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Who Is Al-Biruni?



In considering where the Mansions flow into the narrative of western astrology from textual mention in current conception and application we can first look into the work, activity and influence of Al Biruni, court astrologer to the Gaznavid Dynasty who in the 10th Century was probably the first in textual history to refer to the lunar mansions as a lunar zodiac in his Book of Instruction in the Elements of the Art of Astrology. It is here we find the use of Arabic manāzil where we pull together the word mansions from something that means something like stations or sections, houses where the Moon passes through and visits on her way across collections of asterisms along her path. Al Biruni was a scholar of physics, mathematics, astronomy, natural sciences, medicine, history, chronology as well as being a skilled linguist, speaking his native Khwarezmian as well as Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek, Hebrew, Syriac and we can assume other languages and dialects. He lived in modern day central-eastern Afghanistan but was born on September 4, 973 in the region now known as Uzbekistan and Northern Turkmenistan. In 1017 he traveled to South Asia accompanying the ruler of the Gaznavid Dynasty in duty as astrologer on expedition where he wrote a study of Indian culture which he completed in 1030. He was particularly interested in the Hindu calendar and made many conversions of dates to contemporary Greek, Arab, Muslim, Persian and islamic calendars in use at the time. We know through him that the earliest mentions of the mansions in this current were irregular in size and then standardized later by both Arabic and Western astrologers.

Arabic astrology blends Greek, middle eastern and Indian astrologies, so what Al Biruni and his contemporaries were putting together was a syncretic blend of techniques and perspectives on multiple traditions at once they were making selections from. We see within its structures the 150 lots or parts, aspects, planetary relationships, positions relative to the Sun, rulerships, and commentary on weather and meteorological occurrences and phenomena that flow into from the medieval period and renaissance period into the later almanac type compilations. Although, we know that early on the approach the Arabic astrologers were taking was very Electional heavy, which resonates with some of their other paradigmatic preferences. Al Biruni himself condemns Horary’s predictive abilities as a form of sorcery, which highlights his attitudes on magic and religious prohibitions generally which could have influenced what material on the mansions he collected most likely from the Indian Nakshatras he chose to transmit back into the Arabic world.

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