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Read Sagittarius the Archer for meanings and traits of the star-sign Sagittarius.


Star Lore of the Constellations: Sagittarius the Archer - by Deborah Houlding

Notable stars in Sagittarius: Epoch 2000
Longitude Name Nature Mag. Position Lat. Dec.
00 Cp. 36 Spiculum Mars/ Moon 6 Cluster at tip of Arrow 00N 24S
01 Cp. 16 Al Nasr Mars/ Moon 3.7 Tip of Arrow 07S 30S
03 Cp. 55 Polis Jupiter/ Mars 3 Upper part of Bow 02N 21S
04 Cp. 35 Kaus Media Jupiter/ Mars 2.8 Middle of Bow 06S 30S
05 Cp. 05 Kaus Australis Jupiter/ Mars 1.85 Southern end of Bow 12S 35S
06 Cp. 19 Kaus Borealis Jupiter/ Mars 2.9 Northern end of Bow 02S 25S
08 Cp. 16 Facies Sun/ Mars 5.9 Nebula in Face of Archer 03S 24S
12 Cp. 23 Pelagus / Nunki Jupiter/ Mercury 2.1 Vane of Arrow in Hand 03S 26S
13 Cp. 23 Ascella Jupiter/ Mercury 2.7 Armpit of Archer 07S 30S
14 Cp. 09 Head-Archer Sun/ Mars 3 Head of Archer 02N 21S
15 Cp. 00 Manubrium Sun/ Mars 3.9 Face of Archer 01N 22S
25 Cp. 33 Terebellum Venus/ Saturn 4.8 Tail of Centaur 05S 26S

The figure of Sagittarius, the Archer, is often confused with Centaurus, the Southern Centaur, which lies close by on the other side of Scorpio. Sagittarius is invariably shown facing westwards, with his arrow pointing towards the Scorpion, and generally depicted with a cloak flying behind him and the Southern Crown at his knee.

Classical legend claims that the Greek Centaur Chiron placed Sagittarius in the heavens to guide the Argonauts in their expedition through Colchis. The problem of having two centaurs in the sky has meant that their myths have frequently overlapped, although their ascribed natures and origins are very different - Chiron being gentle, wise and peace-loving, whilst Sagittarius, known to originate from Mesopotamia, is war-like and fierce.

Although considered a late addition to the heavens,[1] the symbolism connected to Sagittarius is very ancient. The original Babylonian centaur - Pa.Bil.Sag - was twin headed with a human head facing forward and an animal head facing back, imagery which later adapted into the presence of a cloak flying behind the head of the constellation figure. A form of even greater antiquity, and considered to be a forerunner, is that of a scorpion tailed man drawing a bow, possibly showing some early connection between the two neighbouring constellations. Cuneiform inscriptions refer to Sagittarius as 'The Strong One', the 'Giant King of War' and mention him as under the guardianship of Nergal, whom the Mesopotamians identified with Mars. The inherently aggressive nature of Sagittarius seems to have been largely forgotten today through its association with the more idealistic attributes of Chiron; yet even Manilius mentions his 'threatening aspect' and there are frequent references to the 'the dreadful Sagittary', such as that in Shakespears's Troilus and Cressida.[2]

Ptolemy stated that of the stars in Sagittarius:

those in the point of his arrow have an effect like that of Mars and the Moon; those in the bow and the grip of his hand, like that of Jupiter and Mars; the cluster in his forehead, like that of the Sun and Mars; those in the cloak and his back, like that of Jupiter and, to a less degree, of Mercruy; those in his feet, like that of Jupiter and Saturn; the quadrangle upon the tail, like that of Venus, and to a less degree, of Saturn. (I.9)

Stars at the point of the arrow which are given a Mars/Moon nature include the nebulous clusters Spiculum and Al Nasl, both bearing names which translate as 'point', 'dart' or 'arrowhead'. The arrow point was listed by Ptolemy, along with various other clusters and nebulous star groups, as indicative of blindness, and Al-Biruni specifically mentions the tip of the arrow as injurious to the eyes. [3]

Pelagus is a 2nd magnitude star on the vane of the arrow at the Archer's hand. According to Ptolemy its nature is like Jupiter and Mars, but Alvidas likened it to Saturn and Mercury, Noonan gives it purely to Jupiter, and Robson claims Jupiter and Mercury. The Jupiter association seems to be most relevant because it has always been considered a fortunate star and is associated with truthfulness, optimism and a religious mind. Under the title Nunki, it was listed in the Euphratean Tablet of the Thirty Stars where it was known as 'the Star of the Proclamation of the Sea'. Allen identifies this 'sea' as the quarter of the heavens which stretches through Aquarius to Pisces, designated as 'the water' by Aratus. Consequently Noonan notes that this star 'has always portended favourable events for mariners and shipping'. [4]

Stars in the bow and grip of the Archer's hand, in keeping with the Jupiter/Mars nature attributed by Ptolemy, are generally linked to success through martial endeavours. Ebertin and Hoffman add 'mental stimuli, enterprise and a sense of justice', viewing the stars as more expressive of a Mercury/Mars influence. These include Kaus Borealis, Northern Bow, a 3rd magnitude yellow star; Kaus Australis, Southern Bow, the brightest star which shines orange and bluish, and Kaus Media, Middle Bow; another double star which shines orange, yellow and blue. Polis is a triple star in the upper part of the bow, whose name derives from the Coptic word for a foal. Unsurprisingly, it is said to give horsemanship along with martial desires and keen perception, whilst Noonan describes it as 'a fortunate star portending success, ambition and truthfulness'. [5]

The cluster in the forehead of the Archer, which Ptolemy likens to the influence of the Sun and Mars includes Facies. This, like the point of the Arrow, is associated with blindness, defective sight; and, as is generally the case with nebulous clusters, sickness, accidents or a violent death. Other stars amongst this group include Manubrium, a 4th magnitude star linked to blindness, explosions, fire, flaring heat, heroism, courage and defiance, and the nearby Head-Archer which shares a similar reputation.

The stars in the cloak and back, attributed a Jupiter/Mercury influence, include Ascella, a 3rd magnitude binary star located in the armpit of the Archer, reputed to give good fortune, happiness, and success in literary affairs. The name is a derivative of Axilla, the Armpit.

The chief star from the 'quadrangle in the tail' is Terebellum, associated with Venus and Saturn by Ptolemy. According to Robson it 'gives a fortune, but with regret and disgrace, cunning, a mercenary nature and repulsiveness.'[6]

Sagittarius is a large constellation best viewed in early summer. The constellation as a whole is distinctive for looking like a teapot, complete with spout and handle. The most easily identifyable part of it is the group of stars around the bow and central figure that form a trapezoid shape.

The Sun crosses Spiculum and Al Nasr around 23rd December, Polis around 26th December, Kaus Australis and Media around 28th December, Kaus Borealis around 29th December, Facies around 31st December, Pelagus around 4th January, Ascella around 5th January, Head-Archer around 6th January, Manubrium around 5th December, and Terebellum around 17th January.

Notes & References:
  1 ] It is suggested that Sagittarius did not exist as a constellation prior to the introduction of the zodiac.
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  2 ] Allen, Star Names, their Lore and Meaning, Dover, 1963; p.107ff; p.354.
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  3 ] Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, (1st cent. AD), trans. Robbins, published by Harvard Heinemann, III.12 (Loeb p.321).
Al Biruni, The Book of Instruction in the Elements of the Art of Astrology, 11th century, trans. Wright, republished by Ascella, v.460, (p.272).
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  4 ] G. Noonan, Fixed Stars and Judicial Astrology, 1990, AFA, p.52
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  5 ] Noonan, p.52
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  6 ] Robson, The Fixed Stars and Constellations, 1923, republished by Ascella, p.213.
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© Deborah Houlding

Stars & Constellations