image: Wikimedia commons (link).
I hope you have had the opportunity to go outside and witness in person the beautiful procession of planets now arrayed across the night sky, if at all possible.
Presently, you can easily see brilliant Venus in the west (setting fairly early, depending on your latitude and local terrain, by about 8:20 pm), followed by Jupiter high up in the center of the sky (just west of the center of the sky after sunset, in fact, and also very bright and a lighter yellow or gold than Venus), followed by Saturn just above the peak of the "Teapot" stars of Sagittarius (the farthest visible planet and thus small from our perspective, and a duller yellow), and finally bright red Mars rising in the east, larger and brighter than I have ever seen this planet:
For more detail on their locations, including a diagram of the outline of the "Teapot," see this previous post.
Today it is generally believed that the names of deities were imposed upon the planets at a later time, such that the concept of the gods came first and their names were ascribed to planets "later" -- but the authors of Hamlet's Mill explain that this understanding is actually backwards, and that the ancients understood the visible markers in the heavens to reveal to us the Powers who operate in the Invisible Realm.
Today expert philologists tell us that Saturn and Jupiter are names of vague deities, subterranean or atmospheric, superimposed on the planets at a "late" period; they neatly sort out folk origins and "late" derivations, all unaware that planetary periods, sidereal and synodic, were known and rehearsed in numerous ways by celebrations already traditional in archaic times. [ . . . ]
Ancient historians would have been aghast had they been told that obvious things were to become unnoticeable. Aristotle was proud to state it as known that the gods were originally stars, even if popular fantasy had later obscured this truth. Little as he believed in progress, he felt this much had been secured for the future. 3 - 4.
Later they declare, again referencing Aristotle, that:
The most "ancient treasure" -- in Aristotle's word -- that was left to us by our predecessors of the High and Far-Off Times was the idea that the gods are really stars, and that there are no others. The forces reside in the starry heavens, and all the stories, characters and adventures narrated by mythology concentrate on the active powers among the stars, who are the planets. 177.
For more on the text in which Aristotle calls this preservation of the ancient science of a vanished predecessor culture (or cultures) an "ancient treasure," see this previous blog post from 2011.
As perceptive as the authors of Hamlet's Mill were, and as important as their text is for pointing out the existence of a vast, echoing, worldwide ancient system which was already in ruins and covered with the "dust of centuries" by the time the ancient Greeks came on the scene, I do not agree with them that the gods are only seen in the planets, or that the ancient myths are only designed to preserve scientific knowledge about the heavens. Although the ancients clearly understood and taught that the power and personalities of specific gods and goddesses are seen in (and projected by) the planets themselves, I have found overwhelming evidence that the same ancient myths teach us that the characteristics of specific gods and goddesses are also seen in the outlines and movements of specific constellations as well.
Further, as stated above, it is my conviction based upon my analysis of the ancient myths thus far that the visible actors in the infinite realm of the heavens (the sun, the moon, the stars, and the visible planets) were used as a way of showing us profound and vital truths about the invisible world, the Other Realm: the realm of the gods. I'm not sure the authors of Hamlet's Mill would go this far (and in fact I suspect they would disagree with some of what I've asserted above, as well as other aspects of what I've written in various places over the years).
What is also very evident, and very significant, is that the ancients in their surviving writings (in the time of Aristotle, for example, and in the centuries slightly before and after his day) understood that the gods and goddesses acknowledged by various cultures were the same entities -- even if they were called by different names and described in different adventures and episodes. In fact, the ancient writers seem to have assumed this as a given, and didn't even spend time arguing the point, but rather simply state it as if the reader already agrees and understands the same thing.
For example, in the writings of the ancient Roman historian (and also senator) Tacitus, who lived from about AD 56 to about AD 120, the author describes the gods of the various tribes of Germania as corresponding to the deities worshiped by the Romans, and uses the Roman names when describing them -- and this practice was common among many other ancient writers as well.
In the ninth "chapter" of the Germania by Tacitus, for example (which you can read online, along with any of the other chapters, here), the ancient writer informs us that:
Mercury is the deity whom they chiefly worship, and on certain days they deem it right to sacrifice to him even with human victims. Hercules and Mars they appease with more lawful offerings. Some of the Suevi also sacrifice to Isis.
Tacitus is here equating (or "conflating") the god Odin or Wotan with the Roman deity Mercury (who corresponds to Hermes in ancient Greece) -- and in fact, we can see that in the naming of the days of the week, Wednesday (named after Odin or Wotan in the English naming of the days of the week) is the same day as the day named for Mercury in the Latinate languages (the day is known in Spanish as Miercoles, for example).
Similarly, in the above passage Tacitus makes reference to deities among the tribes of Germania corresponding to Hercules and to Mars, and I believe he is here referring to Thor and to Tyr, both of whom have correspondences with the Powers whom the Romans referred to by those names. And indeed, as I have discussed in some of my books, there is ample evidence that gods corresponding to Hercules, Zeus, and Thor (all of whom share many characteristics and all of whom are visibly represented in the sky by the same constellation -- the one we call Hercules and which is visible in the star-chart above, near the top of the chart, directly above Ophiuchus) were also recognized in the Americas, such as in the Maya record of the Popol Vuh, where the deity also is associated with a thunderbolt weapon.
Another example you can consult online is found in the writings of the ancient philosopher Plutarch, who was roughly contemporary with Tacitus and is thought to have lived from about AD 46 to about AD 120, and who appears to have been an initiate into certain ancient mysteria and may also have been a priest of Apollo and perhaps also of Isis, in addition to having been a magistrate and an ambassador.
In his treatise on the deities Isis and Osiris, Plutarch has no problems with declaring that Osiris corresponds to the god Dionysus, Set corresponds to Typhon, Zeus corresponds to the Egyptian deity Ammon, and so forth. You can see some of this discussion in section 12 of Plutarch's study of Isis and Osiris, here.
The significance of this ancient understanding of the universality of the gods should not be overlooked. Indeed, it is pretty much the exact opposite understanding as that which was imposed by the literalists, whose efforts to declare one set of texts as normative and one God as universal and supreme (and all others as false) brought about the end of the ancient world and the loss of much of what remained of that ancient wisdom which Aristotle references in the passages above.
In fact, the ancient view unites all of humanity, rather than dividing it.
This is something to contemplate deeply -- perhaps as you enjoy the glorious spectacle of the visible planets arrayed in the heavens in the night sky this week.
image: Wikimedia commons (link).