Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Love of Ares and Aphrodite Crowned with Flowers

Above is a link to a video in which I used the very user-friendly online planetarium app at neave.com to illustrate the well-known "star myth" describing the dalliance of Ares and Aphrodite -- which ends in embarrassment, as Aphrodite's husband has prepared a little trap for the illicit lovers.

The celestial aspects of this ancient myth were discussed in this previous post from June 10, 2011 -- and if you want to go to the Neave browser-based planetarium (or any other planetarium where you can  easily adjust the date and time) you can re-create the events shown in the above video for yourself.  

Just set the date back to June 11, 2011 and set the time for about 4am (you may want to adjust your location on the globe to a point that's between 30 and 35 degrees north latitude), swivel the field of view around until you are looking along the horizon towards the east, and then press down on the little arrow below the "minutes" portion of the time-field to set the heavens in motion! If you press and hold, the sky will begin to smoothly rotate and the stars and planets will begin to rise in the east; if for some reason the stars and planets are setting in the east, then you are obviously going backwards in time and will want to hold down the bottom-arrow below the minute-dial, not the top-arrow.

When you do so, or if you carefully watch the motions of the planets Mars, Venus and Mercury in the above video of the same process, you will experience direct evidence that the ancient myths and sacred traditions from around the globe are all star myths -- they are all based upon a common system of celestial metaphor, and encode the endless, silent, majestic motion of the heavens circling above our heads. For a list of about twenty other star myths containing links to blog posts which explain their connection to the motions of the stars, planets, sun and moon, see this previous post.

As explained in the previous post regarding the conjunction of Mars and Venus underneath the shimmering Pleiades, and explained as well by the authors of Hamlet's Mill (see this online version, and page 177 in the chapter entitled "Samson under many skies") and by the ancient writer Lucian of Samosata (c. AD 120 - c. AD 200), the famous liaison of Aries the god of war (Roman Mars) and Aphrodite the goddess of love (Roman Venus) in which they are snared by the net of Hephaestus the god of fire and the forge (Roman Vulcan), this famous mythological tale almost certainly depicts a specific heavenly event. 

The story of the trap used by the plodding Hephaestus to ensnare his unfaithful wife and her lover is found in the Odyssey. It is presented below in my favorite English translation, by the late great Robert Fagles, along with screen-shots when appropriate to illustrate the celestial counterpart of the myth:
now the bard struck up an irresistible song:
The Love of Ares and Aphrodite Crowned with Flowers . . .
how the two had first made love in Hephaestus' mansion,
all in secret. Ares had showered her with gifts
and showered Hephaestus' marriage bed with shame
but a messenger ran to tell the god of fire --
Helios, lord of the sun, who'd spied the couple
lost in each other's arms and making love. VIII. 301-308.
A bit of translation -- when the above passage says "but a messenger ran to tell the god of fire -- Helios, lord of the sun, etc." it means that Helios is the messenger who ran to tell the god of fire (that is, Hephaestus). It does not mean that Helios is the god of fire: Helios is the lord of the sun, "who'd spied the couple lost in each other's arms and making love." This aspect of the story indicates that the liaison between the two lovers occurs close to the rising sun, as indeed it does on the morning indicated (June 10, 2011). 

Since the planet Venus is on an orbit whose path is closer to the sun than that of the earth, observers on earth will always see Venus somewhat close to the sun, but she can be found on either the sunrise side of the sun, or the sunset side of the sun, depending on the relative position of earth and Venus. For more details on the motions of Venus, see the fascinating discussion in this previous post.
Hephaestus, hearing the heart-wounding story,
bustled toward his forge, brooding on his revenge --
planted the huge anvil on its block and beat out chains,
not to be slipped or broken, all to pin the lovers on the spot.
This snare the Firegod forged, ablaze with his rage at War,
then limped to the room where the bed of love stood firm
and round the posts he poured the chains in a sweeping net
with streams of others flowing down from the roof beam,
gossamer-fine as spider webs no man could see,
not even a blissful god --
the Smith had forged a masterwork of guile. VIII. 309 - 319.
The authors of Hamlet's Mill establish that this net of Hephaestus corresponds to the Pleiades by tracing the appearance of the heavenly net and its connection with the Pleiades in other sacred myths from around the globe. On page 175 of the same chapter linked above, they write:
Then there is a true avenger-of-his-father, the Tuamotuan Tahaki, who, after long travels, arrives in the dark at the house of the goblin band who tortured his father. He conjures upon them "the intense cold of Havaiki" (the other world) which puts the to sleep.
Then Tahaki gathered up the net given to him by Kuhi, and carried it to the door of the long house. He set fire to the house. When the goblin myriads shouted out together "Where is the door?" Tahaki called out: "Here it is." They thought it was one of their own band who had called out, and so they rushed headlong into the net, and Tahaki burned them up in the fire.
What the net could be is known from the story of Kaulu. This adventurous hero, wanting to destroy a she-cannibal, first flew up to Makalii the great god, and asked for his nets, the Pleiades and the Hyades, into which he entangled the evil one before he burned down her house. It is clear who was the owner of the nets up there. The Pleiades are in the right hand of Orion on the Farnese Globe, and they used to be called the "lagobolion" (hare net). The Hyades were for big game.
The Farnese Globe to which they refer, of course, is that born by the statue of Atlas discussed in this previous post; the fact that it contains clues which indicate that the ancients had a sophisticated level of astronomical understanding is discussed in this older post.

So, having established that the "gossamer-fine" web woven by the master-smith Hephaestus in this myth corresponds to the Pleiades in the night sky, the stage is now set for the actual drama involving the gods. The poet continues, explaining that Hephaestus pretends he has to head off on a long trip to visit his most-cherished town -- but he is really setting a trap for his unfaithful wife Aphrodite, and he has tasked the sun-god (actually, a Titan) Helios with keeping watch, and alerting him when the trap has been sprung:
Once he'd spun that cunning trap around his bed
he feigned a trip to the well-built town of Lemnos,
dearest to him by far of all the towns on earth.
But the god of battle kept no blind man's watch.
As soon as he saw the Master Craftsman leave
he plied his golden reins and arrived at once
and entered the famous god of fire's mansion,
chafing with lust for Aphrodite crowned with flowers. VIII. 320 - 327.
Below is a screen-shot from 04:44 am, in which Ares has now arrived on the scene, "chafing with lust for Aphrodite crowned with flowers":

In the above image, a dotted line has been added to help distinguish the line of the horizon (Venus is still invisible, below this line). The cluster of the Pleiades is indicated by the longer, bluish arrow. The location of the impatient god Mars (Aries) is indicated by the orange arrow (and Mars himself is orange-red in color).

The poet continues, and now describes Venus herself, and then the two go off to bed:
She'd just returned from her father's palace, mighty Zeus,
and now she sat in her rooms as Ares strode right in
and grasped her hand with a warm, seductive urging:
"Quick, my darling, come, let's go to bed
and lose ourselves in love! Your husband's away --
by now he must be off in the wilds of Lemnos,
consorting with his raucous Sintian friends." So he pressed
and her heart raced with joy to sleep with War
and off they went to bed and down they lay -- VIII. 328 - 336.
Below is a screen-shot of the same scene, but now from 04:53 am, and Venus has arrived on the scene, following Mars off to the bed of love:

In the above diagram, Venus is indicated by a green arrow. Mars and the Pleiades, each now slightly higher in the sky than they were at 04:44 am, are still indicated by the short orange and long blue arrows, respectively.

And now, the bard in the Odyssey tells his listeners, the two lovers are caught in a trap (they can't walk out):
and down around them came those cunning chains
of the crafty god of fire, showering down now
till the couple could not move a limb or lift a finger --
then they knew at last: there was no way out, not now.
But now the glorious crippled Smith was drawing near . . .
he'd turned around, miles short of the Lemnos coast,
for the Sungod kept his watch and told Hephaestus all,
so back he rushed to his house, his heart consumed with anguish.
Halting there at the gates, seized with savage rage,
he howled a terrible cry, imploring all the gods,
"Father Zeus, look here --
the rest of you happy gods who live forever --
here is a sight to make you laugh, revolt you too!
[. . .]" VIII. 337 - 349.
Notice the repeated mention of the Sungod in line 343 -- once again we are reminded that it is the Sun deity who spies the lovers, just as he did earlier when he informed Hephaestus of what was going on, enabling the Smith to create the web in the first place.

If we dial the time forward some more (you can do this yourself if you go to the online planetarium app mentioned earlier) the sky will begin to lighten in the east and the corona of the Sungod will begin to crest the horizon -- followed by the sunrise and the advent of the Sun himself. Trapped beneath the cunning net of Hephaestus, the two lovers are now exposed to the full light of day -- and the gathering of the immortals to laugh at their plight:
So Hephaestus wailed
as the gods came crowding up to his bronze-floored house.
Poseidon god of the earthquake came, and Hermes came,
the running god of luck, and the Archer, lord Apollo,
while modesty kept each goddess to her mansion.
The immortals, givers of all good things, stood at the gates,
and uncontrollable laughter burst from the happy gods
when the saw the god of fire's subtle, cunning work.
One would glance at his neighbor, laughing out,
"A bad day for adultery! Slow outstrips the Swift!"
"Look how limping Hephaestus conquers War,
the quickest of all the gods who rule Olympus!"
"The cripple wins by craft!" "The adulterer,
he will pay the price!" So the gods would banter
among themselves but lord Apollo goaded Hermes on:
"Tell me, Quicksilver, giver of all good things --
even with those unwieldy shackles wrapped around you,
how would you like to bed the golden Aphrodite?"
"Oh Apollo, if only!" the giant-killer cried.
"Archer, bind me down with triple those endless chains!
Let all you gods look on, and all you goddesses too --
how I'd love to bed that golden Aphrodite!" VIII. 364 - 384.
The image below will set the scene as it appears in the sky:

Again, if the resolution of the images is too low, head on over to a planetarium app and dial up the scene for yourself. However, it is hoped that in the above scene you can make out the following players:

  • The Sun, rising over the horizon (marked with the number 1 in the version of the same image, below).
  • Mercury, just above the Sun (marked with the number 2).
  • Venus, almost directly below the Pleiades, and marked with the number 3.
  • Mars, a bit ahead of her, along the same "ecliptic line" which the sun, moon, and planets follow across the sky (Mars is marked with the number 4 in the diagram below).
  • The Pleiades, marked with the number 5.

In this final scene, one can really appreciate the breathtaking level of poetic correspondence between the myth itself, as related in the Odyssey, and the heavenly bodies of our solar system, who act out the drama recorded in the myth. 

Most notable, perhaps, is the final detail, in which Hermes and Apollo are described as sharing a joke over whether or not it would be worth it to exchange places with Ares at that moment, in order to be able to lie next to Aphrodite. Look again at the planetarium image above, and see how the planet Mercury (Hermes) is right next to the Sungod, as if the two gods are standing off to one side as they make fun of the situation. Mercury, of course, is always located close to the sun itself, a fact which helps set up the stage-directions which translate into the myth as Apollo and Hermes sharing a laugh together at Aphrodite's expense.

Anyone who reads the lines from the Homeric epic, and then studies the diagram shown above, should have no further doubts that the ancient stories embody the motions of the heavenly spheres -- and that they do so with a degree of precision and sophistication that is absolutely astonishing and delightful to behold.

But, as previous posts have argued, and as my latest book The Undying Stars works to establish, the allegorization in exquisite myth of the motions of the celestial actors was not simply for entertainment or delight -- as entertaining and delightful as the star myths undeniably are. These ancient treasures were intended to convey profound wisdom to men and women of all parts of the world, and in all the ages of humanity. 

They contain a message of liberation from bondage and mental slavery. Hermes, the one who laughingly offers to be chained up if only he can be next to the goddess of love, ironically enough is the one who most embodies the transcending of false barriers and mental chains, as discussed in this post entitled "Jon Rappoport on the trickster-god and creating reality."

And so, even as we enjoy the wonderful ancient myths found in the Odyssey and the rest of the world's sacred traditions, we can also ponder the profound messages which they want to carry to each and every one of us.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Dawn of the Golden Age

If you are able to rise before the sky begins to lighten in the east, or just as it begins to take on a beautiful deep blue color in the east, you will be able to enjoy one of the more spectacular pre-dawn pageants in all of the heavenly theater. 

The magnificent constellation of Orion will be above the eastern horizon, or just rising out of the eastern horizon (depending on your latitude and the time you begin looking to the east), and above him will be the V-shaped Hyades of Taurus the Bull and above them the dazzling Pleiades (all descriptions in this post are northern-hemisphere-centric; friends in the southern hemisphere will have to adjust the descriptions or stand on their heads in order to make these descriptions and the video below make sense).  

Following the line of his upstretched arm (the arm that begins at the shoulder-point marked by giant orange Betelgeuse) will take you to the Twins of Gemini, currently made even easier to locate in the morning sky by the fact that the planet Venus is passing through the constellation.

As the earth continues to rotate towards the east, the sky will grow brighter and brighter, the blue color will become lighter and lighter, and eventually the sun itself will burst over the horizon and drown out everything else in the sky.

The constellations which are visible in the east before the sun crests the horizon will change throughout the year, of course, because from the earth we are able to see different "walls" in the "dining room" as we make our annual circuit (see this previous post for a video that explains the "metaphor of the dining room"). Only during a certain, special time of year does the awe-inspiring constellation of Orion dominate the eastern sky as it begins to turn that indescribable color of deep blue to herald the approaching dawn. That time of year is right now.

That time of year, however, was once much earlier in the year. The motion of precession (also explained in the video describing the "metaphor of the dining room") acts to "delay" the background stars over the ages, delaying their position on any given July 28th by only a single degree of arc every 71.6 years (see this previous post for more explanation of that concept). Once upon a time, the magnificent pre-dawn lineup of Orion beside Gemini and below the Bull of Taurus marked a very different and very closely-observed time of year: the time of the March equinox, or spring equinox for the northern hemisphere. 

The spring equinox is the day of rebirth, the day of bursting across the line that separates the "lower half"of the year (allegorized as the land of bondage, the valley of death, Hades, Sheol, and Hell) from the "upper half" of the year (allegorized as the promised land, the holy mountain, the city on the hill, and even Heaven with its streets paved with gold). The spring equinox marked the start of the year in many ancient calendar systems, and the zodiac sign which dominated the eastern sky before the sun made its critical appearance on that morning of rebirth for the year gave its name to the entire age. The motion of precession is so gradual that it takes approximately 2,160 years for the sign which dominated that station to be "delayed" enough to let the preceding sign take over.

The situation in the morning at this time of year, then, when Gemini and Orion are in the east prior to the rising sun corresponds to the way the sky looked during the mornings of the spring equinox back in the Age of Gemini. The Age of Gemini was so long ago that it was before the Age of Taurus, which itself preceded the Age of Aries, which preceded the Age of Pisces -- and the Age of Pisces itself is now coming to an end, as we move into the beginning of the Age of Aquarius. That's how long ago the Age of Gemini was.

But the Age of Gemini, for many important reasons, was described in ancient myth as the Golden Age. One of the reasons for this was the fact that the Milky Way passes by Gemini (between Gemini and Cancer) just as it does between Scorpio and Sagittarius on the other side of the zodiac band. That means that the equinoxes during the Golden Age were each marked by the shimmering band of the Milky Way galaxy in the Age of Gemini (the spring equinox was marked by Gemini, and the fall equinox by Sagittarius in that age). 

Another reason that the Age of Gemini was seen as a Golden Age was the presence of the majestic Orion in the east, guarding the sky above the rising sun on that critical morning. Orion was seen as a benevolent, civilizing figure in the mythology of many ancient cultures -- the one god who came and walked among humanity. He was also associated with Saturn's benevolent aspects, and the Saturnian color of yellow or gold (the other color often associated with Saturn is black).

Below is a short video that I put together in order to show you the constellations you will see in the east at this time of year, prior to the rise of the sun. I used the delightful online planetarium app created by Paul Neave, which can be found here.

If it is at all possible to do so, this is a perfect time of year to go out and absorb one of the most beautiful spectacles our sky has to offer, and as you do so to reflect back upon the successive ages through which other men and women have lived, thinking back, back, back, all the way to the Golden Age . . .

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Peter Tosh says, "Come Together"

This is the final track on the final album of the tremendous Peter Tosh (1944 - 1987).
"Come Together"
Album: No Nuclear War (1987).


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Atlas and Hercules

image: Atlas bringing the golden apples to Heracles, who is temporarily holding up the sky, from the Temple to Zeus at Olympia, built between 472 BC and 456 BC. Wikimedia commons (link).

The Undying Stars presents evidence that the ancient mythologies of cultures around the globe are all built upon "star myths" which follow a common system of celestial allegory, and that the original intended purpose of all these star myths was to convey a shamanic-holographic vision of our universe and mankind's place within it: a liberating vision which invites us to break through artificial barriers, and to reach into the "seed realm" to bring back information and to effect transformations that cannot be achieved any other way.

Previous posts have provided detailed examinations of specific myths from around the world -- including the stories found within the scriptures which made their way into what are often called the Old and New Testaments -- in order to demonstrate that the evidence supporting the above assertion is so prodigiously vast as to be almost irrefutable.  

This previous post provides a lengthy list, with links, to more than twenty such detailed examinations of star myths from around the world, with clear ties between the details from the myth or story and the characteristics of the constellation or constellations that the story is allegorizing into myth.  

Several previous posts discuss the reason that the ancient sages who gave these myths to humanity chose to use the motions of the celestial realm in order to convey profound and otherwise difficult-to-grasp truths (see for instance: "Wax on, wax off," "Like a finger, pointing a way to the moon . . ." and "Montessori and 'thinging'").

The ancient myths of the world provide an inexhaustible supply of additional examples of the heavenly and celestial foundation of nearly every ancient scripture and sacred story. One memorable Greek myth worthy of explication to further illustrate the undeniable stellar basis of the ancient sacred corpus comes from the Twelve Labors of Heracles (Roman Hercules): the mission to retrieve the golden apples of the Hesperides (the Eleventh Labor of Heracles).

The Greek scholar Apollodorus of Athens (born around 180 BC and lived until some time after 120 BC) gives us a good version to examine, which can be found in its entirety online here, as translated by James George Frazer (1921). Below is an extended quotation of some of the pertinent details of the Eleventh Labor, which actually involved numerous other encounters by Heracles with other beings and demigods along the way (not all of which will be examined, although each could provide rich material for study and celestial unraveling). Since Frazer chooses to use the Roman form of the hero's name, we too will refer to him as Hercules for the rest of this particular discussion:
When the labours had been performed in eight years and a month, Eurystheus ordered Hercules, as an eleventh labour, to fetch golden apples from the Hesperides, for he did not acknowledge the labour of the cattle of Augeas nor that of the hydra. These apples were not, as some have said, in Libya, but on Atlas among the Hyperboreans. They were presented to Zeus after his marriage with Hera, and guarded by an immortal dragon with a hundred heads, offspring of Typhon and Echidna, which spoke with many divers sorts of voices. With it the Hepserides also were on guard, to wit, Aegle, Erythia, Hesperia, and Arethusa. [. . .][Various adventures ensue, primarily with Heracles defeating different sons of Poseidon][. . .] 
And traversing Asia he put in to Thermydrae, the harbor of the Lindians. And having loosed one of the bullocks from the cart of a cowherd, he sacrificed it and feasted. But the cowherd, unable to protect himself, stood on a certain mountain and cursed. Wherefore to this day, when they sacrifice to Hercules, they do it with curses.
And passing by Arabia he slew Emathion, son of Tithonius, and journeying through Libya to the outer sea he received the goblet from the Sun. And having crossed to the opposite mainland he shot on the Caucasus the eagle, offspring of Echidna and Typhon, that was devouring the liver of Prometheus, and he released Prometheus, after choosing for himself the bond of olive, and to Zeus he presented Chiron, who, though immortal, consented to die in his stead.
Now Prometheus had told Hercules not to go himself after the apples but to send Atlas, first relieving him of the burden of the sphere; so when he was come to Atlas in the land of the Hyperboreans, he took the advice and relieved Atlas. But when Atlas had received three apples from the Hesperides, he came to Hercules, and not wishing to support the sphere he said that he would himself carry the apples to Eurystheus, and bade Hercules hold up the sky in his stead. Hercules promised to do so, but succeeded by craft in putting it on Atlas instead. For at the advice of Prometheus he begged Atlas to hold up the sky till he should put a pad on his head. When Atlas heard that, he laid the apples down on the ground and took the sphere from Hercules. And so Hercules picked up the apples and departed. But some say that he did not get them from Atlas, but that he plucked the apples himself after killing the guardian snake. And having brought the apples he gave them to Eurystheus. But he, on receiving them, bestowed them on Hercules, from whom Athena got them and conveyed them back again; for it was not lawful that they should be laid down anywhere.
This story is full of fascinating detail, as well as a certain amount of humor. First, it is fascinating to note that the story involves plucking fruit from a tree . . . plucking fruit from a tree . . . now where have we heard something about that before . . . ? (It sounds familiar somehow). 

Prometheus warns Hercules that it is somehow dangerous (possibly fatal) for Hercules to pluck the apples himself (this also seems vaguely familiar for some reason . . . plucking fruit might cause one to "surely die" . . . hmmm). There is also a guardian serpent -- in this case, a dragon -- which again seems to be something I remember from another myth about fatal fruit.

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of this particular myth-sequence is the battle of wits between Hercules and Atlas. Atlas was the Titan condemned for eternity to uphold the entire sphere of the sky upon his shoulders. This was a punishment for having sided against the Olympians in the primordial battle between the Titans and the new gods. 

Hercules gets himself into a tight spot when he agrees to hold up the sky while Atlas retrieves the dangerous apples: when Atlas returns, the Titan decides he kind of enjoys his newfound freedom, and announces to Hercules that the hero seems to be doing such a good job that Atlas will be taking a permanent vacation and leaving the task of holding up the sky to Hercules from now on.

Hercules slyly agrees (in the version from Apollodorus cited above), but asks for a moment in order to cut a pad for his shoulders before he gets down to the task of supporting the sphere for the rest of eternity. Atlas agrees, and relieves Hercules for a moment, at which point the hero takes the apples and departs, leaving the hapless Atlas back where he began, supporting the sky. 

In some versions (at least in the wonderfully-illustrated version of the Labors of Hercules presented in the Sullivan Programmed Reading workbooks I had the pleasure of reading in elementary school during the 1970s), Hercules actually prepares to shoulder the sky again after cutting the pads for his shoulders, before Athena helpfully reminds the hero not to fall for his own trick, and advises him not to take the burden of the heavens back from Atlas now that he has the Titan back where he belongs.

In footnote number three from Frazer's 1921 translation, we see the kind of analysis found among conventional scholars, who resolutely refuse to interpret the ancient myths of the world as celestial allegory. There, we read some scholarly discussion as to where on earth these gardens of the Hesperides might be located -- along with some consternation that Apollodorus seems to have located them in "the far north" rather than in the "far west" as the name "Hesperides" would seem to imply (the word has connections to the evening star or Venus when appearing in the west, rather than when appearing in the morning in the east). 

The details of the story, however, make it clear that we are dealing again with celestial allegory. The Titan who is holding up the vault of the sky in this case is none other than the hulking constellation of Böotes -- a constellation whose form is fairly close to the North Celestial Pole as well as to the Big Dipper which circles it. The fact that the constellation of Hercules is very close to Böotes (and is also located close to the North Celestial Pole around which the entire heavens revolve) and that Hercules in the story temporarily takes over the task of supporting the sky-sphere from Atlas should be enough to identify the two main actors in the myth with these two northern constellations.

The diagram below, a screenshot from the delightful browser-based Neave Planetarium program created by programmer-developer Paul Neave, shows the two constellations in relationship to one another:

The above diagram includes my own addition of bold yellow lines to indicate the outlines of the constellations as imagined by the indispensable H.A. Rey; to see the diagrams as they appear on the Neave Planetarium app if you wish to run it yourself, the screenshot below shows the same section of sky, but removes my added yellow outlines:

Note that the myth as presented by Apollodorus contains several clues which aid in the conclusion that we are dealing with the northern section of sky around which the entire celestial sphere revolves. First, of course, is the very nature of the punishment of Atlas: he is condemned to hold up what Apollodorus refers to as "the sphere" and "the sky." The best explanation for this punishment is that Atlas must be holding up the inside of the celestial sphere -- he is holding up the dome of the sky that we see when we look up into the heavens at night, a dome which revolves around a central point at the north celestial pole. Thus, he must be a constellation fairly close to the north celestial pole, and Böotes certainly qualifies.

Secondly, we note that the apples in this myth are guarded by a dragon -- and there is clearly a dragon which winds its way around the north celestial pole, in the form of the constellation Draco, the Dragon. The diagram below includes the north celestial pole, and the sinuous form of Draco:

I have only added the outline to Hercules in the above image: the outlines of Draco, the Big Dipper, and the Little Dipper are easy enough to see using the outlines included in the Neave Planetarium online app.

There is some reason to believe that the "tree" from which the Titan plucks the apples must be the invisible axis of the sky itself, the central "pole" around which the entire heavens turn. I present arguments in my first book, The Mathisen Corollary, that ancient myth and sacred tradition envisioned this central axis as a tall tree, which in many myths (such as the Gilgamesh epic) is cut down or otherwise unhinged to begin the motion of precession. Other evidence for this identification is presented in Hamlet's Mill.

Based upon this reading of the celestial aspects of the myth, it is possible that the golden apples themselves can be identified with the circlet of stars that make up the Corona Borealis, or Northern Crown. This constellation, allegorized in other myths as a necklace of jewels, can be seen to be located directly between the constellations of Hercules and Böotes in the first diagrams shown above. The stars of the Northern Crown certainly sparkle like golden jewels, and other myths make it clear that these golden apples were coveted by the goddesses, and we can see in the text of the myth as described by Apollodorus that these apples somehow originated from Hera but as a gift that was given away -- just as the stars of the Northern Crown are now located apart from the form of the constellation Virgo, located below Böotes.

Other details in the myth as related by Apollodorus include the fact that the apples are found among the Hyperboreans (a word which means "far north" or "above north"), as well as the fact that in the supplemental adventures of Hercules, he is described as encountering a "cowherd" (the constellation Böotes is known as the Herdsman) who drives a "cart" or wagon (the Big Dipper was often described in myth as a wagon, a cart, or a "wain," as well as being allegorized in other myth as a plow). It was, in fact, almost certainly the billy-goat cart of Thor, who is associated with Jupiter (note that Thor's-day and Jove's-day are the same day: our modern Thursday), and remember that in the myth above as described by Apollodorus we have Hera giving the apples as a gift to Zeus (who is Jove and Jupiter).

When Hercules sacrifices one of the oxen from this cart, the Herdsman can only curse -- and we have seen that in myths around the world, the relationship between Böotes and his cart is somehow associated with off-color speech or antics (see the discussion of the lewd dance of Uzume in the Japanese myth of Amaterasu, or the behavior of Loki when he is trying to coax a smile out of the jotun maiden Skade, both of which are described in this previous post).

The outlines of both the constellation Böotes and the constellation Hercules can be envisioned as large men crouching down to support the burden of the very peak of the vault of heaven (located at the north celestial pole, which is located above both of their backs). The ancient art depicting the mighty Titan Atlas bending down to support the ponderous burden of the entire sphere often depicts him as having one knee out forward, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of the shape of Böotes, who also has a prominent crooked knee on his one leg. Below is an image of the famous "Farnese Atlas," with an outline of Böotes for comparison:

Here is a link to the original image on Wikimedia commons. Is it possible that the sculptors of such ancient statuary envisioned the outline that we normally think of as the head of Böotes as the globe in this case (when Böotes is playing the role of the Titan Atlas, that is)?  The general shape of the outline seems to suggest that the ancients did understand the correlation of Atlas with Böotes, particularly as the right (rear) leg of the statue would correspond to the "pointed" side on the left of the constellation outline, while the raised left-leg of the statue (on the right side as we look at Atlas) corresponds to the bent leg of the constellation. The illustration below shows how the general shape does seem to correlate to some degree:

Note as an intriguing aside that the Farnese Globe in the second-century AD sculpture shown above is an important clue to the level of ancient astronomical knowledge, as discussed in this previous post from 2012.

Yet further support for the identification of Atlas with Böotes comes from the fact that he is clearly described as having daughters, the Hesperides, whose names are given by Apollodorus as Aegle, Erythia, Hesperia, and Arethusa. While the image below is from a modern-era piece of artwork from the well-known trailblazing (and occasionally scandal-generating) artist John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925), it incorporates ancient conventions regarding the depiction of Atlas. His 1925 depiction of the Hesperides as reclining beneath the burdened figure of their father the Titan is significant, in that the constellation Virgo is located in just such a recumbent pose in relationship to Böotes:

image: John Singer Sargent, Atlas and the Hesperides (1925). Wikimedia commons (link).

Notice that the artist has depicted Atlas with one arm extended, and the hand of that single extended arm in a rather curious (albeit graceful) upturned angle -- exactly as if he were aware of the correspondence between Böotes and Atlas, and imagining the "pipe" of the constellation Böotes as the single extended arm of the crouching Atlas in his painting.

Below is the now-familiar diagram of Böotes in relationship to Virgo which has been featured in several previous posts including this one and this one, reproduced here in order to show that Virgo in the sky reclines beneath the hulking form of Böotes in exactly the same way that John Singer Sargent has depicted his Hesperides as reclining beneath the burdened form of his Atlas:

All of these correspondences, plus the fact that the constellation Hercules itself is located immediately adjacent to Böotes, makes it fairly clear that this is the section of the celestial sphere which is being allegorized in the star myth of Hercules retrieving the golden apples from the Hesperides, with the assistance of the Titan Atlas.

Having established this, what does it all mean? Does identifying the players of the famous Eleventh Labor of Hercules as constellations in our night sky (constellations you can go identify this very night) somehow "rob" the myth of its grandeur, its human drama, and its air of reverence for the things of the gods (including the apples which cannot be picked by human hands and which, we are told at the end of the account, cannot remain in the world of men and women but must be taken back to the world of the gods)?

While some might see it that way, I would argue the opposite: like the other myths we have examined  such as the stealing of the mead of poetry from Gunnlod or the stealing of fire from the Old Man in the tipi (and like the myth of Adam and Eve plucking the forbidden fruit from the tree in the Genesis account which shares so many elements with this labor of Hercules), there are aspects of what we could call "the shamanic" in this myth. The myth involves obtaining something from the world of the gods, of "crossing over" into the divine realm and borrowing something that is "not of this earth," something that elevates Hercules at least for a time into the numinous world of the primordial powers and the gods. He takes the place of Atlas, supporting with his own human back the very axis of the heavens (and in doing so uniting the microcosm and the macrocosm, as well as "ascending" for a time to the very realm of the stars).

It is a story of transcending boundaries -- and the fact that the mission is ultimately accomplished by means of trickery and the breaking of his word (Hercules lies to Atlas when he asks him to shoulder the sky for just a few more minutes), which is a common element in the myths surrounding the shamanic figure of Odin in the Norse pantheon, recalls the importance of the "trickster-god" found in almost every ancient myth-system, whose absolutely crucial importance is articulated by Jon Rappoport in many of his writings and speeches.

I would argue that the Eleventh Labor of Hercules conveys the message of the importance of "transcending realities" and of creating "new realities," and that seeing the myth's undeniable celestial foundation enables us to grasp this higher and deeper message, hidden in the delightful tale.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Commodus and Marcus Aurelius

image: Marcus Aurelius (AD 121 - AD 180), Emperor from AD 161 - AD 180. Wikimedia commons (link).

The movie Gladiator (2000), starring Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix, presents the transition from the rule of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius to the rule of his son Commodus as a crucial turning point in the history of the empire.

In the film, Marcus Aurelius recognizes the pathological twist in his son's character and decides he will not appoint Commodus as his successor, instead desiring to return Rome to a republic, and appointing the virtuous Maximus to act as "protector" during the transition. As fans of the movie know, Commodus was none too pleased with this arrangement and took matters into his own hands, eliminating both his father and eventually Maximus as well, and ascending to the throne to become one of Rome's most megalomaniacal rulers.

While the above plot takes considerable historical license and inserts an entire series of fictional characters and events surrounding the memorable but entirely imaginary general-turned-gladiator, Maximus, the transition between Marcus Aurelius and Commodus was in fact an enormous turning point in world history, and one that is worthy of careful study and consideration.

According to the theory put forward by Flavio Barbiero in his 2010 book, The Secret Society of Moses, the transition from Marcus Aurelius to Commodus was critical in that Commodus was the first emperor who was an initiate into the secret society of Sol Invictus Mithras. As explained in my previous post entitled "Ten reasons to suspect a close connection between ancient Roman Mithraism and ancient Roman Christianity," and articulated at greater length by Flavio Barbiero in an online article entitled "Mithras and Jesus: Two sides of the same coin," there is evidence to support the thesis that the secret society of Sol Invictus Mithras was the primary vehicle through which the priestly families from Judea took over the levers of control of the entire Roman Empire.

Judea and Jerusalem fell to the Roman legions led by Vespasian and his son Titus in AD 70. Vespasian and Titus brought back certain members of the leading priestly families from Judea to Rome -- including the crucially important historical personage of Josephus. Once in Rome, according to the thesis expounded by Flavio Barbiero and backed up by extensive historical evidence (starting with the writings of Josephus himself), these priestly families began a secret campaign to gain control of the levers of power, beginning with the Praetorian Guard and then extending steadily to the centers of commerce, the bureaucracy of the empire, and of course the Roman army itself (especially the officer corps).

In order to accomplish this takeover, these families used the twin vehicles of Mithraism and literalist, hierarchical, ecclesiastical Christianity (which they created, and which slowly took over from and supplanted the earlier gnostic and esoteric forms of Christianity that had existed prior to the campaign of Vespasian and Titus and their destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem). 

If that seems difficult to believe, remember that these families were extremely experienced at running a system which we could call a system of reality creation. Previous posts have explored the likelihood that the ancient esoteric wisdom which forms the foundation of all the world's ancient sacred traditions articulated a vision of our universe as one that is shaped at least in part by human consciousness, and taught that through consciousness we can actually create realities. As this previous post articulates, I believe there is evidence that this wisdom was intended for (and anciently used for) benevolent purposes, but it can also be used for purposes of control, domination, and the general suppression of human consciousness in others.

So, if the families that came to Rome after the fall of Jerusalem were experts in "reality creation," were they more disposed to use that knowledge for the more benevolent purposes of enhancing human consciousness and freedom, or for the more oppressive purposes of control and domination?

Well, there is clear evidence which demonstrates that most repositories of the ancient wisdom were destroyed after the arrival of these families in Rome, and in fact after the time that Sol Invictus Mithras began appointing emperors and thus demonstrating that it had gained control of the levers of power of the Roman Empire. Examples of this destruction of the esoteric ancient wisdom include the destruction and suppression of gnostic and esoteric texts within the Roman Empire itself (see discussions here and here and here), as well as the burning or seizing of ancient texts stored at the library of Alexandria. It also includes the shuttering of the sites that carried on the various mystery cults within the borders of the Roman Empire, which (as I explain in The Undying Stars) also appear to have preserved aspects of the ancient knowledge that the new order set about to suppress or eliminate (for a discussion of one of the most important of these ancient mystery cults, see this previous post exploring the Eleusinian Mysteries).

Based on the fact that these suppressions all took place within the Roman Empire after the time that Sol Invictus began appointing emperors, and especially after Constantine made literalist Christianity the official religion of the empire, it is safe to say that those expert practitioners of reality creation who took over the Roman Empire were generally more interested in the "control and domination" side of the art.

In his book, Flavio Barbiero points out that the use of the two-pronged strategy which included both the public-facing literalist-Christian vehicle and the private, exclusive, and extremely secret society of Sol Invictus Mithras was critical to the success of the takeover. The old Roman families, especially those who controlled the Senate of Rome until the Senate was slowly infiltrated by equestrian-class newcomers, never actually realized that the leaders at the top of Sol Invictus were the ones calling the shots. The representatives of the old Roman families generally saw Christianity as the threat, and tried to attack it instead -- thus the spread of Christianity served as the perfect distraction or decoy to misdirect their attention and enable the secret society of Sol Invictus to move its pieces across the chessboard until it was able to emplace emperors at will.

At first, the leaders of Sol Invictus used emperors who were from the old Roman families but had been initiated into the Sol Invictus cult (not knowing that they were only shown the "lower-level" activities of the secret society, and were not invited to the high-level inner-circle meetings where the real strategy was enacted). However, at some point, Sol Invictus had enough power (backed up by their control of the Praetorian Guard) to appoint descendants of their own priestly families to the office of emperor. 

According to Flavio Barbiero's research, the first emperor to be a member of Sol Invictus was none other than Commodus, who took the throne in AD 177, just over one hundred years after the fall of Jerusalem and the arrival of Josephus and the other members of the priestly families in Rome. 

The fact that Commodus was closely associated with Sol Invictus is clear from several historical details. For one, he took the name "Invictus," and when he renamed the months of the year after his own several names and appellations (an example of his egomania which caused tremendous resentment among the traditional Roman families), he chose to name one of the months "Invictus." Another piece of evidence can be seen in the coin below (source), which has the image of Commodus on one side and the image of a solar god or figure on the obverse side, with legs crossed and leaning against a pillar:

We have already examined at some length in previous posts the fact that crossed legs is a form of metaphorical solar symbology which is extremely characteristic of the iconography found in Mithraic meeting-places (mithraea). The work of Mithraic scholar David Ulansey clearly establishes that the crossed legs refers specifically to the sun's crossing of the celestial equator, which takes place twice a year at equinox. I have also argued in previous discussions that there is extensive evidence to conclude that the pillar refers to the line running from the winter solstice to the summer solstice (see here, here, and here, for example). 

In addition to this, there are other ancient sources which indicate that Commodus was affiliated with Sol Invictus Mithras. Marcus Aurelius, on the other hand, seems to have sensed the rising threat to the ancient traditions and belief systems and to have attempted to stem the tide, thus placing his reign and that of his son on two different sides of the crucial power struggle over the future of the western world.

Flavio Barbiero points out that there is some evidence that Marcus Aurelius actively persecuted Christianity to some degree (185). Other scholars argue that it is not entirely certain to what degree Marcus Aurelius actively encouraged the persecution of Christians that took place under his reign (although it is hard to explain how that could have gone on against his will or without his knowledge). Thus, it is quite possible that Marcus Aurelius, who was himself a Stoic and an important philosopher in his own right, perceived that dangerous forces were at work to supplant the old ways, and incorrectly believed that Christianity was the primary threat and targeted its adherents, not perceiving that Sol Invictus was the more important nerve center that was directing the long-term campaign.

With the passing of Marcus Aurelius and the accession to the throne by Commodus, there was a definitive shift in power. Flavio Barbiero says that "the imperial office from Commodus onward" was "conferred almost exclusively on members of the Sol Invictus organization, independent of the rank they held in the organization and whether or not they belonged to whatever branch of the priestly family" (209).

Marcus Aurelius is often included in the category of the "five good emperors" (along with Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius). In his massive 1,500,000-word magnum opus The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon (1737 - 1794) says of the events that took place after the reign of Antoninus Pius (the end of whose reign he saw as the beginning of the long decline and ultimate fall of the empire), it was "a revolution which will ever be remembered, and is still felt by the nations of the earth" (page 11 of this version). 

How right he was, especially on that second point about it being "still felt by the nations of the earth."

Of the reign of Commodus, Flavio Barbiero writes:
On the death of Marcus Aurelius, probably the most zealous and efficient persecutor of Christianity of the emperors who succeeded Nero, the Empire passed to his son Commodus, who was initiated into the Mithraic organization. For more efficient influence over Commodus, he was given a Christian concubine, Marcia, who, for the entire duration of his reign (AD 180 - 192), had the prerogatives and powers of an empress. Commodus has gone down in history as one of the most ferocious and extravagant of the Roman emperors; he sent thousands of people to their deaths for the sheer pleasure of it. Among these people, however, there was not a single Christian, because he put an end to the persecutions of his father and showed favor to Christianity in every way.
Commodus was certainly not of priestly lineage, and his unpredictability made him difficult to maneuver for the Mithraic organization, which eventually decided to eliminate him. [. . .] Marcia was the instrument of his elimination, and was helped by Quintus Aemilius Laetus, prefect of the Praetorian Guard, which, by then, was completely under the control of Sol Invictus. 186-187.
Note that Laetus appears in the 2000 movie Gladiator, and plays a rather important role throughout the film (he is clearly no fan of Commodus).

The fact that Commodus, a member of Sol Invictus, had as his favorite concubine (who was given the powers and prerogatives of an empress) a woman who was a known Christian should be seen as yet another piece of evidence (in addition to those listed here and the many others listed in the works of Flavio Barbiero) that Christianity and Mithraism were not arch-rival religions the way they are often portrayed in conventional scholarship.

The fact that the Praetorian Guard was perfectly capable of removing emperors by assassination is also demonstrated from the above passage, as it is also demonstrated by the numerous emperors after Commodus who reigned for only a few weeks or months before being assassinated themselves.

The graphic below shows the majority of the emperors from Vespasian to Constantine, with important milestones indicated in highlighted-yellow type. Emperors who reigned for very short periods of time are depicted in smaller images than those who reigned for longer. Dates are indicated in red lettering and all of them are AD. The images are for the most part those found on this Wikipedia page. Not all dates are listed, but enough are listed to give a general idea of the timeline. Years listed are for the year the emperor began to reign:

From the above chart, we can see that (if the analysis of Flavio Barbiero is correct, and I believe that it is) the priestly families worked towards the ability to get an initiate of Sol Invictus into the imperial office from their arrival in Rome around AD 70, and finally succeeded with the accession to the throne by Commodus in AD 177. After his reign (and later assassination), there were two emperors removed in quick succession, followed by several more emperors closely affiliated with Sol Invictus starting with Septimius Severus in AD 193: this indicates that Sol Invictus continued to decide who would become emperor (and whether that emperor would stay the emperor) from Commodus onwards (there was only one big setback to their plans, during the period of the tetrarchy, discussed briefly below).

This excellent web page from ancient coin collector Bill Welch shows Roman coins with clear Sol Invictus imagery beginning most especially with coins minted during the reign of Septimius Severus. 

Flavio Barbiero discusses the evidence that one of the primary missions assigned to the emperor Septimius Severus and his immediate successors was the drastic reduction of the power of the old senatorial families of Italic stock, and the gradual infiltration into the Senate of newly-wealthy equestrians (who generally came from the bureaucratic offices of the empire, and from the military)(187 and following).

Also notable among the emperors in the group that begins with Septimius Severus is the emperor Elagabulus, of whom Flavio Barbiero finds evidence suggesting that he may have been the first emperor to be descended from one of the priestly family lines.

Following another internecine period of rapidly-assassinated and replaced emperors, Gordian III emerged to reign from AD 238 - AD 244, followed in AD 244 by Philip I (also known as "Philip the Arab"), the first openly Christian emperor. It should be noted that emperors could be both Christian and members of Sol Invictus all the way up until after the time of Constantine.

Also noteworthy, especially in light of the huge number of emperors who only lasted for a period of weeks or months, is this quotation from Flavio Barbiero: "It is quite likely that the heads of the branches of the priestly family, who monopolized the higher levels of the Mithraic organization, were reluctant to take on the office themselves and preferred to govern through expendable pawns affiliated at the first levels -- and were ready to eliminate them as soon as they deviated from their instructions or disappointed expectations" (197).

Finally, Flavio Barbiero explains that Diocletian almost certainly devised the unwieldy mechanism of the "tetrarchy" in order to protect himself from the threat of rapid assassination by the Sol Invictus powerbrokers who had allowed him to become emperor (something that happened to many emperors who stepped out of line, including many of those who immediately preceded Diocletian). As a result of Diocletian's move, according to Barbiero, the leaders of Sol Invictus decided to make Christianity the official religion of Rome and to move their nerve center from the hidden organization of Mithraism to the more-open organization of the Christian church, which took place during the reign of Constantine (who reigned from AD 313, when he gained undisputed control over the empire after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, until his death in AD 337). 

In order to facilitate that control, they also had Constantine move the seat of the imperial office out of Rome and over to the new city of Constantinople.

Clearly, there is historical evidence which strongly supports Barbiero's thesis. If he is correct, the transition of power between Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus, was one of the turning points in human history. It is also clear that Commodus went off in quite a different direction than that of his father -- Marcus Aurelius working as best he saw how to try to stave off the threat that was working to take over the empire from within, while Commodus actually signed up for the program that was maneuvering that takeover.

I wonder if the makers of the film Gladiator (which was a joint British and American production; Flavio Barbiero provides evidence that the British Isles became an early and important stronghold of both the priestly families discussed above and the Sol Invictus Mithras organization) knew all of this when they chose to make a film about that critical transition that took place in AD 177 . . .