Monday, February 8, 2016

Procession of the gods, part three

If you're inclined to rise up early in the morning to drink in the glorious lineup of the five visible planets in the pre-dawn sky, you only have a few more mornings on which to do so during 2016.

I definitely encourage everyone to try, if it is at all possible to do so. For best results, you'll need a good unobstructed view of the eastern horizon (if there are hills, buildings or trees in the way of your view, you may need to plan a route to a better observation location, if possible).

Mercury and Venus are now both continuing their way around their tight solar orbits and as they do so, they "sink back" closer to the rising orb of our sun and will soon be lost in its effulgent brightness. By the end of this week, Mercury will no longer be visible above the horizon prior to the sun's appearance, no matter how good of a terrestrial observation point you have available to you.

Above is a diagram showing the lineup one more time, if it can be of help to you in your efforts. There are many sites on the web which can also give you good instructions for identifying each of the five visible planets before dawn, such as this article on Sky & Telescope's site, and this discussion from their "This Week's Sky at a Glance" page.

Most sites giving you instructions on how to find the morning lineup, however, will not give you much discussion of the spiritual significance of this phenomenon, and how it can have direct and positive messages for our daily lives.

In the diagram above, I have included the names of the deities associated with the planetary powers, from the myths of ancient Greece. Other cultures and mythologies around the globe had different names for the gods and goddesses, of course, but it is extremely noteworthy that the attributes and powers associated with the "different" gods and goddesses in different parts of the world can be seen to have clear resonances and correspondences with one another.

In the diagram above I have also added labels for a few bright stars and constellations which can serve as landmarks when you are locating the five visible planets, and also can help you to distinguish between a bright star and a planet (note that the planets don't generally appear to "twinkle" the way the stars do, just as the moon does not "twinkle" when we see it in the night sky). 

In the diagram, I have labeled Arcturus, the bright red-orange-tinted star in the heart of Scorpio. The awe-inspiring shape of the massive Scorpion is rising almost straight up in the southeast in the predawn hours, and if you can recognize the Scorpion and Antares, you can easily locate the planet Saturn to the east of it (left if, as in the above diagram, you are looking south from an observation point in the northern hemisphere).

I have also labeled Spica (in Virgo) and Arcturus (in Bootes). These two stars are often familiar to those who know the saying "follow the Arc to Arcturus (and continue the same arc to drive a spike to Spica)" or some variation of the above. The "Arc" that the saying is describing is the sweeping curve that is suggested by the handle of the Big Dipper -- continue that arc on past the end of the handle and it will sweep you right into the red-glowing star of Arcturus, or Hokule'a (see previous post on Hokule'a, here).

In the above diagram, I have also given the ancient Greek name of the god or goddess associated with each planet: Zeus (Jupiter), Ares (Mars), Kronos (Saturn -- and there were other important Greek gods associated with Saturn, but the Titan Kronos can certainly be argued to be one of them), Aphrodite (Venus), and Hermes (Mercury). I have also added an arrow pointing to the glow coming from the pre-dawn sun (Helios, and also associated with the god Apollo, although they are distinct entities).

As we have seen in many previous posts, one teaching found in the ancient wisdom across many different cultures around the globe is the knowledge that the individual actually has access to the invisible realm at all times, and that gods and goddesses can and do appear instantly when called upon in certain situations -- appearing instantly, I believe, because they were present all the time, or because the individual's internal access to the infinite realm is in fact always present. See for example the previous discussion entitled "Why divinities can appear in an instant."

That this same knowledge was understood in conjunction with the divinities of ancient Greece is quite evident from an examination of any of the bodies of sacred mantras or hymns of the ancient Greek civilization such as the Homeric Hymns or the Orphic Hymns. In these ancient poems, the speaker addresses one of the divinities and extols his or her specific characteristics, powers, and areas of greatest action, and then -- in almost every case -- request that the god or goddess come now, or at least hear the prayer and act now.

An outstanding new translation of the Orphic Hymns, by Professor Aposotolos N. Athanakassis and Benjamin M. Wolkow, published in 2013 (first published in 1977, and available in a new and updated edition), is well worth adding to your library, if you are interested in those ancient hymns to the divine powers.

Some sample lines from hymns addressed to the five gods and goddesses you can see together in the predawn heavens over the next few mornings are included below, but better is to read each hymn carefully and thoughtfully, in its entirety, if possible.

15. "To Zeus" (selected lines)

O king, you have brought to light
divine works -- 
earth, goddess and mother,
the hills swept by the shrill winds,
the sea and the host of the stars,
marshaled by the sky.
Kronian Zeus, strong-spirited god,
the thunderbolt is your scepter,
father of all,
beginning and end of all,
earth-shaker, increaser
and purifier, all-shaker,
god of thunder and lightning,
Zeus the sower.


65. "To Ares" (selected lines)

Ever bespattered with blood,
you find joy in killing in the fray of battle, O horrid one,
your desire is for the rude clash 
of swords and spears.
Stay the rage, stay the strife,
relax pain's grip on my soul,
yield to the wish of Kypris,
yield to the revels of Lyaios,
exchange the might of arms
for the works of Deo,
yearning for youth-nurturing peace,
bliss-brining peace.


13. "To Kronos" (selected lines)

Everlasting father
of blessed gods and men,
resourceful, pure and mighty,
O powerful Titan,
you consume all things
and replenish them too.
Unbreakable is the hold you have
on the boundless cosmos,
O Kronos, begetter of time,
Kronos of the shifting stories,
child of Earth, 
child of starry Sky.


55. "To Aphrodite" (selected lines)

Everything comes from you:
you have yoked the world,
you control all three realms,
you give birth to all
to everything in heaven,
to everything upon the fruitful earth,
to everything in the depths of the sea,
O venerable companion of Bacchos.
[. . .]
Come, whether you ride your swan-drawn chariot
over the sea's billows,
joining the creatures of the deep
as they dance in circles,
or on land in the company
of the dark-faced nymphs 
as light-footed they frisk
over the sandy beaches.
[. . .]
Come, O beautiful,
O comely goddess,
I summon you with holy words,
I summon you with a pious soul.


 28. "To Hermes" (selected lines)

Hear me, Hermes,
messenger of Zeus, son of Maia,
almighty in heart, lord of the deceased,
judge of contests, 
gentle and clever, O Argeiphontes,
you are the guide
of the flying sandals,
a man-loving prophet to mortals.
A vigorous god, you delight
in exercise and in deceit.
Interpreter of all you are
and a profiteer who frees us of cares,
who holds in his hands
the blameless tool of peace.


9. "To the Sun" (selected lines)

Hear me, O blessed one,
eternal eye that sees all,
Titan radiant as gold, 
Hyperion, celestial light,
self-born, untiring,
sweet sight to living creatures.
[. . .]
A paragon of justice,
O water-loving lord of the cosmos,
you guard pledges and ever the highest,
you do help all.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Your INFINITELY "big screen"

This weekend is the time of year when, at least in the US, much attention becomes riveted to screens in family rooms and living rooms in homes around the nation, as people gather together to watch the Super Bowl. The fact that nearly as much attention and discussion will be lavished upon the commercials and advertisements as will be devoted to analyzing the game over the next few days following the event only goes to show that the entire spectacle in some sense can be seen as a gargantuan commercial or advertisement of some sort (the question of "an advertisement for what?" will be left to the reader to contemplate, or not, as desired).

Much attention will also be devoted to the size of the screens around which people will gather -- and new and larger and more densely-pixelated (more densely-megapixelated) screens will be purchased or rented for the occasion.

But however wonderful the screens we hang on our walls or carry around in our pockets and purses become, through the continued and accelerating onrush of technology, they will never (it seems safe to declare) become actually infinite in size or depth. 

And yet, we have at our disposal on nearly every clear night a "big screen" of truly unsurpassed wonderfulness, and one which is in fact infinite, incapable of being measured or bounded with dimensions, which we can go outside and enjoy at virtually no cost, if it is at all possible to do so.  

That infinite screen, of course, is the night sky -- the inky depths of space containing the countless glittering stars, most of which are also enormous suns hurtling along inside our own massive whirlpool of a galaxy, and some of which are not stars at all but galaxies in their own right, located at almost-inconceivable distances from our own.

When we stare up into the heavens at night, we are truly staring into infinity. And that is one reason why, as much benefit as we may derive from what we see on the various screens which surround us in our daily life, we should also endeavor -- as much as it is possible for us to do so -- to devote some time to watching the infinitely-big theater which plays out over our heads each and every clear night of the year.

Presently, there is a special array of stars and constellations making their way across that glorious stage. In fact, at this time of year in the time period around midnight, we can look up and see the layout of the stars which pioneering astro-theologian Robert Taylor believed to have been the foundation for the Christmas story of the birth in the manger. 

On pages 43 and 44 of the collection of his lectures published under the title Devil's Pulpit, he explains that the sun is, metaphorically speaking, described in ancient myth as being "born" at the midnight hour three days after winter solstice, when it finally begins to ascend back towards the top of its annual path, from the lowest point that it marks at winter solstice. And the zodiac constellation that was at the very top of the arc at the midnight hour on that special night two thousand years ago would have been the zodiac constellation containing a special cluster of stars known as the Beehive Cluster, but also known in ancient times as Praesepe, or "the Manger." 

Thus the sun, which is located at the exact other side of our planet when we look out to the top of the ecliptic band of the zodiac at the midnight hour, could be said to be "born" at the moment that the Manger was crossing that special summit-point on the zodiac's arc at midnight three days after winter solstice (midnight on December 24th).

The ages-long motion of precession (the phenomenon which causes the "precession of the equinoxes") acts to "delay" the background of stars from reaching the same point in the heavens on any selected day and time from one year to the next. In other words, if we are accustomed to seeing a certain star at the transit-point (the top of its arc) on a certain day and time each year (such as midnight on December 24th), the slow but inexorable motion of precession will delay its arrival at that point over the years -- but by such a tiny degree that it will only be delayed by one degree in 71.6 years. 

That means that if a certain star is located at transit (straight up from due south on our planet, if we are in the northern hemisphere, or crossing the imaginary line in the sky that arcs up from due south and over our heads through the north celestial pole and back down into the horizon at due north) at a certain specific time on the same date each year, it will be only one degree "delayed" from reaching that point on the same date at the same time, seventy-one-plus years later. More on this phenomenon is discussed in this previous post, and in several other places on the web.

Because of this delaying action, and the passage of thousands of years, the situation in the sky that prevailed at midnight on December 24th thousands of years ago has been "delayed" and would not be visible now on that date in the same way that it was back then. But you can go outside now at the beginning of February and see the sky at midnight with the constellations in their places, as Robert Taylor believes they were arranged for the turnaround of the sun's path after the three-day "pause" at the winter solstice, back when the ancient texts describing the birth in the manger were imparted to humanity.

You can find the beautiful Beehive Cluster in the constellation of Cancer the Crab at or near its transit-point (its highest point on its arc across the sky) right around midnight at this time of year. As you do so, you can also look to the west and see Orion and his three belt-stars (the "Three Kings") sinking down into the western horizon (ahead of them, more easily seen in the hours before midnight, you can see the glorious Pleiades). And you can look to the east and see the rising form of Virgo the Virgin, made more easy to locate by the presence of mighty Jupiter near the top of her head, and her outstretched arm marked by the star Vindemiatrix, which can be shown to have been envisioned as a divine child sitting in her lap in more than one ancient myth-system.

The situation at or near midnight at this time of year is diagrammed for you in the star-chart above, which is depicted for an observer in the northern hemisphere at about 35.6N latitude, looking towards the south (east thus being to the left and west to the right as we look at the image). If you want to locate the dazzling Beehive (and I highly recommend you give it a try, if it is at all possible for you to do so), the best way to find it is to look between the majestic head of Leo the Lion and the parallel forms of Gemini the Twins.

There are some previous posts which go into more detail on locating the Beehive: this one from 2014 goes into pretty extensive detail. The image above shows you the location of Gemini from Orion, which you should not have too much trouble in locating, and the form of Leo the Lion can be found by looking for the brilliant orb of Jupiter in the east part of the sky. The distance in the heavens between the mouth of Leo and the heads of the Twins is not very great: in that space between them is the very dim form of Cancer the Crab, and in the head of the Crab is the Beehive. You will almost see it "by intuition" with your naked eye, it is so faint -- but you should be able to "intuit" its presence in that space, if you are in an area that is dark enough. You will need a pretty dark location in order to see it (those living in big cities will have to drive away from the city lights, if that is possible to do for you).

I believe that the best way to try to see these heavenly objects is actually to lie down on your back, either on the ground or on a lawn chair: looking up at them while standing, especially if looking for the more difficult-to-spot objects, is pretty uncomfortable. The Beehive is absolutely wonderful to look at through binoculars, but it's not fun to try to do that when standing. Lie down and give yourself the best chance to see it and really enjoy it through your binoculars with your head supported by the ground beneath you. The best way to do it is to see it (or "intuit it") with your naked eye, and then look at that spot where you think you see it using the binoculars.

The section of the sky in front of the muzzle of the Lion which contains the Beehive is shown in an enlarged screen-shot, below:

If you are pretty sure of which stars you are looking at in the above representation, you may in fact be able to make out the tiny but gorgeous little cluster of stars that is the Beehive. It's about this size to the naked eye, in my experience. You may despair of seeing it in the night sky after reading that previous sentence, but don't! I believe that, given a clear night and a dark enough location, you may be able to perceive its location if you can find Leo and Gemini and look between them for a faint "blur" of stars, and then train your binoculars where you believe you see that "blur."

Below is the same image shown just above, only with the stars labeled: these are the primary landmarks for you to find the Beehive in the sky:

Even if you have seen the Beehive many times before, going out and looking at it is well worth it, whenever you are able to do so, in my opinion. I personally can look at the Beehive for long periods of time without any loss of fascination and wonder -- it is such a dazzling cluster of heavenly bodies.

Additionally, as mentioned above, you should also be able to see the Pleiades, sinking down towards the west, and from the same point on the ground where you are lying on your back to look at the Beehive (or the same lawn-chair), without really having to get up and move. Just train your eyes to the west and follow the line of Orion's unmistakeable belt of stars. Looking at the Pleiades through binoculars is similarly mesmerizing as is looking at the Beehive.

In addition to being an infinite "big screen," the heavens also point us towards the Infinite World of the spirit. The ancient myths all use the stars and the motions of the constellations in the cycles of the heavens as metaphors to convey to us truths about the Infinite Realm: the realm of spirit, the realm of the gods. It is no accident that they do so: when we look at the sky, we look into the infinite -- and the spirit realm is in fact in-finite, without material measurements or boundaries, as is the human soul.

The ancient wisdom imparted to the human race in all the different myths and sacred traditions from around the world always teaches that we have at all times and circumstances an inner connection to the infinite.

The outstretched or "upraised" arms of the constellation Cancer the Crab, in fact, were (in the world's ancient myth-systems) symbolic of the upraised spirit-aspect of our dual material-spiritual nature. More on this aspect of Cancer the Crab and the upraised arms can be found in previous discussions here and here, for instance.

The act of elevating the spirit-consciousness in ourselves and others -- the awareness (that is) of the fact that we are not "mere matter" or "mere animals" but that we have an immaterial and infinite aspect, as indeed does the entire cosmos around us -- is inherent in the concept of blessing, upon which the world's ancient texts and traditions place a tremendous amount of importance. 

The opposite action, of denying or attempting to "beat down" the awareness of this spiritual aspect in ourselves and others -- falsely trying to reduce a spiritual being into an "object" or a "brute beast" -- is accurately described as cursing

Contemplating the stars, and the infinite heavens above (it is safe to say) can and does help us in perceiving the infinite and spiritual aspect in ourselves and in the entire universe around us. 

Time spent on all the "other kinds" of screens (it is also safe to say) does not always do so -- and can in fact point us in the opposite direction, which is actually a false direction (to the extent that it denies the reality of our infinite and spiritual nature, and the infinite and spiritual aspect of the universe around us).

This is not to say that the material found on the "non-infinite" screens of the world is always debasing, or that it is never spiritually uplifting. That is actually not true at all (in fact, you're most likely reading this little essay on a screen, somewhere in the world). 

But, as wonderful as all the other screens on earth might be, we should certainly try to devote some time to contemplating and enjoying that infinitely wonderful heavenly realm which is spread out over our heads, each and every night, if (as said before) it is at all possible for us to do so.

I sincerely hope that doing so will be a blessing to you.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Procession of the gods, part two

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The preceding post contained some discussion and encouragement to go out and observe the dazzling lineup of planets now appearing like fairly closely-strung jewels along a beautiful necklace that brings all five visible planets into view in the pre-dawn sky.

At the time of that publication, Mercury was still too close to the sun to really be visible prior to sunrise (that post explained why we always have to look fairly close to the sun in order to see Mercury, visible either just ahead of the sun before sunrise, or just behind the sun after sunset). Now, however, as the swift-footed Messenger of the Gods speeds on his course around the sun, he is reaching the "corner" on his track that brings his "elongation" or distance from the sun as seen by an observer on earth to an angle that is making this small orange-red planet increasingly visible in the morning hours before sunrise (see the diagram in the previous post linked above to see how Mercury's swift path is now taking him to the point of "rounding the corner" where the planet is easiest to see).

In addition to Mercury's becoming visible, another goddess has also entered the picture: the Moon, which is now just passing the point of Full Moon and is presently positioned at the "head of the procession" in the sky, and will begin a stately walk all the way down the line to pass each of the planets in turn.

This will happen because the Moon's orbit around our earth makes her "lose ground" on the sun on each successive night as we go through the month, so that the sun seems to "gain on" the Moon and "pass up the Moon" or "lap the Moon" each month at point of New Moon.

Because of this phenomenon -- of the Moon being "caught" or "passed" each month by the sun, the Moon will be seen to be further and further east at the same time on each successive night, which means that as you go out to observe the five visible planets now lined up in fairly close array (beginning with Jupiter, then Mars, then Saturn, Venus, and Mercury just ahead of the sun), the Moon will be moving along this line beginning with Jupiter and moving towards the rising sun, passing them each in turn.

Right now, the Moon is ahead of Jupiter. On successive nights, she will pass by the rest of them, waning further and further into a crescent until the point of New Moon:

The image above shows the situation at present (note the date-time bar at the bottom right). The nearly-full Moon is just east of Regulus (we are facing South from a location in the northern hemisphere) and ahead of (west of) Jupiter. As we go along at the same time each night (this is actually early morning, prior to sunrise) the Moon will pass by Jupiter, then Mars, then Saturn (already waning to a sliver) and then Venus as New Moon arrives:

Above is an image from before dawn on the 28th of January. The Moon has proceeded to walk past Jupiter (to the east of Jupiter). The Moon is orbiting along a path that takes her towards the sun as she hurtles around the earth (the Moon is flying from right to left on her orbit, as we look at the above image).

Below is an image from before dawn on February 1 -- as the waning Moon passes the planet Mars:

And one more image below, as the Moon (now a sliver) passes just above Saturn on the 3rd of February. Note that the time is slightly later -- allowing Venus and Mercury to both rise well above the eastern horizon before the sun pops up:

So, we can now say that the "procession of the gods" which was discussed in the previous post has grown by two additional deities: Hermes or Mercury (previously not visible prior to sunrise, but now visible if you have a clear view of the eastern horizon, and becoming more and more visible as we move into February) and the Moon, anciently associated with Artemis the twin sister of Apollo (Apollo being associated with the sun, although these relationships and associations were somewhat complicated).

If you have the opportunity to go observe this beautiful and awe-inspiring lineup, and watch as the Moon moves through the procession towards the sun, then it is worth contemplating as you do so some of the characteristics anciently associated with Artemis. In particular, she is a goddess who is supremely devoted to the protection of women and children. She is also closely associated with childbirth and was anciently understood to be the one who permits and presides over every birth.

In the Orphic Hymn number 36, "To Artemis," these aspects of the goddess are expressly evoked:

Hear me, O queen,
Zeus' daughter of many names,
Titanic and Bacchic,
revered, renowned archer,
torch-bearing goddess bringing light to all,
Diktynna, helper at childbirth,
you help women in labor,
though you know not what labor is.
[. . .]
Orthia, goddess of swift birth,
you are a nurturer of mortal youhts,
immortal and yet of this earth [. . .]
come, dear goddess,
as savior to all the initiates,
accessible to all, bringing forth
the beautiful fruit of the earth,
lovely peace,
and fair-tressed health.
May you dispatch diseases and pain
to the peaks of the mountains.
translation from the excellent edition by Professor Apostolos N. Athanassakis.

The unwavering consistency with which the goddess can be seen to protect women and children in the ancient sacred myths should cause us to consider how much importance we ascribe to this same consideration.

In particular, when we see the degree to which women and children even (or especially) in the present modern global economy are exploited to provide sweatshop labor in the making of "inexpensive" clothing and many other goods (stories of which are reported again and again through the years, without ever seeming to make much difference -- see for instance here, here, and here among dozens and dozens of others along the same lines), we should ask ourselves why we are not as solicitous and as fiercely devoted to the protection of women and children as the goddess Artemis encourages (and admonishes) us to be.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A procession of the gods

If you make it a habit to go outside to gaze into the night sky -- and I strongly encourage everyone to make it a habit, if it is at all possible to do so -- you will no doubt have been enjoying the glorious spectacle of Orion, huge and very visible at this time of year, rising up towards the highest part of his arc across the heavens during the "prime-time" viewing hours between sundown and midnight.

Due to the progress of the earth's journey along its orbit around the sun throughout the year, Orion rises a few minutes earlier each night (about four minutes earlier), causing him to be further and further across the sky on successive nights (not much further each night, but even in the course of just one week he will be noticeably further along).

This nightly western progress means that new constellations begin to rotate into view each night, rising up a bit earlier above the eastern horizon on each successive night -- and for the past few weeks, the majestic form of Leo the Lion has been looming up above the eastern horizon during those "prime time" star-gazing hours, getting higher and higher each evening.

This means that if you step outside at 10:00 each evening (or 22:00 if you are using the 24-hour method), Leo will be a bit higher each night that you step outside at 10. And, as Leo gets higher in the sky, if you have been going outside around 10:30 or certainly 11 pm, you cannot have failed to notice the brilliant orb of an extremely bright planet rising just below the stars of the celestial Lion (visible by 11 pm for most readers, even if you have a fairly high horizon skyline when you face to the east).

Now that we have access to the web at all times, it is pretty easy to look up any of a number of websites to tell you the name of the planet whose golden beams of reflected light you are enjoying in the east in the vicinity of Leo. But, if you had lived thousands of years ago, prior to the invention of networked information-bearing devices, how might you have identified this planet?

First, as you become more familiar with the night sky (which will happen over time, especially if you make it a habit to go out at about the same time each night, every night or nearly every night), you would immediately realize that this glowing light is not always visible in Leo, and hence it is not one of the "fixed stars." Thus, you would realize that it is a planet, a term whose name means "wanderer," because the planets travel through the different constellations (always roughly along the same ecliptic path that the sun and moon travel, and hence always through the constellations in the zodiac band).

Second, as you become more familiar with the five visible planets, you would realize that this glowing sphere presently seen below Leo (it's actually at the top of Virgo now, following just behind and a little below Leo in the turning zodiac band) must be either Jupiter or Venus, just by its brightness and its brilliant golden light.

The warm golden glow of this planet is not characteristic of either Mars or Saturn, both of which are dimmer when seen from our planet's surface, and give off a slightly different color and feeling (both are considered "less benevolent" than Jupiter or Venus). Mars, of course, gives off a reddish light when the sun's rays reflect back to us from its surface, and Saturn gives off a darker yellow tone. Mercury gives off an somewhat deep-orange hue, but is very small and difficult to spot and cannot possibly be mistaken for the planet we're discussing near Leo either.

Thus, knowing that this planet must be either Jupiter or Venus, you would have to know something about the orbital paths of our solar system's planets in order to determine which one it could be. Because this planet is rising (in the east, where all celestial bodies including the sun are seen to rise, due to the fact that our earth rotates towards the east) so late in the evening, long after the sun has disappeared below the western horizon, we can conclude that it must be Jupiter and cannot be Venus. 

The reason for this is fairly simple, if you think about the fact that Venus follows an orbital track that is interior to the earth's orbit, relative to the sun: the path Venus follows stays within the near-circle of the earth's path at all times. Thus, in order to see Venus, we will always have to look generally towards the sun, although when the sun is up it will be extremely difficult (and usually impossible) to see Venus, so it is best to observe Venus just before the sun rises or just after it sets. 

Venus will be visible above the western horizon after the sun goes down, if Venus is at a point on its orbit that causes it to "trail" the sun from the perspective of an observer on earth. Venus will be visible above the eastern horizon before the sun comes up, if Venus is at a point on its orbit that causes it to "lead" the sun from the perspective of an observer on earth. More detail about where Venus would have to be in its orbit around the sun in order to appear to be either "trailing" or "leading" the sun can be found in this previous post

But the main point is that, due to the fact that its interior orbit will always make it so that we have to look generally in the direction of the sun in order to see Venus, the planet appears to be "tethered" to the sun (albeit by a fairly long "tether"), and thus Venus will always be seen above the same horizon that the sun is also about to "rise out of," or above the same horizon that the sun just sank beneath.  Venus will never be seen to rise above the opposite horizon from the sun. 

Above is a star chart showing the night sky looking due south, from the perspective of an observer in the northern hemisphere at about 35N latitude. Some of the brightest constellations and celestial features are outlined for you, including Orion (who so dominates the night sky at this time of year that you will immediately see him first when you step outside), Canis Major (containing bright Sirius, following just behind Orion in the sky), Canis Minor and the Twins of Gemini (part of what is known as the "Winter Circle" of bright stars visible at this time of year), Taurus (with its "V-shaped" Hyades, above and just east of Orion's outstretched arm holding the bow), the Pleiades (part of Taurus, but well above the Hyades), and on the other side of Orion from the Pleiades and Taurus, the zodiac constellations of Gemini, Cancer, and of course Leo.

Jupiter is indicated by a large purple arrow, below the outline of the Lion.

Now, all five of the visible planets are now in a fairly close line, from the perspective of an observer on earth. Jupiter is in fact leading a glorious procession of gods, in this order: Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Venus, Mercury, and then the sun itself. 

Mercury is presently very close just ahead of the sun (like Venus, Mercury's orbit is interior to the earth's, only even more interior than the orbit of Venus, and thus Mercury is extremely closely "tethered" to the sun in the pre-dawn or post-sunset sky), and thus Mercury is not really visible (by the time Mercury clears the eastern horizon just prior to sunrise, the sun is so close behind that its rays lighten up the sky too much for Mercury to be visible).

However, the other four planets can be seen, if you either stay up late enough or rise up early enough and know where to look.

Following Jupiter in the current lineup is the planet Mars, visible above the eastern horizon after about 1:00 am, although you may need to wait another hour for the planet to rise far enough to clear the horizon, depending on the terrain or foliage where you live. As you can see from the chart below, Mars is following in a line behind the brightest star of Virgo, the zodiac constellation who follows Leo the Lion (giving rise to myths all around the world in which a goddess is pulled in a chariot by a lion, or else rides on the back of a lion herself, or sits in a throne flanked by lions).

The brightest star in the constellation Virgo is the star Spica. The easiest way to locate Spica (in my opinion) is to follow the line formed by the "beak" of the constellation Corvus the Crow, who appears to look directly towards that bright star). From there, Mars will be seen glowing with a strong red glow in the sky (you may even be able to see Mars and Jupiter glowing through nighttime fog, mist, or thin cloud cover, even if all the stars including Spica are not visible).

Then, if you want to see the next two planets in this glorious procession, you can either stay up all night, or rise early and go out to look east in the pre-dawn sky, where you will find Saturn located to one side of the rising form of Scorpio, coming up out of the eastern horizon as the sky begins to grow lighter before sunrise. 

Rising just behind Saturn is the brilliant planet Venus, by far the brightest of our visible planets, and the planet usually referred to as either the morning star or the evening star (depending on whether Venus appears to be "ahead of" the sun from our position on earth, or "behind the sun"). 

The January 15 - 23 edition of "This Week's Sky at a Glance" over at Sky & Telescope gives you some good pointers for seeing both Saturn and Venus in the early morning pre-dawn sky.

The screen-shot below (from the excellent open-source planetarium app Stellarium) shows all five of the visible planets, stretching in a long line from Jupiter through Mercury, followed closely by the sun (about to rise in the image below, which simulates a time of about 7:10 in the morning). 

This time, in order to keep it a little less "cluttered," I have not drawn in outlines for the various constellations, but the previous two charts show the constellations in the vicinity of Jupiter and Mars, and as you can see from the "sunrise" chart with all five planets, the great band of the Milky Way galaxy is rising up across the portion of the sky containing Saturn and Venus right now. This part of the Milky Way band -- its widest, brightest, and most visible section -- is the part which goes past Scorpio and Sagittarius. Saturn and Venus are also presently between Scorpio and Sagittarius.

Again, Mercury is not quite visible due to the proximity to the sun, and the fact that the sun will make the sky to bright to see Mercury, by the time Mercury clears the eastern horizon. However, Mercury is presently located in the vicinity of Sagittarius, close to the "feather" that can be envisioned as an ornament worn on the head of the Archer constellation.

If you want to know where on their orbits these planets are, in order to be visible in a line like this from our location on earth, there are several excellent resources on the web which enable you to view the planets circling the sun on their various orbital tracks. One such resource is the SkyMarvels site of Gary M. Winters, found here, which contains a variety of tools for visualizing the present locations of each planet, including a 3D "Solar System Scope" which enables you to change the position and angle of your viewpoint relative to the solar system's orbital tracks and the planets on those tracks.

Another is the Planets Today website, which also contains visualization tools to see where the planets are on their different orbits, as well as the astrological signs through which they are passing. The site enables different perspectives on the planets. One perspective is shown below:

As you can see, this version of the chart shows the circular tracks of the planets drawn in an "equidistant" fashion, which will introduce some inaccuracies in the perspective versus a more "to scale" version, but there are trade-offs in any type of model which tries to depict our vast solar system in a format that can be shown on a screen. 

This chart does do a good job of giving the general position of each of the planets on their orbital tracks. You can see that Jupiter, Mars and Saturn (the visible planets whose paths are exterior to the orbit of earth around the sun) are at points on their orbits which are not opposite to the earth from the sun. That's why we can see them all in the beautiful line described above.

To see Saturn, for instance, we are basically looking "across the sun" right now in order to see Saturn (visible just before the earth turns far enough to bring the sun over the curve of the horizon to an observer on the surface of the earth).

If Saturn were instead on the opposite side of earth from where it is located now (near the top of the circle, for instance, at what we could call the "12 o'clock" position on this chart), then we would be able to see Saturn at midnight instead of at sunrise, but then we would not have the same fairly closely-grouped line of planets that we have now.

Thus, you can see that the lineup we are enjoying presently is a fairly special occurrence, at least in terms of the relatively close spacing of all five planets.

I hope that you will have the opportunity to see this majestic procession of the planets in person.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


to one who clearly knew the stars are the windows to spiritual reality

and that human life is one of cycles of endlessly variegated incarnation

I was honored when talented musician and DJ, John Gibbons, chose the above song -- Starman -- as the outtro to our first interview on Alchemy Radio back in 2014

and an almost-award-winning folk duo from New Zealand demonstrated the truth that David Bowie can deliver inspiration from the other world . . . to almost anyone

and will continue to do so

abide in peace

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

To Leucotheia: Epiphany 2016

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

In the Odyssey of Homer, Odysseus is frequently saved by divine intervention, often by a goddess (Athena especially), but in one important instance by the goddess Leucothea (or Leukothea), a sea goddess who was once a human woman.

Having, by the intervention of Athena, been released from his many years' captivity on the island of Ogygia, Odysseus makes his way across the sea in a raft he has fashioned himself -- but he doesn't get far before Poseidon notices him and, infuriated, sends a mighty storm which churns the waves into mountains and unleashes powerful winds roaring from all directions.

Odysseus is washed from his deck and nearly drowns, but the poem tells us that someone noticed him:
Ino, a mortal woman once with human voice and called
Leucothea now she lives in the sea's salt depths,
esteemed by all the gods as she deserves.
She pitied Odysseus, tossed, tormented so --
she broke from the waves like a shearwater on the wing,
lit on the wreck and asked him kindly, "Ah poor man,
why is the god of earthquakes so dead set against you?
Strewing your way with such a crop of troubles!
But he can't destroy you, not for all his anger.
Just do as I say. [. . .]
Odyssey 5. 367 - 376, translation of Professor Robert Fagles (discussed here).
A shearwater is a long-winged ocean bird: the goddess is compared to a shearwater two times in the Odyssey, once in the passage cited above, and again in line 389 when after speaking with Odysseus (presumably in the form of a woman, as she gives him her scarf to tie around his waist for protection), she again disappears into the storm-tossed seas, in the form of a shearwater.

In light of the fact that Leucothea is a goddess who was once a mortal woman, it is extremely interesting that she is described as appearing to Odysseus in the form of a bird. 

In the New Testament accounts of the event known as the Epiphany (celebrated after Twelfth Night, and discussed in this previous post from a year ago), the divine nature of the Christ is revealed in the form of a dove, at the moment of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.

The Epiphany is a recognition of the divine hidden nature -- the goddess Leucothea was once a mortal woman but is now a goddess. 

The symbolism in each case involves a bird and the immersion in water (or the pouring of water upon). The parallels are striking, and argue that the same celestial pattern is being clothed in different metaphors in the different cultures or sacred traditions. The celestial foundation for the Baptism in the Jordan are discussed in the post linked above from a year ago -- and the celestial foundation for the Odyssey event likely involves many of the same figures.

In the Orphic Hymns, ancient mantras for the invocation of the divine, used by those initiated into the Orphic Mysteries, there is a hymn to the goddess Leucotheia (Hymn 74). Each Orphic Hymn specifies the type of incense to be used when meditating upon that particular hymn and the divinity who is the subject of the hymn -- in the hymn "To Leucotheia," the incense to be used is "aromatic herbs."

In the excellent translation of Professor Apostolos N. Athanassakis, Hymn 74 (which he spells "To Leukotheia") reads in part:
I call upon Leukothea,
daughter of Kadmos, revered goddess,
mighty nurterer
of fair-wreathed Dionysos.
Hearken, O goddess,
O mistress of the deep-bosomed sea,
you delight in waves,
you are the greatest savior to mortals [. . .]
The hymn proceeds to make specific requests to the goddess, to come to the aid of all those upon the sea -- but note that in the passage cited above, she is addressed as "the greatest savior to mortals" without qualification (the hymn does not say "to mortals who venture out to sea" or "mortals who sail in ships" -- it says "to mortals"). 

Later on, the hymn describes her as a savior especially of those at sea, but the hymn begins by calling to Leucothea as the greatest savior to mortals without qualification -- and I believe that is because the sea was anciently used as a metaphor for this incarnate life (when we are plunged down into a human body which is, as we are frequently told, made up primarily of water, and when we cross the lower region of the great cycle, the realm of the lower two elements, massy earth and salty water, as opposed to the realms of air and fire above through which the sun, moon and stars travel and were used by the ancient myths to convey truths about the realm of spirit).

Alvin Boyd Kuhn, who wrote at length regarding the metaphor of the sea as the incarnate condition, through which we toil (a "crossing of the Red Sea," he called it at more than one point), argues in Who is this King of Glory (published in 1944), that the name of the New Testament character Pontius Pilate (under whom the Christ suffered) is suspiciously similar to the Greek word pontus, meaning "sea" (as in the Hellespont). He argued that the name originally came from words meaning "dense sea" -- the dense "sea of matter" in which we are immersed when we come down from the realm of spirit to inhabit a body. 

This connection has been vigorously disputed by those who reject Kuhn's proposed origin of the name of Pontius Pilate, but the linguistic similarity, at least, does seem difficult to dismiss entirely, and conceptually the idea appears to be worthy of at least some consideration.

In his discussion of the significance of the sixth of January (as the day of the revelation of the divinity hidden in the incarnate Christ) beginning at about page 250 of that book (in the original pagination), Kuhn discusses the possible symbolism of the day, and then beginning on page 252 begins to explore the significance of the crossing of the Great Deep. He argues that this is how we should understand the phrase in the Apostles' Creed:
"he suffered under the dense sea, was crucified, dead and buried." "Dense sea" would have been merely a euphemism, familiar to all in Mystery Ritual custom, for "he suffered under the limitation of dense matter" -- a shorthand expression in Mystery language. 253.
Note also that in artistic representations of the Baptism of Christ (shown in several examples in the blog post on Epiphany linked above), the hand gesture that the Jesus figure is almost invariably depicted as making is one of "palms together" -- the very mudra (sacred hand gesture) used in India and other related cultures and traditions for the namaskaram or namaste greeting, a greeting which literally means a recognition of the divinity in another person, and in oneself. 

It is also the same hand gesture which is traditionally used when saying Amen, a word which is also the name of the Hidden God in ancient Egyptian sacred mythology: Amun or Amen.

And note, of course, that in virtually all of those depictions of the baptism scene, in which that hand gesture is used, the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove is shown at the top of the painting. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Jesus figure in the paintings almost invariably wears only a sash around his waist.

Which brings us back to the scene in the Odyssey, in which the goddess rescues the long-suffering Odysseus, as he crosses the stormy sea. It is only by her aid that he is able to survive the storm. 

This tells us something about our own present condition: in fact, I believe that all these incredible details in the inspired ancient wisdom imparted to humanity in the form of myth were put there to teach us, not about the adventures of a cunning warrior returning from the Trojan War (as fascinating as his story is) but about the adventure of each and every human soul in this dual material-spiritual cosmos in which we find ourselves right now, in this life.

Leucotheia is a goddess who was born a mortal woman. The myths are in fact filled with stories designed to show that, although we do not realize it, we all have a divine component within us. And Odysseus cannot negotiate the Great Deep of this incarnate life without the help which comes from somewhere beyond the material realm, and to which (as he demonstrates throughout the epic) he has unique access.

But, as the Orphic Hymns show us, we also at all times have access to the same infinite realm. The Orphic Hymns typically begin with a call to the god or goddess in question to come and be present, and that is not just a literary device but a request that was made with the expectation that it could be instantly granted.