars are determined in relation to this axis. For example, the beautiful star cluster in the neck of the Bull, the Pleiades, is at 5 degrees Taurus; the two bright stars marking the heads of the twins, Castor and Pollux, are at 25½ degrees and 28½ degrees Gemini; the first magnitude star Regulus, marking the heart of the Lion, is at 5 degrees Leo; the first magnitude star Spica, marking the tip of the sheath of wheat held by the Virgin, is at 29 degrees Virgo, etc. A Babylonian star catalog thought to date from the fourth century BC lists the bright zodiacal stars in terms of the twelve signs of the sidereal zodiac.

This refinement of the zodiac into twelve equal signs might seem at first glance to be a convenient and arbitrary scheme, but the sidereal zodiac that they codified is anything but arbitrary. The 30-degree divisions reflect the clairvoyant perception of the exact extent of the influence of the spiritual beings underlying the twelve constellations of the zodiac. The Babylonian stargazers learned this arrangement not in abstract, geometrical terms, but as living pictures of the cosmic beings standing behind the stars. Those pictures were originally imparted to them by their teacher Zaratas (Greek: Zoroaster). The Persian-born Zaratas was a relative of King Cyrus the Great (sixth century BC) and came to Babylon in the wake of Cyrus' conquest of the city in 539 BC. He was soon acknowledged as a great teacher by the Babylonian priesthood. His fame was such that Pythagoras came to Babylon to receive initiation from him.6

Initiated by the sublime Being of the Sun, Ahura Mazdao, so that his clairvoyance extended beyond the Sun to the mighty beings of the zodiac, Zaratas spoke of four "royal stars" - Aldeberan, the Bull's Eye, the central star of Mul Gud An Na, the "Bull of Heaven"; Regulus, the Lion's Heart, shining from Mul Ur Gu La, the Lion; Antares, the glowing red ember of Mul Gir Tab's (Scorpio's) heart; and Fomalhaut, beneath the stream of water spilling from the urn of Mul Gu La, "The Great One" (Aquarius). To his clairvoyant perception, raised up from the shifting seasonal zodiacal patterns as seen from the earth, the four royal stars and their enveloping constellations marked for Zaratas the cosmic directions of space. Aldeberan he knew as the "watcher in the East"; Antares the "watcher in the West"; Regulus, the "watcher in the North"; and Fomalhaut was the "watcher in the South." Thus, Taurus - Scorpio marked the East-West (fiducial) axis, while Leo - Aquarius marked the North-South. Each of these Holy Beings was flanked on either side by other majestic spiritual beings, embodied in the zodiacal images of the Crab, the Twins, and so on. 7

Zaratas's clairvoyance allowed him a panoramic vision of Time as well as Space, and he saw the imminent arrival of a period when humanity would no longer see these Holy Beings of the cosmos, nor even accept that such Beings existed. He understood that in this approaching period of spiritual darkness, humanity would need a science of the cosmos that would in veiled form express the cosmic mysteries, since the spiritual reality standing behind them would be lost. The mathematical exactitude that emerges from the astronomical texts of this period of ancient Babylon shows that Zaratas succeeded in this, the heart of his task as a teacher of the Babylonian astronomer-priests.

For many centuries before Zaratas's time, the Babylonian astronomers had concerned themselves with reading omens in the sky for the benefit of royalty. Inspired by his knowledge of the future unfolding of human history, into an age of increasing individualism and materialism, Zaratas introduced an entirely new art of prophecy, one that sought to describe the destiny of every individual human being. His clairvoyance permitted him to see the descent of the soul from cosmic heights, down through the planetary spheres, to Earth. Zaratas could also see that the planetary configurations at birth held the secret of the soul's destiny. Through a divinely inspired suite of initiation practices, he taught the Babylonian stargazers this faculty of beholding the voyage of the soul into incarnation.

Especially significant for the Babylonian astronomer-priests was the passage of the Moon around the zodiac. They regarded the Moon as the gateway for the soul on its voyage into incarnation, and they could behold the "descent of the stork" at the moment of conception, descending from the Moon to unite with the seed of the quickened embryo. By focusing their spiritual gaze on the Moon they could gain awareness of the moment of birth of the incarnating soul.8 With this threefold knowledge of the sidereal zodiac of twelve equal signs, the moment of conception, and the planetary configurations at birth, the Babylonian astronomer-priests could read the "omens" for an individual's birth. Thus originated the world's first horoscopes. The oldest known horoscope - preserved on another clay tablet dug up from Babylon by British archaeologists in the middle of the nineteenth century - has been dated to April 29, 410 BC, and is cast in terms of the geocentric planetary positions in the sidereal zodiac.9

Ancient Astrology in a New Form

The modern continuation of the ancient Babylonian astrological practices - but now including modern astronomical knowledge - constitutes what could be called The Astrological Revolution, which is the title of the book by Kevin Dann and Robert Powell from which the foregoing sections The Origin of Star Wisdom and The Zodiac and the World's First Horoscope are drawn. This website is intended to give an expanded perception of the deeper significance of this new approach to the stars, and to enable interested readers to follow up on this new approach with horoscopes, as outlined in the section Horoscopes Old and New. By way of a summary, the present-day dates of passage of the Sun through the twelve signs of the zodiac originally defined by the Babylonians are as follows:

View Zodiac Dates

1. The term "fixed stars" was used because they believed these stars never change their position in relation to one another, therefore appearing to be fixed upon the globe of the heavens. Modern astronomy has shown that the fixed stars are subject to minute shifts in position over tens of thousands of years. But this movement is so slight that during the course of the last five thousand years there has been very little change from the patterns of the constellations as they were at the time of the Babylonians.

2. Robert Powell, History of the Planets.

3. The convention in reproducing the cuneiform character translation from the ancient Akkadian is to use upper-case letters, separated by a period. The "Bull of Heaven," (Taurus) for example, is written: MUL.GUD.AN.NA. For ease of reading, we have dropped the period notations, and italicized the letters: Mul Gud An Na.

4. Babylonian mythology largely derived from the older Sumerian mythology, and was written in Akkadian, a Semitic language using the cuneiform script.

5. The reader is referred to the foundational work by Robert Powell, History of the Zodiac for all references to the history of the zodiac.

6. In his The Life of Pythagoras, Porphyry says: "In Babylon [Pythagoras] associated with the other Chaldeans, especially attaching himself to Zaratas [=Zoroaster], by whom he was purified from the pollutions of his past life." The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, p. 125.

7. Robert Powell, Christian Hermetic Astrology: The Star of the Magi and the Life of Christ, pp. 15-24.

8. Robert Powell, Christian Hermetic Astrology, pp. 22-23.

9. Abraham Sachs, "Babylonian Horoscopes," Journal of Cuneiform Studies 6, 1952, pp. 49-65.

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