Moonstruck: Thinking about and Working with Lunar Mansions: part 1
Updated: Jul 5, 2019
If we are talking about mansions we are ultimately talking about the the Moon and the the Stars as the backdrop of her travel across the sky: her starry abodes as she moves through celestial space, her many ‘mansions’ which put her in various dispositions and summon to the table various circumstances or possibilities. Immediately, especially as magical practitioners we run into a problem, one that is common and inherent within astrology, that of either marrying or mediating the significances of two separate zodiacs, the tropical and the sidereal. It has been argued that for the Lunar Mansions only the sidereal makes sense and we can dispose of the tropical when making observations of her activity on this level as it is a purely starry system. This makes sense to a degree, but it has been also argued that the tropical zodiac is not simply a seasonal system but a directional one. It is dividing the sky into equinoctial haves, solstitial haves, and thus east, west, north and south quarters, regardless of how seasons are experienced. Whether we decide or not that the mansions are purely stellar, the Moon traverses this layer simultaneously as she passes across the backdrop of the stars, and we should not be so ready to assume that the tropical has no meaning magically or as a system in this context, as we know the Moon delivers predictable effects within the tropical zodiac, could there not be layers of effects on the Tropical Mansion level as well as the stellar or Sidereal.
We might then observe that since precession has had the tropical zodiac drift apart 24 degrees (on average depending on which calculation you are fond of) from the sidereal, and mansions in the western system are 12 degrees and 51 minutes wide sections of the ecliptic, that the whole list of 28 mansions can be moved over two sections roughly at our point of procession and be relatively accurate in the section of stars each mansion describes in the Picatrix. The section of sky described in the 1st Lunar Mansion is now to be found in the Tropical 3rd Lunar Mansion. We could simply switch over to sidereal charts when we were dealing with Mansions, but the fact that the Mansions themselves reach 0 points at the tropical solstice and equinox degrees implies that there is certainly some tropical logic baked into the operations described, the corresponding images, etc. and their results, where an echo and parallel between the experience of the year and the month was noted and utilized. Just like incorporating fixed stars into planetary delineations, we must observe the zodiac and the stars as separate layers, and in the case of the lunar mansions, consider both layers of mansions side by side or simultaneously. Some astrologers/magicians may choose for simplicity or other personal reasons to only work with one, but it might also serve other magicians to acknowledge both at once and see what transpires out of experience.
Extending this logic, we have a similar problem with the Mansions as we do with the Zodiac. The Mansions are perhaps the oldest division of the sky, being found in Chinese, Arabic and Indian systems, with some apparent transmission between the systems over history. The Indians recognize 27 where as the Arabs 28, being that the Moon takes about 27.3 days to orbit the Earth. The Mansions seem to be named for the stars within them in the Arabic system, although it may be that the stars were named after the Mansions which contained them, which appears to be likely in the zodiac: the signs being named for the constellations or the constellations deriving their names for being within the space of or the vicinity of the signs. The fact that, in either sky division system, stars and spaces where used for orientation and location of one another to become synonymous implies the root of or widespread use of these astrological and magical traditions during the period when they were on or very close to the same degrees, about 1728 years ago today, so roughly 291CE, a period marked by astrology’s synthesis and flourishing in the Mediterranean just after the Hellenistic era. Other periods may find a way to fully marry the significance of the stars themselves with the division of the space we inhabit, the light we experience throughout the year and the intertwined trajectories of solar and lunar orbits, but as we are still reviving a tradition that unfurls into our past we must roll up into our interpretations, investigations and operations these multiple levels and layers of significance, quality and meaning all at once while still retaining the awareness and understanding that they are separate things.
We must tread carefully here, as we are looking at a section of the equinoctial/band of light and darkness rooted into directionality and seasonality as well as groupings of the stars themselves, both in a divisional rhythm which resonates with the Moon’s cycle of waxing and waning and division of the theoretical 360 circle of the ecliptic into sections based on her average motions, an intertwined 28-ism into or intertwining with and interacting with both 12-ism and 360-ism. In a way this is much simpler to conceptualize while standing outside under the sky rather than imagining all these functions of orbit and hypothetical situations held as models in our mind. Across both geography (China, the Middle East, India, Greece etc.) and time (pre-history, antiquity, the Hellenistic period, the Renaissance, today etc.) different people have seen different things take shape and various stories and meanings and effects pour from the sky. This can be out of varied cultural mythos alone, out of changing perspectives to adapt to precession, out of a combination of both, and many other factors. We know that what Jupiter brings or the qualities inherent in the zodiacal sign of Taurus express along certain themes in a wide variety of ways. We know that the tropical and the sidereal zodiac are both valuable and can both be equally interpreted. What we glimpse in the varied and divergent yet scant and limited literature of the mansions may be multiple layers of meanings that express in a similar archetypal way as the rest of astrology. They being lunar are so close to us and our condition, and being stellar are so far away and alien to our consciousness. They are where the incomprehensible and average experience intersect. In them is submerged our daily, mundane lives as well as our wildest dreams. Here we lack the concise mathematical narrative of the wandering stars (the planets) with their familiar abstractions; instead in the mansions of the moon we superimpose our consciousness, our emotions, our stream of thoughts and our tactile experiences with the outer layers of the stellar, the starry beyond. One bright blob placed over an infinity of sparkling points.
By virtue of an unbroken tradition and an adherence to one zodiacal system Indian astrology enjoys a clearer and readily usable system of lunar divisions, the Nakshatras. We can look to them for guidance and information about what the Arabic Mansions that transmitted into the west might mean, but there are some inherent difficulties. First, there are 27 Nakshatras rather than 28. (as the Moon makes her rounds in about 27.5 days) Second, because of precession we’d have to correct for which territory of sky we’re talking about, but still we will never get an exact fit even though echoes reverberate between the two. More of this soft eye and receptive critical investigation required in dealing with the lunar mansions, which ironically suits the Moons significations; as if we have to literally feel our way through. We may then go wider with our search, and look elsewhere for clues, as has done the occultist Jake Stratton-Kent in his works of the Encyclopedia Goetia. Here we find him pointing out that when there are animal lists attributed to Hekate, a prominent deity of Greek myth and patroness of mystery traditions and religions of the classical world associated with both the Moon and with Magic equally, as are our Lunar Mansions historically, the number of animals in the lists accumulated throughout the Greek Magical Papyri equal 28. (this comes from 2 lists which both mention non-animal objects associated with her and her cult, but if you separate out the non-animal items on the list you are left with 28 animals). As we can see from several sources from the classical period, such as ‘The Golden Ass’, animal transformation and shapeshifting were highly popular forms of magic, playing as the centerpiece of Apuleius’s famed work. The scene in which his unfortunate transformation occurs he is spying on a witch who uses a certain ointment at a certain time to transform into a bird and take flight. The protagonist wishes to follow suit but uses the wrong ointment and is instead transformed into an onager. In one fall swoop we see that there are timings going on as well as animals targeted and herbs involved. Hekate’s poison gardens and animal transformations and lunar rites are well known elsewhere in literature, and in the instance of the ‘Ass’ it is easy to imagine that something like a certain lunar mansion was selected for the success of the operation. Another focus of the PGM is dream sending, dreams being another core signification of the Moon. What the ‘Ass’ satirizes as literal may have been techniques carried out during dream, as their analogues similarly tend to be approached in modern forms of witchcraft.
What we have here is both valuable and worth investigating for the astrologer as well as the magician or witch. Magicians are quite used to experimenting with rough sketches from historical sources to see first hand if the pieces fit and the techniques make sense by observing the results, where as astrologers are more weary, for multiple reasons but one very good one being that you can’t delineate with experimental methods while consulting with clients who’s real lives receive the impact. But we can quietly observe ourselves and collect data with interest and intent. It may be that there is more, much more perhaps, to what is there than either talismanic protocols or farmers almanac folklore alone. There may be waiting for us experiences we could engage with that assist us in melting down the rationalistic materialist cage that imprisons our individual and collective paradigms, and reconnect ourselves intimately with the cosmos via its many stars.