Friday, April 22, 2011

Astrology & Zoroastrianism

Ali Mostofi [ali@alimostofi.com] wrote a while back introducing himself as an astrologer. His blog-site is subtitled: Zoroastrian Stock Market and Current Affairs Astrologer and Commentator. He added "The meanings behind each month (in the Zoroastrian calendar) correspond to astrology." Mr. Mostofi's email prompted us to explore the issue of astrology and Zoroastrianism further, write this response and dedicate a separate blog to the subject.

For more comprehensive information, please see our blog Zoroastrian (Persian) Astrology & Cosmology
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References to Zoroastrian Astrology in Hellenic & Roman Texts

Classical Hellenic texts make Zoroaster the inventor of astrology. They also make the Magi, Zoroastrian priests as astrologers. Christians claim the Magi began their journey to visit the Christ-child after observing a particular star or planet in the east (Matthew 2). The latter reference also indicates the standing with which the Magi were perceived - despite derogatory comments of some Classical Hellenic authors.

Neoplatonist philosopher Proclus Lycaeus / Diadochus (412–485 CE) attributed to Zoroaster (Zarathushtra/Zarathustra) a four-volume i.e. papyrus rolls, treatise On Nature (Peri physeos) dedicated to King Cyrus. What we gather from quotes such as the one below is that it contained several astrological references.

Colotes accused Plato of plagiarizing Zoroaster and On Nature since the framework of On Nature's narrative reappears as Plato's Myth of Er, a concluding story in the Republic. Clement of Alexandria, i.e. Titus Flavius Clemens (c.150-215 CE) quotes from On Nature: "These things I wrote, 'I Zoroaster, the son of Armenius, a Pamphylian by birth: having died in battle, and been in Hades, I learned them of the gods'." Fiction but interesting. Clement continues, "This Zoroaster, Plato says, having been placed on the funeral pyre, rose again to life in twelve days. He alludes perchance to the resurrection, or perchance to the fact that the path for souls to ascension lies through the twelve signs of the zodiac; and he himself says, that the descending pathway to birth is the same. In the same way we are to understand the twelve labours of Hercules, after which the soul obtains release from this entire world." The On Nature (Peri physeos)  mentioned by Proclus and Clement of Alexandria does not survive and is known only through references such as the ones above.

We are also informed that while Zoroaster's On Nature had the sun in middle position, while Plato's 4th century BCE version had the sun in second place above the moon.Further, Lydus (6th cent. CE), in On the Months at II.4, attributes the creation of the seven-day week to "the circle of Zoroaster and Hystaspes in Babylon," the basis being that there were then known seven planets.

Heraclides Ponticus wrote a text titled Zoroaster based on Zoroastrian philosophy in order to express his disagreement with Plato on natural philosophy.

Another work circulating under the name of "Zoroaster" was the five-volume i.e. papyrus roll Asteroskopita (or Apotelesmatika). The title and fragments suggest that it was an astrological handbook, "albeit a very varied one, for the making of predictions." A third text attributed to Zoroaster is On Virtue of Stones (Peri lithon timion), of which nothing is known other than its extent (one volume) and that Zoroaster sang it (from which Cumont and Bidez conclude that it was in verse). Numerous other fragments (preserved in the works of other authors) are attributed to Zoroaster, but the titles are not mentioned.

We find it amusing (and this is a good indication of the state of mind of some Hellenic authors) that for some Hellenic authors, the proof that Zoroaster was an astrologer was that his name contained -astr- meaning star! That is, of course, the Greek/Western version of his name, Zoroaster. His authentic name, Zarathushtra, bears no such meaning. Diogenes Laertius (3 cent. CE?), while treating the religion of the magi in very favorable terms and acquiting them of the charge of sinister magic,nevertheless adds his own dose of fantasy by giving the Greek etymology of Zoroaster as derived from 'astrothytes' meaning 'one who sacrifices to the stars' or star-worshipper in short. For others, Zo- when put together with -astra give the combined meaning of living star!! An even more elaborate etymology evolved from some fertile minds, that Zoroaster died by the living (Zo-) flux (-ro-) of fire from the star (-astr-). Zoroaster was then magician enough to have invoked the fire of the star himself. The construct culminated with Zoroaster having been stars by the stars in revenge for their having been restrained by him!!! Buried within all this fantasy is the sentiment that Zoroaster's knowledge of the stars and the heavens - astronomy - was so great that he is seen as having controlled the stars. Suffice it for us to repeat that Zoroaster is a Greek version of the original Avestan name Zarathushtra.

In early Christian literature beginning with the Clementine Homilies 9.4-5, Zoroaster is identified with a parallel series of traditions about Nimrod having been the founder of astrology. In this account, Nimrod is killed by lightning and posthumously deified by the Persians as "Zoroaster, on account of the living (zosan) stream of the star (asteros) being poured upon him."

On a side note, Lydus (On the Months II.4) attributes the creation of the seven-day week to "the circle of Zoroaster and Hystaspes in Babylon," the basis being that there were then seven known planets.

Astronomy in Zoroastrianism
The Magi as Astronomers and Astrologers
The reference of classical Hellenic authors as to Zoroaster and the magi being the inventor of astrology is interesting. Before becoming an astrologer, a person needs to have an understanding of the heavens. The magi were astronomers who understood that the planets were different from the stars, that the planets revolved around the sun, that the planets including the earth were spheres. They identified and named the major planets, stars and constellations and plotted their movements through the heavens to an accuracy of degrees. They also used these movements to establish a very accurate calender based on the solar year and lunar month. Zoroaster is reputed to have built an observatory and amongst it functions was the accurate determination of the equinoxes and solstices, knowledge of which was of great importance to farmers, herders and even to the traders who started and stopped their caravan trains depending on the calendar. The Zoroastrian calendar contained a zodiac.

Zoroastrian Calendar & Zodiac
There are references to the zodiac in the Middle Persian texts related to the organization of the Zoroastrian calendar (see http://www.heritageinstitute.com/zoroastrianism/calendar/index.htm#seasons.) Mithraism as it survived amongst the Romans also appears to feature a similar zodiac.

Further in the story of the Zoroastrian escape from Iran to India after the Arab invasion in c. 640 CE - the Kisse Sanjan, - the Zoroastrian priests in the group of refugees consulted their astrological charts before making major decisions.

Astronomy in the Bundahishn, a Zoroastrian Text
The Middle Persian Zoroastrian text, the Bundahishn also contains references to horoscopes and astrology. It's chapter is devoted to astrology and is titled the horoscope of the World. At 5b.12 we have, "In the beginning, when the Adversary entered, it so happened that the dark Sun and Moon could not perpetrate any harm, on account of the contact with the radiance of the Sun and the Moon; and the Seven Bears [Haptoring] and Sataves happened to be of greater vigour than Jupiter and Venus; they disabled Jupiter and Venus from doing harm. For this reason the astrologers call them beneficent. Mars happened to be more vigorous than Antares, and Saturn than the Lord of the Throne; their harmfulness is evident. Therefore, astrologers reckon them as maleficent; and Mercury, who is Apaosh dev, came against Sirius [Tishtar]; both happened to be of equal strength and of equal vigour. Therefore, astrologers say "Mercury is beneficent with the beneficent ones, and maleficent with the maleficent ones. There are some who say so: 'Apaosh is not Mercury.'"

D. N. McKenzie has written a book available for online viewing and as a pdf download titled Zoroastrian Astrology in the Bundahishn.

Visit our page at: http://www.heritageinstitute.com/zoroastrianism/
and our blog Astrology & Cosmology - Zoroastrian Heritage

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