image: Wikimedia commons (link).
The Star Myths of the world can be definitively shown to be based upon a common, worldwide system of celestial metaphor, which uses the celestial realm to picture for us the Invisible Realm, the realm of the gods, the realm of spirit.
Even though we cannot see it, the Invisible Realm is very real -- in fact, as Lakota holy man Black Elk explained, that Invisible World is the real world that is behind this one, and from which this one flows. It is the spirit world which animates this material world -- and it is the spirit world which provides the life in every plant that grows, and which in fact flows through and animates every aspect of this material realm, and which is present and accessible to us at all times and in all places, even though we are not always attuned to it or conscious of its presence. In some traditions, the Invisible Realm was referred to as "the seed world," because in that realm, everything exists in infinite potentiality, in "seed form," like an enormous tree which is present in a tiny acorn or pinecone or seed-pod, but not yet manifest in the material world.
All the gods and goddesses and spiritual beings and heroes and kings and princesses in the ancient myths and sacred scriptures and traditions can be shown to be based upon the motions of celestial entities and heavenly cycles, including the stories in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, as well as in virtually every culture around the globe. Properly understood, this fact should actually be seen as uniting us all, because it shows that all the sacred stories and myths are in some way related, although where this common system originated remains a mystery of our very ancient past.
By employing this system of metaphor, the sacred traditions of humanity use the infinite realm of the heavens to show us the infinite realm, the "seed world" of infinite potentiality, and to convey profound truths regarding our own connection to this realm of spirit, truths which we need in this incarnate life -- truths which are intended for our benefit. Because they show us that each one of us -- as well as everyone we meet -- actually has a spiritual component, an infinite component, a Higher Self, and that we should be recognizing and acknowledging that aspect in ourselves and others and seeking to become more attuned to and integrated with it, and to elevate that aspect in others as well (as opposed to denying it, or trying to suppress it, in ourselves and others, or to put people down because of their physical and outward form or condition).
The sacred traditions and Star Myths also encourage us to align our lives with the patterns in the celestial realms and with the heavenly cycles of the sun, moon, planets and stars -- probably as a means of maintaining the awareness of our constant connection with and dependence upon the Invisible Realm, the infinite realm (the heavens being, in fact, infinite and thus not just a "picture" of the infinite realm but truly an aspect of that infinite realm, which we can contemplate on any clear and starry night).
One divinity who is recognized on every fourth day following the full moon is Lord Ganesh (often spelled Ganesha as well), also known as Ganapati (and by many other names as well), the elephant-headed deity who is revered and worshiped in Hindu tradition but also in many forms of Buddhism as well as the Jain Dharma, and whose devotion can be found across Asia, including (especially) in Tibet, China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, and other adjoining regions, and in more recent centuries around the world.
As we just passed through the point of the full moon, if you wish to prepare to incorporate special meditation upon and adoration of Ganapati this month (on the fourth day following full moon), you may wish to start thinking about and preparing for that now. The fourth day of the waning moon of the Hindu month of Bhadra or Bhadrapaada is traditionally the day most intensely associated with the adoration and worship of Ganesh, and is known as Chaturthi, but in fact every fourth day of the waning moon can also be celebrated as Ganesha Chaturthi throughout the year.
There are many excellent sites on the web which describe ways in you can align your actions and thoughts on the fourth day of the waning moon each month with meditation upon Ganesh, such as this one, and you can also type in the words of the Ganesh mantra or Ganesh Dhun ("tune") into a search (or simply type in the search terms "Ganesh mantra" or "Ganesh Dhun") in order to hear how that mantra sounds and learn it for yourself (see here and here for more on the concept of mantras if interested).
As I will demonstrate below, Ganesh is undoubtedly a celestial figure -- as are all the other gods and goddesses and divine powers of the infinite realm who are shown to us in the myths and sacred scriptures around the world. Some of his most distinctive characteristics include of course his elephant head, as well as his serpent belt, and his traditional "vehicle" or mount, who is a mouse (or rat, or shrew). These characteristics, along with some of the aspects of the stories surrounding them, can in my opinion be shown to be celestial in their origin, and discussed below.
Before proceeding, however, I wish to assert very clearly that -- as with all Star Myths -- the reader should not make the error of assuming that because a sacred story can be shown to be based upon the stars, this fact absolutely does not mean that this myth is not true. Quite to the contrary, I believe that the world's Star Myths contain absolutely vital truths, which are not only true but necessary for our understanding in this incarnate life in which we find ourselves, here in this simultaneously material-spiritual universe or cosmos. In fact, as I explain elsewhere (including in my most recent book, examining the Star Myths of ancient Greece), it is when we begin to understand their celestial language that we can really begin to communicate with the sacred myths and to listen to what they are trying to tell us.
Below is an image of Ganapati from the twelfth century Hoysaleswara temple in southern India, showing him standing upon his rodent steed, and wearing his serpent belt (with a cobra head -- to see that, look just to the left of his navel):
image: Wikimedia commons (link).
According to the myths (and there are an astonishing array of variations to the Ganesha story, as described in the excellent collection of scholarly studies entitled Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God), Ganesh is the child of Parvati, the goddess consort of the god Shiva -- although Ganesh is usually described as being created without a father but is the son of Parvati alone. This is a result of a tension between Parvati and Shiva, because Parvati wanted a child, but Shiva as an ascetic practiced the art of having intercourse without emission, and because as an immortal Shiva did not feel the need to have children who would remember him after death.
Parvati was also exasperated because Shiva was constantly coming in to her while she was bathing and thus interrupting her baths, and he was able to do so because her attendant who was supposed to keep Shiva out was inattentive and irresponsible and easily bypassed by the god. So, she created her own son all by herself, and set him up as the guardian of the entrance to her bathing pools.
According to many versions of the legend, Shiva was quite surprised when he saw a strange young man at the entrance to his wife's bathing chambers, and not recognizing Ganesh, Shiva immediately cut off his head. Parvati of course was horrified and instructed Shiva to restore Ganesh without delay, and in his haste to find a head to replace the one he had cut off, Shiva had to make do with the first head that was available -- which happened to be an elephant's head. After all, it was an emergency.
From that point on, the legends tell us, Shiva accepted Ganesha as his son, and they were all a happy family.
Thus the story of how Ganapati got his elephant head. In another story, explaining why he is often depicted with a serpent belt, we learn that Ganesh was very fond of sweet cakes or pastry treats -- and in fact his statues often show him holding a bowl of such cakes or delicacies, sometimes with the tip of his trunk reaching into the bowl in order to pull one out and place it in his mouth. One day, after having consumed an inordinate amount of such treats, Ganesh was riding upon his mouse, and a serpent slithered across their path, scaring the mouse so badly that he bolted in terror, pitching Ganesh off of his back and into the road.
Ganesh had eaten so many cakes that his stomach split open and they all tumbled out -- and ever since then, he wears the serpent as a belt or bandolier, in order to hold the split together, or at least that is one version of the legend.
There is much more to learn about Lord Ganesh, for those interested in going further, but let us now briefly examine the indisputable evidence which I would argue shows the celestial basis for the sacred stories described above. Scholars have spent a great deal of time trying to find cultural or historical reasons for the existence of a god with an elephant's head who rides on a mouse or a rat, and there may be an element of truth in some of their speculations and analyses, but ultimately I believe that these aspects of the myth are directly attributable to the outline of the very same constellations which form the basis for other myths and legends literally around the globe.
In other words, like the stories in the Bible and in the Greek myths and the Mesopotamian myths and the myths of Africa and Australia and the Americas and the Pacific and of ancient China and Japan and other parts of Asia and Europe, the Ganesh stories are Star Myths.
Below is a section of the sky, from the open-source planetarium app stellarium.com, showing the constellational outlines as suggested by the great teacher of practical astronomy, H. A. Rey.
After reading the brief accounts of some aspects of the Ganapati myth described above, you should be able to see immediately where those details in the stories have their origin:
Let's begin with Ganesha himself: it is my contention that the constellation Bootes, with his distinctive upraised "pipe," plays the role of the celestial Ganesh. The long pipe resembles the trunk of an elephant, and the head of this constellation is already rather large and somewhat too big for the body.
Additionally, the Northern Crown, or Corona Borealis, which is located just behind the head of Bootes, could possibly be seen as an elephant's ear, although this is not certain and it is not necessary to accept this connection in order to see that Bootes is undoubtedly Ganesh (we will see more evidence in a moment).
Notice that Ganesh is sitting directly in between the two celestial figures who I believe play the role of his parents: the constellation Virgo (outlined in yellow) who plays the role of Parvati, and the constellation Hercules (outlined in red, to the left of Bootes as we look at the above star chart) who plays the role of Shiva. Remember that in the story, Parvati installs Ganesha as her guardian at the entrance to her baths, so that she can keep the unwanted attentions of Shiva at bay while she enjoys her bath.
Notice also that the outline of Hercules features a massive upraised club, which could also be easily envisioned as a mighty sword or scimitar -- and it looks as though Shiva (since I believe Hercules plays the role of Shiva) is charging towards Ganesh with his sword poised to strike off his head in a moment.
For those who may be unsure as to whether Hercules really plays the role of Shiva in the heavens, it should be noted that the distinctive posture or outline of the constellation shown above is often interpreted in Star Myths around the world (including some of those discussed in Volume Two on the Greek myths) as dancing vigorously, and that Shiva in Hindu iconography is indeed sometimes portrayed as dancing vigorously in a manner very reminiscent of the figure of Hercules in the sky.
Below is an image of Shiva in his form as Nataraja, performing his distinctive dance (known as the Tandavam):
image: Wikimedia commons (link).
And below is the same star chart shown previously, but this time with the outline of Hercules drawn as it is "conventionally" delineated, in "non-H. A. Rey" form (I usually prefer the H. A. Rey version of the constellations, of course, but sometimes other ways of envisioning them can shed light on the world's various Star Myths, and in particular the constellation Hercules often appears in myth in this "whirling form" rather than in his more "human form"):
If you look carefully at the statue of Shiva Nataraja dancing in the image above, you will see that his one foot is planted on the back of what looks like an infant -- a rather upsetting fact, but one which I believe is in fact also celestial in nature. The constellation Corona Borealis which we were just discussing a moment earlier can be shown to play the role of an infant in a great many Star Myths literally around the globe, from the Pacific islands to the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures. As you can see, Corona Borealis is located very close to the whirling form of Hercules, which I believe is also the whirling form of the dancing god Shiva Nataraja.
Here is a link to an earlier discussion of the story of the Judgment of Solomon in the Old Testament, which shows that the Northern Crown (Corona Borealis) almost certainly plays the role of a baby in that story, and here is a link to a video I made discussing the same story and some of its spiritual significance.
Continuing with our analysis of the celestial aspects of the Ganesha myth, it is very intriguing to consider the celestial counterpart for Ganesha's rat or mouse steed (sometimes known by the name Mushaka Vahana or Mushika Vahana -- "mouse vehicle" or "mouse vahana").
While it may be rather startling to hear it at first, after careful consideration of this question I have finally settled on the conclusion that the origin of the tradition that Ganesh rides upon a mouse (or rat, or shrew) comes from the shape of the outline of the constellation Virgo, who we have earlier seen playing the role of the beautiful goddess Parvati. In fact, in ancient myth, one constellation will at times be seen to play to very different characters in the same myth, and I believe that in the myth of Ganesh, when Ganesh is riding upon his Mushakavahana mount, the celestial mouse is played by the constellation Virgo.
Notice that the outline of Virgo does indeed have a very elongated head, with a rather pointed "nose." Note also that just below Virgo we find the long and sinuous form of the constellation Hydra, which extends out in front of Virgo and thus can be seen to play the role of the serpent that slithers across the path of the mouse who is carrying Ganesh, scaring the mouse and causing Ganesh to fall off. In fact, the outline of Hydra even has a kind of "cobra hood" at the front end of the constellation -- just as the serpent-belt that Ganesh is usually depicted as wearing is often a cobra in the paintings or statues of the god.
Further confirmatory evidence for this interpretation comes from the fact that Ganesh, like other Hindu deities, actually has multiple avatars or incarnations, some of whom ride on different mounts other than a rat (although rats, mice and shrews are the mounts for the majority of his avatars). Other mounts ridden by incarnations of Ganesh include a lion (and note the location of Leo in the sky) and a peacock. I believe the peacock can actually be explained by the proximity of another constellation -- Coma Berenices, or "Berenice's Hair," which is envisioned as a peacock or as a "whisk" made of the tail of a peacock in some Star Myths of the world (including others from ancient India).
One of Ganesha's other incarnations also rides a horse -- and this may have to do with his proximity to the Big Dipper, which is definitely envisioned as a team of horses in many other Star Myths of the world, including many of the Greek myths examined in Volume Two, as well as in other myths from ancient India, including the Mahabharata (discussed in Volume One, as well as in previous posts such as this one and previous videos such as those found at the bottom of this page).
Even more astonishing support for the conclusion that Virgo plays the role of the mouse or shrew that Ganesha rides when we consider another Star Myth, from a land that anthropologists believe has been isolated for longer than perhaps any other part of the world: Australia. There, in a myth which is examined in Star Myths of the world and how to interpret them, Volume One, and which is in fact available to read in the online "preview" of some of the material from Volume One (which you can see in online pdf format here), we find some amazing confirmation of the above interpretation, as well as some insight into other aspects of the Ganesh tradition.
The myth in question, from the Aboriginal cultures of Australia, is described in the very first chapter of Volume One, under the title of "The Bandicoot Woman." It involves celestial characters including a Bandicoot Woman, a Moon Man, and a pair of "hawk ancestors" named Kirkalanji and Warra-pulla-pulla. In the analysis of that myth, I argue that the Bandicoot Woman corresponds to the constellation Virgo in the sky.
Now, a bandicoot is a rodent found in Australia, and if you are not familiar with what one looks like, I included an illustration in the book (many others could also be found on the web):
image: Wikimedia commons (link).
The question might well be asked, "Why is the woman in the Aboriginal myth called a bandicoot woman?"
My answer, of course, would be that the myth in question is celestial in origin -- and the woman in the story corresponds to the constellation Virgo. And we have just observed that the outline of the rather distinctively-shaped head of that constellation is somewhat elongated, and pointed at the tip.
This is a rather startling correspondence between a myth from the Warramungu or Warramunga people of Australia and a myth from ancient India. Since it is generally thought that the Aboriginal people of Australia were largely isolated and undisturbed for millennia prior to the early modern period, if these two stories or ways of envisioning the constellation Virgo somehow share a common foundation, it must be ancient indeed.
Of course, some will argue that it is possible for two groups of people in different parts of the world to look at the stars of Virgo and envision a woman and a rodent at the same time -- but in fact Virgo is one of those constellations that does not really look much like what its constellation says it looks like, unless you really know what you are looking for. It is actually quite remarkable that Virgo appears as a woman in virtually every myth around the globe, because the stars of Virgo are not all that easy to envision as a woman, and to envision them as a rodent-and-woman in two different parts of the world is really even more astonishing.
But, even beyond that, there is more intriguing correspondence with the Warramungu myth of the Bandicoot Woman, which you may have already noticed.
The question could be asked, "Why is the Chaturthi or adoration of Ganesha celebrated on the fourth day of the waning moon? What is the connection between Ganesh and the moon? Why is he a lunar god in the first place?"
It's a good question -- and I believe that the sacred myth from the Aborigine people indigenous to Australia helps us to see the answer. As you may have noticed, the companion to the Bandicoot Woman in the Warramungu myth is a figure called the Moon Man -- and as I demonstrate in the analysis found in Volume One (which you can read online using the links above), it is almost certain that this Moon Man corresponds to the figure of Bootes. In fact, he sits down with his back to the fire in the myth -- the fire being the rising column of the Milky Way band, which the "back" of Bootes is indeed towards in the sky as well.
In other words, not only does the Warramungu myth of Australia help us to understand why Virgo plays a rat upon which Ganesh rides in the myth of ancient India, but it also helps us to understand why Ganesh is associated with the moon! The ancient system of celestial metaphor obviously connected the rather moon-shaped head of the constellation Bootes with the lunar orb. And, as we can see from the veneration of Ganesh on the fourth day of the waning moon, the head of Bootes was apparently seen as shaped about like the moon when it is beginning to wane, four days after it is at the stage of full moon.
Thus, when we worship Ganesh on the fourth day of the waning moon, we are connecting ourselves and our lives to the celestial cycles and to the realm of the gods, and doing so in accordance with a system which may be almost unbelievably ancient -- and which also appears to have been in some way (which we do not presently understand) worldwide.
As some of the essays in the Ganesh book linked above also explain, Ganesh's role as the guardian who protected the entrance to Parvati's bath makes him what is known as a liminal figure: he is associated with boundaries, or liminal spaces (the word liminal is an adjective to describe a threshold or a boundary or a "third space" which is neither in one room or the other). See for example the discussion on page 3 of the introduction by Robert L. Brown, in which he says:
In the Indian context, Ganesa is the liminal god of transitions: he is placed at the doorway of temples to keep out the unworthy, in a position analogous to his role as Parvati's doorkeeper, and he can set up, as he did for his father, obstacles to the successful completion of goals. His parents' ambivalent relationship, founded on the opposing concerns of asceticism and sexuality, places Ganesa in between. He is created by Parvati as a result of Siva's asceticism and refusal to have children, but is annihilated due to Siva's sexual interest in Parvati, only to be restored, transformed, as a bond between the two. He is here fulfilling his transitional role as a means to integrate opposing elements.
I believe that all of this also applies to his role in helping us to integrate opposing elements in our lives as well -- specifically the seemingly opposing elements of materiality and spirituality. Contemplation of Ganesh and his myths can help us to integrate the spiritual aspect of our nature, and to more fully understand the presence of the Invisible World, which is always "just across the liminal boundary" wherever we happen to find ourselves in this material realm.
One of Ganesha's other most important aspects is also referenced in the quotation above -- his association with obstacles: both placing them and removing them. Ganesha can help us to remove the obstacles to our connection with the Higher Self and the divine realm, to which we always have access and with which (the ancient myths tell us) we always need to be in connection in this life, because it is in fact the source of life.
It is my hope that greater understanding of the system of celestial allegory will also "remove the obstacles" to your access to the ancient wisdom that is available to us in the myths, which were provided to humanity as a precious inheritance and treasure, for our benefit and blessing.