A lunar mansion is a segment of the ecliptic (often called a station, or house) through which the moon moves in its orbit around the earth, often used by ancient cultures as part of their calendar system. In general, though not always, the zodiac is divided into 27 or 28 segments relative to fixed stars - one for each day of the lunar month, which is 27.3 days long - and the position of the moon is charted with respect to those fixed segments. Since the position of the moon at given stage will vary according to the position of the earth in its own orbit, the mansions of the moon are an effective system for keeping track of the passage of seasons.
Various cultures have used sets of lunar mansions astrologically, for example the Jyotiṣa astrological Nakshatras of Hindu culture, the Arabic manzils (manazil al-qamar) the twenty-eight mansions of Chinese astronomy, and the 36 decans of Egyptian astronomy. Often mansions are grouped together: in western astrology each zodiac sign covers 2-3 mansions, while the Chinese system groups mansions into four groups related to the seasons.
The concept of the lunar mansions are considered to be Babylonian in origin. Jim Tester, in his History of Western Astrology explains that they appear in Hellenistic astrology as the second century list of fixed stars of Maximus of Tyre, the Arabic lists of Alchandri and Haly Abenragel, a similar Coptic list with Greek names, and that though they were known in Vedic India, all lists "seem to betray" transmission through Greek sources. Though pointing out that the Babylonians had well established lunar groupings by the sixth century B.C., he also notes "the twenty-eight mansion scheme was derived via Egyptian magic by the linking of the lists of lucky and unlucky days of the lunar month with the hemerologies and with the zodiac".
The 28 Lunar Mansions (Chinese: 二十八宿, Èrshí-Bā Xiù) are the Chinese and East Asian form of the lunar mansions. They can be considered as the equivalent to the Western zodiac, although the 28 Mansions reflect the movement of the Moon through a sidereal month rather than the Sun in a solar year. In their final form, they embodied the astral forms of the Four Symbols: two real and two legendary animals important in traditional Chinese culture such as fengshui.
The Nakshatras or Nákṣatras (lit. "stars") are the Indian form of the lunar mansions. They usually number 27 but sometimes 28 and their names are related to the most prominent constellations in each sector. They start from a point on the ecliptic precisely opposite the star Spica (Sanskrit: Chitrā) and develop eastwards. In classical Hindu mythology, the creation of the nakshatras is attributed to Daksha. They were wives of Chandra, the moon god. The nakshatras of traditional bhartiya astronomy are based on a list of 28 asterisms found in the Atharvaveda (AVŚ 19.7) and also in the Shatapatha Brahmana. The first astronomical text that lists them is the Vedanga Jyotisha. The mansions are important parts of Indian astrology.
In the traditional Arabic astrological system, the moon was seen to move through 28 distinct manazil (singular: manzil = house) during the normal solar year, each manzil lasting, therefore, for about 13 days. One or more manazil were then grouped into a nawaa (pluaral anwaa) which were tied to a given weather pattern. In other words, the yearly pattern was divided in the following manner: A year was divided into anwaa, each of which was made up of one more manazil, which were associated with a dominant star or constellation. These stars and constellations were sometimes, but not always, connected in some way to constellations in the Zodiac. Moreover, as the anwaa' repeat on a regular, solar cycle, they can be correlated to fixed points on the Gregorian calendar.
The following table is a breakdown of the anwaa and their position on the Gregorian calendar.
|Manzil||Associated Nawaa||Significant Stars/Constellations||Zodiac Constellations||Begins on|
|Sheratan||Al Thuraya||Sheratan in Aries||--||17 May|
|Pleione||Al Thuraya||Pleione in the Pleiades||--||31 May|
|Albatain||Al Thuraya||Albatain in the Pleiades||--||13 June|
|Al Tuwaibe'||Al Tuwaibe'||Aldebaran||--||26 June|
|Heka||Al Jawzaa/Gemini||Heka in Orion||Gemini||9 July|
|Alhena||Al Jawzaa/Gemini||Alhena in Gemini||Gemini||22 July|
|Murzim||Murzim||Canis Major||--||4 August|
|An Nathra||Kulaibain||An Nathra||--||17 August|
|Alterf||Suhail||Alterf in Leo||Leo||30 August|
|Auva||Al Wasm||Auva||Virgo||21 October|
|Simak||Al Wasm||Spica||--||3 November|
|Syrma||Al Wasm||--||16 November|
|Az Zubana||Al Wasm||Acuben||Cancer||29 November|
|Akleel "The Crown"||Murabaania||Corona Borealis||--||12 December|
|Qalb al Akraab||Murabaania||Antares||Scorpio||25 December|
|Al Naam||Ash Shabt||Ascella and Nunki||Sagittarius||16 January|
|Al Baldaah||Ash Shabt||29 January|
|Saad Al Thabib||The Three Saads||Saad Al Thabih||--||11 February|
|Saad Balaa||The Three Saads||Saad Balaa||--||26 February|
|Saad Al Saud||The Three Saads||Saadalsud||Aquarius||11 March|
|Saad Al Akhbia||Hameemain||Sadachbia||--||24 March|
|Al Muakhar||Al Tharaeen||Pollux||Gemini and Aquarius (in the Arab system)||19 April|
|Alrescha||Al Tharaeen||Alrescha||Gemini and Aquarius (in the Arab system)||2 May|
The dates above are approximate; notice that there are 2 days missing from a solar year in the table above.
- S. Weinstock, 'Lunar Mansions and Early Calendars', Journal of Hellenic Studies, LXIX (1949); cf. also CCAG IX.1 138ff; Philip Yampolsky, 'The origin of the Twenty-eight Lunar Mansions', Osiris, IX (1950), pp.62-83; I.E. Svenberg, 'Lunaria et Zodiologia Latina', Studia Graeca et Latina Gothoburgensia (Goteburg, 1963).
- Jim Tester, A History of Western Astrology, Boydell and Brewer, 1987, p.82.
- Hassan, Izzat (2006). Al Azmana wa al Anwaa. Morocco: Awqaf and Islamic Affairs Printing Press. ISBN 9954-0-5074-4.