Ishtar & Aphrodite – Part I

It seems particularly apr to begin this article with a reference to Gustav Klimt’s “The Die Jungfrauen” (The Virgins) 1913  shown above because it celebrates the stages of a woman’s life and the intertwining rhythms and themes which I would like to explore in reference to the understanding of Venus.  This work isn’t to read as a single moment in time, but as depicting the evolution into womanhood. The curator at the Klimt Museum notes that there ” are six women in the painting (or one woman with four sides to her persona) and all of them seem to be intertwined. The lines are clear and the human themes of love, sexuality, and regeneration are obvious in the circular cyclical shape of the work. In painting The Virgins the different life stages are represented by the same woman. Dislocated body parts in outrageous poses move as if underwater. The empty shell of a woman’s dress at the bottom gives birth to a child (the next generation) via a cascading waterfall of colour.”

In order to understand the essence of a thing, it behooves us to discover and contemplate its origin. But Aphrodite is not a thing, she is an archetype used to inform us of the meaning of the planet Venus. For those wishing to avoid a psychological approach, Plato’s Forms will adequately explain the relationship. Not everyone will be happy when I suggest that the better an astrologer understands the essence of the signs and planets, the better astrologer he will be. . I would suggest that it isn’t enough to say that astrology is a symbolic language. It is that too, but one needs to know what the symbol points to in all its wealth of meaning.

There is a view among some so-called traditional astrologers that astrological delineation is a more or less a mechanical process. Any reference to myth or spirituality is seen as a betrayal of tradition. I think the reverse is true. The history and expression of astrology since earliest antiquity, and indeed even during the Paleolithic period, has always been imbued with a soul and I contend that it should be approached in this spirit.

Contemplating the origins of astrology fascinates me personally, but this is something that astrological thinkers have to do a great deal of. In order to know why there are twelve houses with specific significations, we need to go back to the beginnings of horoscopic astrology and indeed to that which preceded it.  The same is true of the signs.

Most constellations look nothing like what they are purported to represent, yet the record shows us that for the most part there was a surprising degree of agreement on what they were. Why is that? We also gain a great deal by studying the earliest interpretations of the planets and the cosmologies that inform them.  However, the understanding we have cannot be universal, unless we can truly understand the root essence of the meanings allocated to planets. Authentic astrology is rigorous and works on more than one dimension. As will become evident, with Venus the core meanings are in the Venus cycle and her associations with the feminine.

The Evening Star – Venus in the Pleiades star cluster April 3, 2012.© 2012 Alan Dyer

In the case of Venus, most modern and contemporary astrologers subscribe to the European understanding of the Roman Venus. She is absconded from Greek mythology to Rome. from Aphrodite to Venus. Not much else changes and she seems not just rather domesticated but separated from some of the most basic elements of the real feminine.  This is the Venus we see in the newspaper columns and in popular star sign books, where Venus is almost always spoken of romantic. But even serious modern astrologers have a very narrow view of Venus. Presumably, William Lilly only had access to Classical and Medieval sources.

Lilly wrote: “”[QUALITIES OF MEN & THEIR PROFESSIONS.] Musitions, Gamesters, Silk—men, Mercers, Linnen—Drapers, Painters, Jewellers, Players, Lapidaries, Embroiderers, Women-tailors, Wives, Mothers, Virgins, Choristers, Fidlers, Pipers, when joyned with Moon, Singers, Perfumers, Semi lers, Picture—drawers, Gravers, Upholdsters, Limners, Glovers, all such as fell those Commodities which adorn Women either, in Body (as Cloaths) or in Face, (as Complexion-waters.)”

The list contains musicians, indeed all the decorous arts, and among the Venusian professions we have wives, mothers, and virgins. The portrait is suitably one of harmony, peace, and beauty. There is absolutely no doubt that all this belong to Aphrodite, but it is missing key feminine qualities on a grand scale. This is a somewhat sanitized version of the feminine and I’m reminded of the old English nursery rhyme: “sugar and spice and all things nice – that’s what little girls are made from.”

The Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa is the sixty-third Tablet of the Astronomical omen series Enuma Anu Enlil. The tablet records the heliacal risings and settings of the planet Venus (Ninsianna) for a period of twenty-one years. (British Museum).

The original ‘Venus” was Innana or Lilith and was associated with the planet Venus and her phases. She was the Queen of the Night with a ferocious libido and her story passed down to us in the Babylonian sources is one of the earliest and most articulate representations of “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Hers is a chthonic force that has no truck with the rational. She is a Kali – dishing out death while giving birth. – a goddess of Creation, Destruction, and Power. Indeed, the two are so similar, that it’s quite plausible that they derived from the same source.

In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Innana travels to the underworld, dies and is resurrected. This is a reference to the Venus cycle. Her period of visibility, including her passage as morning and evening star, is very close to the traditional period of the gestation cycle of 260 days, associating her with creation and childbirth. She is not visible for about three months of the year (about 105 days) which would correspond to Innana’s ‘death’ or passage to the underworld.

When Innan rises (as does Venus) she is rising before the Sun, ready for war. During this phase, she is also known as Lucifer and Phosphorous. This fire turns to more sensual pursuits when she is the evening star, behind the Sun. Here we once again see the Garden of Hesperides. The Mayans also placed multiple significance on the Venus cycle, identifying it with the gestation cycle and the growing cycle of maize. I recommend an article by Erika Reiner and David Pingree that provides a great deal of detail on this matter.

There is an important distinction to be made regarding Innana and her ‘successors.’ Inanna is not a Semitic deity. This is of some importance because of the cultural milieu. The early Sumerians clearly had a goddess-based religion. It is in her and her closest forms that the feminine has the capacity for its fullest expression. The more Patriarchal cultures of Greece and Rome to some extent recreated Venus in their own image – or more precisely in the image of a domesticated feminine who could occasionally be quite naughty, but a not a woman who occasionally expressed herself as a raging volcano. This is why the cultural milieu is always relevant in deciphering these things. What is most striking is that the traits of the physical planetary Venus have been minimized. Classical or Hellenistic astrologers and those who followed did take the phases of Venus into account and this was true until at least the 18th Century. But Innana has been stripped of her chthonic and primal nature.

Kali_Devi 1770 Print Colored etching on paper,

The writer in the Encyclopaedia Britannica states: “Ishtar / Innan’s primary role in Sumer was that of fertility. However, she evolved into a far more complex character, with association with death and the underworld and all kinds of catastrophic disasters in short order. She was a goddess of contradictory connotations, of comfort and wrath. fire and fire-quenching, rejoicing and weeping, justice fair and enmity. As a goddess of Venus, delighting in physical pleasure,  she was the protectress of prostitutes and patroness of the alehouse. Part of her cult worship almost certainly involved temple prostitution.”

With the inception of Islam, there is a monumental shift in the meaning of Venus. Illustrations of the Islamic Venus, lack any real sensuality. She has the image of a beardless man and is mostly associated with music and dance, although she is considered the lesser benefic and Islam is said to be “under Venus,” in the same sense that Judaism in under Saturn.

Venus is the star in the Crescent of Islam. If we also consider Isis as an element of the Primordial Goddess, we can see how these Semitic, Mesopotamian. Egyptian and Roman manifestations of the goddess inform the culture as well as show how the feminine force was interpreted. Some cultures hold the goddess as a divine creator, while others perceive her in a more subservient role. No doubt this is a reflection of cultural views of women. Nevertheless, I would say one ignores or underestimates the power of the feminine at their peril. It is not an irony that an acceptance of these traits enhances the more traditional ones. It is easier to understand Venus as the evening star if you know where she has come from and where she will return.

To what extent anyone wishes to take this to heart is, of course, a personal matter.  Nevertheless, the full spectrum of Venusian power will be better appreciated by examination of the essence and roots of the archetype and the close relationship to the planet Venus, in all her phases.  I suspect it may also cause some to more closely examine the phases of Venus, which has been a core element in traditional astrology from the very beginning. Discussion of this subject can only provide a deeper understanding and illuminate both tradition and cultural bias.

Clearly, the main elements of this article require a later expansion – for example, the Venus phases themselves.. The Lunar cycle and the Venus cycle are intertwined and to a lesser extent, so are the phases of Mercury. is the c The intent of this article is to raise some of the main issues regarding the interpretations of Venus.

Father Christmas & The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

The Longest Night must pass before the waxing of the Light. A Blessed and Merry Yule to all my friends, family and associates. At the time of the Solstice, we have the image of the Centaur giving way to Capricorn with the Holly King, appropriately riding a Goat.

St. Nicholas magazine cover art by Canadian-born illustrator Norman Price, Christmas Number, December 1912

There are some variations on the theme of the Holly and the Oak Kings. First of all, they are two faces of the same life force, with strong natural, seasonal, agricultural and mythical significance. Form a traditional astrological point of view, the two signs of Saturn oppose both luminaries – Capricorn opposes the domicile of the Moon and Aquarius the domicile of the Sun. It is, after all, a dark time of year with the seeds of the waxing light.Beyond all other considerations, the celebrations taking place cross-culturally and around the world celebrate and exalt this seed of light.

The story of Pan and his contest with Apollo is an archetypal portrayal of Saturn vs the Sun. Pan is remembered for competing with his flute against Apollo’s lyre. Rhe contest was judged by Timolus to be inferior to Apollo’s lyre. Everyone present agreed with the judgment except for King Midas, who considered it unjust. For his insolence, Midas acquired, by the will of Apollo, the ears of an ass, which he tried, unsuccessfully, to conceal under a turban.

I’m also reminded of the passage by C.S. Lewis wherein Mr. and Mrs. Beaver tell the children that Narnia is under the spell of a malevolent despot. There is neither joy nor peace. Narnia has become a land where hope is little more than an act of folly and oppression is the order of the night,  Every day is as if it is “always winter but never Christmas.” Not long after, there is the sound of sleigh bells and it becomes apparent that the dark force is losing its strength.

Lewis is drawing from ancient sources and a theme that is ubiquitous. Christmas is, of course, a Christian festival, but The Oak King and the Holly King each rule for half the year. The evergreen holly and the sacred oak symbolically vanquish each other every six months, to rule for half the year. In reality, they are two sides of the same force. Indeed, the etymology of the word Holly in Latin means the holm-oak or evergreen oak (Quercus ilex).

These battles are usually considered to take place at the Solstices, but this seems to be the result of a misunderstanding regarding the nature of the seasons.

The battles take place at the Equinoxes – Samhain, and Beltane so that the Oak King is at his strongest during Midsummer or Litha, and the Holly King is dominant during Yule. In the Celtic tradition, Samhain is the end of Summer and the beginning of a new year. Beltane is a time of new life – a celebration of mating and regeneration. The association of Pan with Capricorn shouldn’t be missed. At his peak, the Holly King is very much like the Lord of Misrule, thriving as he does under two consecutive Saturnine signs.

Pan and Daphnis 4, the inventor of the bucolic poem. 7222: Gruppo marmoreo di Pan e Dafni. Collezione Farnese. Forse da un prototipo dello scultore rodio Eliodoro. National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

I think Lewis is also pointing to a parallel tradition in which a faun might be interpreted as a child of Pan. In the engraving above, Father Christmas or the Holly King has an unmistakably lecherous grin and he appears to be well- stocked up with wine. The goat is synonymous with lust and of course, Pan himself is half goat.  We have a mischievous  Father Christmas who could also be seen as the Lord of Misrule, found at the center of Saturnalia. The Holly Kings is also merry. The mythic elements are also decidedly chthonic and celebratory of nourishment found in barren places. Goats thrive in the most hostile environments due to their extraordinary sure-footedness and ability to find food even in the most remote places, including high elevations and extreme temperatures.

This 1835 drawing depicts “Father Christmas” being ferried by a goat.
Wikimedia Commons / University of St Andrews Library

It would be naive to interpret the Holly King as a Santa Claus, but the fact is they will forever be associated with most of the same themes that we associate with Christmas and Yule and the dozens of other festival occurring at the same time. Pan is the Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Syd Barret, a Capricorn, chose this title for Pink Floyd’s first studio lp. No doubt, he got the namer and the inspiration from ‘The Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame; illustrated by Nancy Barnhart and  Published 1913. The Piper goes back much further, however, and he was the subject of Pre-raphaelite artists.

Pan’s is a primal music and his nature is the origin of the word ‘panic.’ But authentic music is not merely cerebral. It evokes other states of consciousness – some sweet and some dark

The Season is a celebration of Peace and Good-Will as much as it is a recognition of our most primal nature and the transmutation required to embrace both. We are all the Piper at the Gates.

The Magi & The Star-Child

Depiction of Cyrus the Great by Jean Fouquet, 1470.Cyrus II le Grand et les Hébreux

Let me begin by stating clearly that I make no pretense to have finally solved the riddle of the Magi. I do hope that this short piece will contribute in a positive way to the ongoing study of the subject. In writing articles of this type, one needs to study the most recent scholarship as well as the ancient sources still extant.We may never know how much knowledge has been lost over the centuries, but we do know it was a great deal. These losses included the library of Alexandria and wholesale destruction of libraries during the Muslim invasions from North Africa, Persia and as far as India.

This continues from the two previous articles on the identity and nature of the Magi in particular relation to the Christmas story which combines Jewish and Persian elements. But first, it must be remembered that it is a story and it cannot be assumed that the narrator himself thought it to be an account of a temporal event. A story is not necessarily untrue, but it is a different kind of truth than the recalling of an historical event.

Further, our modern notion of historical accuracy is a fairly recent development. All cultures have maintained a mythological dimension to their own histories and it is often the case that the mythological tells us more about the society and its part in the greater cosmology than a historical “fact” might do.  The latter is also subject to selective memory and various interpretations, while the former is more or less deliberately symbolic in nature. A popular and condescending euphemism for this second type of writing is “pious fiction.” The modern world needs to recover the meaning of an epiphany if it expects to understand ancient texts as they were intended to be read.

I intend to take a circuitous approach to explain what I have come to understand about the story of the Magi, involving solid astrology, interpreting mythological traditions as well as cultural realities.

Mark Kidger, an astronomer, writes that if the object was as bright as is reported in the Protovangelium of James, it would have to be at least as bright as the Moon and would have been recorded all over the world. He asks: was the star really brilliant? Did these early accounts use artistic license? Which of the accounts, if any, was the “correct” one? Where we even supposed to take the story of the Star literally?  The Bible and the Apocryphal Gospels were never intended to be exact histories of the life of Jesus …. they are works written by the faithful for the faithful, and for those the writers hoped to convert.” (The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomer’s View p. 19).

The interconnectedness and relative familiarity with different cultures in the Middle East, Rome, Greece, Egypt, and Persia are well documented but often trivialized. One cultural advantage of empires is the massive and facilitated flow of ideas, including familiarity with other languages. The Jews had been subjugated by the Romans, Babylonians, and Persians. Since the conquest of Alexander, they lived in a Hellenized world and it made for a heady mix. What emerged was a high degree of syncretism. One example was the existence of the Pharisees, a corruption of Parsi. The Jews appear to have adopted the idea of an afterlife in the Pharisee tradition, where the Saducee school remained disinterested. The idea of an afterlife was shared by other cultures, but it would appear to be Zoroastrianism and the Persian influence that was primary

Certainly, the existence of the Magi was well known and their reputation was all but universally considered one of benevolence. Just as importantly, the Zoroastrian tradition had influenced the Greeks long before Plato, as well as Judaism. Jesus is considered by many scholars to be an Essene or at least influenced by them.  The theme of the sons of darkness and sons of light has no other obvious equivalence than Zoroastrianism. We don’t find this theme in Greek or Jewish thought. Neither do we find it in Egyptian religion.

When we consider the details of the Christmas story, the role of the Magi is fascinating. First of all, the Jews were expecting a triumphant Messiah – a King of Kings from the House of David. The story of the virgin birth of a holy child, destined to redeem humanity and openly challenge the Judaism of the times is not what they had in mind. The humble birthplace of Jesus has become a symbol of humility to Christians, but it couldn’t have helped the Jews to accept him as the Messiah. Beyond Talmudic teachings, the case against Jesus being the Messiah derives from several key Scriptures: Isaiah 11:1-9, Isaiah 2:3-4, and Micah 4:2-3 among them.

The Christmas story might be seen as an attempted rebuttal to the disdain in the Jewish community. However, there is far more to it than that. The story may have been an attempt to illustrate a number of things, even if that meant excessive embellishment and resorting to “pious fiction.”

There have been countless attempts to identify the “star of wonder” ranging from a possible conjunction of Jupiter and Venus to a comet and a supernova. None of the theories so far has triumphed and we are left with the distinct possibility that the star being followed was of a spiritual nature – what we might call an inner light. No astronomer has been able to identify what it was –  or if anything extraordinary was seen at all. My personal view is that the theories set forth haven’t taken the whole astrological picture into account.

Keplers_trigon. A series of great conjunctions and trigons from Kepler’s book De Stella Nova.

The first “modern” attempt to discover what identifiable astronomical events could explain the star over Bethlehem really was conducted by Johannes Kepler identifiable astronomical phenomenon lies behind the biblical story of the so-called Star of Bethlehem was effectively begun by the astronomer  Kepler (1571–1630),. Kepler was the mathematician to Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor

Johannes Kepler, ‘De stella nova in Pede Serpentarii’ (1606)

1576–1612. “In the years 1604–5 a supernova appeared in the constellation Ophiuchus and excited considerable discussion in Europe. Kepler kept a detailed record of his observations of the star. In the preceding year, 17 December 1603, at Prague he had also witnessed a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn with Mars moving into the vicinity soon after, which interested him in his capacity as court astrologer. The supernova appeared in the neighbourhood of these three planets. In

Jupiter-Saturn Conjunction Chart. Image credit: Star of the Magi

medieval times the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, known as the “great conjunction” (recurring only once every 19·86 [incorrect] years on average), was regarded as of great astrological significance. Kepler calculated that a similar conjunction with Mars moving into the vicinity soon after had occurred in the year 7 B.C. = Julian year 39. On that occasion, the conjunction had been a triple conjunction, a very much rarer event than the normal single conjunction.” (Sachs, A., & Walker, C. (1984). Kepler’s View of the Star of Bethlehem and The Babylonian Almanac for 7/6 B.C). At the end of the day, it turned out that Kepler had miscalculated and ever since then, one attempt after another to identify the star has failed.

William Eamon provides a summary of the process: “Kepler believed that the new star was a portent of deep significance. It was, he concluded, “an exceedingly wonderful work of God.” In 1606, he published a pamphlet, De Stella Nova in Pede Serpentarii (On the New Star in the Foot of Serpens), describing his discovery. Kepler was convinced that the new star was the same as the one that the Three Kings followed on their way to Bethlehem. With somewhat tortured logic, he reasoned that the new star was the equivalent of one that appeared in the same constellation around the time of the birth of Christ. He identified the supernova with a star that appeared in a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn during the years 7-5 B.C. Since the supernova of 1604 appeared in the same conjunction, he reasoned, it had to be the same as the Star of Bethlehem that showed the Magi the way to Jesus.” (Kepler and the Star of Bethlehem)

It is crucial to remember that the Christmas story was written down long after the alleged events. Although not all scholars are in agreement, the majority believe that Mark was the first Gospel to be written, sometime around the year 70. This consensus has it that the Gospel of Matthew and the  Gospel of Luke was written down sometime in the 9th or final decade of the 1st century. Obviously, this casts the authorship into doubt. It has been countered that the original four evangelists had completed gospels that were then transcribed by others at a much later date. However, the record doesn’t support this at all. Even the choice of which gospels would be included had a political and tendentious element in their selection.

Nevertheless, those who insist that everything written in the Bible is to be taken as literal truth will need to deny any metaphorical meaning at all. For the rest of us, we are free to consider the possibility that some passages or stories in the Bible are powerfully metaphorical and that metaphor and elaboration can add to the power of the truth being told, even if it had no actual historical existence. It does not seem out of place here to mention that the modern understanding of history conforms to linear time. The very idea of linear time is an extreme abstraction with no modern scientific basis. It is part of the materialist creed.

Zoroastrianism, like Christianity, is a Universal religion.  As mentioned, the Jews also had every reason to venerate the Magi, emissaries from the East: The following is what is known as the Proclamation of Cyrus from Ezra 1:1-8 (ESV):

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:

Modern Persian carpet showing Cyrus the Great, seen in Tehran

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”

Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered. Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah.

Among the classical Jewish sources, besides the Bible, Josephus (1st century AD) mentions that Cyrus freed the Jews from captivity and helped rebuild the temple. He also wrote to the rulers and governors that they should contribute to the rebuilding of the temple and assisted them in rebuilding the temple. A letter from Cyrus to the Jews is described by Josephus.:[12]  

بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم return to their own country, and to rebuild their city, and to build the temple of God at Jerusalem on the same place where it was before. I have also sent my treasurer Mithridates, and Zorobabel, the governor of the Jews, that they may lay the foundations of the temple, and may build it sixty cubits high, and of the same latitude, making three edifices of polished stones, and one of the wood of the country, and the same order extends to the altar whereon they offer sacrifices to God. I require also that the expenses for these things may be given out of my revenues. Moreover, I have also sent the vessels which king Nebuchadnezzar pillaged out of the temple, and have given them to Mithridates the treasurer, and to Zorobabel the governor of the Jews, that they may have them carried to Jerusalem, and may restore them to the temple of God. Now their number is as follows: Fifty chargers of gold, and five hundred of silver; forty Thericlean cups of gold, and five hundred of silver; fifty basons of gold, and five hundred of silver; thirty vessels for pouring [the drink-offerings], and three hundred of silver; thirty vials of gold, and two thousand four hundred of silver; with a thousand other large vessels. (3) I permit them to have the same honor which they were used to have from their forefathers, as also for their small cattle, and for wineand oil, two hundred and five thousand and five hundred drachme; and for wheat flour, twenty thousand and five hundred artabae; and I give order that these expenses shall be given them out of the tributes due from Samaria. The priests shall also offer these sacrifices according to the laws of Moses in Jerusalem; and when they offer them, they shall pray to God for the preservation of the king and of his family, that the kingdom of Persia may continue. But my will is, that those who disobey these injunctions, and make them void, shall be hung upon a cross, and their substance brought into the king’s treasury.”.

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn – Daniel and Cyrus before the Idol Bel

The somewhat terse account in Matthew is expanded upon, with both similarities and differences in the apocryphal Protoevengelium of James. This work is overwhelmingly concerned with Mary, Joseph, establishing the legitimacy of the Christ child and answering all the kinds of questions that might be asked about a virgin birth and the birth of the Christ child. James also gives us this:

“21. And, behold, Joseph was ready to go into Judæa. And there was a great commotion in Bethlehem of Judæa, for Magi came, saying: Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him. And when Herod heard, he was much disturbed and sent officers to the Magi. And he sent for the priests, and examined them, saying: How is it written about the Christ? Where is He to be born? And they said: In Bethlehem of Judæa, for so it is written. And he sent them away. And he examined the Magi, saying to them: What sign have you seen in reference to the king that has been born? And the Magi said: We have seen a star of great size shining among these stars, and obscuring their light so that the stars did not appear; and we thus knew that a king has been born to Israel, and we have come to worship him. And Herod said: Go and seek him; and if you find him, let me know, in order that I also may go and worship him. And the Magi went out. And, behold, the star which they had seen in the east went before them until they came to the cave, and it stood over the top of the cave. And the Magi saw the infant with His mother Mary, and they brought forth from their bag gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by the angel not to go into Judæa, they went into their own country by another road. .”

If we come to these passages expecting to learn of a physical celestial event, that is what we will understand. However, this is not the only possible interpretation of ” a star of great size shining among these stars, and obscuring their light, so that the stars did not appear; and we thus knew that a king has been born to Israel, and we have come to worship him.” Could this not be written in the same spirit as “The light shineth in the darkness” in the Gospel of John?  As I mentioned, the greatest irony of a belief in literalism is that it ignores that the very act of writing or story-telling is

Grotto of-the Nativity Close-up of star at birthplace of Jesus (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

metaphorical. They are part of how we process what we see. Even a technical manual will, more often than not, contain language that is not entirely literal. Turning to Judeo-Christian scripture we recognize that a direct command to “love your neighbour: can be taken at face value, even if understanding precisely what that means is subject to interpretation. The story of Jonah and the whale is a good case in point. We know that what happens in the story is impossible to explain using scientific principles. People cannot live inside whales, but if we out our material doubts aside, the story is rich in metaphorical meaning. Not believing that humans can live in whales is not cause for accusations of blasphemy except by the most extreme and demented American Evangelical Fundamentalist.

Many stories in the Bible are replete with metaphorical thought and in many cases re-telling of stories from other cultures, such as Egypt and Babylon. They are not primarily historical documents, although that are many who treat them as if they were.The first task of scripture is to impart spiritual truths and present material that illustrates the way of righteousness and the consequences of ignoring the wise. In that sense, Hindu scripture is of the same kind. There may very well be historical references, but history itself is not the most important factor.

There are many elements here that are immediately germane to the art of astrology. The more mystical the content, the more literalism falls away. What is above, is below. We are born of stars and the light we experience is microcosmic as well as macrocosmic. We speak of illuminated minds and an inner light. We also speak of the benighted consciousness and the “outer darkness.” In the Gospels, the “exterior darkness” or “outer darkness” is a place referred to three times in the Gospel of Matthew (8:12, 22:13, and 25:30) into which a person may be “cast out”, and where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.

The Sages and the Star-Child: An Introduction to the Revelation of the Magi, An Ancient Christian Apocryphon” is the title of a Ph.D. dissertation by Brent Christopher Landau of The Faculty of Harvard Divinity School.

Landau “analyzes a poorly-known ancient Christian apocryphal writing, termed the Revelation of the Magi. This document purports to be the personal testimony of the biblical Magi on the coming of Christ, and is the longest and most complex narrative devoted to the Magi surviving from antiquity.” The thesis is compelling and at the very least provides a fairly detailed first-hand account of the experience from the Magi point of view.

The entire dissertation is available online, so I see no useful purpose in rehearsing it here, but there are several things that need to be said.  The purpose and general focus of this series of articles on the Magi are on magic, metaphor, and astrology.  Here we have an astronomical event that probably didn’t occur at all, read by Magi who were astrologers. The realization that the star was Christ himself, in perhaps a similar sense as we see in his transfiguration. All three Synoptic Gospels tell the story of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-9; Luke9:28-36). With a remarkable agreement, all three place the event shortly after Peter’s confession of faith that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus’ first prediction of his passion and death.

Perhaps the greatest anathema to astrology according to Christian theologians is the mistaken view that astrologers believe the stars dictate what will happen to individuals and societies.  In their view, this somehow circumvents the will of a supreme being, when in fact the astrologer reads the signs to gain knowledge of divine will. Sorcerers and fortune tellers are considered to be cut from the same cloth as astrologers. However, in Judaism and Zoroastrianism, the stars are clearly understood to be useful and several books in the Jewish Bible, such as The Book of Daniel are saturated with astrological meaning. Yet in the Tanakh, we find The metaphor of the clock and time is germane here. The clock doesn’t create time, it just tells you what time it is.

It’s increasingly apparent that the importance of astrology in Judaism increased during the Babylonian captivity and the strong and friendly contacts with the Persians, who maintained a fairly practical form of the art.

It should be noted tht thee is no explicit mention of astrology in the Tanakh – However, “two biblical passages dealing with the diviner (menaḥesh) and soothsayer (me’onen; Lev. 19:26; Deut. 18:10) were understood by the rabbis as bearing relation to astrology (Sanh. 65b–66a; cf. Maim. Yad, Avodah Zarah 11:8, 9). The prophets were aware of the practices of “star-gazers” (ḥoverei ha-shamayim) among the Babylonians and other peoples but they scoffed at them (Isa. 47:13; Jer. 10:2). In the book of Daniel the Babylonian astrologers arecalled kasdim (Chaldeans), and in Aramaic kasda’ei (2:2, 4, 5, 10; 4:14; 5:7, 11). The Sibylline Oracles (219–231) praise the Jewish people for refraining from astrology, which is a delusion. The Book of Jubilees (12:16–18) depicts the patriarch Abraham as overcoming the beliefs of the astrologers. The first Book of Enoch (8:3) includes astrology among the sins spread among mortals by the primeval giants (nefilim). Josephus, however, writes that astrology was common among the Jews in his days and that Jewish misinterpretation of celestial signs was partially responsible for the outbreak of the revolt against the Romans and its continuation for four years (Jos., Wars, 6:288ff.)”Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 .

Ketubbah – Jewish Marriage Contract, Leghorn, Italy, 1728 with astrological symbols

1300 years later, Moses Maimonides was vehemently opposed to the practise of astrology, but his view had virtually no influence on subsequent Jewish writers. Astrology had become an integral element of Judaism. After all, the Yiddish mazel tov derives from Hebrew words meaning a constellation of good stars and destiny. Considering the extraordinary influence and reputation of  Maimonides, this stands as a  strong endorsement of astrology by the Jewish community.

Detail of the ancient kibbutz Beth Alpha mosaic, Israel: a zodiac wheel with all 12 symbols and names of the zodiac, surrounded by four female figures at the corners, identifying the seasons of the year; at the centre, Helios, the sun god driving a quadriga, with moon and stars. (Picture: Art Resource, NY; @Inés Peschiera Kežman Pfeifer)

“With the exception of Joseph b. Judah ibn *Aknin and his enthusiastic admirer R. *Jedaiah ha-Penini (Bedersi), none of the Jewish philosophers of the succeeding generations opposed or deprecated astrology. Even the rationalistic *Levi b. Gershom maintained that the activities and events of a man’s life were predestined by the positions and movements of celestial bodies. The astrologers fail, he asserted, first of all because of insufficient knowledge about the movements of the stars and the effects of their changed positions on sublunar beings, and secondly, because of the intervention of intellect and free will, “for the intellect and the will are empowered to carry us beyond the limitations imposed by the celestial bodies” (Milḥamot Adonai 2:2). Shem-Tov ibn *Falaquera also considered astrology a true science and made use of it. Many of the great rabbis, commentators, preachers, and ethical teachers dealt with astrology and were favorably disposed toward it; *Abraham b. David of Posquières, in his Hassagot, a commentary on Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah; *Naḥmanides (Commentary on Gen. 1:16; Lev. 23:24, and passim) and his pupil Solomon b. Abraham *Adret (Responsa, no. 652); *Baḥya b. Asher (Commentary on Ex. 11:4; and passim); Isaac *Aboab (Menorat ha-Ma’or, 143; passim); Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ *Duran (Magen Avot, 72bff., and Tashbeẓ, no. 513); Isaac *Abrabanel , who cited many proofs “from the science of astronomy in regard to the celestial conjunctions” for his opinion that the redemption of Israel would begin in 1503 and come to completion in 1531 (Ma’yenei ha-Yeshu’ah, 12:2); Isaac *Arama (Akedat Yiẓḥak, 34, 56), though he disapproved of eschatological reckonings based on astrology; Moses b. Ḥayyim *Alshekh ; *Judah Loew b. Bezalel (Maharal) of Prague, who is reputed to have practiced astrology in the company of his friend Tycho Brahe; David *Gans ; Leone of *Modena ; Joseph Solomon *Delmedigo of Candia, Jonathan *Eybeschuetz ; and *Elijah , Gaon of Vilna (Commentary on Sefer Yeẓirah). A definitely negative attitude toward astrology was assumed by Azariah dei *Rossi” (Me’or Einayim, 42, 43). Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008

Most importantly, traditional astrology views the stars as in the microcosm and the macrocosm. In most cases, we study the macrocosmic heavens to shed light on the microcosm. In the case of the Star Child, we have the Magi reading the advent of the Christ by an inner illumination. This appears to be the message when we have looked at all the sources and considered the identity of the players in this cosmic drama. We talk about “outer space” but there is a corresponding “inner space.”

Of course, the proclamation that the Kingdon of Heaven is within you is used only by Matthew. Mark and Luke used “kingdom of God” Compare Matthew 11:11-12 with Luke 7:28; Matthew 13:11with Mark 4:11 and Luke 8:10; Matthew 13:24 with Mark 4:26; Matthew 13:31 with Mark 4:30 and Luke 13:18; Matthew 13:33 with Luke 13:20; Matthew 18:3 with Mark 10:14 and Luke 18:16; and Matthew 22:2 with Luke 13:29. The two phrases clearly mean the same thing.

If we revisit words of the Magi in Matthew: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East [or at its rising and have come to worship Him ” we are left with a tantalizing and evocative image, but we still don’t have any idea what this rising star was. It was common to refer to planets as stars, but there isn’t anything close to bright enough to match the description.

If we take this account at face value and ignore the impossible exaggerations which have, ironically, obscured all the main points, we would have a chart similar to this — in most respects, at least.

This chart shows the rising of Jupiter the king planet, in the royal sign of Leo and with the Kings’ star, Regulus. This certainly fits with the description of the Star in the East. It is ascending ahead of the Sun with enough clearance from the Sun to allow visibility.

Regulus, in Leo (The Lion), means “little king,” named by Copernicus. It is the heart of the lion and associated with generosity and ambition. If well aspected it will raise the person to high positions in life and denotes successful activity. Its nature is Mars and Itster. Bayer name Alpha Leo. Apparent magnitude +1.3 This star rising with Jupiter would have been considered a strong indicator of the birth of a king when combined with the other elements present.

Some have suggested that “born of a Virgin” means the Sun in Virgo. I see no compelling reason to take this view, but it may be worthy of further research.

The triple conjunction of Venus and Mercury and the Ascendant with Jupiter would make for a convincing candidate for the birth of a great king in Babylonian as well as Persian astrology. The Moon is in her domicile in Cancer and Mars is safely in the 6th house, like a tiger in a cage.

Saturn retrograde conjunct the Midheaven is more sinister. The Jews are under the governance of Saturn and this new king is not welcome by the highest authorities. There is a tight conjunction of  Saturn with the fixed star Rigel, the brightest star in Orion, The Hunter (Apparent magnitude +0.3) The star is of the nature of Jupiter and Saturn and associated with fame, wealth, and lasting honours.  Rigel is a fortunate star and a  powerful one.  This would serve as a protective element.

This is the most likely way that the Magi determined the location of the birth. Saturn conjunct the MC is in the place of authority. It is only natural that they would visit Herod.

I make no claims to this being the exact date, but the time would be close to accurate and the relatively short window for this configuration to occur, makes this a candidate for something approaching what must have occurred.

It seems ironic that the many of the attempts to embellish and exaggerate message of the Magi have obscured what might otherwise have been obvious.

The Magi are what scripture and tradition say they are – highly skilled astrologers, almost certainly from Persia. There has been a number of attempts over the years to make them appear to be like a Unicef greeting card or all Jewish kings from Yemen.

I don’t believe that The Star-Child account is not meant to be taken literally, but it is a rather lovely narrative of the Star leading to the Child. For approximately two billion  Christians, Christ is their Guiding Star

Cancer Ingress of the Sun – Summer Solstice

The Solstices and the two Equinox are of great significance.  For Mundane astrologers, they are consulted along with the ingress of the planets, eclipses and a variety of other elements, depending on exactly what is being sought.

The rule has it that Fixed Signs signify a longer period of the effect than Cardinal, and Mutable is even shorter.  A Solstice or Equinox chart is valid for the season it heralds. Most obviously, each season is greeted by a different element. All are in Cardinal Signs. Cardinal initiates.  Aries is Cardinal Fire and heralds the Spring, Libra heralds Autumn & Capricorn, winter. Along with these markers of the seasons, there are some interesting elements that are seldom considered. For example. Capricorn is the Detriment of the Moon and Libra is the Fall of the Sun. Cancer is the domicile of the Moon, as Leo is the domicile of the Sun. The luminaries are considered to be Peregrine, so in all the aforementioned cases of the four divisions, there is always intrigue.

But first and foremost, these times are particularly powerful and should be greeted in the spirit of reverence and celebration, of conscious reception. This moment is a point in a much larger cycle. The Summer Solstice heralds not only Summer itself but the two Royal Signs – indicative of the Queen & King. The Sun and Moon rule only one sign each.   These archetypes are particularly powerful and the Summer Solstice sparks celebrations all over the world. It’s also the great pivotal point between the waxing and waning light. Just as Winter Solstice is the longest night,  Summer Solstice is the longest day. In a Celtic tradition, a flaming arrow was shot towards the Sun as it rose, adding fire to fire.

The Celts had eight major festivals and four of them coincided with the tow Equinoctial and Solstitial periods. The Summer Solstice is called Litha. It was a time of clearing, a time to banish evil spirits to make way for a celebration of the light at its zenith and assure an abundant harvest. Feasting, music, and dancing took place. Bonfires were lit in celebration.

This is where the grand picture of astrology comes into play. We are reminded that events of this magnitude affect us all in some way and recognition of this is important. This isn’t primarily a personal chart, but it is certainly a collective one. The image blow shows the stars in the constellation of Cancer the Crab: Manilus writes:

“Shining at the hinge of the year by the blazing turning-point which when recalled the Sun rounds in his course on high, the Crab occupies a joint of heaven and bends back the length of day. Of a grasping spirit and unwilling to give itself in service the Crab distributes many kinds of gain, and skill in making profits; he enables a man to carry his investment of foreign merchandise from city to city and, with an eye on steep rises in the price of corn, to risk his money upon sea-winds; to sell the world’s produce to the world, to establish commercial ties between so many unknown lands, to search out under foreign skies fresh sources of gain, and from the high price of his goods to amass sudden wealth. With heaven’s favor he also sells seasons of idleness at rates of interest to his liking, wishing the swift passage of time to add to the principal. His is a shrewd nature, and he is ready to fight for his profits.” [Astronomica, Manilius, 1st century AD, book 4, p.235.]

Most of the stars in Cancer are relatively obscure and rarely mentioned. However, the left claw holds the Arabic-named Acumen’s, which translates to ‘the Claw.’ Arabian astrologers also give this name to one of the Lunar Mansions. This should not be confused with two stars in Libra, named Zubenelgenubi, Zubeneshamali, the”Northern Claw” and Southern Claw respectively.

The initial portion of Cancer relates to the eighth Lunar Mansion (0 Cancer to 12 Cancer 51) named Aluayra or Al Nathra. In Indian tradition, this Mansion is good for cutting new clothes, for women’s jewelry and putting it on. Rain will bring benefits, not damage, but this is not a good time to travel, except for the third part of the night. Arabian astrologers added that it causes love, friendship, and society of fellow travelers.

With all these things in mind, the chart for the exact moment of the Ingress of the Sun in Cancer takes on greater meaning.

Recueil d’astronomie et de mathématiques. This is a magnificent crab, even if it looks like someone who never met one. The primary interest of this painting is the positions of the stars that make up the constellation.

There are a few salient elements I would like to point out in this chart. Such charts often either lean on the gloomy side or are manically, even blindly, optimistic.

Mars and the Moon are never a good mix. The Moon is Martial Scorpio is in her Fall and Mars is in his Fall in Cancer.  Like Saturn,  Mars is worst when the most afflicted. In the 7th House, he is an open enemy. He’s in the decanate of Mercury which makes him that much more explosive; nevertheless, something needs to trigger the outburst. This position on a chart for the Pacific coast is prime for a maritime disaster, but nothing on a grand scale, such as a major earthquake.

Mars in his Fall From: Metaliʿü’l-saadet ve yenabiʿü-l-siyadet Seyyid Mohammed i

The second focus is the 5th House. The Moon is Exalted in Taurus, with Venus in her Domicile and the Parts of Courage and Necessity. Moreover, Mercury is strong and resilient in Gemini with the Part of Venus (Eros). This is a veritable garden of Venusian creativity, involving Mercury, and the Sun. This ought to be an encouragement to creativity versus negativity, despair or simple lethargy.

Jupiter is in the Exaltation of Saturn, but he’s still Jupiter and in the 10th House. The 11th House of Greater Fortune has the Part of Spirit and Victory, but also Nemesis.

Human life on this plane is always an admixture of fortunes. The Summer Solstice is a time to celebrate the light in whatever way speaks to you.

The Return of the Sun King


What, you may ask, does the Philosophy of the Renaissance Neo-Platonist have to do with the Winter Solstice and Christmas? The key is in the image and nature of the Sun itself. Astrologically, the Sun is King and the Moon is Queen. At the time of the Winter Solstice, we have the longest night, to be followed three days later by the ‘return’ of the Sun, as he makes his way Northward in that hemisphere, bringing us ever longer days, until the advent of the Summer Solstice, just as the Sun enters the Lunar sign of Cancer..

It has become very popular to conflate all Solar Deities, to carelessly list their attributes, then to take a rather large leap of logic and dogmatically state that they are mere myths and that therefore the Christian version must be a fraud – a cheap knock off — devised to enthral the foolish masses. . It is said that the myths are really just the same story, based on astronomy and recycled to suit the zeitgeist. However, that is to miss the point entirely.

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Mercurial messenger of the lights

From the beginning of Christianity, it was received among others by Hellenized Jews.The Christ is Logos. Christian Neoplatonists were quite aware of a plethora of Solar Myths, but remained undeterred in affording Pre- Eminence to Christianity  The story of the Winter Solstice and Yule can be told from many different cultural perspectives. Here we have what might be called a Neoplatonic Christmas tale. It is among the most significant of all interpretations.

In his earlier years, Marsilio Ficino had an uneasy relationship with astrology, but by the time he wrote his treatise “On the Sun.” he had managed to wed Platonism and Hermetica with Christianity. He had become more completely syncretic. He seems at this point to be first and foremost a Neo-Platonists, just as many of the best known Christian apologists had been. from before Clement of Alexandria to the Late Renaissance. The newly translated Hermetica was in harmony with the traditions that Ficino was already at home with. He has now translated the Works if Plato, Hermes and Plotinus. Plotinus is regarded as perhaps the most brilliant of the Neoplatonusrs. Ficino was also a priest, so he was in a particularly advantageous position to talk about the Sun from a Christian Neoplatonic point of view that was very much in harmony with his form of Astrology.

The newly translated Hermetica was in harmony with the traditions that Ficino was already at home with. He has now translated the Works if Plato, Hermes and Plotinus. Plotinus is regarded as perhaps the most brilliant of the Neoplatonusrs. Ficino was also a priest, so he was in a particularly advantageous position to talk about the Sun from a Christian Neoplatonic point of view that was very much in harmony with his form of Astrology.

Ficino writes: “According to the Platonists there are three principles: the good itself, the divine intellect and the world soul. Only light clearly contains all of them in itself. It reveals the good itself, since while it surpasses wonderfully all things, it also spreads itself through all things, and recalls them to sublime planes at the same time with its miraculously preserved excellence and purity.”

These are of course  divine attributes and the image of the Sun becomes a symbol of the Soul, made in the Image of God. We are no longer generally accustomed to experiencing the natural cycles of the year as divine, in these days marked by conspicuous consumption, ignorance of the skies and a contempt for virtually any form of authentic philosophy. We have mostly abandoned true wonder for fancy and Truth for distraction.

The Sun is studied by scientists, not Christian Neoplatonists. For scientists, the very idea of Soul is synonymous with delusion and naivete. Yet is has recently been discovered that the Sun has what appears to be a kind of heartbeat. Who could reasonably deny that the Sun is alive? Who could fault early humans with worshipping the Sun itself, the bringer of light, warmth and without which there can be no life at all.

The three monotheistic religions are said to be under the following luminaries and planets: Judaism is Saturn, Islam is Venus and Christianity is the Sun. The days held to be holy by each is reflective of this. The Jewish


Sol Invictus

Sabbath is Saturn’s Day; the Islamic is Friday and the Christian is Sunday. In fact, any Solar religion, such as  Zoroastrianism or Mithraism would take on the same association. Hinduism is under Jupiter. All the planets can be considered as children of the Sun King. Each of us is a child of the Sun, physically and spiritually.


Marsilio Ficino writes in Chapter Six of the Book of the Sun:

“All [traditions] locate the Sun, like a lord, in the center of the world, although by different arguments. The Chaldeans, for instance, [place it] in the middle of the planets, the Egyptians actually [place it] between two quintuple worlds, as surely the five planets are above it, and below it are the Moon and the four elements…. [Some] actually postulate the disposition of the Sun in this way, such that Saturn, Jupiter and Mars are elevated above him, while on the other hand, Venus, Mercury and the Moon are below the Sun. which proceeds as a king, taking the middle way. Going by other ways, weaker ones avoid him.”

Plato uses the metaphor of the Sun repeatedly. Perhaps the best known is in the Allegory of the Cave. Slaves are chained before a wall watching a shadow play they assume to be real. When one manages to leave the darkness, he is overwhelmed by the brightness of the Sun.    The Sun is a metaphor for truth or even God Himself. The Sun makes life possible by enabling a world of light. On a literal level, without the light of the Sun, we would be in darkness. It could hardly be more primal.


The Sun is a metaphor for truth or even God Himself. The Sun makes life possible while enabling by enabling a world of light. On a literal level, without the light of the Sun, we would be in darkness. It could hardly be more primal. James writes: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning;” (James 1:17)

Following the lead of Zoroastrian priests, Ficino is often seen in red gowns. This association of fire and the colour red lives on in a parallel tradition wherein Santa Claus dons read cloths and enters homes by way of the fireplace. It could hardly be more solar and it’s quite natural that Christians adopted this time of year to celebrate the birth of Christ. I should think that by now most Christians are aware that this isn’t necessarily the birthday of Jesus. Most are also aware of other traditions that celebrate Solar deities, many of whom preceded historical Christianity. That doesn’t change the fact that this time of year is sacred

I should;d think that by now most Christians are aware that this isn’t necessarily the birthday of Jesus. Most are also aware of other traditions that celebrate Solar deities, many of whom preceded historical Christianity, while some came after. That doesn’t change the fact that this time of year is sacred to a wide range of traditions, each understanding the deity in their own way.

At the time of the Winter Solstice, we have the longest night as well as a promise of the resurgence of the light force. In mystical Christianity, it is perfectly understood that what  is above, is below. That is, after all, the essence of John’s Gospel and in many other parts of the New Testament.

We live in times where if something isn’t literally true, it must be false. This has been adopted by what I call “scientific fundamentalists” such as Richard Dawkins. I have great respect for science,  but when there is a complete denial of spiritual vision I have to question its veracity.

Inanna & the Eternal Feminine

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The above artwork is from an unknown source. If anyone knows the identity of the artist, please drop me a line. It’s a great interpretation of a goddess who often looks more like a harpy in some of her traditional representations.

The attributes are all there, from the grain sheafs to the eight-pointed star, the horns of the Bull of Heaven, the lapis lazuli in her hair as well as the lunar symbols. Her gaze has something of a hypnotic quality and there is something disquieting about the whole thing, with her dark, hollow eyes, she has a decidedly nocturnal countenance.  She is fierce as well as strangely beautiful. There is nothing ornamental about her in the Venusian sense. She is the primary Sumerian goddess and Queen of the Night and Queen of Heaven.

If you’ve followed this blog over the last two years or so, you have seen me return to the theme of the early Middle Eastern, Sumerian, Babylonian and Pre-Islamic Arabian archetypes of the powerful Feminine deities which are more fully developed origins of Aphrodite and Venus. The record is very clear that what we consider the Classical deities associated with the planets and luminaries are the result of a devolution of original archetypes and, to some extent, made far more superficial than most astrologers realize..

Table of Venus

Mayan Venus Table from the Dresden Codex

This kind of research is problematic. We find that what is Classically known as Aphrodite and the planet Venus is represented in Sumer by a goddess that might be associated as well with planets other than Venus, including Mars and the Moon. There is also a Moon god, so things get complicated very quickly.

The Classical Venus is not without nuance of course, but when we compare the understanding to Inanna, I think it safe to safe the archetype has been drained of much of its potency and the raw  power of the Primal Feminine. Inanna , also known by the later Babylonian and Mesopotamian names of Ishtar and Astarte,  is not primarily a goddess of love, but one who embodied war, wisdom, agriculture, sex, fertility, prostitution and lust, as well as a representative of the vegetative cycle itself and the traveler to the underworld. In Classical mythology, Mercury is the psychopomp, the guide to the Underworld.

Inanna is an active heroine. The recognition of the archetype immediately associated with Inanna goes as far back as far as 8,000 years.

Modern astrologers rarely, if ever, take into account whether Venus is the Morning or the Evening Star. We have a ‘one size fits all’ goddess who is prone to misunderstanding.

The Venus cycle is of crucial importance and to ignore that is to risk running amok in interpretations. The two primary phases of Evening and Morning star have very different qualities, but Inanna encompasses both in any case, making her a representative of the Feminine in all her guises.

Some Feminist astrologers have suggested that the goddess only took on the qualities of warrior much later when the Middle East had become more violent. There are two problems with this.

There never was a time of anything much more than fleeting peace. The dream of an ancient society permanently at peace under a matriarchy are just that. In any case, in the earliest written work, Inanna is already a fully developed warrior of Heaven, the Earth and the Underworld.


Enkidu – Wild Man, Stronger Than Lions

She also demonstrates that there is no hell like a woman scorned, probably more than any woman before or since. In Tablet VI, Inanna desires King Gilgamesh, but Gilamesh turns her down, citing the horrific fates of all her previous lovers. She goes into a blind rage and demands of her Father that she be allowed to release the Bull of Heaven t gore Gilgamesh to death. Her father refuses at first, pointing out that Gilgamesh might have a very good point. Her threats become ever more horrible and daddy eventually surrenders to her rage. In this, she can seem all too human, but she is in a trinity with the Sun and the Moon and she is of inestimable power.

It gets worse. The Bull is killed and Enkidu throws it back into the heavens to form a constellation, thus adding insult to injury.

It seems normal that her traits would display a degree of androgyny. She is courageous, quick-tempered, fertile and wrestles to create justice and balance in the most sublime, as well as the most savage.way. Her association with the  scorpion and owls make her seem more like Lilith than Venus. In fact, Lilith is her adversary in the Sumerian creation myth. Lilith poisons the tree that Inanna had nurtured. More properly, we can say that Lilith is parasitic, as we shall see.

The poem begins: “when what was needful had first come forth,” when bread first started to be baked in ovens of shrines, and when the first separation occurred, that of sky and earth ” (Frayne 2001:130; Wolkstein & Kramer 1983: 4). A violent tempest uproots a huluppu tree, which  Inanna rescues and plants in her own “sacred grove” at Uruk (Frayne 2001: 131).

Unfortunately, three beings settled in the tree: in its roots “a snake which fears no spell”; in its trunk a lilitu, a female spirit; and in its branches the Anzu bird.

Unable to rid herself of these intruders and parasites, Inanna is reduced to tears and calls upon her brother Utu, the sun god for help, but he refused, The hero  Gilgamesh, Uruk’s warrior king, agreed to assist. Gilgamesh  “smote” the snake, the others fled.  Gilgamesh felled the tree, taking the branches for himself, The trunk was given to Inanna in a gesture that is difficult to fathom.

Presumably, it means that Inanna got the roots of the tree, In another version of the story, Gilgamesh uproots the tree, thus severing the connection of earth, heaven, and the underworld.

The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi

The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi

There are few passages in ancient literature that could out-do the erotic courtship of Dumuzi and Inanna and I’m certain there was never a better-crafted story of the descent to the Underworld on Tablet VI.. The imagery is stark., terse, vivid and terrifying. She is visiting her sister, Ereshkigal and makes elaborate preparation for the descent.

The following is from Table VI  Descent Of Inanna Wolkstein – Kramer edition.

“Naked and bowed low, Inanna entered the throne room.
Ereshkigal rose from her throne.
Inanna started toward the throne.
The Annuna, the judges of the underworld, surrounded her.
They passed judgment against her.
Then Ereshkigal fastened on Inanna the eye of death.
She spoke against her the word of wrath.
She uttered against her the cry of guilt.
She struck her.
Inanna was turned into a corpse,
A piece of rotting meat,
And was hung from a hook on the wall….

Then, after three days and three nights, Inanna had not returned,
Ninshubur set up a lament for her by the ruins.
She beat the drum for her in the assembly places.”

She has become dead meat hanging on a wall. Her return to life by way of the intervention of Dumuzi is if course nothing short of a resurrection. With Venus in mind, we may well consider this as a metaphor for her stages of apparent and concealed visibility as part of her cycle The problem is first and foremost the specificity of three days from a culture well aware of the Venus cycle. In any case, the subject matter is quite unlike what we usually refer to as Venusian.

Quite simply, Inanna, Ishtar and Isis don’t have all that much in common with Venus at first blush. The Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Mercury and Saturn could all be described by her nature.  In fact the only luminary / planet that doesn’t fit is the Sun. By comparison, the Greco-Roman Venus seems rather thin and limited.

In the ancient Near East, Ishtar was an important and widely worshiped mother goddess for many Semitic* peoples. The Sumerians* called her Inanna, and other groups of the Near East referred to her as Astarte.

Inanna is a highly complex deity, combining the characteristics, both good and evil,of many different gods and goddesses. As a benevolent mother figure, she was considered the mother of gods and humans, as well as the creator of all earthly blessings. In this role, she grieved over human sorrows and served as a protector of marriage and motherhood. People also worshiped Ishtar as the goddess of sexual love and fertility. The evil side of Ishtar’s nature emerged primarily in connection with war and storms, much of it born of jealousy and rage. As a warrior goddess, she could make even the gods tremble in fear. As a storm goddess, she could bring rain and thunder, these events are now connected primarily to the Moon and Jupiter.

The eight-pointed star of Ishtar appears at top left, the crescent moon of the Moon God Sin is at top center, and the symbol of the Sun God

The eight-pointed star of Ishtar appears at top left, the crescent moon of the Moon God Sin is at top center, and the symbol of the Sun God

In the story of Inanna she is the daughter of the male Moon god Sin and sister of the sun god Shamash. Others mention the sky god Anu, the Moon god Nanna, the water god Ea, or the god Enlil, lord of the earth and the air, as her father. Most myths link her to the planet Venus.

There are a few things one can do with this comparison. The simplest and probably least disruptive would be  to take a closer look at what we mean by our mythical association of Venus with the planet that bears her name and also what we mean by the Feminine. Venus is a goddess with tremendous limitations. But perhaps the greatest of these is that is not a mother goddess. Whereas earlier depictions of the feminine, whether it be Ancient Near Eastern or Celtic represented her in three phases: the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone, Venus pretty much remains on the first stage, allowing the Moon to take the other attributes.

Of course, astrology uses the Greek and Roman Pantheon as metaphors for the planets. However. it’s all too easy to forget that and our understanding of the planet itself is likely to suffer. The price paid during the advancement of civilization can  be significant and I think it’s quite fair to say that the Greek and Roman Pantheon has little of the depth and earthy honesty of earlier cultures.

I’m certainly not suggesting that we give up on Venus, but we do well to remember the vast heights and depths that are found in abundance in earlier sources when it comes to more complete representation of the Feminine. This article does little more than introduce some issues regarding Astrology and the Feminine. I hope it sparks some interest.

Constellations & The Primordial Zodiac I


If you’ve ever been to a planetarium, the chances are the presenter took ten minutes or so to heap scorn on the ignorant ancients who must have been smoking and drinking powerful drugs in order to see things like goats or virgins in the night sky. This is usually intended as the first blow against the “completely unfounded” science of astrology. The intended knock out punch is the reference to the Precession of the Equinox which means those Sun Sign columns in the tabloids offer a contrived system that ignores precession.

The idea is very simple and easy to grasp.  The sign that was rising at the Vernal Equinox has moved back almost one whole sign since their alignment. This means that what are called Sun Sign Geminis are actually Taurus – except of course they are not. Our astrology is seasonal in its basis, just as it was for the ancients. The critics of the zodiac based on Precession are missing the point.  Nevertheless, this is lost on astronomers. For them, these things are conclusive proof that astrology and its adherents are delusional and primitive minded. The irony of being called “primitive minded” has not been missed; nevertheless who can blame them for their views in the absence of coherent apologetics?

Authentic astrologers would agree on pretty much all counts, but come to a very different conclusion. I’m not aware of a true astrologer who isn’t well aware of the phenomenon of the Precession. I would be the first to agree that the appearance of constellations has precious little, if anything, to do with their names. This is where things become really interesting and is the reason I chose the word “primordial” as part of the title advisedly.This is the first in an intended series of articles on this theme. This first part can be little more than a sketch. It serves as an introduction.

It has become all but impossible for many to view a clear a night sky with little or no light pollution. It cannot be overstated that this has changed us to a very large extent. It is now common to find people who cannot identify a single constellation or star. Anyone in or close to large city see almost no stars or perhaps none at all. The best viewing experience I’ve had was in a desert area of British Columbia, on a small mountain away from any artificial light and no Moon.  At first, the brilliance of countless stars are such that it is difficult to find constellations amongst them until the eyes get used to it. The simple connecting of dots yields little or nothing, In the Middle East, particularly under very arid conditions, it is said that one feels that one may reach out and touch the stars. They seemed very close indeed and quite obviously significant.

I would like to take some stars and constellations as examples, questioning the asterisms and looking to alternate, more ancient ways of relating to the heavens.

Antares is a bright orange star, It is among the clearest stars and easy to find if the skies are clear and you know where to look. It is in the centre of the neighbourhood of Scorpio and, with our preconceived conception of the Scorpion, we join the dots.

That’s how its supposed to work, but the image below showing Scorpius, probably as clearly as it can viewed almost anywhere, doesn’t particularly look like a Scorpion. It could just as easily be an angel, a rabbit, a buffalo or a river. Both photos are included here with the kind permission of David Malin.


© 2008 Akira Fujii/David Malin Images

Here is the same section of the sky with constellation lines drawn in. Drawing the ecliptic further helps to provide orientation.

Sco_2_www_cImage and text ©2008 Akira Fujii David Malin

© 2008 Akira Fujii/David Malin Images

Even with the lines drawn, it still takes a great deal of imagination to see the constellation as a scorpion rather than anything else.  Unfortunately for the scathing astronomer at the planetarium, that is simply not how the constellations came to be, The situation is of course compounded by the simple fact that different cultures give different names to the same asterisms. Strictly speaking, there are no constellations until we decide that a given asterism has boundaries and significance and visa versa –  One might say a constellation is a projection of an archetype.

Gavin White has produced three illuminating works on ancient Babylonian star lore that challenge later interpretations.. I have consulted Babylonian Star-Lore : an Illustrated Guide to the Star-Lore and Constellations of Ancient Babylonia (2008) and his The Queen of Heaven   I have also consulted The Heavenly Writing by Francesca Rochberg, The Epic of Gilgamesh (Gardner and Maier 1984 ed.)  Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth (Wolkstein & Kramer 1983  The Babylonians (HWH Saggs ] Cambridge UP) and The British Museum.

White tells us that: “In astrology the Scorpion’s armoured body segments and its array of weaponry predisposed it to become a creature symbolizing war and the martial prowess of the king. However a different meaning is attached to it in mythic texts such as the Gilgamesh Epic where Scorpion-men and women guard the sacred mountain through which the hero has traverse on his quest for immortality. The Scorpion-people are said to guard the sun at his rising and setting and because Gilgamesh is a favourite of the sun god they allow him to travel the subterranean path that the sun travels every night under the mountain.” (all references to Gavin White’s The Queen of Heaven  A New Interpretation of the Goddess in Ancient Near Eastern Art’ by Gavin White can be found on the publisher’s web site).

untitledThis detail is from a kudurru, or boundary stone, showing Gula with feathery crown attached to her conical headdress and a scorpion-man.

Gula with feathery crown attached to her conical headdress and a Scorpion-Man.

However, the form of the Scorpion People of the Sumerian and Babylonian constellation is utterly morphed. “The Scorpion People were powerful servants of the sun god Utu (Shamash). They had a human head, arms and torso but were bird-like below the waist (sometimes with human legs, sometimes bird) and a scorpion’s tail. The people of Mesopotamia invoked the Scorpion People as figures of powerful protection against evil and the forces of chaos. In The Epic of Gilgamesh the Scorpion couple, Scorpion Man and Scorpion Woman, guard the great Gate of the Mountain where the sun rises and are described as `terrifying.” (Gavin White – Queen of Heaven.)

There is a strong need  to understand the Babylonian view on its own terms, to the extent that that is possible. Williams writes: “In Babylonian mythology scorpion men were the children of Tiamat, the dragon mother of the universe.

Tiamat, the dragon mother of the universe

They were giants whose heads touched the sky. They possessed the head, arms, and torso of a man; but below the waist they had the tails of scorpions. Deadly warriors, they could fight either with their scorpion tails or their bows and arrows which never missed their targets. They were the sacred guardians of the sun god Shamash. In the morning they opened the gates of the Mountain of the East and Shamash ascended into the sky. At night they shut the gates of the Mountain of the West as Shamash descended into the underworld. Gilgamesh, the great Babylonian hero, was aided by a scorpion man in his quest for immortality.”  (Michael Williams.  Encyclopaedia Mythica)

The most easily recognized constellations in the Northern Hemisphere are the Circumpolar Ursa Minor and Ursa Major followed by Orion, mostly because of the several brilliant stars, including Betelgeuse, Rigel and Bellatrix. However none of these are part of the zodiac. That doesn’t mean they haven’t been highly significant in different cultures throughout history,

untitledEnki and the fishes  Fishes are often represented swimming up the flow of waters that descend from Enkis shoulders On the left the symbol of the sun

Enki and the fishes Fishes are swimming up the flow of waters that descend from Enkis shoulders On the left is the the symbol of the sun

The constellations have two primary points of reference. The first is particularly referring to the circumpolar stars. The second which has the most immediate importance is the temporal. This is a simple case of a season matching an asterism which is then circumscribed and named.  So for example, Aquarius the Water Bearer rose during the rainy season of late winter and early Spring. But Pisces is now in that temporal place, while Aquarius is rising in the cold but dry season. And how, we may well ask, does Pisces represent either late winter or early spring. What do fish have to do with the season? It takes an exceedingly vivid and guided imagination to translate the asterism to embody two fishes tied together and pulling in different directions for eternity. The same is true of most of the zodiacal asterisms.

Sumerian image, we see both mer-people and priests dressed in fish-skin capes at the sacred tree

Sumerian image, we see both mer-people and priests dressed in fish-skin capes at the sacred tree

However, when we look to Pisces as a temporal reference, the time of year of great floods, other significance can be found. Like Anunitum, the Fish symbolizes the season of flooding, which commences in the early spring. “Like other creatures of the Abyss, fish were thought to be symbols of wisdom and were accordingly held sacred to Enki, the god of creative intelligence, incantations and magic.” (QoH)  The cord is indicative of the two rivers flowing into the sea. This isn’t how Pisces is represented today and before the end of the epoch prior to 500 B.C. much, but by no means all, had already been lost.

 Seven Tablets of Creation.

The Kudurru – Seven Tablets of Creation. (left to right) Venus of the goddess Ishtar, lunar crescent of the moon-god Sin, and the solar disk of Shamash , the Sun god). The serpent is a Tiamat, ( Akkadian for “sea,”)

Of course some zodia are deceptively simple. They make sense due to the Season in the Northern Hemisphere; Leo is probably as good an example as any.  The Lion has been seen by cultures everywhere as the “king of the beasts” courageous and Solar – why not reign in the hottest and driest part of the year,

White tells us: “Lion (Leo) The Lion has two main strands of symbolism. Firstly as a seasonal star it represents the ferocious heat of summer – its radiant mane stands for the overbearing radiance of the summer sun. Secondly, as the sacred beast of the war goddess Inanna-Ishtar, the Lion represents victory and war. The bright star at its breast (our Regulus) is known as the King Star – here representing the favourite of the goddess to whom she grants victory.” (QoN)

Enki walks out of the water to the land, followed by the lion

Enki walks out of the water to the land, followed by the lion

Our knowledge of Ancient History is poor, but great progress has been made even in the last two decades. It has become increasingly apparent that our classical Greek and Roman archetypes are in most cases pale shadows of their original significance. To get to the heart of the zodiac, we need to go back at least as far as Babylon. Here we find a very different reality where the counterpart of Venus, for example, is the goddess of sexual love, fertility and warfare. The word “pretty” simply doesn’t apply to her. In fact, we have lost most of the archetypal origins of the zodiac and find ourselves trying to make sense of fragments of a powerful, illusive,  but clearly profound inheritance.

Winged gods - Sumer

Winged gods – Sumer