image: Wikimedia commons (link).
In the Book of Judges, we are told twice that Samson has "seven locks" of hair. In Chapter 16, beginning in verse 13, we read:
13 And Delilah said unto Samson, Hitherto thou hast mocked me, and told me lies: tell me wherewith thou mightest be bound. And he said unto her, If thou weavest the seven locks of my head with the web.
14 And she fastened it with the pin, and said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awakened out of his sleep, and went away with the pin of the beam, and with the web.
15 And she said unto him, How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me? thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth.
16 And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death;
17 That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a rasor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother's womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man.
18 And when Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called for the lords of the Philistines, saying, Come up this once, for he hath shewed me all his heart. Then the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and brought money in their hand.
19 And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him.
The reader might be forgiven for questioning Samson's judgement here, in telling Delilah the real secret of how to successfully bind him and rob him of his great strength, in that every time previously that he tells her how to do so, she promptly tests it out on him. But, this story is clearly not meant to be understood literally, as we will see.
In Hamlet's Mill (1969), authors Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend devote an entire chapter to the Samson story, and its echoes in other myths and sacred traditions around the globe. They offer compelling evidence that the events of the Samson myth are founded upon the constellations of the starry sky, and not upon actions that took place on earth among literal historical human beings.
At one point in the chapter, they plainly state their belief that "Samson is Orion," one of the most important constellations in the heavens (166). And, while Samson's use of the "jawbone of an ass" as a weapon to slay his enemies (in Judges 15:15 - 20) can be plainly seen as connecting him to the figure of Orion, who is directly beneath the "V-shaped" Hyades, which almost undoubtedly represent the "jawbone" which Samson "puts forth his hand" to take as a weapon in verse 15, there are several reasons to believe that Samson does not merely represent one single constellation, but instead that he is the sun-god, rolling through all of the zodiac constellations in turn throughout the year.
One of the clues that Samson may be the sun and not a single constellation is the fact of his "seven locks" of hair upon his head. It would be difficult to argue that the outline of Orion provides any support for this detail in the Samson story. However, ancient sun-gods were quite frequently portrayed with seven radiant beams of light emanating from their head -- a clear parallel to the number of locks Samson possesses.
Here is an ancient statue of the sun-god Helios, with seven distinct rays coming from his head:
image: Wikimedia commons (link).
And here is an ancient mosaic depicting the sun-god Apollo with seven distinct rays as well:
image: Wikimedia commons (link).
And, in this passage from the Dionysiaca of the poet Nonnus of late antiquity, the sun-god Helios is described decking out his son Phaethon with the gear he will need to drive the solar chariot across the sky (Phaethon rashly demanded that his father allow him to drive the horses of the sun, in order to prove that he was really his father -- the authors of Hamlet's Mill devote another entire chapter to this important mythical event):
After this speech, he [Helios] placed the golden helmet on Phaethon's head and crowned him with his own fire, winding the seven rays like strings upon his hair, and put the white kilt girdlewise round him over his loins; he clothed him in his own fiery robe and laced his foot into the purple boot, and gave his chariot to his son. 291 - 297; page 113 in the Rouse translation linked above.
Anyone who sees these numerous ancient references to the seven rays emanating "like strings upon his hair" from the head of the sun-god must suspect that the "seven locks of his head" described in the Samson story might be a clue telling us that Samson is also a solar hero.
The identification of Samson as a solar figure makes sense, in that at the point of the year where the nights begin to be longer than the days, and the sun begins to arc downward towards its "weakest" point on the annual "wheel," there is in fact the figure of a woman, in the sign of the constellation Virgo:
You can see the sign of Virgo on this zodiac wheel, at the right side of the circle just above the horizontal line which separates the upper half of the year (where days are longer than nights) from the lower half of the year (where nights are longer than days). The fact that Samson has his power stripped from him by Delilah almost certainly refers to the sun passing through the sign of Virgo at the point of the year where night begins to take over as longer than day.
Readers who are familiar with the outline of the constellation Virgo itself will also know that she does have a distinctive "lap" as she is seen in the sky, which probably accounts for the fact that Samson is described as going to sleep "upon her knees" in the scriptural passage:
The identification of Samson with the sun itself, rather than with one specific constellation, also helps to clear up some of the other episodes in the Samson story, such as the well-known incident in which he is on the way down to see the woman of Timnath and he encounters a young lion, which Samson slays with his bare hands (Judges chapter 14). If you examine the zodiac wheel shown above, you will see that the zodiac sign of Leo the Lion is found immediately prior to the sign of Virgo, and that the sun passes through Leo on the way "down" to the crossing point of the September equinox (marked on the diagram with the red "X" on the right side as we look at it), when the days are declining in length and the year begins to arc down towards the lower half of the winter months.
In the same chapter of Judges, we are told that the next time Samson comes to the lion that he had slain, he finds that a "swarm of bees and honey" were now there in the carcass of the lion -- which is indicative of the Beehive Cluster found in the zodiac constellation Cancer, immediately preceding Leo on the wheel. As I explain in the first three chapters of The Undying Stars
(which are available to read online here), it was this correspondence between the events of Samson's story in Judges 14 to the order of zodiac constellations in the circle of the year which first began to really cause me to question whether the Bible was in fact intended to be understood "literally" (that is, as describing the literal events of the human lives of historical figures who lived on earth).
There are other clues in the Samson story that the events it describes are not intended to be understood literally. One of them is found not long after the story of the slaying of the lion and Samson's courting of the woman of Timnath, when Samson appears to go in to her in the time of wheat harvest, apparently after a long absence. At the beginning of Judges chapter 15, we read:
1 But it came to pass within a while after, in the time of wheat harvest, that Samson visited his wife with a kid; and he said, I will go in to my wife in the chamber. But her father would not suffer him to go in.
2 And her father said, I verily thought that thou hadst utterly hated her; therefore I gave her to thy companion: is not her younger sister fairer than she? take her, I pray thee, instead of over.
3 And Samson said concerning them, Now shall I be more blameless than the Philistines, though I do them a displeasure.
4 And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails.
5 And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives.
The authors of Hamlet's Mill correctly point out that this sounds more like a fairy tale than something that actually took place in history, perpetrated by actual historical actors (168). After all, it might be difficult to even find three hundred foxes in one geographical region, let alone catch all of them in any reasonable amount of time, and then somehow tie them "tail to tail" and put a firebrand in the midst of each pair! It is far more likely that, once again, this story has a celestial foundation, and that it has something to do with the sun's passage through the year.
In terms of zodiac constellations in which two animals are tied "tail to tail," the most obvious pick would be the constellation Pisces, which -- like Virgo -- is the zodiac sign found immediately prior to an equinox (look just below the horizontal line, on the left side of the wheel in the zodiac diagram above). The equinoxes were associated with fire in myth around the globe, because at the equinoxes the fiery path of the sun crosses over the celestial equator. You can see the discussion of the figures who mark the equinoxes with a torch held up (for the crossing upwards in the spring) and with a torch held down (for the crossing downwards in the fall) for further support of this connection.
However, the fishes of Pisces are not really foxes, even though they are tied together tail to tail and even though they are found right before the fiery crossing of the equinox. Furthermore, this scriptural passage actually tells us what time of year we are dealing with in this episode, and it is "the time of wheat harvest," which is not associated with the time of the spring equinox but rather with the fall equinox and with the constellation Virgo and her sheaf of wheat (associated with her brightest star, Spica).
Therefore, I think it is more likely that this episode relates to the constellations near Virgo, especially as we also have a character playing the woman's father, which is a common pattern in stories involving Virgo and usually refers to the constellation Bootes the Herdsman, located very close to Virgo.
The most likely celestial foundation for the foxes of the Samson story, I believe, is the constellation Lupus the Wolf, located close to Virgo. In his essential book The Stars: A New Way to See Them, H.A. Rey describes this constellation: "the WOLF (LUPUS), quite wolf-like in shape, trots beneath one arm of the Centaur, who seems about to seize him" (62). In fact, the Centaur seems so "about to seize" the constellation of the Wolf that in some books on the stars you will find the Wolf referred to as the "Centaur's Victim."
The outline of this constellation could certainly be seen as a fox, just as easily as it could be a wolf, with its long tail and two upraised ears. Below is an outline of the Centaur and the Wolf, using the same screen-shot from Stellarium.org which was used to outline the constellation of Virgo, above (so you can see how close in the sky they are to Virgo):
You can also see from this image that they are both located near or upon the smoky, silvery band of the Milky Way galaxy. The Milky Way plays a role as smoke rising from a fire in other myths -- notably, for instance, in the story of Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac, the celestial foundations of which are discussed here -- and so this story of the foxes setting alight all the fields of the Philistines is very appropriate for this constellation.
It is even possible that the outline of Centaurus was somehow seen as the "other fox" tied tail-to-tail with the constellation Lupus for this story.
The authors of Hamlet's Mill also point out that Ovid tells us in his poem called the Fasti that there was an ancient feast of Ceres in which a fox was set on fire to punish the species for once burning up the wheat-fields, after a fox was set alight by a wicked twelve-year-old boy in a story very reminiscent of Samson's act in the beginning of Judges 15.
She had a son: he was a playful child,
Who was already twelve years old.
In a valley, he caught, in the depths of a willow copse,
A vixen, who'd stolen many birds from the yard.
He wrapped his captive in straw and hay, and set fire
To it all: she fled the hands that were out to burn her:
In fleeing she set the crops, that covered the fields, ablaze:
And a breeze lent strength to the devouring flames.
The thing's forgotten, but a relic remains: since now
There's a certain law of Carseoli, that bans foxes:
And they burn a fox at the Cerialia to punish the species,
Destroyed in the same way as it destroyed the crops.
In the above story, the outline of Centaurus with its arms seizing the fox can certainly be detected in the lines which describe the boy as catching the fox and then the fox fleeing from "the hands that were out to burn her." The clear correspondences to the story of Samson in this account from the poet Ovid also argue that the Samson story is not a literal account from a human life but that it is a myth with episodes that are derived from the stars of the sky -- episodes which show up in other myths around the world as well.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Samson story as it is preserved in the scriptures of the Book of Judges is the fact that Samson himself frames the episode of the lion and the swarm of bees as a riddle to be solved, in Judges 14: 12 - 14. Framing it as a riddle invites the reader to ask "What does it mean?" and indicates at the same time that there is more going on than perhaps appears on the surface.
As we have seen, one answer to the riddle appears to be: these events refer to the sun, making its way through the various signs of the zodiac, including Taurus (which provides the "jawbone of an ass" that Samson "puts forth his hand" to take and slay a thousand men), Cancer (which provides the "swarm of bees and honey"), Leo the Lion, and Virgo and the constellations surrounding Virgo including Bootes, Lupus, and perhaps Centaurus (as well as the entire Milky Way galaxy, if it represents the burning of the fields of the Philistines).
But, after we have arrived at that answer, we are still faced with the question: "What does it mean?" Why would the scriptures (and other myths around the world) spend so much effort encoding the motions of the stars in stories about people here on earth?
The answer, I believe, is connected to the assertion of Alvin Boyd Kuhn cited in this previous post, and explored in that post and in this related post, and that is the assertion that, "The Bible is the drama of our history here and now; and it is not apprehended in its full force and applicability until every reader discerns himself [or herself] to be the central figure in it! The Bible is about the mystery of human life" (Alvin Boyd Kuhn, from a lecture entitled The Stable and the Manger, 1936).
In other words, this story is not really about someone named Samson, who lived in another part of the world in a time long, long ago: it is really about you! The drama of Samson's loss of his great strength, located at the point of the year at which the sun dives down from the upper realm towards the "underworld" of the winter months, describes our own plunge out of the realm of pure spirit and into the life of incarnation through which we are all currently toiling.
The reason that the sun (and the zodiac stars) make such an excellent allegorical description of this process is that they themselves can be seen to arc through the upper realms but then plunge down into the western horizon -- where they are "buried" in the elements of earth and water, the same lower elements our bodies are composed of. The scriptures of the world tell of the fire of spirit being plunged down into, and incarnated in, earth and water.
But they also intimate, in describing the human stories which mirror the motions of the stars, that we ourselves are stars and suns -- that the infinite cosmos are mirrored within each man and woman walking around here on earth.
Thus, while the story of Samson makes very little sense if we try to read it literally, when we realize that it is telling us a celestial riddle, and when we begin to detect the answers to that riddle, it becomes filled with profound meaning.
In the Samson story, his "seven locks" get shorn off, but then we are told that the hair of his head begins to grow again (Judges 16:22). In the same way, we have seen in other discussions of the zodiac wheel that after the "Djed column" is "cast down," it is then "raised up again" -- after we have been thrown down into the material realm, forgetting our true nature and our true origin and often even forgetting the existence of the spirit world, we then have the task of rediscovering spirit, and calling it forth, both within ourselves and -- to whatever degree we can -- in others and in the world around us as well (see also here, here, and here, among other discussions of this important subject).
additional note, 01/22/2014: Just added a new video showing and discussing some of these concepts here.