Origin of chess and its cosmological roots - Chess and Astrology (06 feb 06)
Chess –who does not know the royal game. But who knows the astrological roots of this ancient strategy game which ground deeply in astrological archetypes?
The historical origins are not clear - some historians see India as the place of origin of this world-wide known game though others think that it originated from China.
The chess game was always seen as a strategy and war game. The different pieces of chess symbolize the different types of weapons in an army. Two armies combat against each other – the white and the black pieces stand on the battlefield against each other.
In the famous Persian epos „Schahnameh“ (book of kings) the main work of the epic of the tadshish-persian literature Abu´l-Quasim Mansur Firdusi (932/43 - 1020/26) the following episode is told:
„The chess game is an image of war“, says an Indian messenger at the reception of the Persian King Nuschirwan (529 bis 577). With this words he makes a gift of a valuable chess game to the King and he asks that this game is presented to the wisest man in the Persian kingdom. If the wise man can find out how the game works and what the rules for this game are then there is no wiser man on earth. The Indian King Dewsarm would be willing to pay any asked tribute to the Persian King because wisdom stands higher than any other virtue in mankind. But if the wise man of Persia should not succeed the Persian King should be paying the tribute to the Indian King.
The conditions were accepted. King Nuschirwan asked for seven days to think.
First the King and the wise men were trying to get behind the secret in vain. The Wezir of the King eventually found the solution to the riddle. Beaming he presented the placing of the pieces on the board to his King and said: It is the same like on the battlefield.“
As the day came the Indian messsengers went before the Persian King. First the conditions were repeated and the the wise Wezir sat before the chess boards. The horrified Indian messengers saw that he put the piece of the Kind in the middle of the chess board, next to it the Wezir who accompanies and advises the King in the battlefield. Both were sided by the war elephants who were followed by the knights. At the corners he placed the rooks.
„How could he possibly know that?“, shouted the Indian messenger. „Never did he see a chess board or spoke to an Indian wise man!“1
One of the origin forms of chess - the Indian Caturanga - was played with King or Commander of the army and with the pieces of elephant knight, chariot and the usual soldiers by foot. Originally this game was not a strategy game but was played with dices and could be played with four players against each other. But already this four basic types of pieces show that the chess game had definitely astrological archetypes. The four types of weapons can also be associated with the four elements or the four quarters of a horoscope - in the following manner:
If you include the fifth element the piece of the King there is an interesting parallel the four of five bases of the DNA2:
The chess game seems to ground especially on astrological principles. Sam Sloan writes about the origin of chess3, that the grandfather of modern chess seems to be the Chinese Xiang-Qi. Xiang-Qi means literally „Elephant game“ (Xiang = Elephant). Sloan writes: „Actually, many Chinese themselves believe that their name, "elephant game", for Chinese chess, points strongly to an Indian origin. However, other Chinese say that elephants existed in ancient China, but died out due to climatic changes and although the character "Shiang" in "Shiang-chi" means or meant elephant, it also meant other things previously, and when the meaning of that character changed, so did the name of the game. For example, when "Shiang" is combined with another Chinese character, it means a constellation of stars in the sky, and for that reason "Shiang-chi" is sometimes said to be an astrological game. Also, the elephant is one of the weakest pieces in almost all versions of chess. Since the elephant itself is a strong animal, this lends support to the Chinese assertion that this character meant something else in ancient history.“
In an medieval text the different pieces of chess were identified with planets in the following manner: 4:
„Rex est sol
You can get more insights into the (astro-)logical „structure“ of chess if you deal with the different variants of chess5. If one compares the different versions of chess and you trace back the roots of chess to its probable origin one could conclude that the Chinese Xiang-Qi is the predecessor of all chess types.
The pieces resemble the pieces of modern western chess quite strongly.
Rook/Chariot and knight are quite equal to the pieces of western chess though the knight must not jump over pieces. The elephant is allowed to move like the bishop but only two squares diagonally and must not cross the river. The mandarins are allowed to move one square diagonally and must not leave the palace (3 x 3 fields). The king must not leave the palace either and can move one square horizontally or vertically. The cannons move like rooks but take pieces by jumping over another piece and strike the piece behind. It is not a checkered board but 9 x 10 lines. On the crossings of the lines the pieces are placed.
If you take the effort and analyze the most used variants of chess nowadays e.g. the Indian Chaturanga, the Persian Shatranj, the Japanese Sho-Gu etc. you will realize that all of these games include puzzle pieces of an original chess which had grounded on an astrological basis of warfare. We look at the pieces of chess to recognize the archetypes behind that.
Other names for rook:
German: Turm, Rochen, Wagen, Streitwagen, Kriegswagen, Auto, Schiff, Riesentier, Elefant
English: Rook, Rock
Indian: Rukh (=Chariot), Ratha
Originally the rook was the chariot which is named rukh in Indian language. In the year 1527 the bishop of Albay, Vida, published a poem of a chess game between the Gods of Apollon and Mercury. The rooks were shown as a kind of cabin (tower) connected on the back of the elephants and so the European chess players also took this picture for the manufacturing of their pieces.
In almost all chess variants of the world the rook moves always horizontally and vertically as many squares as the player likes. This „fastness“ and straightforwardness of this piece lets one associate this piece with the chariot which is faster and more effective in its appearance than an usual soldier by foot (pawn). At the same time this symbol of the tower demonstrates firmness and power (knight´s tower) as a strong element of earth and which has a important role in chess. In modern warfare the rook can be connected to tanks which have also a strong power and firmness. More or less a tank is nothing else than an ancient chariot.
If you want to associate the rook as a symbol for a complete type of weapon it could also symbolize the marine since the rook is called „ship“ in the Russian language.
Suggested I-Ging Trigram: Earth.
Other names for Knight:
German: Springer, Rössel, Roß, Reiter, Pferd, Centaurus
The knight is already known in ancient chess types for its special kind of move: One square diagonally and one square horizontally oder vertically it moves. In mosts chess variants the knight is allowed to move that means it can jump over another piece.
The piece was always identified the cavallery of an army which is not too hard to guess if one sees the piece on chess boards. The possibility to jump comes from the ability of the horse to jump in a very literal sense. The kind of movement of the knight also reflects the kind of jump which leads up and down. But the radius of movement is limited on 2 squares.
This could be the airforce in modern times because planes
can jump or fly but have a limited range of action since they
need to get back to their starting place.
The Bishop, the Elephant
Other names for Bishop/Elephant:
German: Läufer, Botschafter, Fahnenträger, Priester, Alfil, Fil, Alfin, Elefant, Gaja
English: Bishop, Priest
French: Fou (=foul)
Italian: Alfiere (=the one who carries the flag), Sagittifer (=Archer)
The modern bishop has two different archetypes. One could differentiate between the modern Western bishop which can move as many squares as it wants and the ancient elephant who could move only exactly two squares diagonally but which could jump over a piece in between. The modern bishop cannot jump. One encounters both pieces only in modern large chess variants - the most old or common chess variants have either the one or the other piece.
In the original chess versions it was always the war elephant which was associated as type of branch of arms. In modern Western chess this piece was called Alfil, Fil or Alfin which seems to be similiar to the word Elephant. Since there were no war elephants in Europe this piece changed to a bishop or priest and the chess rule for its movement also changed.
The bishop as well as the elephant always moves diagonally so that there is a strong element of air in it. By the movement of the bishop there arises the letter of an X. X or the Gifu rune is a symbol of communication and exchange since the rune means „gift“ and underlines the air character of this piece. The association with the soldier who carries the flag with the bishop also strenghtens the character of communication and transition. Another name for it is „Sagittifer“ = Archer. One can assume that the Indian war elephants had a kind of tower connected to their back in which were archers who shot from the height. This element also indicates the principle of air.
Id you would like to transfer the ancient elephant and the modern bishop to branches of arms nowadays the elephant would symbolize the transport of troops, logistics, support. This correlates with the details of Chinese chess that the elephant is not allowed to cross the river or middle of the board into hostile lines.
The modern diagonally moving bishop without limit of squares correlates
to communication facilities,
radio and radar. But if you have the ancient archer in mind it could also
be the artillery. Here is the connection point between rook (tower) and
bishop. The ancient war elephant had a kind of cabin or tower on his back
in the same way as there exists a tower on tanks from which it shoots.
Tanks as well as artillery belong to the branch of infantery.
Other Names for Queen/Wezir:
German: Dame, Königin, Wesir, Fers, Firzan, Berater, General, Ratgeber (advisor)
Very similiar to the bishop/elephant there are also two archetypes which have melted into this piece: In original chessvariants there was only the advisor, general or wezir/firzan, which had only a very limited movement. This piece could move one square diagonally in any direction. In Chinese chess which could have been the most original form of chess the advisor or mandarin was even not allowed to leave the king palace at all. This palace was a field of 3 x 3 points which could have corresponded with the forbidden city. Astrologically this is a hint to the IC (Imum coeli) or 4th house, the „inner homeland“. This king palace corresponds to the heart of a state or an army in which the king or the leader of the army dwells. Similiar to the bishop there is also the principle of air but it is more concentrated and more thinking how it would actually fit to the advisor of the king. The advisor needs to transfer the most important advices and strategies to the king. He is no direct warrior but a „thinker“ and „man of mind“.
In modern warfare branches the piece of the Wezir ist the general staff or the leading level of the army.
The modern Queen which is missing in the ancient chess variants completely moves as many squares as she wants in diagonal, vertical or horizontal direction. This piece is a relatively late invention which arose in the 15th century. This invention was accepted with great enthusiasm in western chess. The success of this piece also indicated that an inner archetype was hit. The Queen is the strongest piece in chess.
In modern branches of arms this figure would symbolize the hero or the one man fighter, the special forces command, pioneers or marines. Maybe this piece was inspired by knighthood in Medieval times.
Suggested I-Ging Trigram: Wezir: Thunder, Queen: Heaven.
Other names for King:
German: König, Kaiser, Schah-in-Schah (König der Könige), Imperator
The rule for king movement is almost the same in each and every chess
variant - in most chess variants it is moving one square in horizontal,
vertical or diagonal direction. The king is the head of the state or
of the army and symbolizes the chancellor, president or the top
general. If the king as the heart of the army or state is captured
the opponent has won. To checkmate the king is the process of capturing
or putting the king to no power at all. It could also end in killing
Other names for Pawn:
German: Bauer (Farmer), English: Pawn
The pawn moves one or two squares and strikes diagonally one square. If you compare this piece with modern branches of arms it is the regular soldier in the regular troops who presents the majority in the army. In the same way the pawn outnumbers all other pieces on the board.
The promotion of the pawn to another piece or to a Queen would be the army promotion in real by special deeds. The special is given by the fact that the pawn managed to get to hostile basic line without being beaten.
Suggested I-Ging Trigram: Water.
General characteristics for the movement of the pieces
Air element: diagonal movements (Bishop, Elephant, Wezir, Queen, King, Pawn)
Fire/Earth element: Vertical and horizontal movements (Rook, Queen, King)
Fire element: Jumping, long movements (Knight, Elephant, Queen, Rook)
Water/Earth element: short movements (Pawn, Wezir, King)
Suggestion for an „original“ archetypical type of chess - „Chess/Aces“ oder „Chaces“
If one considers the shown archetypes which could correlate well with the 8 trigrams of Chinese cosmology it would be an idea to put up a kind of original chess in which these 8 principles or pieces find their place. I tried just to take historical pieces but to to integrate them fully back into the game.
The following suggestion is very plausible and has proved in several trials to be a brilliant chess variant. The variant was named Chess/Aces (German: Schach/As) because it includes astrological elements (ACeS = Astrological Chess exposes Strategy) and also it proved in playing this variant that strategical planning and development are most essential to this kind of chess variant. Furthermore it seems to be an Ace under the chess variants - so Chess/Ace or Chess/Aces.
This game was invented by Andreas Bunkahle in 2005 in Leipzig.
1 Rolf Voland: Schach – ernst und heiter, Verlag Trbüne Berlin, 1983, S.38
2 Vgl. Andreas Bunkahle: Medizin und Astrologie, S. 509 zu den Herleitungen und Zuordnungen der Basen zu den Elementen und Quadranten
4 Lasa: Zur Geschichte und Literatur des Schachspiels über Vetula von Fournival (1220)
Rules for Chess/Aces (TM) resp. Chaces (TM)
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