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Star Lore of the Constellations:  Serpens - The Serpent - by Deborah Houlding




Notable stars in Serpens: Epoch 2000
Longitude Name Nature Mag. Position Lat. Dec.
22 Sco 05 Unukhalai Saturn Mars 2.8 Serpent's neck 26N 6N


Serpens, the Serpent, is depicted coiled around the body of Ophiuchus the snake charmer and held in his embrace. According to classical legend the healer Aesculapius (with whom Ophiuchus is identified) was summoned by the king of Minos, and asked to restore life to the body of his dead son, Glaucus. Whilst he worked on the body a serpent entered the room, which he killed. This was followed by a second serpent which placed a herb on the head of the first, restoring it to life. Aesculapius used the same herb to restore life to Glaucus and for this reason the serpent was elevated to join Aesculapius in the stars. Other myths claim this to be the serpent from the garden of Eden, or the one which attempted to slay the infant Hercules.

Serpents (or snakes) are ancient symbols of regenerative powers, partly because of the analogy that is built into the creature's ability to shed old skin. Ancient depictions of Saturn often show him holding the Uroborus, the serpent who eats its own tail, a symbol of eternal regeneration which forges birth and death into the endless cycle of past, present and future. Two serpentine symbols that remain strongly associated with medicine today, are the staff of Aesculapius and the Cadeuceus, the former showing one serpent coiled around a rod, the latter, two serpents intertwined beneath the wings of Mercury. The close associations between Aesculapius, the serpent, and healing, are such that the two celestial figures of Serpens and Ophiuchus are often linked together as one star group, although they are in fact two separate constellations. Whilst either can offer the capacity to kill or cure, astrologically the reputation for healing tends to fall upon Ophiuchus, with the stars of the Serpent regarded as injurious, particularly through its association with poisons and infectious bites. Ptolemy recorded its stars to be of the nature of Saturn and Mars.[1]

The main star of the group is Unukhalai, a 2nd magnitude, pale yellow star situated on the neck of the Serpent, but called Cor Sepentis, 'the Heart of the Serpent' because it expresses the main theme of the constellation influence. (The name derives from Unk al Hayyah, 'neck of the Snake'). This is an unfortunate star of which Vivian Robson states:

It gives immorality, accidents, violence and danger of poison.
With Sun. Many quarrels and disappointments, unfortunate life, seriously affected by death of family or friends.
With Moon. Clever, evil environment, hatred of authority, involved in intrigues and plots, banished, imprisoned or hanged for crime probably by poisoning.[2]

Whilst the 17th century astrologer William Lilly wrote of the Moon's direction to it:

It shows the native given to deal in poisons and witchcraft and declares that he will be subject to poisonous potions, and to the stinging of adders, serpents, &c., shall hardly escape a chronic disease, and that some of his sweet hearts shall die.[3]

Dr Eric Morse, however, in his more recent Living Stars, gives a more balanced treatment to this star's reputation:

The neck, rather than the head, is where a snake has its brain, its seat of knowledge. So this star is all about that knowledge that the good doctor has won from his labors, that knowledge of where we came from, what we are, where we are going, what holds us back, what to do about healing it. This Saturn-Mars star does in some measure merit the black reputation it has gained from the debasers of astrology, for those who will abuse and misuse the gifts available here, are as deserving of being struck off the register as any corrupt doctor. But those who will give service, in healing or teaching of what they receive, have only good fortune where Unukalhai shines on them. [4]


The constellation Serpens is the only one to be divided in two (by Ophiuchus). Together they present a large, obscure area close to the ecliptic between Sagittarius and Scorpio. Unukhalai lies to the west of the figure of Ophiuchus and makes an almost equilateral triangle with the star Arcturus of Bootes, and Gemma of Corona Borealis. It is best viewed in the northern hemisphere after 9:00 pm in the mid-summer months.

The Sun crosses Unukhalai around 15th November each year.




Notes & References:
  1 ] Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, (1st cent. AD), trans. Robbins, published by Harvard Heinemann, I.9 (Loeb p.55).
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  2 ] The Fixed Stars and Constellations, (1923), p.213.
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  3 ] Christian Astrology, (1647), p.702.
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  4 ] Amethyst Books, 1988, p.36.
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© Deborah Houlding. First published in The Traditional Astrologer Magazine, issue 19; January 2000. Published online October 2007.

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