Monday, July 28, 2014

The Dawn of the Golden Age

If you are able to rise before the sky begins to lighten in the east, or just as it begins to take on a beautiful deep blue color in the east, you will be able to enjoy one of the more spectacular pre-dawn pageants in all of the heavenly theater. 

The magnificent constellation of Orion will be above the eastern horizon, or just rising out of the eastern horizon (depending on your latitude and the time you begin looking to the east), and above him will be the V-shaped Hyades of Taurus the Bull and above them the dazzling Pleiades (all descriptions in this post are northern-hemisphere-centric; friends in the southern hemisphere will have to adjust the descriptions or stand on their heads in order to make these descriptions and the video below make sense).  

Following the line of his upstretched arm (the arm that begins at the shoulder-point marked by giant orange Betelgeuse) will take you to the Twins of Gemini, currently made even easier to locate in the morning sky by the fact that the planet Venus is passing through the constellation.

As the earth continues to rotate towards the east, the sky will grow brighter and brighter, the blue color will become lighter and lighter, and eventually the sun itself will burst over the horizon and drown out everything else in the sky.

The constellations which are visible in the east before the sun crests the horizon will change throughout the year, of course, because from the earth we are able to see different "walls" in the "dining room" as we make our annual circuit (see this previous post for a video that explains the "metaphor of the dining room"). Only during a certain, special time of year does the awe-inspiring constellation of Orion dominate the eastern sky as it begins to turn that indescribable color of deep blue to herald the approaching dawn. That time of year is right now.

That time of year, however, was once much earlier in the year. The motion of precession (also explained in the video describing the "metaphor of the dining room") acts to "delay" the background stars over the ages, delaying their position on any given July 28th by only a single degree of arc every 71.6 years (see this previous post for more explanation of that concept). Once upon a time, the magnificent pre-dawn lineup of Orion beside Gemini and below the Bull of Taurus marked a very different and very closely-observed time of year: the time of the March equinox, or spring equinox for the northern hemisphere. 

The spring equinox is the day of rebirth, the day of bursting across the line that separates the "lower half"of the year (allegorized as the land of bondage, the valley of death, Hades, Sheol, and Hell) from the "upper half" of the year (allegorized as the promised land, the holy mountain, the city on the hill, and even Heaven with its streets paved with gold). The spring equinox marked the start of the year in many ancient calendar systems, and the zodiac sign which dominated the eastern sky before the sun made its critical appearance on that morning of rebirth for the year gave its name to the entire age. The motion of precession is so gradual that it takes approximately 2,160 years for the sign which dominated that station to be "delayed" enough to let the preceding sign take over.

The situation in the morning at this time of year, then, when Gemini and Orion are in the east prior to the rising sun corresponds to the way the sky looked during the mornings of the spring equinox back in the Age of Gemini. The Age of Gemini was so long ago that it was before the Age of Taurus, which itself preceded the Age of Aries, which preceded the Age of Pisces -- and the Age of Pisces itself is now coming to an end, as we move into the beginning of the Age of Aquarius. That's how long ago the Age of Gemini was.

But the Age of Gemini, for many important reasons, was described in ancient myth as the Golden Age. One of the reasons for this was the fact that the Milky Way passes by Gemini (between Gemini and Cancer) just as it does between Scorpio and Sagittarius on the other side of the zodiac band. That means that the equinoxes during the Golden Age were each marked by the shimmering band of the Milky Way galaxy in the Age of Gemini (the spring equinox was marked by Gemini, and the fall equinox by Sagittarius in that age). 

Another reason that the Age of Gemini was seen as a Golden Age was the presence of the majestic Orion in the east, guarding the sky above the rising sun on that critical morning. Orion was seen as a benevolent, civilizing figure in the mythology of many ancient cultures -- the one god who came and walked among humanity. He was also associated with Saturn's benevolent aspects, and the Saturnian color of yellow or gold (the other color often associated with Saturn is black).

Below is a short video that I put together in order to show you the constellations you will see in the east at this time of year, prior to the rise of the sun. I used the delightful online planetarium app created by Paul Neave, which can be found here.

If it is at all possible to do so, this is a perfect time of year to go out and absorb one of the most beautiful spectacles our sky has to offer, and as you do so to reflect back upon the successive ages through which other men and women have lived, thinking back, back, back, all the way to the Golden Age . . .