or, The Constellations
by Frances Rolleston
Philologos Religious Online Books
"Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season?" Job xxxviii. 32.
What Are The Real Meanings Of The Emblems Of The Signs?
One of the greatest of uninspired teachers, the Socrates of Plato, is said to have always appealed to the common sense of his hearers. There is an appeal to the common sense of mankind as to the meanings of the emblems of ancient astronomy, which it was apparently intended they should make. The aid of history, languages, and traditions may have been required to ascertain what these meanings were; but when pointed out, any one acquainted with the Holy Scriptures can judge of their suitability to express the prophecies there recorded, as given to the first parents of mankind. The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head, the serpent shall bruise his heel. There is a tradition that at the creation of man the sun at the summer solstice was among the stars called the sign of the Virgin. In that place was figured, long before the Christian era, in the Egyptian zodiac, the figure of a woman with an ear of corn in her hand, and below another female figure holding an infant. Here, then, is recognized the seed, the offspring of the woman. In the next sign, the scales at once convey the idea of purchase. He comes to buy, to redeem. There is then the figure of a man grasping a serpent as in conflict, his foot on the head of a scorpion, whose reverted sting appears to have wounded his heel. Here the seed, the offspring of the woman, is bruising the enemy's head, after having received the predicted bruise in the heel. The first prophecy is thus fully figured out: the first part of it is as fully accomplished; the heel of the virgin's Son was bruised when nailed upon the cross.
In the next sign an arrow is coming forth from the bow. Can any one fail to see here expressed, that He shall come, speedily, surely? Then a kid or goat, sinking down as the sacrifice appointed to be slain for sin. Then the promised seed, the man, is arising, and pouring out water as to purify, sustain life. Two fishes, joined together by a band, come next: water is their element, abundantly multiplying is their characteristic. To the Christian there is but to name the Church of Christ, and the fitness of the emblem will at once be recognized. The primitive institution of sacrifice was equally of a kid or a lamb. The lamb, or young ram, is next, as it had been slain, but now living, on high. The bull, also a sacrificial animal, but living, and in an attitude of victory. He who died in the kid is now alive again, and to Him all power is given. The twins, the closest visible image of two natures in one person, are next; and the Scriptural believer will not fail to recognize their import. The crab holds fast what it has once grasped. The lion rends apart whatever he seizes, as at the last awful day the Judge will separate good from evil.
"Take and read," as the voice cried to the saint of old.* "Search the Scriptures," as the Lord Himself has enjoined, even if never searched before; and see if these simple and expressive emblems are not faithful interpreters of the prophecies there contained. The coincidences cannot be overlooked; they are too complete to be unintentional: the common sense of mankind at once recognizes the marks of design. To that universal faculty the appeal is made: are there not here those marks, and in the correspondence with Scripture the proof of what was that design? Was it not indeed in another, yet consistent, record to show forth the glory of God?
* Augustin, Confess.
This appeal to the ordinary faculties of the human mind, to its powers of comparison and judgment, may well hope for the verdict that the signs* were intended to symbolize prophecy, as recorded in the Holy Scriptures. A connecting link is the signification of the ancient names in the original** language of mankind, as transmitted in the Hebrew of the Holy Scriptures and the most ancient Arabic: but to appreciate this additional evidence there must be either a knowledge of the languages, or a due estimate of the force of testimony. Those acquainted with the original Scriptures will testify to the occurrence of the root*** of the name in those writings, as shown by the references given in the subsequent Tables.
* The zodiac in its present forms and order, as beginning with Aries, is transmitted by Hipparchus and Ptolemy, who lived about the time of the Christian era, as "of unquestioned authority, unknown origin, and unsearchable antiquity." The explanation here given follows the course of prophecy, and the order of the stars arising in the evening, with the sun in Aries.
*** "The root" may be explained by English examples; as, "The idea of a family of words is familiar to the reader," "Familiarity with the search will familiarize the result."
The antiquity and wide diffusion of these emblems, and the mystic veneration in which they were ever held, are traced in the accompanying pages: it is also shown that the notion of the signs having any reference to the seasons is of comparatively late origin, and could not at any time have been sustained consistently with the times and climates of their well-known previous existence.*
It was not till the diffusion of the light of Christianity had cast into shade these dim foreshowings of its great events, that the vague awe with which these emblems were formerly regarded gave place to indifference and neglect, or was only preserved in the reveries of astrology. This reverence*, in some cases leading even to idolatry, indicated a tradition that their message was divine. They each represented an action, still to be traced in the fables connected with them**, a type, of which the true antitype is to be found in the great subject of the ancient prophecies contained in the Hebrew Scriptures.** The primitive year began in the sign Virgo, the stars of which were seen most strikingly in the evening sky when the sun was in Aries, the splendid star still by us called Spica, the ear of corn, in the woman's hand, marking the leading idea, the Promised Seed. Thus was represented the subject of the first promise, the foundation of the hopes of fallen man. In the next sign, Libra, we have His work, which was to be to buy, to redeem, figured in the balance weighing the price against the purchase. Then in Scorpio follows the indication of what that price was to be; the conflict, in which the seed of the woman receives the wound in his heel, while his other foot is on the head of the enemy, here figured by the scorpion, a venomous reptile, who can sting even while his head is bruised.
* Part II., on Egypt and Assyria.
*** Part II. p. 60, also the Tables from pp. 9-25.
Next we find the Archer, with his arrow in the act of going out from the bow, expressing that the promised Deliverer should be sent forth.
Then Capricornus, the goat, the victim or sacrifice sinking down as wounded, showing that the promised Deliverer must be slain as a sacrifice. In Aquarius we see the rising up and pouring forth of water, as to cleanse and fertilize, showing that the sacrifice was to bring purification and benediction by means of the risen Messiah.
In Pisces two fishes are bound together by a band, which is continued to and held by the fore-feet of Aries, figuring the leading idea of union. The fishes, a well-known emblem of the Church among the early Christians, represent the redeemed and purified multitudes of the Church before and after the first coming, in union with each other and with their Redeemer.
The subsequent sign, the Lamb or ram of sacrifice, here not dying, but as it had been slain, is now reigning triumphant, with one foot on the head of the enemy, bound also by a band, which that foot holds.
We then see Taurus, the bull, showing forth the dominion of Him who had been a sacrifice for sin, now reigning over all.
In Gemini, the twins, whether human or of the sacrificial goat or sheep, the leading idea of combining, entwining, is equally conveyed, expressing the union of the divine and human nature in the promised seed.
Cancer, the crab or beetle, holding fast its prey or its nest, well conveys the image of tenacious possession by Him who has assured us, as to His purchased flock, that no man can pluck them out of His hand.
Leo, the majestic lion, rending the prey, represents irresistible strength, and final separation between good and evil. His foot is over the head of the prostrate serpent, closing the series as we are told by the Apostle that the dispensation must be closed: "For He shall reign till His has put all things under His feet."*
* Part II. Tables, pp. 9-25.
Here, then, we have represented in action twelve leading ideas, twelve principal truths of Divine revelation,
1. The seed of the woman shall come.
2. There shall be a price paid by Him for a purchased possession.
3. The price shall be a conflict with the serpent-foe, and a wound in the conqueror's heel.
4. He shall be sent forth swiftly, surely, as an arrow from a bow.
5. He shall be slain as a sacrifice.
6. He shall rise again and pour out blessings on His people.
7. His people shall be multitudes, and held in union with each other and Himself.
8. He who was slain, whose heel was bruised, shall rule, and shall tread His enemy under foot.
9. He shall come in power, triumphant, and have dominion.
10. He shall be the Son of God and the son of man, the victim and the ruler.
11. He shall hold fast His purchased possession, the reward of His work.
12. He shall finally put all enemies under His feet, coming with ten thousand of His saints to execute judgment upon all, separating the evil from the good.
These leading ideas are to be traced in the yet extant names of the signs as preserved in the Hebrew and Arabic appellations. Eight of these agree: of the other four, two are in Arabic different names of the same object, the other two contain the leading idea here attributed to the sign.
Two of the Syriac names from Ulugh Beigh differ from the Hebrew, as being other names of the same thing. Where the Hebrew and Arabic agree, there can be little doubt but that they preserve the name originally given: as where the words differ they still express the same idea, it seems that the emblems were invented, and universally known to the children of Noah, before the dispersion from Babel.*
From ancient authorities we find that in the Aramaean and Coptic or early Egyptian names the same ideas are presented. They are also found in the Sanscrit, &c.*
The ancient Rabbins said that the astronomy of the Jews was in the Babylonish captivity corrupted by the astrology of the Chaldeans; but as the Chaldean dialect differs so little from the Hebrew, the names would not be materially altered. Slight Chaldee changes may be traced in one or two of the names of stars; but in the names of the twelve signs they do not occur, even where the interchangeable letters are found.
The existence of primitive roots in Arabic words, common to the Hebrew and other Semitic dialects, (however the usage of these words may have been varied and extended,) is evident to Hebraists, though sometimes disputed by the scholar whose Oriental acquirements have not included the Hebrew. Such may be compared to the traveller in the desert, who, delighted with the fruit and shade of the palm-tree, thinks not of the source of strength and nourishment below, the deep and stedfast root hidden in the sand that has gathered around it in the lapse of ages. The root is obvious in these antique appellations of visible objects, as in the proper names of persons and places contained in the Scriptures, and, though less obviously, may be traced even in those of other nations. Proper names, however corrupted in the spelling, generally retain something of the sound of the root whence they were formed: words used in expressing the varying actions and feelings of common life are much more subject to be perverted from their original meanings. The appellations of visible objects, if less fixed than proper names, are less liable to variation than those; accordingly we find these twelve names to have corresponding Arabic ones, even if in some places other, but synonymous, names are now used in Arabic astronomy.
The mythological fables attached to these emblems, and the titles under which they were worshipped, contribute to throw light on these meanings.* All are connected with an offspring of the Deity; all say with the Evangelical Prophet, "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder."**
** Isa. ix. 6
If indeed Seth and his family were the inventors of these emblems and the givers of these names, intending to express in them the prophecies known to the antediluvian Church, such might well be their figures and their meaning. If the intention was what it is here considered to be, it is consistently developed by comparison with the written records of Hebrew prophecy, as delivered to the patriarchal and Jewish Church, and preserved for the Christian by those faithful witnesses for the authority and integrity of Scripture, the yet unconverted Jews. As the Jews have kept the word of prophecy, the Arabs have preserved the names of the stars which so remarkably correspond with it, while the Greeks and Egyptians have transmitted the figures to which they belong.
These independent but concurring testimonies not only witness to the purpose of the long misunderstood emblems, but to the existence of a revelation anterior to their formation; for if their purport be prophetic, He who seeth the end from the beginning had already given to man that knowledge of future events which He alone can impart.
It is not doubted that about eighteen centuries ago there arose a remarkable person claiming to have no father but Him in heaven, who was put to death at the time of the slaying of the paschal lamb at Jerusalem. His death, the time and manner of it, were not of his own power. If predicted by the prophets, prefigured in these ancient emblems, and indicated in their primitive names,that death, its manner and its time, must have been revealed by Him who by the mouth of Isaiah appeals to prophecy as the proof of His power and His Godhead, saying to the idols of the heathen, "Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods."* By prophecy and its fulfilment God speaks to man, at once displaying His foreknowledge and His sovereignty. So He spake to our first parents in Eden; and the echo of that voice was in the ears of the fathers of mankind, when these emblems were framed in memorial of the revelation.
* Isa. xli. 23.
In the sacred year, as ordained by Moses, beginning when the sun was in Aries, the signs would appear in the evening sky in the progression commencing with Virgo. In this succession coming events were to be accomplished. In the earlier ages, when the year naturally began from the anniversary of the creation*, at the junction of Leo and Virgo, Aries, the first sign of the patriarchal zodiac, arose in the evening twilight, beginning at once the day and the year, the day with its evening, the year with its decline. As the night drew on, the Lamb as it had been slain, but arising in power, was followed by the other signs proclaiming His glory, His kingdom, and His final victory.
Always and every where the series of the signs has begun with Aries, whether in Latium, in Egypt, in Arabia, India, or China. Some ancient nations began their year with this sign, but others, as the Chinese, from Aquarius, where the winter solstice took place about the time of the dispersion at Babel: even these, however, began the zodiac with Aries.
Before the time of Moses the year of the Hebrews had begun, as the civil year of the Jews still begins, with the entrance of the sun into Virgo; it seems probable that originally the woman, as now figured in the Egyptian zodiac of Dendera, held the ear of corn in one hand, the palm-branch in the other; while as Albumazer records in the ancient spheres*, a woman, as the first Decan of Virgo, was figured nursing an infant. The Arabians figured Virgo herself holding the infant, but these may have been the Christian Arabs, as it is said the ancient Arabs admitted no figures, human or animal, but represented Virgo by a branch.
* Albumazer, who lived at the court of the Caliphs of Grenada early in the ninth century, in his description of the signs and their Decans, to which the annexed tables refer, concludes by saying that they had come down to his time unaltered; that they were known all over the world, and had been the objects of long speculation, and that "many had attributed to them a divine and even a prophetic virtue." Unfortunately he perverts this "prophetic virtue" to the purposes of astrology. Part II. p. 16.
It is not known how the ancient Hebrews figured the signs, except by the blessing of Jacob and that of Moses*; but from these records it is evident that animal and even human forms were on the banners of Israel, the Man that of Reuben, the Lion borne by Judah, the Bull by Joseph, the Eagle or the Basilisk by Dan. Balaam also evidently had the Lion of Judah before his eyes. Moses, speaking after the giving of the second commandment, dwells on the Lion of Judah and the Bull of Joseph without disapprobation. It was, therefore, the worshipping of these "likenesses" that was forbidden. The Jews in after times, warned by the idolatry of their forefathers, are said to have abstained from making any "likenesses" whatsoever; and the early Arabs are said to have followed their example. In the temple of Solomon, besides the consecrated cherubic images, there were pomegranates** and flowers of lilies and palm-trees, but no animal likenesses, except the cherubic lions and oxen. There is here a proof that not the making of the likeness, but the worshipping it was the sin. Israel had been punished for desiring the golden calf to go before them, but Solomon was unblamed for forming the twelve oxen that upheld the molten sea.***
** The Hebrew name of this fruit, Rimmon, may mean exaltation; that of the lily, joyfulness, rejoicing.
*** 1 Kings vii. 2 Chron. iii. 16; iv. 5.