Friday, July 16, 2010

Ptolemy's mistake (and the origin of Western astrology)

The name of Ptolemy, the astronomer, cartographer and astrologer, has become almost legendary as representing a multifaceted scholar during the declining phase of the Hellenic world. This impression may be largely undeserved. In fact, the writings and many errors made by Ptolemy suggest he was not the expert his books made him out to be. Importantly, he adopted an astronomical calculation concerning the starting point of the zodiac which resulted in a fictitious moving (tropical) zodiac being populalrised. This was undoubtedly based on a misunderstanding and his advocacy of this calculation in his book resurfaced in Europe during the Renaissance in the late Middle Ages and became the basis of the birth of modern Western astrology.

Claudius Ptolemaeus
Claudius Ptolemaeus (c. AD 90 – c. 168), known in English as Ptolemy, was a Roman citizen of Egypt who wrote in Greek. He was a mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer and a poet of a single epigram in the Greek Anthology. He lived in Egypt under Roman rule and died in Alexandria around AD 168. Ptolemy was the author of several treatises, at least three of which were of continuing importance to later Islamic and European science. The first is the astronomical treatise known as the Almagest ("The Great Treatise“). The second is the Geography, which is a thorough discussion of the geographic knowledge of the Greco-Roman world. The third is the astrological treatise known as the Tetrabiblos ("Four books"), in which he attempted to adapt horoscopic astrology to the Aristotelian natural philosophy of his day.[1]

Errors in calculations
While evidently accomplished as a writer and celebrated during the middle ages, the originality of his works has been cast in doubt due to his unfamiliarity with the astrological practices of his time and the many important errors made in his books. His importance is not least traced to his major work, the Almagest, which is the only surviving comprehensive ancient treatise on astronomy in the Hellenic world. Indian and Babylonian astronomers had developed arithmetical techniques for calculating astronomical phenomena; Greek astronomers such as Hipparchus had produced geometric models for calculating celestial motions. Ptolemy, however, claimed to have derived his geometrical models from selected astronomical observations by his predecessors spanning more than 800 years, though astronomers have for centuries suspected that his models' parameters were adopted independently of observations. Ptolemy presented his astronomical models in convenient tables, which could be used to compute the future or past position of the planets. Later, it was demonstrated that his ephemeris is of dubious quality, diverging significantly from the calculations of his contemporaries. Because Ptolemy derived many of his key latitudes from crude longest day values, his latitudes are erroneous on average by roughly a degree (2 degrees for Byzantium, 4 degrees for Carthage), though capable ancient astronomers knew their latitudes to more like a minute. He agreed that longitude was best determined by simultaneous observation of lunar eclipses, yet he was so out of touch with the scientists of his day that he knew of no such data more recent than 500 years ago (Arbela eclipse). In terms of cartography, when switching from 700 stadia per degree to 500, he expanded longitude differences between cities accordingly (a point first realized by P.Gosselin in 1790), resulting in serious over-stretching of the Earth's east-west scale in degrees, though not distance.

Ptolemy‘s popularity was based on his Handy Tables, a useful tool for astronomical calculations and a model for later astronomical tables. In the tables was tabulated all the data needed to compute the positions of the Sun, Moon and planets, the rising and setting of the stars, and eclipses of the Sun and Moon – albeit with a large margin of error. Ptolemy‘s Planetary Hypotheses went beyond the mathematical model of the Almagest to present a physical realization of the universe as a set of nested spheres, in which he used the epicycles of his planetary model to compute the dimensions of the universe. He estimated the Sun was at an average distance of 1210 Earth radii, which is one twentieth of the actual distance. Meanwhile, he calculated the radius of the sphere of the fixed stars as being 20,000 times the radius of the Earth, or within the distance of the Sun. It is uncertain if other astronomers of his day were so widely off in their distance calculations.

Certainly, his most crucial error was in failing to correct for the precession of the equinoxes in order to anchor the zodiac and the fixed planets which make up the constellations in the sky. Rather, he and some other Roman astrologers, chose not to make this correction. At that time, the difference between the classical sidereal zodiac was only a few degrees. However, by the time astrology was rediscovered in the West, almost a millennium later, the difference had grown in size by over 10° and at the present time it is 24°. In some few hundred years, the signs in the tropical zodiac will be one whole sign removed from their original counterparts in the sidereal zodiac. Clearly, those failing to make this adjustment did not anticipate that development.

A narrow view of Astrology
Ptolemy's treatise on astrology, "Tetrabiblios" (Greek tetra means "four", biblos is "book"), was the most popular astrological work of the middle ages and had great influence in the Islamic world and the medieval Latin West. It was translated from Arabic into Latin by Plato of Tivoli. However, its later popularity also reflects the dearth of written sources on this knowledge at the time. The Tetrabiblos is an extensive and continually reprinted treatise on some principles of astrology that Ptolemy felt were important. That it did not quite attain the unrivaled status of the Almagest was likely because it did not contain a very rigourous treatment of the subject matter in terms of horoscopic astrology proper, thus eluding a comprehensive approach.

The great popularity that the Tetrabiblos did possess might be attributed to its nature as an exposition of the art of astrology and as a compendium of astrological lore, rather than as a manual. It speaks in general terms and avoids illustrations and details of practice. Much of the content of the Tetrabiblos was collected from earlier sources; Ptolemy's achievement was to order his material in a systematic way, showing how the subject could, in his view, be rationalized. At the same time, it reveals that Ptolemy was not an expert on the subject. Ptolemy was concerned with the influences of the celestial bodies which he believed travelled in the sublunar sphere, with a focus on planetary attributes in terms of their heating, cooling, moistening, and drying influences. In short, the astrology he described was a very limited expression of the horoscopic astrology of the day, as documented for instance in the contemporary Yavanajataka, the astrology of the Yavanas (Greek speaking people of the Indo-Greek world). This only points to the fact that Ptolemy did not truly understand the import of his woeful recommendation to calculate the zodiac without a precession correction.

Greek and Roman world
The introduction of the ancient astrology of India into the religious and philosophical milieu of the Hellenic and Roman world are also of interest. The mentaility of this time and location was different from the more ancient vedic civilisation. The nascent Western civilisation was more materialistic and positive in approach but also politheistic. While the Greek people saw the Olympic gods as supermen, rather than an all pervading single deity, the thinkers and heterodox religious leaders of the day debated various philosophical points including the role of gnosticism in religion. Already in the time of the Hellenic world, the ideological soil had become inhospitable to the original horoscopic astrology of Jyotish, as the sixth branch of the vedic science of enlightenment. Moreover, as the Western civilisation moved westward to the Roman empire, the distance between the source of this wisdom in India and its Western practitioners increased. As a result, even the horoscopic astrology began to change in terms of the graphical representation and the placement of the ascendant in the horoscope as documented in earlier articles on Roman Astrology.

During the rediscovery of astrology in the West in the Middle Ages, the practice of this nascent astrology incorporated the essential mistake of Ptolemy. Moreover, as astronomy began to develop into a proper science, even the modern view of astrology recast it as a quasi scientific law of physical causality, as opposed to a law of mysterious karma. Moreover, since Christianity of the fourth century had taken a hostile view of astrology, it had already then been pushed into the shadows and been slowly taken over by lesser practitioners. During the final centuries of the Roman empire astrology had become something of an art for swindlers, soothsayers and fortunetellers. By comparison, in India, astrology kept its moorings in a God centered world view including the theory of karma and the saintliness of the practitioner.

Isolation of Europe in the Middle Ages
To understand this development further we should note that following the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, the Middle Ages were born. This was a period of European history until the 15th century when the early Modern Era began. The term "Middle Ages" was coined in the 15th century and reflects the view that this period was a deviation from the path of classical learning, a path supposedly reconnected by Renaissance scholarship.[2] A part of this period, the early middle ages, has been termed the "Dark Ages“, noted for its cultural and economic deterioration as well as the major disruption in Western Europe. Importantly, the singular outside contact of European civilization was with early Islam of the Middle East and Northern Africa, and not India.[3] While this civilisation had protected some of the knowledge of the Roman and Greek worlds, it proved to be a not so hospitable to its internal consistency, by subjecting it to further speculative development.

To compound the problems further, astrology, had begun to fall out of favour in Rome as early as 321 A.D., when the Christian Emperor Constantine issued an edict threatening all Chaldeans, Magi, and their followers with death. As a result astrology disappeared for centuries from the Christian parts of Western Europe. Moreover, the early Christian legend distinguished between astronomy and astrology by ascribing the introduction of the former to the good angels and to Abraham while the latter was ascribed to Cham. Around this time, St. Augustine (354 – 430 A.D.), one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity, became active in the fight against astrology, moulding attitudes towards it for centuries to come. Even in Britain of the Enlightenment the practice of astrology was outlawed. Meanwhile, the original Vedic science of astrology has remained a part and parcel of Hindu society and is even openly taught at the university level.

Muslim invasions
The general decline of Western Civilisation during the Early Middle Ages was marked by trends of depopulation, deurbanization and increased barbarian invasion. North Africa and the Middle East, once part of the Eastern Roman Empire, were conquered by Islam. The islamisation of Spain took place from the beginning of the 8th century AD to the end of the 15th. Al-Andalus was the Arabic name given to a nation in the parts comprising most of what is now Spain and Portugal and governed by Berbers and African Muslims (given the generic name of Moors), at various times in the period between 711 and 1492.[4] The Moors were religious fanatics who subjugated these European territories as a part of the caliph of Damascus which was the capital of the Muslim world. Already in the 8th century the Christian Reconquest began, with the last vestiges of islam being pushed out in the Spanish Inquisition from 1478. The reaction resulted in the Crusades. In part, this cultural trend shows a singular focus of Westerners on the Biblical setting of the life story of Jesus Christ.

The Crusades
In the 10th century, the feudal system was established, which allowed a return to systemic agriculture. This trend was followed by sustained urbanization in northern and western Europe. During the High Middle Ages (c. 1000 – 1300 A.D.), Christian-oriented art and architecture flourished and Crusades were mounted to recapture the Holy Land.[5] The Roman Catholic Church sanctioned wars to be undertaken in pursuance of a vow and directed against infidels, i.e. against Muslims, pagans, heretics, or those under the ban of excommunication, called the Crusades. The specific crusades to restore Christian control of the Holy Land were fought over a period of nearly 200 years, between 1095 and 1291. Other campaigns in Spain and Eastern Europe continued into the 15th century. This exclusive interaction with the Arab world during the Middle Ages was only broken with the voyage of Columbus to the New World, but its influence has proved especially long lasting in the field of astrology.

Ptolemy made many contributions to science by documenting valuable astronomical, cartographical and astrological information. However, he was not an expert on horoscopic astrology or its history and his limited understanding of the visible zodiac of the fixed stars and constellations resulted in his adopting an erroneous astronomical representation of a moving zodiac, which, along with a removal from its authentic vedic source during the Middle Ages, had devastating implications for the development of astrology in the West, by undermining its efficacy as a true science of human karma. In fact, by altering the axiomatic principles of astrology itself, Ptolemy's mistake plunged Western astrology far into the shadows as the Age of Enlightenment rose. Fortunately, the classical principles of the original Greco-Indian horoscopic astrology were preserved in Hindu civilisation, even during the periods of Islamic (Mogul) and Christian (British) colonisation.

[1] Wikipedia: Ptolemy
[2] Wikipedia: Middle Ages
[3]"Archaeological Findings Point to Ancient Indo-Roman Trade". India Journal, July 15, 2010.
[4] Wikipedia: Al-Andalus
[5]Wikipedia: Crusades

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cultural influence: East to West

In the article Greco-Indian Astrology it was argued that astrology originated in India and spread to the West. In Classical antiquity of the West there are some hard facts about the cultural influences from the East to the West, notably in Greece.

A Greek helmet with swastika marks on the top part, dating back to around 350-325 BC and found at Herculanum, Italy shows the influences clearly (photo). This helmet could have been worn by a high ranking officer in the army of Alexander the Great, who invaded India in the winter of 327/326 BC and found its way back West. Like many armies who have done so, the cultural influences of the invaded territory flow back, including its religious ideas and symbols. Greek military chiefs would readily have welcomed the Indian sign of (spiritual) victory in their military gear.

The swastika (from Sanskrit svastika) is an equilateral cross with its arms bent at right angles, in either right-facing form or its mirrored left-facing form, as shown in the ancient seals from the Indus Valley (photo). Archaeological evidence of swastika-shaped ornaments dates from the Neolithic period. Even if the symbol has travelled around the world in pre-historic times, its appearance is accidental in all places except India, where it has persistently been an integral part of the civilization - suggesting again that India is ground zero for these ideas. It occurs today in the modern day culture of India, sometimes as a geometrical motif and sometimes as a religious symbol; it remains widely used in Eastern and Dharmic religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

Another link in evidence is the "thread of ascetism, running from ancient Vedic India, through Buddhism, to Judaism (the Essenes) and on to Christianity and finally, Islam. This common thread was carried by trade, along the Silk Road and Incense Route."[1] The conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC greatly accelerated the contacts. For instance, the map shows Buddhist proselytism at the time of king Ashoka in the 3rd century BC, resulting in Greco-Buddhism. Along with the earlier vedic religious impulses, Buddhism was likely an important influence in the formation of Stoic thought in Greece during that era.

That said, the use of the Swastika in Greece goes back to an earlier time. Ancient Greek architectural, clothing and coin designs are replete with single or interlinking swastika motifs. There are also found gold plate fibulae from the 8th century BC decorated with an engraved swastika. This is close to the time of the discovery of mathematical terms in India, later attributed to Phytagoras. How the ideas spread to Greece is not known, and is likely lost in antiquity as literal sources in Greece do not go back that far. However, the swastika shows the cultural link was established already then.

Related symbols in classical Western architecture include the cross, the three-legged triskele or triskelion and the rounded lauburu. The swastika symbol is also known in these contexts by a number of names, especially gammadion. In the intersections of lines defining a solid repeated motif on the edge of a depicted piece of cloth resemble a swastika. The swastika symbol has also found its way into later Western religions, as in, for example, the Hands of God symbol of early ethnic pre-Christian religions in central Europe.

We also know that basic astrology and astronomy developed in neolithic India. However, horoscopic astrology then surfaced in a written work in India, which has been attributed to Yavanas in the 2nd or 1st century BC, a group of Greek speaking people in the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom (256-125 BC) following the conquest of Alexander the Great in the East and in the later and more easterly Indo-Greek Kingdom (180 BC-10AD). As such the Greek speaking Yavanas were living in what is now Pakistan and India. It is all the more surprising to attribute the source of this type of astrology to the people of Greece, which had no known pre-history of astrology and the ancient form of horoscopic astrology is still used in modern India in its unadulterated form - Jyotisha.

To demonstrate the syncretism of Greek and Indian thought we need look no further than to the bilingual coins of the Greco-Bactrian kings in the 2nd century BC, which were issued in the Indian square standard. The coin has depictions of the Buddhist lion and a Greek inscription that reads "(of) King (Pan)taleon". The other side shows Lakshmi, the ancient Hindu goddess of wealth. Yet more evidence of the flow of cultural influences from East to West is the emergence of the lotus, a native plant of India and a sacred symbol of Buddhism, in Egyptian religious symbolism of around 500 BC. [2]

In any event, such historical artifacts of the ancient religious symbols of India in the Hellenic world is yet another indication of the historical direction of influence of ideas from East to West. This is important to note as many Western scholars, based on a narrow interpretation of a few late literal records alone, have a tendency to attribute discoveries of ancient Eastern origin to the historically relative neophyte civilization of Greece, including its use of the ancient astrology of the East.

[1] Bartram, John (2009). "Unravelling the First Century" in section on Greco-India and Divine Men, September 23rd, 2009.
[2]Batram, John (2010). "Cleopatra’s legacy: the Sacred Lotus of India". April 21, 2010
Wikipedia articles

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Trial of the century

An important element of the SAMVA USA chart is the weak and afflicted condition of the 4th house, which rules social peace. With 4th lord Venus being placed in the 6th house of conflict, the US tends to be a litigious society, with citizens filing suits for most problems large or small. Ketu, the lord of separation and sudden violent events, is also afflicting the 4th house, making racial and ethnic conflict, or stress related to it, a permanent condition of society. While 6th lord Jupiter is strong, well placed and favourably aspected in the 5th house, it is Rahu that also afflicts the 6th house, introducing manipulation in to the indications of this house.
It is not surprising that the most prominent criminal trial took place in the Ketu major period (April 9, 1989 - April 9, 1996), involving a black celebrity who murdered his white ex-wife and her white friend. While the murders were particularily brutal, the case polarised the black and white communities. A majority of the black community believed Simpson was innocent while the majority of the white community were overwhelmingly convinced of his guilt. Moreover, it was at the outset of the Venus major period (April 9, 1996 - April 9, 2016) that Simpson was sued by the families of the murder victims, resulting in a huge financial settlement being awarded.

O.J. Simpson
O. J. Simpson, born on July 9, 1947, is a famous retired American football player, football broadcaster, spokesman, actor, and convicted felon. Originally attaining a public profile in sports as a running back at the collegiate and professional levels, Simpson was the first NFL player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season, a mark he set during the 1973 season. He also holds numerous records in the sport and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.

Murder (June 12, 1994)
Sometime between 10:15 and 10:40 p.m. on June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were brutally stabbed and killed outside Brown Simpson's condominium in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles, California, while her two young children were asleep inside. O. J. and Nicole had divorced two years earlier. Nicole and her friends had been at a restaurant Ronald worked at during the evening and he had come to her home to deliver eyewear she had left there. It so happens that Nicole and Ronald were close friends.

Evidence at the scene led police to suspect that O. J. was the murderer. Nicole had also reported that hed had made threats to her if he found she was seeing another man. She had also complained he was stalking her. He was seen near the house that evening. The story broke the following morning. O.J. Simpson flew to Chicago on the night of the murders but returned to Los Angeles a few days later and was arrested at 8 p.m. on June 17, 1994. This was preceeded by another drama. He failed to turn himself in at 11 a.m. on that day. The police then issued an all points bulletin for his arrest. He was spotted driving with a friend. However, as he was reported to be armed and suicidal, the car he was in was followed by patrol cars for several hours in a slow speed car chase that was broadcast via helicopter news crew on national television. Finally, O.J. Simpson gave himself in.

Astrology of the event
At the time of the muders, the Ketu – Saturn period was operating. Moreover, natal Ketu was in the most effective point of the 4th house from where it was closely afflicting transit stationary 8th lord Saturn in the MEP of the 8th house. Such a close fit is unusual and fits the crime very well -but more importantly it reflects the huge impact the event had. There were other placements operative at that time, but this was the defining influence in the horoscope of the USA for this event.

Criminal case (Jan. 25 – Oct. 3, 1995)
At his arraignment, Simpson pleaded not guilty to both murders. There were problems putting together a workable grand jury due to the excessive media coverage and public statements already made by the jurors in relation to the case. The initial jury was therefore dismissed. At his second court arraignment on July 29, Simpson pleaded “Absolutely, one hundred percent, not guilty." After extensive interviewing, a new grand jury was selected on November 3, 1994. The trial, which began on January 25, 1995, included 134 days of televised testimony. The prosecution elected not to ask for the death penalty and instead sought a life sentence. The TV exposure made celebrities of many of the figures in the trial, including Judge Lance Ito. The prosecution argued that Simpson killed his ex-wife in a jealous rage. Despite a mountain of evidence, Simpson‘s top-notch defense team was able to introduce doubt into the jurors minds about his guilt. The trial ended at 10:07 a.m. on October 3, 1995, after only four hours of deliberation the previous day, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. This court case is now referred to as the trial of the century.

Astrology of the trial
Prior to the start of the trial transit Ketu had been stationary exactly conjunct the MEP of the 10th house of publicity. A strange event was unfolding in the national life. On the first day of the trial, the nodal axis was conjunct the natal nodal axis, during the Ketu major period, signifying the dramatic and likely painful event to watch. As the trial unfolded, transit 6th lord Jupiter became stationary in the MEP of the 5th house, signifiying that a trial had become the main entertainment event in the national life. With natal Rahu and transit Rahu also prominently placed, the trial represented a lot of manipulation by the opposing legal teams, including claims by Simpson's lawyers of manipulation by the police of evidence at the murder scene. When the trial closed, transit Jupiter was conjunct natal Saturn, as 8th lord of obstacles and endings, signifying a closure for the criminal trial.

Civil law suit (Aug. 23, 1996 – Feb. 5, 1997)
While Simpson had been cleared of criminal charges in the trial and could not be tried for them again, it was still possible to charge him in a civil suit. The parents of Ronald Goldman brought suit against Simpson for wrongful death, and Brown's estate, represented by her father brought suit against Simpson in a "survivor suit", in a trial that took place over four months in Santa Monica and was not televised. O.J. Simpson did not actively defend himself in the trial and on February 5, 1997 a civil jury in Santa Monica, California unanimously found Simpson liable for the wrongful death of and battery against Goldman, and battery against Brown. The jury in the civil trial awarded Brown and Simpson's children, $12.5 million from their father as recipients of their mother's estate. The victims' families were awarded $33.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Simpson came under fire following the civil verdict for "dodging" the jury's award against him by allegedly hiding assets from the Goldman family. To date he has paid little of the judgment.
Astrology of the civil suit
At the time the civil trial began, the major period had shifted to that of Venus, whose placement in the chart embodies the litigious nature of US society. The sub-period of Venus was therefore also running, making the influence even more pronounced. Not surprisingly, the trial received far less exposure than the criminal case, as it was not televised. That said, O.J. Simpson was found guilty and ordered to pay a large sum of damages for the deaths, which is highly consistent with the dual Venus period.
The events and their influence are highly consistent with the major periods being those of Ketu and Venus. The shift in the emphasis from a criminal trial to a financial trial fits the period change very well. Moreover, it is amazing that the crime involved people of different racial backgrounds and that the verdict of the criminal trial would polarise communities of those racial backgrounds during the Ketu major period. Given the natal configuration, mentioned at the outset, it is no surprise that such an event took place during these planetary periods and caught the attention of the nation and, in fact, the whole world.