Saturday, October 25, 2014

Star Myths in the Arabian Nights!


SPOILER ALERT: This blog post will reveal my interpretations of the celestial foundations underlying two episodes from the incredible Thousand Nights and a Night (otherwise known as the 1,001 Nights, or the Arabian Nights). 

These two episodes were introduced in the previous post entitled "The Arabian Nights: can you unlock their celestial metaphors?" If you want to go back and try to unlock them for yourself before you read the following explanation, just click the link before reading any further, and come back after you're done!

Here we go . . .

In the first episode, which really launches the entire dynamic of the Nights and sets up the horrific situation in which a king (King Shahryar) decides to enjoy a new virgin bride each night and then slay her in the morning, the king's brother Shah Zaman is invited to visit -- but as Zaman leaves his palace, he remembers that he has left behind him a string of jewels he intended to give to his brother Shahryar. 

He returns home for the string of jewels, only to find his wife on the bed in the arms of an adulterous lover. Drawing his scimitar, he immediately cuts them both in half, leaving them in four pieces. He then proceeds to fall into depression, refusing to eat and languishing in self-pity . . . and the story proceeds from there.

The Arabian Nights can be graphic, violent, and even horrifying -- but I believe that, just like other remnants of the ancient wisdom bequeathed to humanity, the literal stories are only the vessels used to contain ineffable spiritual truth, and that to focus only on the literal action is to "miss all that heavenly glory" towards which they are pointing us.

While they are certainly fascinating and entertaining and moving and memorable as literal stories, the Nights also function as profound spiritual metaphors regarding the nature of our human condition as incarnate spiritual beings, and regarding the nature of this apparently physical universe, which itself is actually infused with and interpenetrated by an unseen world. 

This metaphorical spiritual message can also be found in the sacred texts and mythologies of nearly every other culture on earth, and which actually unites the world's sacred traditions, as discussed in numerous previous blog posts and in my most-recent book, The Undying Stars.

One of the biggest indicators that the Thousand Nights and a Night should be interpreted esoterically is the fact that, like the sacred mythologies found around the world, they are built upon the same common system of celestial metaphor which can be seen operating in "star myths" of ancient Egypt, of ancient Greece, of Japan, or North America, or northern Europe, or Africa, or Australia, or China, or the surviving texts of the Maya, and even in the scriptures of what are commonly called the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. For dozens of examples establishing this undeniable fact, see this "Star Myth index" . . . or some of these "amateur videos."

The story of Shah Zaman returning for a string of jewels and catching his wife in flagrante can clearly be seen to correspond to a specific set of familiar constellations in the night sky. The "string of jewels" is an important clue, and one with which readers will be familiar if they remember the explanation I offered of the irresistible necklace of Freya from the Norse myths. There, we saw that this necklace corresponds to the Corona Borealis, or "Northern Crown," a beautiful feature of the northern sky and one which appears over and over in the world's mythology, playing many different roles. 

From the Northern Crown, we can fairly easily identify the rest of the constellations in the story of Shah Zaman and the two illicit lovers. Below is a screen-shot of the region of the sky containing the Northern Crown, taken from the excellent application (free and open-source and available on the web here). 

Note that in this screen-shot, the constellation outlines are provided, but they are not the constellation outlines proposed by H. A. Rey in his outstanding books on the stars, and therefore they are not very helpful. The following image, with outlines showing my interpretation of the incident with Shah Zaman and his wife, provides outlines which follow the H. A. Rey system. However, the portion of the sky without those outlines is provided below so that you can check and see that the stars I am connecting up with colored lines in my explanation do indeed match actual stars as they are found in the heavens above.

In the above Stellarium image, the circlet of stars which make up the Northern Crown are seen as a "U"-shaped constellation near the center of the screen-shot. This is the "string of jewels" which Shah Zaman forgets. To the right of the Northern Crown is the important constellation of Bootes, the Herdsman, and below him is the even more important constellation of Virgo the Virgin, with the bright star Spica on her hip (labeled, near the bottom of the image and on the right-hand-side of the screen as we look at it on the page). 

To the left of the Northern Crown is the constellation Hercules, a mighty warrior and a hulking gigantic figure in the night sky -- but the outline provided above is simply awful, and leaves him looking like some kind of giant spider. The outline suggested for Hercules by H. A. Rey is superior in every way, and is the one that I myself use to visualize the constellation when I am looking for him in the northern dome of the heavens. Hercules, of course, is brandishing his favorite weapon, his Club -- but in the story of Shah Zaman and his unfaithful wife, the Club of Hercules becomes a scimitar!

Below is the same star-chart shown above, but with the outlines and labels as I would interpret the story from the Arabian Nights:

And here we see the story laid out in all its glory, just as it appears in the heavens for your celestial reading pleasure! 

Beginning in the lower-right of the image, we see Shah Zaman's wife, played by the zodiac constellation of Virgo, and outlined in yellow in my diagram. Just above her is the adulterous lover, outlined in red and played by Bootes the Herdsman, who often plays the role of the consort of Virgo in various myths around the globe. To the left of Bootes is the pesky string of jewels, forgotten by Shah Zaman when he headed out to visit his brother, and they are outlined in a kind of lavender color. Finally, to the left of these we see the constellation Hercules, representative of Shah Zaman charging in upon the surprised couple, raising his dreadful scimitar and preparing to cut them down. He is outlined in green.

The number of celestial clues that have been worked into the story as related in the Arabian Nights really leaves little doubt that the story corresponds directly to the heavenly drama, as do so many other myths and sacred stories from humanity's ancient past.

[Thank you, by the way, to those of you who sent me your interpretations, even if you did not want to share those publicly! I hope you enjoyed the exercise of exploring the possible celestial connections in the Nights! No one actually proposed either of the interpretations shown here for the two tales, but that doesn't mean nobody out there came up with some version of these interpretations -- I'm sure most people who gave it a try just decided to participate "in private." Also, my interpretations are not "the answer," of course -- these are open to debate and discussion. One reader sent in a thought which had not occurred to me, which was that this "cutting in half" of the two lovers might have to do with an equinox, which is a very good observation! I would argue that if it does have to do with an equinox, then it would most likely be the fall equinox, and not the spring equinox, since Virgo is associated with the fall equinox in the northern hemisphere -- but if it is an equinox, then we can further speculate that perhaps Shah Zaman represents one half of the year, probably the "lower half," and his brother King Sharyar represents the other, and probably the "upper half." Great observation and thanks for sharing it!] 

Turning now to the story of the Fisherman and the Jinni, we encounter an absolutely fabulous tale and the one with which the beautiful, courageous, and intelligent Shahrazad opens her thousand-and-one nights of storytelling, with which she will save her life -- and, by extension, the lives of all the other young unmarried women of the kingdom including her own sister, and with which she will ultimately save King Shahryar from his own madness and self-destructive jealousy and pride. 

The Fisherman and the Jinni is a tale-within-a-tale-within-a-tale and it contains several more "nested" and interwoven tales within it, but it opens with the account of a poor old Fisherman who casts his net into the waters each day, and one day pulls up a series of strange catches beginning with a dead jackass, followed by an earthen jar (Richard Francis Burton calls it an "earthern pitcher"), followed by some potsherds and broken glass, and finally by a lamp containing a genie (or Jinni -- and one who in this story is identified as an Ifrit, and who pours from the lamp in a towering column of smoke spiraling up to the heavens).

What could be the celestial counterparts to this fantastic opening to the series of stories contained in the tale of the Fisherman and the Jinni? 

Well, there are a number of clues in the story to help us, not least of them a lamp next to a column of smoke -- which almost certainly corresponds to the "Teapot" portion of the constellation Sagittarius, which is located right next to the rising "smoke" of the Milky Way galaxy, as discussed in this previous blog post regarding Revelation chapter 9 (which also refers to the Milky Way that rises between Sagittarius and Scorpio as a rising smoke).

Another powerful clue is the Fisherman's net itself, which may suggest to the minds of readers familiar with the recent discussion of the celestial foundations of the story of Shem, Ham and Japheth (the sons of Noah) the Great Square of Pegasus, which appears in that story as a sheet carried backwards over the shoulders of Shem and Japheth. That distinctive Square in the sky could also be the net of the Fisherman, which keeps bringing up everything except fish from the briny deep. 

The connection to the Great Square in the story found in the Arabian Nights is strengthened by the story's repetition of the fact that the Fisherman only casts his net into the waters four times per day, and never more than that: if we are looking for a celestial counterpart to the net, the repetition of the number four is certain to suggest to us the mighty celestial Square, which after all is a figure containing four corners and the constellation that might come to mind most readily in connection with that particular number.

From there, we can readily identify the other details of the Fisherman's tale, and there are quite enough of them to make the correspondence more than certain. Below is a screen-shot showing the region of the sky which corresponds to the start of the tale of the Fisherman and the Jinni, once again shown without the helpful outlines (which will be provided in the subsequent image):

Here you can see the horizon, which is shown as an arc across the lower part of the screen. There is a red letter "S" near the center bottom of the screen (partially obscured by the location and date-time data), which indicates that we are looking towards the southern horizon (the viewer is located in the northern hemisphere in the above image, at approximate latitude of 35N). 

The beautiful towering "column of smoke" of the Milky Way galaxy can clearly be seen rising up out of the southern horizon, and just to the left of it as we look at the image can be seen the "teapot" portion of the zodiac constellation of Sagittarius (just to the left of the planet Mars, which is labeled and which just happens to be located in the center-line of the Milky Way in this particular screenshot for this particular date and time and year -- Mars is not always located there, by any means).

Near the top of the screen towards the left-half of the image as we look at it on the page, and nearly touching the top of the image, we can see the Great Square of Pegasus, corresponding to the Fisherman's net. Almost directly below that, we find the zodiac constellation of Aquarius -- but once again, the outline does not follow that proposed by H. A. Rey, and is most unhelpful for visualizing Aquarius and his pitcher or vessel of water. Below is the same screen-shot with the same stars and constellations, but this time with the outlines as proposed in the system offered by H. A. Rey, as well as with labels to indicate my interpretation of the celestial foundations of this important first story told by Shahrazad:

Now we can clearly see that this fantastical story has an undeniably celestial origin, and contains enough clues to indicate its corresponding heavenly players.

Beginning from the top-left of the sky, we see the Fisherman's Net, played by the Great Square of Pegasus and outlined in white. Just to the right of the square we see Pegasus himself, that celestial winged horse (the Square represents his wings), but in this particular story he is playing a decidedly more ignominious role as the Dead Jackass which the Fisherman first hauls up with his Net. Pegasus in the above image looks about "right-side up," but at other points during his journey across the sky (particularly when the Great Square is just rising up in the east, for viewers in the northern hemisphere), he is kind of positioned "upside-down," and this fact no doubt accounts for the depiction in this story of the outline of Pegasus as a dead donkey, with his four feet pointing up in the air.

Just below Pegasus we see the constellation Aquarius, outlined in green. I believe that Aquarius plays the role of the Fisherman in this particular story, primarily because Aquarius is located in close proximity to the Net, and also because directly below Aquarius there is a constellation known as Piscus Austrinus, or the "Southern Fish." This constellation is rather faint, but contains the brilliant star Fomalhaut which is very easy to spot in the night sky below Aquarius (you can see it in the tip of the nose of the Fish even in the above diagram).

The second thing that the Fisherman dredges up with his Net in the tale of the Fisherman and the Jinni is an earthen pitcher (Burton calls it an "earthern pitcher," and it is thus labeled in the diagram above). This object clearly corresponds to the jar or water-vessel of Aquarius, which is really part of the constellation Aquarius but which I have outlined in light blue in the image above, so that you can see it more easily.

The third haul of the Net in the tale brings up "potsherds and glass," which really could be anything and which I am not exactly certain about identifying definitively with any particular stars or groups of stars. My most-likely candidate for these potsherds and glass would probably be the glittering trails of stars located at the bottom of each of the two "streams" of water you see depicted coming out of the water-pitcher of Aquarius. These are very distinctive and easy to spot in the actual night sky, although they don't show up very well in the screen-shots above.

Below, I have "zoomed-in" on Aquarius and his water-vessel in order to try to show these little glittering trails at the bottom of each (imagined) stream of water pouring out of the vessel. These little curves of stars are quite beautiful, and they actually "create" the stream of water that we imagine coming out of the pitcher of Aquarius, since the two "streams" themselves have no stars in them: the streams are entirely imaginary, and are created when we "connect" using our mind's eye the pitcher with these two little "curved lines" of stars. 

Here is a closeup of Aquarius and his jar, with the two lines of water coming out of the jar but no lines drawn on top of the two glittering curves of stars (so that you can see them more easily):

And below, one more time, just so that you can be sure to see the little "trails" of stars that I am talking about, and which I believe are the most-likely candidates for the "potsherds and glass" which the Fisherman hauls up in his "third catch" of the day, I have enclosed them in a circle (or oval) of orange:

Finally, we now come to the "fourth catch" of the day -- the one which will ultimately change the Fisherman's fortunes forever. He utters a prayer before sending his Net one more time into the deep, noting that so far he has brought back nothing which he or his wife can eat, and asking that he might please be granted his daily bread. 

When he brings back the Net this time, there is a copper-colored lamp, its mouth sealed with a leaden seal upon which is fixed "the stamp of the seal-ring of our Lord Sulayman son of David," whom we would commonly refer to as King Solomon (27). As we might expect, these being the Arabian Nights, when the Fisherman removes the seal, what should pour forth from the lamp but a spiring column of smoke reaching to the heavens, which ultimately resolves into a powerful Jinni, who promptly informs the poor Fisherman that he must now kill him within the hour, although he will allow the Fisherman to choose the manner of his death. 

And the story proceeds from there -- it is a remarkable tale, and one with which many modern readers may not be familiar. Be sure to take the time to check it out (there are various places on the web to read translations of the Nights, including Burton's translation in its entirety, but of course it is my fixed opinion that The Arabian Nights belongs on everyone's bookshelf in its physical paper form, if it is at all possible for you to obtain it).

In any event, the constellation that plays the part of the genie's magic lantern in this tale is fairly easy to spot, and it is the distinctive outline of the brightest stars in the zodiac constellation of Sagittarius, shown in the full-story star-chart diagram above as an outline of yellow lines and labeled "Lantern." The fact that its "spout" points right into the glowing column of the rising "smoke" of the Milky Way galaxy makes this identification of the celestial counterpart to the story almost certain.

In fact, the wealth of detail in the story which corresponds directly to the constellations surrounding the "Fisherman" of Aquarius makes the above interpretation a very strong hypothesis, in my opinion. The fact that literally hundreds of other myths and sacred stories from around the world are built upon this very type of celestial metaphor makes the celestial correspondence that I am here proposing for the Thousand and One Nights even more likely. 

In fact, it should be pointed out that I did not even know these correspondences existed when I revisited the Arabian Nights recently (although I strongly suspected the Nights would be full of them). I do not address the Arabian Nights in The Undying Stars (which deals in much more detail with the celestial foundation of the stories in the Old and New Testaments, and then launches into an examination of the profound esoteric wisdom conveyed by these ancient star myths and the other star myths around the world). 

The fact that familiarity with the system of celestial metaphor enables us to discover the same metaphorical system in operation in other myths or stories not previously examined (such as just demonstrated with the Arabian Nights -- and many more examples from the Nights could be offered) argues very strongly that the existence of this ancient and worldwide system of celestial metaphor is no mere figment of the imagination. The number of correspondences to the details of the story offered in the two explanations above shows that these celestial metaphors were actually part of the tales: they are not "subjective interpretation," because the details are actually present in the constellations of the night sky.

The ramifications of this fact are profound, and have the potential to change our understanding of sacred literature, of the connections between all the various branches of the human family, and of the very history of mankind. Where did this nearly universal system come from, and how does it turn up over and over again in the treasured stories and myths of humanity around the globe?

Perhaps if, like the Fisherman in the story, we persevere in putting our Net out into the deep waters -- and if we accompany our efforts with a heartfelt prayer -- we will one day receive an answer.