Mundane Astrology
The Knepf's Snake-eye

Earth Day, Easter
and the Exaltations of the Luminaries

Part 2

Brief Explanation of Exaltations Derived from Babylonia

Planetary exaltations, called hypsomata (literally meaning "hiding places") have been a notable part of astrology for over two millennia. Their roots of origin were unclear to the modern Western astrologer until research by Cyril Fagan in the 1940's, and then subsequent reinforcement by Rupert Gleadow's The Origin of the Zodiac in 1963, affirmed that exaltations could indeed be traced back to 786 BC and the Babylonian "Temple of Nabu" (Nabu being connected to Mercury, the god of astrology and time). "New Year's Day" in the Babylonian calendar of that era was determined by a soli-lunar calendar, and basically the first new moon nearest the spring equinox (when the Sun and crescent Moon could be seen setting as close to due west as possible) was considered the "new year." The exaltations we use today bear a striking similarity to the heliacal settings of the planets during the calender year of 786-785 BC.

As Gleadow explains it, the genesis of Nabu and a special foundational year by the Babylonians came about to mimick the essence of the Egyptian Sothic calendar, which was one of the base reasons for Egyptian society's long-term success and cohesiveness. If the Babylonians had their own "zero" year calendrical basis, then they too might achieve cultural preemenince. When the Chaldeans increased in numbers and power in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, Nabu became more and more of an icon for that society's roots, and thus the astrology of that year became very important as well. It follows that 786 was indeed an "exalted" year for them, and that special planetary phenomena would be "exalted" as well.

From the spicket of Chaldea (in what is now the south of Iraq) and their golden age of astrology (7th through 1st Century BC) flowed virtually the whole of what became known as "astrology" in the West (Greece), Asia, Arabia, and in India. In all traditions, the concept of exaltations survived, but as the Chaldean realm diminished, so did the relevance and memory of Nabu, and therefore the historical underpinning of these special zodiacal degrees.

Exaltations Defined

Sun 19 Aries
Moon 3 Taurus
Mercury 15 Virgo
Venus 27 Pisces
Mars 28 Capricorn
Jupiter 15 Cancer
Saturn 21 Libra
Uranus* 9 Sagittarius
Neptune* 18 Aquarius
Pluto* 18 Cancer
Lunar Nodes 3 Gemini / Sagittarius
* Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, it can be argued, cannot have "hypsomata" as they are invisible to the naked eye, and are therefore unable to have heliacal phenomenon. Siderealists use these values, however, as they are the positions of these planets for 786 BC.
The Nodes, in every ancient text I have seen, are given exaltations of 3 Gemini/Sag, but the nodal values for the year 786 BC are 1 Aries, and thus Siderealists use this value.

While exaltations were designed around a sidereal zodiacal framework, modern astrologers have adapted them to the tropical zodiac, and finally to the signs in general. The original intent was to highlight the zodiacal position of a planet when it disappeared behind the Sun -- meaning the position of a planet when it would last be seen at sunset before disappearing into the Sun's aura for the next month or so -- and Fagan showed that such was the case with four of the five planets, at or near their exaltation degrees that have been passed down through history. From Gleadow:

[Exaltation] translated means in fact 'hiding-places', and the hiding-places of a planet are obviously those parts of the zodiac in which it is invisible, and expecially the degree in which it disappears from view into the sun's rays at heliacal setting and the degree of its reappearance at heliacal rising. The same is true of the moon, and is proved by the distance of the moon's 'hiding place' from the sun's, 14, which is a typical elongation for a new crescent. Since these phenomena change their positions every time they occur, we are evidently faced by an historical date, and there can be no doubt whatever that this date is 786-785 BC. As for the sun having a hiding-place, it emerges from darkness at dawn on New Year's Day.

Until the zodiac drew attention to the position of planets in constellations, the chief focus of interest in them was their heliacal disappearances and reappearances, and in 786 all the planets had heliacal phenomena in or very near the degrees of their exaltations -- an event so improbable that it cannot plausibly be ascribed to chance. The list of these phenomena and the exaltations which they fit is as follows:

1 Nisan = April 4th, 786 BC [day begins at sunset] = New Year's Day
Event Date Planet Type of Event / Sign Exalt.
May 10th Venus Heliacally set in the east in 9 CA ~
June 22 Jupiter Heliacally set in the east in 15 CA 15 CA
July 24th Venus Heliacally rose in the west in 18 VI ~
July 30 Jupiter Heliacally rose in the west in 21 CA ~
August 25th Mars Heliacally set in the west in 11 PI ~
September 14th Mercury Heliacally set in the east in 16 VI 15 VI
September 23rd Saturn Heliacally set in the west in 21 LI 21 LI
October 27th Saturn Heliacally rose in the east in 26 LI ~
February 4th Mars Heliacally rose in the east in 1 AQ 27 CA

The positions of the Sun, Moon, and Venus are for New Year's Day:

Planet / Sign Exalt.
Sun 19 AR 19 AR
Moon 29 AR 3 TA
Venus 26 PI 27 PI

(Mercury's 13 other phenomena omitted)

The year 786 BC saw the opening in Calah of the new temple of Nabu (Nebo), the god of writing associated with the planet Mercury. This is the origin of Mercury's connection with writing, wisdom, commerce, and all similar subjects....

There are two slight weaknesses in this argument. The heliacal risings and settings are not as close together as they might have been; and also some are risings and others settings. This apparently haphazard selection may leave us unconvinced that the coincidence is not an accident.

But, the exaltations are not and cannot be the horoscope for the foundation or opening of the temple of Nabu, for Mercury cannot be in Virgo while the Sun is in Aries. They are simply heliacal phenomena recorded in that year....2

And so goes a great expert on the subject, though we will next be refuting some of his assumptions and drawing new conclusions about exactly what "3 Taurus" meant to our forefathers of antiquity.

Exaltations of the Luminaries

Yet, how could such a parameter apply to the luminaries? For instance, how can the Sun emerge from behind the Sun?

The answer, of course, is that it cannot, and so special parameters for the Sun and Moon were rendered. Gleadow suggests above that the Sun's passage over the vernal equinox is a kind of "hiding-place." In fact, it is on the sunset of this special new year's day in 786 BC that the fiducial for the Fagan Sidereal Zodiac is reckoned. This was done by taking the sunset position [457' Aries in the Tropical Zodiac] and adding 18.973666, or 1858'25", which is the square root of 3601:

Sunset chart for the exaltations
 Figure 2-1  Sunset over Babylonia, April 3, 786 BC. This new crescent moon was the beginning of the new month and year that later was to become the reknowned for the dedication of the Temple of Nabu. The Sun's position at this moment was to become its "exaltation" for all time.

In any event, the Sun's exaltation in Aries likely came about from the observation that the days then became longer than nights, but for the specific degree of 19 Aries, we see the numerological observance that 19 is nearly the square root of 360, which was the Sun's position on New Year's Day for the temple of Nabu. Simple.

Now, what of the Moon, which can only "emerge" from the Sun's aura every month at sunset and hide at sunrise? The inner planets, Mercury and Venus, can indeed disappear into the Sun's aura at both sunrise and sunset -- sunrise when they are retrograde, and sunset when they are direct in motion. Since the Moon is never retrograde yet always faster than the Sun, it can only emerge from the Sun's aura at sunset. The three outer planets, which all reside further away than the Sun and are thus always slower in motion than the Sun, can never emerge from the Sun at sunset, but only at sunrise, and then only for a brief moment before the light of day overpowers that planet's relatively faint light. Here we see that the Moon's exaltation is based upon something more than heliacal phenomenon alone; it is also based upon its own light cycle.

Luna's exaltation is 3 Taurus, which is precisely 14 degrees beyond the Sun's exaltation of 19 Aries. The reason for this is somewhat baffling, as Luna was not near this position as it set on New Year's Day of 786 BC, and at least not with the precision of the Sun or other planets. We would think that the Moon would be the best-noted heavenly body of all in this scheme, but instead we find it at 29 of Aries, and closely conjunct Mercury, the planetary deity of Nabu. Even if we allow for the possible error of our computer calculations of Luna's position for that epoch, we still would be at best three degrees off. There must be some other rationale for 3 Taurus.

Gleadow hints above that the Moon generally emerges from the Sun's aura when it is 14 degrees ahead of the Sun. Yet, this is also false, as observations by the US Naval Observatory have shown that only 10 of separation are needed to veiw a new crescent at the equinox, such as the one for Nabu, in which the Moon and Sun are nearly vertical on the western horizon and atmospherics (pollution, humidity) are optimum. This argument is incongruent with the rest of his conclusions that all revert back to real phenomena of the year 786-785 BC in Babylonia, and should be rejected.

Another general and unattributable theory, and one that I like very much, is that the Moon was to be exalted in conjunction with the Pleiades star cluster, but even this has some problems, as the Pleiades are located in a span of about 415' - 545' Taurus -- a bit off the mark:

Moonset on April 3, 786 BC
 Figure 2-2  Here we see SkyMap Pro's rendition of Moonset for the Nabu New Year's Day. Mercury is conjunct the Moon, which is just barely visible at an elongation of 11.1 -- at the very threshold of visiblity. The Pleiades are still 7 in altitude.

The conclusion I have come to, and one that I feel fits nicely and makes sense, is centered on the "14," but not for any specific heliacal phenomenon: this was chosen becuase this is the average number of days from a new moon's first visible crescent to the full moon, where we might consider the Moon to be "exalted," during the brightest night of its phase, but not at all "hiding." Given that a degree of the zodiac is about equal to a day's travel of the Sun, and thus the Sun will transit through 14 degrees in as many days, we can see that the Sun reaches the Moon's exaltation degree when this New Year's Moon of 786 BC is full, ideally at 3 Scorpio. This ideal was not reality in 786 BC, but we do see that the Sun was at about 220' Taurus 14 days after New Year's Day:

First full Moon rising of the first year of Nabu
 Figure 2-3  Frist full Moon rising over Babylonia in the first year of Nabu.

Interestingly, this rising full Moon is posited in the constellation of Scorpio:

 Figure 2-4  Full Moon rising on April 17, 786 BC, in the constellation of Scorpio.

As this full moon culminated near midnight, it nearly occulted Scorpio's alpha star Antares:

 Figure 2-5  The culminating full Moon of April 17, 786 BC, grazing the fixed star Antares in Scorpio.

A closeup of the above figure:

 Figure 2-6  Closeup of Figure X.

This next graphic shows the path of the Moon through Scorpio:

 Figure 2-7  Path of the full Moon of April 17, 786 BC, through the constellation Scorpio.

Antares was one of the four "royal stars" of Persia, the others being Aldebaran, Regulus, and Fomalhaut. These four stars marked the four "corners" of heaven, and shown most brilliantly, being alpha stars of thier respective constellations: Taurus, Leo and Piscis Australis (south of Aquarius). Aldebaran and Antares marked precisely the mid-quarter points of the Babylonian "zodiac," at 15 Taurus and Scorpio. It is likely that this transit of the Moon added weight to the later importance of this year as it "fit" with the fiducial point of the zodiac circle. The Moon's exaltation degree therefore became the Sun's position as the Sun is the giver of the Moon's light, and the Moon was reflecting back onto the earth the most light possible.

This concept of maximum lunar glow and reflectivity onto the Earth plays a major part in the calculus of Easter, as early scholars felt that Easter should be when the Earth is basked in the most light possible from both of the luminaries, and this ideal is met during the full moons nearest the equinoxes.3 The vernal equinox outweighs the autumnal equinox for Christian religious purposes as this is when the Sun is moving northward (the son rising from the grave) and days become longer than nights.

 Figure 2-8  Luna on the MC as it passes Antares. The Sun is now closer to 3 Taurus.

Part 3
Part 1

1 These values were later adjusted by Bradley to give Aldebaran an ecliptic value of precisely 1500'00" Taurus, yet there is little if no evidence that such a calculation was possible at that time in history when the exact plane of the ecliptic was unknown to astronomers.
2 Gleadow, Rupert, The Origin of the Zodiac, pp. 210 - 211.
3 It was this concept that drove the issue of calendar reform in the centuries leading up to 1582, as the priesthood were reliant on calendric tables of solar and lunar cycles to determine Easter; the equinox was by decree on March 21, but due to the calendar's innacuracies, this date was off by one day for every 125 years. As the calendar drifted out of sync with the solstice and equinox points by more than 7 days, Easter was more and more likely to be celebrated too late, thus bypassing the lunation cycle closest to the actual vernal equinox, and denying the Christian the proper time of the year to celebrate this most important event in the life of Christ.

Mundane Astrology

Copyright 2003 Edward Kohout. All Rights Reserved.