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Deborah Houlding

Deborah Houlding

Also by Deborah Houlding

The Moon - Lantern of Heaven

Venus - the two-faced goddess
Mars - solar hero or deadly villian?

Heavenly Imprints

Heavenly Imprints

Development of the Zodiac
and the early origins of
Aries & Taurus

by Deborah Houlding

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The Origins of the Constellations Taurus and Aries

Taurus has one of the longest histories of the zodiac signs. The Sumerians refer to a star-bull ushering in the springtime, a reference to the Vernal Equinox being placed in Taurus sometime between the fourth and second millenniums BC. This was the age in which the bull cult arose in Minoan Crete, the age of Montu the Bull in Egypt and the era of the biblical golden calf. Bulls, ploughs and agriculture seem such an essential and mundane part of ancient life that one might expect them to be taken for granted. But domestication of the draught animal and the invention of the plough was no mean accomplishment; in the native civilizations of North and South America neither occurred, a major factor in the failure of these civilisations to develop technology and effective defences. It was during the period of the great astrological age of Taurus that the people of the Middle East made this breakthrough, and around the same period began to employ the wheel, the lever and the most powerful invention of agriculture, the plough.

The first sign of the appearance of the wheel is traced to Mesopotamia and dates to just after 3500 BC. The earliest finds are solid wooden wheels which were attached to rafts for drawing loads upon a primitive cart. Shortly afterwards wheels and axles appear, along with levers and wedges from the earliest ploughs. Pulleys and large-scale irrigation systems had not yet been devised but the mechanical principles were in gestation, waiting for man's inventiveness to catch up with the potential of exploiting powers other than his own physical labour.

The harnessing of animal power in the domestication of the ox opened the door to organised and efficient farming and that in turn allowed communities to settle, mature and develop their infrastructure. The tireless oxen, a creature capable of matching the strength and productivity of many men, provided the means whereby supplies of food stock could become far greater than the supplies required for its production. Domestication of the ox was a genuine cause for human celebration. The creature was honoured for its resilience and strength and also for the fertility that it conveyed upon the land. From the Old Testament we can see how they were viewed as sacred, to be treated with great respect.

The Egyptians have a long history of bull worship and sacred bulls. These were said to incarnate the spirit of their gods and their death was followed by a period of national mourning. Often, these were depicted with the crescent Moon for horns. Prior to the Age of Aries the predominant iconography in Egypt was the Bull of Heaven, which was replaced by an endless array of ram images from the 2nd millennium BC onwards. It is noteworthy that the physical manifestation of the god Montu was in the form of the bull, and the pharaohs who ruled at the end of the Taurean age bore names that spoke of the completion of his power. Mentuhotep (literally 'Montu is satisfied') reigned from 2060 - 2010 BC, followed by his successors Mentuhotep II and III. Some scholars have also dated the story of Moses overturning the Golden Calf to this same period, suggesting that there was a widespread awareness amongst rulers that they were ushering in a brand new age and needed to respond with demolition of the old. Throughout the ancient world there are numerous depictions of the Sun god wrestling with and overthrowing the bull, most of which have been translated as pictorial celebrations of the shift from the Age of Taurus to Aries. [8]

Whilst the history of the zodiac is better documented as it evolved in the Mesopotamian region, the fact that Aries is known to originate from Egyptian symbolism argues that their perception of the sign is closest to its original meaning. Aries was incorporated into the Mesopotamian zodiac after the conquest of Egypt by the Assyrians in 671 BC. It is conspicuously absent in early Babylonian texts, which refer to the constellation as Lu Hunga, 'the Hired Man'.

In ancient Egypt the ram was revered as an emblem of the Sun and held inviolate except during the New Year ceremonies when lambs were offered to the Sun in sacrifice.[9] This was a time of great spiritual significance; the re-emergence of the Sun, the resurrection of the light, the resurrection of God. Like the mythical phoenix, which arose in its own ashes, the ram was chosen as a natural symbol of resurrection because of its ability, when shorn, to replenish its stock of wool. "The Ram, who is rich with an abundance of wool and, when shorn of this, with a fresh supply, will ever cherish hopes", writes Manilius in the first century BC.[10] Biblical references draw heavily on the symbolism in the description of Christ as the Light, the Resurrection, the Lamb of God. It is not by accident that Easter - the resurrection of the Lord - is held in the full Moon period that follows the Sun's entry into Aries, and our western custom of giving eggs is based on a similar need to offer symbols of new life and new opportunities.

It was a natural act by which the stars of the constellation that held our attention at this period, the final death of winter and darkness, the re-emergence of the Sun's full glory, should be characterised in the form of a living representation. Principally a symbol of the resurrected Sun, the ram became a visible manifestation of the Sun-god and its creative power; subsequent generations spoke of a mythical golden fleece, able to return life to the dead in the same way that Aries heralded the end of the season of death. Through this association the sacred Ram was an embodiment of the principles of fertility, vitality, new life and creative energy. The connection with the Sun was also reinforced by the culmination of Aries as Sirius rose heliacally and announced the annual inundation of the Nile.

The glory that Egypt invested in the ram can be witnessed at the Great Temple of Amon-Ra at Karnak, built in 1480 BC. This includes an impressive avenue of ram-headed sphinxes and is oriented to the summer solstice at sunset. The temple is designed around a long passage, arranged to permit a beam of light from the Sun to reach down to a darkened sanctuary at the end. The path was narrowed so that the chamber could only be illuminated for a few moments on the day of the summer solstice. Impressive arguments have also been made that Karnak, together with other Sun temples such as the one at Luxor, form part of a huge reconstruction of the constellation Aries over the Egyptian landscape. [11]

We are only just beginning to scratch the surface with our understanding of how deep and impressive was the full extent of the Egyptian worship of the resurrected sun, characterized in the symbol of Aries; or in our acceptance of how firmly this has underpinned the origins of Christianity. It is no longer ground-breaking to demonstrate how many of the New Testament Psalms are translations of ancient Egyptian hymns to the Sun-god, or how biblical symbolism draws heavily on astrological ideas, motifs and parallels. It is no longer controversial to maintain the obvious fact that Easter, the pivotal point of the Christian calendar, is simply an altered form of worship of the resurrected Sun as it reappears in its crossing of the Vernal point and initiates the season of spring. The name itself ties it to the astrological philosophy that recognises the East, the point of ascension, as the spiritual source of new life and growth. It is the same astrological symbolism that proclaimed the birth of the 'New King' by the bright star rising in the east. The resurrection of Christ - the 'light too bright to look upon', the lamb (ie., 'resurrection') of God is now justly, irrefutably accepted as a mythological continuance of the New Year festivities that were so important to our ancestors.

But what has been dismissed far too lightly, is the apparent 'co-incidence' that the transition of an astrological age accurately dated the coming of a new world order, and spanned the lifetime of a new physical manifestation of the 'one true god'. Astrologers have been too quick to 'turn the matter upside down', verifying the value of astrology by claiming that the onset of Christianity is reflected astrologically by the Christian adoption of the fishes as its symbolic motif. Would it not be more likely, that astrologers were forewarning of the monumental significance of this precessional event with a view to past dynasties having trashed the iconatry of the old gods the last time that it happened? Would an attempt to create a new world order, based on a new spiritual source, not attempt to identify itself with the fishes, precisely because this was the sign of the zodiac whose age was about to begin? Could an attempt to redefine man's relationship with his God not be consciously manipulated or developed at a time that was perfectly suited to symbolically reinforce a spiritual need to do so? Whereas Taurus justly was the age of the Bull and left its mark in the heaven because of the benefits mankind accrued from the association at the time, was the overt use of fish symbolism in the rise of Christianity at the start of the Piscean Age, a deliberate attempt to identify with a symbol that was assumed to hold the new age power?

To my knowledge, these questions have never been properly probed or explored by historians, religious leaders or astrologers. But they appear to leave us with one of two very radical and startling suppositions. Either astrology verifies the Christian faith in a way that has never been fully appreciated or acknowledged, or Christianity is far more a mythological expression of ancient astrological belief than anyone in the organized church is willing to admit.

Notes & References:

  8 ] Some have carried other interpretations, mainly based on the Sun god overcoming darkness because the stars of Taurus were illuminated by the full Moon in the midst of winter.
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  9 ] The same is largely true in ancient Greece. Hamal, the alpha star of Aries, was worshipped by the Greeks at the festival of Jupiter Ammon, where they celebrated the return of the Sun to Aries with the slaughter of rams.
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  10 ] Astronomica; Loeb, p.233; Ch 4. 124-128.
This may help some Christian theologists place into better context the reference to Jesus as the 'Lamb of God'; and demonstrates that the phrase need not imply that Christ was the sacrificial atonement for man's sins, which many find confusing and clearly contradictory to Christian teachings.
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  11 ]See for example the online report, Thebes a Reflection of the Sky on the Pharoah's Earth
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Deborah Houlding has been studying astrology for over twenty years. An international demonstrator, teacher and writer, her articles have appeared in popular media and astrological publications around the world. Deborah edited the UK magazine, The Traditional Astrologer, whilst her book The Houses: Temples of the Sky, presents research on the history, development and traditional meaning of the astrological houses. Deborah specialises in horary and the traditional application of astrology. This article is adapted from an unpublished work and may not be reproduced without permission.
© Deborah Houlding, 1997.

History of the Zodiac
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