Thursday, November 3, 2011

Capella, precession, and the end of the Golden Age

In the previous post, we discussed a method for locating the constellation Auriga the Charioteer in the sky, as well as his connection to the myth of Phaethon. We also cited the authors of Hamlet's Mill concerning the deep importance of this myth, and its apparent connection with the end of the mythical "Golden Age" that appears in so many legends around the world.

The passages cited may be a little mysterious (it often seems as though the authors of Hamlet's Mill are deliberately mysterious), so a little more elaboration may perhaps be in order.

In Chapter XIX, Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend devote an entire chapter to the myth of Phaethon and its importance. They explain that the myth of Phaethon is clearly connected to the Milky Way, and they cite many ancient poets who explain that the dusty white path of the Milky Way across the sky represents the "burned over" region made by Phaethon in his rash and disastrous attempt to drive the Chariot of the Sun.

In the passages which follow, keep in mind that the term "the Galaxy" is used interchangeably with the more familiar term "the Milky Way" to indicate the visible phenomenon we see from our vantage point on earth as we look "edge-on" at the galaxy we live in, which at night is seen as that visible glowing white band guarded by Scorpio and Sagittarius on one end, and Gemini and Cancer on the other, as we discuss in this previous post and this previous post.

On page 258, they tell us "The Galaxy was and remains the belt connecting North and South, above and below." As we saw in those two previous posts, this path was linked in many cultures to the way between the realm of the living and the dead (with the South representing the world of the dead, and the souls of the dead going to the realm of Scorpio to pass into the world of the dead, and coming out again to be reborn in the north). This is what de Santillana and von Dechend mean when they say "North and South, above and below."

The authors continue:
The Galaxy was and remains the belt connecting North and South, above and below. But in the Golden Age, when the vernal equinox was in Gemini, the autumnal equinox was in Sagittarius, the Milky Way had represented a visible equinoctial colure; a rather blurred one, to be true, but the celestial North and South were connected by this uninterrupted broad arch which intersected the ecliptic at its crossroads with the equator. The three great axes were united, the galactic avenue embracing the "three worlds" of the gods, the living and the dead. This "golden" situation was gone, and to Eridanus was bequeathed the galactial function of linking up the "inhabited world" with the abode of the dead in the (partly) invisible South. Auriga had to take over the northern obligations of the Galaxy, connecting the inhabited world with the region of the gods as well as possible. There was no longer a visible continuous bond fettering together immortals, living and dead: Kronos alone had lived among men in glorious peace. 258-259.
This is significant indeed, and the reader who has taken the time to locate Auriga as described in the previous post is now in a position to understand it, and a lot more besides. As shown in the diagram at top, the authors are referring to the Age of Gemini as the Golden Age, when the Galaxy or the visible Milky Way stretched from the constellation that had its heliacal rise on the spring equinox (Gemini) to the constellation that had its heliacal rise on the autumnal equinox (Sagittarius).

As can be seen from the rough sketch of the situation above, the sun is rising in Gemini on the Spring Equinox in the Golden Age, and Orion is rising as well (as we have seen, Orion is associated with Osiris and with the ruler of the Golden Age who retires beneath the waters).

The phenomenon of precession, however, delays the rising of the constellations over a very long period of time (over the course of an Age), as we have also discussed before. Over time, the preceding constellation in the zodiac will take over the heliacal rising on the spring equinox (hence the term "precession"). In this case, Taurus will take over from Gemini (you can clearly see in the diagram that Taurus precedes Gemini in the nightly turning of the constellations through the sky, as this diagram is looking east at the constellations rising, and Taurus is visible above Gemini; if you go out tonight and find them, you will discover that you can see Taurus rising long before Gemini rises into sight).

Below is an illustration of the Age of Taurus, when the sun is now rising in Taurus on the spring equinox instead of Gemini (which has been delayed -- held beneath the surface of the earth, metaphorically speaking).

Note that because of the position of the constellations in the sky, it is possible to see Auriga as "taking over" for Gemini, and to see Taurus as "taking over" from Orion (or rather, usurping Orion's position, as it was more often encoded in mythology). Strictly speaking, Taurus took over from Gemini, because the path of the ecliptic rises at an angle (an angle related to one's latitude, as discussed in this previous post). However, mythologically speaking, we find Auriga and Orion playing roles in the stories which the ancients used to preserve the record of this mighty shift from Gemini to Taurus.

De Santillana and von Dechend go further in presenting evidence that this celestial phenomenon is exactly what is being encoded in the myths surrounding Auriga. They delve into the mythological connections of Auriga's brightest star, Capella, which we mentioned in the previous post as being the sixth-brightest star in the entire sky (after Sirius, Canopus, alpha Centauri, Arcturus, and Vega).

They note that the name "Capella" means "female goat" or "she-goat" in Latin. As you can see from the nineteenth-century constellation diagram for Auriga shown below, Capella was associated with a she-goat, and the two small stars nearby (which H.A. Rey uses to form the very base of the nose of the Charioteer instead, using Capella pretty much as an eye) were thought of as her kids (and named Hoedus I and Hoedus II, which is Latin for a goat-kid).

What could this possibly have to do with the end of the Golden Age and the precessional shift from Gemini to Taurus? Well, bear in mind that this shift separated the equinoctial colure (there is much more on the colures, what they are and how they function, in the actual book the Mathisen Corollary) from the Milky Way, removing the pathway and ending the "golden" condition in which the realms were connected and gods and man dwelt in harmony, according to de Santillana and von Dechend.

They note that this famous star, named for a she-goat, is associated in mythology with none other than the remarkable goat Amaltheia, who nursed the infant Zeus in a cave on Mount Ida (where his mother Rhea hid him from Kronos, who was swallowing all his children), and out of whose skin the mighty Aegis worn by Zeus was later fashioned. From her two horns came Nectar and Ambrosia (the food of the gods).

The authors cite "two shreds of Orphic tradition which seem to be revealing, both handed down to us by Proclus" (259). This is what they say:
The first says that Demeter separated the food of the gods, splitting it up, as it were into a liquid and a solid "part," that is, into Ambrosia and Nectar. The second declares that Rhea became Demeter after she had borne Zeus. [. . .] Demeter, when she "arrived," split up the two kinds of divine food having its source in alpha Aurigae. In other words, it is possible that these traditions about Demeter refer to the decisive shifting of the equinoctial colure to alpha Aurigae. 259.
This is all de Santillana and von Dechend will say here, but the idea of "separating" is clearly related to the major shift in the heavens which they just described (which severed the equinoxes from the Galaxy arch). The transformation of Rhea into Demeter at the birth of Zeus could clearly be connected with the end of the reign of Kronos at the end of the Golden Age, which is one mythological encapsulation of the end of the Age of Gemini.

Thus, the constellation of Auriga is important indeed, as is its most prominent star, alpha Aurigae or Capella. It is important in conjunction with the other constellations close to it in the sky, most prominently Gemini, Taurus, and Orion.

It is also interesting to note as an aside that the concept of the "horn of plenty" or "cornucopia" that is associated with Thanksgiving in the United States probably has its origin in the horns of Amaltheia the miraculous she-goat.

It is also interesting, in light of the fact that the she-goat found in the constellation of the Charioteer has two kids, that the Norse god Thor drove a chariot pulled by two young goats.