The Zodiac in the Ancient World Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein The Babylonian Zodiac (Click to see a larger image.) The Bull of Heaven, whose death and funeral are mentioned as Inanna’s reason for visiting the underworld, is a reference to the astrological sign of Taurus. Bulls were often represented as being sacred in goddess worship, but in this particular case, it has been suggested that it may have referred to the descent of the sign of Taurus below the horizon for a portion of the year, which would have been seen as the “death” of the Bull of Heaven. Our ancestors, from ancient times almost all the way up to the present day, believed that certain groups of stars, particularly those that fall on the ecliptic or Earth’s orbital path, had influence on human destiny.  There are various zodiacs from the many cultures around the world—from China, India, the ancient Celts, and even the Americas. There were solar zodiacs with 12 signs and lunar zodiacs with 13 signs. And the Egyptian zodiac, which we’ll have occasion to discuss later on, had even more signs and symbols. For future reference, simply because the signs appear often in both ancient myths and art and it is useful to know them in order to draw the connections, the signs of the Western zodiac (beginning with the one that supposedly currently begins the astrological year) are as follows: Aries—The Ram—FIRE (March 21-April 20) According to some texts, the ram was sacred to Amon, a god in the Egyptian pantheon whose worship became prominent at about the time the sun would have moved into the Age of Aries. Taurus—The Bull—EARTH (April 21-May 21) The bull was sacred to the ancient cultures that worshipped the Great Goddess or Great Mother. See for example the associations with the Bull of Heaven in the myths of Inanna and Gilgamesh. It has been suggested that this association of the Great Goddess with the bull is why goddesses are often shown in iconography with horned headdresses bearing the moon. The bull is also associated with Mithraism, probably as a connection of the sun with the sign during the Age of Taurus. This is one of the four signs that represent the four corners of the universe in both ancient and Christian iconography. Gemini—The Twins—AIR (May 22-June 21) Associated in Greek mythology with the story of Castor and Pollex, twin sons of the mortal woman Leda and the god Zeus, who came to her in the form of a swan. When Castor was killed, Pollex asked to die, too; they were allowed to spend part of their time in Hades and part in the heavens, where as twin stars they are patrons of sailors. Cancer—The Crab—WATER (June 22-July 22) This sign is associated with the influence of the moon, which controls the tides and women’s menses. Water is sometimes associated with the unconscious, so the crab is often associated with the content of the unconscious. A variant of the crab in Egyptian mythology is the scarab beetle. Leo—The Lion—FIRE (July 23-August 23) Sometimes associated with the influence of the sun, this sign is represented in iconography in the lion-bodied sphinx wherever it appears (e.g., on the Giza plain in Egypt; in the story of Oedipus, etc.) This is one of the four signs that represent the four corners of the universe in both ancient and Christian iconography. Virgo—The Virgin—EARTH (August 24-September 23) Associated with the virgin goddesses of antiquity, this sign was chosen by the Catholic Church for the date of celebration of the Ascension of the Virgin Mary. Libra—The Scales—AIR (September 24-October 23) The scales are often associated with the concept of justice. In Egyptian mythology, for example, the goddess Mayet, or Maat, listened to the confessions of the dead in the Judgment Hall of the Egyptian underworld. She then weighed the heart of the deceased individual against a feather; if the heart was light, the individual was judged to be without sin and was thus allowed to go to Osiris, King of the Egyptian underworld, before going on to the land of the blessed. The Greeks also pictured the concept of justice as a female with balance scales, and that image has carried over into modern iconography in many halls of justice. Scorpio—The Scorpion/Serpent/Eagle—WATER (October 24-November 22) This is the only sign that actually has three iconographic symbols to represent it. The scorpion and the serpent both have poisonous bites. Virtually, all associations of serpents in Western mythology are related to this sign. The eagle is considered to be the energy of this sign transcendent, i.e., it signifies the individual who has eliminated the trappings and desires of ego. Associations with winged-serpents in ancient mythology derive from this connection. Scorpio is associated with hidden knowledge, mysticism, and prophecy. It is one of the four signs that represent the four corners of the universe in both ancient and Christian iconography. Sagittarius—The Archer—FIRE (November 23-December 21) Generally viewed as a centaur, this sign is associated with the mythical Chiron, who was a teacher in Greek mythology of Achilles, Actaeon, and Aesculapius, Father of Medicine. Chiron was a centaur, half man, half horse, renowned for his wisdom. He was immortal, but was at one point accidentally wounded. Zeus allowed him to die, and in one version of the story, Chiron traded his suffering and his life for that of Prometheus. Capricorn—The Goat—EARTH (December 22-January 20) Sometimes associated with the god Pan, this sign is often pictured with a goat’s head and body and a fish tail, thus signifying the ability to climb to the highest peaks or swim to the deepest depths of the Earth. Aquarius—The Water Bearer—AIR (January 21-February 19) This sign is often represented by a man pouring water from a large urn. It is one of the four signs that represent the four corners of the universe in both ancient and Christian iconography. (The animals that represented the four corners in Mesopotamia and Egypt differed from those in the Greek zodiac, but the idea was much the same.) The Age of Aquarius, which humanity is just entering, is expected to demonstrate open-mindedness, conscious evolution, and a balanced partnership society. Pisces—The Fish—WATER (February 20-March 20) A symbol of sacrifice. The avatar of the Piscean Age was Jesus the Christ. Early Christians identified themselves to each other by making a sign that looked like a fish. Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily