The Thousand and One Nights

image: Wikimedia commons (   link   ).

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Richard Francis Burton (1821 - 1890) "was one of those Victorians whose energy and achievements make any modern man quail," in the words of the novelist A. S. Byatt in the introduction to Burton's translation of the Thousand Nights and a Night, also commonly known as the Thousand and One Nights, or the Arabian Nights (xv). A partial list of examples ensues, of course:

He lived like one of his own heroes, travelling in Goa, Equatorial Africa, brazil, India, and the Middle East. He took part in the Crimean war. He went with J. H. Speke to find the source of the Nile and discovered Lake Tanganyika. He disguised in himself as an Afghan dervish and doctor and went on pilgrimage to the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina -- a journey where unmasking would have cost him his life. He wrote books on swordsmanship and geology. According to Borges he dreamed in seventeen languages and spoke thirty-five -- other sources say forty. xv.

When he died on October 20, 1890, we are told that, "alarmed by the sexually explicit content of her husband's papers, Isabel Burton burned almost all of his notes, diaries, and manuscripts -- an immeasurable loss to history" (vii -- this quotation from the publisher and not from A. S. Byatt's introduction, which begins on page xiii). That could be what happened, or it could be a convenient cover-story -- we will probably never know.

In any case, Burton's translation of the Nights was begun in the 1850s and finally published in the 1880s in sixteen volumes. The introduction by A. S. Byatt cited above declares that of all the translations of the Nights, "the most accessible complete translation remains Burton's extraordinary translation" along with its "immense apparatus of extraordinary footnotes" (xv). Of the massive work Burton himself said:

This work, laborious as it may appear, has been to me a labour of love, an unfailing source of solace and satisfaction. During my long years of official banishment to the luxuriant and deadly deserts of Western Africa, and to the dull and dreary half-clearings of South America, it proved itself a charm, a talisman against ennui and despondency. Impossible even to open the pages without a vision staring into view [. . .] Arabia, a region so familiar to my mind that even at first sight, it seemed a reminiscence of some by-gone metempsychic life in the distant Past [. . .] air glorious as ether, whose every breath raises men's spirits like sparkling wine [. . .] while the reremouse flitted overhead with his tiny shriedk, and the rave of the jackal resounded through deepening glooms, and -- most musical of music -- the palm-trees answered the whispers of the night-breeze with the softest tones of falling water. xxiii - xxiv.

Burton's translation -- and his voluminous endnotes -- are famous for their extremely sexually explicit nature, especially during the period that they first appeared, as a private printing of one thousand copies to subscribers only. Modern readers will find that their content (and perhaps their translation) also appears on the surface to be highly objectionable in terms of being both sexist and racist -- so much so, in fact, that they may prove difficult or even impossible for some to actually read. 

And yet, as with other ancient tales, I would argue that the tales which made their way into the Thousand Nights and a Night are almost certainly deeply esoteric in nature, and that to read them only on a literal level is as mistaken as reading Herman Melville's Moby Dick as a story about whaling (this concept is discussed in my most recent interview on Truth Warrior with David Whitehead, beginning at about 0:17:00 and continuing through to 0:24:00, as well as in the essay I wrote for Jacob Karlin's meditation and Selfless Self-Help site entitled "Clothing spirit with matter and raising it up again: How metaphor transcends and transforms the material realm"). 

The themes of the Thousand Nights and a Night ostensibly center around the differences between men and women, and their different "powers," and this is the approach to these fabulous tales that is most commonly employed today (simply search for them on the internet for a host of examples). In the world of the Nights, women appear on the surface to be less powerful in the extremely patriarchal (and violent) society that is depicted, and yet they ultimately prove to be far more powerful. 

In fact, the entire tension of the story is established by the deflation experienced by first one royal brother, Shah Zaman, and then his brother, King Shahryar, when their wives "get the better of them," each of their frustrations being relived in turn only when each successively encounters an example even more egregious than his own humiliation (their humiliation is only relieved by the even greater humiliation of another man by his wife). Their humiliation leads to a predictably (if excessively) "male" response, the rule that sets the stage for the "thousand and one nights," an extreme and violent "solution" which is finally subverted and corrected by the wisdom, patience, grace, charm, wit, circularity, and feminine power of Shahrazad (or Sheherezad in some translations), assisted by her sister Dunyazad.

Throughout the tales, the power of women can be destructive and devouring, or it can be constructive and restorative, but it is almost always ultimately far more formidable than that of men, despite the latter's excessive bluster, arbitrary ultimatums, and readiness to try to solve most problems by immediately swinging at them wildly with a scimitar. 

While the above theme of the "power" of women versus the "power" of men is undeniably present throughout the Nights, I would still argue that to read them on this fairly literal level, or to approach them as a sort of "women's studies" about how women "were treated" in some historical society and how they dealt with and overcame that treatment, is actually a mistake, in that it fails to see the Nights as deeply esoteric and as almost certainly metaphorical, not literal. The same can be said for the extremely racist episodes and descriptions in some of the tales: while the racist elements are highly objectionable and regrettable, and one would prefer that some other metaphor had been employed (the same could be said for some of the sexual content as well), it is likely that the real meaning of the tales is on a level other than the literal, and that the fantastical and often bizarre events and episodes which are related were originally intended to highlight aspects of our universal human condition, or were descended from ancient myths whose original intent was to do so (it is possible that the more racist elements came in later, perhaps during medieval times). 

And this is the key: if the Nights in all their incredible tales and transformations and encounters with fire-beings such as jinns and janns and ifrits are actually describing a vision of the soul in its incarnations, and a vision of the universe as shamanic and holographic in nature, then they are not primarily about the division of humanity into men versus women, or this "race" against that one. When a wife is depicted as leaving an almost-ideal husband to chase after rag-bound and filthy and abusive adulterous lovers in illicit affairs, this can be seen as an esoteric depiction of our incarnate condition, in which we can so easily forget our innate (but hidden) spiritual or even divine component and embrace too thoroughly our "animal" or physical nature: a metaphor which applies equally to incarnate men as to incarnate women (see the many similar examples in the scriptures of both the Old Testament and the New Testament, including that of the Prodigal Son, who ends up eating husks among the swine before he remembers his true origin). 

In other words, if we read the Nights on a literal level, they will almost certainly appear to divide humanity, along "racial" or "ethnic" or "gender" lines. They will also be quite disturbing and even revolting to many readers, or at least deeply offensive to their sensibilities -- even degrading to the human condition and destructive of human dignity. However, if we read them on a metaphorical and esoteric level, they can actually be seen as teaching a unifying and an uplifting and even a dignifying message -- because they show how our descent into the material realm (the very words matter and material being feminine in connotation, related to the Latin word mater or "mother") exposes us to death, to "beatings," to a type of enslavement, to oppressions, to exigencies beyond our control, to transformations, and subjugations, and yet opens the door for exaltation and transformation and even to a transformation that benefits others and enables them to be transformed as well (all of which Shahrazad experiences and demonstrates throughout the Nights).

See this previous post for more on this concept of unifying rather than dividing.

When profound truths put on the garments of metaphor, they descend from the spiritual realm to the material, in order to enable our matter-bound minds to see, through them, that spiritual realm which we have forgotten -- and then these metaphors leap back upwards to the spiritual realms from whence they came, and drag our consciousness along with them. This is what Melville's Moby Dick demonstrates, when deep spiritual subjects come down to put on the rough garments of a whaling vessel, and it is what the Thousand Nights and One Night demonstrate when profound matters of human incarnation and the nature of our spirit-infused universe are clothed in the often gratuitously violent and sexually explicit situations depicted in those tales.

This motion of "metaphor itself" in descending from the "realms of the ideal" into the physical trappings of the vehicle chosen to house or to clothe the metaphor in familiar material form, for the purpose of elevating our consciousness and pointing us back towards the spiritual and helping us to transcend the physical and material can be seen to mirror our own experience in this human incarnation. We descend from the realm of spirit into material and physical vehicles, with the purpose of somehow transforming and transcending and returning with new understanding, and elevating and "dragging along" and reawakening the spiritual which is hidden inside the material world in the process.

This esoteric understanding of the Nights is supported by an aspect of the tales that has rarely, if ever, been explored, and that is the fact that -- like the ancient sacred scriptures and mythologies of the human race, they frequently employ clear celestial metaphor, using the exact same system which underlies other myths the world over.

To demonstrate, I will here offer just two of the many hundreds of possible examples. However, at the request of an extremely insightful and astute correspondent who wrote to me about these interpretations, I will give my interpretation of the constellations underlying these two episodes from the Nights in a future installment of this blog in a couple of days -- enabling you, gentle reader, to work them out for yourself in the interim!

To get yourself warmed up, feel free to check out the many examples of star myths and their explanations listed here. There is also a previous post which discusses many different constellations, with diagrams and descriptions of where to find them in the night sky.

Here are the two episodes from The Arabian Nights, as translated by Richard Francis Burton. The celestial correspondences for the actions and characters in each episode are found down below (so don't scroll all the way down this page until you're ready to look at that part!)

First episode: the adulterous affair that started the whole story.

Shah Zaman, the younger brother of King Shahryar, is invited to go visit his brother after many years of separation (in which each ruled their own domain with great "equity and fair-dealing," but as Zaman begins to go, he returns for something he forgot. Here is how he begins to describe what took place:

"Know then, O my brother," rejoined Shah Zaman, "that when thou sentest thy Wazir with the invitation to place myself between thy hands, I made ready and marched out of my city; but presently I minded me having left behind me in the palace a string of jewels intended as a gift to thee. I returned for it alone, and found my wife [. . .]. 9.

Finding his wife with another, he says, Shah Zaman "drew his scimitar and, cutting the two into four pieces with a single blow, left them on the carpet and returned presently to his camp without letting anyone know of what had happened" (5).

Can you determine which celestial inhabitants might correspond to Shah Zaman, his adulterous wife, her adulterous lover, his scimitar, and the string of jewels that he forgot to take with him?

Second episode: the Fisherman and the Jinni.

This is the first story in which a Jinni comes forth out of a lamp. There is a story prior to this one which features a Jinni (and a beautiful and formidable woman, who proceeds to exercise absolute power over both Shah Zaman and his brother King Shahryar), but that one strides up out of the ocean onto the shore, and does not emanate from an ancient lamp. The Tale of the Fisherman and the Jinni is presented as the very first tale Shahrazad tells to King Shahryar on her first night with him, and it is long and involved and contains many "stories within stories within stories," but the first part of the action involves an old fisherman and his wondrous catch. Listen as Shahrazad begins her tale:

It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that there was a Fisherman well stricken in years who had a wife and three children, and withal was of poor condition. Now it was his custom to cast his net every day four times, and no more. On a day he went forth about noontide to the sea shore, where he laid down his basket; and, tucking up his shirt and plunging into the water, made a cast with his net and waited till it settled to the bottom. Then he gathered the cords together and haled away at it, but found it weighty; and however much he drew it landwards, he could not pull it up; so he carried the ends ashore and drove a stake into the ground and made the net fast to it. Then he stripped and dived into the water all about the net, and left not off working hard until he had brought it up. He rejoiced thereat and, donning his clothes, went to the net, when he found in it a dead jackass which had torn the meshes. 25.

The Fisherman is grieved at this development, but he gets it clear of his net and casts again, but with similar results. After a great deal of effort, he gets the net in a second time: this time we are told "found he in it a large earthern pitcher which was full of sand and mud; and seeing this he was greatly troubled" (26). So he has another go, but only brings up "potsherds and broken glass" (26). 

Finally, he goes through the motions one last time, after first "raising his eyes heavenwards" and imploring "O my God! verily Thou wottest that I cast not my net each day save four times; the third is done and as yet Thou hast vouchsafed me nothing. So this time, O my God, deign give me my daily bread" (26). This time, we are told, he pulls up an old jar or lamp of yellow copper, with a seal stopping its mouth with a leaden cap. Removing the seal with great effort, we watch along with the Fisherman in amazement as:

presently there came forth from the jar a smoke which spired heavenwards into ether (wherat he again marveled with a mighty marvel), and which trailed along earth's surface till presently, having reached its full height, the thick vapour condensed, and became an Ifrit, huge of bulk, whose crest touched the clouds while his feet were on the ground. His head was as a dome, his hands like pitchforks, his legs long as masts and his mouth big as a cave; his teeth were like large stones, his nostrils ewers, his eyes two lamps and his look was fierce and lowering. Now when the fisherman saw the Ifrit his side muscles quivered, his teeth chattered, his spittle dried up and he became blind about what to do. 27.

Can you identify the net, the dead jackass, the "earthern pot," and the magic lamp? If so, you will probably be able to guess at who is likely to play the Fisherman in this tale. How about the smoke which pours from the lamp and spirals upwards? The Ifrit is a bit tricky, and could be one of a couple different figures, but you may want to give him a try as well.




Until you're ready to see the discussion and diagrams of the possible celestial connections present in these stories, please don't scroll down past the image below . . .


image: Wikimedia commons (   link   ).

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Here we go . . .

In the first episode, which really launches the entire dynamic of the Nights and sets up the horrific situation in which a king (King Shahryar) decides to enjoy a new virgin bride each night and then slay her in the morning, the king's brother Shah Zaman is invited to visit -- but as Zaman leaves his palace, he remembers that he has left behind him a string of jewels he intended to give to his brother Shahryar. 

He returns home for the string of jewels, only to find his wife on the bed in the arms of an adulterous lover. Drawing his scimitar, he immediately cuts them both in half, leaving them in four pieces. He then proceeds to fall into depression, refusing to eat and languishing in self-pity . . . and the story proceeds from there.

The Arabian Nights can be graphic, violent, and even horrifying -- but I believe that, just like other remnants of the ancient wisdom bequeathed to humanity, the literal stories are only the vessels used to contain ineffable spiritual truth, and that to focus only on the literal action is to "miss all that heavenly glory" towards which they are pointing us.

While they are certainly fascinating and entertaining and moving and memorable as literal stories, the Nights also function as profound spiritual metaphors regarding the nature of our human condition as incarnate spiritual beings, and regarding the nature of this apparently physical universe, which itself is actually infused with and interpenetrated by an unseen world. 

This metaphorical spiritual message can also be found in the sacred texts and mythologies of nearly every other culture on earth, and which actually unites the world's sacred traditions, as discussed in numerous previous blog posts and in my most-recent book, The Undying Stars.

One of the biggest indicators that the Thousand Nights and a Night should be interpreted esoterically is the fact that, like the sacred mythologies found around the world, they are built upon the same common system of celestial metaphor which can be seen operating in "star myths" of ancient Egypt, of ancient Greece, of Japan, or North America, or northern Europe, or Africa, or Australia, or China, or the surviving texts of the Maya, and even in the scriptures of what are commonly called the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. For dozens of examples establishing this undeniable fact, see this "Star Myth index" . . . or some of these "amateur videos."

The story of Shah Zaman returning for a string of jewels and catching his wife in flagrantecan clearly be seen to correspond to a specific set of familiar constellations in the night sky. The "string of jewels" is an important clue, and one with which readers will be familiar if they remember the explanation I offered of the irresistible necklace of Freya from the Norse myths. There, we saw that this necklace corresponds to the Corona Borealis, or "Northern Crown," a beautiful feature of the northern sky and one which appears over and over in the world's mythology, playing many different roles. 

From the Northern Crown, we can fairly easily identify the rest of the constellations in the story of Shah Zaman and the two illicit lovers. Below is a screen-shot of the region of the sky containing the Northern Crown, taken from the excellent application (free and open-source and available on the web here). 

Note that in this screen-shot, the constellation outlines are provided, but they are not the constellation outlines proposed by H. A. Rey in his outstanding books on the stars, and therefore they are not very helpful. The following image, with outlines showing my interpretation of the incident with Shah Zaman and his wife, provides outlines which follow the H. A. Rey system. However, the portion of the sky without those outlines is provided below so that you can check and see that the stars I am connecting up with colored lines in my explanation do indeed match actual stars as they are found in the heavens above.

In the above Stellarium image, the circlet of stars which make up the Northern Crown are seen as a "U"-shaped constellation near the center of the screen-shot. This is the "string of jewels" which Shah Zaman forgets. To the right of the Northern Crown is the important constellation of Bootes, the Herdsman, and below him is the even more important constellation of Virgo the Virgin, with the bright star Spica on her hip (labeled, near the bottom of the image and on the right-hand-side of the screen as we look at it on the page). 

To the left of the Northern Crown is the constellation Hercules, a mighty warrior and a hulking gigantic figure in the night sky -- but the outline provided above is simply awful, and leaves him looking like some kind of giant spider. The outline suggested for Hercules by H. A. Rey is superior in every way, and is the one that I myself use to visualize the constellation when I am looking for him in the northern dome of the heavens. Hercules, of course, is brandishing his favorite weapon, his Club -- but in the story of Shah Zaman and his unfaithful wife, the Club of Hercules becomes a scimitar!

Below is the same star-chart shown above, but with the outlines and labels as I would interpret the story from the Arabian Nights:

And here we see the story laid out in all its glory, just as it appears in the heavens for your celestial reading pleasure! 

Beginning in the lower-right of the image, we see Shah Zaman's wife, played by the zodiac constellation of Virgo, and outlined in yellow in my diagram. Just above her is the adulterous lover, outlined in red and played by Bootes the Herdsman, who often plays the role of the consort of Virgo in various myths around the globe. To the left of Bootes is the pesky string of jewels, forgotten by Shah Zaman when he headed out to visit his brother, and they are outlined in a kind of lavender color. Finally, to the left of these we see the constellation Hercules, representative of Shah Zaman charging in upon the surprised couple, raising his dreadful scimitar and preparing to cut them down. He is outlined in green.

The number of celestial clues that have been worked into the story as related in the Arabian Nights really leaves little doubt that the story corresponds directly to the heavenly drama, as do so many other myths and sacred stories from humanity's ancient past.

Turning now to the story of the Fisherman and the Jinni, we encounter an absolutely fabulous tale and the one with which the beautiful, courageous, and intelligent Shahrazad opens her thousand-and-one nights of storytelling, with which she will save her life -- and, by extension, the lives of all the other young unmarried women of the kingdom including her own sister, and with which she will ultimately save King Shahryar from his own madness and self-destructive jealousy and pride. 

The Fisherman and the Jinni is a tale-within-a-tale-within-a-tale and it contains several more "nested" and interwoven tales within it, but it opens with the account of a poor old Fisherman who casts his net into the waters each day, and one day pulls up a series of strange catches beginning with a dead jackass, followed by an earthen jar (Richard Francis Burton calls it an "earthern pitcher"), followed by some potsherds and broken glass, and finally by a lamp containing a genie (or Jinni -- and one who in this story is identified as an Ifrit, and who pours from the lamp in a towering column of smoke spiraling up to the heavens).

What could be the celestial counterparts to this fantastic opening to the series of stories contained in the tale of the Fisherman and the Jinni? 

Well, there are a number of clues in the story to help us, not least of them a lamp next to a column of smoke -- which almost certainly corresponds to the "Teapot" portion of the constellation Sagittarius, which is located right next to the rising "smoke" of the Milky Way galaxy, as discussed in this previous blog post regarding Revelation chapter 9 (which also refers to the Milky Way that rises between Sagittarius and Scorpio as a rising smoke).

Another powerful clue is the Fisherman's net itself, which may suggest to the minds of readers familiar with the recent discussion of the celestial foundations of the story of Shem, Ham and Japheth (the sons of Noah) the Great Square of Pegasus, which appears in that story as a sheet carried backwards over the shoulders of Shem and Japheth. That distinctive Square in the sky could also be the net of the Fisherman, which keeps bringing up everything except fish from the briny deep. 

The connection to the Great Square in the story found in the Arabian Nights is strengthened by the story's repetition of the fact that the Fisherman only casts his net into the waters fourtimes per day, and never more than that: if we are looking for a celestial counterpart to the net, the repetition of the number four is certain to suggest to us the mighty celestial Square, which after all is a figure containing four corners and the constellation that might come to mind most readily in connection with that particular number.

From there, we can readily identify the other details of the Fisherman's tale, and there are quite enough of them to make the correspondence more than certain. Below is a screen-shot showing the region of the sky which corresponds to the start of the tale of the Fisherman and the Jinni, once again shown without the helpful outlines (which will be provided in the subsequent image):

Here you can see the horizon, which is shown as an arc across the lower part of the screen. There is a red letter "S" near the center bottom of the screen (partially obscured by the location and date-time data), which indicates that we are looking towards the southern horizon (the viewer is located in the northern hemisphere in the above image, at approximate latitude of 35N). 

The beautiful towering "column of smoke" of the Milky Way galaxy can clearly be seen rising up out of the southern horizon, and just to the left of it as we look at the image can be seen the "teapot" portion of the zodiac constellation of Sagittarius (just to the left of the planet Mars, which is labeled and which just happens to be located in the center-line of the Milky Way in this particular screenshot for this particular date and time and year -- Mars is not always located there, by any means).

Near the top of the screen towards the left-half of the image as we look at it on the page, and nearly touching the top of the image, we can see the Great Square of Pegasus, corresponding to the Fisherman's net. Almost directly below that, we find the zodiac constellation of Aquarius -- but once again, the outline does not follow that proposed by H. A. Rey, and is most unhelpful for visualizing Aquarius and his pitcher or vessel of water. Below is the same screen-shot with the same stars and constellations, but this time with the outlines as proposed in the system offered by H. A. Rey, as well as with labels to indicate my interpretation of the celestial foundations of this important first story told by Shahrazad:

Now we can clearly see that this fantastical story has an undeniably celestial origin, and contains enough clues to indicate its corresponding heavenly players.

Beginning from the top-left of the sky, we see the Fisherman's Net, played by the Great Square of Pegasus and outlined in white. Just to the right of the square we see Pegasus himself, that celestial winged horse (the Square represents his wings), but in this particular story he is playing a decidedly more ignominious role as the Dead Jackass which the Fisherman first hauls up with his Net. Pegasus in the above image looks about "right-side up," but at other points during his journey across the sky (particularly when the Great Square is just rising up in the east, for viewers in the northern hemisphere), he is kind of positioned "upside-down," and this fact no doubt accounts for the depiction in this story of the outline of Pegasus as a dead donkey, with his four feet pointing up in the air.

Just below Pegasus we see the constellation Aquarius, outlined in green. I believe that Aquarius plays the role of the Fisherman in this particular story, primarily because Aquarius is located in close proximity to the Net, and also because directly below Aquarius there is a constellation known as Piscus Austrinus, or the "Southern Fish." This constellation is rather faint, but contains the brilliant star Fomalhaut which is very easy to spot in the night sky below Aquarius (you can see it in the tip of the nose of the Fish even in the above diagram).

The second thing that the Fisherman dredges up with his Net in the tale of the Fisherman and the Jinni is an earthen pitcher (Burton calls it an "earthern pitcher," and it is thus labeled in the diagram above). This object clearly corresponds to the jar or water-vessel of Aquarius, which is really part of the constellation Aquarius but which I have outlined in light blue in the image above, so that you can see it more easily.

The third haul of the Net in the tale brings up "potsherds and glass," which really could be anything and which I am not exactly certain about identifying definitively with any particular stars or groups of stars. My most-likely candidate for these potsherds and glass would probably be the glittering trails of stars located at the bottom of each of the two "streams" of water you see depicted coming out of the water-pitcher of Aquarius. These are very distinctive and easy to spot in the actual night sky, although they don't show up very well in the screen-shots above.

Below, I have "zoomed-in" on Aquarius and his water-vessel in order to try to show these little glittering trails at the bottom of each (imagined) stream of water pouring out of the vessel. These little curves of stars are quite beautiful, and they actually "create" the stream of water that we imagine coming out of the pitcher of Aquarius, since the two "streams" themselves have no stars in them: the streams are entirely imaginary, and are created when we "connect" using our mind's eye the pitcher with these two little "curved lines" of stars. 

Here is a closeup of Aquarius and his jar, with the two lines of water coming out of the jar but no lines drawn on top of the two glittering curves of stars (so that you can see them more easily):

And below, one more time, just so that you can be sure to see the little "trails" of stars that I am talking about, and which I believe are the most-likely candidates for the "potsherds and glass" which the Fisherman hauls up in his "third catch" of the day, I have enclosed them in a circle (or oval) of orange:

Finally, we now come to the "fourth catch" of the day -- the one which will ultimately change the Fisherman's fortunes forever. He utters a prayer before sending his Net one more time into the deep, noting that so far he has brought back nothing which he or his wife can eat, and asking that he might please be granted his daily bread. 

When he brings back the Net this time, there is a copper-colored lamp, its mouth sealed with a leaden seal upon which is fixed "the stamp of the seal-ring of our Lord Sulayman son of David," whom we would commonly refer to as King Solomon (27). As we might expect, these being the Arabian Nights, when the Fisherman removes the seal, what should pour forth from the lamp but a spiring column of smoke reaching to the heavens, which ultimately resolves into a powerful Jinni, who promptly informs the poor Fisherman that he must now kill him within the hour, although he will allow the Fisherman to choose the manner of his death. 

And the story proceeds from there -- it is a remarkable tale, and one with which many modern readers may not be familiar. Be sure to take the time to check it out (there are various places on the web to read translations of the Nights, including Burton's translation in its entirety, but of course it is my fixed opinion that The Arabian Nights belongs on everyone's bookshelf in its physical paper form, if it is at all possible for you to obtain it).

In any event, the constellation that plays the part of the genie's magic lantern in this tale is fairly easy to spot, and it is the distinctive outline of the brightest stars in the zodiac constellation of Sagittarius, shown in the full-story star-chart diagram above as an outline of yellow lines and labeled "Lantern." The fact that its "spout" points right into the glowing column of the rising "smoke" of the Milky Way galaxy makes this identification of the celestial counterpart to the story almost certain.

In fact, the wealth of detail in the story which corresponds directly to the constellations surrounding the "Fisherman" of Aquarius makes the above interpretation a very strong hypothesis, in my opinion. The fact that literally hundreds of other myths and sacred stories from around the world are built upon this very type of celestial metaphor makes the celestial correspondence that I am here proposing for the Thousand and One Nights even more likely. 

In fact, it should be pointed out that I did not even know these correspondences existed when I revisited the Arabian Nights recently (although I strongly suspected the Nights would be full of them). 

The fact that familiarity with the system of celestial metaphor enables us to discover the same metaphorical system in operation in other myths or stories not previously examined (such as just demonstrated with the Arabian Nights -- and many more examples from the Nights could be offered) argues very strongly that the existence of this ancient and worldwide system of celestial metaphor is no mere figment of the imagination. The number of correspondences to the details of the story offered in the two explanations above shows that these celestial metaphors were actually part of the tales: they are not "subjective interpretation," because the details are actually present in the constellations of the night sky.

The ramifications of this fact are profound, and have the potential to change our understanding of sacred literature, of the connections between all the various branches of the human family, and of the very history of mankind. Where did this nearly universal system come from, and how does it turn up over and over again in the treasured stories and myths of humanity around the globe?

Perhaps if, like the Fisherman in the story, we persevere in putting our Net out into the deep waters -- and if we accompany our efforts with a heartfelt prayer -- we will one day receive an answer.