Do you ever wish you could distinguish the truth from lies in a horoscope? An astrologer does just that using an event horoscope. A story was told to the famed astrologer, Abu Ma’shar, about another skilled astrologer at Baghdad’s royal court who unmasked a purported miracle worker as a charlatan. A self-styled magus had told King Ma’mun [the son of Harun al-Rashid featured in One Thousand and One Nights] that he could work wonders. The king asked his astrologers to cast a horoscope on the spot to determine whether the miracle worker was telling the truth.

The horoscope had the Sun and Moon conjoining the Ascendant to the minute, with the Lot of Fortune and the Pars Futurorum conjoining the Ascendant [as we would expect]. The rising sign was Capricorn and Jupiter trined the Ascendant from Virgo, while Venus and Mercury were placed in Scorpio. On the basis of this testimony, the astrologers judged that the man was to be believed. But one astrologer remained silent, and the king, noticing this, asked him to voice his thoughts. The astrologer said that the horoscope showed the man practiced the arts of Venus and Mercury, by which miracles are alleged, but are not real. According to him, the truth [“true problems”] belonged to Jupiter, but because here Jupiter aspected the Ascendant, it meant the opposite.

The miracle worker showed the king a ring that he had, carved with two images, that was fashioned so that if another person wore it, he would keep laughing against his will, and would not stop until he removed the ring from his hand. He also had a pen that would cause another’s hand to be paralyzed if he tried to use the pen. He admitted that he had learned these tricks from “stichomantic books.” The dissenting astrologer said that the ring trick was Venusian and the pen was Mercurial, but these were mere deceptions, upon which the man gave up and admitted to not being a prophet.

Upon hearing the story, Abu Ma’shar agreed the horoscope proved the magus was in fact a liar, because the Ascendant was a tropical [cardinal sign, implying instability and untruth in the context of discernment of truth], with Jupiter in Virgo, a contrary sign [Jupiter’s detriment], and under the rays of the Moon [the planet of constant change and corruption]. Abu Ma’shar also noted that Venus and Mercury were placed in Scorpio, the sign of falsehood.

This story is in Lynn Thorndike’s 1954 translation of a manuscript, Albumasar in Sadan, a collection of anecdotes about the famed astrologer Abu M’ashar of Baghdad, likely compiled by Abu Ma’shar’s students and admirers. The story teaches a few handy tips for identifying lies in a horoscope for an event or horary.  However, it also leads to the concern that during the reign of King Ma’mun (r. 813-833), and in fact, during Abu Ma’shar’s entire lifetime, there was never a new Moon in Capricorn accompanied by Venus in Scorpio while Jupiter was in Virgo. Mercury could never be in Scorpio while the Sun was in Capricorn, as their maximum elongation is 28 degrees. For a story that is about the discernment of lies in a horoscope, the tale itself has problems, though the astrological analysis is sound. Perhaps it’s a didactic anecdote that illustrates a teaching of Abu Ma’shar without implicating him directly.