Turn the Pages of a Rare Book on Mongolian Astrology from the NLM Collections
The National Library of Medicine announces the release of a new Turning the Pages virtual book on its Web site, via iPad App, and in kiosks onsite at the NLM. The new project features selections from a colorfully illustrated 19th-century manuscript from Mongolia on astrology and divination following Mongolian and Tibetan Buddhist traditions.
Astrology is one of the oldest branches of knowledge, and it served for many years as a core to the belief systems of the people of Mongolia. This anonymous and untitled manuscript from the 19th century contains dozens of charts used by Mongolian astrologers, who were generally Buddhist monks. They used these charts to calculate calendars with auspicious days for various activities and forecast seasonal climate, eclipses, and other events based on the positions of planets, the Sun, the Moon, and the constellations. The book is hand-copied and crafted with remarkable illustrations, each of which was created by the hand of an artist who was likely a monk familiar with the artistic symbols of Buddhism. To this day, every year, Tibetan and Mongolian astrologers publish annual astrological year books or almanacs, which also contain picture-amulets, not hand-drawn, but simplified and printed.
This Turning the Pages project includes a selection of 15 images from the over 40 pages in the Mongolian Book of Astrology and Divination, along with a curator’s descriptive text, putting many divine figures and astronomical charts into context for a modern Western audience. For instance, many of the astrological factors calculable among the charts corresponded to different organs of the body or life events such as birth, old age, illness, and death. The ultimate goal was keeping one’s life in balance with the cosmos, using the calculations in this manuscript to choose an auspicious time to begin a new project, conceive a child, receive a treatment, or even remove the corpse of a loved one from one’s home.
Launched at the NLM in 2001, Turning the Pages represents an ongoing collaboration between research engineers at the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications and curators and historians at the NLM's History of Medicine Division, to help make the NLM's rare and unique history of medicine collections widely available to the public. To date, Turning the Pages has offed the public access to a wide range of early printed books and manuscripts that span centuries, cover topics from surgery and anatomy to botany and horse veterinary medicine, and originate from places as diverse as Iran, Japan, Egypt, Italy, and now Mongolia.
The NLM’s copy of Mongolian Book of Astrology and Divination is just one item from its Buddhist Mongolian and Tibetan materials relating to health and disease. The Library holds one of the world's largest collections of early books relating to East Asian health and medicine.
Individuals and groups with an interest in the history of medicine generally, or East Asian medicine in particular, are warmly welcome to visit the NLM's History of Medicine Division of the Library to view or use these materials.
For more information, or to schedule a visit to NLM's History of Medicine Division, please call 301.402.8878.
From left to right: chart for the movements of Saturn, Garuda as symbol of power and force, and chart to predict the solar eclipse, Rahu.
Charts for stellar constellations and Naga (or serpentine) energies.
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