image: Wikimedia commons (link).
In the northern hemisphere of our planet, the hours of darkness are now growing much longer than the hours of daylight, as we plunge towards the point of winter solstice, now just about one month away.
You may wish to take advantage of the extra hours of night-time to go outside and observe some of the constellations, if it is at all possible: the constellation Aquarius in particular has been visible during the "prime-time" viewing hours for the past couple of months but continues to move steadily westward as earth makes its way along its annual track, making this an excellent time to look for Aquarius during the hours just after sundown.
Aquarius is found in a rather dark and relatively "empty" section of the night sky which is located between two "more exciting" regions of the sky: between the region containing brilliant constellations and celestial figures such as Sagittarius, Aquila, Deneb, and the Milky Way's brightest section (all of which are now rotating down to the west and out of the picture), and the region containing brilliant constellations and celestial figures such as Orion, Perseus, the Pleiades and the Hyades in Taurus, Auriga, and the small but distinctive figure of Aries the Ram (all of which are now rising in the east during the hours after sunset, and will be dominating our night sky during the northern hemisphere's winter months).
As the sun goes down and the stars come out, the last members of that first "brilliant region" are still visible, although they are heading far down to the west -- the Milky Way's brightest portion, which rises between Scorpio and Sagittarius and contains Aquila the Eagle and Cygnus the Swan (Cygnus is still quite visible, because highest up of the group, although it too is getting pretty far to the west). At the same time, the dazzling stars of that second "brilliant region" are shining in the east as they rise: Perseus and the Pleiades, and the looming figure of Orion rising up over the eastern horizon, and between Orion and the Pleiades the distinctive V-shape of the Hyades, containing orange-colored Aldebaran.
Between these two regions is a relatively emptier section which H. A. Rey refers to in his essential guide The Stars: A New Way to See Them as the "Wet Region" of our sky: "a dull region with few bright stars," he says (56).
This relatively dark region does, however, contain Aquarius, holding a pitcher or water-vessel and pouring down two distinctive streams of water upon the Southern Fish (Piscis Austrinus). Below is a star-chart showing the current locations of Aquarius and Piscis Austrinus in the early night sky, for a viewer located in the northern hemisphere at about 35 north latitude, at about 6:45 in the evening (by which time it is already plenty dark at this time of year):
As you can see from the chart, the Great Square of Pegasus is now high in the sky, and should be very easy for you to locate if you look pretty high up above the southern horizon (for viewers in the northern hemisphere). The Great Square actually functions as the wing of the winged horse of Pegasus (also outlined in the diagram above), but I have chosen to outline it in the same green color as I have outlined the Fishes of Pisces, because the Great Square is often connected with the Fishes of Pisces in many Star Myths of the World, as well as in iconography found around the planet and across the millennia, as shown in a discussion in Appendix 39 of Hamlet's Mill by Hertha von Dechend and Giorgio de Santillana (see in particular the illustrations between pages 434 and 435).
The faint but delightful constellation Pisces can be seen to either side of the lower edge of the Great Square, and is well worth trying to observe if you can get to a viewing-point away from too much light pollution. Pisces is one of the most challenging of the zodiac constellations to see, but now is one of the best times of year to give it a try.
Now is also a good time to try to find Aquarius, shown above in the star-chart of 6:46 pm at the constellation's highest point in its arc, directly above the "due south" direction for viewers in the northern hemisphere. Aquarius has a distinctive "running forward" outline, and carries a water-vessel that pours its streams down towards Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish.
The star at the front of the Southern Fish is called Fomalhaut, and is easily the brightest star in the dark region of the sky containing Aquarius. Of this star, H. A. Rey says:
You can hardly fail to see it when it is up; a line through the two bright stars on the Pegasus side of the Great Square and far downward points straight to brilliant Fomalhaut, solitary in a very dull region. In case you find another bright star halfway between the Great Square and Fomalhaut, it's not a star but a planet passing through the Water Carrier. Fomalhaut is one of our closer neighbors, about 22 light-years away and 13 times as luminous as the sun. 56.
In the diagram above you can see the line to which H. A. Rey is referring -- the edge of the Great Square on the right-hand side as we look at the screen above can be extended downwards towards the bright star Fomalhaut:
I usually find the Southern Fish by looking to the form of the constellation Aquarius, however, and following the distinctive streams pouring out of the water-vessel. The easiest way to find Aquarius is to look for the diamond-shaped head of the constellation, consisting of an outline of four stars plus a fifth star in the center which functions as an "eye" of the constellation.
Below is a close-up of Aquarius and the Southern Fish. Of these stars in the head of the constellation, the three bottom stars plus the "eye" are the most visible: the top star in the diamond-shape is much more difficult to spot. I have placed a yellow rectangular outline around the stars that make up the head of Aquarius:
In the diagram below, I have added arrows pointing to each of the stars which make up the diamond-shaped outline of the head of Aquarius. I did not add an arrow pointing to the star that makes up the "eye" in the center of the head, but that is clearly visible inside the diamond-outline:
From there, you can trace out the complete figure of Aquarius, including the water-vessel (very narrow at the bottom), and its streams of water. The streams themselves are envisioned based on the faint silvery stars which curve in either direction at the bottom of the imaginary streams of water:
In the diagram above, the faint stars that curve off in either direction from the two streams pouring out of the water-pitcher have not been outlined, but you should be able to make them out, curving away from the base of the two lines of water pouring down from the jug of Aquarius.
These lines point in the general direction of the bright star Fomalhaut at the front of the Southern Fish, as does the long "forward leg" of the running figure of Aquarius.
Fomalhaut is labeled in the diagram above, and is by far the brightest of any of the stars in the vicinity (note, however, that the planet Mars is not far away right now, and is the bright orange object seen below the rear foot of the running figure of Aquarius; Mars is moving through Capricorn at present, as you can see from the first two star-charts on this page).
The name Fomalhaut is derived from a phrase which means "mouth of the fish" in Arabic -- and this bright star at the front of Piscis Austrinus is undoubtedly responsible for a briefly-described miracle found in the account of the Gospel According to Matthew, chapter 17. The miracle is recounted immediately after Jesus has told his disciples that "The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised from the dead" (Matthew 17: 22 - 23).
The next verses tell us:
24 And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?This episode almost certainly involves the Southern Fish with its brightest star Fomalhaut at the "mouth of the fish," representing the coin paid for the tribute at Capernaum.
25 He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?
26 Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.
27 Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.
Aquarius in this case plays the role of Peter, who is instructed to hook the fish and find the coin in its mouth. We find similar references to Aquarius and the Southern Fish in a Star Myth from the Indigenous Aborigines of Australia which is discussed in Star Myths of the World, Volume One (there, the brilliant star Fomalhaut is described as the blazing eye of a monstrous fish, which can be seen glowing in the depths of the water-hole where the fish is hiding).
Aquarius-figures in the world's Star Myths are often headstrong and hasty -- as is the figure of Peter throughout many of the gospel stories. This ancient convention, which is found in myths around the globe, probably derives from the "pitched forward" or "headlong" running posture of the constellation Aquarius.
In the painting below by Jacob Jordaens, painted during the first half of the 1600s, we can see Peter in a fairly "Aquarian" pitched-forward posture, pulling a fish out of the sea to obtain the tribute money:
image: Wikimedia commons (link).
You will find Peter on the right-hand side of the painting, as you face it on the screen. Note that the artist appears to have included the Great Square of Pegasus -- can you locate it in the painting?
Yes, there it is -- the sail of the fishing boat, which is located in the correct general region relative to the figure of Peter who represents Aquarius.
Note that the artist has also included two figures "leaning away" from the rectangular outline of the sail, in very much the same way that the two Fishes of Pisces frame the lower angles of the Great Square in the night sky:
The elements of this composition, as with so many other paintings through the centuries, strongly indicate that the celestial origins of the story of the miraculous tribute coin in the mouth of the fish were known by some group and passed along through secret channels from generation to generation, even as the wider public was taught that these stories were intended to be understood literally.
Unfortunately, the messages of these stories can be greatly distorted when we try to force them into a literal and historical framework. The Star Myths of the world allegorize the motions of the players in the celestial realms, and I believe that they do so in order to depict for us truths relating to the Invisible Realm, the realm of spirit which is very real, even though we cannot see it.
The ancient wisdom imparted to humanity teaches that the Invisible World, the Spirit World, is in fact "the real world that is behind this one," in the words of the holy man Black Elk of the Lakota. He further says that "everything we see here is something like a shadow from that world."
In other words, everything in the visible realm -- the material realm -- actually flows from and has its origins in the "real world that is behind this one." However, because that realm of spirit is invisible, the ancient myths use the realm of the stars as a means of conveying knowledge about that Infinite Realm to our understanding.
In this brief account of the miraculous paying of the tribute using a coin from the mouth of the fish, the ancient scriptures demonstrate in dramatic fashion the superiority of the divine realm over the material realm, and the ability of the higher realm to provide for even the most mundane of our needs.
There is also a teaching that in some sense, we are "children" and not "strangers" and therefore "free" -- probably having to do with the understanding that when we come down into this material realm and take on a mortal body, we continue to possess a connection to the higher realm which transcends the limitations of the lower mortal realm through which we are presently traveling.
Nevertheless, while we are here ("lest we offend") we are also wise to observe the exigencies of life here in the physical world.
While we are here in our incarnate form, however, we do in some way have immediate access to that Invisible Realm, and all of its benefits and power -- if we can only understand what the ancient Star Myths are trying to convey to our deeper understanding (the understanding may well involve integration with the Higher Self).
You can, in fact, go out this very night and have access to that same miraculous coin that was promised to Peter in Matthew 17.