Sunday, December 9, 2012

The extra-zodiacal decans in macrocosm and microcosm

The previous post examined the assertion of John Anthony West that the most ancient teachings as found in the sacred texts of many different ancient cultures:
are all basically the same -- I mean they take it as a premise, as a given, that we human beings are not accidental glitches in an accidental universe, but that rather we have a specific role to play, which is the acquisition of a level of consciousness that we are not born with, but that we have the potential to reach, and this is what in Egypt is called the "Doctrine of Immortality" and what in other civilizations is called Samadhi or Nirvana or whatever -- I mean, different names for it -- but basically it's the same doctrine: that we're here for a reason, and that if we don't pursue that path, then we do so at our peril.
What "the acquisition of a level of consciousness that we are not born with" actually means in practice is, of course, a deep question beyond the scope of any blog post (or, in fact, any blog), but if all the doctrines of the ancients dealt with this subject, that might be a good place to look for guidance in that direction.

Previous posts have also discussed the work of Jeremy Naydler, another philosopher who, like John Anthony West, goes beyond the comfortable boundaries within which conventional academic thought seeks to confine ancient Egypt (and ancient mankind in general).  In his collection of essays entitled The Future of the Ancient World (2009), Dr. Naydler uses a phrase which seems to resonate with and help to shed light upon the concepts John Anthony West is exploring above.  In his essay "Ancient Egypt and Modern Esotericism" (based upon a talk given in 2003), Jeremy Naydler says:
The ancient Egyptians understood that to become enlightened one must become aware of that which is cosmic in one's own nature.  One must realize that there is something deep within human nature that is essentially not of this earth, but is a cosmic principle.  143.
This in turn points to the work of Santos Bonacci, discussed in this previous post, who has assimilated a vast amount of wisdom literature from ancient, medieval, Renaissance, and modern sources (many of the modern sources from earlier centuries in the "modern era") and presented it in a clear and systematic manner in his lecturesand diagrams.  Many of these lectures unpack the ancient teachings on becoming aware of "that which is cosmic in one's own nature," including the teachings that each individual is a reflection of the cosmos, that each person is in fact a microcosm, simultaneously containing an entire cosmos within the individual while reflecting and responding to the motions of the macrocosm of earth, sun, moon, stars, and planets around him (or her).

The diagram above is an adaptation of one of the many excellent diagrams that Santos uses in his lectures, this one depicting the relationship between the constellations in the sky and the microcosm of the human body.  It not only shows the constellations along the ecliptic path (the zodiac constellations, listed in red because the ecliptic was conceived as a ring of fire by the ancients, according to Hertha von Dechend and Giorgio de Santillana in Hamlet's Mill) but also the three "extra-zodiacal constellations" associated in esoteric wisdom traditions with each of the twelve zodiac signs.  These are shown in blue letters, and are arranged on either side of the red ecliptic plane (dotted red line) to indicate whether these extra-zodiacal constellations are located on the north or the south of the ecliptic.

The extra-zodiacal associations used in that diagram come from a book by Joseph Augustus Seiss (1823-1904) a Lutheran minister and theologian, and an author of many works now categorized as "pyramidology" by conventional academics.  Without agreeing with all of his conclusions and assertions, I have long been a fan of his Miracle in Stone, or the Great Pyramid of Egypt (1877).  

The extra-zodiacal associations shown above, however, are from a later work by Joseph Seiss, entitled Gospel in the Stars (1884).  He calls them by another ancient word as well -- "decans," because there are three of them for each of the twelve zodiac signs which divide the entire three hundred sixty degrees of the heavens.  If three hundred sixty degrees are equally divided by twelve signs, those twelve signs have thirty degrees apiece, so that a conceptual division of each sign into three equal parts would yield ten degrees each -- hence the term "decan."

As laid out in the Gospel in the Stars of Joseph Seiss (and shown in the diagram above), the decans or extra-zodiacal constellations associated with each sign are:
  • Aries: Cassiopeia, Cetus, and Perseus
  • Taurus: Orion, River Eridanus, and Auriga
  • Gemini: Lepus, Canis Major, and Canis Minor
  • Cancer: Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, and Argo Navis (Argo the Ship)
  • Leo: Hydra, Crater, and Corvus
  • Virgo: Coma, Centaurus, and Bo├Âtes the Herdsman
  • Libra: Southern Cross, Northern Crown, and the Victim of the Centaur (usually seen as a wolf, and also known as the constellation Lupus)
  • Scorpio: Ophiuchus, the Serpent held by Ophiuchus (sometimes called the constellation Serpens), and Hercules
  • Sagittarius: Lyra, Ara the Altar, and Draco
  • Capricorn: Sagitta, Aquila, and Delphinus 
  • Aquarius: Southern Fish (Piscis Australis), Pegasus, Cygnus
  • Pisces: Cepheus, Andromeda, and the Band that holds the two fish of Pisces together
Together, this makes forty-eight different groupings of stars (the twelve zodiac constellations and the thirty-six extra-zodiacal decans).  Many stargazers know that there were forty-eight "ancient" constellations, most notably the forty-eight described by Ptolemy in his Almagest.

Ptolemy's forty-eight include the twelve zodiacal constellations plus twenty-one northern constellations (north of the ecliptic) and fifteen southern (south of the ecliptic), for a total of thirty-six extra-zodiacals.

These forty-eight are slightly different from those used by Seiss in his text, however.  As you can see from the diagram above, the decans described by Seiss number sixteen below the ecliptic and twenty above.  This difference can be accounted for by understanding that Seiss does not name as decans three constellations mentioned by Ptolemy -- Equuleus and Triangulum, as well as the Southern Crown which is close to Sagittarius and usually associated with that constellation -- but uses instead three different ones: the Fish-Band of Pisces, Coma Berenices (which is sometimes regarded as an early modern constellation but which was described as a distinct constellation in many surviving ancient texts), and the Southern Cross.

Santos Bonacci demonstrates the crucial importance of knowing these extra-zodiacal constellations for unlocking the ancient texts and stories which all aim to assist in the "acquisition of a level of consciousness that we are not born with" (in the words of John Anthony West), or the awareness of "that which is cosmic in one's own nature" (in the words of Jeremy Naydler).

He expounds numerous examples from ancient myth and legend, as well as folk tales and fairy tales, and of course from the Old and New Testament (as does Joseph Seiss).  He also references a modern minister, Bill Darlison of the Dublin Unitarian Church in Ireland, whose book Gospel & the Zodiac utilizes the same extra-zodiacal decans as those outlined by Joseph Seiss (whom he references), while coming to somewhat of the opposite conclusion as that reached by Seiss.

The understanding of the extra-zodiacal constellations is clearly a subject of the utmost importance, and their memorization well worthwhile.  It is hoped that the above discussion (and diagram) will aid readers in both these endeavors.