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Read Taurus the Bull for meanings and traits of the sun-sign Taurus.


Star Lore of the Constellations: Taurus the Bull - by Deborah Houlding

Notable stars in Taurus: Epoch 2000
Longitude Name Nature Mag. Position Lat. Dec.
29 Ta. 59 Alcyone Moon / Jupiter 2.87 Pleiades (Shoulder of Bull) 4N 24N
05 Ge. 48 Prima Hyadum Saturn / Mercury 3 Hyades Forehead of Bull 06S 16N
08 Ge. 28 N. Bull's Eye Saturn / Mercury 3 Northern Eye of Bull 03S 19N
09 Ge. 47 Aldebaran Mars 0.85 Southern Eye of Bull 05S 17N
22 Ge. 34 El Nath Mars 1.65 Tip of Northern Horn 05N 29N
24 Ge. 47 Al Hecka Mars 3 Tip of Southern Horn 02S 21N

Taurus is one of the oldest constellations, particularly noted in ancient astronomy because it marked the vernal equinox between 4000- 1700BC. In Greek myth the creature immortalizes the form taken by Jupiter in his seduction of Europa. Encouraged by the tameness of the bull she mounted it as it mingled with a herd on the sea-shore, whereupon it swam into the sea and bore her away to Crete. Some authorities claim that this is why only the foreparts of the bull are depicted in the constellation figure, the hind quarters supposedly hidden by waves; other authors claim that the lack of hind limbs indicates that at one time the constellation was much larger and occupied the space now taken by Aries.

Taurus is well documented in Babylonian astrology, the Mesopotamians being the first to call this part of the sky Gud.Anna., 'Bull of Heaven'. According to their myth, the creature was created on the orders of Ishtar (Venus) to destroy the legendary hero Gilgamesh who had insultingly spurned her advances and remarked that she all too quickly tired of her objects of desire. Gilgaimesh triumphed over the Bull, which was then placed in the heavens, but for his sacrilege the gods declared that the life of his best friend, Enkidu, should be taken as a forfeit.

It is notable how frequently a strong feminine figure is integral to the myth of the bull, not only in Greece and Mesopotamia, but also in Egypt where Taurus became the sky representative of Isis. Manilius, writing in the first century AD, described Taurus as dives puellis 'rich in maidens', although he was referring to the seven Pleiades and seven Hyades, all daughters of Atlas, collectively known as the Atlanteads, which are celebrated within its form.[1] In his description of the characteristics given to the natives of this constellation he speaks about their beauty and 'peaceful lives'; their gifts being 'not gifts of glory, but the fruits of the earth', a fruitfulness derived from the constellation's role in heralding the renewal of the agricultural year:

When it carries the sun's orb upon its horns, it bids battle with the soil begin and rouses the fallow land to its former cultivation, itself leading the work, for it neither pauses in the furrows nor relaxes its breast in the dust... Its sons have a love of unsung excellence; their hearts and bodies derive strength from a massiveness that is slow to move, whilst in their faces dwells the boy-god Love.[2]

Despite the peaceful gentility given to the constellation as a whole, many of the stars and clusters within the group are notable for an influence that is fierce, ambitious and violent. The Pleiades is a nebulous cluster of stars, all contained within one degree of longitude, located on the shoulder of the Bull. In myth they eternalise the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione, daughter of Oceanus - Maia, Taygete, Electra, Alcyone, Asterope, Kelaino and Merope. Alcyone, a 3rd magnitude greenish-yellow star is the brightest, and generally taken as a reference point for the group.

According to one version of the myth, the Seven Sisters committed suicide through grief at their father's everlasting task of having to support the world on his shoulders, his punishment for fighting with the Titans against the gods of Mount Olympus. Another claims they were the attendants of Artemis who were pursued by the giant hunter Orion. They were rescued by the gods who changed them into doves and after death placed them in the heavens a little away from the gaze of Orion.

The Pleiades are among the first stars positively identified in astronomical literature, with references as early as the 3rd millennium BC when Alcyone would have marked the vernal equinox - thus, the title 'the Great Year of the Pleiades' is used to describe the cycle of precession which takes about 25,850 years to complete. The origin of the term Pleiades is not purely explained by the name of the mythological mother; many consider that it derives from the Greek term 'to sail' since the heliacal rising of the group in May coincided with the new season of navigation for the Greeks, and the stars were believed to have a strong influence upon the waters, being known as 'the sailor's stars'. Others consider it originates from the term meaning 'full', 'many' or 'plural' and a derivative Arabic name Al Thurayya, meaning 'Abundance', was argued by Al-Biruni to refer to both their appearance and to the effect that their attendant rain had upon the crops.

The Pleiades are also one of the most noted objects in the sky, with reference to their 'sweet' influence frequently found in ancient literature and poems. Astrologically, however, despite being described as having a nature like the Moon and Jupiter, they have also accumulated an unfortunate reputation for immorality and disorder, as well as the tradition for blindness and injuries to the eyes that is common to all nebulous clusters.[3] Modern authors Ebertin and Hoffman remark upon an inclination to homosexuality and violent death,[4] whilst Vivian Robson concluded that their influence was 'distinctly evil'. [5] Manilius is the most ancient author to which this blighted reputation can be traced, in a passage that speaks first of an innocuous striving for physical perfection and feminine graces, but rapidly deteriorates towards perverted sexuality:

...the Bull brings forth in his sixth degree the Pleiades, sisters who vie with each other's radiance. Beneath their influence devotees of Bacchus and Venus are born into the kindly light, and people whose insouciance[6] runs free at feasts and banquets and who will strive to provoke sweet mirth with biting wit. They will always take pains over personal adornment and an elegant appearance: they will set their locks in waves of curls or confine their tresses with bands, building them into a thick topknot, and they will transform the appearance of the head by adding hair to it: they will smooth their hairy limbs with the porous pumice, loathing their manhood and craving for sleekness of arm. They adopt feminine dress, footwear donned not for wear but for show, and an affected effeminate gait. They are ashamed of their sex; in their hearts dwells a senseless passion for display, and they boast of their malady, which they call a virtue. To give their love is never enough, they want their love to be seen. [7]

Five centuries later, the roman astrologer Firmicus Maternus, clearly inspired by Manilius, enlarged his general drift but developed it towards the negative:

Those who are born when these [the Pleiades] are rising are always involved in luxury and lust. They are always drenched in perfumes, given to too much wine drinking, impudent in speech, so that in banquets and lovemaking they attack their companions with sarcastic wit. They are addicted to crimes of passion and are the kind who raise laughter by their biting tongues. They will always be well groomed and well dressed. They twist their hair in ringlets and often present a fictitious appearance by using another's hair. They soften their whole body with various cosmetics; pull out their body hair and wear clothes in the likeness of women; they walk softly on their tiptoes. But the desire for flattery torments them; they seek it so constantly that they think that from flattery they attain virtue and good fortune. They will always be in love, or pretend that they are, and it pains them that they were born men. If a malefic planet is in this place they will be struck by sudden blindness. [8]

Firmicus adds that when setting, the Pleiades warn of death from shipwreck if afflicted, or otherwise, death results from sexual diseases or overindulgence at banquets or drinking parties. Thus the group was characterised with a flavour for the immoral, leading 17th century astrologer William Lilly to write of its effect upon the manners:

The Pleiades inclines the native to be wanton, ambitious, turbulent. [9]

Of the direction of the ascendant to the group Lilly also writes:

This afflicts the native's body with red choler and choleric humours, with wounds in the face, or hurt in the sight of his left eye, restraint of liberty, banishment, or an obscuring of himself for a time, wounds or hurts in his arms. I have observed this direction offends the native's eyes with choleric humours or sharp distillations, that the native passionately affects women, gets them with child, is prone to whoredoms and unclean lusts, and loses his reputation thereby. That he is suddenly engaged in quarrels, bound to answer his follies at the sessions; usually, if the capacity of the man suffer it, and at the time the ascendant or Sun come to the opposition of the lord of the 10th or Mars, the native dies by the sentence of the judge. [10]

Various aphorisms throughout Lilly's section on nativities point to the asterism being the cause of violent death when prominently positioned and afflicted. 'To be slain in a tumult' is a risk to be wary of when Mars is with the Pleiades and Saturn with Cor Leonis,[11] whilst the direction of the midheaven to the Pleiades:

.... violently thrusts the native into troublesome, pernicious and dangerous businesses, wranglings and controversies occasioned by women. It occasions sudden and unexpected quarrels and rash actions, sometimes murders or stabs, imprisonment, &c. It doth also portend in some genitures sudden preferment, but an unlucky end thereof. This is to be understood, where the radix of the nativity is unfortunate. [12]

The final comment should be firmly borne in mind, since it seems reasonable to expect that the problems arising from and associated with women, or the troublesome effeminate traits, are only be expected when the cluster is unfortunately profiled. Like most powerful stars, Alcyone can promote as rapidly as it can destroy, particularly under beneficial conditions and wise direction.

The other remarkable cluster in Taurus is the Hyades, referred to as one of the most beautiful objects in the sky and frequently mentioned by classical authors on account of its beauty and reputation for bringing rain. In Greek mythology they were the half-sisters of the Pleiades, the seven daughters of Atlas and Aethra, who were entrusted with the care of the infant Bacchus. The tears they shed at the death of their brother Hyas moved the gods to place them among the stars in recognition of their sympathy and sorrow.

The name Hyades is derived from a Greek term meaning 'rain' because of the wet season that accompanied their rising and setting in May and November respectively. The helical rising of the group unaccompanied by rain, was taken to foretell a barren year and they also had a reputation for causing storms. Pliny referred to the group as 'violent and troublesome... causing storms and tempests on land and sea' whilst Ptolemy mentions them as harbingers of fire, thunder and lightning.[13] The disturbance they brought meteorologically appears to underpin their astrological reputation for characterising upset, violence and sorrow. Manilius wrote of their rising:

Those born at this time take no pleasure in tranquility and set no store by a life of inaction; rather they yearn for crowds and mobs and civil disorders. Sedition and uproar delight them.... they welcome fights which break the peace and provide sustenance for fears.[14]

The chief star, Aldebaran is the 1st magnitude star referred to by Ptolemy as 'the Torch' on account of its bright, rose-coloured luminance. It is positioned on the southern or left eye of the Bull and is known by early authors as 'the Bright Eye of the Bull', 'Bull's Eye', Occulus Taurii; or by some Cor Taurii - the Heart of Taurus, referring not to its position but its prominency. The name is derived from the Arabic Al Dabaran, the Follower, ie., of the Pleiades. Ptolemy noted this star to have an influence of the nature of Mars and this is certainly evident in the description Lilly gives in describing its effect upon the manners, where he states that it will show the native:

... to be fierce, full of courage, to delight in military affairs, unquiet, seditious; but the Moon in conjunction with it imports a good fellow, especially in the ascendant; but if the Lord of the ascendant be with the Moon in conjunction with that fixed star, he proves a murderer; the more probable if he be a masculine planet and the Sun unfortunate. Usually Saturn with Oculus Taurii produces great afflictions, and shows a strange mind and very wicked. [15]

Of the direction of the Sun to Aldebaran Lilly writes:

It shows the native occupied in military matters, to frame many warlike instruments, to devise many strategems, and that he shall be endangered by the deceit of his enemies, and in some peril of his life, but let him beware he fall not into their hands. [16]

Ascending or culminating with the Sun or Moon, Aldebaran 'opens the way to much honour for himself by his violence and fierceness, but with much difficulties and many casualties'. Other references to the star afflicted refer to the possibility of violent death and, like the Pleiades, the Hyades also have a reputation for abnormal sexual inclinations.

Aldebaran formed one of the Four Royal Stars of Persia - the Watcher of the East. As such, there is the capacity for great promotion, preferment and an accumulation of wealth and power, but as in the case of Antares, there is a great responsibility attached to the honours that it brings, and if these are abused, the fall from grace will be just as rapid as the rise.

Prima Hyadum is another notable star in the Hyades group. Its nature is likened to Saturn and Mercury and, well placed, the star is said to give tactfulness and fairness, but afflicted it indicates sorrow and tears, sudden unfortunate events and violent swings of fortune.

El Nath is a double star, brilliant white and pale grey, situated on the tip of the northern horn. The name derives from Al Natih, the Butting One, and the nature, according to Ptolemy, is like the influence of Mars. Nonetheless, El Nath enjoys a more favourable reputation than many of the stars in Taurus and is renown for giving fortune, favour and eminence, accompanied by a sharp wit. It carries some danger of quarrels, enmity, and 'many small losses' but overall its influence is a beneficial one and when harnessed, can propel and promote effectively.

By comparison, Al Hecka, on the southern horn, is far more malevolent and is reputed to be associated with violence, suspicions, deceit and selfishness. It is an unfavourable star for health, and especially for the lungs. [17] Afflicted it indicates domestic problems, separations, sexual abnormalities and uncontrolled passions and tempers.

The best time to view Taurus is in the late autumn months.
The Sun crosses Alcyone around June 21st / Prima Hyadum around June 28th / Aldebaran around July 2nd / El Nath around July 15th / Al Hecka around July 19th.
Taurus is located north west of the prominent constellation, Orion. Aldebaran can be found as the central point in the V-shape that marks the head and horns of the Bull.

The stars of Taurus

Notes & References:
  1 ] Manilius, Astronomica, (c.10 AD), Harvard Heinemann, Loeb Classical Library; 2.50, (Loeb p.95).
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  2 ] Ibid. 4.140-150 (Loeb p.233).
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  3 ] For specific references see for example Lilly p.649; Dorotheus p.253; Ptolemy III.2 (Loeb p.321).
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  4 ] Ebertin-Hoffman, The Fixed Stars and Their Interpretations, 1928, p.28.
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  5 ] Vivian Robson, The Fixed Stars & Constellations, 1923; p.182.
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  6 ] Insouciance: carefree/irresponsible attitude.
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  7 ] Manilius, 5.140-157 (Loeb p.311).
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  8 ] Firmicus, Matheseos Libri VIII, 4th century, VIII.VII; (Ascella reprint p.267).
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  9 ] William Lilly, Christian Astrology, 1647, p.536.
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  10 ] Ibid. pp.667-668.
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  11 ] Ibid. p.649.
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  12 ] Ibid. p.679.
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  13 ] Ptolemy II.11 (Loeb p.203) - the Pleiades are marked by earthquakes, winds and mists; the Hyades by Fire, thunder and lightning. See also Allen, p.387 and p.398. The Pleiades have always shared in the reputation for rain attributed to the Hyades, and are intimately connected with stories of floods and the Deluge-myth.
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  14 ] Manilius, 5.118-130 (Loeb pp.307-309).
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  15 ] Lilly, p.536.
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  16 ] Ibid. p.690.
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  17 ] Robson, p.125.
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© Deborah Houlding

Stars & Constellations