The Goodness or Badness of a Planet

“And all that’s left is a quarter moon of light”–Sting, After the Rain Has Fallen

In Sumeria and later on in Babylonia, the ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of a planet was determined by its luminosity, so that a very bright planet, or a planet appearing to be full, was considered to be behaving itself, and a dulled, darkened or obscured planet was thought to be up to no good.

This belief followed the tradition of observational astrology, which assigned meaning to omens, such as the luminosity or intensity of the colors of the moon.

A moon of import and meaning

The Sumerian city of Nippur became renowned for its predictive accuracy by noting the varying hues or colors the moon would take on, its brightness or dimness, and the direction of its ‘horns,’ what we call the moon’s nodes. Ultimately, after 2,000 years of observational analysis, Babylonian accuracy regarding the moon and its phases was so influential that it formed the basis for the religious calendars of the Assyrians, Aramaeans, Jews, and Phoenicians.

However, certain planets were more or less malefic depending on when they appeared and how they looked. Originally, Venus had two faces: as the morning star, she was female and beautiful, but in evening garb, Venus became male and warlike. Jupiter was most often (but not always) good, and it was “lucky” for “Mars to be dim, unlucky for him to be bright” (The Origin of the Zodiac, Rupert Gleadow, 157). Omens were taken from the movement, color and station of the planets, from mists and clouds and shooting stars, and from haloes around the moon.

An ominous moon

A tablet that tells us the omens the Babylonians noted includes the following observations: “At the beginning of the night of the 8th the moon was one ell before the star at the hind foot of the Lion. On the 9th the sun in the west was surrounded by a halo. On the 12th Jupiter arose at dusk. On the 14th the god was visible with the god [the sun and full moon were visible simultaneously]. 16 minutes passed between sunrise and moonset the next day…” and so on (Gleadow, 155).

The Babylonians attempted to make order out of these messages, and the court diviner’s role was to inscribe this information so that he could prepare a report to the king. From there, the king was expected to act on the omens the diviner noted, and the tone of these reports implied that the king (and queen) relied on these reports just as a CEO of a corporation would ask for a status update from his or her COO today.