Reported by John-Peter Gernaat
The theme for Christmas of 2022 is The Zodiac. The aim is to consider how it was understood: the relationship human beings had to the Zodiac at a time when it was not yet understood and at the time when human beings became conscious of the zodiac. At this time human beings named the constellations and placed them in the order that we still recognise today. We will then consider the position the zodiac currently holds in our rhythm of life. Finally, where is the zodiac taking us in the future?
Much of the information derives from many lectures given by Dr Rudolf Steiner on the subject.
This introductory talk is to introduce the topic of the Zodiac and the subject matter will remain broad. The idea is to link the Zodiac to a wholeness and to a whole rhythm.
What do we know of the Zodiac? Our interaction with the zodiac often revolves around the connection that the individual human being has to it at birth. We understand that there is a link between the signs of the zodiac and the months of the year. We have a link between the signs of the zodiac and the months of the year that is not reflected in the night sky when we observe the stars and the signs of the zodiac. There have been shifts of the zodiac in relation to the earth, but we maintain the relationship to the constellations. This is because the constellations have more to offer humanity than simply what we see of the positions of the stars in the night sky. This does not negate the astronomical study of the stars. Our interest though is to an inner connection to the constellations and what they bring. One constellation only brings what it brings which is only a part of a much bigger and wider picture.
What might be the first sign of the zodiac when considering the zodiac? We quickly realise that this is not a simple answer, but that it depends on the relationships we wish to draw. In studying the relationship to the zodiac from the point of Anthroposophy requires a knowledge of the sign with which to begin and the order in which the signs are considered from this starting point. There is good reason for this. The sun, in its yearly orbit, passes through the signs of the zodiac in one direction. The earth’s axis, which is tilted in relationship to its path of orbit, points at a sign of the zodiac. The tilt of the earth’s axis rotates around a mid-point resulting in the axis rotating through the signs of the zodiac in reverse order approximately every 25 771.5 years.
We might consider the influence of the constellations on the evolution of plants or on the evolution of animals. In each case we have known with which constellation to begin and in which direction we move through the zodiac.
We will begin by going through the chronological order of the zodiac. In this case Aries is often considered to be the first sign. Yet different constellations at different times in human history meant different things. The proto-Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia were the first people to name the zodiac in a way in which we still name the zodiac. Their first constellation was Cancer. Everything began for them with Cancer, as they saw Cancer as the gateway through which souls were born. Their understanding was that all souls passed through the constellation of Cancer before the soul arrived on the earth. At the heart of Cancer is a cluster of about 50 stars, which is the brightest cluster in the constellation of Cancer, that these peoples named the Manger. Cancer, we understand from esoteric science, is still strongly connected with moon-forces. It is a reality that as the soul descends towards earth for a new incarnation and descends through the planetary spheres, the last sphere is the moon sphere, connected with Cancer. Cancer is also connected with the time of the birth of John the Baptist and became strongly associated with baptism and was used in baptistries as a symbol. In Western Christianity, through the Middle Ages. Baptistries were built near the western entrance to churches, outside of the main church building. This was so that one could be baptised in order to enter the church. Later, baptistries were built inside the church at the west door as a side chapel on the right. More recently, through the work of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, the baptismal font in Catholic churches was moved to the front of the church near the altar. The Manger was where a new soul was placed before it came to the earth. It was therefore a very significant picture that a new-born child was placed in a manger. This was a recognition that a great soul had brought the Manger down to earth. At the time that this constellation was identified it was pictured as a turtle and not as a crab. The constellation looked like the tiny turtles that would annually emerge from the mud on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, where the eggs had been laid.
Today we consider Aries as the first constellation because it begins at the Spring Equinox. For centuries the year began in Spring, with March as the first month. Aries beginning in March became the first constellation. Only in the late Roman period did the beginning of the year move to mid-winter. We still recognise this historical year in our tax year that begins on 1 March. The Roman conception that only two things were assured, death and taxes, meant that the ordering of the year, in order to know when the new tax season began, was important. It is also that the month that began the year and the taxing of the Empire was named after the god of war, Mars, the beginning of action after winter.
The old Anglo-Saxon names for the months of the year are more closely connected with the experience in nature. Similar names would also have existed in other early European cultures. These cultures had a close connection with nature, whereas the Romans saw the influence of the gods on our actions. March was called Lide in Anglo-Saxon. This meant loud. March was a loud month, the month of storms. With the storms came rain which prepared for spring and planting. The name for March was later also Glory - Hreð-monaþ or Hreðmōnaþ. The word monaþ, pronounced monath with a soft ‘th’, derived from moon, and representing a lunar cycle, is the origin for our word ‘month’. At one time the English calendar moved the beginning of the year to 15 March or the middle of Hreðmōnaþ to bring it closer to the Equinox.
The second month, April, may have been named from the Latin word for opening. This may have been the case as it would be the month of the opening of flowers. The Anglo-Saxon name was Ēosturmōnaþ named after a goddess Ēastre, goddess of Spring. The constellation that begins in April is Taurus. From the beginning Taurus was seen as a constellation of opening. One had to go through the horns of the Bull. We see ancient images, especially on the Island of Crete, of people trying to jump through the horns of a bull. The imagination of ‘leaping over’ presents the individual with a new space spiritually. This would have brought prosperity for the year. The symbol for Taurus is the head and horns. The challenge in this symbol is that the head is closed while the horns are open. It is in the horns that the gap or aperture exists.
May was named after a fertility goddess in Rome named Miai, responsible for flowering plants. In Anglo-Saxon it was named þrimilcemōnaþ, literally meaning the month of three milkings per day. The constellation of Gemini, the twins, begins in May. What is the mystery of the twins? Identical twins come from one source. In the case of human identical twins, one egg is fertilised and splits after fertilisation to give rise to two foetuses. The mystery is that we are all, each one of us, a twin. As Rudolf Steiner explained, we each carry within us a wholeness, even though we present a one-sidedness. If our physical body expresses maleness, the etheric body expresses the feminine. We should consider ourselves as whole, even though we present a one-sidedness of our humanity. We are beings expressing one side of our humanity but also connected to the other side of our humanity too.
June is named after the goddess Juno. In Anglo-Saxon it was known as Ærra Liða, early lith, June is the beginning of Cancer which comes with the Solstice, which in the northern hemisphere is mid-summer. In early Mesopotamia the year began with mid-summer, at the height of the sun’s power. We can hear in this that it required some form of power to begin the year, whether it was the sun’s power for the Mesopotamians or the power of Mars for the Romans. Whether the sign of Cancer represents the turtle or the crab, both carry their home with them. There is a connection to find oneself at home on the earth, in a new home, carrying the home of our spiritual origin with us.
July was known as Quintilis, meaning the fifth month. The Romans has a naming tradition that only the first four children bore names and from the fifth child onwards they were numbered, although many Romans bore this number with pride. Julius Caesar was born in Quintilis and the month was renamed after him (Julius) by Caesar Augustus when he made Julius a god (in order to make himself a god as well). In Anglo-Saxon the month was named Æfterra Liða, after Lith; Lith being an important festival of midsummer. The sun moves into the constellation of Leo in July. Leo was depicted with a mane, but the constellation bore a strong feminine energy from the very beginning.
August, which was called Sextilis, was the month of the birth of Caesar Augustus. In Anglo-Saxon it was named Weodmōnaþ or weed month. The sun moves into the constellation of Virgo in August.
September was the seventh month in Rome. The Anglo-Saxons called it harvest month, Haligmōnaþ. It was the holy month of the harvest. The sun moves into the constellation of Libra in September. The Equinox in September brings us to balance which we see represented in the scales of Libra. The scales are strongly connected with harvesting. When the soul is harvested at death it must be weighed in the scales. If the essential-self weighed up against a feather it was pure. The feather was the symbol of the god of purity. In this symbology we also have the scales of the Archangel Michael. The connection of harvest and of weighing shifts, in the future, from an outer experience to an inner experience. Through time the symbol of the scales remains true even as the experience connected with it shifts.
October, the eighth month after spring, was called winter moon in Anglo-Saxon, Wintermōnaþ, because winter began with the full moon in this month. The constellation of Scorpio begins in October. This constellation was originally the constellation of the Eagle, but this constellation was later moved out of the band of the Zodiac as the Aquilla constellation. The eagle and scorpion share a sharpness of focus.
In November we move into the constellation of Sagittarius. Sagittarius is often associated with death. Thus, November was the month of the dead in pre-Christian times. It was also the month of sacrifice. The sacrifices were probably made in order to ask for protection through the winter months, to survive till spring. In Anglo-Saxon it was known as Blōtmōnaþ, blood month, for the sacrifices.
December was the tenth month after spring. In Anglo-Saxon it was known as Ærra Gēola, early yule or before yule. Yule being the festival associated with the midwinter solstice. Capricorn begins in December. This constellation was very significant for the early Mesopotamians who associated the constellation with a very powerful god, the god Enki, the god of creation. Enki was responsible for the creation of the human ability to hear. He was responsible for the creation of the inner ear. He was envisaged as a goat-fish and tail of the fish curls as does the cochlea of the ear.
The early Romans did not name the last two months of the year. It was very late in the Roman Empire that January was named after Janus who can look in both directions. It was the time of reflection after midwinter and the time of looking forward, over the two worst months of the year, to spring. In Anglo-Saxon it was known as after yule, Æfterra Gēola. In January the sun moves into the constellation of Aquarius. Aquarius is a very significant constellation because it is the sign of the Water Bearer, the one who bears the waters of life. The constellation is pictured with the waters of life flowing through the water bearer. It is in the human being that the waters of life can flow. Therefore, this sign is very strongly associated with life and lifeblood. Aquarius was also known as a great lord and had a strong association with gods that appear later in various mythologies. There is a strong association with Adonis, the Phoenician god also referred to as a great lord. In the Hebrew tradition the word Adonai refers to The Great Lord.
February is named after the god of death and purification Februa. In Anglo-Saxon it was known as Solmōnaþ, meaning soil month or muddy month. It was the month of rain and mud which prepared for spring. This brings us to the constellation of Pisces. The sign of Pisces is strongly connected with the eucharist as presented in the feeding of the five thousand and in John 21 with the catch of the fish and two fish on the fire on the shore when the disciples arrive ashore. The feeding of the five thousand is a prefiguring of the eucharist. In John 21 the question asked is whether the disciples have anything to eat with bread. There is a strong association in Pisces with something that flows out from Communion. Therefore, also a strong association of Pisces with the age of Christian development.
We can see the influence of certain aspects of the zodiac when we look at great events of history. One sign of the zodiac brings certain elements to be powerfully on the earth. When the same sign returns in the precession of the earth’s axis (i.e. 25 771.5 years later) it brings new aspects. The aspects that each constellation brings are specific to our understanding of that constellation. Through Rudolf Steiner we are aware of the pre-earthly deeds of Christ, those deeds of Christ before he embodied in Jesus of Nazareth. There are also three sacrifices of Christ before his earthly incarnation for the development of humanity. With Christ incarnating on earth the deed of Christ is the sacrifice of Christ that we refer to as the Mystery of Golgotha. The deed and the sacrifice become one. The Gospel of John helps us to understand the pre-earthly deeds of Christ. Christ says: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”. The way is the ability to walk. One cannot walk without being upright. The first great pre-earthly deed of Christ was to ensure that human beings in their physical constitution could stand upright. This was the form that would indicate a human being, an uprightness, a new alignment of the spine with the skull. In our uprightness we are bilateral, we have two sides. The force behind this pre-earthly deed of Christ is the constellation of Gemini. It is part of the twinned understanding of ourselves: the Way. This great deed of Christ occurred in the spiritual period of Lemuria. In Lemuria we developed a spiritual spine and an uprightness that would later become physical in our bodily form. Steiner describes the human being in Lemurian times as fire beings.
The next great deed of Christ was performed in Atlantean times. The constellation that spoke to the height of Atlantean times (there were seven constellations that covered the time of Lemuria and seven constellations that cover the time of Atlantis, and we will experience seven constellations in the post-Atlantean epochs) was Aquarius. Out of this time of water comes the Water of Life. The Truth that is that the inner world of the human being is a reflection of the outer world. The deed of Christ was the ability to form speech, to speak our truth. We notice that infants begin to speak once they begin to walk. We recapitulate the stages of our spiritual development.
The third deed of Christ was also performed in Atlantean times under the constellation of Libra. “I am the Life”. Life is the ability to speak objectively. A young child speaks completely subjectively. It speaks words that reflect its inner experience. To most people, except the parents, these words are often unintelligible. Speaking objectively means that the words one speaks are understood by everyone because they carry the same objective meaning for everyone. Objective speaking enables us to communicate ideas with one another. It has to do with building community.
As we study these constellations we will touch on what their role was in our past development and what their role is today and what their role will be in our future development should we be able to intuit something from our understanding. We are, in Christ, not only living with the great gift of peace which he has given us, but we are also in our thinking and willing taking steps to associate with the world as it evolves and as humanity evolves with the world. This concept that we, human beings, connect with the evolving of the world is spoken in the Act of Consecration of Man. We do this through our thinking and willing.
In the next eight talks three signs of the zodiac were considered at a time. The reports on the talks presented on one of the triad of signs will appear in the April, June and August newsletters. The first talk on each triad of signs covered the history of the signs, how they were understood and what their symbols represent. We considered the influence of these signs in allowing spiritual forces to pour down through them onto the earth allowing for something to manifest. The second talk covered how the signs may have significance in our future and what from the present may still undergo further transformation in spiritual manifestation.
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