by Boots Hart, CAP

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sabian Symbols versus Zodiac Degrees

When you work in direct mail advertising (that would be the nice way of saying 'the junk mail biz') you always hear that a 1%-2% response for any given mailing is a totally satisfactory response rate.

What that means from the other side is that for every one person who sends me a question, there are a hundred of you wondering. So when someone wrote last week to ask about zodiac degrees and the Sabian symbols, it was obviously time to explain.

Assuming we all know that the zodiac is a circle and that circles have 360 degrees, there's really no giant mystery there. But Sabians?

First of all, what is a Sabian symbol? The Sabians are a series of 360 symbols provided by blind clairvoyant  Elsie Wheeler to astrologer Marc Edmund Jones back in 1925. Having heard of Elsie's ability to 'see symbols,' Jones traveled to her home in San Diego (California), bringing with him a deck of small index cards, each of which had a degree of the zodiac written in tiny light lettering on the back corner of the card.

Together, Ms. Wheeler and Mr. Jones go sit in a park. And once seated there, he takes out the cards and shuffles them well, after which he hands Ms. Wheeler one of the cards at random. She tells him what she 'sees' from the card and hands it back. He writes that down on the card just return, shuffles again and hands her another card.

 Marc Edmund Jones

What came of that session are the beautiful and highly metaphorical images called Sabian symbols. There are many books on the subject, the most basic of which is Marc Edmund Jones' The Sabian Symbols in Astrology released in 1953 and still in print today. Astrologers and students of symbolism have examined these symbols and found a unique progressions and patterns throughout the whole of the series.

They're truly remarkable and once you get used to working with them, rather wonderful. There is in them the light of Elsie's blindness and Jones' continuous shuffling of the deck: they are illuminating and confounding all at once.

Perhaps the most complicated if enlightening book on the subject I know of is a book called An Astrological Mandala: The cycle of transformation and its 360 symbolic phases by esteemed philosopher/astrologer Dane Rudhyar. But I'm warning you - read this book at  own risk! Not only can Rudhyar be as addictive as potato chips but reading his thoughts may alter your whole view on life!   

So anyway....those are the Sabian symbols. As for why 'Sabian,' the term is an implied reference to an ancient monotheistic sect who worship apparently focused on the seven planets known at the time (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn) as manifestations of angels.

Most of what we know about the Sabians comes to us through the Hebraic writings of Maimonides and Arabic writings of Wahshiyya; that the name is used for this particular set of symbols may well be because of the 'inspired' nature in which they were delivered to mankind. 

Title page to "Guide for the Perplexed" by Maimonides 

This question about zodiac versus Sabians came to me from a reader asking why, when back in July all the astrologers were yakking and chit-chatting about a solar eclipse at 19 Cancer, so many of them kept referring to a Sabian symbol for 20 Cancer?

Answer: Sabian symbols count actual degrees. In other words, the zodiac starts at zilch (zero) and goes from there. But when you count out Sabian symbols, you look at the zodiac and that very first degree - you know, 0 Aries? That's the first degree of the zodiac.

So in Sabian symbolism, 0 Aries is the first degree of Aries or Aries 1.

Thus, when you get to the zodiacal degree 19 Cancer and you're talking about a solar eclipse taking place in that degree, to look it up in a book of Sabian symbols you look for 19 + 1...or 20 Cancer.

For those who care about this sort of thing, this is also the way the ancient Maya used to count. Which is useful, since this Friday we're going to talk about the Mayan Tzolkin - that very famous and unique sacred 'Long Count' calendar which ends in 2012.

And now that we're all together on numbers Sabian and zodiac it will be all the more interesting to see what that examination of of the Mayan Tzolkin has to tell us.

King Chan Bahlum II of Palenque
(Catherwood rendering from Palenque temple doorway)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, and for the book recommendations for reading more. I was one of the lurkers wondering about the Sabian symbols but not asking out loud!