Saturday, December 20, 2014

Winter solstice, 2014: the Stable and the Manger

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The earth will pass through the point of December solstice this year on December 21st at 2303 Greenwich time (now referred to as UTC), which is 1503 Pacific time and 1803 Eastern time for those in North America (numerous sites on the web can help you determine the time at your location if the references above aren't enough to zero-in on it).

As has been remarked upon in many other discussions, the word "solstice" descends from a combination of the Latin noun sol ("the sun") with a form of the Latin verb sistere ("to stand"), and thus means "sun-standing," as in "standing still." We find another example containing a derivation of sistere in the word "interstitial," which describes the "boundary space" in between two larger spaces -- the border-zone, the threshold region, the "standing-in-the-middle" place.

When the earth is hurtling towards the December solstice, it causes the sun's apparent path to observers on earth to move further and further south each day. As a consequence, ever since we passed the June solstice, the sun has been rising on the eastern horizon at a point further and further south, and arcing across the sky on a path that is further and further towards the southern horizon, and then setting at a point along the western horizon at a point that is further and further south each day. 

At the solstice, the sun seems to "stand still" before it turns back around and reverses the process. The reason for this standstill is discussed in this previous post involving the metaphor of a mighty sailing ship with the bowsprit acting as the north pole. 

For those observers in the northern hemisphere, where the sun's steady progress towards the south has caused its rays to be less and less direct, and the warming effects less and less effective, plunging the world deeper and deeper into winter, as the days grow shorter and shorter and the nights longer and longer, the anticipation of that turnaround is tremendous. It seems as if life itself hangs in the balance, and the time in which the sun finally grinds to a halt in its southward progression and stands still before finally turning back towards the north feels like a breathless pause in which the entire world freezes in place to see if the life-giving orb will actually "make the turn."

It is this moment, when all the world collectively "holds its breath" (figuratively speaking), that Alvin Boyd Kuhn says is commemorated in the concept of the "Silent Night," the stillness that is celebrated in the Christmas tradition, with carols which proclaim: "O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie," and (in "It came upon a midnight clear"), "The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing" (13).

In a lecture entitled The Stable and the Manger, delivered in 1936, Alvin Boyd Kuhn elucidates the connections between the elements of the Christmas story and the significance of the winter solstice as a spiritual allegory, in which spirit which has been plunged deep into matter begins its "upward turn," but prior to doing so there is a pregnant pause in which all is in perfect stillness, and the tension between the two creates a moment of equipoise in which "all is calm."

Outlining the framework of the metaphor, he explains:
The sun in its apparent passage from the high glory of summer to its enfeebled power in the solstice of winter exactly symbolizes, because it repeats, the experience of the soul in its alternating swing from the heights of spiritual purity in disembodiment -- in summer -- to the depths of diminished shining in the lowest arc of its immersion in a body, its night, its winter. 11.
And, tying this concept to the Christmas story, he explains that it is this commingling of the spark of spirit plunged into the body of matter which gives birth to the "third principle," the higher self, the Christ within. Kuhn says:
Suffice it to say for the moment that obviously if a higher and a lower force are to meet and unite at the point midway between their status of being, they must so meet as the result of the ascent of the one and the descent of the other. Nature could not well arrange such a meeting in any other way. That nature has so arranged the matter is one of the bits of knowledge furnished us by the ancient wisdom. When God or Life at the beginning of each period of its activity bifurcates into the polarization of spirit and matter, the two forms of being move toward each other, meet in the middle ground, so to say, effect their conjunction and interplay, and at the end of the cycle retire into latency again. For the earth evolution that point of middle distance between the two is the body and life of man. here is where the "marriage" takes place and the Son, the Christ, is born. And when the two forces meet at this point, they counteract each other's energies and bring each other to a standstill. Spirit descending came to a stop in the arms of matter, for the inertia of matter stilled the vibrations of spirit. 9.
Thus, he notes, it is highly appropriate that the ancient scriptures describe the birth of the Christ as taking place in a stable -- the word itself means "steady" and "standing upon a base," appropriate for this story that takes place at the very base of the year, the bottom of the zodiac wheel shown below, and appropriate to the point where as Kuhn says "spirit and matter, soul and body, are 'stabilized' in relation to each other" (12).

He further points out that the stable is the place "where animals come to stand for the night," and a place where the animal nature connects with the benevolent care of the higher human intellect (which presumably designed and constructed the stable, to shelter and protect the animal), and which thus may symbolize this point where "the brute kingdom is elevated by the grace of mankind, as mankind in turn is exalted by the grace of the gods" (12).

But that is not all -- for, as Kuhn goes on to explain, the Christ-child who is born at this point of tension between spirit and matter, where spirit has descended to its deepest place in the cycle, is then laid in a manger -- the place where the animals are fed! The animal nature must be fed and nourished and ultimately elevated by their participation with the Christ nature (17 - 19).

Astronomically, we have seen that the sign of Virgo, standing as she does at the autumn equinox where days begin to be shorter than nights, presides over the plunge of the spirit from the higher realm into the material realm (see the image of Virgo, wearing the crown of the "Queen of Heaven," located just above the horizontal line before the "crossing point" indicated by the red "X" on the right-hand side of the zodiac circle as we face it in the diagram above). Virgo appears in the ancient Egyptian myth-cycle as Isis, holding the divine Horus on her lap in exactly the same way that she appears in the New Testament accounts as the Virgin Mary, holding the divine Jesus:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The identification of Isis, and Mary, with Virgo is evident from an examination of the outline of the constellation itself, but also from the fact that Virgo is associated with wheat and with grain, and that in fact the constellation is often depicted as holding a sheaf of wheat, and in fact the name of her brightest star, Spica, comes from a Latin reference to an "ear of grain" (and in Arabic this star is called Sumbalet which also means "an ear of wheat"). The fact that she lays her divine son in the manger, where the grains are fed to the animals, should cement this identification between the heavenly queen and the Virgin in the story found in the gospel account. See also the discussion of Mary and Virgo, and the visit of the Magi, in this video.

There are many more astonishing connections to be found in the lecture of Alvin Boyd Kuhn, and in consideration of the spiritual symbology present in the point of the winter solstice with all its implications. The reader is encouraged to consult the full text of that lecture (click on the word "fullscreen" to bring up a facsimile of a book format), and what better time to do so than this portentous point on the year, when all the world stands still at the December solstice?

But, perhaps the most important part of Kuhn's entire lecture is found before he actually begins to elucidate the details of the solstice-scene at all, when he explains that these exquisite metaphors are meant to convey a drama of which the central player is each and every human being. He asserts:
Bible stories are in no sense a record of what happened to a man or a people as historical occurrence. As such they would have little significance for mankind. They would be the experience of people not ourselves, and would not bear a relation to our life. But they are a record, under pictorial forms, of that which is ever occurring as a reality of the present in all lives. They mean nothing as outward events; but they mean everything as picturizations of that which is our living experience at all times. The actors are not old kings, priests and warriors; the one actor in every portrayal, in every scene, is the human soul. The Bible is the drama of our history here and now; and it is not apprehended in its full force and applicability until every reader discerns himself [or herself] to be the central figure in it! The Bible is about the mystery of human life. Instead of relating to the incidents of a remote epoch in temporal history, it deals with the reality of the living present in the life of every soul on earth. 4.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Odysseus and Orion

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

In the Odyssey, the long-suffering Odysseus is told by Circe the lustrous goddess that he must go down to the realm of the dead, to consult the shade of Tiresias in the underworld and learn what he must do in order to return home (Book X: 553 - 595).

It should be noted that crossing over to the "other world" in order to obtain knowledge or direction unavailable through any other means can be seen as a definitively shamanic act, and there is no doubt that Odysseus can be seen to be a shamanic figure in many ways throughout the Odyssey.

Following the instructions given by Queen Circe, Odysseus makes the dread voyage to the underworld, and there he does encounter the shade of the famous prophet Tiresias, who foretells that Odysseus will finally reach his home, and pay back the suitors who have been tormenting his wife and destroying his flocks as they feast in his halls in his absence. Then, Tiresias gives Odysseus an unusual mission:
But once you have killed those suitors in your halls --
by stealth or in open fight with slashing bronze --
go forth once more, you must . . .
carry your well-planed oar until you come
to a race of people who know nothing of the sea,
whose food is never seasoned with salt, strangers all
to ships with their crimson prows and long slim oars,
wings that make ships fly. And here is your sign --
unmistakeable, clear, so clear you cannot miss it:
When another traveler falls in with you and calls that weight across your shoulder a fan to winnow grain,
then plant your bladed, balanced oar in the earth
and sacrifice fine beasts to the lord god of the sea,
Poseidon -- a ram, a bull and a ramping wild boar --
then journey home and render noble offerings up
to the deathless gods who rule the vaulting skies,
to all the gods in order. Book XI: 136 - 152. Translation of Robert Fagles.
In the previous post's discussion of the celestial aspects of John the Baptist, it was argued that this strange directive about an "oar" or a "winnowing fan" on the shoulder of Odysseus is a clear connection to the stars of one of the most mythologically important and distinctive constellations in the night sky: the constellation Orion. Orion indeed carries on his shoulder an implement which is often envisioned as a club but which could equally well be seen as an oar or a paddle:

image: (outlines added later).

Here, outlines have been drawn in for Orion, in order to show the "oar and blade" that he can be said to be carrying "across his shoulder," just as Tiresias describes. The stars of Orion are so distinctive that it is really almost a distraction to even draw in the outlines, but they are added here in order to indicate where the paddle-shaped oar is located, which I believe connects this mighty constellation to the long-suffering, long-delayed hero of the Odyssey (it is on the left side of the image, as we look at it above -- rising up from the shoulder that contains the star Betelgeuse). 

Some readers, however, may argue that this detail alone is hardly sufficient to make a definitive identification of this episode of the Odyssey with the outline of Orion, and that is a valid criticism. However, as it turns out there are several other clues which act to confirm the above hypothesis.

One of the most obvious is the implement which is traditionally envisioned in Orion's other hand -- held in the outstretched arm that can be seen pointing towards the upper-right side of the above image, as we look at it (stretching forward from the shoulder that contains the star Bellatrix). That implement, of course, is a mighty bow -- and if there is one weapon which is most associated with Odysseus, it is in fact the great bow, which no one can string but Odysseus himself, and with which he slays the suitors mercilessly after the dramatic scene in which he sends an arrow through a row of axes (Book XXI: 451 - 471).

Below is another screen-shot of the constellation Orion, this time with his bow drawn in as well:

But that's not all! There is another very memorable scene from Odysseus' homecoming, prior to the point in which he finally strings his old familiar bow and begins dealing doom to the suitors, and that is the famous scene in which he has been disguised through the power of the goddess Athena as an old beggar, but his faithful dog, Argos, whom the poet tells us Odysseus trained as a puppy once, long ago, before he reluctantly joined the ships bound for Troy, recognizes his beloved Odysseus and thumps his tail in joy before expiring (XVII: 317 - 360).

As we have already seen in the discussion of the important scene from The Truman Show in which the set-light marked SIRIUS plunges to the street, the constellation Orion has a well-known companion dog, Canis Major, close by. The fact that the long-delayed homecoming of Odysseus is closely associated with a bow and a dog is strong indication that he is connected to Orion, who also has a bow and a dog. The addition of the "oar" or "winnowing fan" on his shoulder is another point of correspondence and should make the identification of Odysseus and Orion fairly conclusive.

There is another important aspect of Orion which may also be connected to the long-suffering Odysseus, and that is the fact that Orion is associated with Osiris, and it has been convincingly argued by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend in Hamlet's Mill that the "delaying action" of precession, seen in the failure of Orion/Osiris to rise "on time" on the appointed day of the year, was mythologized in ancient Egypt by the story of Set slaying his brother Osiris and usurping his throne (this myth and its connection to the action of precession is discussed in this video, in which it is pointed out that the same "usurpation" is later found in the story of Hamlet and the story of The Lion King).  

If Odysseus is identified with Orion, then his "long delay" in getting back to his "true home" may also be connected to the inexorable motion of precession, which "delays" the background of stars by just a tiny fraction each year (delaying them by only a single degree in 71.6 years), but which was profoundly important in ancient myth around the globe, and incorporated in the myths by means of various ingenious allegories.

The identification of Odysseus with Orion is extremely important in its own right, and may offer many useful new perspectives on the Odyssey itself -- but it is also extremely important in that the New Testament scriptures describe "the mighty one" who "comes after" John the Baptist as carrying a fan in his hand with which he will sort the wheat on the threshing floor to divide it from the chaff, which will be burned with fire (Matthew 3:12, Luke 3:17). 

I contend that this figure that John the Baptist describes, and who is obviously associated with the coming Christ whom John the Baptist announces and whom John will shortly baptize in the River Jordan, is in this passage clearly associated with Orion as well! That previous discussion of John the Baptist noted that John has clear connections to the constellation Aquarius, who is stooped forward as outlined in the stars of the constellation, and John states of this mighty figure who is coming after him that John is not worthy to "stoop down" and unloose the latchet of his shoes (Mark 1:7).

The fact that this figure that John the Baptist describes is carrying a fan with which he will winnow the wheat, and the fact that Odysseus was instructed to carry an oar until a traveler asked him what he was doing with "a fan to winnow grain," is strong evidence that both figures are actually connected with the constellation Orion.

Further confirmation that the figure John the Baptist describes is associated with Orion comes from the fact that there is a very long "river" constellation which the ancients described as springing out of Orion at the point of his foot -- or, as John the Baptist might say, his "shoe" or "sandal." This river begins very close to the bright star Rigel in the foot of Orion, and it has a most revealing name: the River Eridanus. The name of this constellation, then, is linguistically very similar to the name of the river in which John the Baptist will baptize Jesus: the Jordan.

Below is a star chart showing Eridanus, springing up very near to the foot of Orion, who can be seen in the upper-left corner of the chart:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The very strong connection between a description in the New Testament, and a description in the Odyssey of ancient Greece, in which the figure of Odysseus and the figure of Jesus as described by John the Baptist are both carrying a "winnowing fan" on their shoulder with which to sort the wheat from the chaff, and in which both are clearly connected to the constellation Orion, is truly earth-shaking in its implications. It argues that the stories included in the Bible are built upon the same celestial foundations as the stories contained in the myths of other cultures -- myths derided as "pagan" by the literalist interpretation of the Bible which came to dominate Bible interpretation during the third, fourth and fifth centuries AD. 

Finally, it should be noted that -- just as Odysseus can be shown to be a shamanic figure in the Odyssey -- Jesus in the Bible can be argued to perform acts typical of what we might call a shamanic figure as well, although this is not the way literalist Christianity has chosen to interpret the texts, and such an interpretation would be sharply at odds with "orthodox" Christian doctrine as it has been taught for the past seventeen centuries. However, the shamanic elements are certainly present, including the voyage to the "other side" and return, as well as the very common shamanic motif of the ascent on the Tree (discussed in this and this previous post, and many more examples can be found in the seminal study Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, by Mircea Eliade published in 1951).

It may be that the ancient sacred texts and myths of humanity were not intended to be understood literally, but that they in fact teach a very profound message about the nature of our universe and the nature of the human condition -- and that this message can be said to be both "shamanic" and "holographic" (and to anticipate aspects of modern theoretical physics and quantum theory as well).

This possibility is certainly amazing, and unexpected by those used to the literalist approach to the world's ancient scriptures -- and yet the evidence in support of this conclusion is compelling, and can be found in abundance throughout the ancient texts of the human race.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

John the Baptist

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Caution: this post will examine evidence that the stories in the Biblical scriptures were not intended to be understood literally. Those not comfortable examining such evidence may not wish to read further.

As we approach the "lowest point" on the annual wheel of the year, the winter solstice (which is the December solstice, for those in the northern hemisphere), we approach the celebration of Christmas and all the rich symbolism and powerful traditions which surround that special day on which the sun finally stops its "downward journey," pauses, and then turns back around to head back "upwards" towards lengthening days and the return of warmth and life after another winter.

The arrival of Jesus in each of the four gospels which were included in the canon is first discussed in conjunction with another extremely important figure: that of John the Baptist. He is the one who goes before the Christ, preparing the way, in fulfillment we are told in each of the four gospels of the prophecy in Isaiah 40:3 -- "For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight" (Matthew 3:3). The gospel according to Mark cites the additional prophecy of Malachi 3:1 -- "As it is written in the prphets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee" (Mark 1:2).

The gospels of Matthew, Mark and John all introduce John the Baptist at the River Jordan, preaching a "baptism of repentance," baptizing with water, and announcing the impending arrival of one who will come after him: "There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost" (Mark 1:7-8). The gospel according to Matthew adds "and with fire" to describe the baptism of the one who will come after John (Matthew 3:11). 

The gospel according to Luke also introduces John the Baptist as the one who will go before Jesus, but does so by describing the announcement through the angel Gabriel to John's father Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth will bear a son, who will go before the Lord (Luke 1:13-20). The gospel of Luke also describes the meeting of Elizabeth and Mary the mother of Jesus, and from the details provided in Luke 1:36 and 1:56-57, we can conclude that John was born six months ahead of Jesus -- going before him in the order of their birth as well.

I believe that there is overwhelming evidence which supports the conclusion that the stories of the Old and New Testament describe the motions of the celestial actors in the heavenly realm: the sun, moon, stars, and visible planets. I further believe that this celestial foundation connects the sacred scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to the sacred scriptures and myths and traditions of virtually every other culture around our planet, which can also be shown to employ the same system of celestial metaphor. I discuss the evidence for this conclusion, and the implications of this evidence, in my book The Undying Stars (sample chapters available online here). I also discuss many examples of this system at work in previous blog posts examining the sacred myths from around the world, which I have indexed (with links) here

I believe that in the person of John the Baptist, and the details we are given about his life in the four gospels which made their way into what we today call the Bible, we are given an extraordinarily powerfully illustration of this system at work.

Cautionthis post will examine evidence that the stories in the Biblical scriptures were not intended to be understood literally. Those not comfortable examining such evidence may not wish to read further.

As Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend argue in their seminal 1969 work, Hamlet's Mill, one of the characteristics of the celestial system is the fact that the various heavenly "actors" will take on different roles, from one myth-system to another, as well as within the same myth-system (and even, at times, within the same story -- like an actor who appears as two or more different characters in different scenes of the same movie or play). This phenomenon is described in this previous post

Which of the celestial players is most likely to be the "actor" who plays the role of John the Baptist in the gospel accounts?

If we are familiar with the "cast" of possible actors who travel in cycles through the heavens, then the descriptions of John as one who is specifically described as "baptizing with water" (for instance, in Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, and John 1:26) should call to mind one particularly important zodiac constellation: the Water-Bearer, Aquarius. And indeed, there are numerous clues included in the text which appear to indicate that John the Baptist is associated with the constellation Aquarius.

Below is a screen-shot of the night sky as it appears to an observer in the northern hemisphere, looking towards the southern horizon, when the Milky Way is rising up like a shimmering stream across the sky, and the glorious and very bright zodiac constellations of Scorpio and Sagittarius are flanking the base of the Milky Way on either side. Scorpio and Sagittarius are both constellations associated with the "lower half" of the zodiac wheel, when the annual cycle is descending towards winter solstice, because the "sign" of Scorpio and of Sagittarius both take place in the months just prior to the low-point "turn upwards" of the winter solstice. As an aside, the sign is derived from the month in which the sun rises in the "house" of that constellation -- the constellation's stars being visible above the eastern horizon just above the point where the sun will rise, and growing fainter and fainter as the sun approaches and the pre-dawn sky becomes lighter and lighter. 

Aquarius is visible on the left side of the image, just above the Goat outline of Capricorn. Just to the right (west) of Capricorn is Sagittarius (guarding the left-hand side of the rising Milky Way, as we look south), and beyond Sagittarius a bit further right (west) is the sinuous form of Scorpio, low down and close to the horizon, most of its body immersed in fact in the stream of the Milky Way. 

This screenshot is from the outstanding open-source planetarium app at It shows the outlines of the constellations (these can be turned on or off), but it does so with an outlining convention which I do not believe is the most helpful or useful for envisioning the constellations in your mind. I much prefer the outlining system proposed by H.A. Rey.

Below, I will draw in the outlines using the H.A. Rey system, and you will immediately see that Aquarius can be envisioned as a man holding a large pitcher of water, from which he is pouring two streams. This fact cannot be easily envisioned using the atrocious outlining system seen in the above image (the Goat and Scorpion outlines are OK in that system, but the outlines for Aquarius, Sagittarius, and many others are most unsatisfactory). We will see from the image with outlines drawn in that Aquarius, who is associated with water, can be seen as a strong contender for the role of John the Baptist, whom the texts describe very specifically as "baptizing with water."

In the image below, I also identify two additional clues from the Biblical texts, which I believe can be used to help bolster the case that this scene from the night sky is the origin of the descriptions of John baptizing in the wilderness. We are told that John's food consisted solely of "locusts and wild honey" (for example, in Matthew 3:4). In the image below, we see that the brightest stars within Sagittarius, which are often referred to as the "Teapot," can also be imagined to look like a bright celestial grasshopper: a locust. This identification of the Teapot asterism within Sagittarius with locusts described in the Bible is also supported by the celestial analysis of Revelation chapter 9, in which Sagittarius is almost certainly being described, and locusts are prominently referenced there as well. 

The locusts of John's diet live at the base of the Milky Way, near Aquarius, but where is the "wild honey" that the scriptures refer to? As we have seen in previous posts, the honey is located at the other end of the Milky Way, where it crosses the zodiac band again, this time just below the feet of the Twins of Gemini, who are located at the "top" of the zodiac wheel, just prior to summer solstice and just prior to the sign of Cancer the Crab. As we have discussed in previous posts, an important feature in Cancer the Crab is the famous Beehive Cluster, which finds its way into many myths around the world. So, John's food can be located at the "lower" and "upper" ends of the Milky Way stream, the locusts at the point where the Milky Way crosses Sagittarius, and the wild honey at the point where the Milky Way crosses near Cancer.

Additionally, as shown in the image below, John has a rather rough way of addressing the penitents who come to the River Jordan to be baptized of him. Speaking in particular to the Pharisees and Saducees, we are told that John asks: "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" (for instance, in Matthew 3:7). As we can see from the image below, the vipers are present, right next to the locusts:

As noted above, if the Milky Way is here representing the River Jordan, where John the Baptist is performing his baptism of repentance, it does appear that the "vipers" are at least getting in the river to be baptized!

There are additional clues that Aquarius is the correct celestial origin of John the Baptist. First, when Jesus arrives, John is described as looking up and declaring, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). If John "goes before" Jesus and "prepares the way" for his arrival, then it could be expected that John is here referring to one of the zodiac constellations which he "goes before" in the nightly rotation -- and sure enough, the constellations which follow Aquarius in the zodiac band are Pisces (just visible in the above image, as a polygonal shape to his left, below the letter "J" in the "John the Baptist" label) followed immediately by Aries the Ram. And, as you can see from the H.A. Rey outline of Aquarius, his head is actually "looking" in that direction -- he really will be able to see the Ram (or Lamb) of Aries rising up behind him as the sky continues to turn from the east to the west (from the left to the right in this image).

We are also told in many of the gospels that John declares that "There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose" (Mark 1:7). This mention of "stooping down" is very helpful, because Aquarius does seem to be "stooping" in the sky, or pitched forward in his posture as he leans forward with his jug. 

Who is the one whose shoes he is not fit to untie? 

I believe this scripture refers in fact to Orion, who is indeed "mightier" than Aquarius, being a true giant in the sky and also the constellation with the highest ratio of bright stars to total stars of any in the night sky (in marked contrast to Aquarius, who is it must be admitted a constellation rather dim and difficult to make out). Orion has a significant "shoe" or "foot" in the bright star Rigel -- in fact, his "toe" is referred to in other myths from other cultures, as Hamlet's Mill discusses. Orion does indeed come after Aquarius in the sky -- his form is located just below Taurus the Bull, which is the zodiac constellation which follows immediately after Aries. 

But the clinching detail in the scripture which indicates that John is referring to Orion with this line about the one mightier than he who is coming after him is the fact that some of the gospels make mention of this "mightier one" carrying "his fan in his hand" (Matthew 3:12, Luke 3:17). The upraised arm of Orion (on the left side of the outline as we look at it in a star chart) is holding what is sometimes described as a club, but which is actually more like "a long rectangle on a stick" -- this is the object which I believe the scriptures are references in the mention of "his fan." It is the same "winnowing fan" that is mentioned in the final book of the Odyssey, and it is also the "paddle" carried ceremonially by chiefs across the islands of the Pacific:

These abundant details should be more than sufficient to establish the celestial foundations of the John the Baptist episodes found in all four gospels in the canonical Bible.

But that is by no means all of them. The story of John the Baptist contains a veritable plethora of celestial information. The next important clues can be found in the death of John the Baptist, which is described in the gospels of Mark and Matthew. In those gospels, we learn that "the daughter of Herodias"  came in to the birthday supper of Herod, and she "danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him," and he swore to her that he would give her whatsoever she should ask of him (Mark 6:21-25). She is instructed by her mother to ask for the head of John the Baptist (Mark 6:24 -- the Matthew account in Matthew 14 adds "in a charger" or platter). Herod is dismayed, but keeps his oath, and John is beheaded.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

This gruesome scene can be observed in the icon-image above -- and readers can take comfort in the fact that the artist appears to be aware of the celestial origins of this terrible story (i.e. I don't think it happened on earth in literal history -- I think it happens in the sky above). We see John, pitched forward, just as the constellation Aquarius is pitched forward or "stooping down" in the sky. His hands are bound, but they project from his body at the same angle and attitude as the "leg" that can be seen protruding from the center of the constellation Aquarius. 

The daughter of Herodias is kneeling, with one arm reaching forward and holding a disc-shaped charger to take his head: these are the crucial characteristics of the constellation Virgo, as can be seen in some of the illustrations from ancient Greece shown in this previous post.

Finally, the artist in the scene at top has added an executioner who is depicted with many of the characteristics of the constellation Perseus. I think he is taking artistic license here -- there is no indication of a Perseus-figure in the Biblical texts. However, there is every indication that the story of the beheading of John the Baptist involves the constellations Aquarius (which we have already identified as the celestial actor playing the role of John) and Virgo (who plays the role of most queens, maidens, damsels, and goddesses in myths the world over). 

And, as Robert Taylor pointed out in the 1800s, in a sermon recorded in The Devil's Pulpit, the motion of the sky actually seems to "behead" the constellation Aquarius, when the figure's head is below the horizon and the rest of the constellation is above it. It just so happens that this "beheading" of Aquarius takes place when Virgo is setting in the west, and Aquarius is rising in the east:

Above, the line of the horizon is seen as a dark "arc" at the bottom of the screen, as we look to the south (from an observation point in the northern hemisphere). We can see the constellation Virgo, playing the role of the daughter of Herodias, dancing at the right-side of the sky (in the west). In the east, we see Aquarius, rising up -- and again in his peculiar pitched-forward or "stooped down" posture. His head is basically "trailing" the rest of his body as he rises -- and when he is actually coming up out of the horizon, his head will still be below the horizon as his body rises up (I have indicated the motion his constellation takes as it rises by adding a little blue arrow on the screen image).

This added episode should confirm the celestial foundations of the John the Baptist story, and his identification with Aquarius. 

But there is still more in this incredibly rich Bible story. Recall that the gospel texts make clear that John was conceived six months before the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, and that he thus "goes before" Jesus by six months as well. If we turn to our zodiac wheel, familiar from many previous posts such as this one, we will observe that it is divided into twelve segments, and that this means that two players who are "six months" apart will "mirror" each other as they go around the annual circuit:

Thus, John the Baptist is in many ways the "opposite" or the "dark twin" of Jesus. This is no doubt the celestial source of the famous quotation from John when he says of Jesus, "He must increase but I must decrease" (John 3:30), and possibly also the declaration by John that "He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me" (John 1:15). When two zodiac constellations or zodiac signs are opposed as shown above, it will mean that when one sign is rising or "increasing," the other will be descending or "decreasing." 

Of course, as with all the ancient scriptures and sacred myths of humanity, this passage (and all the episodes above) contain profound esoteric and spiritual truths, in addition to the specific celestial connections discussed here. But it is very difficult to deny that these specific details in the texts appear to be pointing the way to the conclusion that these episodes and characters have a celestial origin.

The implications of this discovery are profound. For one, this common celestial foundation which can be discovered in the stories of the Bible links those scriptures to the myths of the rest of humanity, which can also be shown to operate on the same celestial foundation. For another, the existence of this common system, with very specific details which can be shown to be in common across very broad geographic distances and even across vast stretches of time, argues that the ancient history of the human race may be very different from what we are taught by the conventional academic narrative.

And, the existence of this incredible system of celestial metaphor across all the myths of the world argues that these myths are trying to tell us something very important. I believe they are conveying ancient truths about the nature of our universe and of human existence, and that an understanding of their celestial and allegorical nature is extremely helpful in allowing us to perceive that profound message.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The death of Sitting Bull

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

On this day, December 15th, in the year 1890, the Lakota holy man Tatanka Iyotanke -- Sitting Bull -- was killed.

He was killed during a surprise pre-dawn arrest at the Standing Rock Agency, where he had been allowed to live after two years of imprisonment following his surrender. 

Sitting Bull had been one of the last leaders to hold out against being forced to abandon the traditional ways of his people and consent to being forced to live on an agency by the representatives of the government of the US, after the shameful and deceptive violation of treaty after treaty by the same government of the US. 

The most important of the treaties which the US government blatantly reneged upon was the treaty of 1868, described in this previous post, which was inked before a military expedition led by George Custer in 1874 confirmed the reports of gold in the sacred Black Hills region -- after which the US government completely changed its tune and basically sought to remove any opposition to their seizure of the lands that had been granted in the treaty of 1868. 

That objective led to the ultimatum signed by President Grant ordering all Indians onto agencies prior to a stated deadline of January 31, 1876. When runners carrying this message came to Sitting Bull's camp, he politely said he didn't feel like it just then, perhaps he would consider the idea sometime in the future. He also returned the similar demands sent to him by General Custer, along with the message that he did not want to fight but to be left alone. 

During the spring and early summer of 1876, more and more Lakota and members of allied nations left the reservations to join Sitting Bull and the other leaders who had not come in. In the big Sun Dance held along the Rosebud in early June of 1876, Sitting Bull danced for eighteen hours straight -- into the night and all through the next morning -- and ultimately went into a trance or unconscious state in which he was granted a vision of US army soldiers falling into his camp "like grasshoppers," with their heads down and their hats falling off, and a voice declaring "I give you these because they have no ears." 

This vision electrified the gathered warriors, who subsequently defeated Custer's attack in late June and annihilated most of his forces, at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

After that battle, Sitting Bull continued to lead a band who refused to go in to the agencies for five years, through bitter winters and diminishing access to buffalo and the means of survival, and finally hunger and cold forced him to give up his dream of continuing the old way of life and surrender to agents of the US.

In Crazy Horse and Custer (1975), Stephen A. Ambrose describes the shameful treatment that he received after his surrender in 1881:
He was held prisoner at Fort Randall, South Dakota, for two years; in 1883 he was allowed to join the Hunkpapas at Standing Rock Agency in North Dakota. There he and his people began to starve because of government neglect. Sitting Bull rose to address one set of stuffed-shirt commissioners from Washington and said, "It is your own doing that I am here; you sent me here and advised me to live as you do, and it is not right for me to live in poverty." Senator John A. Logan of Illinois told him to sit down, that he had no right to speak, because he had "no following, no power, no control, and no right to control." 480.
In October of 1890, Sitting Bull joined the Ghost Dance movement, which was spreading through the western Sioux and which taught that by performing a five-day ritual dance which involved inducing trance-conditions, spirits of the departed would be moved to return from the west, driving the whites from the Native American lands, and initiating a time of peace and plenty and a return to the old ways. The dancing and the fervor that the Ghost Dance religion incited greatly worried the government agents in charge of the agencies, who generally opposed it and in some cases tried to limit it or suppress it as much as they could.

As James Mooney (1861 - 1921) explains in his detailed contemporary examination of the Ghost Dance religion and the subsequent massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890 (which was connected to the US government's suppression of the Ghost Dance), the Ghost Dance leader Mato Wanatake -- Kicking Bear -- came to the Standing Rock agency on October 09, 1890 at the invitation of Sitting Bull to inaugurate the dance there. 

Mooney states that although the agents in charge of the various reservations were against the Ghost Dance itself, they did not see it as a precursor to violence. In fact, in May of 1890, a settler living in Pierre, South Daktoa had sent a letter to the Secretary of the Interior John Willock Noble saying that he had information that the Sioux were secretly planning a violent outbreak, but when this letter was forwarded to the agents on the various agencies, "They promptly and unanimously replied that there was no ground for apprehension, that the Indians were peaceably disposed, and that there was no undue excitement beyond that occasioned by the rumors of a messiah in the west" (813).

Describing Agent James McCloughlin of the Standing Rock agency, where Sitting Bull was living in 1890, Mooney says:
McLaughlin, the veteran agent of Standing Rock, who probably knew the Sioux better than any other white man having official relations with them, states that among his people there was nothing in word or action to justify such a suspicion, and that he did not believe such an imprudent step was seriously contemplated by any of the tribe, and concludes by saying that he has every confidence in the good intentions of the Sioux as a people, that they would not be the aggressors in any hostile act, and that if justice were only done them no uneasiness need be entertained. He complains, however, of the evil influence exercised by Sitting Bull and a few other malcontents attached to his agency and advises their removal from among the Indians. 843 - 844.
However, in the same year (1890), official records indicate that the beef ration issued to the American Indians on the reservation, who were now dependent on the US government for their food having been denied their previous way of life, was cut by more than 50% of the levels that were stipulated in the treaties and that had been issued in the previous years (Mooney 845). At the Pine Ridge agency, Mooney reports that after repeated requests brought no change, "at last in the summer of 1890 the Indians at Pine Ridge made the first actual demonstration by refusing to accept the deficient issue and making threats against the agent" (845). 

At the same time, the Ghost Dance was spreading amidst these conditions of hopelessness and frustration, first among the agencies located to the south of the Standing Rock agency where Sitting Bull and the Hunkpapa were located, and the agents began to become alarmed and order it to stop. While they obeyed at first, one of the Lakota Ghost Dance leaders, Tatanka Ptecela (Short Bull) of the Sicangu or Brule said that, due to the interference with what they saw as their proper affairs, the time of the arrival of the spirit host would be moved forward, that the dancers from the various agencies should meet at a single location to assist the process by dancing all together, and that the dancing should continue even if soldiers were brought in to stop it (849). 

The arrival in October of the Ghost Dance leader Kicking Bear at the Standing Rock agency where he joined with Sitting Bull in initiating the dance there alarmed some of the agents still further. In response, Agent McCloughlin went in person to Sitting Bull, and in the words of Mooney "attempted to reason with the Indians on the absurdity of their beliefs. In reply, Sitting Bull proposed that they should both go with competent attendants to the country of the messiah and see and question him for themselves" (849). Mooney tersely explains, "The proposition was not accepted" (849).

Feeling that the situation was getting out of control, some of the less experienced agents began petitioning the War Department for federal troops, and in November of 1890 troops were dispatched from western forts to each of the agencies. Alarmed and in fear of an impending massacre, Kicking Bear, Short Bull, and others departed at the first appearance of the troops for the Badlands region located between the Pine Ridge and Rose Bud agencies and the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock agencies:

Mooney states that: "From the concurrent testimony of all the witnesses, including Indian Commissioner Morgan and the Indians themselves, this flight to the Bad Lands was not properly a hostile movement, but was a stampede caused by panic at the appearance of troops" (851 - 852). Commissioner Morgan notes that they took with them their women and children, and that during the flight to the Badlands, "no warlike demonstrations were made, no violence was done to any white settlers, nor was there any cohesion or organization among the Indians themselves" (cited in Mooney, 852).

Sitting Bull was still at his cabin home within the bounds of the Standing Rock agency. Mooney reports that Agent McLaughlin of the Standing Rock agency, "within whose jurisdiction he was," stated in writing as of November 22 that Sitting Bull did not need to be arrested at that time, but that they could afford to wait to see what would happen and arrest him later if necessary (852), but the federal military authorities had now preempted his authority and on December 12 the military order was given to Colonel William Drum to personally supervise the arrest, and to act in coordination with Agent McLaughlin (855). 

Mooney relates what happened next:
On consultation between the commandant and the agent, who were in full accord, it was decided to make the arrest on the 20th, when most of the Indians would be down at the agency for rations, and there would consequently be less danger of a conflict at the camp. On the 14th, however, late Sunday afternoon, a courier came from Grand river with a message from Mr. Carignan, the teacher of the Indian school, sating, on information given by the police, that an invitation had just come from Pine Ridge to Sitting Bull asking him to go there, as God was about to appear. Sitting Bull was determined to go, and sent a request to the agent for permission, but in the meantime had completed preparations to go anyhow in case permission was refused. With this intention it was further stated that he had his horses already selected for a long and hard ride, and the police urgently asked to be allowed to arrest him at once, as it would be a difficult matter to overtake him after he had once started. 
It was necessary to act immediately, and arrangements were made between Colonel Drum and Agent McLaughlin to attempt the arrest at daylight the next morning, December 15. The arrest was to be made by the Indian police, assisted, if necessary, by a detachment of troops, who were to follow within supporting distance. 855.
Forty-three agency policemen (Native Americans) and about 100 troops of the 8th Cavalry along with a Hotchkiss gun arrived at Sitting Bull's camp just before daybreak. Mooney narrates:
At daybreak on Monday morning, December 15, 1890, the police and volunteers, 43 in number, under command of Lieutenant Bull Head, a cool and reliable man, surrounded Sitting Bull's house. He had two log cabins, a few rods apart, and to make sure of their man, eight of the police entered one house and ten went into the other, while the rest remained on guard outside. They found him asleep on the floor in the larger house. He was aroused and told he was a prisoner and must go to the agency. He made no objection, but said "All right; I will dress and go with you." He then sent one of his wives to the other house for some clothes he desired to wear, and asked to have his favorite horse saddled for him to ride, which was done by one of the police. On looking about the room two rifles and several knives were found and taken by the police. While dressing, he apparently changed his mind and began abusing the police for disturbing him, to which they made no reply. While this was going on inside, his followers, to the number of perhaps 150, were congregating about the house outside and by the time he was dressed an excited crowd of Indians had the police entirely surrounded and were pressing them to the wall. On being brought out, Sitting Bull became greatly excited and refused to go, and called on his followers to rescue him. Lieutenant Bull Head and Sergeant Shave Head were standing on each side of him, with Second Sergeant Red Tomahawk guarding behind, while the rest of the police were trying to clear the way in front, when one of Sitting Bull's followers, Catch-the-Bear, fired and shot Lieutenant Bull Head in the side. Bull Head at once turned and sent a bullet into the body of Sitting Bull, who was also shot through the head at the same moment by Red Tomahawk. 857.
Thus ended the earthly sojourn of Tatanka Iyotanke.

He was shot during an arrest made to prevent him from making a visit to the Pine Ridge agency, a visit he had asked official permission through proper channels to be allowed to make, ostensibly for religious purposes.  

Mooney reflects upon the significance of his life:
Thus died Tata'nke I'yota'nke, Sitting Bull, the great medicine-man of the Sioux, on the morning of December 15, 1890, aged about 56 years. He belonged to the Uncpapa division of the Teton Sioux. Although a priest rather than a chief, he had gained a reputation in his early years by organizing and leading war parties, and became prominent by his participation in the battle of the Little Bighorn, in Montana, on June 25, 1876, by which Custer's command was wiped out of existence. Being pursued by General Terry, Sitting Bull and his band made their escape northward into Canada, where they remained until 1881, when he surrendered, through the mediation of the Canadian authorities, on a promise of pardon. To obtain subsistence while in Canada, his people had been obliged to sell almost all they possessed, including their firearms, so that they returned to their old homes in an impoverished condition. After confinement as a prisoner of war until 1883, Sitting Bull took up his residence on Grand river, where he remained until he met his death. Here he continued to be the leader of the opposition to civilization and the white man, and his camp became the rallying point for the dissatisfied conservative element that clung to the old order of things, and felt that innovation meant the destruction of their race. For seven years he had steadily opposed the treaty by which the great Sioux reservation was at last broken up in 1889. After the treaty had been signed by the requisite number to make it a law, he was asked by a white man what the Indians thought about it. With a burst of passionate indignation he replied, "Indians! There are no Indians left now but me." However misguided he may have been in thus continuing a losing fight against the inevitable, it is possible that from the Indian point of view he may have been their patriot as he was their high priest. He has been mercilessly denounced as a bad man and a liar; but there can be no doubt that he was honest in his hatred of the withes, and his breaking of the peace pipe, saying that he "wanted to fight and wanted to die," showed that he was no coward. But he represented the past. His influence was incompatible with progress, and his death marks an era in the civilization of the Sioux. In the language of General Miles, "His tragic fate was but the ending of a tragic life. Since the days of Pontiac, Tecumseh, and Red Jacket no Indian has had the power of drawing to him so large a following of his race and molding and wielding it against the authority of the United States, or of inspiring it with greater animosity against the white race and civilization." 860 - 861.
Mooney's defense of Sitting Bull was, as he says in the passage above, unusual at the time that he was writing (1895 or 1896 -- it was published in 1896), at a time when Sitting Bull was often being "mercilessly denounced." 

Nevertheless, while seeing very clearly the tragedy of Sitting Bull's life and its mirroring of the tragedy of the destruction of his people's way of life, the above passage does indicate some of the ways that Mooney himself may have rationalized to himself the clearly criminal actions that were employed against the Lakota and the other American Indians whom Mooney himself clearly respected and whose way of life Mooney shows clear appreciation for throughout his writings. Mooney explicitly states that the destruction of the Native American way of life was "inevitable" and that their way of life was basically "incompatible with progress." 

Both of these excuses can be seen as a way of attempting to rationalize or soften or veil the raw injustice of the genocide that was inflicted upon the Native American culture during this period of history. An atrocity cannot be excused by an appeal to fictional fabrications such as "inevitability" or "progress." This is a revealing example of what I believe can be broadly labeled "mind control," using an ideology to mask violation of what would normally be recognized as criminal violations or atrocities, and even getting people to condone these violations and atrocities and say that they are actually excusable or even commendable.

General Miles reveals another example which he apparently used himself, to help him to rationalize these crimes: "civilization." According to this concept, the rights of the Native Americans apparently had to be trampled upon because their rights were getting in the way of "civilization."

While Agent McLaughlin, who comes across in Mooney's account as a fairly sympathetic individual, one who did not believe in the need for federal troops to be deployed nor for the arrest of Sitting Bull during the time that others were fleeing to the Badlands, described Sitting Bull as a "malcontent" who had an "evil influence" over "other malcontents," it is not apparent that Sitting Bull actually violated natural universal law in any of the main outlines of his life. The actual resistance by the Lakota and other nations to the incursions of the army which culminated in the annihilation of Custer and his forces at the Little Bighorn can and should be seen as a justifiable resistance to an armed invasion, by troops who had perpetrated numerous massacres of women and children in surprise attacks on villages throughout their campaigns to drive the Native Americans onto reservations. What is more, the invasions were in clear violation of actual treaties and promises made by the US government to the Sioux.

His refusal to be forced onto a reservation after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and his flight with others who felt the same way (including large numbers of women and children, who suffered terribly in the severe winters as they fled north to Canada to escape the pursuing US forces), was also not in violation of natural law: those who were trying to basically imprison him on an agency and reduce his status to that of a dependent were actually the ones in violation of natural law. His imprisonment for two years after his surrender, in which part of the terms of his surrender included a "pardon," can also be seen as a violation of his natural law rights.

Finally, his surprise arrest in the predawn hours on the morning of December 15th, to prevent him from leaving on a journey for which he had already submitted a permission request, on suspicion that he would "go anyhow in case permission was refused" and on the grounds that "it would be a difficult matter to overtake him after he had once started" can also be seen as fairly questionable.

And, while the tenets of the Ghost Dance movement did include the arrival of supernatural events which would remove the invading settlers and government forces from the lands they had taken from the American Indian, and to restore the conditions they had enjoyed before that invasion and all its horrible consequences, there is no indication that the Ghost Dance practitioners were preparing to assist the spirits by their own use of force -- and in fact every indication that they were not in any way preparing to do so, including the written account of contemporary observers at the time.

The sending in of the federal troops which so alarmed the Lakota who had been forcibly confined to the reservations (and who had every reason to be very uncomfortable at such a development and to fear for their lives when the troops arrived) can be seen as a "solution" to a problem caused by unjust actions by the US government itself: their ordering of the dancing to stop, and, even more of a problem, the government's sudden and severe reduction of the rations they were issuing to the Indians whom they had turned into their dependents -- all clear violations of natural law.

The bigger picture is clear: the tragic end of the life of Tatanke Iyotanke reflected the tragic fate of his people, a tragedy he declared to be wrong, and which he faced with dignified resistance.

Long before the Battle of the Little Bighorn, when the Oregon Trail which ran through Lakota territory began to be more heavily traveled in the years following the discovery of gold in California in 1848-1849 and some of the Sioux began to crave whiskey, coffee, sugar, baked goods, metal implements, and guns and to settle along the Oregon Trail in order to trade pelts or other items for these products of western civilization, Sitting Bull already saw the danger. In Crazy Horse and Custer, Stephen Ambrose relates:
When Crazy Horse was still a small boy, the not-yet-famous Sitting Bull, a Hunkpapa Sioux, urged his people to leave the Oregon Trail and withdraw to the ways of their ancestors. "I don't want to have anything to do with people who make one carry water on the shoulders and haul manure," Sitting Bull declared. "The whites may get me at last, but I will have good times till then. You are fools to make yourselves slaves to a piece of fat bacon, some hardtack, and a little sugar and coffee." 17.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Heart of Everything That Is

Now is an outstanding time of year to view what is sometimes referred to as the "Winter Circle" of dazzling stars, which includes Sirius (in Canis Major), Procyon (in Canis Minor), Menkalinan and Capella (in Auriga), and the Twins of Castor and Pollux (in Gemini). 

The Winter Circle was previously discussed in a post from 2011, which you can find here.

Now that the moon is declining towards the New Moon of December 22, it will be less and less of a factor in the night sky (it will rise later and later in the "wee hours" of the morning, or closer and closer to dawn, and as it does so it will also grow thinner and thinner), enabling you to really observe the starry sky in all its glory -- and the glorious constellations of winter are at center stage, featuring mighty Orion and the surrounding arc of bright stars mentioned above.

Below is an image from showing Orion and the stars of the Winter Circle, as they appear to an observer in the northern hemisphere around thirty-five degrees north latitude:

You can clearly make out the silvery band of the Milky Way, running up and to the right in the above image, almost through the center of the screen. Nearly half-way up the Milky Way band, look for the three distinctive stars of Orion's belt, in a tight line angled up and to the right. Following the line of these three stars and extending that line down and to the left you will find Sirius, which is labeled, and which is depicted as the largest star on the above chart, because it is the brightest star in our sky (other than the sun, of course). 

From Sirius, you can then trace the arc of stars named above, beginning at Sirius and moving clockwise up to Procyon (also labeled), Pollux and Castor (only Pollux is labeled but Castor is very close, up and to the right from Pollux in the screen above), then Menkalinan and Capella (only Capella is labeled, but Menkalinan is the star you come to first as you arc from Pollux and Castor towards Capella in a clockwise direction). From Capella, you can also cross the Milky Way again and find the gorgeous cluster of the Pleiades (not labeled on the above chart, but more on them in a moment).

This circle of brilliant stars is sacred to the Lakota, and are part of the area of the sky known as "The Heart of Everything That Is." The circle just described was also connected to the concept of the Sacred Hoop, discussed in this previous post. The celestial component of this sacred concept is discussed at length in a book entitled Lakota Star Knowledge, written by Ronald Goodman with help from many Lakota wisdom keepers, and with appendices which quote teachings preserved by Charlotte A. Black Elk.

The book is published by Sinte Gleska University which strives to perpetuate the values associated with the four Lakota virtues of the Lakota medicine wheel and Sacred Hoop, as explained on the back cover of the book. It is a book which those interested in this subject will want to have in hardcopy. 

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

As described in the vision of Black Elk, the Sacred Hoop consists of a sacred circle which contains the horizontal road and the vertical road (see discussion in this previous post and this previous post), a pattern which is also very reminiscent of the zodiac wheel crossed by the horizontal line between the equinoxes and the vertical line between the solstices:

Ronald Goodman's book explains that the circle of stars now visible in the night sky make this same Sacred Hoop pattern of a circle divided by two perpendicular lines. The two lines are envisioned as being generated by the line created by the belt of Orion (these stars are known as Tayamni by the Lakota) which can be seen as extending to Sirius in one direction and to the Pleiades in the other direction, and by the line perpendicular to that line which is created by extending the imagined line running between the two bright stars Betelgeuse (in Orion's shoulder) and Rigel (in his foot):

Above, I have sketched in the outline of a rough circle which connects the circle of stars: Sirius to Procyon to Pollux and Castor to Menkalinan and Capella to the Pleiades to Rigel and then back to Sirius. Within it, I have created dashed-lines which cross perpendicular to one another: one line along the line suggested by the belt stars and extending all the way to Sirius in the lower-left and to the Pleiades in the upper-right, and another running from Rigel to Betegeuse (and which can be imagined as continuing through all the way to the other side of the hoop from there).

This diagram is based on those drawn in the Ronald Goodman book in numerous places: I have just chosen to draw it on the stars as seen in the night sky using the image from It is hoped that this will help readers to go outside and actually locate this important set of stars.

Perhaps the most remarkable information expressed by Ronald Goodman and the Lakota wisdom keepers he quotes in the book is the fact that this celestial Sacred Hoop has a corresponding reflection on the earth, which the Lakota have recognized since time immemorial -- from before the horse arrived -- and that they would move to specific points on the terrestrial Sacred Hoop at specific times during the year, to reflect on earth the patterns of the stars in heaven, the motion of those stars through the year, and especially the rising of the sun in the different points along its ecliptic path as the earth progresses through its own annual cycle.

The reflection of the celestial Sacred Hoop was found on earth in the region of the Black Hills, or Paha Sapa in the language of the Lakota (I believe that this means "Black Hills").

Below is a diagram based on some of the terrestrial points in this Sacred Hoop, as explained in the book and drawn in some diagrams in the book -- I have chosen to use Google Maps with the "terrain" overlay, to show some of these points in a way that will enable us to visualize these sacred sites as we look at the map:

The first point labeled on the map above, identified with the numeral "1." and a small black arrow pointing to the right (difficult to see clearly at this resolution, but it is pointing to the right) is Inyan Kaga, also called Harney Peak, a very sacred site to the Lakota and one which is central to the vision of Black Elk and to the story of his life which he relates in Black Elk Speaks. The book by Ronald Goodman seems to indicate that Harney Peak is also called Opaha Ta I. This sacred mountain corresponds to the Pleiades, or Wicincala Sakowin.

The second point labeled on the map above, identified with the numeral "2." and a black rectangular outline, contains three peaks in a near-perfect line, pointing towards Harney Peak -- just as the three stars of Orion's Belt (Tamanyi) point to the Pleiades (Wicincala Sakowin). Below, some "zoomed-in" maps will show this in greater detail.

The third point labeled on the map above, identified with the numeral "3." and an small black arrow pointing down, corresponds to Pe Sla, the center of the Black Hills -- an area now labeled as Reynolds Valley on maps.

The fourth point labeled on the map above, identified with the numeral "4." and a small black arrow pointing down, corresponds to Mato Paha, or Bear Butte. This site appears to have been considered the terrestrial reflection of the point marked by the star Capella in the celestial Sacred Hoop.

The fifth and final point labeled on the map above, identified with the numeral "5." and a small black arrow pointing down, is Mato Tipila Paha, or Devil's Tower. This majestic geological formation was considered to be associated with the constellation of Gemini, and the summer solstice. Note that on the zodiac wheel diagram above which I believe can be seen to correspond in many ways to the Sacred Hoop, the sign of Gemini is located immediately before the point of summer solstice. Lakota Star Knowledge explains that prior to summer solstice, all the Lakota would converge on Devil's Tower, for an important gathering which included the most important Sun Dance of the year.

It should be noted that the Sacred Hoop in the sky as shown in my Stellarium diagram must be rotated in order to correspond to the sacred terrain of the Black Hills: the line running from the rectangle at "2." to the Inyan Kaga (Harney Peak) at "1." corresponds to the dashed-line running up and to the right in the star chart, from Orion's belt to the Pleiades.

Below is a closer "zoom" into the area containing Tayamni (Orion's belt) on the terrain:

In this map, we are still "far enough out" that you can see Inyan Kaga (Harney Peak), indicated by the small black arrow to the lower-right of the larger rectangle. If you imagine three peaks within that rectangle, aligned in such a way that they create a mental line pointing to Harney Peak, then you can see that Orion's belt in this map will point "down and to the right" to get to the Pleiades (represented by Harney Peak).

Below, we zoom-in on the area in the black rectangle from the map above:

You should be able to plainly see the three stars of "Orion's belt" -- they are marked with the "hourglass" symbol of a "cone inverted over a cone," which Ronald Goodman explains in his book should be thought of as a vortex over a vortex: the upper vortex being the star and the reflected vortex below representing "the related earth site" (page 2 of the book). I have placed the double-vortex star symbols just below and slightly to the left of each mountain on the terrain map: hopefully you can make out the three peaks, pointing in a line towards Harney Peak (which is not visible in this map, but would be located off the map, down and to the right -- see map immediately above this one).

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the sacred Black Hills to the Lakota. Their movement throughout the year to the various sites were seen as participation in the renewal of the world. Appendix D of the book contains words from Charlotte A. Black Elk, in which she says that the pattern of movement through the sites in the Black Hills is "traces the renewal of creation and the spiritual regeneration of the Lakota" (50).

Later, she says:
We say that Wakan Tanka created the Heart of Everything That Is to show us that we have a special relationship with our first and real mother, the earth, and that there are responsibilities tied to this relationship. Wakan Tanka placed the stars in a manner so what is in the heavens is on earth, what is on earth is in the heavens, in the same way. When we pray in this manner, what is done in the skies is done on earth, in the same way. Together, all of creation participates in the ceremonies each year.
[. . .]
So, tonight, walk outside and look up. See the Black Hills Sacred Ceremonies of Spring, and you will understand and know why this place is special and stands first among all places of Maka. And return, in the manner the Lakota have done for thousands of years, to the Heart of Everything That Is, to the heart of our home and the home of our heart. 52.
There is much to contemplate deeply in these things. I hope that if you are able to do so you can go outside at this time of year, and observe the stars, and as you do so you can reflect upon the Sacred Hoop and the Heart of Everything That Is.