Friday, December 19, 2014

Odysseus and Orion

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

In the Odyssey, the long-suffering Odysseus is told by Circe the lustrous goddess that he must go down to the realm of the dead, to consult the shade of Tiresias in the underworld and learn what he must do in order to return home (Book X: 553 - 595).

It should be noted that crossing over to the "other world" in order to obtain knowledge or direction unavailable through any other means can be seen as a definitively shamanic act, and there is no doubt that Odysseus can be seen to be a shamanic figure in many ways throughout the Odyssey.

Following the instructions given by Queen Circe, Odysseus makes the dread voyage to the underworld, and there he does encounter the shade of the famous prophet Tiresias, who foretells that Odysseus will finally reach his home, and pay back the suitors who have been tormenting his wife and destroying his flocks as they feast in his halls in his absence. Then, Tiresias gives Odysseus an unusual mission:
But once you have killed those suitors in your halls --
by stealth or in open fight with slashing bronze --
go forth once more, you must . . .
carry your well-planed oar until you come
to a race of people who know nothing of the sea,
whose food is never seasoned with salt, strangers all
to ships with their crimson prows and long slim oars,
wings that make ships fly. And here is your sign --
unmistakeable, clear, so clear you cannot miss it:
When another traveler falls in with you and calls that weight across your shoulder a fan to winnow grain,
then plant your bladed, balanced oar in the earth
and sacrifice fine beasts to the lord god of the sea,
Poseidon -- a ram, a bull and a ramping wild boar --
then journey home and render noble offerings up
to the deathless gods who rule the vaulting skies,
to all the gods in order. Book XI: 136 - 152. Translation of Robert Fagles.
In the previous post's discussion of the celestial aspects of John the Baptist, it was argued that this strange directive about an "oar" or a "winnowing fan" on the shoulder of Odysseus is a clear connection to the stars of one of the most mythologically important and distinctive constellations in the night sky: the constellation Orion. Orion indeed carries on his shoulder an implement which is often envisioned as a club but which could equally well be seen as an oar or a paddle:

image: (outlines added later).

Here, outlines have been drawn in for Orion, in order to show the "oar and blade" that he can be said to be carrying "across his shoulder," just as Tiresias describes. The stars of Orion are so distinctive that it is really almost a distraction to even draw in the outlines, but they are added here in order to indicate where the paddle-shaped oar is located, which I believe connects this mighty constellation to the long-suffering, long-delayed hero of the Odyssey (it is on the left side of the image, as we look at it above -- rising up from the shoulder that contains the star Betelgeuse). 

Some readers, however, may argue that this detail alone is hardly sufficient to make a definitive identification of this episode of the Odyssey with the outline of Orion, and that is a valid criticism. However, as it turns out there are several other clues which act to confirm the above hypothesis.

One of the most obvious is the implement which is traditionally envisioned in Orion's other hand -- held in the outstretched arm that can be seen pointing towards the upper-right side of the above image, as we look at it (stretching forward from the shoulder that contains the star Bellatrix). That implement, of course, is a mighty bow -- and if there is one weapon which is most associated with Odysseus, it is in fact the great bow, which no one can string but Odysseus himself, and with which he slays the suitors mercilessly after the dramatic scene in which he sends an arrow through a row of axes (Book XXI: 451 - 471).

Below is another screen-shot of the constellation Orion, this time with his bow drawn in as well:

But that's not all! There is another very memorable scene from Odysseus' homecoming, prior to the point in which he finally strings his old familiar bow and begins dealing doom to the suitors, and that is the famous scene in which he has been disguised through the power of the goddess Athena as an old beggar, but his faithful dog, Argos, whom the poet tells us Odysseus trained as a puppy once, long ago, before he reluctantly joined the ships bound for Troy, recognizes his beloved Odysseus and thumps his tail in joy before expiring (XVII: 317 - 360).

As we have already seen in the discussion of the important scene from The Truman Show in which the set-light marked SIRIUS plunges to the street, the constellation Orion has a well-known companion dog, Canis Major, close by. The fact that the long-delayed homecoming of Odysseus is closely associated with a bow and a dog is strong indication that he is connected to Orion, who also has a bow and a dog. The addition of the "oar" or "winnowing fan" on his shoulder is another point of correspondence and should make the identification of Odysseus and Orion fairly conclusive.

There is another important aspect of Orion which may also be connected to the long-suffering Odysseus, and that is the fact that Orion is associated with Osiris, and it has been convincingly argued by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend in Hamlet's Mill that the "delaying action" of precession, seen in the failure of Orion/Osiris to rise "on time" on the appointed day of the year, was mythologized in ancient Egypt by the story of Set slaying his brother Osiris and usurping his throne (this myth and its connection to the action of precession is discussed in this video, in which it is pointed out that the same "usurpation" is later found in the story of Hamlet and the story of The Lion King).  

If Odysseus is identified with Orion, then his "long delay" in getting back to his "true home" may also be connected to the inexorable motion of precession, which "delays" the background of stars by just a tiny fraction each year (delaying them by only a single degree in 71.6 years), but which was profoundly important in ancient myth around the globe, and incorporated in the myths by means of various ingenious allegories.

The identification of Odysseus with Orion is extremely important in its own right, and may offer many useful new perspectives on the Odyssey itself -- but it is also extremely important in that the New Testament scriptures describe "the mighty one" who "comes after" John the Baptist as carrying a fan in his hand with which he will sort the wheat on the threshing floor to divide it from the chaff, which will be burned with fire (Matthew 3:12, Luke 3:17). 

I contend that this figure that John the Baptist describes, and who is obviously associated with the coming Christ whom John the Baptist announces and whom John will shortly baptize in the River Jordan, is in this passage clearly associated with Orion as well! That previous discussion of John the Baptist noted that John has clear connections to the constellation Aquarius, who is stooped forward as outlined in the stars of the constellation, and John states of this mighty figure who is coming after him that John is not worthy to "stoop down" and unloose the latchet of his shoes (Mark 1:7).

The fact that this figure that John the Baptist describes is carrying a fan with which he will winnow the wheat, and the fact that Odysseus was instructed to carry an oar until a traveler asked him what he was doing with "a fan to winnow grain," is strong evidence that both figures are actually connected with the constellation Orion.

Further confirmation that the figure John the Baptist describes is associated with Orion comes from the fact that there is a very long "river" constellation which the ancients described as springing out of Orion at the point of his foot -- or, as John the Baptist might say, his "shoe" or "sandal." This river begins very close to the bright star Rigel in the foot of Orion, and it has a most revealing name: the River Eridanus. The name of this constellation, then, is linguistically very similar to the name of the river in which John the Baptist will baptize Jesus: the Jordan.

Below is a star chart showing Eridanus, springing up very near to the foot of Orion, who can be seen in the upper-left corner of the chart:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The very strong connection between a description in the New Testament, and a description in the Odyssey of ancient Greece, in which the figure of Odysseus and the figure of Jesus as described by John the Baptist are both carrying a "winnowing fan" on their shoulder with which to sort the wheat from the chaff, and in which both are clearly connected to the constellation Orion, is truly earth-shaking in its implications. It argues that the stories included in the Bible are built upon the same celestial foundations as the stories contained in the myths of other cultures -- myths derided as "pagan" by the literalist interpretation of the Bible which came to dominate Bible interpretation during the third, fourth and fifth centuries AD. 

Finally, it should be noted that -- just as Odysseus can be shown to be a shamanic figure in the Odyssey -- Jesus in the Bible can be argued to perform acts typical of what we might call a shamanic figure as well, although this is not the way literalist Christianity has chosen to interpret the texts, and such an interpretation would be sharply at odds with "orthodox" Christian doctrine as it has been taught for the past seventeen centuries. However, the shamanic elements are certainly present, including the voyage to the "other side" and return, as well as the very common shamanic motif of the ascent on the Tree (discussed in this and this previous post, and many more examples can be found in the seminal study Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, by Mircea Eliade published in 1951).

It may be that the ancient sacred texts and myths of humanity were not intended to be understood literally, but that they in fact teach a very profound message about the nature of our universe and the nature of the human condition -- and that this message can be said to be both "shamanic" and "holographic" (and to anticipate aspects of modern theoretical physics and quantum theory as well).

This possibility is certainly amazing, and unexpected by those used to the literalist approach to the world's ancient scriptures -- and yet the evidence in support of this conclusion is compelling, and can be found in abundance throughout the ancient texts of the human race.