I’m a Sleeping Giraffe with Wind Chime rising. What’s your sign?
I recently saw a fun astrology/astronomy meme on social media. Now let me say first of all that I don’t usually like astrology memes on social media. I know that some people think that they are funny. But most of them are so astrologically inaccurate that they make me cringe. And people love to chime in with, “that’s so me!” even when it isn’t “so them” at all. It’s just another example of confirmation bias that ultimately hurts the public reputation of astrology.
But this one was pure fun.
It’s true. Sometimes we have to wonder “what were they thinking?” when they assigned figures to these star patterns. Most of them don’t look (to us) anything like the characters that they are said to represent.
But there are a few reasons for that. One is that there are often a few more stars, even more dim and nearly impossible to make out today, that round out the pictures that these patterns paint.
But more importantly, the ancients were not just painting the sky with cartoon characters. They weren’t doing the 4th century BCE equivalent of designing their own wallpaper.
They were encoding their most important myths in the sky.
Most of the details of these myths have become lost, at least temporarily, over the past few millennia. Some have endured, and some have been at least partially recovered.
Some of the zodiac constellations mark specific seasons of the year. For example, one of the stars in Virgo, Spica, represents a stalk of wheat or ear of grain. In Egypt, the Sun passes this star in October, near the end of the harvest season.
We remember Capricorn as a goat, but remember that technically, it’s a Sea-Goat. Whatever that is. The point is that this marked a wintry, stormy time of year, full of rain in parts of the ancient Middle East.
The Scorpion is opposite the Bull (Taurus), which is right next to The Hunter, Orion. While Orion isn’t one of the zodiac constellations, he’s probably the most universally recognized, and has been for millennia. Orion was such a boastful hunter, threatening to kill all the animals on the Earth, that Gaia enlisted the help of the tiny-but-powerful scorpion to kill him. And Zeus then placed them opposite one another in the sky so that they would never be able to engage in battle again.
Other constellations like Leo reaching certain points in the sky at certain times of the year warned of events like the lions in Egypt coming down to find water. So look out!
And then there are the purely utilitarian late-comers. I’m looking at you, Libra. You used to be the claws of the scorpion until very late, when the ancients needed that twelfth sign. So they chopped you off and made you a thing. As a matter of fact, the two main stars in Libra (the alpha and beta stars of the constellation) are still named Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali (for help with pronunciation, Zubenelgenubi has the same rhythm as Obi-Wan Kenobe). They mean literally the “southern claw” and the “northern claw” (respectively) of the scorpion.
Here’s what Scorpio looks like today, with the re-addition of the claw stars that now belong to Libra. And on the right, without the additions.
Here’s how the constellations are labeled:
You can clearly see that Libra has stolen the claws from the scorpion. But when I look up at night, I still see those huge claws attached to Scorpio.
In the next few months (or more), I’m going to start featuring one or more constellations in these posts, along with some of the lore that goes with them. Maybe along the way, we can tap into some of what our ancestors were trying to leave us by way of the stories in the sky.