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Star Lore of the Constellations: Auriga the Charioteer, by Deborah Houlding




Notable stars in Auriga: Epoch 2000
Longitude Name Nature Mag. Position Lat. Dec.
21 Gem 51 Capella Mercury Moon 0.08 Body of Goat 23N 46N
29 Gem 55 Menkalinan Mars Mercury 1.9 (v) Shoulder of Charioteer 22N 45N


Auriga is depicted by a charioteer who holds a goat in his left arm and some suckling kids in his lap. The chariot is not shown but is represented by the reins held in his right hand.

This strange mythological mix is very ancient and believed to be of Mesopotamian origin.[1] Latin authors claim it represents the lame son of Vulcan and Minerva who invented the chariot as a means of transportation. The goat in his arms was described by Aratus as "the holy Goat which, as legend tells, gave the breast to Zeus". This is Amalthea, (also linked to the myth of Capricorn), which not only nurtured Zeus but protected him through the aegis (literally 'goat-skin') that constituted his cloak and shield. Manilius treats the figures as separate constellations, describing the Charioteer as a skilled, enthusiastic, and reckless driver, racing across the heavens with his spirited team of horses.[2]

The main star of the group is in the body of the goat: the 1st magnitude white star Capella 'the Little She-Goat' which is the 6th brightest star in the sky. In classical times it was noted for its association with floods and storms. Pliny referred to its as 'the Rainy Goat-starre' whilst Aratus spoke of how the goat often saw men 'storm-tossed' at sea. Ptolemy reports all the bright stars of Auriga to be of the nature of Mars and Mercury, but it is possible that he was thinking only of the figure of the Charioteer, and did not intend this association to extend to Capella. Other authors claim that Capella is of the nature of Mercury and the Moon, which does seem more fitting to the traits described by its influence.[3] In his description of the nanny goat, Manilius wrote:

She gave the Thunderer sound nourishment, satisfying with her own milk the infant's hungry body, and giving him therewith sufficient strength to wield his bolts. Of the Goat are born anxious minds and trembling hearts which start at every noise and are apt to flutter at the slightest cause. In born in them too is a longing to explore the unknown, even as goats seek fresh shrubs on mountain slopes and rejoice as they browse, to move ever further afield. [4]

Lilly followed this description quite closely adding that Capella:

...begets in the minds of men a curiosity together with much carefulness and fearfulness; such would know all things, and itch after novelties.[5]

Modern authors also note the Mercurial influence. In their book Fixed Stars and their Interpretation, Ebertin and Hoffman claim it bestows "a love of learning, studiousness and interest in research", whilst Robson repeats a similar description to Lilly.[6]

On the body of the Charioteer, Menkalinan 'The Rein-holder', is the most prominent star. This is a 2nd magnitude binary star, bright yellow in colour, positioned on the right shoulder of Auriga. Its astrological influence seems in keeping with the reckless image of the Charioteer portrayed by Manilius, and with the Mars-Mercury nature ascribed to it by Ptolemy. Its beneficial attributes, judging by Manilius's text, are that it denotes a love of speed, agility and dexterity, and that it gives good navigational skills. With regard to driving it gives "virtuosity in all that is connected to such pursuits", suggesting a modern association with cars and motor bikes, as well as with racing and horses in general". [7]

However, Ebertin and Hoffman argue that it needs to be in really good aspect to promise any kind of beneficial influence; George Noonan suggested danger through "excess pleasure seeking", and Robson believes it to cause "ruin, disgrace and frequently violent death".



Locating Auriga




Auriga is a large constellation to the north of Taurus. El Nath, the tip of the northern horn of the bull, forms the base of a pentagon of stars which marks the constellation. Best time to view is in the late autumn months.

The Sun crosses Capella around 12th June and Menkalinan around 20th June each year.




Notes & References:
  1 ] Allen, in his Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning remarks that the constellation is believed to have originated on the Euphrates in the same form as we have it, and was a well established sky figure thousands of years ago. An ancient sculpture from Nimrod shows an exact representation.
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  2 ] Aratus, Phaenomena, I.14; Manilius, Astronomica, 5.70-102
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  3 ] Ptolemy, I.9; Alvidas, Science and the Key of Life, Vol IV
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  4 ] Manilius, 5.128-140
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  5 ] Lilly, Christian Astrology, p.537
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  6 ] Ebertin & Hoffman, The Fixed Stars and Their Interpretations, p.34; Robson, The Fixed Stars and Constellations, p.151.
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  7 ] Manilius, 5.357-364. Firmicus follows Manilius but adds that if malefic planets are in aspect, the native is reduced to being a door-keeper, admitting and saluting guests, VIII.XIV.1
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© Deborah Houlding. First published in The Traditional Astrologer Magazine, issue 15; October 1997. Published online November 2005.

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