Previous posts have explored myths from around the world regarding the origins of fire which center on the stars of the fall equinox, particularly the constellations Virgo, Boötes, and Centaurus (see for example "The Old Man and his Daughter").
However, there is another well-known ancient myth regarding the obtaining of fire by mankind: the myth of Prometheus.
As related by Apollodorus in the seventh section of Book I of his Bibliotheca (translated by James George Frazier, 1921):
Prometheus moulded men out of water and earth and gave them also fire, which unknown to Zeus, he had hidden in a stalk of fennel. But when Zeus learned of it, he ordered Hephaestus to nail his body to Mount Caucasus, which is a Scythian mountain. On it Prometheus was nailed and kept bound for many years. Every day an eagle swooped on him and devoured the lobes of his liver, which grew by night. That was the penalty that Prometheus paid for the theft of fire until Hercules afterwards released him, as we shall show in dealing with Hercules. 1.7.1.
Note that as in the case of the Old Man and his Daughter, the bringing of fire to humanity involves a theft -- one for which Prometheus in this case is severely punished. This aspect of the myth recalls the theft of the mead of poetry by Odin from the maiden Gunnlod -- another myth which, like that of the Old Man and his Daughter and the theft of fire -- is based around the constellation Virgo, and one which also features an eagle (in this case, two eagles, as well as the additional twist that Odin and his adversary each transform into eagles, which adds a shamanic element to the story as well).
In Hamlet's Mill, authors Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend explore the evidence which suggests that poetry -- which Odin had to go to so much trouble to steal -- was anciently regarded with the most profound respect, and treated as a high technology connected to the order of the cosmos. Poetic versification was not something to be trifled with, and they cite evidence that poets took great care to align their use of the technology of metaphor and meter with the deep patterns of the universe:
Every era, of course, has freely invented its own ballads, romances, songs and fables to entertain it. That is another matter. This concerns the poet, poiētēs, as he was understood in early times. There was an original complex of meaning which comprised the words poet, vates, prophet, seer. Every knowledge and law, Vico wrote with a flash of genius two centuries ago, must once upon a time have been "serious poetry," poesia seriosa. It is in this sense that Aristotle in a sophisticated age still refers respectfully to "the grave testimony of [early] poets." 119.Note that Hamlet's Mill is available to read online here (although every home library should probably have a physical paper copy!); the passage cited above can be found in chapter 8, here.
In light of this role, we can understand why the ancient myths described poetry as something which came down to earth from the heavens, and which "properly belonged" to the celestial regions (hence its portrayal in Norse myth as something which must be stolen, or which drops to earth from the gods). If poetry somehow relates to the motions of the cosmos, then we begin to sense the thought process behind the ancient requirement that the poetry must conform to certain patterns ("as above, so below"). The Edda of Snorri Sturluson, one of the most important sources for Norse myth, spends most of its time explaining the technology of poetry, kenning, and naming.
We can further surmise that the "stealing of fire" may somehow be describing the same concept as the stealing of poetry, in that it is bringing down to humanity something which properly belongs to the heavenly spheres -- and that these myths are about much more than supposedly-primitive humans trying to explain the discovery of the method of kindling fire in their supposedly-primitive past.
This suspicion that the stealing of fire and the stealing of poetry might be pointing us to the same esoteric truths is further bolstered by the fact that Hamlet's Mill spends a good bit of time examining the importance of the rebel Titan Prometheus, and finds evidence that he is also somehow closely associated with the ancient figure of Kronos-Saturn, "the giver of measures." In support of this assertion, they cite the thirteenth Orphic Hymn:
So the (13th) Orphic Hymn to Kronos addresses the god as "Father of the blessed gods as well as of man, you of changeful counsel, . . . strong Titan who devours all and begets it anew [lit. "you who consume all and increase it contrariwise yourself"], you who hold the indestructible bond according to the apeirona (unlimited) order of Aiōn, Kronos father of all, wily-minded Kronos, offspring of Gaia and starry Ouranos . . . venerable Prometheus." 132-133. Bracketed material appears as such in the original text by de Santillana and von Dechend.Here Prometheus is specifically identified as an aspect of Kronos, giver of measures. The ominous figure of Kronos-Saturn appears in the myths of the world with specific characteristics shared across the globe: he is in one sense a benevolent figure, who came and dwelt among men in a distant Golden Age, teaching them the civilizing arts, but he is also a doomed figure, destined to be imprisoned beneath the earth or beneath the sea (or, in the case of King Arthur, beneath the surface of the Lake), a figure bound in chains, a figure who simultaneously gives the measures of time and space, and is at the same time bound by them. Saturnian figures discussed in Hamlet's Mill include Yama, Varuna, Phaethon, Ea, Enmesharra, Osiris, Hephaestus, Pan, Jamshyd, Yima xsaēta, Balder, Attis, and the Yellow Emperor of ancient China (268-286).
Saturn "gives the measures" because he is the furthest visible planet, with the longest orbit -- a fact which can be observed from earth by seeing that it takes him the longest to return to the same zodiac constellation in the night sky (presently he is in Libra).
We can immediately see that the one who "gives the measures" is related to the gift of poetry -- which is almost by definition a metrical form of language. There is also, as de Santillana and von Dechend discuss, a clear connection to the shaman, whose drum is an important part of the shaman's paraphernalia the world over and which helps connect the shaman to the celestial motions of the universe, and to traverse the ladder to the "other realm" or "spirit realm" -- the realm of the gods.
As noted above, many myths from around the world describe Saturn (or their Saturnian figure in their system) as ruling over a vanished Golden Age, in which he walked among men and women and taught them the civilizing arts, including the growing of crops (in some accounts, in the Golden Age men and women abstained from eating the flesh of animals -- and in some accounts, the Saturn-figure is the one who taught them to not eat one another!). We can immediately see why Prometheus the Giver of Fire fits into this pattern of the god who came down to give higher technology to mankind.
In Hamlet's Mill, the authors provide evidence (without stating it explicitly or at least systematically) that this lost Golden Age corresponds to the Age of Gemini. The key piece of evidence they cite to support this identification is their discussion of the Galaxy and the fact that in the Age of Gemini, the band of the Milky Way would have aligned with the two points of equinox (the spring equinox then being located in Gemini -- hence the name of the Age of Gemini -- and the fall equinox then being located in Sagittarius, who is located next to the other end of the Milky Way band). They note that with such an alignment the "gates" of the equinox would align with the "gates" of that shimmering path of souls (the Milky Way in the night sky). Also, there would have been a satisfactory poetic harmony in the fact that the fiery path of the sun (the ecliptic path, which crosses the celestial equator at equinox) was then aligned with the smoky path of the Galactic band.
As you can see for yourself in the predawn sky at this early-August time of the year, and has been discussed previously (see this post for example), the prominent constellations above the horizon in the Age of Gemini are Gemini (of course) and Orion, who is so close to the Twins that the end of his upraised club (or mace) nearly touches the bottoms of their feet. Below is an image of those constellations arranged on the horizon, first without lines drawn in and then with the outlines as suggested by H.A. Rey:
Above is the view of the eastern horizon: you can see the stunning figure of Orion (look for the three stars of his nearly-vertical belt, directly up from the number "19" in the date-time window of the Neave Planetarium controls). Above him you can see the dazzling "V" of the Hyades, and above them the shimmering cluster of the Pleiades. To the "left" of the "V" of the Hyades are the two stars that make up the long "horns" of the Bull, and above them is the lantern-jawed charioteer of Auriga.
To the "left" of Orion (towards the north, along the horizon) are the Twins of Gemini, their two brightest stars being their two heads: Castor and Pollux. Below is the same sky-shot, with the lines drawn in as I like to imagine them (following primarily along the recommendations of H.A. Rey, with some slight deviations mainly in Taurus):
If you are able to go have a look for yourself tomorrow morning before the sun begins to lighten the eastern horizon, you will see that as the massive Orion looms above the eastern horizon, he really steals the show, in spite of the fact that this is the lineup of the Age of Gemini and it is the Twins who give their name to that Age. These stars are on the predawn horizon now, in early August, due to the "delaying" motion of precession but they were in their current predawn lineup at the time of the March equinox four long Ages ago (prior to the Age of Pisces, which followed the Age of Aries, which followed the Age of Taurus, which followed the Age of Gemini).
Thus Orion is also associated with that lost Golden Age, and hence with Saturn and Saturnian figures in the myths of the world (most notably perhaps with Osiris). But the constellation of the Twins is extremely important too: Prometheus is described as bringing fire to mankind hidden inside a smoldering reed. There is reason to believe that the stick-like figures of Gemini represent this "fire-reed" -- and that they are also associated with the "fire sticks" mentioned in so many ancient myths in conjunction with the bringing of fire to humanity, including the Vedas of India -- fire sticks which belong to the gods.
In the Vedas, these fire-sticks are described with specific names -- Pramantha for the "upper fire stick," the active drill, and Arani for the passive stick in which the fire is kindled. It has been noted by many previous authors that the name pramantha may well be linguistically connected to the name of Prometheus (Hamlet's Mill discusses this connection on pages 139-140).
Having examined all of these connections, we can begin to understand that the star myths surrounding Prometheus and the bringing of fire to mankind -- like all star myths -- are not "simply" about hiding a message about the stars inside of a mythological story. On the contrary, these stories and their celestial connections were designed to impart life-changing truths about who we are as human beings and what we are doing here in these bodies, on this earth.
The fact that the Twins can be seen as fire-sticks, through which fire is kindled by the action of one vertical stick turning in one horizontal stick, can clearly be seen to relate back to the concept of the "raising of the Tat-cross (or Djed column)," discussed at some length in this post on the most-recent summer solstice. In that post, we saw that:
the horizontal line between the two equinoxes was seen by the ancient sages as representative of the soul of the man or woman "cast down" into incarnation, as if the spirit had "fallen upon its face" or was going about horizontally like an animal (because the spirit was now incarnated in an "animal" body), but that the vertical line which ascends from the winter solstice up to the pinnacle of the summer solstice represents the spirit ascending again, overcoming its "death" in the body, reclaiming its divine nature even though for a time it was imprisoned in the flesh of the material world.
The two lines together, of course, form a cross (as can be seen on the zodiac wheel).
The two sticks of the fire-drill, one vertical and one horizontal, can also be seen as forming a cross, and one which poetically embodies the kindling of the divine spark of the spirit within the inert or passive animal (or horizontal) body. It has been noted by many commentators that in ancient India those fire-sticks have long been understood in just such an esoteric manner, kindling the divine fire within the individual, and then raising the inert or animal nature (figured by the horizontal) to the vertical. The raising of the kundalini along the spinal column, through the seven chakras, can be understood as the raising of this divine spark within the body of our incarnate material form.
Hence, we can understand that the myth of Prometheus bringing the fire imparts the esoteric understanding that each man and woman consists of a divine spark or fire from heaven, plunged into a body of water and earth (a body of clay -- look again at the passage quoted earlier from Apollodorus describing the Prometheus legend). The important constellations of the Twins of Gemini convey this message in their role as the hollow reed or narthêx stalk (Frazer in his 1921 translation has an extensive footnote in which he discusses the possible genus and species of the plant in question, when of course the reed with which Prometheus brings the fire in the myth is actually a constellation in the sky).
But the personage of Prometheus himself also embodies the same esoteric message! The bringer of the spark of fire down from heaven, Prometheus ends up chained to a rock, or nailed to a mountain: crucified, that is, upon the cross of matter. Note that in the version cited by Apollodorus, he is nailed there by Hephaestus himself -- another Saturnian figure! All those within the wide orbit of Saturn, of course, are metaphorically Saturn's children, bound during this incarnation within the coils of time and space. He is the one who gives the measures, and he is the one who himself figures our imprisonment, by being bound himself and cast down to the depths, where he sleeps in the cave of Ogygia (in Greek myth) or beneath the waves of the Lake (in the Arthurian legend), or lies bound as a mummy within the underworld (in the form of Osiris).
Returning to the myth as we see it in the book of the heavens, we see that if Gemini can be seen to play the role of the fire sticks or smoldering reed in the story, the imposing figure of Orion must play the role of the fire-giving Titan himself. And we know from Egyptian mythology that Orion corresponds to Osiris: this fact, and the evidence we have already seen which establishes the connection between Prometheus and Saturn-Kronos, supports the conclusion that in this myth, Prometheus is also Orion.
Note that, just as we saw with the horizontal and vertical fire-sticks, Orion begins his journey across the sky in a horizontal posture -- suggestive of Osiris lying inert in the underworld, or Saturn-Kronos chained and asleep in the cave of Ogygia beneath the waves. However, as the video above entitled "Orion rising and crossing the sky" (which I made using the Neave Planetarium online) demonstrates, his very motion figures the esoteric teaching of the "raising up of the Djed column" or the "Tat cross" -- the backbone of Osiris. You can see in the video (or in the procession of the actual stars shining against the backdrop of infinity in the actual sky above our heads) that Orion begins his journey in the east and horizontal, but by the time he reaches his zenith above the due-south-point on the southern horizon (for viewers in the northern hemisphere), he has been raised-up like the Djed column of ancient Egypt to a vertical posture.
This silent message, which the stars give forth "night unto night" (in the words of the 19th Psalm), proclaims to us that we -- who are ourselves like stars that have been cast down from the fiery heavens into this world of earth and water (this world of miry clay) -- will and must raise up this divine spark which is hidden inside of us, and that this process is an essential part of our sojourn here in this incarnate existence.
That the stars of Orion and the constellations around him are being allegorized in the ancient Saturnian myths is quite evident from the artwork of the ancient Egyptians, which often depicted Osiris lying horizontal in the underworld and yet retaining distinctive features of the constellation Orion, as in the artwork below from Dendera which was reproduced in the 1911 text by E.A. Wallis Budge entitled Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection:
Note the "striding" position of the legs, very characteristic of Orion (whom the Egyptians named Sahu -- a name which may in fact have etymological connections in the syllable Sa with the name of Saturn).
Below is another image of the supine Osiris. Note the attendance in the image below of the jackal-headed god Anubis (at the feet of Osiris):
Note that the constellation we know as Canis Major (the Big Dog) closely accompanies Orion on his journey across the sky. The outlines of Canis Major in the video above and in the various free planetarium apps (such as the Neave Planetarium and the downloadable stellarium.org) do not really do justice to the constellation of Canis Major. As with many other constellations, the outlines suggested by author H.A. Rey are in my opinion far superior (and far more helpful for actually identifying the constellations in the night sky).
Below I have added the outline to the stars of Canis Major as suggested by H.A. Rey in The Stars: A New Way to See Them. Once you know the outline, you should be able to identify this majestic celestial hound in the video above showing Orion rising from the horizon towards zenith before sinking back down towards the west. Better yet, you should be able to identify the outline of the Big Dog in the sky, with the Dog Star Sirius in the upper forward shoulder of the constellation.
Sirius is the brightest star in the sky, and was associated with the goddess Isis in ancient Egypt (Isis can be seen in the above image, hovering over the dead Osiris in the form of a falcon). Even though Sirius is associated with Isis, it does seem from the image above that the position of Anubis in relation to the supine Osiris suggests that in this image at least Anubis might be associated with the outline of Canis Major. I have left the stars of Orion as they appear without the lines -- he looks best that way, the way he actually appears in the night sky:
From the foregoing discussion, it is evident that the ancient star myths describing the bringing of fire from the heavens (its proper dwelling-place) down to earth concern far more than simply "legends to explain how humans first obtained fire." The fire in question is divine fire -- the spark of divinity -- and the legends are there in part to remind us of a truth which we have forgotten, in our dizzying plunge from the world of spirit into this deadening world of animal nature, this world of muddy clay.
As we have seen, the myths are telling us that we must ascend and transcend the earthly nature, and in doing so raise the material nature and transform it (as the horizontal or passive fire-stick is imbued with the spark from above, and blazes into something completely new, possessed of something it did not appear to have before).
We have also seen that the descent of the fire -- a gift from the gods -- parallels the descent of the mead of poetry from heaven down to earth, and that poetry too is in some way meant to convey a transformative message. Poetry, properly understood, has to do with creating new realities, creating new worlds, transcending limits (poetry by its very nature makes metaphors which connect two disparate things or disparate ideas -- thereby busting through boundaries, smashing down literal thinking). See the explication of the inspiring speech given by Jon Rappoport on this subject, here.
As such, we can finally see that the subjects we have been discussing lie at the heart of the message of the myths: consciousness, the realization that we can transcend the chains which bind Osiris, the nails which pin Prometheus to the rock.