The sky is a wondrous mystery; it is physically complex and spiritually mystifying. What’s out there? Where does it end? When did it all begin? While these questions are beyond comprehension, humans have come to categorize the sky’s movement over time.
The sky is critical to three unique elements – astronomy, astrology and the calendar.
Astronomy is the scientific study of sun, moon and stars. It is one of the oldest sciences, developing solely from observation of the stars.
Astrology is the study of the effect of the heavenly bodies on human existence. The farther you go back in human history, the deeper the two were ingrained.
In my last post, I wrote about the Babylonians and their connection of the sky’s patterns to time. Because the the sky is the home of gods, the patterns in the sky reflect a deep faith in their existence.
The zodiac came to be the sequence of constellations where the sun, planets, and stars transition in their passage through the heavens,. Time can be divided into celestial movements, recognizable for all people. Time relies on constellations that appear at certain seasons. The constellations have their own associations with the mystic entities. So for the Babylonians, scientific observation of star positions necessitated faith in divine forces.
This conception of the Zodiac was eventually passed to the Egyptians. Egypt nourished the idea of horoscopic astrology, this is the form of astrology that uses the ascendant, the computation of the degree of the Eastern horizon rising against the backdrop of the ecliptic. Additionally, as Deborah Houlding argues in SkyScript, the Egyptians had a powerful connection to animals. This influenced their impression of the Zodiac symbolism.
Egypt highly revered the ram. This can be seen at the Great Temple of Amon-Ra at Karnak (built in 1480 BC). Here, a wide avenue of ram-headed sphinxes was built to be oriented to the summer solstice at sunset. The passage was narrowed so its chamber would only be illuminated for a few brief moments on the day of the summer solstice.
The Greek gods would influence the Zodiac later on. The Greek pantheon appears in early versions of the planetary symbols. For example, Mercury has a caduceus (the protection symbol of a winged staff wrapped with two snakes); Venus a necklace connected to another necklace (today’s “female” symbol); Saturn, a scythe; and the Sun has a crown with rays shooting out from it.
These celestial symbols have a long history. What do they mean to do? When do you look up into the sky, how do you feel? Remember, when you look into the sky, you are looking into the heart of history.