Horary astrologers learn about the Via Combusta or Burned Path as a place of detriment of the Moon. For example Dorotheus writes in Book V-5 on electional astrology and The Corruption of the Moon: “… a commencement is not to be made in an action or anything when you find this, until the condition of the Moon and its Lord is ameliorated.” He then goes on to give several conditions which corrupt the Moon including:
“If the Moon in its motion is in the path which the learned call “the burned path” (the burned path is the middle of the equator, which is Libra and Scorpio) and if the Moon is in the last degrees of a sign, then it is according to this in the term of Saturn or Mars, and none of the terms which are at the end of the signs are harder than the terms of these two” (Pingree translation).
Abraham Ibn Ezra, writing about Electional Astrology, says: “Be careful not to place the Moon from 9 degrees of Libra to its end… in the burnt path (which is the end of Libra and the beginning of Scorpio) and this is the worst that there is of the impediments of the Moon.”
Modern astrologers have speculated that the malefic nature of this “burnt” Libra-Scorpio region derives from the presence of malefic fix stars here in Babylonian antiquity, where the designation “burned path” originated long before the Hellenistic era.
Al Biruni regarded this region as unfortunate because Libra is the fall of the Sun (which is exalted in Aries) and Scorpio is the fall of the Moon (which is exalted in Taurus) — the Sun and the Moon being the two principal Lights in the sky.
In the early Christian tradition there is a reference to a “path” or “river” passing across the zodiac belt from the constellations Taurus/Gemini to the constellations Sagittarius/Scorpio, which is quite analogous to the path traced by the Via Combusta. In the Book of Revelation, one can find :
- “22 And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.”
- 2 “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (King James Bible)
This passage appears to be a reference to the Milky Way which comes down from heaven and crosses the zodiac belt from Taurus across to Scorpio, dividing the zodiac into two semi-circles of six constellation each — the tree of life with its 12 fruits, one for each month of the year.
In a fascinating study of the import of the the Milky Way in ancient philosophy, Lynda Harris notes that in many ancient cultures the Milky Way was views as a vertical axis or tree and a path leading to the heavens. She further notes that Aristotle, writing the the 4th century BCE, did not regard the Milky Way as containing the flow of a milk-like substance but rather that “the Milky Way was ‘a low and steady burning of dry exhalation’, located below the sphere of the moon.” In other words, the route traced by the Milky Way through the zodiac belt was, in Aristotle’s view, a burned path formed by the steady burning of dry exhalation.
Other philosophers of the ancient Greek period, influenced by apparent the circular path of the planets around the Earth began to view the Milky Way as a circle rather than as a vertical axis, as it was originally conceived. Lynda Harris traces the evolution of these ideas as follows:
“But whatever its shape, the cloudy, white colour of the Milky Way (or Milky Circle, as it came to be called in the Greco-Roman world) needed to be accounted for. Many ancient mythologies had associated it with the milk of the goddess identified with the great tree. The mythological connection with the milk (‘gala’) of a great goddess continued among many Greeks, accounting for the Milky Way’s other name, ‘Galaxy’. Another view, especially common in the later Greco-Roman world, pictured it as containing ashes. These marked a scorched path which had been burnt into the sky by a falling star, or the path of the sun.” (italics mine)
In summary, it may be that the so-called “burned path” or Via Combusta of ancient astrology was to the Babylonians the path of the Milky Way as it traversed the circle of zodiacal constellations. With the adoption of the tropical zodiac and its use of zodiac signs, the dimensions given to the Via Combusta by the Hellenistic astrologers may well have corresponded to the original dimensions used by the Babylonians to the traversing of the zodiac circle by the Milky River, corrected for precession from Babylonian times.
The next image from the site www.astronomy.com shows the Milky Way passing through the constellations Scorpio and Sagittarius, as it might have appeared to the ancient Babylonian astrologers. Taking precession into account, could this intersection of the Mikly Way and the zodiac constellations be the origin of the “burned way” of of the tropical zodiac in Hellenistic astrology?