Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism


"Praise ye Him, O sun and moon: praise Him, all ye stars and light''


Constellations of the Zodiac


 
 
The Zodiac is a sequence of twelve constellations that lie next to each other, one right after the other, forming a circle roughly around the middle of the celestial sphere. If you were to imagine the celestial sphere as we did before -- as a clear, hollow ball covered with stars, with the earth inside of it -- and then were to draw parallel lines in great circles centered around the center of the ball, 16o apart, the Zodiac's constellations would be found within that 16o band formed by the circles' lines (the zodiacal stars would be toward the bottom edge of the umbrella mentioned earlier). This band is angled 23.5o relative to the plane of the earth's equator.

Of all the stars that we can see in the celestial sphere, why are these groups of stars singled out as being special enough to warrant extra attention? Because that
16o-wide "band" on the celestial sphere -- a band known as the "ecliptic" -- also marks the paths that the Sun and planets take as they at least seem to orbit the earth in their own spheres inside the celestial sphere (see diagram here). Most importantly for our purposes, because the ecliptic is angled, they are the constellations that can be seen from all over the world, recalling the Psalm St. Paul referred to, as mentioned on the first page of this series:

Psalm 18:2-5
The heavens shew forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands. Day to day uttereth speech, and night to night sheweth knowledge. There are no speeches nor languages, where their voices are not heard. Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth: and their words unto the ends of the world.

The recognition of the constellations listed as belonging in the Zodiac is very ancient, known not only to the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, and Babylonians, but to the ancient Israelites and to the heathens of their day who literally worshipped these particular stars. IV Kings (II Kings in Bibles with Masoretic numbering) gives us a hint of the battles between those apostates and our Israelite spiritual ancestors:

IV Kings 23:4-5
And the king commanded Helcias, the high priest, and the priests of the second order, and the doorkeepers, to cast out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels that had been made for Baal, and for the grove, and for all the host of heaven: and he burnt them without Jerusalem, in the valley of Cedron, and he carried the ashes of them to Bethel.

And he destroyed the soothsayers, whom the kings of Juda had appointed to sacrifice in the high places in the cities of Juda, and round about Jerusalem: them also that burnt incense to Baal, and to the sun, and to the moon, and to the twelve signs, and to all the host of heaven.

Below is a table of those "twelve signs," the glyphs used to symbolize them, and their Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Hindu, and Babylonian names. In all of the languages, the meanings of the names are consistent with our modern English names for the signs unless otherwise noted in parentheses. I've also included the planets classically considered to be the "ruling planets" of each constellation. These "planets" are sometimes not strictly "planets" at all, given that the Sun and Moon are included. Planets not visible to the naked eye, such as Uranus and Neptune, are not included (nor, obviously, is the recently demoted Pluto) as the ancients were unaware of them and, therefore, didn't consider them as influences on us. Each of these "ruling planets" is said to be "exalted" when in its own constellation -- its "domicile."
 


Constellation
Image

Latin
Name

Greek
Name

Hebrew
Name

Hindu
Name

Babylonian
Name

Ruling Planet
and its glyph

Virgin holding a stalk

Virgo

Parthenos

Betulah

Kanya

Mul.ab.sin
("Barley Stalk")

Mercury

Scales

Libra

Zygos
(also "Chelai," or "Claws")

Moznayim

Tula

mul.zib.ba.an.na

Venus

Scorpion

Scorpius

Skorpios

Akrav

Ali

mul.gir.tab

Mars

Archer

Sagittarius

Taxotes

Keshet ("Bow")

Kamuka

mul.pa.bil.sag ("Grandfather")

Jupiter

Sea-goat

Capricornus

Aigokeros

Gedi

Ella

mul.suhur.mash

Saturn

Water-Bearer

Aquarius

Hydrochoos

Deli

Kumbha
(pitcher)

mul.gu.la
("Great One")

Saturn

Fishes

Pisces

Ichthyes

Dagim

Matsya

mul.zibbati.mesh ("Tails")

Jupiter

Ram

Aries

Krios

Taleh ("Lamb")

Mella

mul.lu.hun.ga
("Hired Man")

Mars

Bull

Taurus

Tauros

Shor

Villabha

mul.gud.an.na

Venus

Twins

Gemini

Didymoi

Te'omim

Mithuna

mul.mash.tab.ba.gal.gal

Mercury

Crab

Cancer

Karkinos

Sartan

Karka

mul.al.lul

Moon

Lion

Leo

Leon

Aryeh

Sillha

mul.ur.gu.la

Sun

 


The Zodiac's Themes

As we go along, you'll see that the Zodiacal constellations can be easily divided into thirds, with each third having its own theme:

Virgo
Libra
Scorpius Sagittarius

 The Nature of Christ
Capricornus
Aquarius
Pisces
Aries
The Nature of His Church
Taurus
Gemini
Cancer
Leo
Last Things
 
Keeping this overall theme structure in mind will help you to remember the order of the Zodiac's constellations.


Very Important Note


As noted earlier, the ecliptic along which the signs of the Zodiac march is a circle, 360 degrees. Each of the 12 zodiacal signs takes up 30 degrees of that circle, and each of the twelve signs is divided up further into thirds (ten degrees each), with each of those thirds being called a "decan." Each of these decans -- 36 in all -- is associated with yet another, non-zodiacal constellation.

On this tour, I'll be talking about the zodiac signs themselves and the constellations associated with their decans, but please note: I personally do not believe that the decan constellations should be considered as being of great, or maybe of any, importance in terms of any potential "Gospel in the stars" possibility. They are not generally among the stars whose "voices" can be heard throughout the world, and their names are typically not consistent in the great ancient cultures and throughout the ages, unlike the names for the zodiacal constellations. I've read many Christian attempts to treat non-Zodiacal constellations as on par with the Zodiac in terms of relevance to the Gospel story, and they fall flat, relying on truly outrageous, perhaps outright intentionally deceitful interpretations from Arabic and Egyptian heiroglyphs,1 and involving great stretches of the imagination. I've even seen descriptions of how the ancients and medievals imagined various constellations that are simply not at all Historically accurate, something I find, if done purposefully, to be reprehensible. God is in no need of lies! The Truth stands on its own, and using misinformation, even if for good intentions, is not something a Christian can engage in without sin! We cannot do evil even with the goal of bringing about good, and the ends do not justify the means! The Dominican motto, "Veritas," is one I take as my own.
I do include the decans, however, delving into mnemonically and coincidentally relevant Greco-Roman mythology and other facts relating to them, only in order to encourage people to look at the skies, and to give them a way of seeing and remembering the constellations.

In other words, while going through this section of the website, pay serious attention only to the Zodiacal signs, and know that they alone are the constellations whose names are truly Historically ancient and consistent, and that they alone are the stars to which David and St. Paul seem to refer. Treat the information about the decans' constellations as just "extra information" and as a mnemonic system for remembering God's beautiful stars -- only twelve constellations of which, visible throughout the populated world, perhaps having been purposefully designed and named to tell the story of Our Lord and His Church.

It also very important to note as well that while the ancient names of and symbols for the Zodiacal constellations are consistent, the meanings ascribed to them have changed over time. The Greeks and Romans added a thick layer of pagan thought to them, even with stories of their false gods as being the reason for their very existence. And their false gods -- demons -- were written about as being involved with behaviors, some quite sordid, that no Christian can condone. For ex., the Sign of Aquarius, the Water-Bearer, was seen by the Greeks and Romans as Ganymede, a beautiful young man for whom Zeus developed a great attraction -- so great that he sent an eagle to abduct him so that Ganymemde could be his new cup-bearer. Their relationship was sexual, or at least erotically-charged, so much so that Hera, Zeus's consort, became jealous and consigned Ganymede to the heavens as the constellation of Aquarius. But, obviously, the stars of the constellation and the recognition of that group of stars as a constellation pre-date Greco-Roman myth. It was seen as depicting a Water-bearer long before the Greco-Roman myth I just related came about, so any potential Gospel significance of the Water-bearer symbolism shouldn't be done away with simply because the Greeks and Romans paganized it, adding homoerotic elements and a fantastical back-story.  I do mention Greco-Roman thought as we go along, however, when it's consistent with the Gospel message. It may well be the case that those consistencies have their roots in a much older understanding of the most ancient of all meanings of those particular sets of stars.



Footnotes:

1 As just one of many, many examples of totally bogus interpretations of Arabic names for the stars, there's this, from "The Gospel in the Stars," by Joseph A. Seiss, in reference to Orion: "Betelgeuse, a star of the first magnitude, flames on His right shoulder; and Betelgeuse means The Branch coming. Rigel, another star of the first magnitude, flames in His lifted foot; and Rigel means the Foot that crusheth." Wrong on both counts. "Betelgeuse" comes from the Arabic word for "hand," nothing about "branches" or "coming." "Rigel" means "left leg" or "left foot," with nothing about "crushing." Seiss's book and all others that I've encountered like it are filled with such errors, from beginning to end. And those errors have found their way to thousands of websites out there. So beware if you delve more deeply into this topic elsewhere!

If you do that sort of research, you'll find lots of talk of the "Mazzaroth," which some take to be the Hebrew word for "Zodiac." The word is used in the Hebrew text, and, transliterated, by the Septuagint version of Sacred Scripture, specifically in Job 38. The word may well mean "Zodiac," or it may simply refer to stars and constellations. It's related to the phrase "mazel tov," which is used as a sort of "congratulations!" among Jews, and references the "luck of the stars" or the good fortune or luck seen as "ordained" by the stars. It's akin, in that regard, to the English expression "to thank one's lucky stars."

Table of Contents

The Zodiac

Introduction

A Tour of the Heavens

Envisioning the Celestial Sphere
The Constellations of the Zodiac

Virgo

Libra

Scorpius

Sagittarius

Capricornus

Aquarius

Pisces

Aries

Taurus

Gemini

Cancer

Leo

Summary and a Few Odds and Ends

The Traditional Catholic View of Astrology


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