On the Nine Spheres of Heaven

The transmission of Arab and Persian astrology took place from as early as the middle of the 12th century. John of Seville, to name only one of the early scholars dedicated to support the survival of original source material, translated the works of famous astrologers like Alkindi, Albumasar, Messahala or Thebit ibn Qurra straight from the Arabic into Latin. Nevertheless it should take until the 16th century before the first astrological works were printed and published in the vernacular. Stöffler and Pflaum published their Almanach Teutsch in 1510 and Regiomontanus published his Kalendarius Teutsch Maister Joannis Küngspergers in 1512.

But these were only almanacs and calendars, including prognostications for the coming year. It took another 40 years before one of the earliest astrological textbooks in German, Astronomia Teutsch Astronomei, was printed. The book was published in Frankfurt am Main in 1545 by Enriaco Jakob zu Bath.

Although the name of the author is unknown, he tells us about the source material used to produce this volume.

“and although/about this astronomy/some books have appeared in print before/but nearly none (according to my humble opinion) has led so far and explained so much in German/than this which my very good friend/Hans Orth von Bacharach/lover of astronomy/in a very old handwritten book/for the good of all Germans/has sent me [presumably Enriaco Jakob, the printer and publisher of this work]/wherein you will find much/about comets/and other things which have never been printed in German before […]”

One part of the book gives a detailed description of the “36 heavenly images or pictures in heaven”. These are to be found in the eighth sphere of heaven. The theory of the celestial spheres can be traced as far back as to the theories of Anaximander and Plato. Later on Ptolemy refined the theory of the spheres and in the Middle Ages Christian and Muslim philosophers modified the system to include an outermost region, the empyrean, or dwelling place of God. The idea of the celestial spheres continued to have a great influence on the imagination of may scholars and famous authors like Chaucer or Dante.

In the following I provide  a partial translation of the chapter On the Nine Spheres of Heaven, from Astronomia Teutsch Astronomei, 1545:

On the Nine Spheres of Heaven

Above the firmament is the ninth heaven or sphere/in the same heaven are God and God’s angels/and all souls who are just/This ninth heaven is called Empirium/that is the fiery heaven/because it is a secret place of mighty power/and it is hidden from the people on earth/[it is] the throne upon which deity is sitting/a heaven of the uppermost trinity called Thronus/or the highest chair/he is a true Emperor/and a King of all kings/and a Master of all rulers/and in this ninth heaven there is no star and no planet/because this heaven is adorned with the highest Light of the brightness of God/and it is adorned in a way/that nobody may talk or write about it.

The eighth sphere is called the firmament of heaven/and therein are all the stars according to their order/and the stars are equal to the twelve signs of heaven/and it is said about these same stars that they are in the order of the xxxvi pictures in heaven/which is called firmament/and this is turned around more mightily than all the other wheels of movement/and out of this fast rotation comes such mighty heat/that the stars and the air have too much heat in them caused by the heat and warmth/and therefore has God/who is the highest artificer above it/put another heaven/which is called crystal heaven/and this heaven has the shape and form of pure water/and frozen ice/stronger than a crystal/and the cold of this crystal heaven withstands the warmth of the fiery heat/[and] a wheel is turning there/and God has set the firmament amidst the waters/and separates the waters from the waters/and it should not be understood that the crystal heaven is a heaven in itself/otherwise there would be ten spheres/but there are only nine. […]

The full translation of this chapter can be found in my published work A German Stargazer’s Book of Astrology. Find out more, HERE

[See as well the related web log entry Athanasius Kircher on the Celestial Spheres]

12 thoughts on “On the Nine Spheres of Heaven

  1. Pingback: On the Nine Spheres of Heaven by Peter Stockinger » AstroDispatch.com » Astrology Around The Web

  2. Hi Peter, this is really interesting to me, because of my recent study of the Picatrix… The 36 heavenly images or pictures in heaven would be the Decan images, of course. But, the fascinating part is this quote: “these are to be found in the 8th sphere of heaven”. Which would mean that the Faces are Sidereal. Especially if the theory of the celestial spheres can be traced to Anaximander and Plato – way before Ptolemy came up with the Tropical Zodiac. So, I’ve been debating this with people – they say that the Tropical Signs are the 9th sphere, the Constellations – the 8th. But, on this picture, we see just the opposite – the Tropical Signs are *under* the Constellations (Aries in the inner circle begins somewhere in the middle of Pisces in the outer circle). Well, I hope we’ll get to the bottom of this some day. Very interesting, thank you for this article! 🙂

    • Thanks Gigi, but it’s not that easy, unfortunately. First of all I have to point out that the author doesn’t talk about the 36 images of the Decans but continues to list 36 major constellations and their most important stars.

      My reading of the above text is that the 9th sphere cannot be seen in the graphic, and the reason for this seems to be that it has “no star and no planet in it” and it is also “a secret place”.

      It seems to me that the illustrator made three circles out of the 8th sphere, just to be able to fit the signs of the zodiac, the constellations and the fixed stars into the space available.

      Also, there seems to be confusion about the exact location of the signs of the zodiac, because another passage in the book reads thus:

      “The firmament of heaven is a sphere or circle / wherein the stars are. Below this circle there is another circle / called zodiacus / in this zodiac there are the twelve heavenly signs ….”

      The heavenly signs they are referring to are of course the 12 constellations that have been used as the signs of the zodiac (i.e. Ram/Aries, Bull/Taurus, etc).

      As for your idea that the Decans are sidereal, it depends on the time frame you are using. Before Ptolemy, the Decans were intrinsically connected with the constellations, but in his Almagest, Ptolemy decided that they would be connected with the thirty-six 10 degree segments of the ecliptic (Dekamoiria).

      • Hi Peter, yes – that’s exactly what I was referring to… The quote you gave – “The firmament of heaven is a sphere or circle / wherein the stars are. Below this circle there is another circle / called zodiacus / in this zodiac there are the twelve heavenly signs ….”
        So, the firmament where the stars are are the Constellations (i.e. unequal division, Fixed Stars, whether 12 or 36, whatever). Then he says “BELOW this circle are the Signs”.(i.e. equal division, Signs).
        Meaning: the Constellations are of a higher order than the Signs. The Sign of Aries is *below* the Constellation of Aries. Ptolemy, in order to push his Tropical Zodiac, replaced the 9th Sphere of Angels with his Tropical Signs, and put the Constellations *below* the signs. And that’s what I find a bit fishy… especially because this view of the world was there waaay before him… He reminds me a bit of that German guy who at one point in history wrote a book that Pluto rules Scorpio. Well – look what he did… Now 90% of astrologers are parroting that one guy… I mean, a little group of German astrologers met and *voted* on the rulership of Scorpio. And this is the consequence of that… the banishment of Mars.
        That’s the reason why I want to go ‘to the roots’, to get to the bottom of this… And that’s why I am so happy about this article, and this picture.
        But, thank you so much for your kind answer, I don’t want to bother you with this… it’s just that this is something I’ve been wrestling with the last few months, so I keep coming back to this article… 🙂

  3. Right, but if you read on, in the original quote it says as well “… /and the stars are EQUAL to the twelve signs of heaven”, whereas in the quote I gave in my reply, they say ” BELOW this circle [where the stars are] there is another circle / called zodiacus / in this zodiac there are the twelve heavenly signs ….”

    • Well – there you go… That’s exactly my point. If the stars are EQUAL to the 12 signs of heaven, then they are not BELOW them (as Ptolemy asserts: stars 8th, tropical signs 9th). And, the Signs of Heaven that are equal to the stars can only be the Sidereal Signs anyway, because the Tropical Zodiac is based on the season, on a sky without stars…
      Lots of contradictions, indeed… It’s just that, the more I study, the more I doubt that funny little man (Ptolemy), and the less I like him.
      Thank you!!! 🙂

  4. Article and comments very interesting. The 9th heaven is, in my opinion, one of the secrets of astrology. Some call it “primi mobilis” because it is he who is the watchmaker and who turns the wheel. Few astrologers today pay attention and yet …

    I wish you happy Christmas holidays

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