Abu Ma’shar: On the Revolutions of the Years of Nativities (Persian Nativities IV)

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Benjamin Dykes (trans., ed.): Persian Nativities IV: Abu Ma’shar: On the Revolutions of the Years of Nativities, The Complete Arabic Edition, Cazimi Press, 2019, ISBN 978-1934586495

Having made successful use of profections, solar revolutions, primary directions, and transits in my natal predictive work for many years now, I was eagerly anticipating the publication of Dr. Dykes’ complete translation of Abu Ma’shar’s Arabic edition of On the Revolutions of the Years of Nativities. Up to now we had to make do with a much slimmer volume drawn from the Latin text, with the title On Solar Revolutions. This was published as volume III in the Persian Nativities series (PN3), which was, of course, also very much appreciated at the time. This partial translation served me well over the years, but now that Persian Nativities IV (PN4) has been published it has immediately superseded its predecessor, PN3. In the introduction of the new volume, Dr. Dykes explains, that:

“In PN4 the student will find not only neater and clearer explanations than in PN3, but the restored portions contain numerous delineations of planets in the places, how to interpret the activation of a natal planet versus a revolutionary planet, how to handle intercepted signs and signs with multiple cusps, the “lord of the orb”, better timing of events, copious comments and advice on longevity techniques, and extremely detailed instructions about monthly revolutions and smaller units of time.” (p1).

He concludes that:

“There is probably no other book on the central techniques which is as all-encompassing […]” (p1)

The new, fuller translation is a handsome volume, comprising over 700 pages. Dr. Dykes’ thorough introduction runs over more than 140 pages, and there are also 141 explanatory charts, diagrams and tables included throughout the text! The student, as well as the seasoned practitioner, will find the Introduction invaluable. Here the author thoroughly explains Abu Ma’shar’s use of the different techniques in modern terms, making it easy to understand the basic principles. I also found it invaluable that Dr. Dykes has included his own reading lists and tables of information, which make it easy to quickly find essential information regarding a chosen technique or topic, throughout the book.

In the following, I will discuss a few of the highlights I have discovered so far. The first technique explained in the Introduction is profections. I am a great fan of annual profections and find them to be accurate and reliable, but some unsolved problems, particularly concerning the choice of the lord of the year, remained. Dr. Dykes argues that the profections are sign based, which can cause problems when applied to charts using an angular house system. This is the reason why the choice of the lord of the year seems problematic, particularly if sign and mundane house cusp differ or if there are two cusps in one sign. According to Dr. Dykes:

“[…] it is probably inevitable that someone using divisions would eventually just start ignoring the signs. This is what happened in the Latin and early modern West: signs dropped away and only houses by division were used for profections.” (p54).

In the Introduction, Dr. Dykes provides some solutions, which are very helpful for everyday practice. But back to Abu Ma’shar and the next technique he uses, which is Distribution through the Bounds. This really is, as Dr. Dykes states, the full version of primary directions. Here a point or planet, called the ‘releaser’ moves forward in the zodiac through the bounds, over other planets or their rays. This is a very interesting technique and to our great relief the editor has provided an appendix, showing how to calculate the distributions of the Ascendant and the MC. The appendix also explains how to configure Janus 5 or Morinus, to come up with the correct calculations. I did a trial run with Janus 5 and can report that their newly added Distribution function works very well, also perfectly complementing Janus’ long established Primary Directions function without any discrepancies.

In my annual prediction reports, I am mainly focussing on profections, time lords and primary directions, but I also include solar revolutions and transits, all of which are covered in Abu Ma’shar’s book. I have always been of the impression that profections have a greater impact on the native than, for example, transits. Dr. Dykes confirms this and he also reiterates the fact that “the principle of reinforcement and repetition” (p47) is something that has always to be taken into consideration. In other words, one can postulate that indicators or triggers found in transits also need to show up in directions, revolutions or profections to suggest a higher level of impact on the native throughout the year (or month) in question. This brings me to another, exciting part of PN4, which is dealing with monthly revolutions and monthly profections. So far I have only used monthly profections in a few tricky cases and therefore haven’t got a lot of experience with them. One of the reasons for this omission was the fact that this portion had been missing in the Latin translation (PN3). To my great delight monthly revolutions and profections have now been added. Acknowledging that it is a difficult topic, Dr. Dykes has kindly provided many tables and diagrams to help the reader to make the most of this tricky subject.

There is also a highly interesting chapter on transits. Here we are made aware how transits were originally treated, as compared to the modern way most of us are familiar with. Again, Dr Dykes highlights the importance of the relationship between aspects and the natal chart, just as discussed in the chapter on Profections. As mentioned before, he writes that:

“Transits trigger or affect a configuration or situation in a previous chart” and “Transits to and by time lords are more significant. (p110)

Another most fascinating topic is the use of fardars. Due to some personal considerations, one of which is the rather archaic language of the predictions, I have rarely included fardars in my natal predictions. I always had a look at them though, comparing its predictions to my own findings based on the techniques mentioned above. The results were encouraging and informative at times, but not reliable enough to include them in my set of trusted techniques. As far as I understand, Abu Ma’shar had his own thoughts on fardars, and even made some delineations up himself, which  I find highly interesting. In the light of this new information, I am planning to work more with this time lord technique.

There would be much, much more to say about Dr. Dykes’ new translation, but I will limit myself, only mentioning that a generous, very helpful, glossary has been added to this edition. I am certain that this “Traditional Sourcebook for Natal Predictive Techniques”, as the translator calls it on the back-cover blurb, will be in constant use in my daily practise. For this reason, I wished that a hardback edition would have been available. To sum up this review, I can only urge any practitioner of traditional natal astrology, be that student or professional, to buy a copy of this invaluable work.