The Soul's Journey
The Celestial Calendar
See also:Lecture for Degree XXIV
Lecture for Degree XVIII
Consciousness, Laws, and Influences
Degree XXV Question Set 3
Immortality and Four Bodies of Man
Introduction to Astrology
The Recompense of Life
Degree XXV Question Set 1
Degree XXV Question Set 2
Degree XXV Question Set 3
Degree XXV Question Set 4
Degree XXV Question Set 5
Degree XXV Question Set 6
Degree XXV Question Set 7
Maimonides says: "In the days of Enos, the son of Seth, men fell into grievous errors, and even Enos himself partook of their infatuation. Their language was that since God has placed on high the heavenly bodies and used them as His ministers, it was evidently His will that they should receive from man the same veneration as the servants of a great prince justly claim from the subject multitude. Impressed with this notion, they began to build temples to the stars, to sacrifice to them, and to worship them, in the vain expectation that they should thus please the Creator of all things. At first, indeed, they did not suppose the stars to be the only Deities, but adored in conjunction with them the Lord God Omnipotent. In process of time, however, that great and venerable Name was totally forgotten, and the whole human race retained no other religion than the idolatrous worship of the Host of Heaven."
The first learning in the world consisted chiefly in symbols. The wisdom of the Chaldeans, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Jews; of Zoroaster, Sanchoniathon, Pherecydes, Cyrus, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato; of all the ancients that is come to our hand, is symbolic. It was the mode, says Serranus in Plato's Symposium, of the Ancient Philosophers to represent truth by certain symbols and hidden images.
"All that can be said concerning the Gods", says Strabo, "must be by the exposition of old opinions and fables, it being the custom of the ancients to wrap up in enigma and allegory their thoughts and discourses concerning Nature, which are therefore not easily explained."
As you learned in the 24th Degree, my Brother, the ancient philosophers regarded the soul of man as having had its origin in Heaven. That was, Macrobius says, a settled opinion among them all; and they held it to be the only true wisdom for the soul, while united with the body, to look ever towards its source and strive to return to the place whence it came. Among the fixed stars it dwelt until, seduced by the desire of animating a body, it descended to be imprisoned in matter. Thenceforward it has no other resource than recollection, and is ever attracted towards its birth-place and home. The means of return are to be sought for in itself. To re-ascend to its source, it must do and suffer in the body.
Thus the mysteries taught the great doctrine of the divine nature and longings after immortality of the soul, of the nobility of its origin, the grandeur of its destiny, and its superiority over the animals which have no aspirations Heavenward. If they struggled in vain to express its nature by comparing it to Fire and Light; if they erred as to its original place of abode, and the mode of its descent, and the path which, descending and ascending, it pursued among the stars and spheres, these were the accessories of the Great Truth, and mere allegories designed to make the idea more impressive and, as it were, more tangible, to the human mind.
The Galaxy, Macrobius says, crosses the Zodiac in two opposite points, Cancer and Capricorn, the tropical points in the Sun's course, ordinarily called the Gates of the Sun. These two tropics, before his time, corresponded with those constellations, but in his day with Gemini and Sagittarius, in consequence of the precession of the equinoxes; but the signs of the Zodiac remained unchanged; and the Milky Way crossed at the signs Cancer and Capricorn, though not at those constellations.
Through these gates, souls were supposed to descend from and re-ascend to Heaven. One, Macrobius says in his Dream of Scipio, was styled the gate of Men, and the other the Gate of the Gods. Cancer was the former, because souls descended by it to the earth; and Capricorn the latter, because by it they re-ascended to their seats of immortality, and became Gods. From the Milky Way, according to Pythagoras, diverged the route to the dominions of Pluto. Until they left the Galaxy, they were not deemed to have commenced to descend towards the terrestrial bodies. From that they departed, and to that they returned. Until they reached the sign Cancer, they had not left it, and were still Gods. When they reached Leo, they commenced their apprenticeship for their future condition; and when they were at Aquarius, the sign opposite Leo, they were furthest removed from human life.
The soul, descending from the celestial limits where the Zodiac and the Galaxy unite, loses its spherical shape (the shape of all Divine Nature), and is lengthened into a cone as a point is lengthened into a line; and then, previously an indivisible monad, it divides itself and becomes a duad — that is, unity becomes division, disturbance, and conflict. Then it begins to experience the disorder which reigns in matter, to which it unites itself — becoming, as it were, intoxicated by draughts of grosser matter; of which inebriation the cup of Bacchus, between Cancer and Leo, is a symbol. It is for them the cup of forgetfulness. They assemble, says Plato, in the fields of oblivion, to drink there the water of the river Ameles, which causes men to forget everything. This fiction is also found in Virgil. "If souls", says Macrobius, "carried with them into the bodies they occupy all the knowledge which they had acquired of divine things during their sojourn in the Heavens, men would not differ in opinion as to the Deity; but some of them forget more, and some less, of that which they had learned."
We smile at these notions of the ancients; but we must learn to look through these material images and allegories to the ideas struggling for utterance, the great speechless thoughts which they envelope: and it is well for us to consider whether we ourselves have yet found out any better way of representing to ourselves the soul's origin and its advent into this body, so entirely foreign to it — if, indeed, we have ever thought about it at all or have, in despair, ceased to think of it.
The highest and purest notion of matter which nourishes and constitutes divine existence, is what the poets term nectar, the beverage of the Gods. The lower, more disturbed and grosser portion, is what intoxicates souls. The ancients symbolised it as the River Lethe, dark stream of oblivion. How do we explain the soul's forgetfulness of its antecedents or reconcile that utter absence of remembrance of its former condition with its essential immortality? In truth, we for the most part dread and shrink from any attempt at explaining it to ourselves.
Dragged down by the heaviness produced by this inebriating draught, the soul falls along the Zodiac and the Milky Way to the lower spheres and in its descent not only takes, in each sphere, a new envelope of the material composing the luminous bodies of the planets, but receives there the different faculties which it is to exercise while it inhabits the body.
In Saturn, it acquires the power of reasoning and intelligence, or what is termed the logical and contemplative faculty. From Jupiter, it receives the power of action. Mars gives it valour, enterprise, and impetuosity. From the Sun it receives the senses and imagination, which produce sensation, perception, and thought. Venus inspires it with desires. Mercury gives it the faculty of expressing and enunciating what it thinks and feels. And, on entering the sphere of the Moon, it acquires the force of generation and growth. This lunary sphere, lowest and basest to Divine bodies, is first and highest to terrestrial bodies. And the lunary body there assumed by the soul, while as it were the sediment of celestial matter, is also the first substance of animal matter.
The celestial bodies, Heaven, the stars, and the other Divine elements ever aspire to rise. The soul, reaching the region which mortality inhabits, tends towards terrestrial bodies, and is deemed to die. Let no one, says Macrobius, be surprised that we so frequently speak of the death of this soul, which yet we call immortal. It is neither annulled nor destroyed by such death, but merely enfeebled for a time, and does not thereby forfeit its prerogative of immortality; for afterwards, freed from the body, when it has been purified from the vice-stains contracted during that connection, it is re-established in all its privileges and returns to the luminous abode of its immortality.
On its return, it restores to each sphere through which it ascends the passions and earthly faculties received from them: to the Moon, the faculty of increase and diminution of the body; to Mercury, fraud, the architect of evils; to Venus, the seductive love of pleasure; to the Sun, the passion for greatness and empire; to Mars, audacity and temerity; to Jupiter, avarice; and to Saturn, falsehood and deceit; and at last, relieved of all, it enters naked and pure into the eighth sphere or highest Heaven.
All this agrees with the doctrine of Plato, that the soul cannot re-enter into Heaven until the revolutions of the Universe shall have restored it to its primitive condition, and purified it from the effects of its contact with the four elements.
This opinion of the pre-existence of souls as pure and celestial substances before their union with our bodies, to put on and animate which they descend from Heaven, is one of great antiquity. A modern Rabbi, Manasseh ben Israel, says it was always the belief of the Hebrews. It was that of most philosophers who admitted the immortality of the soul: and therefore it was taught in the Mysteries; for, as Lactantius says, they could not see how it was possible that the soul should exist after the body if it had not existed before it, and if its nature was not independent of the body. The same doctrine was adopted by the most learned of the Greek Fathers, and by many of the Latins; and it would probably prevail largely at the present day if men troubled themselves to think upon this subject at all, and to inquire whether the soul's immortality involved its prior existence.
Some philosophers held that the soul was incarcerated in the body by way of punishment for sins committed by it in a prior state. How they reconciled this with the same soul's unconsciousness of any such prior state, or of sin committed there, does not appear. Others held that God, of his mere will, sent the soul to inhabit the body. The Kabbalists united the two opinions. They held that there are four worlds, Azilut, Beriah, Yezirah, and Asiyyah, the worlds respectively of emanation, creation, formation, and action, one above and more perfect than the other in that order, both as regards their own nature and that of the beings who inhabit them. All souls are originally in the world Azilut, the Supreme Heaven, abode of God and of pure and immortal spirits. Those who descend from it without fault of their own, by God's order, are gifted with a divine fire which preserves them from the contagion of matter and restores them to Heaven as soon as their mission is ended. Those who descend through their own fault go from world to world, insensibly losing their love of Divine things, and their self-contemplation, until they reach the world Asiyyah, falling by their own weight. This is a pure Platonism, clothed with the images and words peculiar to the Kabbalists. It was the doctrine of the Essenes who, says Porphyry, "believe that souls descend from the most subtle ether, attracted to bodies by the seductions of matter". It was in substance the doctrine of Origen; and it came from the Chaldeans, who largely studied the theory of the Heavens, the spheres, and the influences of the signs and constellations.
The Gnostics made souls ascend and descend through eight Heavens, in each of which were certain Powers that opposed their return, and often drove them back to earth when not sufficiently purified. The last of these Powers, nearest to the luminous abode of souls, was a serpent or dragon.
In the ancient doctrine, certain genii were charged with the duty of conducting souls to the bodies destined to receive them, and of withdrawing them from those bodies. According to Plutarch, these were the functions of Proserpine and Mercury. In Plato, a familiar genius accompanies man at his birth, follows and watches him all his life, and at death conducts him to the tribunal of the Great Judge. These genii are the media of communication between man and the Gods; and the soul is ever in their presence. This doctrine is taught in the oracles of Zoroaster: and these genii were the Intelligences that resided in the planets.
Thus the secret science and mysterious emblems of initiation were connected with the Heavens, the Spheres, and the constellations: and this connection must be studied by whomsoever would understand the ancient mind, and be enabled to delineate the ideas that struggled within them for utterance, and could be but insufficiently and inadequately expressed by language, whose words are images of those things alone that can be grasped by and are within the empire of the senses.
Memphis, in Egypt, was in Latitude 29 degrees 5 minutes North, and in Longitude 30 degrees 18 minutes East. Thebes, in Upper Egypt, was in Latitude 25 degrees 45 minutes North, and in Longitude 32 degrees 43 minutes East. Babylon was in Latitude 32 degrees 30 minutes North, and Longitude 44 degrees 23 minutes East, while Saba, the ancient Sabean capital of Ethiopia, was about in Latitude 15 degrees North.
Through Egypt ran the great River Nile, coming from beyond Ethiopia, its source in regions wholly unknown, in the abodes of heat and fire, and its course from South to North. Its inundations had formed the alluvial lands of Upper and Lower Egypt, which they continued to raise higher and higher, and to fertilise by their deposits. At first, as in all newly-settled countries, those inundations, occurring annually and always at the same period of the year, were calamities: until, by means of levees and drains and artificial lakes for irrigation, they became blessings, and were looked for with joyful anticipation as before they had been awaited with terror. Upon the deposit left by the Sacred River as it withdrew into its banks, the husbandman sowed his seed, and the rich soil and the genial sun ensured him an abundant harvest.
Babylon lay on the Euphrates, which ran from Northwest to Southeast, blessing, as all rivers in the Orient do, the arid country through which it flowed, but its rapid and uncertain overflows bringing terror and disaster.
To the ancients, as yet inventors of no astronomical instruments and looking at the Heavens with the eyes of children, this earth was a level plain of unknown extent. About its boundaries there was speculation, but no knowledge. The inequalities of its surface were the irregularities of a plane. That it was a globe, or that anything lived on its under surface, or on what it rested, they had no idea. Every twenty-four hours the sun came up from beyond the Eastern rim of the world and travelled across the sky over the earth, always South, but sometimes nearer and sometimes further from the point overhead, and sank below the world's Western rim. With him went light, and after him followed darkness.
And every twenty-four hours appeared in the Heavens another body, visible chiefly at night, but sometimes even when the sun shone, which likewise, as if following the sun at a greater or less distance, travelled across the sky; sometimes as a thin crescent, and thence increasing to a full orb resplendent with silver light; and sometimes more and sometimes less to the Southward of the point overhead, with the same limits as the sun.
Man, enveloped by the thick darkness of profoundest night, when everything around him has disappeared and he seems alone with himself and the black shades that surround him, feels his existence a blank and nothingness except so far as memory recalls to him the glories and splendours of light. Everything is dead to him and he, as it were, to Nature. How crushing and overwhelming the thought, the fear, the dread, that perhaps the darkness may be eternal, and that day may possibly never return — if it ever occurs to his mind while the solid gloom closes up against him like a wall! What then can restore him to life, to energy, to activity, to fellowship and communion with the great world which God has spread around him and which perhaps in the darkness may be passing away? Light restores him to himself and to Nature which seemed lost to him. Naturally, therefore, the primitive men regarded light as the principle of their real existence, without which life would be but one continued weariness and despair. The necessity for light, and its actual creative energy, were felt by all men: and nothing was more alarming to them than its absence. It became their first Divinity, a single ray of which, flashing into the dark tumultuous bosom of chaos, caused man and all the Universe to emerge from it. So all the poets sang who imagined Cosmogonies; such was the first dogma of Orpheus, Moses, and the Theologians. Light was Ormuzd adored by the Persians, and Darkness Ahriman, origin of all evils. Light was the life of the Universe, friend of man, the substance of the Gods and of the Soul.
The sky was to them a great solid concave arch, a hemisphere of unknown material at an unknown distance above the flat level earth; and along it journeyed in their courses the Sun, the Moon, the planets, and the stars.
The Sun was to them a great globe of fire, of unknown dimensions, at an unknown distance. The Moon was a mass of softer light; the stars and planets lucent bodies armed with unknown and supernatural influences.
It could not fail to be soon observed that at regular intervals the days and nights were equal in duration; that two of these intervals measured the same space of time as elapsed between the successive inundations and between the returns of spring-time and harvest. Nor could it fail to be perceived that the changes of the moon occurred regularly, the same number of days always elapsing between the first appearance of her silver crescent in the West at evening and that of her full orb rising in the East at the same hour: and the same again between that and the new appearance of the crescent in the West.
It was also soon observed that the Sun crossed the Heavens in a different line each day, the days being longest and the nights shortest when the line of his passage was furthest North, and the days shortest and nights longest when that line was furthest South; that his progress North and South was perfectly regular, marking four periods that were always the same — those when the days and nights were equal, or the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes; that when the days were longest, or the Summer Solstice; and that when they were shortest, or the Winter Solstice.
With the Vernal Equinox, on or about the 21st of March of our calendar, they found that there unerringly came soft winds, the return of warmth, caused by the Sun turning back to the Northward from the middle ground of his course, the vegetation of the new year, and the impulse to amatory action on the part of the animal creation. Then the Bull and the Ram, animals most valuable to the agriculturist, and themselves symbols of vigorous generative power, recovered their vigour, the birds mated and builded their nests, the seeds germinated, the grass grew, and the trees put forth their leaves. With the Summer Solstice, when the Sun reached the extreme Northern limit of his course, came great heat and burning winds and lassitude and exhaustion; vegetation withered, man longed for the cool breezes of Spring and Autumn and the cool water of the wintry Nile or Euphrates, and the Lion sought for that element far from his home in the desert.
With the Autumnal Equinox came ripe harvests, fruits of the tree and vine, falling leaves, and cold evenings presaging wintry frosts; and the Principle and Powers of darkness, prevailing over those of Light, drove the Sun further to the South so that the nights grew longer than the days. And at the Winter Solstice the earth was wrinkled with frost, the trees were leafless, and the Sun reaching the most Southern point in his career seemed to hesitate whether to continue descending, to leave the world to darkness and despair, or to turn upon his steps and retrace his course to the Northward, bringing back seed-time and spring, and green leaves, flowers and the delights of love.
Thus, naturally and necessarily, time was divided, first into days, then into moons or months, and finally into years; and with these divisions and the movements of the Heavenly bodies that marked them, were associated and connected all men's physical enjoyments and privations. Wholly agricultural, and in their frail habitations greatly at the mercy of the elements and the changing seasons, the primitive people of the Orient were most deeply interested in the recurrence of the periodical phenomena presented by the two great luminaries of Heaven, on whose regularity all their prosperity depended.
And the attentive observer soon noticed that the smaller lights of Heaven were, apparently, even more regular than the Sun and Moon, and foretold with unerring certainty, by their risings and settings, the periods of recurrence of the different phenomena and seasons on which the physical well-being of all men depended. They soon felt the necessity of distinguishing the individual stars or groups of stars, and giving them names that they might understand each other when referring to and designating them. Necessity produced designations at once natural and artificial. Observing that, in the circle of the year, the renewal and periodical appearance of the productions of the earth were constantly associated, not only with the courses of the Sun, the centre to which they referred the whole starry host, the mind naturally connected the celestial and terrestrial objects that were in fact connected; and they commenced by giving to particular stars or groups of stars the names of those terrestrial objects which seemed connected with them; and for those which still remained unnamed by this nomenclature, they assumed arbitrary and fanciful names just to complete a system.
Thus the Ethiopian of Thebes or Saba styled those stars under which the Nile commenced to overflow Stars of Inundation, or that poured out water (Aquarius).
Those stars among which the Sun was when he had reached the Northern Tropic and began to retreat Southward were, from his retrograde motion, termed the Crab (Cancer).
As he approached, in Autumn, the middle point between the Northern and Southern extremes of his journeying, the days and nights became equal; and the stars among which he was then found were called Stars of the Balance (Libra).
Those stars among which the Sun was when the Lion, driven from the desert by thirst, came to slake it at the Nile, were called Stars of the Lion (Leo).
Those among which the Sun was at harvest were called those of the Gleaning Virgin (Virgo).
Those among which he was found in February, when the ewes brought their young, were called Stars of the Lamb (Aries).
Those in March, when it was time to plough, were called Stars of the Ox (Taurus).
Those under which hot and burning winds came from the desert, venomous like poisonous reptiles, were called Stars of the Scorpion (Scorpio).
Observing that the annual return of the rising of the Nile was always accompanied by the appearance of a beautiful Star, which at that period showed itself in the direction of the sources of that river and seemed to warn the husbandman not to be surprised by the inundation, the Ethiopian compared this act of that Star to that of the animal which by barking gives warning of danger, and styled it the Dog (Sirius).
Thus commencing, and as astronomy came to be more studied, imaginary figures were traced all over the Heavens to which the different stars were assigned. Chief among them were those that lay along the path which the Sun travelled as he climbed towards the North and descended to the South, lying within certain limits and extending to an equal distance on each side of the line of equal nights and days. This belt, curving like a serpent, was termed the Zodiac, and divided into twelve signs.
At the Vernal Equinox, 2455 years before our era, the Sun was entering the sign and Constellation Taurus, the Bull, having since he commenced at the Winter Solstice to ascend Northward, passed through the signs Aquarius, Pisces, and Aries; on entering the first of which he reached the lowest limit of his journey Southward.
From Taurus, he passed through Gemini and Cancer, and reached Leo when he arrived on the terminus of his journey Northward. Thence through Leo, Virgo and Libra, he entered Scorpio at the Autumnal Equinox, and journeyed Southward through Scorpio, Sagittarius, and Capricorn to Aquarius, the terminus of his journey South.
The path by which he journeyed through these signs became the Ecliptic; and that which passed through the two equinoxes, the Equator.
The people knew nothing of the immutable laws of Nature; and whenever the Sun commenced to tend Southward, they feared lest he might continue to do so, and by degrees disappear forever, leaving the earth to be ruled forever by darkness, storm, and cold.
Hence they rejoiced when he commenced to re-ascend after the Winter Solstice, struggling against the malign influences of Aquarius and Pisces, and amicably received by the Lamb. And when at the Vernal Equinox he entered Taurus, they still more rejoiced at the assurance that the days would again be longer than the nights, that the season of seed-time had come, and the Summer and harvest would follow.
And they lamented when, after the Autumnal Equinox, the malign influence of the venomous Scorpion, the vindictive Archer, and the filthy and ill-omened He-Goat dragged him down towards the Winter Solstice.
Arriving there, they said he had been slain, and had gone to the realm of Darkness. Remaining there three days, he rose again, and again ascended Northward in the Heavens, to redeem the earth from the gloom and darkness of Winter, which soon became emblematical of sin and evil and suffering, as the Spring, Summer, and Autumn became emblems of happiness and immortality.
Soon they personified the Sun, and worshipped him under the name of Osiris, and transmuted the legend of his descent among the Winter signs into a fable of his death, his descent into the infernal regions, and his resurrection.
The Moon became Isis, the wife of Osiris; and Winter, as well as the desert or the ocean into which the Sun descended, became Typhon, the Spirit or Principle of Evil, warring against and destroying Osiris.
From the journey of the Sun through the twelve signs came the legend of the twelve labours of Hercules and the incarnations of Vishnu and Buddha. Hence came the legend of the murder of Hiram Abi, representative of the Sun, by the three fellow-crafts, symbols of the three Winter signs, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces, who assailed him at the three gates of Heaven and slew him at the Winter Solstice. Hence the search for him by the nine fellow-crafts, the other nine signs, his finding, burial, and resurrection.
The Celestial Taurus, opening the New Year, was the Creative Bull of the Hindus and Japanese, breaking with his horn the egg out of which the world is born. Hence the bull Apis was worshipped by the Egyptians and reproduced as a golden calf by Aaron in the desert. Hence the cow was sacred to the Hindus. Hence, from the sacred and beneficent signs of Taurus and Leo, the human-headed winged lions and bulls in the palaces at Kuyunjik and Nimrud, like which were the Cherubim set by Solomon in his Temple; and hence the twelve brazen or bronze oxen on which the laver of brass was supported.
The Celestial Vulture or Eagle, rising and setting with the Scorpion, was in many cases substituted in its place, on account of the malign influences of the latter: and thus the four great periods of the year were marked by the Bull, the Lion, the Man (Aquarius), and the Eagle, which were upon the respective standards of Ephraim, Judah, Reuben, and Dan; and still appear on the shield of American Royal Arch Masonry.
Afterwards the Ram or Lamb became an object of adoration when, in his turn, he opened the Equinox to deliver the world from the wintry reign of darkness and evil.
Around the central and simple idea of the annual death and resurrection of the Sun, a multitude of circumstantial details soon clustered. Some were derived from other astronomical phenomena, while many were merely poetical ornaments and inventions.
Besides the Sun and Moon, those ancients also saw a beautiful Star, shining with a soft silvery light, always following the Sun at no great distance when he set, or preceding him when he arose. Another of a red and angry colour, and still another more kingly and brilliant than all, early attracted their attention by their free movements among the fixed hosts of Heaven: and the latter by his unusual brilliancy and the regularity with which he rose and set. These were Venus, Mars and Jupiter. Mercury and Saturn could scarcely have been noticed until astronomy began to assume the proportions of a science.
In the projection of the celestial sphere by the astronomical priests, the Zodiac and Constellations, arranged in a circle, presented their halves in diametrical opposition; and the hemisphere of winter was said to be adverse, opposed, contrary, to that of summer. Over the angels of the latter ruled a king (Osiris or Ormuzd), enlightened, intelligent, creative, and beneficent. Over the fallen angels or evil genii of the former, the demons or Devs of the subterranean empire of darkness and sorrow and its stars, ruled also a chief. In Egypt, the Scorpion first ruled, the sign next the Balance, and long the chief of the winter signs; and then the Polar Bear or Ass, called Typhon, that is, deluge, on account of the rains which inundated the earth while that constellation domineered. In Persia, at a later day, it was the Serpent which, personified as Ahriman, was the Evil principle of the religion of Zoroaster.
The Sun does not arrive at the same moment each year at the equinoctial point on the Equator. The explanation of his anticipating that point belongs to the science of astronomy, and to that we refer you for it. The consequence is what is termed the precession of the Equinoxes, by means of which the Sun is constantly changing his place in the Zodiac at each Vernal Equinox: so that now, the signs retaining the names which they had 300 years before Christ, and the constellations no longer correspond, the Sun being now in the constellation Pisces when he is in the sign Aries.
The annual amount of precession is a little over 50 seconds. The period of a complete Revolution of the Equinoxes is 25,856 years. Thus the precession amounts to 30 degrees, or a sign, in 2155.6 years. So that, as the Sun now enters Pisces at the Vernal Equinox, he entered Aries at that period 300 years BCE and Taurus 2455 BCE. And the division of the Ecliptic, now called Taurus, lies in the Constellation Aries; while the sign Gemini is in the Constellation Taurus. Four thousand six hundred years before Christ, the Sun entered Gemini at the Vernal Equinox.
At the two periods 2455 and 300 BCE, and now, the entrances of the Sun at the Equinoxes and Solstices were and are as follows:
|Vernal Equinox he entered||Taurus||from Aries|
|Summer Solstice||Leo||from Cancer|
|Autumn Equinox||Scorpio||from Libra|
|Winter Solstice||Aquarius||from Capricorn|
|Vernal Equinox he entered||Aries||from Pisces|
|Summer Solstice||Cancer||from Gemini|
|Autumn Equinox||Libra||from Virgo|
|Winter Solstice||Capricorn||from Sagittarius|
|Vernal Equinox he entered||Pisces||from Aquarius|
|Summer Solstice||Gemini||from Taurus|
|Autumn Equinox||Virgo||from Leo|
|Winter Solstice||Sagittarius||from Scorpio|
Perhaps we are not, on the whole, much wiser than those simple men of the old time. For what do we know of effect and cause except that one thing regularly or habitually follows another?
So, because the helical rising of Sirius preceded the rising of the Nile, it was deemed to cause it; and other stars were in like manner held to cause extreme heat, bitter cold, and watery storm.
A religious reverence for the Zodiacal Bull (Taurus) appears from a very early period to have been pretty general throughout Asia from that chain or region of Caucasus to which it gave name and which is still known under the appellation of Mount Taurus, to the Southern extremity of the Indian Peninsula; extending itself also into Europe and through the Eastern parts of Africa. This evidently originated during those remote ages when the colure of the Vernal Equinox passed across the stars in the head of the sign Taurus (among which was Aldebaran); a period when, as the most ancient monuments of all the Oriental nations attest, the light of arts and letters first shone forth.
The Arabian word Al-de-baran means the foremost, or leading, star: and it could have been so named only when it did precede, or lead, all others. The year then opened with the Sun in Taurus; and the multitude of ancient scriptures, both in Assyria and Egypt, wherein the bull appears with lunette or crescent horns and the disc of the Sun between them, are direct allusions to the important festival of first New Moon of the year: and there was everywhere an annual celebration of the festival of the first New Moon when the year opened with Sol and Luna in Taurus.
David sings: "Blow the trumpet in the New Moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day: for this is a statute unto Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob. This He ordained to Joseph for a testimony, when he came out of the land of Egypt."
The reverence paid to Taurus continued long after the time when, by the precession of the Equinoxes, the colure of the Vernal Equinox had come to pass through Aries. The Chinese still have a temple called "The Palace of the Horned Bull"; and the same symbol is worshipped in Japan and all over Hindustan. The Cimbrians carried a brazen bull with them as the image of their God when they overran Spain and Gaul; and the representation of the Creation by the Deity in the shape of a bull breaking the shell of an egg with his horns meant Taurus opening the year and bursting the symbolical shell of the annually-recurring orb of the New Year.
Theophilus says that the Osiris of Egypt was supposed to be dead or absent fifty days in each year. Landseer thinks that this was because the Sabean priests were accustomed to see, in the lower latitudes of Egypt and Ethiopia, the first or chief stars of the husbandman (Bootes) sink achronically beneath the Western horizon and then to begin their lamentations, or hold forth the signal for others to weep; and when his prolific virtues were supposed to be transferred to the Vernal Sun, Bacchanalian revelry became devotion.
Before the colure of the Vernal Equinox had passed into Aries, and after it had left Aldebaran and the Hyades, the Pleiades were, for seven or eight centuries, the leading stars of the Sabean year. And thus we see on the monuments the disc and crescent, symbols of the Sun and Moon in conjunction, appear successively, first on the head and then on the neck and back of the Zodiacal Bull, and more recently on the forehead of the Ram.
The diagrammatic character or symbol still in use to denote Taurus is this very crescent and disc, a symbol that has come down to us from the remote ages when this memorable conjunction in Taurus, by marking the commencement at once of the Sabean year and of the cycle of the Chaldean Saros, so pre-eminently distinguished that sign as to become its characteristic symbol. On a bronze bull from China, the crescent is attached to the back of the Bull by means of a cloud, and a curved groove is provided for the occasional introduction of the disc of the Sun when solar and lunar times were coincident and conjunctive at the commencement of the year and of the lunar cycle. When that was made, the year did not open with the stars in the head of the Bull, but when the Colure of the Vernal Equinox passed across the middle or later degrees of the asterism Taurus, and the Pleiades were, in China as in Canaan, the leading stars of the year.
The crescent and disc combined always represent the conjunctive Sun and Moon; and when placed on the head of the Zodiacal Bull, the commencement of the cycle termed Saros by the Chaldeans and Metonic by the Greeks; and supposed to be alluded to in Job by the phrase, "Mazzaroth in his season", that is to say, when the first New Moon and New Sun of the year were coincident, which happened once in eighteen years and a fraction.
On the sarcophagus of Alexander, the same symbol appears on the head of a Ram which, in the time of that monarch, was the leading sign. So too in the sculptured temples of the Upper Nile, the crescent and disc appear, not on the head of Taurus but on the forehead of the Ram or Ram-headed God, whom the Grecian Mythologists called Jupiter Ammon, really the Sun in Aries.
If we now look for a moment at the individual stars which composed and were near to the respective constellations, we may find something that will connect itself with the symbols of the ancient Mysteries and of Masonry.
It is to be noticed that when the Sun is in a particular constellation, no part of that constellation will be seen except just before sunrise and just after sunset, and then only the edge of it; but the constellation opposite to it will be visible. When the Sun is in Taurus, for example, i.e. when Taurus sets with the Sun, Scorpio rises as he sets, and continues visible through the night. And if Taurus rises and sets with the Sun today, he will, six months hence, rise at sunset and set at sunrise: for the stars gain on the Sun two hours a month.
Going back to the time when, watched by the Chaldean shepherds and the husbandmen of Ethiopia and Egypt,
we see in the neck of Taurus the Pleiades and in his face the Hyades "which Grecia from their showering names" and of which the brilliant Aldebaran is the chief; while to the South-westward is Orion, that most splendid of constellations, with Betelgeuse in his right shoulder, Bellatrix in his left shoulder, Rigel on the left foot, and in his belt the three stars known as the Three Kings, and now as the Yard and Ell. Orion, ran the legend, persecuted the Pleiades; and to save them from his fury, Jupiter placed them in the Heavens where he still pursues them, but in vain. They, with Arcturus and the Bands of Orion, are mentioned in the Book of Job. They are usually called the Seven Stars, and it is said there were seven before the fall of Troy, though now only six are visible.
The Pleiades were so named from a Greek word signifying to sail. In all ages they have been observed for signs and seasons. Virgil says that the sailors gave names to "the Pleiades, Hyades, and the Northern Car: Pleiadas, Hyadas, Claramque Lycaonis Arcton". And Palinurus, he says "studied Arcturus and the rainy Hyades and the Twin Triones, and Orion cinctured with gold".
Taurus was the prince and leader of the celestial host for more than two thousand years, and when his head set with the Sun about the last of May, the Scorpion was seen to rise in the Southeast.
The Pleiades were sometimes called Vergiliae, or the Virgins of Spring, because the Sun entered this cluster of stars in the season of blossoms. Their Syrian name was Succoth, or Succoth-beneth, derived from a Chaldean word signifying to speculate or observe.
The Hyades are five stars in the form of a V, 11 degrees Southeast of the Pleiades. The Greeks counted them as seven. When the Vernal Equinox was in Taurus, Aldebaran led up the starry host; and as he rose in the East, Aries was about 27 degrees high.
When he was close upon the meridian, the Heavens presented their most magnificent appearance, Capella was a little further from the meridian to the North, and Orion still further from it to the Southward. Procyon, Sirius, Castor, and Pollux had climbed about halfway from the horizon to the meridian. Regulus had just risen upon the ecliptic. The Virgin still lingered below the horizon. Fomalhaut was halfway to the meridian in the Southwest; and to the Northwest were the brilliant constellations Perseus, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, and Andromeda; while the Pleiades had just passed the meridian.
Orion is visible to all the habitable world. The equinoctial line passes through the centre of it. When Aldebaran rose in the East, the Three Kings in orion followed him; and as Taurus set, the Scorpion by whose sting it was said Orion died, rose in the East.
Orion rises at noon about the 9th of March. His rising was accompanied with great rains and storms, and it became very terrible to mariners.
In Boötes, called by the ancient Greeks Lycaon, from lukos, a wolf, and by the Hebrews, Caleb Anubach, the Barking Dog, is the Great Star Arcturus which, when Taurus opened the year, corresponded with a season remarkable for its great heat.
Next comes Gemini, the Twins, two human figures in the heads of which are the bright stars Castor and Pollux, the Dioscuri, and the Cabiri of Samothrace, patrons of navigation; while South of Pollux are the brilliants stars Sirius and Procyon, the greater and lesser Dog; and still further South, Canopus, in the Ship Argo.
Sirius is apparently the largest and brightest Star in the Heavens. When the Vernal Equinox was in Taurus, he rose heliacally, that is, just before the Sun, when, at the Summer Solstice, the Sun entered Leo about the 21st of June, fifteen days previous to the swelling of the Nile. The heliacal rising of Canopus was also a precursor of the rising of the Nile. Procyon was the forerunner of Sirius and rose before him.
There are no important stars in Cancer. In the Zodiacs of Esne and Dendera and in most of the astrological remains of Egypt, the sign of this constellation was a beetle (Scarabaeus), which thence became sacred as an emblem of the gate through which souls descended from Heaven. In the crest of Cancer is a cluster of stars formerly called Praesepe, the Manger, on each side of which is a small star, the two of which were called Aselli, little asses.
In Leo are the splendid stars Regulus, directly on the ecliptic, and Denebola in the Lion's tail. Southeast of Regulus is the fine star Cor Hydrae.
The combat of Hercules with the Nemean lion was his first labour. It was the first sign into which the Sun passed after falling below the Summer Solstice, from which time he struggled to re-ascend.
The Nile overflowed in this sign. It stands first in the Zodiac of Dendera, and is in all the Indian and Egyptian Zodiacs.
In the left hand of Virgo (Isis or Ceres) is the beautiful star Spica Virginis, a little South of the ecliptic. Vindemiatrix, of less magnitude, is in the right arm; and Northwest of Spica, in Boötes (the husbandman, Osiris), is the splendid star Arcturus.
The division of the first decan of the Virgin, Aben Ezra says, represents a beautiful virgin with flowing hair sitting in a chair with two ears of corn in her hand and suckling an infant. In an Arabian MSS in the Royal Library at Paris is a picture of the Twelve signs. That of Virgo is a young girl with an infant by her side. Virgo was Isis; and her representation carrying a child (Horus) in her arms, exhibited in her temple, was accompanied by this inscription: "I am all that is, that was, and that shall be; and the fruit which I have brought forth is the Sun".
Nine months after the Sun enters Virgo, he reaches the Twins. When Scorpio begins to rise, Orion sets; when Scorpio comes to the meridian, Leo begins to set, Typhon reigns, Osiris is slain, and Isis (the Virgin) his sister and wife, follows him to the tomb, weeping.
The Virgin and Boötes, setting heliacally at the Autumnal Equinox, delivered the world to the wintry constellations, and introduced into it the genius of Evil represented by Ophiuchus, the Serpent.
At the moment of the Winter Solstice, the Virgin rose heliacally (with the Sun), having the Sun (Horus) in her bosom.
In Libra are four stars of the second and third magnitude which we shall mention hereafter, They are Zuben-es-Chamali, Zuben-el-Gemabi, Zuben-hak-rabi, and Zuben-el-Gubi. Near the last of these is the brilliant and malign star, Antares in Scorpio.
In Scorpio, Antares, of the first magnitude, and remarkably red, was one of the four Great Stars, Fomalhaut in Cetus, Aldebaran in Taurus, Regulus in Leo, and Antares, that formerly answered to the solstitial and equinoctial points, and were much noticed by astronomers. This sign was sometimes represented by a snake and sometimes by a crocodile, but generally by a scorpion, which last is found on the Mithraic monuments and on the Zodiac of Dendera. It was considered a sign accursed, and the entrance of the Sun into it commenced the reign of Typhon.
In Sagittarius, Capricorn and Aquarius, there are no stars of importance.
Near Pisces is the brilliant star Fomalhaut. No sign in the Zodiac is considered of more malignant influence than this. It was deemed indicative of violence and death. Both the Syrians and Egyptians abstained from eating fish out of dread and abhorrence; and when the latter would represent anything as odious, or express hatred, as hieroglyphics, they painted a fish.
In Auriga is the bright star, Capella, which to the Egyptians never set.
And, circling ever round the North Pole are seven stars known as Ursa Major, or the Great Bear, which have been an object of universal observation in all ages of the world. They were venerated alike by the priests of Bel, the Magi of Persia, the shepherds of Chaldea, and the Phoenician navigators, as well as by the astronomers of Egypt. Two of them, Merak and Dubhe, always point to the North Pole.
The Phoenicians and Egyptians, says Eusebius, were the first who ascribed divinity to the Sun, Moon, and Stars, and regarded them as the sole causes of the production and destruction of all beings. From them went abroad over all the world all known opinions as to the generation and descent of the Gods. Only the Hebrews looked beyond the visible world to an invisible Creator. All the rest of the world regarded as Gods those luminous bodies that blaze in the firmament, offered them sacrifices, bowed down before them, and raised neither their souls nor their worship above the visible Heavens.
The Chaldeans, Canaanites, and Syrians, among whom Abraham lived, did the same. The Canaanites consecrated horses and chariots to the Sun. The inhabitants of Emesa in Phoenicia adored him under the name of Elagabalus; and the Sun, as Hercules, was the great deity of the Tyrians. The Syrians worshipped, with fear and dread, the Stars of the constellation Pisces, and consecrated images of them in their Temples. The Sun as Adonis was worshipped in Byblos and about Mount Libanus. There was a magnificent Temple of the Sun at Palmyra, which was pillaged by the Babylonian colonists who settled in the country of the Samaritans. Saturn, under the name of Remphan, was worshipped among the Copts. The planet Jupiter was worshipped, as Bel or Baal; Mars as Malec, Melech, or Moloch; Venus as Ashtaroth or Astarte; and Mercury as Nebo, among the Syrians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, and Canaanites.
Sanchoniathon says that the earliest Phoenicians adored the Sun, whom they deemed sole Lord of the Heavens, and honoured him under the name of Beel-Samin, signifying King of Heaven. They raised columns to the elements fire and air or wind, and worshipped them; and Sabeism or the worship of the Stars flourished everywhere in Babylonia. The Arabs, under a sky always clear and serene, adored the Sun, Moon and Stars, Abulfaragius so informs us, and that each of the twelve Arab tribes loved a particular Star as its Patron. The Tribe Hamyar was consecrated to the Sun; the Tribe Cennah to the Moon; the Tribe Misa was under the protection of Aldebaran, the beautiful star in Taurus; the Tribe Tai, under that of Canopus; the Tribe Kais, of Sirius; the Tribes Lachamus and Idamus, of Jupiter; the Tribe Asad, of Mercury; and so on.
The Saracens, in the time of Heraclius, worshipped Venus, whom they called Cabar, or The Great; and they swore by the Sun, Moon, and Stars. Shahristan, an Arabic author, says that the Arabs and Indians before his time had temples dedicated to the seven Planets. Abulfaragius says that the seven great primitive nations, from whom all others descended, the Persians, Chaldeans, Greeks, Egyptians, Turks, Indians, and Chinese, all originally were Sabeists, and worshipped the Stars. They all, he says, like the Chaldeans, prayed turning towards the North Pole, three times a day, at Sunrise, Noon, and Sunset, bowing themselves three times before the Sun. They invoked the Stars and the Intelligences which inhabited them, offered them sacrifices, and called the fixed stars and planets Gods. Philo says that the Chaldeans regarded the stars as sovereign arbiters of the order of the world, and did not look beyond the visible causes to any invisible and intellectual being. They regarded Nature as the Great Divinity that exercised its powers through the action of its parts, the Sun, Moon, Planets and Fixed Stars, the successive revolutions of the seasons, and the combined action of Heaven and Earth. The great feast of the Sabeans was when the Sun reached the Vernal Equinox; and they had five other feasts at the times when the five minor planets entered the signs in which they had their exaltation.
Diodorus Siculus informs us that the Egyptians recognised two great Divinities, primary and eternal, the Sun and Moon, which they thought governed the world and from which everything receives its nourishment and growth: that on them depended all the great work of generation, and the perfection of all effects produced in Nature. We know that the two great Divinities of Egypt were Osiris and Isis, the greatest agents of Nature: according to some, the Sun and Moon, and according to others, Heaven and Earth, or the active and passive principles of generation.
And we learn from Porphyry that Chaeremon, a learned priest of Egypt, and many other learned men of that nation, said that the Egyptians recognised as gods the stars composing the Zodiac, and all those that by their rising or setting marked its divisions; the subdivisions of the signs into decans, the horoscope and the stars that presided therein, and which were called Potent Chiefs of Heaven: that considering the Sun as the Great God, Architect and Ruler of the World, they explained not only the fable of Osiris and Isis, but generally all their sacred legends, by the stars, by their appearance and disappearance, by their ascension, by the phases of the Moon and the increase and diminution of her light; by the march of the Sun, the division of time and the Heavens into two parts, one assigned to darkness and the other to light; by the Nile; and, in fine, by the whole round of physical causes.
Lucian tells us that the bull Apis, sacred to the Egyptians, was the image of the celestial Bull, or Taurus; and that Jupiter Ammon, horned like a ram, was an image of the constellation Aries. And Clemens of Alexandria assures us that the four principal sacred animals, carried in their processions, were emblems of the four signs or cardinal points which fixed the seasons at the equinoxes and solstices, and divided into four parts the yearly march of the Sun. They worshipped fire also, and water, and the Nile, which river they styled Father, preserver of Egypt, sacred emanation from the Great God Osiris; and in their hymns to which they called it the god crowned with millet (which grain, represented by the pschent, was part of the head-dress of their kings), bringing with him abundance. The other elements were also revered by them: and the Great Gods, whose names are found inscribed on an ancient column, are the Air, Heaven, the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, Night and Day. And in fine, as Eusebius says, they regarded the Universe as a great deity, composed of a great number of gods, the different parts of itself.
The same worship of the Heavenly Host extended into every part of Europe, into Asia Minor, and among the Turks, Scythians, and Tartars. The ancient Persians adored the Sun as Mithras, and also the Moon, Venus, Fire, Earth, Air, and Water; and having no statues or altars, they sacrificed on high places to the Heavens and to the Sun. On seven ancient pyres, they burned incense to the Seven Planets and considered the elements to be divinities. In the Zend-Avesta we find invocations addressed to Mithras, the stars, the elements, trees, mountains, and every part of Nature. The Celestial Bull is invoked there, to which the Moon unites herself; and the four great stars, Taschter, Satevis, Haftorang, and Venant, the great star Rapitan, and the other constellations which watch over different portions of the earth.
The Magi, like a multitude of ancient nations, worshipped fire above all other elements and powers of nature. In India, the Ganges and the Indus were worshipped, and the Sun was the Great Divinity. They worshipped the Moon also, and kept up the sacred fire. In Ceylon, the Sun, Moon, and other planets were worshipped; in Sumatra, the Sun, called Iri, and the Moon, called Handa. And the Chinese built Temples to Heaven, the Earth, the genii of the air, of the water, of the mountains, and of the stars; to the sea-dragon, and to the planet Mars.
The celebrated Labyrinth was built in honour of the Sun; and its twelve palaces, like the twelve superb columns of the Temple at Hieropolis, covered with symbols relating to the twelve signs and occult qualities of the elements, were consecrated to the twelve Gods or tutelary genii of the signs of the Zodiac. The figure of the pyramid and that of the obelisk, resembling the shape of a flame, caused these monuments to be consecrated to the Sun and to Fire. And Timaeus of Leoria says: "The equilateral triangle enters into the composition of the pyramid, which has four equal faces and equal angles, and which in this is like fire, the most subtle and mobile of the elements." They and the obelisks were erected in honour of the Sun, termed in an inscription upon one of the latter, translated by the Egyptian Hermapion, and to be found in Ammianus Marcellinus, "Apollo the strong, Son of God, he who made the world, true Lord of the diadems, who possesses Egypt and fills it with his glory."
The two most famous divisions of the Heavens — by seven, which is that of the Planets, and by twelve, which is that of the signs — are found on the religious monuments of all the people of the ancient world. The twelve Great Gods of Egypt are met with everywhere. They were adopted by the Greeks and Romans; and the latter assigned one of them to each sign of the Zodiac. Their images were seen at Athens, where an altar was erected to each; and they were painted on the porticos. The People of the North had their twelve Azes, or Senate of twelve Great Gods, of whom Odin was chief. The Japanese had the same number, and like the Egyptians divided them into classes, seven who were the most ancient, and five afterwards added: both of which numbers are well known and consecrated in Masonry.
There is no more striking proof of the universal adoration paid the stars and constellations than the arrangement of the Hebrew camp in the desert, and the allegory in regard to the twelve Tribes of Israel ascribed in the Hebrew legends to Jacob. The Hebrew camp was a quadrilateral, in sixteen divisions, of which the central four were occupied by images of the four elements. The four divisions at the four angles of the quadrilateral exhibited the four signs that the astrologers call fixed, and which they regard as subject to the influence of the four great Royal Stars, Regulus in Leo, Aldebaran in Taurus, Antares in Scorpio, and Fomalhaut in the mouth of Pisces, on which falls the water poured out by Aquarius; of which constellations the Scorpion was represented in the Hebrew blazonry by the Celestial Vulture or Eagle, that rises at the same time with it and is its paranatellon. The other signs were arranged on the four faces of the quadrilateral, and in the parallel and interior divisions.
There is an astonishing coincidence between the characteristics assigned by Jacob to his sons and those of the signs of the Zodiac or of the planets that have their domicile in those signs.
Reuben is compared to running water, unstable and that cannot excel; and he answers to Aquarius, his ensign being a man. The water poured out by Aquarius flows towards the South Pole, and it is the first of the four Royal signs, ascending from the Winter Solstice.
The Lion (Leo) is the device of Judah; and Jacob compares him to that animal, whose constellation in the Heavens is the domicile of the Sun; the Lion of the Tribe of Judah; by whose grip when that of apprentice and of fellow-craft — of Aquarius at the Winter Solstice and of Cancer at the Vernal Equinox — had not succeeded in raising him, Hiram was lifted from the grave.
Ephraim, on whose ensign appears the Celestial Bull, Jacob compares to the ox. Dan, bearing as his device a Scorpion, he compares to the Cerastes or horned Serpent, synonymous in astrological language with the vulture or pouncing eagle, and which bird was often substituted on the flag of Dan in place of the venomous scorpion, on account of the terror which that reptile inspired as the symbol of Typhon and his malign influences; wherefore the Eagle, as its paranatellon, that is, rising and setting at the same time with it, was naturally used in its stead. Hence the four famous figures in the sacred pictures of the Jews and Christians, and in Royal Arch Masonry, of the Lion, the Ox, the Man, and the Eagle, the four creatures of the Apocalypse, copied there from Ezekiel, in whose reveries and rhapsodies they are seen revolving around blazing circles.
The Ram, domicile of Mars, chief or the Celestial Soldiery and of the Twelve signs, is the device of Gad, whom Jacob characterises as a warrior, chief of his army.
Cancer, in which are the stars termed Aselli, or little asses, is the device of the flag of Issacher, whom Jacob compares to an ass.
Capricorn, of old represented with the tail of a fish, and called by astronomers the Son of Neptune, is the device of Zebulon, of whom Joseph says that he dwells on the shore of the sea.
Sagittarius, chasing the Celestial Wolf, is the emblem of Benjamin, whom Jacob compares to a hunter: and in that constellation the Romans placed the domicile of Diana the huntress. Virgo, the domicile of Mercury, is borne on the flag of Naphtali, whose eloquence and agility Jacob magnifies, both of which are attributes of the Courier of the Gods. And of Simeon and Levi he speaks as united, as are the two fishes that make the Constellation Pisces which is their armorial emblem.
Plato, in his Republic, followed the divisions of the Zodiac and the planets. So did Lycurgus at Sparta and Cerops in the Athenian Commonwealth. Chun, the Chinese legislator, divided China into twelve Tcheou, and specially designated twelve mountains. The Etruscans divided themselves into twelve Cantons. Romulus appointed twelve Lictors. There were twelve tribes of Ishmael and twelve disciples of the Hebrew Reformer. The New Jerusalem of the Apocalypse has twelve gates.
The Souciet, a Chinese book, speaks of a palace composed of four buildings whose gates looked towards the four corners of the world. That on the East was dedicated to the new moons of the months of Spring; that on the West, to those of Autumn; that on the South to those of Summer; and that on the North to those of Winter: and in this palace the Emperor and his grandees sacrificed a lamb, the animal that represented the Sun at the Vernal Equinox.
Among the Greeks, the march of the Choruses in their theatres represented the movements of the Heavens and the planets, and the Strophe and Anti-Strophe imitated, Aristoxenes says, the movements of the stars. The number five was sacred among the Chinese, as that of the planets other than the Sun and Moon. Astrology consecrated the numbers twelve, seven, thirty, and three hundred and sixty; and everywhere seven, the number of the planets, was as sacred as twelve, that of the signs, the months, the oriental cycles, and the sections of the horizon. We shall speak more at large hereafter, in another degree, as to these and other numbers, to which the ancients ascribed mysterious powers.
The signs of the Zodiac and the Stars appeared on many of the ancient coins and medals. On the public seal of the Locrians-Ozoles was Hesperus or the planet Venus. On the medals of Antioch on the Orontes was the ram and crescent; and the Ram was the special Deity of Syria, assigned to it in the division of the earth among the twelve signs. On the Cretan coins was the Equinoctial Bull; and he also appeared on those of the Mamertines and of Athens. Sagittarius appeared on those of the Persians. In India the twelve signs appeared upon the ancient coins. The Scorpion was engraved on the medals of the Kings of Comagena, and Capricorn on those of Zeugma, Anazorba, and other cities. On the medals of Antoninus are found nearly all the signs of the Zodiac.
Astrology was practised among all the ancient nations. In Egypt, the book of Astrology was borne reverentially in the religious processions — in which the few sacred animals were also carried, as emblems of the equinoxes and solstices. The same science flourished among the Chaldeans and over the whole of Asia and Africa. When Alexander invaded India, the astrologers of the Oxydraces came to him to disclose the secrets of their science of Heaven and the Stars. The Brahmins whom Apollonius consulted taught him the secrets of astronomy, with the ceremonies and prayers whereby to appease the Gods and learn the future from the stars. In China, astrology taught the mode of governing the State and families. In Arabia it was deemed the mother of the sciences, and old libraries are full of Arabic books on this pretended science. It flourished at Rome. Constantine had his horoscope drawn by the astrologer Valens. It was a science in the Middle Ages, and even to this day is neither forgotten nor unpractised. Catherine de Medicis was fond of it. Louis XIV consulted his horoscope, and the learned Casini commenced his career as an astrologer.
The ancient Sabeans established feasts in honour of each planet on the day for each when it entered its place of exaltation, or reached the particular degree in the particular sign of the Zodiac in which astrology had fixed the place of its exaltation: that is, the place in the Heavens where its influence was supposed to be greatest, and where it acted on Nature with the greatest energy. The place of exaltation of the Sun was in Aries because, reaching that point, he awakens all Nature and warms into life all the germs of vegetation; and therefore his most solemn feast among all nations for many years before our era was fixed at the time of his entrance into that sign. In Egypt, it was called the Feast of Fire and Light. It was the Passover, when the Paschal Lamb was slain and eaten among the Jews, and Neurouz among the Persians. The Romans preferred the place of domicile to that of exaltation, and celebrated the feasts of the planets under the signs that were their houses. The Chaldeans, whom, and not the Egyptians, the Sabeans followed in this, preferred the places of exaltation.
Saturn, from the length of time required for his apparent revolution, was considered the most remote, and the Moon the nearest, planet. After the Moon came Mercury and Venus, then the Sun, and then Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
So the risings and settings of the Fixed Stars and their conjunctions with the Sun, and their first appearance as they emerged from his rays, fixed the epochs for the feasts instituted in their honour; and the sacred calendars of the ancients were regulated accordingly.
In the Roman games of the circus, celebrated in honour of the Sun and of entire Nature, the Sun, Moon, Planets, Zodiac, Elements, and the most apparent parts and potent agents of Nature were personified and represented, and the courses of the Sun in the Heavens were imitated in the Hippodrome, his chariot being drawn by four horses of different colours representing the four elements and seasons. The courses were from East to West, like the circuits round the Lodge, and seven in number to correspond with the number of planets. The movements of the Seven Stars that revolve around the Pole were also represented, as were those of Capella, which by its heliacal rising at the moment when the Sun reached the Pleiades, in Taurus, announced the commencement of the annual revolution of the Sun.
The intersection of the Zodiac by the colures at the Equinoctial and Solsticial points fixed four periods, each of which has by one or more nations, and in some cases by different nations at different periods, been taken for the commencement of the year. Some adopted the Vernal Equinox, because then day began to prevail over night, and light gained a victory over darkness. Sometimes the Summer Solstice was preferred, because then day attained its maximum of duration and the acme of its glory and perfection. In Egypt, another reason was that then the Nile began to overflow, at the heliacal rising of Sirius. Some preferred the Autumnal Equinox, because then the harvests were gathered, and the hopes of a new crop were deposited in the bosom of the earth. And some preferred the Winter Solstice because then, the shortest day having arrived, their length began to increase, and Light began the career destined to end in victory at the Vernal Equinox.
The Sun was figuratively said to die and be born again at the Winter Solstice; the games of the Circus, in honour of the invincible God-Sun, were then celebrated, and the Roman year, established or reformed by Numa, commenced. Many peoples of Italy commenced their year, Macrobius says, at that time, and represented by the four ages of man the gradual succession of periodical increase and diminution of day and the light of the Sun, likening him to an infant born at the Winter Solstice, a young man at the Vernal Equinox, a robust man at the Summer Solstice, and an old man at the Autumnal Equinox.
This idea was borrowed from the Egyptians, who adored the Sun at the Winter Solstice under the figure of an infant.
The image of the sign in which each of the four seasons commenced became the form under which was figured the Sun of that particular season. The Lion's skin was worn by Hercules; the horns of the Bull adorned the forehead of Bacchus; and the autumnal Serpent wound its long folds round the statue of Serapis 2500 years before our era when these signs corresponded with the commencements of the seasons. When other constellations replaced them at these points because of the precession of the Equinoxes, those attributes were changed. Then the Ram furnished the horns for the head of the Sun under the name of Jupiter Ammon. He was no longer born exposed to the waters of Aquarius, like Bacchus, nor enclosed in an urn like the God Canopus, but in the Stables of Augeas or the Celestial Goat. He then completed his triumph mounted on an ass in the constellation of Cancer, which then occupied the solstitial point of summer.
Other attributes the images of the Sun borrowed from the constellations which, by their rising or setting fixed the points of departure of the year, and the commencement of its four principal divisions.
First the Bull and afterwards the Ram (called by the Persians the Lamb) was regarded as the regenerator of Nature through his Union with the Sun. Each, in his turn, was an emblem of the Sun overcoming the winter darkness and repairing the disorders of Nature, which every year was regenerated under these signs, after the Scorpion and Serpent of autumn has brought upon it barrenness, disaster and darkness. Mithras was represented sitting on a Bull, and that animal was an image of Osiris, while the Greek Bacchus armed his front with horns and was pictured with the Bull's tail and feet.
The constellations also became noteworthy to the husbandman, which by their rising or setting, at morning or evening, indicated the coming of this period of renewed fruitfulness and new life. Capella, or the Kid Amalthea, whose horn is called that of abundance and whose place is over the equinoctial point, or Taurus; and the Pleiades, that long indicated the seasons and gave rise to a multitude of poetic fables, were the most observed and most celebrated in antiquity.
The original Roman year commenced at the Vernal Equinox. July was formerly called Quintilis, the 5th month, and August Sextilis, the 6th, as September is still the 7th month, October the 8th, and so on. The Persians commenced their year at the same time, and celebrated their great feast of Neurouz when the Sun entered Aries and the constellation Perseus rose — Perseus who first brought down to earth the Heavenly fire consecrated in their temples: and all the ceremonies then practised reminded men of the renovation of Nature and the triumph of Ormuzd, the Light-God, over the powers of Darkness and Ahriman, their Chief.
The Legislator of the Jews fixed the commencement of their year in the month Nisan, at the Vernal Equinox, at which season the Israelites marched out of Egypt and were relieved of their long bondage; in commemoration of which Exodus, they ate the Paschal lamb at that Equinox. And when Bacchus and his army had long marched in burning deserts, they were led by a Lamb or Ram into beautiful meadows, and to the Springs that watered the Temple of Jupiter Ammon. For to the Arabs and Ethiopians, whose great Divinity Bacchus was, nothing was so perfect a type of Elysium as a country abounding in springs and rivulets.
Orion, on the same meridian with the stars of Taurus, died of the sting of the celestial Scorpion that rises when he sets; as dies the Bull of Mithras in autumn: and in the stars that correspond with the Autumnal Equinox we find those malevolent genii that ever war against the Principle of Good, and that take from the Sun and the Heavens the fruit-producing power that they communicate to the earth.
With the Vernal Equinox, dear to the sailor as to the husbandman, came the stars that, with the Sun, open navigation and rule the stormy seas. Then the Twins plunge into the solar fires or disappear at setting, going down with the Sun into the bosom of the waters. And these tutelary Divinities of mariners, the Dioscuri or Chief Cabiri of Samothrace, sailed with Jason to possess themselves of the golden-fleeced ram, or Aries, whose rising in the morning announced the Sun's entry into Taurus when the Serpent-bearer Jason rose in the evening and, in aspect with the Dioscuri, was deemed their brother. And Orion, son of Neptune, and most potent controller of the tempest-tortured ocean, announcing sometimes calm and sometimes tempest, rose after Taurus, rejoicing in the forehead of the new year.
The Summer Solstice was not less an important point in the Sun's march than the Vernal Equinox, especially to the Egyptians, to whom it not only marked the end of the term of the increasing length of the days and of the domination of light and the maximum of the sun's elevation; but also the annual recurrence of that phenomenon peculiar to Egypt, the rising of the Nile which, ever accompanying the Sun in his course, seemed to rise and fall as the days grow longer and shorter, being lowest at the Winter Solstice and highest at that of Summer. Thus the Sun seemed to regulate its swelling; and the time of his arrival at the solstitial point being that of the first rising of the Nile was selected by the Egyptians as the beginning of a year which they called the Year of God, and of the Sothiac period, or the period of Sothis, the Dog-Star, who, rising in the morning, fixed that epoch so important to the people of Egypt. This year was also called the Heliac, that is the Solar, year, and the Canicular year; and it consisted of three hundred and sixty-five days without intercalation, so that at the end of four years it needed to add a day to make four complete revolutions of the Sun. To correct this, some nations (as we do now) made every fourth year consist of 366 days: but the Egyptians preferred to add nothing to the year of 365 days which, at the end of 120 years, or of 30 times 4 years, was short by 30 days or a month; that is to say, it required a month more to complete the 120 revolutions of the Sun, though so many years were counted. Of course, the commencement of the 121st year would not correspond with the Summer Solstice, but would precede it by a month: so that, when the Sun arrived at the solstitial point whence he at first set out, and whereto he must needs return to make in reality 120 years or 120 complete revolutions, the first month of the 121st year would have ended.
Thus, if commencement of the year went back 30 days every 120 years, this commencement of the year, continuing to recede, would at the end of 12 times 120 years, or 1460 years, get back to the solstitial point, or primitive point of departure of the period. The Sun would then have made but 1459 revolutions, though 1460 were counted; to make up which a year more would need to be added. So that the Sun would not have made his 1460 revolutions until the end of 1461 years of 365 days each, each revolution being in reality not 365 days exactly, but 365 and a quarter.
This period of 1461 years, each of 365 days, bringing back the commencement of the Solar year to the solstitial point at the rising of Sirius after 1460 complete Solar revolutions was called in Egypt the Sothiac period, the point of departure of which was the Summer Solstice first occupied by the Lion and afterwards by Cancer, under which sign is Sirius, which opened the period. It was, says Porphyry, at this solstitial New Moon, accompanied by the rising of Seth or the Dog Star, that the beginning of the year was fixed, and that of the generation of all things or, as it were, the natal hour of the world.
Not Sirius alone determined the period of the rising of the Nile. Aquarius, his urn, and the stream flowing from it in opposition to the sign of the Summer Solstice then occupied by the Sun, opened in the evening the march of Night, and received the full Moon in his cup. Above him and with him rose the feet of Pegasus, struck wherewith the waters flow forth that the Muses drink. The Lion and the Dog, indicating, were supposed to cause the inundation, and so were worshipped. While the Sun passed through Leo, the waters doubled their depth, and the sacred fountains poured their streams through the heads of Lions. Hydra, rising between Sirius and Leo, extended under three signs. Its head rose with Cancer, and its tail with the feet of the Virgin and the beginning of Libra; and the inundation continued while the Sun passed along its whole extent.
The successive contest of light and darkness for the possession of the lunar disc, each being by turns victor and vanquished, exactly resembled what passed upon the earth by the action of the Sun and his journeys from one Solstice to the other. The lunary revolutions presented the same periods of light and darkness as the year, and was the object of the same religious fictions. Above the Moon, Pliny said, everything is pure and filled with eternal light. There ends the cone of shadow which the earth projects and which produces night; there ends the sojourn of night and darkness; to it the air extends; but there we enter the pure substance.
The Egyptians assigned to the Moon the demiurgic or creative force of Osiris, who united himself to her in the spring, when the Sun communicated to her the principles of generation which she afterwards disseminated in the air and all the elements. And the Persians considered the Moon to have been impregnated by the Celestial Bull, first of the signs of spring. In all ages, the Moon was supposed to have great influence upon vegetation and the birth and growth of animals, a belief that is as widely entertained now as ever, and that influence was regarded as a mysterious and inexplicable one. Not the astrologers alone, but naturalists like Pliny, philosophers like Plutarch and Cicero, theologians like the Egyptian priests, and metaphysicians like Proclus, believed firmly in these lunar influences.
"The Egyptians", says Diodorus Siculus, "acknowledged two great Gods, the Sun and the Moon, or Osiris and Isis, who govern the world and regulate its administration by the dispensation of the seasons... Such is the nature of these two great Divinities that they impress an active and fecundating force, by which the generation of beings is effected: the Sun by heat and that spiritual principle that forms the breath of the winds; the Moon by humidity and dryness; and both by the forces of the air which they share in common. By this beneficial influence everything is born, grows, and vegetates. Wherefore this whole huge body in which Nature resides is maintained by the combined action of the Sun and Moon, and their five qualities — the principles spiritual, fiery, dry, humid, and airy."
So five primitive powers, elements, or elementary qualities, are united with the Sun and Moon in the Indian theology — air, spirit, fire, water, and earth; and the same five elements are recognised by the Chinese. The Phoenicians, like the Egyptians, regarded the Sun and Moon and stars as sole causes of generation and destruction here below.
The Moon, like the Sun, changed continually the track in which she crossed the Heavens, moving ever to and fro between the upper and lower limits of the Zodiac: and her different places, phases, and aspects there, and her relations with the Sun and the constellations, have been a fruitful source of mythological fables.
All the planets had what astrology termed their houses in the Zodiac. The House of the Sun was in Leo, and that of the Moon in Cancer. Each other planet had two signs: Mercury had Gemini and Virgo; Venus, Taurus and Libra; Mars, Aries and Scorpio; Jupiter, Pisces and Sagittarius; and Saturn, Aquarius and Capricorn. From this distribution of the signs also came many mythological emblems and fables, as also many came from the places of exaltation of the planets. Diana of Ephesus, the Moon, wore the image of a crab on her bosom, because in that sign was the Moon's domicile; and lions bore up the throne of Horus, the Egyptian Apollo, the Sun personified, for a like reason; while the Egyptians consecrated the tauriform scarab to the Moon, because she had her place of exaltation in Taurus; and for the same reason Mercury is said to have presented Isis with a helmet like a bull's head.
A further division of the Zodiac was of each sign into three parts called decans of 10 degrees each, making 36 decans in the whole Zodiac. Among these, the seven planets were apportioned anew, each planet having an equal number of decans except the first which, opening and closing the series of planets five times repeated, necessarily had one decan more than the others. This sub-division was not invented until after Aries opened the Vernal equinox: and accordingly Mars, having his house in Aries, opens the series of decans and closes it; the planets following each other five times in succession in the order Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, the Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, etc.; so that to each sign are assigned three planets, each occupying 10 degrees. To each decan a God or Genius was assigned, making 36 in all, one of whom, the Chaldeans said, came down upon earth every ten days, remained so many days, and re-ascended to Heaven. This division is found on the Indian sphere, the Persian, and that Barbaric one which Aben Ezra describes. Each genius of the decans had a name and special characteristics. They concur and aid in the effects produced by the Sun, Moon and other planets charged with the administration of the world; and the doctrine in regard to them, secret and august as it was held, was considered of the gravest importance; and its principles, Firmicus says, were not entrusted by the ancients, inspired as they were by the Deity, to any but the initiates, and to them only with great reserve and a kind of fear, and cautiously enveloped with an obscure veil that they might not come to be known by the profane.
With these decans were connected the paranatellons, or those stars outside of the Zodiac, that rise and set at the same moment with the several divisions of 10 degrees of each sign. As there were anciently only forty-eight celestial figures or constellations, of which twelve were in the Zodiac, it follows that there were, outside of the Zodiac, thirty-six other asterisms, paranatellons of the several thirty-six decans. For example, as when Capricorn set, Sirius and Procyon, or Canis major and Canis Minor rose, they were paranatellons of Capricorn, though at a great distance from it in the Heavens. The rising of Cancer was known from the setting of Corona Borealis and the rising of the Great and Little Dog its three paranatellons.
The risings and settings of the stars are always spoken of as connected with the Sun. In that connection there are three kinds of them, cosmical, achronical, and heliacal, important to be distinguished by all who would understand this ancient learning.
When any star rises or sets with the same degree of the same sign of the Zodiac that the Sun occupies at the time, it rises and sets simultaneously with the Sun, and this is termed rising or setting cosmically; but a star that so rises and sets can never be seen on account of the light that precedes and is left behind by the Sun. It is therefore necessary, in order to know his place in the Zodiac, to observe stars that rise just before, or set just after him.
A star that is in the East when night commences and in the West when it ends, is said to rise and set achronically. A star so rising or setting was in opposition to the Sun, rising at the end of the evening twilight and setting at the beginning of the morning twilight, and this happened to each star but once a year because the Sun moves from West to East with reference to the stars at nearly one degree a day.
When a star rises as night ends in the morning, or sets as night commences in the evening, it is said to rise or set heliacally, because the Sun (Helios) seems to touch it with his luminous atmosphere. A star thus reappears after a disappearance, often, of several months, and thenceforward it rises an hour earlier each day, gradually emerging from the Sun's rays, until at the end of three months it precedes the Sun six hours and rises at midnight. A star sets heliacally when no longer remaining visible above the Western horizon after sunset, and the day arrives when it ceases to be seen setting in the West. Such stars remain invisible until the Sun passes so far to the Eastward as not to eclipse them with his light; and then they re-appear, but in the East, about an hour and a half before sunrise; and this is their heliacal rising. In this interval, the cosmical rising and setting takes place.
Besides the relations of the constellations and their paranatellons with the houses and places of exaltation of the planets, and with their places in the respective signs and decans, the stars were supposed to produce different effects according as they rose or set, and according as they did so either cosmically, achronically, or heliacally; and also according to the different seasons of the year in which these phenomena occurred. These differences were carefully marked on the old calendars, and many things in the ancient allegories are referable to them.
Another and most important division of the stars was into good and bad, beneficent and malevolent. With the Persians, the former, of the Zodiacal constellations, were from Aries to Virgo, inclusive; and the latter from Libra to Pisces inclusive. Hence the good Angels and Genii, and the bad Angels, Devs, Evil Genii, Devils, Fallen Angels, Titans, and Giants of the Mythology. The other thirty-six constellations were equally divided, eighteen on each side, or, with those of the Zodiac, twenty-four.
Thus the symbolic Egg that issued from the mouth of the invisible Egyptian God Kneph, known in the Grecian Mysteries as the Orphic Egg from which issued the God Chumong of the Coresians, the Egyptian Osiris, and Phanes, God and Principle of Light; from which also, broken by the Sacred Bull of the Japanese the world emerged; and which the Greeks placed at the feet of Bacchus Tauri-Cornus. The Magician Egg of Ormuzd, from which came the Amshaspands and Devs, was divided into two halves, and equally apportioned between the good and evil constellations and Angels. Those of spring, as for example Aries and Taurus, Auriga and Capella, were the beneficent stars; and those of autumn, as the Balance, Scorpio, the Serpent of Ophiuchus and the Dragon of the Hesperides, were types and subjects of the Evil principle, and regarded as malevolent causes of the ill effects experienced in autumn and winter. Thus are explained the mysteries of the journeyings of the human soul through the spheres, when it descends to the earth by the sign of the Serpent and returns to the Empire of light by that of the Lamb or Bull.
The creative action of Heaven was manifested, and all its demiurgic energy developed, most of all at the Vernal Equinox, to which refer all the fables that typify the victory of Light over darkness by the triumphs of Jupiter, Osiris, Ormuzd, and Apollo. Always the triumphant God takes the form of the Bull, the Ram, or the Lamb. Then Jupiter wrests from Typhon his thunderbolts, of which that malignant deity had possessed himself during the winter. Then the God of Light overwhelms his foe, pictured as a huge serpent. Then winter ends; the Sun, seated on the Bull and accompanied by Orion blazes in the Heavens. All Nature rejoices at the victory; and Order and Harmony are everywhere re-established in place of the dire confusion that reigned while gloomy Typhon domineered, and Ahriman prevailed against Ormuzd.
The universal Soul of the World, motive power of Heaven and of the Spheres, it was held, exercises its creative energy chiefly through the medium of the Sun, during his revolution along the signs of the Zodiac, with which signs unite the paranatellons that modify their influence and concur in furnishing the symbolic attributes of the Great Luminary that regulates Nature and is the depository of her greatest powers. The action of this Universal Soul of the World is displayed in the movements of the Spheres, and above all in that of the Sun, in the successions of the risings and settings of the Stars, and in their periodical returns. By these are explainable all the metamorphoses of that Soul, personified as Jupiter, as Bacchus, as Vishnu, or as Buddha, and all the various attributes ascribed to it; and also the worship of those animals that were consecrated in the ancient Temples, representatives on earth of the Celestial signs, and supposed to receive by transmission through them the rays and emanations that flow from the Universal Soul.
All the old Adorers of Nature, the theologians, astrologers, and poets, as well as the most distinguished philosophers, supposed that the stars were so many animated and intelligent beings, or eternal bodies, active causes of effects here below, animated by a living principle, and directed by an intelligence that was itself but an emanation from and a part of the life and universal intelligence of the world: and we find in the hierarchical order and distribution of their eternal and divine Intelligences known by the names of Gods, Angels, and Genii, the same distributions and the same divisions as those by which the ancients divided the visible universe and distributed its parts. And the famous divisions by seven and by twelve, appertaining to the planets and the signs of the Zodiac, is everywhere found in the hierarchical order of the Gods, the Angels, and the other Ministers that are the depositories of that Divine Force which moves and rules the world.
These, and the other Intelligences assigned to the other Stars have absolute dominion over all parts of Nature: over the elements, the animal and vegetable kingdoms, over man and all his actions, over his virtues and vices, and over the good and evil which divide his life between them. The passions of his soul and the maladies of his body — these and the entire man are dependent on the heavens and the genii that there inhabit, who preside at his birth, control his fortunes during life, and receive his soul or active and intelligent part when it is to be re-united to the pure life of the lofty Stars. And all through the great body of the world are disseminated portions of the universal Soul, impressing movement on on everything that seems to move of itself, giving life to the plants and trees, directing by a regular and settled plan the organisation and development of their germs, imparting constant mobility to the running waters and maintaining their eternal motion, impelling the winds and changing their direction or stilling them, calming and arousing the ocean, unchaining the storms, pouring out the fires of volcanoes, or with earthquakes shaking the roots of huge mountains and the foundations of vast continents by means of a force that, belonging to Nature, is a mystery to man.
And these invisible Intelligences, like the stars, are marshalled in two great divisions under the balance of the two Principles of Good and Evil, Light and Darkness; under Ormuzd and Ahriman, Osiris and Typhon. The Evil Principle was the motive-power of brute matter; and it, personified as Ahriman and Typhon, had its hosts and armies of devs and Genii, Fallen Angels and Malevolent Spirits, who waged continual war with the Good Principle, the Principle of Empyreal Light and Splendour, Osiris, Ormuzd, Jupiter or Dionysus, with his bright hosts of Amshaspands, Izeds, Angels, and Archangels; a warfare that goes on from birth until death, in the soul of every man that lives.
The Sun, at the Vernal Equinox, was the fruit-compelling Star that by his warmth provoked generation and poured upon the sublunary world all the blessings of Heaven; the beneficent God, tutelary genius of universal vegetation, that communicated to the dull earth new activity, and stirs her great heart, long chilled by winter and his frosts, until from her bosom burst all the greenness and perfume of spring, making her rejoice in leafy forests and grassy lawns and flower-enamelled meadows, and the promise of abundant crops of grain and fruits and purple grapes in their due season.
He was then called Osiris, Husband of Isis, God of Cultivation and Benefactor of Man, pouring on them and on the earth the choicest blessings within the gift of the Divinity. Opposed to him was Typhon, his antagonist in the Egyptian mythology, as Ahriman was the foe of Ormuzd, the Good Principle, in the theology of the Persians.
The first inhabitants of Egypt and Ethiopia, as Diodorus Siculus informs us, saw in the Heavens two first eternal causes of things, or great Divinities, one the Sun, whom they called Osiris, and the other the Moon, whom they called Isis; and these they considered the causes of all the generations of the earth. This idea, we learn from Eusebius, was the same as that of the Phoenicians. On these two great Divinities the administration of the world depended. All sublunary bodies received from them their nourishment and increase during the annual revolution which they controlled, and the different seasons into which it was divided.
To Osiris and Isis, it was held, were owing civilisation, the discovery of agriculture, laws, arts of all kinds, religious worship, temples, the invention of letters, astronomy, the gymnastic arts, and music; and thus they were the universal benefactors. Osiris travelled to civilise the countries which he passed through and communicated to them his valuable discoveries. He built cities, and taught men to cultivate the earth. Wheat and wine were his first presents to men. Europe, Asia and Africa partook of the blessings which he communicated, and the most remote regions of India remembered him, and claimed him as one of their Great Gods.
You have learned how Typhon, his brother, slew him. His body was cut into pieces, all of which were collected by Isis, except his organs of generation, which had been thrown into the river that every year fertilised Egypt, and devoured by fish. The other portions were buried by Isis, and over them she erected a tomb. Thereafter she remained single, loading her subjects with blessings. She cured the sick, restored sight to the blind, made the paralytic whole, and even raised the dead. From her, Horus or Apollo learned divination and the science of medicine.
Thus the Egyptians pictured the beneficent action of the two luminaries that, from the bosom of the elements, produced all animals and men, and all bodies that are born, grow, and die in the eternal circle of generation and destruction here below.
When the Celestial Bull opened the new year at the Vernal Equinox, Osiris, united with the Moon, communicated to her the seeds of fruitfulness which she poured upon the air, and therewith impregnated the generative principles which gave activity to universal vegetation. Apis, represented by a Bull, was the living and sensible image of the Sun or Osiris, when in union with Isis or the Moon at the Vernal Equinox, concurring with her in provoking everything that lives to generation. This conjunction of the Sun with the Moon at the Vernal Equinox in the constellation Taurus, required the Bull Apis to have on his shoulder a mark resembling the crescent Moon. And the fecundating influence of these two luminaries was expressed by images that would now be deemed gross and indecent, but which then were not misunderstood.
Everything good in Nature comes from Osiris — order, harmony, and the favourable temperature of the seasons and celestial periods. From Typhon comes the stormy passions and irregular impulses that agitate the brute and material part of man; maladies of the body, and violent shocks that injure the health and derange the system; inclement weather, derangement of the seasons, and eclipses. Osiris and Typhon were the Ormuzd and Ahriman of the Persians; principles of good and evil, light and darkness, ever at war in the administration of the universe.
Osiris was the image of generative power. This was expressed by his symbolic statues and by the sign into which he entered at the Vernal Equinox. He especially dispensed the humid principle of Nature, generative element of all things; and the Nile and all moisture were regarded as emanations from him, without which there could be no vegetation.
That Osiris and Isis were the Sun and the Moon is attested by many ancient writers: by Diogenes Laertius, Plutarch, Lucian, Suidas, Macrobius, Martianus Capella, and others. His power was symbolised by an Eye over a Sceptre. The Sun was termed by the Greeks the Eye of Jupiter, and the Eye of the World; and his is the All-Seeing Eye in our Lodges. The oracle of Claros styled him King of the Stars and of the Eternal Fire, that engenders the year and the seasons, dispenses rain and winds, and brings about daybreak and night. And Osiris was invoked as the God that resides in the Sun and is enveloped by his rays, the invisible and eternal force that modifies the sublunary world by means of the Sun.
Osiris was the same God known as Bacchus, Dionysus, and Serapis. Serapis is the author of the regularity and harmony of the world. Bacchus, jointly with Ceres (identified by Herodotus with Isis) presides over the distribution of all our blessings, and from the two emanates everything beautiful and good in Nature. One furnishes the germ and principle of every good; the other receives and preserves it as a deposit; and the latter is the function of the Moon in the theology of the Persians. In each theology, Persian and Egyptian, the Moon acts directly on the earth; but she is fecundated, in one by the Celestial Bull and in the other by Osiris, with whom she is united at the Vernal Equinox in the sign of Taurus, the place of her exaltation or greatest influence on the earth. The force of Osiris, says Plutarch, is exercised through the Moon. She is the passive cause, relatively to him, and the active cause relatively to the earth, to which she transmits the germs of fruitfulness received from him.
In Egypt the earliest movement of the waters of the Nile began to appear at the Vernal Equinox, when the new Moon occurred at the entrance of the Sun into the constellation Taurus; and thus the Nile was held to receive its fertilising power from the combined action of the equinoctial Sun and the new Moon meeting in Taurus. Osiris was often confounded with the Nile, and Isis with the earth; and Osiris was deemed to act on the earth and to transmit to it his emanations through both the Moon and the Nile: whence the fable that his generative organs were thrown into that river. Typhon, on the other hand, was the principle of aridity and barrenness; and by his mutilation of Osiris was meant that drought which caused the Nile to retire within his bed and shrink up in the autumn.
Elsewhere than in Egypt, Osiris was the symbol of the refreshing rains that descend to fertilise the earth: and Typhon the burning winds of autumn; the stormy rains that rot the plants, leaves, and flowers; the short, cold days; and everything injurious in Nature that produces corruption and destruction.
In short, Typhon is the principle of corruption, of darkness, of the lower world from which come earthquakes, tumultuous commotions of the air, burning heat, lightning, fiery meteors, plague, and pestilence. Such too was Ahriman of the Persians; and this revolt of the Evil Principle against the Principle of Good and Light has been represented in every cosmogony under many varying forms. Osiris, on the contrary, by the intermediation of Isis, fills the material world with the happiness, purity, and order by which the harmony of Nature is maintained. It was said that he died at the Autumnal Equinox, when Taurus or the Pleiades rose in the evening, and that he rose again in the Spring, when vegetation was inspired to new activity.
Of course the two signs of Taurus and Scorpio will figure most largely in the mythological history of Osiris, for they marked the two equinoxes 2500 years before our Era and, next to them, the other constellations near the equinoxes that fixed the limits of the duration of the fertilising action of the Sun. It is also to be remarked that Venus, the Goddess of Generation, has her domicile in Taurus as the Moon has there her place of exaltation.
When the Sun was in Scorpio, Osiris lost his life and that fruitfulness which, under the form of the Bull, he had communicated, through the Moon, to the Earth. Typhon, his hands and feet horrid with serpents, and whose habitat in the Egyptian planisphere was under Scorpio, confined him in a chest and flung him into the Nile under the 17th degree of Scorpio. Under that sign, he lost his life and virility, and he recovered them in the spring when he had connection with the Moon. When he entered Scorpio, his light diminished, Night resumed her dominion, the Nile shrunk within its banks, and the earth lost her verdure and the trees their leaves. Therefore it is that on the Mithraic monuments, the Scorpion bites the testicles of the Equinoctial Bull on which sits Mithras, the Sun of Spring and God of Generation; and that, on the same monuments, we see two trees, one covered with young leaves and at its foot a little bull and a torch burning, the other loaded with fruit and at its foot a scorpion and a torch reversed and extinguished.
Ormuzd or Osiris, the beneficent Principle that gives the world light, was personified by the Sun, apparent source of light. Darkness, personified by Typhon or Ahriman, was his natural enemy. The Sages of Egypt described the necessary and eternal rivalry or opposition of these Principles, one ever pursuing the other and one dethroning the other in every annual revolution and at a particular period, one in the Spring, under the Bull, and the other in the Autumn under the Scorpion. This perpetual contest was represented by the legendary history of Osiris and Typhon, detailed to us by Diodorus and Synesius, in which history were also personified the stars and constellations Orion, Capella, the Twins, the Wolf, Sirius, and Hercules, whose risings and settings noted the advent of one or the other equinox.
Plutarch gives us the positions in the Heavens of the Sun and Moon at the moment when Osiris was murdered by Typhon. The Sun, he says, was in the sign of the Scorpion, which he then entered at the Autumnal Equinox. The Moon was full, he adds; and consequently, as it rose at sunset, it occupied Taurus which, opposite to Scorpio, rose as it and the Sun sank together, so that she was then found alone in the sign of Taurus where, six months before she had been in union or conjunction with Osiris, the Sun, receiving from him those germs of universal fertilisation which he communicated to her. It was the sign through which Osiris first ascended into the empire of light and good. It rose with the Sun on the day of the Vernal Equinox; it remained six months in the luminous hemisphere, ever preceding the Sun and above the horizon during the day; until in autumn, the Sun arriving at Scorpio, Taurus was in complete opposition with him, rose when he set, and completed its entire course above the horizon during the night; presiding, by rising in the evening, over the commencement of the long nights. Hence in the sad ceremonies commemorating the death of Osiris, there was borne in procession a golden bull covered with black crepe, image of the darkness into which the familiar sign of Osiris was entering, and which was to spread over the Northern regions, while the Sun, prolonging the nights, was to be absent, and each to remain under the dominion of Typhon, Principle of Evil and Darkness.
Setting out from the sign Taurus, Isis, as the Moon, went seeking for Osiris through all the superior signs, in each of which she became full in the successive months from the Autumnal to the Vernal Equinox without finding him in any. Let us follow her in her allegorical wanderings.
Osiris was slain by Typhon with whom conspired a Queen of Ethiopia by whom, says Plutarch, were designated the winds. The paranatellons of Scorpio, the sign occupied by the Sun when Osiris was slain, was that of the Serpents, reptiles which supplied the attributes of the Evil Genii and of Typhon, who himself bore the form of a serpent in the Egyptian planisphere. And in the division of Scorpio is also found Cassiopeia, Queen of Ethiopia, whose setting brings stormy winds.
Osiris descended to the Shades or infernal regions. There he took the name of Serapis, identical with Pluto, and assumed his nature. He was then in conjunction with Serpentarius, identical with Aesculapius, whose form he took in his passage to the lower signs, where he takes the name of Pluto.
Then Isis wept the death of Osiris, and the golden bull covered with black crepe was carried in procession. Nature mourned the impending loss of her summer glories and the advent of the empire of night. Then Taurus, directly opposite the Sun, entered into the cone of shadow which the earth projects, by which the Moon is eclipsed at full and with which, making night, the Bull rises and descends as if covered with a veil, while he remains above our horizon.
The body of Osiris, enclosed in a chest or coffin, was cast into the Nile. Pan and the Satyrs, near Khemmis, first discovered his death, announced it by their cries, and everywhere created sorrow and alarm. Taurus, with the full Moon, then entered into the cone of shadow: under him was the Celestial River most properly called the Nile and below, Perseus, the God of Khemmis, and Auriga leading a she-goat, himself identified with Pan, whose wife was styled Aiga the she-goat.
Then Isis went in search of the body. She first met certain children who had seen it, received from them their information, and gave them in return the gift of divination. The second full Moon occurred in Gemini, the Twins who presided over the oracles of Didymus, and one of them was Apollo, the God of Divination.
She learned that Osiris had, through mistake, had connection with her sister Nephthys, which she discovered by a crown of leaves of the melilot which he had left behind him. Of this connection a child was born whom Isis, aided by her dogs, sought for, found, reared, and attached to herself by the name of Anubis, her faithful guardian. The third full of Moon occurs in Cancer, one star of which was called the Star of Isis, while Sirius himself was honoured in Egypt under the name of Anubis.
Isis repaired to Byblos and seated herself near a fountain where she was found by a woman of the Court of a King. She was induced to visit his Court and became the nurse of his son. The fourth full Moon was in Leo, domicile of the Sun or of Adonis, King of Byblos. The paranatellons of this sign are the flowing water of Aquarius and Cepheus, King of Ethiopia, called Regulus or simply The King. Behind him rise his wife Cassiopeia, Queen of Ethiopia, Andromeda his daughter, and Perseus his son-in-law, all paranatellons of this sign and, in part, of Virgo.
Isis suckled the child, not at her breast but with the end of her finger, at night. She burned all the mortal parts of its body and then, taking the shape of a swallow, she flew to the great column of the palace made of tamarisk-tree that grew up round the coffin containing the body of Osiris, and within which it was still enclosed. The fifth full Moon occurred in Virgo, the true image of Isis, and which Eratosthenes calls by that name. It pictured a woman suckling an infant, the son of Isis, born near the Winter Solstice. This sign has for paranatellons the mast of the Celestial Ship, the swallow of swallow-tailed fish above it, and a portion of Perseus, son-in-law of the King of Ethiopia.
Having recovered the sacred coffer, Isis sailed from Byblos with the eldest son of the King towards Boutos, where Anubis was taking care of her son Horus. A strong wind dried up the river, so she landed and hid the coffer in a forest. Typhon, hunting a wild boar by moonlight, discovered it, recognised the body of his rival, and cut it into fourteen pieces, the number of days between the full and new Moon, and in every one of which days the Moon loses a portion of the light that at the commencement filled her whole disc. The sixth full Moon occurred in Libra, over the divisions separating which from Virgo are the Celestial Ship, Perseus, son of the King of Ethiopia, and Boötes, said to have nursed Horus. The river of Orion that sets in the morning is also a paranatellon of Libra, as are Ursa Major, the Great Bear or Wild Boar of Erymanthus, and the Dragon of the North Pole or the celebrated Python from which the attributes of Typhon were borrowed. All these surround the full Moon of Libra, last of the Superior signs, and the one that precedes the new Moon of Spring, about to be reproduced in Taurus and there be once more in conjunction with the Sun.
Isis collects the scattered fragments of the body of Osiris, buries them, and consecrates the phallus, carried in pomp at the Pamylia or feasts of the Vernal Equinox, at which time the congress of Osiris and the Moon was celebrated. Then Osiris had returned from the shades to aid Horus his son and Isis his wife against the forces of Typhon. He thus appeared, say some, under the form of a wolf or, others say, under that of a horse. The Moon, fourteen days after she is full in Libra, arrives at Taurus and unites herself to the Sun, whose fires she thereafter for fourteen days continues to accumulate on her disc from new Moon to full. Then she unites with herself all the months in that superior portion of the world where light always reigns with harmony and order, and she borrows from him the force which is to destroy the germs of evil that Typhon had, during the winter, planted everywhere in Nature. This passage of the Sun into Taurus, whose attributes he assumes on his return from the lower hemisphere or the Shades is marked by the rising in the evening of the Wolf and the Centaur, and by the heliacal setting of Orion, called the Star of Horus, which thenceforward is in conjunction with the Sun of Spring in his triumph over the darkness of Typhon.
Isis, during the absence of Osiris, and after she had hidden the coffer in the place where Typhon found it, had rejoined that malignant enemy, indignant at which Horus her son deprived her of her ancient diadem when she rejoined Osiris as he was about to attack Typhon. However, Mercury gave her in its place a helmet shaped like the head of a bull. Then Horus, as a mighty warrior matching the description of Orion, fought with and defeated Typhon who, in the shape of the Serpent or Dragon of the Pole had assailed his father. So, in Ovid, Apollo destroys the same Python when Io, fascinated by Jupiter, is metamorphosed into a cow and placed in the sign of the Celestial Bull where she becomes Isis. The equinoctial year ends at the moment when the Sun and Moon, at the Vernal equinox, are united with Orion, the Star of Horus, placed in the Heavens under Taurus. The new Moon becomes young again in Taurus and shows herself as a crescent for the first time in the next sign, Gemini, the domicile of Mercury. Then Orion, in conjunction with the Sun with whom he rises, precipitates his rival the Scorpion into the shades of night, causing him to set whenever he himself appears on the Eastern horizon, with the Sun. Day lengthens and the germs of evil are by degrees eradicated. Horus (from Aur, Light) reigns triumphant, symbolising by his succession to the characteristics of Osiris the eternal renewal of the Sun's youth and creative vigour at the Vernal Equinox.
Such are the coincidences of astronomical phenomena with the legend of Osiris and Isis, sufficing to show the origin of the legend, overloaded as it eventually became with all the ornamentation natural to the poetical and figurative genius of the Orient.
Not only into this legend, but into those of all the ancient nations, enter the Bull, the Lamb, the Lion, and the Scorpion or the Serpent; and traces of the worship of the Sun still linger in all religions. Everywhere, even in our Order, survive the equinoctial and solstitial feasts. Our ceilings still glitter with the greater and lesser luminaries of the Heavens, and our lights in their number and arrangement have astronomical references. In all churches and chapels, as in all Pagan temples and pagoda, the altar is in the East; and the ivy over the East windows of old churches is the Hedera Helix of Bacchus. Even the cross had an astronomical origin, and our Lodges are full of the ancient symbols.
The learned author of the Sabean Researches, Landseer, advances another theory in regard to the legend of Osiris in which he makes the constellation Boötes play a leading part. He observes that, as none of the stars were visible at the same time with the Sun, his actual place in the Zodiac at any given time could only be ascertained by the Sabean astronomers by their observations of the stars and of their heliacal and achronical risings and settings. There were many solar festivals among the Sabeans, including some agricultural ones; and the concomitant signs of those festivals were the risings and settings of the stars of the Husbandman, Bear-driver or Hunter, Boötes. Among the Hierophants, his stars were the established nocturnal indices or indicators of the Sun's place in the ecliptic at different seasons of the year: and the festivals included that of Aphanism, or disappearance, and that of Zetesis, or search, for Osiris or Adonis, that is, of Boötes.
The returns of certain stars as connected with their concomitant seasons seemed to the ancients, who had not yet discovered that gradual change resulting from the apparent movement of the stars in longitude which has been termed the precession of the equinoxes, to be eternal and immutable; and those periodical returns were, to the initiated even more than to the vulgar, celestial oracles announcing the approach of those important changes upon which the prosperity and even the very existence of man must ever depend. The oldest Sabean constellations seem to have been a Priest, a King, a Queen, a Husbandman, and a Warrior; and these recur more frequently on the Sabean cylinders than any other constellations. The King was Cepheus of Ethiopia; the Husbandman, Osiris, Bacchus, Sabazeus, Noah, or Boötes. To the latter sign, the Egyptians were nationally, traditionally, and habitually grateful: for they conceived that from Osiris all the greatest of terrestrial enjoyments were derived. The stars of the Husbandman were the signal for those successive agricultural labours on which the annual produce of the soil depended; and they came in consequence to be considered and hailed, in Egypt and Ethiopia, as the genial stars of terrestrial productiveness, to which the oblations, prayers, and vows of the pious Sabean were regularly offered up.
Landseer says that the stars in Boötes, reckoning down to those of the 5th magnitude inclusive, are twenty-six, which seeming achronically to disappear in succession, produced the fable of the cutting of Osiris into twenty-six pieces by Typhon. There are more stars than this in the constellation; but no more that the votaries of Osiris could observe without telescopes, even in the clear atmosphere of the Sabean climate.
Plutarch says Osiris was cut into fourteen pieces; Diodorus, into twenty-six; in regard to which, and to the whole legend, Landseer's ideas, varying from those commonly entertained, are as follows.
Typhon, Landseer thinks, was the ocean, which the ancients fabled or believed surrounded the Earth, and into which all the stars in their turn appear successively to sink. (Perhaps it was Darkness personified which the ancients called Typhon. He was hunting by moonlight, says the old legend, when he met with Osiris).
The ancient Saba must have been near latitude 15 degrees North. Axum is nearly in 14 degrees, and the Western Saba or Meroe is to the North of that. Forty-eight centuries ago, Aldebaran, the leading star of the year, had at the Vernal Equinox attained at daylight in the morning an elevation of about 14 degrees, sufficient for him to have ceased to be combust, i.e. to have emerged from the Sun's rays so as to be visible. The ancients allowed twelve days for a star of the first magnitude to emerge from the solar rays, and there is less twilight the further South we go.
At the same period too, Cynosura was not the Pole Star, but Alpha Draconis was; and the stars rose and set with very different degrees of obliquity from those of their present risings and settings. By having a globe constructed with circumvolving poles, capable of any adjustment with regard to the colures, Mr Landseer ascertained that, at that remote period, in latitude 15 degrees North, the 26 stars in Boötes (or 27, including Arcturus), did not set achronically in succession, but several set simultaneously in couples, and six simultaneously by threes; so that, in all, there were but fourteen separate settings or disappearances corresponding with the fourteen pieces into which Osiris was cut according to Plutarch. Kappa, Iota, and Theta, in the uplifted Western hand, disappeared together and last of all. They really skirted the horizon, but were invisible in that latitude for the three or four days mentioned in some of the versions while the Zetesis or search was proceeding and the women of Phoenicia and Jerusalem sat weeping for the Wonder, Tammuz, after which they immediately reappeared below and to the Eastward of Alpha Draconis.
On the very morning after the achronical departure of the last star of the Husbandman, Aldebaran rose heliacally, and became visible in the East in the morning before daybreak.
And precisely at the moment of the heliacal rising of Arcturus also rose Spica Virginis. One is near the middle of the Husbandman, and the other near that of the Virgin; and Arcturus may have been the part of Osiris which Isis did not recover with the other pieces of the body.
At Dedan and Saba, it was thirty-six days from the beginning of the Aphanism (i.e. the disappearance of these stars) to the heliacal rising of Aldebaran. During these days, or forty at Medina, or a few more at Babylon and Byblos, the stars of the Husbandman successively sank out of sight during the crepusculum or short-lived morning twilight of those climes. They disappeared during the glancings of the dawn, the special season of ancient sidereal observation.
Thus the forty days of mourning for Osiris were measured by the period of the departure of his Stars. When the last had sunk out of sight, the vernal season was ushered in, and the Sun arose with the splendid Aldebaran, the Tauric leader of the Hosts of Heaven: and the whole East rejoiced and kept holiday.
With the exception of the Stars Kappa, Iota, and Theta, Boötes did not begin to reappear in the Eastern quarter of the Heavens until after the lapse of about four months. Then the stars of Taurus had declined Westward, and Virgo was rising heliacally. In that latitude, also, the stars of Ursa Major (termed anciently the Ark of Osiris) set; and Benetnasch, the last of them, returned to the Eastern Horizon with those in the head of Leo, a little before the Summer Solstice. In about a month followed the Stars of the Husbandman, the chief of them, Ras, Mirach, and Arcturus being very nearly simultaneous in their heliacal rising.
Thus the Stars of Boötes rose in the East immediately after Vindemiatrix, as if under the genial influence of its rays. He has his annual career of prosperity; he revelled orientally for a quarter of a year, and attained his meridian altitude with Virgo; and then, as the stars of the Water-Urn rose, and Aquarius began to pour forth his annual deluge, he declined Westward preceded by the Ark of Osiris. In the East, he was the sign of that happiness in which Nature, the great Goddess of passive production, rejoiced. Now, in the West, as he declines towards the North-western horizon, his generative vigour gradually abates; the Solar Year grows old; and as his Stars descend beneath the Western Wave, Osiris dies and the world mourns.
The Ancient Astronomers saw all the great Symbols of Masonry in the Stars. Sirius still glitters in our Lodges as the Blazing Star (l'Etoile Flamboyante).The Sun is still symbolised by the Point within a Circle; and, with the Moon and Mercury or Anubis, in the three Great Lights of the Lodge. Not only to these, but to the figures and numbers exhibited by the Stars, were ascribed peculiar and divine powers. The veneration paid to numbers had its source there. The Three Kings in Orion are in a straight line, and equidistant from each other, the two extreme stars being 3 degrees apart. And as the number three is peculiar to Apprentices, so the straight line is the first principle of Geometry, having length but no breadth, and being but the extension of a point and an emblem of Unity, and thus of Good, as the divided or broken line is of Duality or Evil. Near these stars are the Hyades, five in number, appropriate to the Fellow-Craft; and close to them the Pleiades, of the Master's number, seven. Thus these three sacred numbers, consecrated in Masonry as they were in the Pythagorean philosophy, always appear together in the Heavens when the Bull, emblem of fertility and production, glitters among the Stars, and Aldebaran leads the Hosts of Heaven.
Algenib in Perseus forms a right-angled triangle with Almaach and Algol in Andromeda, illustrating the 47th problem, and displaying the Grand Master's square upon the skies. Denebola in Leo, Arcturus in Boötes, and Spica in Virgo form an equilateral triangle, universal emblem of Perfection, and the Deity with His Trinity of Infinite Attributes, Wisdom, Power, and Harmony, and that other trinity of the generative, preserving, and destroying Powers. The Three Kings form, with Rigel in Orion, two triangles included in one; and Capella and Menkalina in Auriga, with Bellatrix and Betelgeuse in Orion, form two isosceles triangles with Beta Tauri, that is equidistant from each pair; while the four first make a right-angled parallelogram, the oblong square so often mentioned in our degrees.
Julius Firmicus, in his description of the Mysteries, says, "But in those funerals and lamentations which are annually celebrated in honour of Osiris, their defenders pretend a physical reason. They call the seeds of fruit, Osiris; the Earth, Isis; the natural heat, Typhon: and because the fruits are ripened by the natural heat, collected for the life of man, separated from their marriage to the earth, and sown again when Winter approaches, this they would have to be the death of Osiris. But when the fruits, by the genial fostering of the earth, begin again to be generated by a new procreation, that is the finding of Osiris".
No doubt the decay of vegetation and the falling of the leaves, emblems of dissolution and evidences of the action of that Power that changes Life into Death in order to bring Life again out of Death, were regarded as signs of that death that seemed coming upon all Nature, as the springing of leaves and buds and flowers in the Spring was a sign of restoration to life. But these were all secondary, and referred to the Sun as first cause. It was his figurative death that was mourned, and not theirs; and with that death, as with his return to life, many of the stars were connected.
We have already alluded to the relations which the twelve signs of the Zodiac bear to the legend of the Master's Degree. Some other coincidences may have sufficient interest to warrant mention.
Hiram was assailed at the East, West, and South Gates of the Temple. The two equinoxes were called by the Ancients the Gates of Heaven, and the Syrians and Egyptians considered the Fish (the Constellation near Aquarius, and one of whose stars is Fomalhaut) to be indicators of violence and death.
Hiram lay several days in the grave; and, at the Winter Solstice, for five or six days, the length of the days did not appreciably increase. Then, the Sun again commencing to climb Northward, as Osiris was said to arise from the dead, so Hiram was raised by the powerful attraction of the Lion who waited for him at the Summer Solstice and drew him to himself.
The names of the three assassins may have been adopted from the three Stars that we have already named. We search in vain in the Hebrew or Arabic for the names Jubelo, Jubela, and Jubelum. They embody an utter absurdity, and are capable of no explanation in those languages. Nor are the names Gibs, Gravelot, Hobhen, and the like in the Ancient and Accepted Rite any more plausible or better referable to any ancient language. But when, by the precession of the equinoxes, the Sun was in Libra at the Autumnal equinox, he met in that sign where the reign of Typhon commenced, three stars forming a triangle — Zuben-es-Chamali in the West, Zuben-Hak-Rabi in the East, and Zuben-El-Gubi in the South, the latter immediately below the Tropic of Capricorn, and so within the realm of Darkness. From these names, those of the murderers have perhaps been corrupted. In Zuben-Hak-Rabi we may see the original of Jubelum Akirop; and in Zuben-el-Gubi, that of Jubelo Gibs: and time and ignorance may even have transmuted the words es Chamali into one as little like them as Gravelot.
Isis, the Moon personified, sorrowing sought for her husband. Nine or twelve Fellow-Crafts (the Rites vary as to the number) in white aprons, were sent to search for Hiram in the Master's Degree or, in this Rite, the Nine Knights Elect. Along the path that the Moon travels are nine conspicuous stars by which nautical men determine their longitude at sea: — Arietis, Aldebaran, Pollux, Regulus, Spica Virginis, Antares, Altair, Fomalhaut, and Markab. These might well be said to accompany Isis in her search.
In the York Rite, twelve Fellow-Crafts were sent to search for the body of Hiram and for the murderers. Their number corresponds with that of the Pleiades and Hyades in Taurus, among which stars the Sun was found when Light began to prevail over darkness and the Mysteries were held. These stars, as we have shown, received early and particular attention from the astronomers and poets. The Pleiades were the stars of the ocean to the benighted mariner; the Virgins of Spring heralded the season of blossoms.
As only six Pleiades are now visible, the number twelve may have been obtained by them with Aldebaran and five far more brilliant stars than any other of the Hyades, in the same region of the Heavens and which were always spoken of in connection with the Pleiades: the Three Kings in the Belt of Orion, and Bellatrix and Betelgeuse on his shoulders, brightest of the flashing starry hosts.
"Canst thou", asks Job, "bind the sweet influence of the Pleiades or loose the bands of Orion?" And in the Book of Amos we find these stars connected with the victory of Light over Darkness: "Seek him", says that Seer, "that maketh the Seven Stars (the familiar name of the Pleiades) and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into morning".
An old legend in Masonry says that a dog led the Nine Elect to the cavern where Abiram was hid. Boötes was anciently called Caleb Anubach, the Barking Dog, and was personified in Anubis who bore the head of a dog and aided Isis in her search. Arcturus, one of his Stars, fiery red as if fervent and zealous, is also connected by Job with the Pleiades and Orion. When Taurus opened the year, Arcturus rose after the Sun at the time of the Winter Solstice, and seemed to be searching for him through the darkness until, sixty days afterwards, he rose at the same hour. Then also, at the Winter Solstice, Orion rose at noon, and at night seemed to be in search of the Sun.
Referring again to the time when the Sun entered the Autumnal Equinox, there are nine remarkable stars that come to the meridian nearly at the same time, rising as Libra sets, and so seeming to chase that constellation. They are Capella and Menkalina in the Charioteer, Aldebaran in Taurus, Bellatrix, Betelgeuse, the Three Kings, and Rigel in Orion. Aldebaran passes the meridian first, indicating his right to the peculiar title of Leader. Nowhere in the Heavens are there, near the same meridian, so many splendid stars. And close behind them, but further South, follows Sirius, the Dog-Star, who showed the Nine Elu the way to the murderer's cave.
Besides the division of the signs into the ascending and descending series (referring to the upward and downward progress of the soul), the latter from Cancer to Capricorn and the former from Capricorn to Cancer, there was another division of them not less important: that of the six superior and six inferior signs: the former, 2455 BCE from Taurus to Scorpio and 300 BCE from Aries to Libra; and the latter, 2455 years BCE from Scorpio to Taurus and 300 years BCE from Libra to Aries; of which we have already spoken as the two Hemispheres or Kingdoms of Good and Evil, Light and Darkness; of Ormuzd and Ahriman among the Persians, and Osiris and Typhon among the Egyptians.
With the Persians, the six first Genii, created by Ormuzd, presided over the six first signs, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, and Virgo; and the six Evil Genii or Devs created by Ahriman over the six others, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Aquarius, and Pisces. The soul was fortunate and happy under the Empire of the six first, and began to be sensible of evil when it passed under the Balance or Libra, the seventh sign. Thus the soul entered the realm of Evil and Darkness when it passed into the constellations that belong to and succeed the Autumnal Equinox; and it re-entered the realm of Good and Light when it arrived at those of the Vernal Equinox. It lost its felicity by means of the Balance, and regained it by means of the Lamb. This is a necessary consequence of the premises; and it is confirmed by the authorities and by emblems still extant.
Sallust the Philosopher, speaking of the Feasts of Rejoicing celebrated at the Vernal Equinox, and those of mourning in memory of the rape of Proserpine at the Autumnal Equinox, says that the former were celebrated because then is effected, as it were, the return of the soul towards the Gods; that the time when the Principle of Light recovered its superiority over that of Darkness was the most favourable one for souls that tend to re-ascend to their Principle; and that when darkness and the Night again became victors was most favourable to the descent of souls towards the infernal regions.
For that reason, the old astrologers, as Firmicus states, fixed the locality of the river Styx in the 8th degree of the Balance, and he thinks that by Styx was allegorically meant the Earth.
The Emperor Julian gives the same explanation, but more fully developed. He states as a reason why the august Mysteries of Ceres and Proserpine were celebrated at the Autumnal Equinox, that at that period of the year men feared lest the impious and dark power of the Evil Principle, then commencing to conquer, should do harm to their souls. They were a precaution and means of safety thought to be necessary at the moment when the God of Light was passing into the opposite or adverse region of the world, while at the Vernal Equinox there was less to be feared because then that God present in one portion of the world recalled souls to Him, and showed himself to be their saviour. Julian had a little before developed the theological idea of the attractive force which the Sun exercises over souls, drawing them to him and raising them to his luminous sphere. He attributes this effect to the Sun at the feasts of Atys, dead and restored to life, or the feasts of Rejoicing, which at the end of three days succeeded the mourning for that death; and he inquires why those Mysteries were celebrated at the Vernal Equinox. The reason, he says, is evident. As the Sun, arriving at the equinoctial point of Spring, drawing nearer to us, increases the length of the days, that period seems more appropriate for those ceremonies. For, besides that there is a great affinity between the substance of Light and the nature of the Gods, the Sun has that occult force of attraction by which he draws matter towards himself by means of his warmth, making plants to shoot and grow, etc.; and why can he not, by the same divine and pure action of his rays, attract and draw to him fortunate souls. Then, as light is analogous to the Divine of Nature, and favourable to souls struggling to return to their First Principle, and as that light so increases at the Vernal Equinox that the days prevail in duration over the nights, and as the Sun has an attractive force besides the visible energy of his rays, it follows that souls are attracted towards the solar light. He does not further pursue the explanation because, he says, it belongs to a mysterious doctrine beyond the reach of the vulgar and known only to those who understand the mode of action of Deity, like the Chaldean author whom he cites who had treated of the Mysteries of Light, or the God with seven rays.
This will be found to be confirmed by an examination of some of the symbols used in the Mysteries. One of the most famous of these was The Serpent, the peculiar symbol of this Degree. The cosmogony of the Hebrews and that of the Gnostics designated this reptile as the author of the fate of souls. It was consecrated in the Mysteries of Bacchus and those of Eleusis. Pluto overcame the virtue of Proserpine under the form of a serpent and, like the Egyptian God Serapis, was always pictured seated on a serpent or with that reptile entwined about him. It is found on the Mithraic monuments and supplied the attributes of Typhon to the Egyptians. The sacred basilisk, in coil, with head and neck erect, was the royal ensign of the Pharaohs. Two of them were entwined around, and hung suspended from the winged Globe on the Egyptian monuments. On a tablet in one of the tombs at Thebes, a God with a spear pierces a serpent's head. On a tablet from the Temple of Osiris at Philae is a tree with a man on one side and a woman on the other, and in front of the woman an erect basilisk with horns on its head and a disc between the horns. The head of Medusa was encircled by winged snakes which, the head removed, left the Hierogram or Sacred Cipher of the Ophites or Serpent-worshippers. And the Serpent, in connection with the Globe or circle is found upon the monuments of all the Ancient Nations.
Over Libra, the sign through which souls were said to descend or fall, is found on the Celestial Globe the Serpent, grasped by Serpentarius, the Serpent-bearer. The head of the reptile is under Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, called by Ovid Libera or Proserpine; and the two constellations rise, with the Balance, after the Virgin (or Isis), whose feet rest on the Eastern horizon at sunrise on the day of the equinox. As the Serpent extends over both signs, Libra and Scorpio, it has been the gate through which souls descend during the whole time that those two signs in succession marked the Autumnal Equinox. To this alluded the Serpent which, in the Mysteries of Bacchus Saba-Zeus, was flung into the bosom of the initiate.
And hence came the enlightened expression, the Serpent engenders the Bull, and the Bull the Serpent, alluding to the two adverse constellations answering to the two equinoxes, one of which rose as the other set, and which were at the two points of the Heavens through which souls passed, ascending and descending. By the Serpent of Autumn, souls fell; and they were regenerated again by the Bull on which Mithras sat, and whose attributes Bacchus-Zagreus and the Egyptian Osiris assumed in their Mysteries wherein were represented the fall and regeneration of souls by the Bull slain and restored to life.
Afterwards the regenerating Sun assumed the attributes of Aries or the Lamb; and in the Mysteries of Ammon, souls were regenerated by passing through that sign, having fallen through the Serpent.
The Serpent-bearer, Ophiuchus, was Aesculapius, God of Healing. In the Mysteries of Eleusis, that constellation was placed in the eighth Heaven: and on the eighth day of those Mysteries, the feast of Aesculapius was celebrated. It was also termed Epidaurus, or the feast of the Serpent of Epidaurus. The Serpent was sacred to Aesculapius, and was connected in various ways with the mythological adventures of Ceres.
So the libations to Souls, by pouring wine on the ground and looking towards the two gates of Heaven, those of day and night, referred to the ascent and descent of souls.
Ceres and the Serpent, Jupiter Ammon and the Bull, all figured in the Mysteries of Bacchus. Suppose Aries, or Jupiter Ammon, occupied by the Sun setting in the West: Virgo (Ceres) will be on the Eastern horizon, and in her train, the Crown or Proserpine. Suppose Taurus setting: then the Serpent is in the East; and reciprocally; so that Jupiter Ammon, or the Sun of Aries, causes the Crown to rise after the Virgin, in whose train comes the Serpent. Place reciprocally the Sun at the other equinox, with the Balance in the West in conjunction with the Serpent under the Crown, and we shall see the Bull and the Pleiades rise in the East. Thus are explained all the fables as to the generation of the Bull by the Serpent and of the Serpent by the Bull, the biting of the testicles of the Bull by the Scorpion on the Mithraic monuments, and that Jupiter made Ceres with child by tossing into her bosom the testicles of a Ram.
In the Mysteries of the Bull-horned Bacchus, the officers held serpents in their hands, raised them above their heads, and cried aloud, "Eva!" the generic name of the serpent and the particular name of the constellation in which the Persians placed Eve and the serpent. The Arabians call it Hevan; Ophiuchus himself, Hawa; and the brilliant star in his head, Ras-al-Hawa. The use of this word Eva or Evoë caused Clemens of Alexandria to say that the priests in the Mysteries evoked Eve, by whom evil was brought into the world. [Compare The Serpent in Chapter 2 of Book 9 in the Temple Library. — Ed.]
The mystic winnowing-fan, encircled by serpents, was used in the feasts of Bacchus. In the Isiac Mysteries, a basilisk twined round the handle of the mystic vase. The Ophites fed a serpent in a mysterious ark, from which they took him when they celebrated the Mysteries and allowed him to glide among the sacred bread. The Romans kept serpents in the Temples of Bona Dea and Aesculapius. In the Mysteries of Apollo, the pursuit of Latona by the serpent Python was represented. In the Egyptian Mysteries, the dragon Typhon pursued Isis.
According to Sanchoniathon, Taaut, the interpreter of Heaven to men, attributed something divine to the nature of the dragon and serpents, in which the Phoenicians and Egyptians followed him. They have more vitality, more spiritual force, than any other creature; and their fiery nature is shown by the rapidity of their motions without the limbs of other animals. They assume many shapes and attitudes, and dart with extraordinary quickness and force. When they have reached old age, they throw off that age and are young again, and increase in size and strength for a certain period of years.
The Egyptian priests fed the sacred serpents in the Temple at Thebes. Taaut himself had in his writings discussed these mysteries in regard to the serpent. Sanchoniathon said in another work that the serpent was immortal and re-entered into himself: which, according to some ancient theosophists, particularly those of India, was an attribute of the Deity. And he also said that the serpent never died unless by a violent death.
The Phoenicians called the serpent Agathodemon (the good spirit); and Kneph was the Serpent-God of the Egyptians.
Sanchoniathon said that the Egyptians represented the serpent with the head of a hawk on account of the swift flight of that bird; and the chief Hierophant, the sacred interpreter, gave very mysterious explanations of that symbol, saying that such a serpent was a very divine creature and that, opening his eyes, he lighted with their rays the whole of first-born space, and when he closes them, it is darkness again. In reality, the hawk-headed serpent, genius of Light or Good, was the symbol of the Sun.
In the hieroglyphic characters, a snake was the letter T or DJ. It occurs many times on the Rosetta Stone. The horned serpent was the hieroglyphic for a God.
According to Eusebius, the Egyptians represented the world by a blue circle sprinkled with flames, within which was extended a serpent with the head of a hawk. Proclus says they represented the four quarters of the world by a cross, and the soul of the world, or Kneph, by a serpent surrounding it in the form of a circle.
We read in Anaxagoras, quoting Orpheus, that the water, and the vessel that produced it, were the primitive principles of things, and together gave existence to an animated being which was a serpent with two heads, one of a lion and the other of a bull, between which was the figure of a God whose name was Hercules or Kronos; that from Hercules came the egg of the world, which produced Heaven and earth by dividing itself into two hemispheres; and that the God Phanes, which issued from that egg, was in the shape of a serpent.
The Egyptian Goddess Ken, represented standing naked on a lion, held two serpents in her hand. She is the same as the Astarte or Ashtaroth of the Assyrians. Hera, worshipped in the Great Temple at Babylon, held in her right hand a serpent by the head; and near Khea, also worshipped there, were two large silver serpents.
In a sculpture from Kuyunjik, two serpents attached to poles are near a fire-altar at which two eunuchs are standing. Upon it is the sacred fire, and a bearded figure leads a wild goat to the sacrifice.
The serpent of the Temple of Epidaurus was sacred to Aesculapius, the God of Medicine and, 462 years after the building of the city, was taken to Rome after a pestilence.
The Phoenicians represented the God Nomu (Kneph or Amun-Kneph) by a serpent. In Egypt, a Sun supported by two asps was the emblem of Horhat, the good genius; and the serpent with the winged globe was placed over the doors and windows of the temples as a tutelary God. Antipater of Sidon calls Amun "the renowned serpent", and the Cerastes is often found embalmed in the Thebaid.
On ancient Tyrian coins and Indian medals, a serpent was represented coiled round the trunk of a tree. Python, the Serpent Deity, was esteemed oracular; and the tripod at Delphi was a triple-headed serpent of gold.
The portals of all the Egyptian Temples are decorated with the hierogram of the Circle and the Serpent. It is also found upon the Temple of Naki-Rustan in Persia; on the triumphal arch at Peking, in China; over the gates of the great temple of Chaundi Teeva in Java; upon the walls of Athens; and in the Temple of Minerva at Tegea. The Mexican hierogram was formed by the intersecting of two great serpents which described the circle with their bodies, and each had a human head in its mouth.
All the Buddhist crosses in Ireland had serpents carved upon them. Wreaths of snakes are on the columns of the ancient Hindu Temple at Burwah-Sangor.
Among the Egyptians, it was a symbol of Divine Wisdom when extended at length and, with its tail in its mouth, of Eternity.
In the ritual of Zoroaster, the Serpent was a symbol of the Universe. In China, the ring between two serpents was the symbol of the world governed by the power and wisdom of the Creator. The Bacchanals carried serpents in their hands or round their heads.
The Serpent entwined round an Egg was a symbol common to the Indians, the Egyptians, and the Druids. It referred to the creation of the Universe. A Serpent with an egg in his mouth was a symbol of the Universe containing within itself the germ of all things that the Sun develops.
The property possessed by the Serpent of casting its skin, and thus apparently renewing its youth, made it an emblem of eternity and immortality. The Syrian women still employ it as a charm against barrenness, as did the devotees of Mithras and Saba-Zeus. The Earth-born civilisers of the early world, Fohi, Cecrops, and Erechtheus were half-man, half-serpent. The snake was the guardian of the Athenian Acropolis. The brazen serpent of the wilderness became naturalised among the Hebrews as a token of healing power. "Be ye", said Christ, "wise as serpents and harmless as doves".
The Serpent was as often a symbol of malevolence and enmity. It appears among the emblems of Siva-Roudra, the power of desolation and death; it is the bane of Aëpytus, Idmon, Archemorus, and Philoctates; it gnaws the roots of the tree of life in the Eddas and bites the heel of unfortunate Eurydice. In Hebrew writers it is generally a type of evil; and is particularly so in the Indian and Persian Mythologies. When the Sea is churned by Mount Mandar rotating within the coils of the Cosmic Serpent Vasouki to produce the Amrita or water of immortality, the serpent vomits a hideous poison which spread through and infects the universe, but which Vishnu renders harmless by swallowing it. Ahriman in serpent form invades the realm of Ormuzd; and the Bull, emblem of life, is wounded by him and dies. It was therefore a religious obligation with every devout follower of Zoroaster to exterminate reptiles and other impure animals, especially serpents, The moral and astronomical significance of the Serpent were connected. It became a maxim of the Zend-Avesta that Ahriman, the Principle of Evil, made the Great Serpent of Winter who assaulted the creation of Ormuzd.
A serpent-ring was a well-known symbol of time: and to express dramatically how time preys upon itself, the Egyptian priests fed vipers in a subterranean chamber representing the Sun's winter abode on the fat of bulls, or the year's plenteousness. The dragon of winter pursues Ammon, the golden ram, to Mount Cassius. The Virgin of the Zodiac is bitten in the heel by Serpens who, with Scorpio, rises immediately behind her; and as honey, the emblem of purity and salvation, was thought to be an antidote to the serpent's bite, so the bees of Aristaeus, the emblems of Nature's abundance, are destroyed through the agency of the serpent and regenerated within the entrails of the Vernal Bull.
The Sun-God is finally victorious. Krishna crushes the head of the serpent Calyia; Apollo destroys Python, and Hercules that Lernaean monster whose poison festered in the foot of Philoctetes of Mopsus, of Chiros, or of Sagittarius. The infant Hercules destroys the pernicious snakes detested of the gods and ever, like St George of England and Michael the Archangel, wars against hydras and dragons.
The eclipses of the Sun and Moon were believed by the Orientals to be caused by the assaults of a daemon in dragon form, and they endeavoured to scare away the intruder by shouts and menaces. This was the original Leviathan or Crooked Serpent of old, transfixed in the olden time by the power of Jehovah and suspended as a glittering trophy in the sky; yet also the Power of Darkness supposed to be ever in pursuit of the Sun and Moon. When it finally overtakes them, it will entwine them in its folds and prevent their shining. In the last Indian Avatara, as in the Eddas, a serpent vomiting flames is expected to destroy the world. The serpent presides over the close of the year, where it guards the approach to the golden fleece of Aries and the three apples or seasons of the Hesperides, presenting a formidable obstacle to the career of the Sun-God. The Great Destroyer of snakes is occasionally married to them: Hercules with the Northern dragon begets the three ancestors of Scythia; for the Sun seems at one time to rise victorious from the contest with darkness, and at another to sink into its embraces. The Northern constellation Draco, whose sinuosities wind like a river through the wintry Bear, was made the astronomical cincture of the Universe, as the serpent encircles the mundane egg in the Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The Persian Ahriman was called "The old serpent, the liar from the beginning, the Prince of Darkness, and the rover up and down". The Dragon was a well known symbol of the waters and of great rivers, and it was natural that by the pastoral Asiatic tribes, the powerful nations of the alluvial plains in the neighbourhood who adored the Dragon or Fish, should themselves by symbolised under the form of dragons; and, overcome by the might of the Hebrew God, as monstrous Leviathans maimed and destroyed by him. Ophioneus, in the old Greek Theology, warred against Kronos, and was overcome and cast into his proper element, the sea. There he is installed as the Sea-God Oannes or Dragon, the Leviathan of the watery half of creation, the dragon who vomited a flood of water after the persecuted woman of the Apocalypse, the monster who threatened to devour Hesione and Andromeda, and who for a time became the grave of Hercules and Jonah; and he corresponds with the obscure name of Rahab, whom Jehovah is said in Job to have transfixed and overcome.
In the Spring, the year or Sun-God appears as Mithras or Europa mounted on the Bull; but in the opposite half of the Zodiac he rides the emblem of the eaters, the winged horse of Nestor or Poseidon: and the Serpent, rising heliacally at the Autumnal Equinox, besetting with poisonous influence the cold constellation Sagittarius, is explained as the reptile in the path who "bites the horse's heels, so that his rider falls backward". The same serpent, the Oannes Aphrenos or Musaros of Syncellus, was the Midgard Serpent which Odin sunk beneath the sea but which grew to such a size as to encircle the whole earth.
For these Asiatic symbols of the contest of the Sun-God with the Dragon of Darkness and Winter were imported not only into the Zodiac but into the more homely circle of European legend; and both Thor and Odin fight with dragons as Apollo did with the great scaly snake Python, Achilles with the Scamander, and Bellerophon with the Chimaera. In the apocryphal Book of Esther, dragons herald "a day of darkness and obscurity"; and St George of England, a problematic Cappadocian Prince, was originally only a varying form of Mithras. Jehovah is said to have "cut Rahab and wounded the dragon". The latter is not only the type of earthly desolation, the dragon of the deep waters, but also the leader of the banded conspirators of the sky, of the rebellious stars which, according to Enoch, "came not at the right time"; and his tail drew a third part of the Host of Heaven, and cast them to the earth. Jehovah "divided the sea by his strength, and broke the heads of dragons in the waters". And, according to the Jewish and Persian belief, the Dragon would in the latter days, the Winter of time, enjoy a short period of licensed impunity which would be a season of the greatest suffering to the people of the earth; but he would finally be bound or destroyed in the great battle of Messiah — or, as seems intimated by the Rabbinical figure of being eaten by the faithful, be, like Ahriman or Vasouki, ultimately absorbed by and united with the Principle of Good.
Diodorus says that near the image of Rhea in the Temple of Bel at Babylon, were two large serpents of silver, each weighing thirty talents; and in the same Temple was an image of Juno holding in her right hand the head of a serpent. The Greeks called Bel, Beliar; and Hesychius interprets that word to mean a dragon or great serpent. We learn from the book of Bel and the Dragon that in Babylon was kept a great live serpent which the people worshipped.
The Assyrians, the Emperors of Constantinople, the Parthians, Scythians, Saxons, Chinese, and Danes all bore the serpent as a standard; and among the spoils taken by Aurelian from Zenobia were such standards, Persici Dracones. The Persians represented Ormuzd and Ahriman by two serpents contending for the mundane egg. Mithras is represented with a lion's head and human body encircled by a serpent. In the Sadder is this precept: "When you kill serpents, you shall repeat the Zend-Avesta, and thence you will obtain great merit; for it is the same as if you had killed so many devils".
Serpents encircling rings and globes, and issuing from globes, are common in the Persian, Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian monuments. Vishnu is represented reposing on a coiled serpent whose head rises above his own. Parvati has snakes about her neck and waist. Vishnu is the Preserving Spirit; Mahadeva and Bhairava are names of Shiva, the Evil Principle, and Parvati is his consort. The King of Evil Demons in the Hindu Mythology was called Naga, the King of Serpents, in which name we trace the Hebrew Nachash, a serpent.
In Kashmir were seven hundred places where carved images of serpents were worshipped: and in Tibet the great Chinese Dragon ornamented the Temples of the Grand Lama. In China, the dragon was the stamp and symbol of royalty, sculptured in all the temples, blazoned on the furniture of the houses, and interwoven with the vestments of the chief nobility. The Emperor bears it as his armorial device: it is engraved on his sceptre and diadem, and on all the vases of the imperial palace. The Chinese believe that there is a dragon of extraordinary strength and sovereign power in heaven, in the air, in the waters, and on the mountains. Their God Fohi is said to have had the form of a man, terminating in the tail of a snake, a combination to be more fully explained to you in a subsequent degree.
The dragon and serpent are the 5th and 6th sign of the Chinese Zodiac; and the Hindus and Chinese believe that, at every eclipse, the Sun or Moon is seized by a huge serpent or dragon, the serpent Asooice of the Hindus, which enfolds the globe. The "War in Heaven", when Michael and his Angels fought against the dragon, refers to the constellation Draco.
Sanchoniathon says that Taaut was the author of the worship of serpents among the Phoenicians. He "consecrated" he says, "the species of dragons and serpents; and the Phoenicians and Egyptians followed him in this superstition". He was "the first who made an image of Coelus"; that is, who represented the Heavenly Host of stars by visible symbols; and was probably the same as the Egyptian Thoth. On the Tyrian coins of the age of Alexander, serpents are represented in many positions and attitudes, coiled round trees, erect in front of altars, and crushed by the Syrian Hercules.
The seventh letter of the Egyptian alphabet, called Zeuta or Life, was sacred to Thoth, and was expressed by a serpent standing on his tail: and that Deity, the God of Healing like Aesculapius, to whom the serpent was consecrated, leans on a knotted stick round which coils a snake. The Isiac tablet describing the Mysteries of Isis is charged with serpents in every part as her emblems. The asp was specially dedicated to her, and is seen on the heads of her statues, on the bonnets of her priests, and on the tiaras of the Kings of Egypt. Serapis was sometimes represented with a human head and serpentine tail; and in one engraving, two minor Gods are represented with him, one by a serpent with a bull's head, and the other by a serpent with the radiated head of a lion.
On an ancient sacrificial vessel found in Denmark, having several compartments, a serpent is represented attacking a kneeling boy, pursuing him, retreating from him, appealed to beseechingly by him, and conversing with him. We are at once reminded of the Sun at the new year represented by a child sitting on a lotus, and of the relations of the Sun of Spring with the Autumnal Serpent, pursued by and pursuing him, and in conjunction with him. Other figures on this vessel belong to the Zodiac.
The base of the tripod of the Pythian Priestess was a triple-headed serpent of brass whose body, folded in circles growing wider and wider towards the ground, formed a conical column, while the three heads, disposed triangularly, upheld the tripod of gold. A similar column was placed on a pillar in the Hippodrome at Constantinople by the founder of that city, one of the heads of which is said to have been broken off by Mahomet the Second by a blow with his iron mace.
The British God Hu was called "The Dragon — Ruler of the World", and his car was drawn by serpents. His ministers were styled Adders. A Druid in a poem of Taliesin says, "I am a Druid, I am an Architect, I am a Prophet, I am a Serpent (Gnadi)". The Car of the Goddess Ceridwen also was drawn by serpents.
In the elegy of Uther Pendragon, this passage occurs in a description of the religious rites of the Druids: "While the Sanctuary is earnestly invoking The Gliding King, before whom the Fair One retreats upon the veil that covers the huge stones; whilst the Dragon moves round over the places which contain vessels of drink-offering, whilst the drink-offering is in the Golden Horns": in which we readily discover the mystic and obscure allusion to the Autumnal Serpent pursuing the Sun along the circle of the Zodiac, to the celestial cup or crater, and the Golden Horns of Virgil's milk-white Bull: and, a line or two further on, we find the Priest imploring the victorious Beli, The Sun-God of the Babylonians.
A Cross, like a Teutonic or Maltese one, formed by four curved lines within a circle, is also common on the monuments, and represented the Tropics and the Colures.
The Caduceus, borne by Hermes or Mercury, and also by Cybele, Minerva, Anubis, Hercules Ogmius the God of the Celts, and the personified constellation Virgo, was a winged wand entwined by two serpents. It was originally a simple Cross, symbolising the Equator and equinoctial colure, and the four elements proceeding from a common centre. This Cross, surmounted by a Circle, and that by a crescent, became an emblem of the Supreme Deity — or of the active power of generation and the passive power of production conjoined — and was appropriated to Thoth or Mercury. It then assumed an improved form, the arms of the Cross being changed into wings, and the circle and crescent being formed by two snakes springing from the wand, forming a circle by crossing each other, and their heads making the horns of the crescent: in which form it is seen in the hands of Anubis.
The triple Tau, in the centre of a circle and a triangle, typifies the Sacred Name and represents the Sacred Triad — the Creating, Preserving, and Destroying Powers, as well as the three great lights of Masonry. If to the Masonic point within a Circle, and the two parallel lines, we add the single Tau Cross, we have the Ancient Egyptian Triple Tau.
A column in the form of a cross with a circle over it was used by the Egyptians to measure the increase of the inundation of the Nile. The Tau and Triple Tau are found in many ancient alphabets.
With the Tau or the Triple Tau may be connected, within two circles, the double cube of perfection, or the perfect ashlar.
The Crux Ansata is found on the sculptures of Khorsabad; on the ivories of the same age from Nimrud, carried by an Assyrian Monarch; and on cylinders of the later Assyrian period.
As the single Tau represents the One God, so, no doubt, the Triple Tau, the origin of which cannot be traced, was meant to represent the trinity of His attributes, the three Masonic pillars, Wisdom, Strength, and Harmony.
The Prophet Ezekiel, in the 4th verse of the 9th chapter, says: "And the Lord said unto him, 'Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and mark the letter TAU upon the foreheads of those that sigh and mourn for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof' ". So the Latin Vulgate and probably the most ancient copies of the Septuagint translate the passage. This Tau was in the form of the cross of this Degree, and it was the emblem of life and salvation. The Samaritan Tau and the Ethiopian Tavvi are the evident prototype of the Greek theta; and we learn from Tertullian, Origen, and St Jerome that the Hebrew Tau was anciently written in the form of a cross.
In ancient times, the mark Tau was set on those who had been acquitted by their judges, as a symbol of their innocence. The military commanders placed it on soldiers who escaped unhurt from the field of battle, as a sign of their safety under the Divine Protection.
It was a sacred symbol among the Druids. Divesting a tree of its branches, they left it in the shape of a Tau cross, preserved it carefully, and consecrated it with solemn ceremonies. On the tree they cut deeply the word TAU, by which they meant God. On the right arm of the Cross they inscribed the word Hesuls, on the left Belen or Belenus, and on the middle of the trunk Taranis. This represented the Sacred triad.
It is certain that the Indians, Egyptians, and Arabians paid veneration to the sign of the Cross thousands of years before the coming of Christ. Everywhere it was a sacred symbol. The Hindus and the Celtic Druids built many of their Temples in the form of a Cross, as the ruins still remaining clearly show, and particularly the ancient Druidical Temple at Callanish on the Scottish Island of Lewis. The Circle is of 12 stones. On each of the sides, East, West, and South, are three. In the centre was the image of the Deity; and on the North was an avenue of twice nineteen stones, and one at the entrance. The Supernal Pagoda at Benares is in the form of a Cross; and the Druidical subterranean grotto at New Grange in Ireland.
The Statue of Osiris at Rome had the same emblem. Isis and Ceres also bore it; and the caverns of initiation were constructed in that shape with a pyramid over the Sacellum.
Crosses were cut in the stones of the Temple of Serapis in Alexandria; and many Tau Crosses are to be seen in the sculptures of Alabastion and Esné in Egypt. On coins, the symbol of the Egyptian God Kneph was a Cross within a Circle.
The Crux Ansata was the particular emblem of Osiris, and his sceptre ended with that figure. It was also the emblem of Hermes, and was considered a Sublime Hieroglyphic possessing mysterious powers and virtues as a wonder-working amulet.
The Sacred Tau occurs in the hands of the mummy-shaped figures between the forelegs of the row of Sphinxes in the great avenue leading from Luxor to Karnak. By the Tau Cross the Kabbalists expressed the number 10, a perfect number denoting Heaven and the Pythagorean Tetractys or incommunicable name of God. The Tau Cross is also found on the stones in front of the door of the Temple of Amunoth III at Thebes, who reigned about the time when the Israelites took possession of Canaan; and the Egyptian priests carried it in all the sacred processions.
Tertullian, who had been initiated, informs us that the Tau was inscribed on the forehead of every person who had been admitted into the Mysteries of Mithras.
As the simple Tau represented Life, so when the Circle, symbol of Eternity, was added, it represented Eternal Life.
At the Initiation of a King, the Tau, as the emblem of life and key of the Mysteries, was impressed upon his lips.
In the Indian Mysteries, the Tau Cross under the name of Tiluk was marked upon the body of the Candidate as a sign that he was set apart for the Scared Mysteries.
On the upright tablet of the King discovered at Nimrud are the names of thirteen Great Gods (among which are Yav and Bel); and the left hand character of every one is a cross composed of two cuneiform characters.
The Cross appears upon an Ancient Phoenician medal found in the ruins of Citium; on the very ancient Buddhist obelisk near Fearn in Ross-shire; on the Buddhist Round Towers in Ireland; and upon the splendid obelisk of the same era at Forres in Scotland.
Upon the façade of a temple at Kalabche in Nubia are three regal figures, each holding a Crux Ansata.
Like the subterranean Mithriatic Temple at New Grange in Ireland, the Pagodas of Benares and Mathura were in the form of a Cross. Magnificent Buddhist crosses were erected, and are still standing, at Clonmacnoise, Finglas, and Kilcullen in Ireland. Wherever the monuments of Buddhism are found, in India, Ceylon, or Ireland, we find the Cross: for Buddha or Boudh was represented to have been crucified.
All the planets known to the Ancients were distinguished by the Mystic Cross in conjunction with the solar or lunar symbols: Saturn by a cross over a crescent; Jupiter by a cross under a crescent; Mars by a cross resting obliquely on a circle; Venus by a cross under a circle; and Mercury by a cross surmounted by a circle and that by a crescent.
The Solstices, Cancer and Capricorn, the two gates of Heaven, are the two pillars of Hercules beyond which he, the Sun, never journeyed: and they still appear in our Lodges as the two great columns, Jachin and Boaz, and also as the two parallel lines that bound the circle with a point in the centre, emblem of the Sun between the two tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.
The Blazing Star in our Lodges, as we have already said, represents Sirius, Anubis, or Mercury, Guardian and Guide of Souls. Our Ancient English brethren also considered it an emblem of the Sun. In the old Lectures, they said: "The Blazing Star or Glory in the centre refers us to that Grand Luminary the Sun which enlightens the Earth and by its genial influence dispenses blessings to mankind". It is also said in those lectures to be an emblem of Prudence. The word Prudentia means, in its original and fullest significance, Foresight: and accordingly the Blazing Star has been regarded as an emblem of Omniscience, or the All-Seeing Eye, which to the Ancients was the Sun.
Even the Dagger of the Elect of Nine is that used in the Mysteries of Mithras which, with its blade black and hilt white, was an emblem of the two principles of Light and darkness.
Isis, the same as Ceres, was, as we learn from Eratosthenes, the constellation Virgo, represented by a woman holding an ear of wheat. The different emblems which accompany her in the description given by Apuleius, a serpent on either side, a golden vase, with a serpent twined round the handle, and the animals that marched in procession — the bear, the ape, and Pegasus — represented the constellations rising with the Virgin when on the day of the Vernal Equinox she stood in the Oriental Gate of Heaven, brilliant with the rays of the full Moon, seemed to march in her train.
The cup consecrated in the Mysteries both of Isis and Eleusis, was the constellation Crater. The sacred vessel of the Isiac ceremony finds its counterpart in the Heavens. The Olympic robe presented to the initiate, a magnificent mantle covered with figures of serpents and animals, and under which were twelve other signs: while the seven preparatory immersions in the sea alluded to the seven planets through which the soul plunged to arrive here below and take up its abode in a body.
The Celestial Virgin, during the three last centuries that preceded the Christian era, occupied the horoscope or Oriental point, and that Gate of heaven through which the Sun and Moon ascended above the horizon at the two equinoxes. Again it occupied it at midnight at the Winter Solstice, the precise moment when the year commenced. Thus it was essentially connected with the march of times and seasons, of the Sun, the Moon, and day and night, at the principal epochs of the year. At the equinoxes were celebrated the greater and lesser Mysteries of Ceres. When souls descended past the Balance, at the moment when the Sun occupied that point, the Virgin rose before him; she stood at the gates of day and opened them to him. Her brilliant star, Spica Virginis,, and Arcturus in Boötes Northwest of it, heralded his coming. When he had returned to the Vernal Equinox, at the moment when souls were regenerated, again it was the Celestial Virgin that led the march of the signs of night: and in her stars came the beautiful full Moon of that month. Night and Day were in succession introduced by her, when they began to diminish in length; and souls, before arriving at the gates of Hell, were also led by her. In going through these signs, they passed the Styx in the 8th degree of Libra. She was the famous Sibyl who initiated Aeneas and opened to him the way to the infernal regions.
This peculiar situation of the constellation Virgo has caused it to enter into all the sacred fables in regard to Nature under different names and the most varied forms. It often takes the name of Isis or the Moon which, when at its full at the Vernal Equinox, was in union with it or beneath its feet. Mercury (or Anubis) having his domicile and exaltation in the sign Virgo, was, in all the sacred fables and Sanctuaries, the inseparable companion of Isis, without whose counsels she did nothing.
This relation between the emblems and mysterious recitals of the initiations and the Heavenly bodies and order of the world, was still more clear in the Mysteries of Mithras, adored as the Sun in Asia Minor, Cappadocia, Armenia, and Persia, and whose Mysteries went to Rome in the time of Sylla [Sulla? — Ed]. This is amply proved by the descriptions we have of the Mithraic cave in which were figured the two movements of the Heavens, that of the fixed stars and that of the planets, the constellations, the eight mystic gates of the spheres, and the symbols of the elements. So on a celebrated monument of that religion, found at Rome, were figured the Serpent or Hydra under Leo as in the Heavens, the Celestial Dog, the Bull, the Scorpion, the Seven Planets represented by seven altars, the Sun, the Moon, and the emblems relating to Light, to Darkness, and to their succession during the year, where each in turn triumphs for six months.
The Mysteries of Atys were celebrated when the Sun entered Aries; and among the emblems was a ram at the foot of a tree which was being cut down.
In the Hebrew writings, the term "Heavenly Hosts" includes not only the counsellors and emissaries of Jehovah, but also the celestial luminaries; and the stars, imagined in the East to be animated intelligences presiding over human weal and woe, are identified with the more distinctly impersonated messengers or angels who execute the Divine decrees and whose predominance in Heaven is in mysterious correspondence and relation with the powers and dominions of the Earth. In Job, the Morning Stars and the Sons of God are identified; they join in the same chorus of praise to the Almighty; they are both susceptible of joy; they walk in brightness, and are liable to impurity and imperfection in the sight of God. The Elohim originally included not only foreign superstitious forms but also all that host of Heaven which was revealed in poetry to the shepherds of the desert — now as an encampment of warriors; now as careering in chariots of fire; and now as winged messengers ascending and descending the vault of Heaven to communicate the will of God to mankind.
"The Eternal", says the Bereshith Rabba to Genesis, "called forth Abraham and his posterity out of the dominion of the stars; by nature, the Israelite was a servant of the stars, and born under their influence, as are the heathen; but by virtue of the law given on Mount Sinai, he became liberated from this degrading servitude". The Arabs had a similar legend. The Prophet Amos explicitly asserts that the Israelites in the desert worshipped not Jehovah but Moloch, or a Star-God equivalent to Saturn. The Gods El or Jehovah were not merely planetary or solar. Their symbolism, like that of every other deity, was coextensive with Nature and with the mind of man. Yet the astrological character is assigned even to Jehovah. He is described as seated on the pinnacle of the Universe, leading forth the Hosts of Heaven, and telling them unerringly by name and number. His stars are His sons and His eyes, which run through the whole world keeping watch over men's deeds. The stars and planets were properly the angels. In Pharisaic tradition, as in the phraseology of the New Testament, the Heavenly Host appears as an Angelic Army, divided into regiments and brigades under the command of imaginary chiefs such as Massaloth, Legion, Karton, Gistra, etc. — each Gistra being captain of 365,000 myriads of stars. The Seven Spirits which stand before the throne, spoken of by several Jewish writers and generally presumed to have been immediately derived from the Persian Amshaspands, were ultimately the seven planetary intelligences, the original model of the seven-branched golden candlestick exhibited to Moses on God's mountain. The stars were imagined to have fought in their courses against Sisera. The Heavens were spoken of as holding a predominance over Earth, as governing it by signs and ordinances, and as containing the elements of that astrological wisdom more especially cultivated by the Babylonians and Egyptians.
Each nation was supposed by the Hebrews to have its own guardian angel and its own providential star. One of the chief of the Celestial Powers, at first Jehovah himself in the character of the Sun, standing in the height of Heaven, overlooking and governing all things and afterwards one of the angels or subordinate planetary genii of Babylonian or Persian mythology, was the patron and protector of their own nation, "the Prince that standeth for the children of thy people". The discords of Earth were accompanied by a warfare in the sky; and no people underwent the visitation of the Almighty without a corresponding chastisement being inflicted on its tutelary angel.
The fallen Angels were also fallen Stars; and the first allusion to a feud among the spiritual powers in early Hebrew Mythology where Rahab and his confederates are defeated like the Titans in a battle against the Gods, seems to identify the rebellious Spirits as part of the visible Heaven, where the "high ones on high" are punished or chained as a signal of God's power and justice. God, it is said, "Stirs the sea with his might; by his understanding he smote Rahab; His breath clears the face of Heaven; His hand pierced the crooked Serpent ... God withdrew not his anger; beneath him bow the confederates of Rahab."
Rahab always means a sea-monster, probably some such legendary monstrous dragon as in almost all mythologies is the adversary of Heaven and demon of eclipse, in whose belly, significantly called the belly of Hell, Hercules, like Jonah, passed three days, ultimately escaping with the loss of his hair or rays. Chesil, the rebellious giant Orion, represented in Job as riveted to the sky, was compared to Ninus or Nimrod, the mythical founder of Nineveh (City of Fish) and the mighty hunter who slew lions and panthers before the Lord. Rahab's confederates are probably the "High ones on High", the Chesilim or constellations in Isaiah, the Heavenly Host or Heavenly Powers, among whose number were found folly and disobedience.
"I beheld", says Pseudo-Enoch, "seven stars like great blazing mountains, and like Spirits, entreating me. And the angel said, 'This place, until the consummation of Heaven and Earth, will be the prison of the Stars and of the Host of Heaven.' These are the Stars which over-stepped God's command before their time arrived, and came not at their proper season; therefore was He offended with them and bound them until the time of the consummation of their crimes in the secret year". And again: "These Seven Stars are those which have transgressed the commandment of the Most High God, and which are here bound until the number of the days of their crimes be completed".
The Jewish and early Christian writers looked on the worship of the Sun and the elements with comparative indulgence. Justin Martyr and Clemens of Alexandria admit that God had appointed the stars as legitimate objects of heathen worship in order to preserve throughout the world some tolerable notions of natural religion. It seemed a middle point between Heathenism and Christianity, and to it certain emblems and ordinances of that faith seemed to relate. The advent of Christ was announced by a Star from the East, and his nativity was celebrated on the shortest day of the Julian calendar, the day when, in the physical commemorations of Persia and Egypt, Mithras or Osiris was newly found. It was then that the acclamations of the Host of Heaven, the unfailing attendants of the Sun, surrounded as at the spring-dawn of creation the cradle of his birthplace and that, in the words of Ignatius, "a star, with light inexpressible, shone forth in the Heavens to destroy the power of magic and the bonds of wickedness; for God Himself had appeared, in the form of a man, for the renewal of eternal life".
But however infinite the variety of objects which helped to develop the notion of Deity, and eventually assumed its place, substituting the worship of the creature for that of the Creator; of parts of the body for that of the Soul of the Universe, still the notion itself was essentially one of unity. The idea of one God, of a creative, productive, governing unity, resided in the earliest exertion of thought: and this monotheism of the primitive ages makes every succeeding epoch, unless it be the present, appear only as a stage in the progress of degeneracy and aberration. Everywhere in the old faiths we find the idea of a Supreme or Presiding Deity. Amun or Osiris presides among the many Gods of Egypt: Pan, with the music of his pipe, directs the chorus of the constellations, as Zeus leads the solemn procession of the celestial troops in the astronomical theology of the Pythagoreans. "Amidst an infinite diversity of opinions on all other subjects", says Maximus Tyrius, "the whole world is unanimous in the belief of one only almighty King and Father of All".
There is always a Sovereign Power, a Zeus or Deus, Mahadeva or Adideva, to whom belongs the maintenance of the order of the Universe. Among the thousand Gods of India, the doctrine of Divine Unity is never lost sight of: and the ethereal Jove, worshipped by the Persian in an age long before Xenophanes or Anaxagoras, appears as supremely comprehensive and independent of planetary or elemental subdivisions as the "Vast One" or "Great Soul" of the Vedas.
But the simplicity of belief of the patriarchs did not exclude the employment of symbolical representations. The mind never rests satisfied with a mere feeling. That feeling ever strives to assume precision and durability as an idea, by some outward delineation of its thought. Even the ideas that are above and beyond the senses, as all ideas of God are, require the aid of the senses for their expression and communication. Hence come the representative forms and symbols which constitute the external investiture of every religion: attempts to express a religious sentiment that is essentially one, and that vainly struggles for adequate external utterance, striving to tell to one man, to paint to him, an idea existing in the mind of another and essentially incapable of utterance or description in a language all the words of which have a sensuous meaning. Thus, the idea being perhaps the same in all, its expressions and utterances are infinitely various and branch into an infinite diversity of creeds and sects.
All religious expression is symbolism, since we can describe only what we see, and the true objects of religion are unseen. The earliest instruments of education were symbols: and they and all other religious forms differed, and still differ, according to external circumstances and imagery, and according to differences of knowledge and mental cultivation. To present a visible symbol to the eye of another is not to inform him of the meaning which that symbol has to you. Hence the philosopher soon superadded to these symbols explanations addressed to the ear, susceptible of more precision, but less effective, obvious, and impressive than the painted or sculptured forms which he despised. Out of these explanations grew by degrees a variety of narratives whose true object and meaning were gradually forgotten. And when these were abandoned and philosophy resorted to definitions and formulas, its language was but a more refined symbolism, grappling with and attempting to picture ideas impossible to be expressed. For the most abstract expression for Deity which language can supply is but a sign or symbol for an object unknown, and no more truthful or adequate than the terms Osiris and Vishnu except as being less sensuous and explicit. To say that He is a Spirit is but to say that He is not matter. What spirit is, we can only define as the Ancients did by resorting, as if in despair, to some sublimated species of matter such as Light, Fire, or Ether.
No symbol of Deity can be appropriate of durable except in a relative or moral sense. We cannot exalt above sense words that have only a sensuous meaning. To call Him a Power or a Force or an Intelligence is merely to deceive ourselves into the belief that we use words that have a meaning to us when they have none — or at least no more than the ancient visible symbols had. To call Him Sovereign, Father, Grand Architect of the Universe, Extension, Time, Beginning Middle and End, Whose face is turned on all sides, the Source of Life and death, is but to present other men with symbols by which we vainly endeavour to communicate to them the same vague ideas which men in all ages have impotently struggled to express. And it may be doubted whether we have succeeded either in communicating, or in forming in our own minds, any more distinct and definite and true and adequate idea of the Deity, with all our metaphysical conceits and logical subtleties, than the rude ancients did who endeavoured to symbolise and so to express His attributes by the Fire, the Light, the Sun and Stars, the Lotus and the Scarab: all of them types of what, except by types more or less sufficient, could not be described at all.
The primitive men recognised the Divine Presence under a variety of appearances without losing their faith in this Unity and Supremacy. The invisible God, manifested and on one of His many sides visible, did not cease to be God to him. He recognised him in the Evening Breeze of Eden, in the whirlwind of Sinai, in the stone of Beth-El; and identified Him with the fire or thunder or the immovable rock adored in Ancient Arabia. To him the image of the Deity was reflected in all that was pre-eminent in excellence. He saw Jehovah, like Osiris and Bel, in the Sun as well as in the Stars which were his children, his eyes, "which run through the whole world, and watch over the sacred soil of Palestine from the year's commencement to its close." He was the sacred fire of Mount Sinai, of the burning bush, of the Persians, those Puritans of Paganism.
Naturally it followed that Symbolism soon became more complicated, and all the powers of Heaven were reproduced on Earth until a web of fiction and allegory was woven which the wit of man, with his limited means of explanation, will never unravel. Hebrew Theism itself became involved in a symbolism of the Tabernacle, the Temple, and the Ark. The Hebrew establishment tolerated not only the use of emblematic vessels, vestments and cherubs, of Sacred Pillars and Seraphim, but symbolical representations of Jehovah himself, not even confined to poetical or illustrative language.
"Among the Adyta", says Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita, "I am Vishnu, the radiant Sun among the Stars; among the waters, I am ocean; among the mountains, the Himalaya; and among the mountain-tops, Meru". The Psalms and Isaiah are full of similar attempts to convey to the mind ideas of God by ascribing to Him sensual proportions. He rides on the clouds and sits on the wings of the wind. Heaven is His pavilion, and out of His mouth issue lightnings. Men cannot worship a mere abstraction. They require some outward form in which to clothe their conceptions and invest their sympathies. If they do not shape and carve or paint visual images, they have invisible ones, perhaps quite as inadequate and unfaithful, within their own minds.
The incongruous and monstrous in the Oriental images came from the desire to embody the Infinite and to convey to the understanding by multiplied, because individually inadequate, symbols a notion of the Divine Attributes. If we were to undertake to analyse and gain a clear idea of the mass of infinite attributes which we assign to the Deity, perhaps we should find that we mentally do the same thing, and make within ourselves of our own limited conceptions images quite as incongruous, even of His Infinite Justice, Mercy, and Love.
We may well say, in the language of Maximus Tyrius: "If, in the desire to obtain some faint conception of the Universal father, the Nameless Lawgiver, men had recourse to words or names, to silver or gold, to animals or plants, to mountain-tops or flowing rivers, every one inscribing the most valued and most beautiful things with the name of Deity, and with the fondness of a lover clinging with rapture to each trivial reminiscence of the Beloved, why should we seek to reduce this universal practice of symbolism, necessary, indeed, since the mind often needs the excitement of the imagination to rouse it into activity, to one monotonous standard of formal propriety? Only let the image duly perform its task and bring the divine idea with vividness and truth before the mental eye; if this be effected, whether by the art of Phidias, the poetry of Homer, the Egyptian Hieroglyph, or the Persian element, we need not cavil at external differences or lament the seeming fertility of unfamiliar creeds so long as the great essential is attained, that men are made to remember, to understand, and to love."
Certainly, when men regarded Light and Fire as something spiritual and above all the corruptions and exempt from all the decay of matter; when they looked upon the Sun and Stars and Planets as composed of this finer element, and as themselves great and mysterious Intelligences, infinitely superior to man, living Existences, gifted with might powers and wielding vast influences, those elements and bodies conveyed to them, when used as symbols of Deity, a far more adequate idea than they can now do to us, or that we can comprehend, now that Fire and Light are familiar to us as air and water, and the Heavenly Luminaries are supposed to be lifeless worlds like our own. Perhaps they gave them ideas as adequate as we obtain from the mere words by which we endeavour to symbolise and shadow forth the ineffable mysteries and infinite attributes of God.
There are, it is true, dangers inseparable from symbolism, which countervail its advantages and afford an impressive lesson in regard to the similar risks attendant on the use of language. The imagination, invited to assist the reason, usurps its place, or leaves its ally helplessly entangled in its web. Names which stand for things are confounded with them; the means are mistaken for the end, the instrument of interpretation for the object; and thus symbols come to usurp an independent character as truths and persons. Though perhaps a necessary path, they were a dangerous one by which to approach the Deity, in which "many", says Plutarch, "mistaking the sign for the thing signified, fell into a ridiculous superstition; while others, in avoiding one extreme, plunged into the no less hideous gulf of irreligion and impiety."
All great reformers have warred against this evil, deeply feeling the intellectual mischief arising out of a degraded idea of the Supreme Being, and have claimed for their own God an existence or personality distinct from the objects of ancient superstition, disowning in His name the symbols and images that had profaned His Temple. But they have not seen that the utmost which can be effected by human effort is to substitute impressions relatively correct for others whose falsehood has been detected, and to replace a gross symbolism by a purer one. Every man, without being aware of it, worships a conception of his own mind; for all symbolism, as well as language, shares the subjective character of the ideas it represents. The epithets we apply to God only recall either visible or intellectual symbols to the eye or mind. The modes or forms of manifestation of the reverential feeling that constitutes the religious sentiment are incomplete and progressive: each term and symbol predicates a partial truth, remaining always amenable to improvement or modification and, in its turn, to be superseded by others more accurate and comprehensive.
Idolatry consists in confounding the symbol with the thing signified; the substitution of a material for a mental object of worship after a higher spirituality has become possible; an ill-judged preference for the inferior over the superior symbol; an inadequate and sensual conception of the Deity: and every religion and every conception of God is idolatrous in so far as it is imperfect, and as it substitutes a feeble and temporary idea in the shrine of that Undiscoverable Being Who can be known only in part, and Who can therefore be honoured, even by the most enlightened among His worshippers, only in proportion to their limited powers of understanding and imaging His perfections to themselves.
Like the belief in a Deity, the belief in the soul's immortality is rather a natural feeling, an adjunct of self-consciousness, than a dogma belonging to any particular age or country. It gives eternity to man's nature, and reconciles its seeming anomalies and contradictions; it makes him strong in weakness and perfectible in imperfection; and it alone gives an adequate object for his hopes and energies, and value and dignity to his pursuits. It is concurrent with the belief in an Infinite Spirit, since it is chiefly through consciousness of the dignity of mind within us that we learn to appreciate its evidences in the Universe.
To fortify, and as far as possible to impart this hope, was the great aim of ancient wisdom, whether expressed in forms of poetry or philosophy as it was of the Mysteries and as it is of Masonry. Life rising out of death was the great mystery which symbolism delighted to represent under a thousand ingenious forms. Nature was ransacked for attestations to the grand truth which seems to transcend all other gifts of imagination, or rather to their essence and consummation. Such evidences were easily discovered. They were found in the olive and lotus, in the evergreen myrtle of the Mystae and of the grave of Polydorus, in the deadly but self-renewing serpent, the wonderful moth emerging from the coffin of the worm, the phenomena of germination, the settings and risings of the Sun and Stars, the darkening and growth of the Moon, and in sleep — "the minor mystery of death".
The stories of the birth of Apollo from Latona, and of dead heroes like Glaucus resuscitated in caves, were allegories of the natural alternations of life and death in nature, changes that are but expedients to preserve her virginity and purity inviolable in the general sum of her operations, whose aggregate presents only a majestic calm, rebuking alike man's presumption and his despair. The typical death of the Nature-God, Osiris, Atys, Adonis, Hiram, was a profound but consolatory mystery; the healing charms of Orpheus were connected with his destruction; and his bones, those valued pledges of fertility and victory, were by a beautiful contrivance often buried within the sacred precincts of his immortal equivalent.
In their doctrines as to the immortality of the soul, the Greek Philosophers merely stated with more precision ideas long before extant independently among themselves in the form of symbolical suggestion. Egypt and Ethiopia in these matters learned from India where, as everywhere else, the origin of the doctrine was as remote and untraceable as the origin of man himself. Its natural expression is found in the language of the Bhagavad-Gita: "I myself never was non-existent, nor thou, nor these princes of the Earth; nor shall we ever hereafter cease to be... The soul is not a thing of which a man may say, it hath been, or is about to be hereunder; for it is a thing without birth; it is pre-existent, changeless, eternal, and is not to be destroyed with this mortal frame."
According to the dogma of antiquity, the thronging forms of life are a series of purifying migrations through which the divine principle re-ascends to the unity of its source. Inebriated in the bowl of Dionysus and dazzled in the mirror of existence, the souls, those fragments or sparks of the Universal Intelligence, forgot their native dignity and passed into the terrestrial frames they coveted. The most usual type of the spirit's descent was suggested by the sinking of the Sun and Stars from the upper to the lower hemisphere. When it arrived within the portals of the proper empire of Dionysus, the God of this World, the scene of delusion and change, its individuality became clothed in a material form; and as individual bodies were compared to a garment, the world was the investiture of the Universal Spirit. Again the body was compared to a vase or urn, the soul's recipient, the world being the mighty bowl which received the descending Deity. In another image, ancient as the Grottoes of the Magi and the denunciations of Ezekiel, the world was as a dimly illuminated cavern where shadows seem realities, and where the soul becomes forgetful of its celestial origin in proportion to its proneness to material fascinations. By another, the period of the Soul's embodiment is as when exhalations are condensed, and the aerial element assumes the grosser form of water.
But if vapour falls in water, it was held, water is again the birth of vapours, which ascend and adorn the Heavens. If our mortal existence be the death of the spirit, our death may be the renewal of its life; as physical bodies are exalted from earth to water, from water to air, from air to fire, so the man may rise into the Hero, the Hero into the God. In the course of Nature, the soul, to recover its lost estate, must pass through a series of trials and migrations. The scene of these trials is the Grand Sanctuary of Initiations, the world; their primary agents are the elements; and Dionysus, as Sovereign of Nature, or the sensuous world personified, is official Arbiter of the Mysteries and guide of the soul, which he introduces into the body and dismisses from it. He is the Sun, that liberator of the elements; and his spiritual mediation was suggested by the same imagery which made the Zodiac the supposed path of the spirits in their descent and return, and Cancer and Capricorn the gates through which they passed.
He was not only Creator of the World, but guardian, liberator, and Saviour of the Soul. Ushered into the world amidst lightning and thunder, he became the Liberator celebrated in the Mysteries of Thebes, delivering earth from Winter's chain, conducting the nightly chorus of the Stars and the celestial revolution of the year. His symbolism was the inexhaustible imagery employed to fill up the stellar devices of the Zodiac: he was the Vernal Bull, the Lion, the Ram, the Autumnal Goat, the Serpent; in short, the varied Deity, the resulting manifestation personified, the all in the many, the varied year, life passing into innumerable forms; essentially inferior to none, yet changing with the seasons and undergoing their periodical decay.
He mediates and intercedes for man and reconciles the Universal Unseen Mind with the individualised spirit of which he is emphatically the Perfecter: a consummation which he effects first through the vicissitudes of the elemental ordeal, the alternate fire of Summer and showers of Winter, "the trials or tests of an immortal Nature"; and secondarily and symbolically through the Mysteries. He holds not only the cup of generation, but also that of wisdom or initiation, whose influence is contrary to that of the former, causing the soul to abhor its material bonds and to long for its return. The first was the Cup of Forgetfulness, while the second is the Urn of Aquarius, quaffed by the returning spirit as by the returning Sun at the Winter Solstice, and emblematic of the exchange of worldly impressions for the recovered recollection of the glorious enjoyments of its pre-existence. Water nourishes and purifies; and the urn from which it flows was thought worthy to be a symbol of the Deity, as of the Osiris-Canobus who with living water irrigated the soil of Egypt, and also an emblem of Hope that should cheer the dwellings of the dead.
The second birth of Dionysus, like the rising of Osiris and Atys from the dead, and the raising of Hiram, is a type of the spiritual regeneration of man. Psyche (the soul), like Ariadne, had two lovers, an earthly and an immortal one. The immortal suitor is Dionysus, the Eros-Phanes of the Orphici, gradually exalted by the progress of thought out of the symbol of Sensuality into the torch-bearer of the Nuptials of the Gods; the Divine Influence which physically called the world into being and which, awakening the soul from its Stygian trance, restores it from Earth to Heaven.
Thus the scientific theories of the ancients, expounded in the Mysteries, as to the origin of the soul, its descent, its sojourn here below, and its return, were not a mere barren contemplation of the nature of the world and about the soul, but a study of the means for arriving at the great object proposed — the perfecting of the soul; and, as a necessary consequence, that of morals and society. This Earth, to them, was not the Soul's home, but its place of exile. Heaven was its home, and there was its birthplace. To it, it ought incessantly to turn its eyes. Man was not a terrestrial plant. His roots were in Heaven. The soul had lost its wings, clogged by the viscosity of matter. It would recover them when it extricated itself from matter and commenced its upward flight.
Matter being in their view, as it was in that of St Paul, the principle of all the passions that trouble reason, mislead the intelligence, and stain the purity of the soul, the Mysteries taught man how to enfeeble the action of matter on the soul and restore the latter to its natural dominion. And lest the stains so contracted should continue after death, lustrations were used, fastings, expiations, macerations, continence, and, above all, initiations. Many of these practices were at first merely symbolical — material signs indicating the moral purity required of the initiates; but they afterwards came to be regarded as actual productive causes of that purity.
The effect of initiation was meant to be the same as that of philosophy: to purify the soul of its passions, to weaken the empire of the body over the divine portion of man, and to give him here below a happiness anticipatory of the felicity to be one day enjoyed by him, and of the future vision by him of the Divine Beings. And therefore Proclus and the other Platonists taught "that the Mysteries and initiations withdrew souls from this mortal and material life to reunite them to the Gods, and dissipated for the adepts the shades of ignorance by the splendours of the Deity". Such were the precious fruits of the last degree of the Mystic Science: to see Nature in her springs and sources, and to become familiar with the causes of things and with real existence.
Cicero says that the soul must exercise itself in the practice of the virtues if it would speedily return to its place of origin. It should, while imprisoned in the body, free itself therefrom by the contemplation of superior beings and in some sort be divorced from the body of the senses. Those who remain enslaved, subjugated by their passions and violating the sacred laws of religion and society, will re-ascend to Heaven only after they shall have been purified through a long succession of ages.
The initiate was required to emancipate himself from his passions and to free himself from the hindrance of the senses and of matter, in order that he might rise to the contemplation of the Deity, or of that incorporeal and unchanging Light in which live and subsist the causes of created natures. "We must", says Porphyry, "flee from everything sensual, that the soul may with ease re-unite itself with God and live happily with Him". "This is the great work of initiation", says Hierocles, " — to recall the soul to what is truly good and beautiful, and make it familiar therewith, and they its own; to deliver it from the pains and ills it endures here below, enchained in matter as in a dark prison; to facilitate its return to the celestial splendours and to establish it in the Fortunate Isles by restoring it to its first estate. Thereby, when the hour of death arrives, the soul, freed of its mortal garmenting which it leaves behind it as a legacy to earth, will rise buoyantly to its home among the Stars, there to re-take its ancient condition and approach towards the Divine nature as far as man may do."
Plutarch compares Isis to knowledge, and Typhon to ignorance, obscuring the light of the sacred doctrine whose blaze lights the soul of the initiate. No gift of the Gods, he holds, is so precious as the knowledge of the Truth, and that of the Nature of the Gods, so far as our limited capacities allow us to rise towards them. The Valentinians termed initiation LIGHT. The initiate, says Psellus, becomes an Epopt when admitted to see the divine lights. Clemens of Alexandria, imitating the language of an initiate in the Mysteries of Bacchus and inviting the initiate, whom he terms blind like Tiresias, to come and see Christ, who will blaze upon his eyes with greater glory than the Sun, exclaims: "Oh Mysteries most truly holy! Oh pure Light! When the torch of the Dadoukos gleams, Heaven and the Deity are displayed to my eyes! I am initiated, and become holy!" This was the true object of initiation: to be sanctified, and to SEE, that is, to have just and faithful conceptions of the Deity, the knowledge of Whom was the LIGHT of the Mysteries. It was promised the initiate at Samothrace that he should become pure and just. Clemens says that by baptism, souls are illuminated and led to the pure light with which mingles no darkness, nor anything material. The initiate, become an Epopt, was called a SEER. "Hail New-born Light"" the initiates cried in the Mysteries of Bacchus.
Such was held to be the effect of complete initiation. It lighted up the soul with rays from the Divinity and became for it, as it were, the eye with which, according to the Pythagoreans, it contemplates the field of Truth in its mystical abstractions, wherein it rises superior to the body, whose action on it annuls for the time, to re-enter into itself so as entirely to occupy itself with the view of the Divinity, and the means of coming to resemble Him.
Thus enfeebling the dominion of the senses and the passions over the soul, and as it were freeing the latter from a sordid slavery, and by the steady practice of all the virtues, active and contemplative, our ancient brethren strove to fit themselves to return to the bosom of the Deity. Let not our objects as Masons fall below theirs. We use the symbols which they used, and teach the same great cardinal doctrines that they taught of the existence of an intellectual God and the immortality of the soul of man. If the details of their doctrines as to the soul seem to us to verge on absurdity, let us compare them with the common notions of our own day, and be silent. If it seems to us that they regarded the symbol in some cases as the thing symbolised, and worshipped the sign as if it were itself Deity, let us reflect how insufficient are our own ideas of Deity, and how we worship those ideas and images formed and fashioned in our own minds, and not the Deity Himself; and if we are inclined to smile at the importance they attached to lustrations and fasts, let us pause and inquire whether the same weakness of human nature does not exist today, causing the rites and ceremonies to be regarded as actively sufficient for the salvation of souls.
And let us ever remember the words of an old writer with which we conclude this lecture: "It is a pleasure to stand on the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea; a pleasure to stand in the window of a castle, and see a battle and the adventures thereof: but no pleasure is comparable to the standing on the vantage-ground of TRUTH (a hill not to be commanded, and where the air is always clear and serene), and to see the errors and wanderings, mists and tempests, in the valley below, so always that this prospect be with pity and not with swelling or pride. Certainly it is Heaven upon earth to have a man's mind move in charity, rest in Providence, and turn upon the poles of Truth."