Viewing entries tagged

Your INFINITELY "big screen"

Your INFINITELY "big screen"

This weekend is the time of year when, at least in the US, much attention becomes riveted to screens in family rooms and living rooms in homes around the nation, as people gather together to watch the Super Bowl. The fact that nearly as much attention and discussion will be lavished upon the commercials and advertisements as will be devoted to analyzing the game over the next few days following the event only goes to show that the entire spectacle in some sense can be seen as a gargantuan commercial or advertisement of some sort (the question of "an advertisement for what?" will be left to the reader to contemplate, or not, as desired).

Much attention will also be devoted to the size of the screens around which people will gather -- and new and larger and more densely-pixelated (more densely-megapixelated) screens will be purchased or rented for the occasion.

But however wonderful the screens we hang on our walls or carry around in our pockets and purses become, through the continued and accelerating onrush of technology, they will never (it seems safe to declare) become actually infinite in size or depth. 

And yet, we have at our disposal on nearly every clear night a "big screen" of truly unsurpassed wonderfulness, and one which is in fact infinite, incapable of being measured or bounded with dimensions, which we can go outside and enjoy at virtually no cost, if it is at all possible to do so.  

That infinite screen, of course, is the night sky -- the inky depths of space containing the countless glittering stars, most of which are also enormous suns hurtling along inside our own massive whirlpool of a galaxy, and some of which are not stars at all but galaxies in their own right, located at almost-inconceivable distances from our own.

When we stare up into the heavens at night, we are truly staring into infinity. And that is one reason why, as much benefit as we may derive from what we see on the various screens which surround us in our daily life, we should also endeavor -- as much as it is possible for us to do so -- to devote some time to watching the infinitely-big theater which plays out over our heads each and every clear night of the year.

Presently, there is a special array of stars and constellations making their way across that glorious stage. In fact, at this time of year in the time period around midnight, we can look up and see the layout of the stars which pioneering astro-theologian Robert Taylor believed to have been the foundation for the Christmas story of the birth in the manger. 

On pages 43 and 44 of the collection of his lectures published under the title Devil's Pulpit, he explains that the sun is, metaphorically speaking, described in ancient myth as being "born" at the midnight hour three days after winter solstice, when it finally begins to ascend back towards the top of its annual path, from the lowest point that it marks at winter solstice. And the zodiac constellation that was at the very top of the arc at the midnight hour on that special night two thousand years ago would have been the zodiac constellation containing a special cluster of stars known as the Beehive Cluster, but also known in ancient times as Praesepe, or "the Manger." 

Thus the sun, which is located at the exact other side of our planet when we look out to the top of the ecliptic band of the zodiac at the midnight hour, could be said to be "born" at the moment that the Manger was crossing that special summit-point on the zodiac's arc at midnight three days after winter solstice (midnight on December 24th).

The ages-long motion of precession (the phenomenon which causes the "precession of the equinoxes") acts to "delay" the background of stars from reaching the same point in the heavens on any selected day and time from one year to the next. In other words, if we are accustomed to seeing a certain star at the transit-point (the top of its arc) on a certain day and time each year (such as midnight on December 24th), the slow but inexorable motion of precession will delay its arrival at that point over the years -- but by such a tiny degree that it will only be delayed by one degree in 71.6 years. 

That means that if a certain star is located at transit (straight up from due south on our planet, if we are in the northern hemisphere, or crossing the imaginary line in the sky that arcs up from due south and over our heads through the north celestial pole and back down into the horizon at due north) at a certain specific time on the same date each year, it will be only one degree "delayed" from reaching that point on the same date at the same time, seventy-one-plus years later. More on this phenomenon is discussed in this previous post, and in several other places on the web.

Because of this delaying action, and the passage of thousands of years, the situation in the sky that prevailed at midnight on December 24th thousands of years ago has been "delayed" and would not be visible now on that date in the same way that it was back then. But you can go outside now at the beginning of February and see the sky at midnight with the constellations in their places, as Robert Taylor believes they were arranged for the turnaround of the sun's path after the three-day "pause" at the winter solstice, back when the ancient texts describing the birth in the manger were imparted to humanity.

You can find the beautiful Beehive Cluster in the constellation of Cancer the Crab at or near its transit-point (its highest point on its arc across the sky) right around midnight at this time of year. As you do so, you can also look to the west and see Orion and his three belt-stars (the "Three Kings") sinking down into the western horizon (ahead of them, more easily seen in the hours before midnight, you can see the glorious Pleiades). And you can look to the east and see the rising form of Virgo the Virgin, made more easy to locate by the presence of mighty Jupiter near the top of her head, and her outstretched arm marked by the star Vindemiatrix, which can be shown to have been envisioned as a divine child sitting in her lap in more than one ancient myth-system.

The situation at or near midnight at this time of year is diagrammed for you in the star-chart above, which is depicted for an observer in the northern hemisphere at about 35.6N latitude, looking towards the south (east thus being to the left and west to the right as we look at the image). If you want to locate the dazzling Beehive (and I highly recommend you give it a try, if it is at all possible for you to do so), the best way to find it is to look between the majestic head of Leo the Lion and the parallel forms of Gemini the Twins.

There are some previous posts which go into more detail on locating the Beehive: this one from 2014  goes into pretty extensive detail. The image above shows you the location of Gemini from Orion, which you should not have too much trouble in locating, and the form of Leo the Lion can be found by looking for the brilliant orb of Jupiter in the east part of the sky. The distance in the heavens between the mouth of Leo and the heads of the Twins is not very great: in that space between them is the very dim form of Cancer the Crab, and in the head of the Crab is the Beehive. You will almost see it "by intuition" with your naked eye, it is so faint -- but you should be able to "intuit" its presence in that space, if you are in an area that is dark enough. You will need a pretty dark location in order to see it (those living in big cities will have to drive away from the city lights, if that is possible to do for you).

I believe that the best way to try to see these heavenly objects is actually to lie down on your back, either on the ground or on a lawn chair: looking up at them while standing, especially if looking for the more difficult-to-spot objects, is pretty uncomfortable. The Beehive is absolutely wonderful to look at through binoculars, but it's not fun to try to do that when standing. Lie down and give yourself the best chance to see it and really enjoy it through your binoculars with your head supported by the ground beneath you. The best way to do it is to see it (or "intuit it") with your naked eye, and then look at that spot where you think you see it using the binoculars.

The section of the sky in front of the muzzle of the Lion which contains the Beehive is shown in an enlarged screen-shot, below:

If you are pretty sure of which stars you are looking at in the above representation, you may in fact be able to make out the tiny but gorgeous little cluster of stars that is the Beehive. It's about this size to the naked eye, in my experience. You may despair of seeing it in the night sky after reading that previous sentence, but don't! I believe that, given a clear night and a dark enough location, you may be able to perceive its location if you can find Leo and Gemini and look between them for a faint "blur" of stars, and then train your binoculars where you believe you see that "blur."

Below is the same image shown just above, only with the stars labeled: these are the primary landmarks for you to find the Beehive in the sky:

Even if you have seen the Beehive many times before, going out and looking at it is well worth it, whenever you are able to do so, in my opinion. I personally can look at the Beehive for long periods of time without any loss of fascination and wonder -- it is such a dazzling cluster of heavenly bodies.

Additionally, as mentioned above, you should also be able to see the Pleiades, sinking down towards the west, and from the same point on the ground where you are lying on your back to look at the Beehive (or the same lawn-chair), without really having to get up and move. Just train your eyes to the west and follow the line of Orion's unmistakeable belt of stars. Looking at the Pleiades through binoculars is similarly mesmerizing as is looking at the Beehive.

In addition to being an infinite "big screen," the heavens also point us towards the Infinite World of the spirit. The ancient myths all use the stars and the motions of the constellations in the cycles of the heavens as metaphors to convey to us truths about the Infinite Realm: the realm of spirit, the realm of the gods. It is no accident that they do so: when we look at the sky, we look into the infinite -- and the spirit realm is in fact in-finite, without material measurements or boundaries, as is the human soul.

The ancient wisdom imparted to the human race in all the different myths and sacred traditions from around the world always teaches that we have at all times and circumstances an inner connection to the infinite.

The outstretched or "upraised" arms of the constellation Cancer the Crab, in fact, were (in the world's ancient myth-systems) symbolic of the upraised spirit-aspect of our dual material-spiritual nature. More on this aspect of Cancer the Crab and the upraised arms can be found in previous discussions here and here, for instance.

The act of elevating the spirit-consciousness in ourselves and others -- the awareness (that is) of the fact that we are not "mere matter" or "mere animals" but that we have an immaterial and infinite aspect, as indeed does the entire cosmos around us -- is inherent in the concept of blessing, upon which the world's ancient texts and traditions place a tremendous amount of importance. 

The opposite action, of denying or attempting to "beat down" the awareness of this spiritual aspect in ourselves and others -- falsely trying to reduce a spiritual being into an "object" or a "brute beast" -- is accurately described as cursing

Contemplating the stars, and the infinite heavens above (it is safe to say) can and does help us in perceiving the infinite and spiritual aspect in ourselves and in the entire universe around us. 

Time spent on all the "other kinds" of screens (it is also safe to say) does not always do so -- and can in fact point us in the opposite direction, which is actually a false direction (to the extent that it denies the reality of our infinite and spiritual nature, and the infinite and spiritual aspect of the universe around us).

This is not to say that the material found on the "non-infinite" screens of the world is always debasing, or that it is never spiritually uplifting. That is actually not true at all (in fact, you're most likely reading this little essay on a screen, somewhere in the world). 

But, as wonderful as all the other screens on earth might be, we should certainly try to devote some time to contemplating and enjoying that infinitely wonderful heavenly realm which is spread out over our heads, each and every night, if (as said before) it is at all possible for us to do so.

I sincerely hope that doing so will be a blessing to you.

A procession of the gods

A procession of the gods

If you make it a habit to go outside to gaze into the night sky -- and I strongly encourage everyone to make it a habit, if it is at all possible to do so -- you will no doubt have been enjoying the glorious spectacle of Orion, huge and very visible at this time of year, rising up towards the highest part of his arc across the heavens during the "prime-time" viewing hours between sundown and midnight.

Due to the progress of the earth's journey along its orbit around the sun throughout the year, Orion rises a few minutes earlier each night (about four minutes earlier), causing him to be further and further across the sky on successive nights (not much further each night, but even in the course of just one week he will be noticeably further along).

This nightly western progress means that new constellations begin to rotate into view each night, rising up a bit earlier above the eastern horizon on each successive night -- and for the past few weeks, the majestic form of Leo the Lion has been looming up above the eastern horizon during those "prime time" star-gazing hours, getting higher and higher each evening.

This means that if you step outside at 10:00 each evening (or 22:00 if you are using the 24-hour method), Leo will be a bit higher each night that you step outside at 10. And, as Leo gets higher in the sky, if you have been going outside around 10:30 or certainly 11 pm, you cannot have failed to notice the brilliant orb of an extremely bright planet rising just below the stars of the celestial Lion (visible by 11 pm for most readers, even if you have a fairly high horizon skyline when you face to the east).

Now that we have access to the web at all times, it is pretty easy to look up any of a number of websites to tell you the name of the planet whose golden beams of reflected light you are enjoying in the east in the vicinity of Leo. But, if you had lived thousands of years ago, prior to the invention of networked information-bearing devices, how might you have identified this planet?

First, as you become more familiar with the night sky (which will happen over time, especially if you make it a habit to go out at about the same time each night, every night or nearly every night), you would immediately realize that this glowing light is not always visible in Leo, and hence it is not one of the "fixed stars." Thus, you would realize that it is a planet, a term whose name means "wanderer," because the planets travel through the different constellations (always roughly along the same ecliptic path that the sun and moon travel, and hence always through the constellations in the zodiac band).

Second, as you become more familiar with the five visible planets, you would realize that this glowing sphere presently seen below Leo (it's actually at the top of Virgo now, following just behind and a little below Leo in the turning zodiac band) must be either Jupiter or Venus, just by its brightness and its brilliant golden light.

The warm golden glow of this planet is not characteristic of either Mars or Saturn, both of which are dimmer when seen from our planet's surface, and give off a slightly different color and feeling (both are considered "less benevolent" than Jupiter or Venus). Mars, of course, gives off a reddish light when the sun's rays reflect back to us from its surface, and Saturn gives off a darker yellow tone. Mercury gives off an somewhat deep-orange hue, but is very small and difficult to spot and cannot possibly be mistaken for the planet we're discussing near Leo either.

Thus, knowing that this planet must be either Jupiter or Venus, you would have to know something about the orbital paths of our solar system's planets in order to determine which one it could be. Because this planet is rising (in the east, where all celestial bodies including the sun are seen to rise, due to the fact that our earth rotates towards the east) so late in the evening, long after the sun has disappeared below the western horizon, we can conclude that it must be Jupiter and cannot be Venus. 

The reason for this is fairly simple, if you think about the fact that Venus follows an orbital track that is interior to the earth's orbit, relative to the sun: the path Venus follows stays within the near-circle of the earth's path at all times. Thus, in order to see Venus, we will always have to look generally towards the sun, although when the sun is up it will be extremely difficult (and usually impossible) to see Venus, so it is best to observe Venus just before the sun rises or just after it sets. 

Venus will be visible above the western horizon after the sun goes down, if Venus is at a point on its orbit that causes it to "trail" the sun from the perspective of an observer on earth. Venus will be visible above the eastern horizon before the sun comes up, if Venus is at a point on its orbit that causes it to "lead" the sun from the perspective of an observer on earth. More detail about where Venus would have to be in its orbit around the sun in order to appear to be either "trailing" or "leading" the sun can be found in this previous post

But the main point is that, due to the fact that its interior orbit will always make it so that we have to look generally in the direction of the sun in order to see Venus, the planet appears to be "tethered" to the sun (albeit by a fairly long "tether"), and thus Venus will always be seen above the same horizon that the sun is also about to "rise out of," or above the same horizon that the sun just sank beneath.  Venus will never be seen to rise above the opposite horizon from the sun. 

Above is a star chart showing the night sky looking due south, from the perspective of an observer in the northern hemisphere at about 35N latitude. Some of the brightest constellations and celestial features are outlined for you, including Orion (who so dominates the night sky at this time of year that you will immediately see him first when you step outside), Canis Major (containing bright Sirius, following just behind Orion in the sky), Canis Minor and the Twins of Gemini (part of what is known as the "Winter Circle" of bright stars visible at this time of year), Taurus (with its "V-shaped" Hyades, above and just east of Orion's outstretched arm holding the bow), the Pleiades (part of Taurus, but well above the Hyades), and on the other side of Orion from the Pleiades and Taurus, the zodiac constellations of Gemini, Cancer, and of course Leo.

Jupiter is indicated by a large purple arrow, below the outline of the Lion.

Now, all five of the visible planets are now in a fairly close line, from the perspective of an observer on earth. Jupiter is in fact leading a glorious procession of gods, in this order: Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Venus, Mercury, and then the sun itself. 

Mercury is presently very close just ahead of the sun (like Venus, Mercury's orbit is interior to the earth's, only even more interior than the orbit of Venus, and thus Mercury is extremely closely "tethered" to the sun in the pre-dawn or post-sunset sky), and thus Mercury is not really visible (by the time Mercury clears the eastern horizon just prior to sunrise, the sun is so close behind that its rays lighten up the sky too much for Mercury to be visible).

However, the other four planets can be seen, if you either stay up late enough or rise up early enough and know where to look.

Following Jupiter in the current lineup is the planet Mars, visible above the eastern horizon after about 1:00 am, although you may need to wait another hour for the planet to rise far enough to clear the horizon, depending on the terrain or foliage where you live. As you can see from the chart below, Mars is following in a line behind the brightest star of Virgo, the zodiac constellation who follows Leo the Lion (giving rise to myths all around the world in which a goddess is pulled in a chariot by a lion, or else rides on the back of a lion herself, or sits in a throne flanked by lions).

The brightest star in the constellation Virgo is the star Spica. The easiest way to locate Spica (in my opinion) is to follow the line formed by the "beak" of the constellation Corvus the Crow, who appears to look directly towards that bright star). From there, Mars will be seen glowing with a strong red glow in the sky (you may even be able to see Mars and Jupiter glowing through nighttime fog, mist, or thin cloud cover, even if all the stars including Spica are not visible).

Then, if you want to see the next two planets in this glorious procession, you can either stay up all night, or rise early and go out to look east in the pre-dawn sky, where you will find Saturn located to one side of the rising form of Scorpio, coming up out of the eastern horizon as the sky begins to grow lighter before sunrise. 

Rising just behind Saturn is the brilliant planet Venus, by far the brightest of our visible planets, and the planet usually referred to as either the morning star or the evening star (depending on whether Venus appears to be "ahead of" the sun from our position on earth, or "behind the sun"). 

The January 15 - 23 edition of "This Week's Sky at a Glance" over at Sky & Telescope gives you some good pointers for seeing both Saturn and Venus in the early morning pre-dawn sky.

The screen-shot below (from the excellent open-source planetarium app Stellarium) shows all five of the visible planets, stretching in a long line from Jupiter through Mercury, followed closely by the sun (about to rise in the image below, which simulates a time of about 7:10 in the morning). 

This time, in order to keep it a little less "cluttered," I have not drawn in outlines for the various constellations, but the previous two charts show the constellations in the vicinity of Jupiter and Mars, and as you can see from the "sunrise" chart with all five planets, the great band of the Milky Way galaxy is rising up across the portion of the sky containing Saturn and Venus right now. This part of the Milky Way band -- its widest, brightest, and most visible section -- is the part which goes past Scorpio and Sagittarius. Saturn and Venus are also presently between Scorpio and Sagittarius.

Again, Mercury is not quite visible due to the proximity to the sun, and the fact that the sun will make the sky to bright to see Mercury, by the time Mercury clears the eastern horizon. However, Mercury is presently located in the vicinity of Sagittarius, close to the "feather" that can be envisioned as an ornament worn on the head of the Archer constellation.

If you want to know where on their orbits these planets are, in order to be visible in a line like this from our location on earth, there are several excellent resources on the web which enable you to view the planets circling the sun on their various orbital tracks. One such resource is the SkyMarvels

site of Gary M. Winters, found here, which contains a variety of tools for visualizing the present locations of each planet, including a 3D "Solar System Scope" which enables you to change the position and angle of your viewpoint relative to the solar system's orbital tracks and the planets on those tracks.

Another is the Planets Today website, which also contains visualization tools to see where the planets are on their different orbits, as well as the astrological signs through which they are passing. The site enables different perspectives on the planets. One perspective is shown below:

As you can see, this version of the chart shows the circular tracks of the planets drawn in an "equidistant" fashion, which will introduce some inaccuracies in the perspective versus a more "to scale" version, but there are trade-offs in any type of model which tries to depict our vast solar system in a format that can be shown on a screen. 

This chart does do a good job of giving the general position of each of the planets on their orbital tracks. You can see that Jupiter, Mars and Saturn (the visible planets whose paths are exterior to the orbit of earth around the sun) are at points on their orbits which are not opposite to the earth from the sun. That's why we can see them all in the beautiful line described above.

To see Saturn, for instance, we are basically looking "across the sun" right now in order to see Saturn (visible just before the earth turns far enough to bring the sun over the curve of the horizon to an observer on the surface of the earth).

If Saturn were instead on the opposite side of earth from where it is located now (near the top of the circle, for instance, at what we could call the "12 o'clock" position on this chart), then we would be able to see Saturn at midnight instead of at sunrise, but then we would not have the same fairly closely-grouped line of planets that we have now.

Thus, you can see that the lineup we are enjoying presently is a fairly special occurrence, at least in terms of the relatively close spacing of all five planets.

I hope that you will have the opportunity to see this majestic procession of the planets in person.

H. A. Rey outlines the ancient wisdom

H. A. Rey outlines the ancient wisdom

My new book Star Myths of the World and how to interpret them: Volume One is the first installment in a series which attempts to provide a comprehensive and systematic guide to the celestial system of metaphor which underlies virtually all of the world's myths, scriptures and sacred traditions.

Understanding the way this system works -- learning the celestial language in which the sacred stories of humanity are composed, all around the globe -- allows us to see actual evidence to support the assertion that all the ancient traditions are actually closely related on a very fundamental level, and that the stories found in the Bible or in the ancient myths of Egypt, Greece, China, Japan, India or Sumer, and those found among the indigenous people of Australia, Africa, the Americas, or the islands of the Pacific, are all just different ways of allegorizing the same celestial actors and the same majestic heavenly cycles.

But this evidence would be very difficult to see, and the celestial language would be extremely difficult to learn, had it not been for the efforts of the well-known author and illustrator H. A. Rey, creator (along with his wife Margret Rey) of the Curious George series of stories, who shared his abundant love for the stars and constellations in two wonderful books which remain in print to this day:

Find the Constellations (first published in 1954 according to the inscription in the edition I saw, and designed primarily for younger readers), and

The Stars: A New Way to See Them (first published in 1952), which is simply the best introductory guide to the night sky imaginable, in my opinion.

The importance of these two books (particularly the second one) and of the system which Rey introduces in these books for envisioning the constellations of our night sky simply cannot be overstated.

Without Rey's outlines, unlocking the celestial metaphors which can be found in virtually every body of mythology and sacred tradition from around the world would be exponentially more difficult.

With his outlines, the celestial metaphors fairly leap out of the stories, once we become familiar with the constellations and their characteristics, and the ways that the various heavenly actors are usually employed in the different character roles of the world's sacred texts and stories.

To understand the significance of the H. A. Rey system for envisioning the stars, it is only necessary to contrast the section of sky shown above, in which I have outlined just a few constellations using a traditional ("non-H. A. Rey") method still used today in many available apps and diagrams and illustrations, with the exact same section of the sky below, in which I have outlined the very same constellations using the outlines suggested in Rey's books:

Look at the illustrations in the top image for a moment, and imagine yourself out on a walk through the night, looking at the sky and trying to find the constellations. The outlines provided are virtually useless: they are very difficult to remember, they bear almost no resemblance to the actual fish, animals, or people that the constellations purport to represent, and because of this they would be almost no help in actually seeing the constellation if you were out on a walk, no matter how hard you tried.

In fact, the typical non-Rey outlines are so atrocious that it makes one seriously wonder if whoever came up with the modern outlines was taking an almost perverse pleasure in seeing how unlike a fish or a whale or a charioteer or the hero Perseus they could make the lines connecting the stars of these constellations look: if they were deliberately distorting the outlines in order to avoid revealing the fish or the whale or the charioteer or the hero that the ancients must have seen when they named those constellations in the first place.

Because not only do the typical modern outlines make the constellations unnecessarily difficult to envision, remember, or actually locate on your own: they also (whether deliberately or not) leave out some of the most important mythological characteristics of the constellations -- the characteristics which help reveal which mythological character or event relates to which constellation in the sky.

For instance, in the outline of Perseus shown in the top diagram, the peaked cap of the hero is omitted altogether -- and yet this cap is a very important feature of the constellation, and one that helped Professor David Ulansey determine that the figure of Mithras found in the central "tauroctony" painting or bas-relief in every single surviving mithraeum is an allegorized representation of the celestial figure of Perseus, an argument which completely overturned much of the academic scholarship on Mithraism of previous decades going back nearly a hundred years, and which you can read about in Professor Ulansey's book Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries (1989).

Additionally, the standard "non-H. A. Rey" outline of Perseus in the top diagram does not even include the "right arm" of the outline of the hero (the one on the left as we look at the star chart). This arm ends in a very distinctive "curled" shape, which is featured in a great many different myths around the world -- including, I believe (following the pioneering analysis of the great "astronomico-theologist" Robert Taylor from the early 1800s) the story of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. 

As discussed very briefly in this video I made last year entitled "Star Myths: 1,000 times more precious . . .", when the serpent and Eve and Adam are successively expelled from Paradise into "the dust from whence they came" (when their constellations sink down out of the sky and disappear belowthe western horizon), the constellation of Perseus is rising up out of the eastern horizon: he is the angel (or the plural Cherubims: single constellations sometimes appear in myths in plural form) placed "at the east of Eden" spoken of in Genesis 3:24. 

The same verse describes "a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." Because it is very likely that the angel placed at the east of Eden is played by Perseus, and because Perseus has that distinctive almost-circular aspect to one of his two hands, I believe it is very likely that this characteristic of the constellation is connected to the description of the sword which "turns every way" in the Biblical text: the text is giving us an additional clue in order to help us to understand that it is talking about the constellation Perseus.

If you want additional evidence to support that connection, have a look at any of a number of representations of the actual hero Perseus which survive from the culture of ancient Greece, in which the hero is shown carrying a very curved sword in the same hand that curves in a crescent-shape in the celestial outline, such as the ancient hydria (water-pot) shown below:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

But you would not have had an easy time discovering any of those connections if you were using the conventional and completely non-sensical constellation outlines presented for the constellation Perseus, instead of the inspired outlines presented by H. A. Rey in his books from the 1950s.

I happen to have grown up with the outlines of H. A. Rey, thanks to my father who bought both of the above-mentioned books for the family when I was so young that I don't remember ever not having access to Rey's system of finding the constellations, and his illustrations suggesting the most natural way to envision them.

The above examples could be multiplied many times over, using different constellations and different myths. For instance, a standard and typical outline of the extremely important constellation Bootes the Herdsman is shown below:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Once again, it is almost useless for actually trying to envision a Herdsman (how does one get a Herdsman from that oddly-shaped kite-looking figure, one might wonder), and thus it is very difficult to remember or to use as an outline for actually locating this constellation in the night sky.

But even more problematic is the fact that the above method of outlining Bootes completely obscures his most important mythological characteristics: the fact that Bootes appears to be either patiently sitting or kneeling, with a very tranquil, almost distracted air, and the even more important fact that Bootes has a very distinctive "pipe" rising up from his mouth, ending in a kind of triangular shape. 

The H. A. Rey-suggested outline for Bootes -- and the one that was almost certainly envisioned by whoever it was who gave to humanity the profound ancient myths with their inexhaustible fountain of spiritual teaching -- conveys all of the above characteristics. It is shown below in an illustration I made for the discussion in this previous post about the Annunciation described in the New Testament (and painted by Leonardo da Vinci in remarkably "celestial" fashion):

That previous post discussing the celestial aspects of this episode from the New Testament showed evidence that the "pipe" of Bootes functions as the wand which is invariably depicted in paintings of the angel Gabriel going back for hundreds of years -- and functions as well as the flute carried by the Lord Krishna in the sacred scriptures of ancient India.

But once again, you would probably have a very hard time figuring any of that out using the conventional outline often presented for the constellation Bootes.

Thankfully, the constellation diagrams of H. A. Rey not only provide the most intuitive way to envision, remember, and find the constellations of our night sky: they also match up remarkably well with the characteristics that pop up again and again, across cultures and across the oceans and even across the millennia, in the myths and sacred traditions of the human race. 

In fact, the level of correspondence is absolutely uncanny, and causes one to wonder just how much Rey himself knew about the connection between the stars and the ancient myths.

We should all be thankful that, whatever his understanding of such a connection (if any), and however he came up with his system, H. A. Rey shared his system of outlining the constellations with the world.

It is abundantly clear that H. A. Rey also loved the constellations and wanted to share the gift of the heavens with as many others as possible. In the beginning of Find the Constellations, he said:

Few people can tell one star from another. Most of us can tell an oak from a maple or a jay from a woodpecker even though we don't see woodpeckers often, but the stars, which we see any clear night, remain a mystery to us.
Yet it is not difficult to know them. 3.

Becoming familiar with the stars does take some time and effort -- the best way to proceed in my opinion is to do so slowly, with the goal of learning just one or two new constellations a week and then going out to locate them on many successive nights. 

If at all possible, making a habit of going for a walk at a similar time each evening (or early morning, well before sunrise) in a location with a reasonably dark sky and a fairly unobstructed skyline will help you to begin to understand which constellations are in the sky during which times of the year, and to watch as they move further west at the same time each successive night, and new ones cycle into view from the east. 

If you can make this nightly walk follow a circuit that gives you a view of all the different directions (all the different "horizons" in all directions) during different parts of the walk, that will also be extremely beneficial and will help you slowly build up your "vocabulary" of constellations with which you are familiar, a little at a time.

But, thanks to H. A. Rey and the system he outlined, you can and will build up familiarity that will be absolutely invaluable to understanding the celestial language of the myths and sacred scriptures of the world.

That language will enable you to actually see the abundant evidence that supports what many have suspected regarding the fundamental connection of all the world's ancient wisdom, across the different cultures and continents of our planet.

Even more importantly, knowing their celestial language will enable you to converse with the myths for yourself, in order to learn what they may be wanting to tell you.

Dazzling conjunction of Jupiter, Venus and Mars in the pre-dawn sky

Dazzling conjunction of Jupiter, Venus and Mars in the pre-dawn sky

image: (background of stars), Wikimedia commons (VenusJupiter and Mars).

The important gods Jupiter and Mars and goddess Venus are staging a stunning confabulation in the early morning sky beneath the majestic form of the Lion, and if it is at all possible for you to do so, I highly encourage everyone to make the effort to rise early (two to two-and-one-half hours before sunrise should suffice)  and get to a location with a fairly dark sky and unobstructed views.

For observers in in the north-of-tropical latitudes of the northern hemisphere, observation times between 5:00am and 6:00am are ideal.

Not only are these planets particularly dazzling right now, but the pre-dawn sky is positively bursting  at this time of year with some of the most glorious stars and constellations that we on earth have available to us.

When you go outside in the pre-dawn hours right now and look towards the south [all instructions in this post are written from the perspective of an observer in the northern hemisphere; southern-hemisphere brothers and sisters please adjust all references accordingly, with my apologies for my northern-hemisphericentricity], the constellation Orion will be passing his highest point on his arc above the horizon at around 4:45am on the morning October 25th (a few minutes earlier each day after that, until he eventually makes his way into the "prime-time" viewing hours before midnight during our winter months), and from his high place at or near the top of his path, Orion will be surrounded by a host of other celestial luminaries and figures of great beauty and importance.

Below is a screen-shot from the open-source planetarium app showing the pre-dawn sky as it will look from the latitude of about 35.6N at around 5:30am on the morning of 25 October, facing generally towards the south (east is to the left and west is to the right when we face south):

You can see that Orion with his distinctive three-star belt and hourglass shape of bright stars has already passed his transit point (his highest point, due south above the red letter "S" that is shown down at the horizon) and is proceeding downwards to the west, but still quite high in the sky. To the left of him is the shining band of the Milky Way galaxy, angling upwards slightly towards the right as it climbs towards the north, and just at its edge is the star Sirius -- the brightest fixed star in our heavens (Orion's belt points towards it if you extend the line of the belt's three stars to the "left").

Orion's outstretched arm towards the west is clearly visible holding its bow, and above this is the distinctive "V" of the Hyades, which form the "jawbone" of the Bull of Taurus.  Above Orion to the other side (left as we face the south) are the linear forms of the Twins of Gemini, with their heads marked by the two bright stars Pollux (brighter and lower) and Castor (dimmer and higher, stacked almost directly above Pollux), and then as we proceed towards the eastern horizon (where the sun will be rising) we pass over Cancer the Crab (difficult to spot but with the assistance of this blog you can find Cancer and its distinctive Beehive Cluster) and encounter the rising form of the mighty Lion, with the breathtaking Jupiter and Venus just beneath, and further down reddish and sullen Mars. 

Below is the same screen-shot as that presented just above, but this time with the constellations and planets just described marked for your easy identification:

In this image, which shows the relative positions of the three planets as they will be on the morning of 25 October, Venus appears to be just "below" (closer to the horizon from) Jupiter, although please note that in order to try to present on a flat "page" the arrangement of stars that we see as occupying the "dome" or "vault" of the heavens, stellarium (and hence this screen-shot) curve the horizon upwards as you approach the left and right sides of the rectangular screen or image. In other words, the app is trying to create the effect of a planetarium or night-sky that wraps around the viewer on either side.  

Because of this, if you think about it, that means that all the "stuff" you see on the left and right edges of this image has to be "pulled downwards" in your mind in order to match what you would see if you went outside (or observed the same image while inside an actual vaulted or dome-shaped planetarium), which means that Leo is actually going to be much more vertical in his orientation in the sky than he appears in the "wrapped" (but flattened) image you see reproduced above. (Another way of saying this is to think of an observer standing in silhouette right on the horizon at the very left of the above image: because of the way the horizon is "wrapped," the person would appear to be almost horizontal, with his or her head pointing to the right, even though that person is really standing straight up-and-down. In the same way, Leo seems to be almost horizontal in this image, but when you go out to see him, he will be much more vertical in his orientation).  

What this means for the three planets marked on the planetarium app screen-shot is that they will actually form a triangle with Jupiter and Venus much more on the same level with one another, Venus to the right of Jupiter, and Mars below them.

We can actually see this more clearly if we just use the stellarium app and swivel our view towards the east (which means that now the screen's "wrap" effect will cause Orion and the stars on his side of the screen to warp inwards) and then we will see the Lion and the three planets in an orientation that will resemble more closely what you will see in the morning if you are able to go outside into the pre-dawn night:

Note that we've now rotated our view until we are looking about "due east" (placing the red letter "E" in the center of the horizon, which continues to wrap-upwards on the outer edges, where you still need to use your imagination for the "dome effect"). Stars along the "vault of the sky" directly ahead of us are thus positioned about the same way that you will see them in the morning: stars towards the edges require you to remember that you are looking at what is supposed to simulate a dome.

As you can see, Venus is actually just slightly higher in the sky and to the right of Jupiter, while Mars is a bit below them, clearly visible and forming a kind of "downwards-pointing isosceles triangle" with the brighter two planets.

Leo now appears as he will in the pre-dawn sky: rising up from the eastern horizon at a steep upwards-angle.  As always, the Lion is "geared" to the lower edge of the Big Dipper, which fits it almost like a puzzle piece that is lined up with Leo but separated by a stretch of sky (see previous discussion here). 

Below we see the same screen-shot, this time with labels and outlines for the planets and constellations just mentioned:

As earth progresses on our path around the sun, and as Venus, Jupiter and Mars continue on their own tracks around our central star, these relative positions will continue to change, rather dramatically from day-to-day. Venus will drop past Jupiter and soon be much lower than Jupiter in the sky. For additional diagrams showing the positions of these three divinities, check out this excellent discussion page over at Sky & Telescope

That discussion page shows as well the position of Mercury, who is also visible just before sunrise if you have a good view of the eastern horizon (in the screenshots above, Mercury is not visible yet, because it is still about two hours before sunrise).  

While you are out enjoying the gorgeous conjunction of these celestial wanderers (especially if you are able to go out while it is still dark, such as two hours before sunrise), you will have the opportunity to see the Pleiades, located in Taurus beyond the Hyades (about equal distance beyond the Hyades from Orion -- see the labeled south-facing image above that contains Orion).  You should also be able to continue past the Pleiades and locate Perseus, whose foot is pointing towards the Pleiades. Perseus is not marked in the images on this post, but several previous posts show you how to locate him (see herehere, and here for example).

Perseus figures in many Star Myths that have been discussed in previous posts (the first link in the previous paragraph takes you to one of them), as do the Pleiades, and the V-shaped Hyades mentioned earlier and clearly visible in the pre-dawn sky are also very important in myths the world over. For discussion of the role of the Hyades in the Samson-cycle of myths, see previous posts and video here and here.

In the episodes of Samson's life, an encounter with a lion features quite prominently, as does a certain swarm of bees which make their home in the carcass of the lion after Samson kills the lion with his bare hands. As the above discussion and video about Samson point out, I believe there is abundant evidence which indicates that the lion encountered by Samson is none other than Leo the Lion, and the swarm of bees is the beautiful Beehive Cluster in the zodiac constellation of Cancer the Crab, located almost directly in front of the mouth of Leo.

If you are able to go out to see Jupiter, Venus and Mars when the night is dark and clear, you should be able to make out the tiny silvery cloud of the Beehive with your naked eye. Previous posts have explained some techniques for finding the Beehive: see for example here and the second half of the video here. Once you have located the Beehive with the naked eye, you may also want to have a look at it with binoculars.

Below is a screenshot showing the location of the Beehive, in the constellation of Cancer the Crab and directly in front of the "jowls" of the face of Leo the Lion:

The Beehive is actually more visible outside in the night sky than it appears in the screenshots here. However, due to the way our eyes are designed, you may find that you can "see" the Beehive most easily when you are not looking directly at it. 

Instead, try sweeping the sky rather slowly and deliberately working from Leo towards Gemini, or back from Gemini to Leo. Just after you "pass" by the Beehive, you may see it or sense it or perceive it "out of the corner of your eye," even if you did not see it when you were looking directly towards the Beehive itself.

The constellations visible before dawn at this time of year are well worth the effort to try to view and become familiar with, if it is at all possible for you to do so. All of them figure prominently in multiple Star Myths from around the globe, and all of them are very beautiful in their own unique way. 

The conjunction of Jupiter, Venus and Mars in the eastern part of the sky just below Leo the Lion creates a special bonus and one that can be seen on successive mornings for some time (although it is arguably at its most dazzling right now). 

Planetary conjunctions also figure in ancient mythology -- previous posts have investigated some of these: see for instance herehere and here. The stars and the planets truly form the basis for all the incredible sacred myths, scriptures, and stories bequeathed to humanity as a precious inheritance. 

I believe that these esoteric allegories utilize the awe-inspiring celestial cycles in order to convey to us profound truths which are absolutely essential during our earthly sojourn and intended for our benefit, in much the same way that Mr. Miyagi used different physical motions (such as wax-the-car or paint-the-fence) to impart profound knowledge to Daniel-san, knowledge which was also intended for his benefit and which was essential for him to understand.

I truly believe that the more you are able to become familiar with the beautiful constellations and planets in our night sky, and their intricate cycles and turnings, the more you will be able to appreciate and understand the ancient wisdom which was given to you and to me and to all of humanity at some point now hidden behind the mists of time.

Who is "Doubting Thomas"?

Who is "Doubting Thomas"?

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

One of the more famous episodes in the New Testament resurrection story is the account of "Doubting Thomas," also referred to as "The Incredulity of Thomas" ("incredulity" meaning literally "the not-believing" of Thomas, or the "not-giving-credit [i.e., trust]" by Thomas).

The account of this episode is found in the Gospel According to John (and only there, out of the texts that were included in what came to be the accepted texts of the "canon"), and is there described as follows (in the 20th chapter of the Gospel According to John): 

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them; then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believed.

This passage is often interpreted as being about belief or faith, particularly by those who assert that the texts were intended to be understood literally and historically (that is to say, those who believe the texts were intended to be understood as describing an encounter that took place in literal history between two literal and historical figures).

But what if that is not what this episode is actually about at all?

If the text is describing a literal event that took place after a literal resurrection, then it would make sense to understand this encounter with Thomas as being about believing that the literal resurrection happened in the manner described. 

But we have already examined some evidence that the character of Thomas has a meaning that goes far beyond the common understanding of Thomas as a particular individual who lived a long time ago and had a particularly "incredulous" disposition and a particularly blunt way of expressing himself.

A major clue to the critical importance and true identity of this character "Doubting Thomas" is in fact found in the very passage cited above from the "canonical" text of the Gospel According to John: the information given in verse 24 of John 20 that Thomas (one of the twelve) was also called Didymus.

The word "didymus" is Greek in origin and means "twin" (the prefix di- is still found in many English words, many scientific in nature, which carry the meaning of "twin" or "two" or "twinned," such as a diode or a dipole or a diplodocus or a dichotomy or even a diploma -- diplomas apparently being so named because they were originally "folded in two" or "doubled" instead of being rolled up in a cardboard tube the way they are today).

The Gospel According to John is the only text among those admitted to the New Testament canon which uses the word Didymus (or didymos in the New Testament Greek) or reveals that Thomas was either an actual twin or was for some reason called "the twin" (even though Thomas is listed in the naming of the twelve apostles found in the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke, as well as in Acts of the Apostles). Neither John nor the others ever explain why Thomas is called that, or who his other twin might be.

But, as has already been discussed at some length in the previous post entitled "The Gospel of Thomas and the Divine Twin," there were other "New Testament era" texts which were specifically excluded from the New Testament canon but which were apparently preserved in a large sealed jar which in ancient times (in fact, during the same century that the current canon was being established and other texts not included in the canon were being marginalized or even outlawed) was buried beneath the sands at the base of a cliff near the modern-day village of Nag Hammadi in Egypt -- and one of these texts has Jesus addressing Thomas as "my twin and true companion."

This remarkable statement opens up an entirely different interpretation of the so-called "Incredulity of Thomas" episode -- and indeed of the identity and meaning of the character of Thomas altogether.

The statement simply cannot be understood literally, as in referring to a literal-historical twin of Jesus, since such an interpretation would then undermine a literal-historical interpretation of the descriptions of the birth of a single child (not a twin) found elsewhere in the New Testament scriptures.

But just because something is not literal does not mean that it is not true

If we are not meant to interpret these scriptural passages as literal-historical, then how else could we be intended to interpret them? If the passage is not intended to describe a literal individual named Thomas with an incredulous disposition and a gruff manner of speaking, then what are we supposed to learn from it?

Something of tremendous importance and applicability to our daily lives -- something which makes Thomas a character of immediate and ongoing relevance to each of our individual journeys through this world, every single day (in a way, I would argue, that a Thomas who lived a couple of thousand years ago might not be).

In fact, I would argue that even those who take the scriptures as literal and historical probably do not find themselves thinking about Thomas and his importance to their lives multiple times every day.

But I would submit that after reading the esoteric interpretation of Thomas offered below, you might (at least I do).

Because if Jesus and Thomas are twins, and if out of the two of them Jesus represents the "divine twin" in the pairing (and, as we explored in that previous post on Thomas, there are many such "twins" in ancient mythology, including Castor and Pollux in Greek mythology and Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the mythology of ancient Sumer and Babylon), then what does that imply about the identity of Thomas?

Why, it could imply that Thomas is "the human twin."

And which one would that make us? 

(This is a trick question).

The answer, of course, is: "both of them."

We are running around in this incarnate life with both of these "twinned" natures within us at all times (in fact, as has been explored at some length, the very symbol of the cross itself can be seen to represent the "crossing" of two natures in each and every human being -- a horizontal nature and a vertical nature, so to speak: see for example previous posts herehere and here).

To put it very plainly, I believe that the episode of "Doubting Thomas" is intended to teach us to get in touch with the divine Infinite. 

And our "Thomas nature" -- while serving a very necessary function -- can be an obstacle to that connection with the Infinite, at least when overcome by doubt.

Having offered that interpretation, let's now take another look at the text itself to see if it is possible to find any support for such an assertion.

In verse 25, the other disciples say to Thomas: "We have seen the Lord." 

Thomas replies in the same verse: "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe."

Let's just think about that for a second. 

As noted above, the episode of the "Incredulity of Thomas" is usually interpreted as instructing belief or faith, and not doubt -- and hence a "negative spin" is imputed to this "incredulity" of Thomas (this failing to "extend credit" or trust to the account of the other disciples, on the part of "Doubting Thomas").

But is this statement from Thomas really something that we are meant to see in a negative light? 

He did not say, "Even if I see the print of the nails, I will not believe."

He did not say, "Even if I thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe."

Thomas is actually displaying critical thinking, a desire to check things out and examine the evidence which supports one or another theory, or which might disprove one or another theory . . . even what we might call "the scientific method."

And this kind of thinking is actually indispensable in our daily life, from one moment to the next in this physical world (in fact, it is essential to our very survival from one moment to the next).  

If a traffic light turns green, telling you that it is safe to proceed into an intersection, or a railroad crossing signal tells you that it is safe to proceed across the railroad tracks, and you don't exercise at least a very little bit of what Thomas here displays when he receives the report of the other disciples, there may come a day when those signals are telling you an untruth that could be extremely dangerous to you. It is advisable to just swivel your head to glance quickly up and down a cross-street or a train-track as you approach it, to "see for yourself" in the same way that Thomas might advise you to do.

In other words, critical thinking is critically important to anyone living in the material world.

It is the same critical thinking that enables us to categorize things into one category or another ("this" and "not that"), to communicate using language (which is built upon definitions of "this" and "not that," the very word definition meaning "to put a boundary or a limit around something"), and to analyze our situation and come up with possible hypotheses to explain what we see, and then examine the evidence that could help us accept or reject the different possible explanations or hypotheses.

All that being said, the scriptural passage itself does indeed appear to be telling us that all of this critical thought, while essential, can have a negative side (like any other good thing, especially when there is "too much of a good thing").

The very same essential and indispensable faculty that enables us to categorize, to hypothesize, and even to criticize ("this is good" versus "that was not so good" or even "that was a disaster") is exactly the same faculty that makes possible self-doubt, self-criticism, and even what we might term "self-imposed isolation from the divine twin."

If you haven't watched it already or don't remember the details of this previous post discussing the excellent conversation with Dr. Darrah Westrup at the mindbodygreen "Revitalize 2015" conference (her talk can be seen in this video clip beginning at about the 1:03:00 mark), please check it out or give it a re-look. 

Because in her talk, after pointing out that animals do not typically walk around wracked with self-doubt, and that even if a cat makes a terrible failure of trying to leap somewhere, it doesn't seem to reduce its self-image or cause it to wonder if it is going to be a failure at it the next time, Dr. Westrup states that it is through language (and thus, I would argue, through the entire facility of defining into "this" and "not that") that we can let our minds "run away with us" with negative results.

In the same presentation, she explains that ancient practices such as meditation and ancient scriptures such as the Vedas seem to teach that what we call our mind is not the whole of who we are, but rather a very useful and indeed indispensable tool, one which we should view as occasionally detrimental: a sort of "over-eager office assistant" that will sometimes make absolutely terrible recommendations, from which we can learn to "stand aside" or "stand above" through disciplines  and methods which were known to the ancients and which can put us in touch with something altogether different. 

In the scripture passage from John chapter 20, the remedy or solution given to Thomas does not involve thinking or talking or reasoning at all: it involves feeling and seeing and experiencing and knowing. And it involves getting in touch with the divine twin.

Note that this does not mean "getting rid of the Thomas" -- as Dr. Westrup says in her talk about the "over-eager office assistant," we actually cannot get rid of that assistant, nor would we really want to. 

Once we have the faculty of defining and critically thinking (and hence of criticizing and also of doubting) then we cannot ever get rid of that, nor would it be good to do so: but we can get in touch with something which is beyond defining, which cannot be "de-fined": something which is in fact In-finite (non-boundaried, non-bounded, non-finite).

Something which other traditions (such as the Vedic texts and epics and commentaries) call variously the Higher Self, the Supreme Self, the Brahman -- which is just as much a part of who we are as is the  part we might call our Thomas-self. That's why they are described as twins. You can't separate them: they are both part of our identity.

In other words, the relationship between Thomas and Jesus implied by the word Didymus may be intended to convey the very same thing that the relationship between Arjuna and the Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita is intended to convey.

And note that at the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna (who corresponds to Thomas) is racked by doubt

Not doubt about the existence or divinity of his divine charioteer, Krishna, but doubt about himself, his worthiness, and whether it is right or not for him to engage in the upcoming battle of Kurukshetra.

And as we see in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna reveals himself to be unbounded and infinite (just as the goddess Durga revealed herself to be unbounded and infinite immediately prior to the Bhagavad Gita, and in fact was addressed as identical to the Brahman, in the hymn to Durga uttered by Arjuna).

In those Vedic texts, which I believe were designed to convey the very same message being conveyed by the episode of "Doubting Thomas," the metaphor of a chariot is used, in which the horses are the senses and the desires, and the mind is compared to the reins, but the driver is the "divine charioteer," who in the Bhagavad Gita is Lord Krishna himself.  Here, mind is shown to be an essential tool, but it must be guided by the divine charioteer, held in the hands of the divine charioteer.

In other words, I believe we need our critical-thinking "Thomas-faculty" nearly all the time during our waking hours, but there is a very real sense in which this aspect of our humanity gets in the way of our accessing something much deeper, something that is in fact infinite, and that can actually be properly described as divine (and that is described as divine in ancient sacred texts and traditions, including those of the New Testament, as discussed in previous posts such as "Namaste and Amen" and previous examinations of the teachings of the person called Paul).  

And we are actually designed to be in touch with the divine Infinite in this life.

Many of us have in fact experienced moments when we seem to suddenly touch something that is beyond or beneath all of the mental chatter, perhaps in a sports situation when (looking back later) we realize we were playing "out of our head." 

(Conversely, we can also probably recall situations in sports or other areas of endeavor in which we seemed to "self-sabotage" -- through a sudden onset of "doubting Thomas" self-talk -- a play or a catch that we normally would have been able to easily make).

Examples from daily life which we might put into the "uncontroversial" category could include parallel parking perfectly on the first try (even into a very difficult spot), or fetching the exact right amount of water to pour into a coffee-maker to come exactly up to the "max-fill" line without measuring (in an unmarked jug or pitcher that you use to fetch it), or even looking at the clock exactly at 3:33 on several different days, without even thinking about it (we might wonder what exactly was "ticking" in the back of your mind that seemed to be keeping track of the time, since it is clear in this example that it was not the conscious part of the mind that "reasoned out" the exact right moment to glance over at the clock on those different days).

But there are other examples that are far from "mundane" and which seem to evidence a sudden manifestation of the "hidden divine within" or the "unconscious connection with the Supreme Self," such as the incredible displays of timing caught on camera in popular videos such as the "Greatest 'Dad saves' ever" shown here (and there are many other collections along the same lines -- many showing situations that are clearly not staged, unless people are deliberately hazarding their infants to make these movies):

It should be pointed out that in nearly every one of these "Dad saves," the injury-saving action is completely unpremeditated and even apparently "unconscious" (without conscious thought). In some of them, the "save" even appears to be literally "unconscious," as in "he was half-asleep (or more than just half) and his arm reached out to save the baby."

It should also be pointed out that these kinds of difficult-to-explain displays of unconscious genius are not limited to "Dads," although saving a baby or a child does seem to be a common denominator. For instance, there was an incident in my own experience (known to me personally) in which a mother was in line at the grocery store, facing the clerk, and reached completely behind her back to grab the shopping cart and stop it from tipping over as her older son climbed onto the side of it while her younger son (an infant at the time) was inside of it. She was not looking in that direction at all when this took place: it was behind her and she was about to say "hi" to the clerk in anticipation of moving up to the check-out point.

As difficult to explain as such examples appear to be, there are some who would argue that even these displays of human response -- admittedly beyond our "day-to-day" way of behaving or reacting -- are still explainable within the realm of the "natural, material world" and do not require descriptions involving the words "divine" or "infinite" or connections to anything non-material or super-natural.

Perhaps they are just manifestations of highly-developed instinctual abilities on the same level as those which animals routinely display (untroubled as they are by anything resembling the "Thomas-mind" and the self-doubt that comes along with being able to think critically and maintain inner dialogues), and which we usually forget in our civilized setting, but which "pop up" from time-to-time when they are most necessary (a kind of "animal-like survival instinct" that is usually forgotten but occasionally awakens).

That is certainly a possible explanation, and one that our critical-thinking, scientific-method-following minds should consider.

But even if that is a valid explanation for some manifestations of behavior (like the "Dad saves" shown above) that fall completely outside of what we usually experience in what might be called "ordinary reality," there are other examples of human beings apparently accessing the fabric of non-ordinary reality for which even that explanation (already a stretch) seems to be completely inadequate.

For example, in this post from all the way back in January of 2012

, we examined an account of a daughter who was visited in dreams and who received information about the existence of a Buddhist monastery the existence of which she had previously been unaware, but which upon visiting she learned from the presiding abbott that her father had helped found that particular monastery, years before she had even been born.

It is difficult to explain that account as an example of "highly-developed human ability or instinct," because it involved information that came to a person (while unconscious, it should be noted) who could not be expected to know that information at all -- even subconsciously.

Or, see for another example the situation described in the account of Norman Ollestad in his book Crazy for the Storm, in which as a young eleven-year old boy, he had to make his way down a steep and icy mountain in what can only be described as a life-or-death situation.

In that book, we see an excellent real-life example of the "Doubting Thomas" phenomenon: young Ollestad must overcome his own fears, anxieties, self-criticisms and self-doubt -- both on the mountain and in the challenging situations he faced while growing up in the canyons and suburbs around Los Angeles and the California coast during the 1970s.

In order to overcome those doubts, he relies on the uplifting influence of his father, and on reserves of courage and resourcefulness inside himself that at first the boy might not even have known or realized were there.

However, that is not all that helps him survive, as those who have read the book (or who will read the book after this) see by the end. Indeed, in order to eventually make his way off the mountain, several events (including something that he is able to "see" which he later realizes he would not have been able to see based on actual terrain and line-of-sight) and "coincidences" took place which directly contributed to the author's survival on that awful day in 1979.

Although they might not be as dramatic, many of us can also think of "coincidences" or "synchronicities" in our own experience in which people who could not possibly have known that we were thinking about something or considering some course of action suddenly contacted us with information or suggestions that make it seem as though something from outside of ordinary reality is at work.

It is my belief that the episode involving the encounter of "Doubting Thomas" and "the risen Lord" is intended to describe this exact dynamic in our human experience: the fact that we ourselves are endowed with an important facility of critical thinking, which is well-suited for many aspects of day-to-day life (and which is in fact indispensable for our survival), but which can also be a hindrance to us, to the extent that it can lead to self-doubt, self-sabotage, self-destruction in extreme cases, and self-imposed separation from someone we are actually supposed to rely upon as absolutely vital to our experience in this life: our Higher Self, the "divine charioteer," the Christ within.

Indeed, while some readers may remain unconvinced by the analysis and examples offered so far (and especially those who are especially committed to a literal-historical interpretation of the sacred texts of the New Testament) -- even though I believe that the discussion so far should already be fairly convincing -- I believe there is actually a whole additional line of evidence which makes the above interpretation not only "likely" but nearly "indisputable."

The more I have studied the ancient mythology of humanity, the more evidence I have found that virtually all of it, from every single inhabited continent on our globe, and from millennia in the past right up to living traditions which have remained in practice into the present day, is built upon a common system of celestial metaphor, the purpose of which is to convey exactly the type of knowledge that we have been examining above regarding the human condition and the makeup of the natural world and the cosmos in which we find ourselves.

Knowledge regarding its dual material-spiritual composition: the existence of a Spirit World or an Infinite Realm which interpenetrates this material realm at all times and at all points, and with which we are actually in contact all the time ourselves, through our own inner divine spark, our own inner connection to the Infinite.

This inner connection may be often neglected, or even completely forgotten, but (as the embedded video and some of the other examples discussed above make clear) it is very real, and it is very powerful.

It absolutely transcends and blows away our limited understanding of what we ordinary think of as "reality."

But our normal facilities of thinking and understanding and analyzing (the "Thomas side" of our "twinned" existence) tend to doubt the very existence or reality of the divine nature, and when we listen to them enough we can miss out on something that is actually a huge part of who we really are.

A nice "contemporary film allegory" for this self-doubt and self-sabotage which keeps us from reaching our "non-ordinary potential" is the famous exchange between "doubting Skywalker" and Yoda in the famous "X-wing in the swamp" scenefrom The Empire Strikes Back (1980):

One way that we can help to confirm that the "Doubting Thomas" episode in the Gospel According to John was intended to be understood as an esoteric metaphor and not as a literal account of an event which took place in terrestrial earthly history is the fact that, like so many other events related in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible (see a partial list here), it incorporates clearly-identifiable celestial components.

In fact, I can find enough celestial components to this story and those which precede and follow it in John's gospel as to amply confirm to my own satisfaction that it is almost certainly a description of the heavenly cycles of the sun, moon, stars and planets (with which we ourselves are connected, and which serve throughout the world's mythology as an allegorical system which relies upon some of the most majestic and awe-inspiring aspects of our physical, material universe to discuss and explain aspects of the invisible, spiritual world) and not a description of anything that took place in terrestrial human history.

Very briefly, the Reverend Robert Taylor (1784 - 1844), who lived well before the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts, and who spent considerable time discussing the identity of Thomas in a collection of his public sermons or lectures published in 1854 (ten years after his death) and entitled The Devil's Pulpit, makes much of the fact that the traditional observance of St. Thomas' Day was held on December 21st, the point of winter solstice and the point on the zodiac wheel which during the Age of Aries marked the beginning of the sign of Capricorn.

Since at the points of solstice ("sun-station" or "sun-stand-still") the sun appears to "pause" and rise at roughly the same point on the horizon for about three days before turning back around and moving in the other direction again, which is why the "birth" of the solar child is celebrated three days later (at midnight on the 24th of December, rather than on the solstice-day of the 21st of December), Robert Taylor argued that the 21st is a sort of "day of maximum doubt," when the sun has been rising successively further and further south since summer solstice in June, and tracing an arc that is lower and lower across the sky, and the hours of daylight each day have been getting shorter and shorter relative to the hours of darkness -- and that "unbelieving Thomas" is thus the figure who doubts that the sun will ever turn around again (Devil's Pulpit, 42).

Zodiac wheel with positions of the signs of Capricorn (green) and Cancer (red) indicated, one beginning at the point of winter solstice (Capricorn) and the other beginning at the point of summer solstice (Cancer).

Interestingly enough, there are also traditions which associate the feast-day of Thomas with the 3rd of July, which is in the sign of Cancer the Crab, the sign which follows the sun's point of maximum arc and its northmost rising- and setting-points (as well as with other days of the year).

Robert Taylor incorporates all these details into his explanation, in which he argues that Thomas is associated both with the Goat of Capricorn (beginning at the sun's lowest point) and with the Crab of Cancer (beginning just after its highest) -- and also the related fact that he is called "the twin."

One look at the zodiac image above should be enough to perceive just how ingeniously the ancient myths (including those in the Bible) were crafted to impart their esoteric message, and how the majestic cycles of the celestial realms were employed in order to convey knowledge of spiritual truths -- in this case, the truth allegorized by the metaphor of Thomas and the Divine Twin, one enmeshed in the doubts and definitions of the "practical" struggles of the finite world, and the other completely free of the bounds of earth (passing easily through locked doors) and of the endless defining and analyzing of the "Thomas" side of our nature: the divine nature, at home in and representative of the realm of the Infinite.

Images of Thomas in this famous encounter with the Lord painted in previous centuries have in fact emphasized his Capricornian nature.

Now is a good time of year to observe the Goat of Capricorn in the sky (look to the west of the Great Square of Pegasus, or to the east of the distinctive "teapot" outline in the constellation of Sagittarius, which is currently still easily visible looking towards the south during the prime stargazing hours after sunset and before midnight, at the base of the rising column of the Milky Way).

Below is an image of the night sky as it looks to an observer in the northern hemisphere in the temperate latitudes, and looking towards the southern horizon (where the zodiac constellations make their nightly procession):



In the above image, you can see that the zodiac constellation of Capricorn the Goat (or the Sea-Goat) is actually reaching its highest point (its transit point) as it turns through the due-south celestial meridian-line (the highest point on its arc through the sky between rising in the east on the left and setting to the west on the right) right around 11pm.  The outline of Capricorn is almost directly above the letter "S" marking due south.

Below is the same image, adding color to the outline of Capricorn as well as to the landmarks of the  Great Square of Pegasus and the "teapot" in Sagittarius:

In the above image, the Great Square of Pegasus is outlined in yellow, the "teapot" formation in Sagittarius is outlined in blue, and the Goat of Capricorn is shown in green.

The general direction of the shining band of the Milky Way galaxy, which rises up from the southern horizon almost straight-up into the heavens at this time of year, is indicated with a label written in purple.

Please take special note of the outline of the stars of the Goat of Capricorn. In order to observe them more closely, a "zoomed-in" image of the Capricorn region and its constellation's stars is shown below:

Note that the constellation suggests the shape of two "point-downward" triangles: one for the head of the Goat, and the other formed by Capricorn's two feet, which come together in a near-point, as if he is a rock-hopping mountain goat instead of a Sea-Goat as he is often portrayed.

It is also notable that he has some fairly formidable "goat-horns" pointing almost straight forward from his head, which are distinctly two in number: there are two stars to mark the tips of the Goat's horns (one is labeled in the image above, Deneb Algedi, and the other is just a bit further to the right and on a line slightly below Deneb Algedi in the sky).

Below is the same "zoomed-in" image of Capricorn, this time with green outlines to help make perfectly clear the line of the horns and the "two triangles" shape of the constellation:

Having familiarized ourselves with the outline of Capricorn, let us now take a look at some of the images created by master artists over the centuries depicting the famous encounter between Thomas and the risen Lord in the episode of "The Incredulity of Thomas."

The first (and perhaps most revealing) is from Giovanni del Giglio, who lived from some time in the late 1400s through approximately 1557. It is entitled L'incredulita di San Tommaso:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Take a close look at the hands of Thomas and the divine twin (the risen Lord).

If you have studied the images of the constellation Capricorn presented above, you will find that the unmistakeable features of the heavenly symbol are reproduced in this drawing and are associated with the probing fingers of Thomas (the horns of the Goat), the downward-facing triangle of the hand of Jesus (the head of the Goat), the bend of the arm of Thomas below the elbow of the risen Lord (the feet of the Goat), and the distinctive hand-symbol being displayed by the woman in the image (the tail of the Goat).

If you are having trouble seeing the correspondence between the image and the constellation, it is outlined in the identical image below, with Capricorn added:

Below is another example, much more recent, from Tissot (1836 - 1902), which envisions the same scene but instead appears to use the bearded, downward-bowed head of Thomas himself to evoke the idea of the head of Capricorn, and the down-stretched arm and one leg of the apostle to suggest the front and back legs of the constellation which are nearly together in the outline of Capricorn in the actual night sky:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The examples could be multiplied on and on: the reader is invited to examine them for himself or herself to decide whether or not the identification of Thomas with the constellation Capricorn is valid in these examples, based on what we know of the outline of the stars themselves in the sky.

There is actually much more which could be added to the celestial metaphors at work in this particular scriptural event, and in the events which surround it in the John gospel, which act to confirm even more powerfully the fact that this story was originally intended to be understood esoterically rather than literally as an event taking place in earthly history.

One other important piece of evidence which Robert Taylor offers in his extensive analysis of the identity of Thomas is the fact that his name itself points to the connection between Capricorn and Cancer in this story (the signs marking the celestial low-point and the celestial high-point).

The name Thomas, he alleges (and others have made the same assertion) is related to the name Tammuz, which is both the name of an ancient deity and also of the fourth month of some ancient calendars (including the Hebrew calendar still in use today).

If you look again at the zodiac wheel reproduced above, and count to the fourth sign after the point of spring equinox (the beginning of the year in many ancient cultures), you will find that this count brings you to the sign of Cancer the Crab (1 - Aries; 2 - Taurus; 3 - Gemini; 4 - Cancer).

In other words, Thomas is associated with both Capricorn and Cancer: both the "doubting twin" and with the exalted Supreme Self (and some have even noted that his confession or exclamation "My Lord and my God" appears to refer to both human kingship and divinity, an expression of the dual nature of the Christ).

All of this appears to rather strongly confirm the powerful insight of Alvin Boyd Kuhn, quoted many times in previous posts (see here and here and here), that the ancient myths of the world (including those in the Bible) are not about ancient history but about our experience "here and now;" that they are not about "old kings, priests and warriors" but rather that in every scene they treat the experience of "the human soul."

"The Bible is about the mystery of human life," he says, "[ . . .] 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!" (Note that the two halves of the foregoing quotation are from different sentences in the same lecture by Alvin Boyd Kuhn, but by quoting them in this way I have not altered the sense of what he is asserting).

Indeed, when it comes to the story of Thomas the Twin (Didymus), we might alter Alvin Boyd Kuhn's quotation a bit further and say that this particular story "is not apprehended in its full force and applicability until every reader discerns himself or herself to be a twin in exactly the same way!"

The metaphor of Thomas and the divine twin is a metaphor to teach us a profound truth. It could be taught a different way, using a different metaphor -- such as the metaphor of Arjuna and the divine charioteer, in the Bhagavad Gita. In fact, there are endless different ways of expressing the same concept, found throughout the myths of the world, which collectively are the precious inheritance of humanity, intended for our benefit and use in this life.

We are each a twin in exactly the same way that Thomas is a twin: permanently 'twinned' with the 'divine twin,' who can appear in an instant no matter where we are or in what circumstance we find ourselves. No locked door can prevent the appearance of the divine twin, for we ourselves have within us -- always and in every circumstance -- an inner connection to the Infinite; we ourselves contain both Capricorn and Cancer: both twins, simultaneously. We are prone to doubting and to forgetting -- to saying with Luke in the swamp, 'I'll give it a try' -- cutting ourselves off from unlimited potential, when in reality we have access to all of it, all the time.

The fact that the story is a metaphor in no way means that it is "not true" (it just is not, at least in my understanding of it based on the evidence that I have seen for myself, literal or historical).

In fact, I believe it is profoundly true, and that it has daily practical applications for us in virtually every field of our human experience.

There are ways to learn these truths other than through the exquisite metaphors found in the world's ancient myths -- but when we have this incredible treasure which has been imparted to us for our good, it would seem to be a terrible waste to ignore these ancient teachings, or to turn them into something which they quite plainly are not (especially if we know what they are).

Who is "Doubting Thomas"?

Well, obviously, we have him with us every day.

But if we recognize his good aspects (incredulity, after all, can be a good quality), while avoiding the negative side of incredulity (self-doubt, over-criticism, over-haste in labeling defeat or failure, self-sabotage, and disconnection with the divine nature which is as much a part of who we are as is the Thomas-nature), we can touch the Infinite. Every day.


image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Painted Rock, The Inner Connection to the Infinite, and Two Competing Visions of Human Existence

Painted Rock, The Inner Connection to the Infinite, and Two Competing Visions of Human Existence

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The visionary Lakota holy man Black Elk once articulated a distinction between two competing visions: the first, a vision of harmony and connection between people and animals and also with the invisible world, and the second a vision of division and scarcity and an all-consuming, gnawing greed that ultimately dirties and destroys everything good before finally destroying itself.

In his own account, which he allowed to be published in the book Black Elk Speaks, Black Elk associates these two visions with two paths he saw bisecting the great sacred hoop of life during a very powerful vision he received which had a profound impact on his entire life: the good red road (running from north to south on the great circle) associated with the preservation and renewal of all creatures, and the black road (running from west to east on the great circle) upon which "everybody walked for himself."  

The great vision of Black Elk, and his description of the difference between the two roads, is discussed in this previous post, and of course in his account of the vision, which after great deliberation he decided to tell to the world through a published narrative. 

The deciding factor that led him to tell his vision to the outside world was his realization that the people were mistakenly pursuing the bad vision and running down the wrong road -- he admits that even he himself had during a certain time thought that the way of the Wasichus (the Europeans) seemed to be working and that he himself had decided for a time that it might have been the better way -- and he felt that by telling his vision he could persuade others not to make this mistake, before it was too late.

Perhaps few surviving sacred sites in the world display the conflict between those two visions, those two roads described by Black Elk in his vision, more viscerally than the ancient space known today as "Painted Rock," located in North America in a high grassland plain -- in fact, a salt-lake basin with no real outlet, containing a large dry gypsum flat known as "Soda Lake" -- about forty-five or fifty miles inland from the Pacific Ocean in modern-day California. 

This is the arid valley known today as the Carrizo Plain, a name thought to have been derived from the Spanish word carrizo, defined in the Follett Velasquez dictionary as a "common reed-grass, Arundo phragmites," although in previous generations the area was called the Carrisa Plain, possibly an attempt to pronounce the Spanish word.  

It is nearly 1,400 miles from the places that Black Elk and his people lived, but it contains an awe-inspiring natural rock temple which silently proclaims a very similar message and offers a clear view of both roads, both visions: one vision evincing profound connectedness to nature and to the invisible realm, and the other displaying either a conscious hatred for that first vision, or a wanton disregard for it, and arising from a culture that has been cut off from it.

This extensive description of the importance of Painted Rock (and the extensive ancient archaeological region of which Painted Rock is part), prepared and filed in 2011 in conjunction with a request to have the area declared a National Historic Landmark, points to newly-discovered evidence of human habitation stretching back 10,000 years before the present, describing (in addition to the well-known Painted Rock site) "recently discovered pictograph sites along with a remarkable concentration of villages, camps and other sites dating from about 10,000 to 200 BP (8050 BCE - 1750 CE)" (see top of page 4).

This anciently-inhabited region, that same paragraph notes, contains abundant pictographs of a very distinctive nature: for the most part, they are painted with bright colors, instead of carved or indented as is common in other pictographic sites in North America. These, the report notes, "are the impressive hallmark of this district." Some scholars have dated the creation of these particular painted pictographs to a period of about 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. 

These painted markings and significant and impressive in their own right, for their historical and cultural significance, for whatever concepts the ancient artists intended with their work (almost certainly related to the sacred and to the invisible world), and for the unworldly impression conveyed by their subject matter, their often intricate and artistically-beautiful design, and their use of bold colors (particularly red, black and white, often used together, with light blue, ochre yellow, and other colors added at times as well). 

In the massif known as the Painted Rock, shown in the aerial image above, the ancient artists who created these paintings selected one of the most impressive natural spaces possible, one possessed of tremendous inherent spiritual symbolism and power.

The annual report of the State Mineralogist to the California State Mining Bureau for the year 1890 described the actual rock formation, and the pictographs, in these words:

In the southwestern part of the plain stands THE PAINTED ROCK, an isolated butte covering an area of about five acres and rising to a height of one hundred and forty feet -- a conical formation, and hollow like the crater of a volcano, but having a narrow opening towards the east on a level with the surrounding plain [the opening is actually more north than east]. This opening is twenty-four feet in width and leads to a vast oval cavity two hundred and twenty-five feet in its greatest, and one hundred and twenty feet in its least diameter, the walls rising to a height of one hundred and thirty-two feet in the highest point. The rock is coarse sandstone, the walls irregular, and overhanging in places, making the inner space like a cave. In these recesses, covering a space of twelve feet in height, and sixty feet in length, are a great number of paintings, representing strange figures in rude forms of men, suns, birds, and others indescribable -- probably hieroglyphics or writings of meaning to the prehistoric people who made them. When and by whom these were made is unknown, as the oldest inhabitant says that when discovered by the pioneer Spanish missionaries, they found them as they are at the present time; the aborigines knowing nothing of their origin, but regarding them with mysterious awe. The paintings are in three lines of red, white, and black, the colors still bright and distinct. This grand temple of the ancient pagan is now utilized as a corral. Upon many rocks bordering the great plain are similar paintings of the same unknown origin. "Painted rocks" are also found in Santa Barbara and Kern Counties, with figures of the same character as those of the San Luis Obispo rocks, and would be a proper subject of study for the ethnologist. 569.

This account, dated from the end of 1890 and thus written by one who visited the area that year or slightly earlier, provides some valuable historical information, particularly regarding the condition of the rock paintings, as well as the fact that their original artists were shrouded in the mists of the ancient past, at least according to whatever sources the surveyors contacted and whatever answers they saw fit to give to him. 

Based on current historical paradigms and analysis of the art itself, most modern scholars ascribe the rock art to the Chumash and Yokuts peoples, each of which has their own distinctive artistic and thematic characteristics but which apparently also have many characteristics and themes in common as well. According to sources cited in page 18 of the National Register of Historic Places form linked previously, many scholars generally believe that the majority of the art comes from the "Middle Period" stretching from 4,000 years to 800 years before the present day, or from about 2050 BC - AD 1150 (and at one point, based on arguments from lake levels of the Soda Lake basin, the report narrows that down to a range of about 2050 BC to 50 BC).

What is fairly certain is that the stunning art of the awe-inspiring Painted Rock sacred site, and that found along certain outcroppings and formations dotting the hills and the edges of the plain in the surrounding region, survived intact and in a remarkable state of preservation for the better part of 4,000 years. 

Some early black-and-white photographs taken of the pictographic murals within Painted Rock itself are claimed in books published not long afterwards to have been taken as early as 1876, which may mean that they are the very first pictographs to have been photographed anywhere in the world. Photographs of the Painted Rock pictographs from the early 1890s were published in a 1910 article in West Coast magazine and in a subsequent 1910 book written by regional historian Myron Angel (you can read the text of that book online here, and order a copy of the original through various bookstores and online used-book channels). 

Other fascinating photos from the 1890s were included in a 1981 book called Curse of the Feathered Snake by Angus MacLean, who uses a story related by Myron Angel as a basis for some of his own proclamations about the history and significance of the sites and their pictographs.

In all of those photographs from the end of the 1800s, and in the descriptions in Mr. Angel's 1910 account, the pictographs are almost completely intact, looking very much as they had looked for the previous 2,000 to 4,000 years -- twenty to forty centuries.

But some vandalism had already begun to take place during the 1800s, with visitors descended from the western European cultures carving their names or initials right through these beautiful ancient pictographs into the soft sandstone, and not long after the turn of the century the real desecration of this ancient site accelerated. It is thought that it was in the decades leading up to World War II, particularly in the 1930s, that some of the most dramatic and intricate of these ancient paintings were hideously disfigured: great sections of paint was sacrilegiously and deliberately flaked off, and apparently some of these sacred figures were even shot with firearms and irretrievably damaged.

Ancient pictographic texts which had thus survived up to four thousand years in beautiful condition, preserving their message for perhaps forty centuries could not survive through what we know as the "twentieth century."

Below are links to two sites containing excellent photographs from recent years, by visitors who have made their way to this special monument and who have been appalled by the wanton destruction of the rock art. Each provides comparisons to some of the black-and-white images from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, to show their disfigured condition in the present day.

The first is a site containing the photography and writing of David Stillman, and an entry entitled "Then and Now: Painted Rock, Carrizo Plain" and dated August 13, 2014.

The second is a two-part trip report published by "Death Valley Jim" (Jim Mattern), a desert guide, wilderness scout, and advocate of low-impact and Leave No Trace outdoorsmanship -- he was so dismayed and angered by the damage done to these pictographs that he vows never to return to Painted Rock again: "Carrizo Plain National Monument and Painted Rock, part 1" and "Carrizo Plain National Monument and Painted Rock, part 2" (both from a very recent first visit, during the beginning of August 2015).

Both are of course right to be outraged and to express their outrage: the deliberate destruction of these ancient sacred sites is a criminal act, one that steals from the heritage of the entire human race and from all future generations, and one that defiles, disrespects, and denigrates sites that are still actively used and held holy by the Native American people whose people and whose ancestors have lived in this land for thousands of years.

Nor is it going too far to state that the message that this site has embodied for so many millennia -- in its own natural power and symbolism, and in the message of the pictographs (which is examined a bit further in the following paragraphs) -- exemplifies the vision of connection with the natural universe, connection with the spirit realm which infuses and indwells every single aspect of this seemingly material realm, and the elevation of that spirit in all people and in all animals and plants and rocks and trees, for the purpose of blessing and renewal.  

Blasting away at that vision with a shotgun at close range, or otherwise deliberately destroying the pictographs which proclaim our connection to the invisible world (such as by flaking off parts of the stone in order to try to take the images away from the site, or just to ruin them forever) clearly exemplifies the very worst aspects of the "bad road" which Black Elk spoke of -- the very worst aspects of that "gnawing flood, dirty with lies and greed" which he described as washing over everything and everyone that once were connected but which have now become isolated and divided and debased.

For more on the way that the sacred enclosure of Painted Rock points to another vision, please first have a look at the previous post entitled "Two Visions," which describes the remarkable analysis presented by Dr. Peter Kingsley, a philosopher and scholar of ancient philosophy (especially pre-Socratic philosophy), in his book In the Dark Places of Wisdom.

Any attempt to "sum up" that ground-breaking book will be incomplete, but one of its central themes involves another way of expressing the very same "two conflicting visions" that Black Elk was also describing. 

Dr. Kingsley provides evidence from archaeology and from the surviving fragmentary texts of ancient philosophers -- and in particular the important pre-Socratic Parmenides or Parmeneides -- showing the existence of a line of ancient wisdom, passed down through one-on-one discipleship, that involved going into dark, cave-like places which connected to "the Underworld." The connection to the Underworld, however, was actually internal -- and the Underworld was a realm of non-ordinary experience to which we all can have access at any time, if we know how to turn ourselves "inside out and find the sun and the moon and the stars inside," as In the Dark Places of Wisdom puts it on page 67.  

This ancient knowledge, Dr. Kingsley asserts, this understanding of the inner connection to the Infinite, was actually at the heart of ancient "western" philosophy -- until it was deliberately stamped out.

And, once it was stamped out, the heirs of that culture all the way down through the centuries in western Europe since those centuries, turned to the other vision (the other "road"): trying desperately to pursue, to grasp, to appropriate something that will fill an emptiness inside -- without realizing that the thing they need (but cannot even recognize) is actually already to be found within.

He writes:

Western culture is a past master at the art of substitution. It offers and never delivers because it can't. It has lost the power even to know what needs to be delivered. [. . .]. 35.
[But, we actually] already have everything we need to know, in the darkness inside ourselves. 67.

There is no denying the fact that the Painted Rock formation fits the description of the dark places where the ancient pre-Socratic wisdom teachers would seek to convey the truth that we already have what we need, and to teach the method of going into the "Underworld" that is actually located in a non-ordinary location: in the darkness inside ourselves.

In fact, in the book, Dr. Kingsley points out that the surviving fragments from the poems of Parmeneides describing this internal Underworld journey explain the descent as being led by a goddess, and attended by female immortal attendants -- and it is undeniable that descent into caves is symbolically associated with the divine feminine.

It can also be pointed out that nearly all the deities and beings human and nonhuman with whom Odysseus has to interact during his epic voyage and return home described in the Odyssey -- from the goddess Calypso to the monsters Scylla and Charybdis to the powerful witch and goddess Circe to the princess Nausicaa of Phaecaia, and of course ultimately to his own wife, Penelope -- are also female figures. And through these interactions Odysseus is also guided to the Underworld in order to gain knowledge that he could not obtain otherwise (and Circe is the one who tells him how to go there, a fact with direct connections to the ancient texts Peter Kingsley discusses as well).

The physical location of Painted Rock quite clearly evokes this same spiritual imagery of the divine feminine.

And now, briefly, to the figures themselves, which some western writers including scholars have chosen to try to interpret literally at some level -- whether seeing them as depicting specific types of turtles or seeing them as trying to depict the shaman who is undergoing a vision-journey.

Writers in earlier centuries (such as the Mineralogist report linked above) often use condescending terms: "rude forms of men, suns, birds, and others indescribable."

And Erich Von Daniken (and others from the same theoretical approach, to which I do not myself subscribe) takes a different kind of literalist approach, declaring that these and other pictographs are literal depictions of spacecraft and beings in spacesuits (whether ancient human astronauts, or ancient aliens). 

Von Daniken specifically points out a drawing of one of the (now largely destroyed) panels from Painted Rock in a 1972 book originally entitled Gods From Outer Space (and available in an online format here under the title Return to the Stars) in the fifth chapter, where he implies that the "different globular figures" might be sphere-shaped spacecraft, and that the humanoid figures in the Painted Rock and other ancient petroglyphs may represent the attempts to render space travelers (and he uses patronizing and condescending descriptions of the level of sophistication and understanding of the artists and ancient cultures that produced this art, comparing them at one point to children given a box of crayons)(see pages 48 - 50).

All of these interpretations, however, could be classified as making the same error as that which is made when ancient sacred written scriptures or ancient myths and sacred traditions are analyzed from a literalistic perspective. I and other authors have shown extensive evidence that the ancient texts and myths are allegorical in nature, based upon celestial metaphor.  I have presented several dozen analyses of various myths and scriptures from around the world in previous blog posts -- lists of those previous posts can be found in links on this page. I could demonstrate this principle with literally hundreds more examples than those found in those previous examinations.

I believe that one of the central purposes of creating these celestial allegories was to convey through metaphor the profound truths that Dr. Peter Kingsley and the great Black Elk are trying to explain to us: that we are in fact already connected to the invisible realm, that the invisible realm in fact permeates every aspect of this seemingly material universe, and that this fact connects us all to one another, and to all other creatures (plants and animals) and to the natural world. 

Literalizing these sacred texts and myths, on the other hand, tends to divide us from one another, and to externalize their message . . . and leads directly to the problem that Dr. Kingsley articulates (in which we run around endlessly searching for substitutes to that which we already have access within) and to the "dirty flood of greed and destruction" that Black Elk describes, a vision of the world in which we are all divided from one another because we are all running after those substitutes, grabbing and grasping and devouring and ultimately destroying.

But, as Dr. Kingsley said in a brilliant metaphor, the ancients taught us that we have to go inside and actually "turn ourselves inside out" to find the sun, moon, planets and stars within.

As I have explained in various previous posts, I believe the celestial metaphors are employed in the sacred myths and texts of the world as a sort of "physical metaphor" to illustrate invisible truths about the spiritual world (the unseen world), and about our condition as physical-spiritual beings inhabiting a physical-spiritual universe.

And that is why I very strongly suspect that the incredible Painted Rock pictographs are also a "celestial text" (or celestial texts, perhaps executed over a span of hundreds or even thousands of years).

As those who followed the links provided earlier, to the high-quality photographic blogs of David Stillman and Death Valley Jim Mattern, may have noticed, each included on their discussion an image of the original artwork which was painted by the talented Campbell Grant (1909 - 1992), who was an artist who did early work for Disney studios (including work on Fantasia, Snow White, and Pinocchio, as well as the voice of Angus MacBadger in The Wind in the Willows) and who was fascinated with Chumash rock art from an early age and became a serious student of this art, and helped try to preserve it.

In the 1960s, using some of the older black-and-white photographs, as well as visits to the site, he painted this re-creation of the Painted Rock panels as they may have looked before they were destroyed in the 1930s.

I believe we can see very clear evidence that at least some portions of these pictographs are specifically celestial in nature, depicting zodiac constellations, major nearby stars, and the great band of the Milky Way galaxy.

I will focus on just three areas (those that are perhaps the "easiest" to decipher -- if indeed this analysis is correct). I believe there are abundant clues in each of these areas which help make their celestial identity pretty evident. I have my suspicion about some of the other pairings not in these three areas, but I'm less certain of those.

Below, note three areas of the pictographic re-creation by Grant, indicated by a green box, a blue box, and a purple box:

I believe the "green box" constellations and celestial features are perhaps the most obvious -- in part because of the rising columns which could be described as resembling caterpillars or segmented centipedes, or maybe spinal columns (mythologically and spiritually connected to the Djed column of Osiris in its meaning, perhaps -- the raising of the spiritual component in ourselves and in the cosmos around us, in part through connection with the spirit world, through the calling forth of the hidden divine, the Infinite).

These segmented caterpillars or centipedes I believe are actually the rising column of the Milky Way. Below is a "screen shot" of a scene from the excellent open-source planetarium app, In it, the rising column of the Milky Way is clearly visible -- and the fact that it actually rises in "two sides" or "two pillars" (especially towards the bottom of the screen) is quite apparent: this is caused by the dark or empty area in between the sides of the Milky Way at this portion, which is known as the Great Rift (discussed here in conjunction with the Maya calendar).

If you are very familiar with the constellations of our night sky, you may be able to spot the zodiac constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpio) in the lower part of that rising Milky Way: the stinger-tail of the Scorpion reaches right into the center of the Milky Way at its base (just above the horizon in the planetarium image above, not far from the big red letter "S" that indicates the direction South on the horizon as we look at the sky).

I believe very strongly that the long reaching black "hand-and-arm-like" feature in the Painted Rock panel, which reaches right into the space between the two rising segmented centipede-like columns (which are the sides of the Milky Way, in my analysis) is in fact the stinger-tail of the Scorpion:

Let's just illustrate that on the star-map and then on the depiction of Painted Rock, so that everyone can see that (Scorpion outlined in green, below):

And below, just in case anyone was not sure what part I believe to be indicative of the part of the constellation we think of as the Scorpion's tail, it is shown on the Painted Rock illustration (and the Milky Way column is also labeled):

There are many other figures in the above section of the Painted Rock panel, which help to confirm this interpretation.

One of the most important of these, I think, is the "Turtle" figure that is shown just above the long "arm" that I identify as the "Tail of Scorpio" in the above image. 

Located right in the middle of the rising Milky Way, above the Scorpion's Tail, I believe this Turtle is in fact the same constellation that we usually refer to as Aquila, the Eagle. Note that the upper "head" of the Turtle can be interpreted as having three "stars" indicated (which Aquila has in its head as well), and then note the little white "tiny paddle-shaped" hands and feet of the Turtle: these are indicative of the locations of stars in the Aquila constellation as well. 

Aquila also has a bit of a dangling "tail," just as this Turtle does in the ancient rock art.

Just above the Aquila, and facing it, is the other great bird of the Milky Way galaxy: Cygnus the Swan. In the rock art above, we see a kind of insect-like "stick figure" which does not really look like a Swan, but which actually has a "double-triangle" shape at the end facing the Turtle. This shape is in fact most reminiscent of Cygnus, even though Cygnus in the sky is much larger than this stick-insect (the rock art depictions are not always exactly done to what we would call "scale"):

And below is the planetarium sky-image again, this time with Aquila the Eagle and Cygnus the Swan also drawn in:

This should be plenty of evidence to at least begin to strongly suspect the possibility that the Painted Rock imagery is celestial imagery. Don't forget that in addition to the three constellations just described, the Painted Rock art also depicts the Milky Way (complete with the Great Rift). In the image of the sky just below, the Milky Way is also indicated.

And, that's not all for this particular portion of the pictograph: there is also the "humanoid" figure just above the "reaching arm" identified as the Scorpion's Tail. 

This humanoid is located just above the head of the Scorpion, which means that it almost certainly represents Ophiucus, the Serpent-Handler -- an extremely important ancient constellation, and one with a very oblong body, just as the humanoid outline in the Painted Rock panel is decidedly oblong:

And then below the outline of Ophiucus in the Painted Rock panel is very much reminiscent of the actual constellation -- complete with the "upraised" portion that you can see on the right side of Ophiucus in the above illustration (the "head" of the serpent he is holding to the right of his body as we look at him):

This analysis should pretty much confirm to even the most skeptical observer that the ancient artists who created the Painted Rock pictographs may well have been depicting the awe-inspiring and spiritually-symbolic constellations of our night sky.

Note the "upraised hand" on the right side of the Ophiucus figure as we look at him (the arrow labeled "Ophiucus" is pointing to it). This corresponds to the "head of the snake" just described in the actual constellation as seen in the sky.

The other two sections of the "mural" that I've outlined with "boxes" are the "blue box" and the "purple box." 

We could do another detailed analysis of each of these similar to that done in the "green box" analysis just above. However, the reader is invited to try to see the connections in these for himself or herself. I believe they add powerful additional evidence which helps confirm that we are dealing with celestial imagery in these ancient "pictographic texts" from the plains of Carrizo.

Below is a detailed close-up of the imagery found in the "blue box":

This one should be fairly obvious. I have placed the correspondences (as I see them) in a "footnote" at the end of this post. Can you guess what the little "dog-bone" shaped item is on the left of the above image, as well as the two "bulls-eye" circles below the main portion of this painting? I believe the two large "bulls-eye" circles are large stars -- which ones might they be?  (My interpretations are below).

And here is the "purple box" section:

This one is a little trickier.

Look to the far lower-left portion of the selection above: you will see a figure who is kind of "tipped forward" as if running, and some "wavy lines" are kind of "spilling out" of its gut-region (this may in fact remind you of a certain New Testament incident concerning the demise of someone important). The wavy lines are emanating just behind an outstretched arm on this figure.

It is running "the opposite direction" as the direction I would have drawn it, based on the outline of the constellation in the night sky.  

If you want to know my interpretation, see the second footnote at the end of this post. (Hint: It's a zodiac constellation).

Further to the right of that "pitched forward" figure whose "guts" are coming out is a large "lizard-figure" with "crossed legs" and a kind of "painted-in" area inside his crossed lower legs.

Can you think of any constellations in the zodiac which feature two things (the "feet" of this Lizard) that are kind of "tied together" in the way that the "lower legs" of this rock-art Lizard are tied together (or at least crossed)?

If so, what is in between those two items that are tied together or connected in a "v-shape" in the same way that the Lizard's legs are connected in a "V"?

Could that celestial figure between two Lizard legs be a celestial figure whose name is a geometric shape?

I believe that it could. 

In fact, I believe that the figures in the two panels above can be shown to be constellations, just as the first panel we examined in detail contains constellation-art.

I would submit that the presence of a celestial "text" inside of a sacred space (associated with the divine feminine, and with contact with the Underworld realm of the spirit world) indicates that the artists who produced this incredible ancient monument were extremely sophisticated, and that they were possibly preserving and passing on important knowledge about contact with that unseen realm.

It is knowledge that is associated with the first of the two visions offered by Black Elk and by the analysis of Peter Kingsley: the positive vision, the vision of connectedness, the vision of elevating and bringing forth the spiritual aspect in ourselves and in others and in the cosmos around us. 

And this ancient sacred textual repository in this ancient sacred site was literally blasted by desecrators who were either so ignorant of that ancient wisdom that they disregarded it altogether and saw it as having no value at all, or so divisive in their thinking (dividing up humanity into "my group" and "everyone else") that they disrespected the culture that produced it as "primitive" or otherwise unworthy of respect, or else they were (and this is probably the worst possibility) sworn enemies of that vision and that ancient knowledge, and dedicated to suppressing it and keeping it from humanity (to whom it actually belongs as a treasured inheritance given to all people in ancient times, all around the world, in many different forms).

The fact that these descriptions took place in the 1930s is quite disturbing, given the other horrible events that were being unleashed elsewhere around the globe during those years and the following decades.

In a sense, the deliberate destruction of the ancient wisdom in the sacred site of Painted Rock is a visible echo of the deliberate obscuration of the celestial metaphors found in other ancient texts from around the world (including the texts known today as the Old and New Testaments of the Bible). All those ancient texts also employ celestial metaphors -- and I would argue that all of them also deal with the inner connection to the Infinite, and that they indeed can be viewed as "manuals" for connecting with the Invisible Realm.

The fact that Painted Rock is in the condition that it is in today, after surviving intact for perhaps as many as 4,000 years, shows just how relevant this struggle between the two competing "visions" still remains, right up to this very day.


Below is an image of the area where the panels of rock art depicted by Campbell Grant are located:

The section with the "reaching arm" (which I believe is the Tail of Scorpio) can be seen at the top left portion of the above image, just above the long horizontal crack-line.  The panels to the right of that, where the "blue box" is located for example, is now almost completely obliterated.

My interpretations of the images in the blue box and purple box:

1.  Blue box: The main figures, with the stars above their heads, are almost certainly the Twins of Gemini. The two stars are the stars we call Castor and Pollux. The "linked arms" of the Twins in the rock art is extremely reminiscent of the constellations in the sky.

To the left of the Twins in the sky (for viewers in the northern hemisphere) is the "Little Dog" or Canis Minor, with a bright star Procyon. This may be the little "Y-shaped" dog-bone figure to the left of the image in the blue box of the rock art.

The two big circles that I believe to be two bright stars below Gemini are probably Betelgeuse (on the left in the image) and Aldebaran (darker and not as big). The other possibility is Sirius (instead of Betelgeuse) and Aldebaran.

2.  The "running forward" and falling or tipping-forward figure, with wavy water-lines coming out of his gut-region, is almost certainly Aquarius.  You can even see something like his "Water Jug" in the image, not far from his outstretched arm.  In the night sky, he seems to be running the other direction, but the ancient artist obviously chose to have Aquarius running towards the right in this image.

The "crossed legs" at the lower part of the Lizard are probably the Fishes of Pisces (the feet themselves might be the two Fishes themselves, which in the sky are actually shaped like ovals and not really much like fish). The space between the knees of the Lizard, colored-in in white by the ancient artist (or at least by Campbell Grant in this painting, which he based upon old photographs), is almost certainly meant to indicate the Great Square of Pegasus.

These additional celestial identifications help confirm that what we are looking at in the Painted Rock is a sophisticated ancient site using celestial metaphor, probably as symbolic of the realm of spirit (as is common for celestial allegory literally around the globe, from ancient Egypt to other parts of Africa and China and Japan and Siberia and to ancient Greece and to the Norse people of Scandinavia and as far south as Australia).

The Djed Column every day: Earendil

The Djed Column every day: Earendil

Orion rising on the eastern horizon (left), crossing the center of the southern sky (center, directly over the letter "S"), and sinking down into the west (right). (Click to enlarge). Planetarium app:

In the previous post, we took what appeared to be a quick break from the discussion in the preceding posts regarding one of the central foundational themes of all the world's ancient myths: the dual physical-spiritual nature of human existence and indeed the dual physical-spiritual nature of the world / universe / cosmos in which we find ourselves, embodied in the great annual cross of the solstices and equinoxes, and in the "casting down" and "raising-up" of the Djed column of Osiris in ancient Egyptian symbology.

Previous posts explored evidence of that cycle operating in the Easter cycle in the New Testament, beginning with the scenes of the Triumphal Entry, followed by the descent that takes place beginning with the Last Supper through the Crucifixion and ultimately the Resurrection or Anastasis (a word which literally means "standing again"). 

Included in the examination was a video entitled "The Zodiac Wheel and the Human Soul" which attempts to illustrate some of the connections between the celestial mechanics involved in this worldwide mythological metaphor and the spiritual message that I believe it was intended to convey.

During that extended discussion, the assertion was made that this great foundational cycle was intended not only to explain important aspects of the "big picture" of our incarnation in this body (throwing light on central issues concerned with "the very meaning of life," if you will), but alsoto illuminate the importance of connecting with this cycle within the "shorter cycles" of our life here in this incarnate existence -- in fact, something we can and perhaps should be connecting with every single day, and maybe even throughout our waking and sleeping travels within each day!

One way that ancient sacred traditions around the world reminded themselves of the reality and immediacy of the invisible, divine, spiritual world that is present at all times in every single being and that in fact infuses and animates everything within the visible universe was certainly through the practice of what Mircea Eliade called "techniques of ecstasy" and which other researchers including Gerald Massey called "trance conditions" -- the practice of actually making contact with or entering into the invisible world, of projecting one's consciousness into the other realm. 

There is plenty of evidence that the scriptures that made their way into what we call "The Bible" are no exception (see for instance the previous post entitled "The Bible is essentially shamanic").

And, it is certainly possible to practice such techniques on a regular basis -- even every day. I initially began a "mini-series" exploring some of the methods which cultures around the world have used to enter into such a state, entitled "Ecstasy every day." However, it is not really practical to remain in such a state at all times. Therefore, I have decided that it is actually more appropriate to make a distinction between the concept of what can be called "raising the Djed" (of recognizing and remembering and elevating and evoking the spiritual aspect in ourselves and the world around us) and the practice of entering into "trance" or "ecstasy" itself (which is, in some sense, temporarily "crossing over" the condition of stasis into the realm of the spiritual to a greater or lesser degree). 

Both are important, but it may be that the condition of "ecstasy" is a special form of "raising the Djed," and that the broader concept of raising the Djed can be practiced more often -- even "all the time," while entering into a trance or ecstatic state cannot.

Therefore, I've decided to re-imagine that "Ecstasy every day" title to be a little more "broad" and examine "the Djed every day" instead. The first installment of that examination touched on the practice of qigong (or chi gung).

After that first installment, we took what seemed at the time to be a "quick detour" to explore the wonderful perspectives offered by The Lord of the Rings and the music of The Lord of the Rings. 

But as it turns out, upon further reflection, it wasn't a detour at all, because it can be satisfactorily demonstrated that the same fundamental theme is absolutely operating within Tolkien's story, on multiple levels -- which is not surprising, given the fact that J.R.R. Tolkien himself had a deep connection to ancient myth and was one of the most knowledgeable scholars in the world on certain families of mythology during his lifetime.

In fact, Tolkien's work provides a beautiful window which leads right in to the discussion of the vital importance of the Djed concept.

As some readers are already aware, the Djed column in ancient Egypt was associated with the god Osiris: it was known as the "backbone of Osiris" and the symbol of the Djed column itself was usually depicted with horizontal segments resembling "vertebrae" in a backbone (see for instance the images of the Djed from the Papyrus of Ani discussed here). 

In some ancient Egyptian art portraying episodes from the story of the murder of Osiris by Set and the recovery of the tamarisk tree containing his casket by Isis, such as the imagery discussed in this previous post, the tree with the casket is depicted as a Djed. The Djed column, in other words, was understood as a symbol of Osiris.

Readers are probably also aware that Osiris was strongly associated with the constellation Orion -- the constellation in the night sky with the highest ratio of bright stars to total stars, and one of the most-recognizable figures in the heavens, making it a fitting representation of the "lord of the underworld," if the heavenly realm is seen as a symbol of the incorporeal realms. The glorious nearby star Sirius, the brightest of all the fixed stars, was associated with Isis.

Once we understand that the Djed is symbolically associated with Osiris, and that Osiris is associated with Orion, then we can more readily understand that the motion of the constellation Orion itself illustrates the great theme of the casting down and the raising back up of the Djed. 

In his nightly motion, Orion can be seen rising in the east and tracing an arc across the sky prior to sinking back down into the west, just as the sun does during the day. During different times of year, of course, Orion rises at a different time due to the progress of the earth in its orbit, which means that at some parts of the year he is already far across the sky by the time the sun goes down (as he is now), but just considering his motion in general we can see how he embodies the casting down and the raising up of the Djed.

When Orion is first rising on the horizon, he appears in a nearly horizontal position, as can be seen in the image at the top of this post (in which the view is from the perspective of an observer in the northern hemisphere at about latitude 35 north, similar to the latitude of Egypt and the Mediterranean, and looking towards the south, with due south in the center, the eastern horizon to the left, and the western horizon to the right). As he arcs upwards into the heavens he becomes vertical. Then, as he sinks back down towards the western horizon he becomes horizontal again.

In the image above, the stars of Orion are shown in all three locations: rising in the east, vertical in the center of the sky at the high point of their arc across the heavens, and then sinking down into the west and becoming horizontal again. Readers who are able can go out this very evening after sunset and see the stars of Orion with his distinctive three-star belt sinking down towards the west.

Below, the same image is reproduced, but this time imagery of Osiris has been added, illustrating the way that the stars of Orion himself portray the "casting down" of the Djed (particularly as Orion sinks down into the west) as well as the subsequent "raising back up" (or Anastasis) of the god -- and a vertical Djed column is depicted directly above Orion's head in the central position:

To add further support, if any is needed, to the argument that the nightly motion of Orion was anciently associated with the casting-down of Osiris and the Djed and with the subsequent raising back up of the same, there are many examples of sacred art in ancient Egypt which actually depicts Osiris lying "cast down" on his funeral bier in the same striding posture that typifies the stars of Orion -- see for example here.

Since no one can, as a practical matter, stride around anywhere while lying upon a bier, and since the ancient Egyptians obviously knew that just as well as we do, the fact that they sometimes depicted Osiris in a horizontal position but with his feet apart as if walking purposefully forward is a major clue that these drawings depict the constellation Orion as he looks when he is near either of the two horizons: horizontal rather than upright, but still in the characteristic "striding" posture that Orion always has, whether he is straight up or lying down.

Below is one more set of images I've prepared in order to illustrate the identification of Orion with the celestial Osiris, and with the casting down and raising up of the Djed.

First, a closer "zoom" of the constellation as it appears on the horizon, to show that Orion really does look "horizontal" when he is near the horizons (the images above de-emphasize this fact, because of the fact that they "wrap" the horizon like a planetarium, and so the horizon itself on the left edge and right edge or east and west of the image, as well as constellations parallel to the horizons on the left and right sides of the images above, appear more "vertical" and upright in those images than they do along the actual horizon outside):

In the above image, you can see that Orion really does look as if he is lying on his funeral bier when he is located at the eastern horizon (rising), and the same is true after he crosses the sky and begins to sink back down into the western horizon (setting).

If we superimpose the outline of the "striding Osiris" on a bier as he is depicted in the Dendera Temple relief linked previously, we can see how this celestial figure represents the Djed of Osiris "cast down" (but preparing to rise again):

Below is another version of the "Orion in three positions" crossing the night sky, this time with the horizons left more "flat" (without the "planetarium wrapping effect"):

(Click to enlarge).

And one more time, with the outlines of Osiris added, to assist in locating the constellation Orion for those less familiar, as well as to illustrate the way Orion's motion embodies the "Djed cast down" and "Djed raised back up."

Now, to bring in the Tolkien connection to this subject, we must delve into the mythological traditions discussed by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend in their landmark examination of the celestial foundations of the world's myths, Hamlet's Mill (first published in 1969). There, they cite previous generations of scholars who demonstrate that the myths upon which Shakespeare's Hamlet are based, in which a king is murdered by his brother and must be avenged by his son, existed in northern Europe going back many centuries before Shakespeare, and that in the 12th century version discussed by Saxo Grammaticus, Hamlet's father's name is Horwendil. This same mythical figure also appears in the Eddas and in other myths, under names that are vary slightly but can clearly be seen to be linguistically related, as Orwandel, Orendel, Erentel, Erendel, Horvandillus, Horwendil, Oervandill, Orvandil, and Aurvadil (see Hamlet's Millpages 12, 87, 95, 155, and especially Appendix 2; an online version of the text is available here).

But the mythological pattern of the Hamlet myth goes back even further, as de Santillana and von Dechend demonstrate: in fact, it is clearly the exact same pattern as the Osiris myth, in which the rightful king  (Osiris) is killed by his malevolent brother (Set) and must be avenged by his son (Horus). Von Dechend and de Santillana demonstrate convincingly (with citations and references to numerous scholars of previous generations) that Orvandil the father of Hamlet represents a manifestation in mythology of the mighty archer in the sky, Orion, in the same way that Osiris does in the sacred traditions of ancient Egypt.

And, as some readers have perhaps already deduced, the name of this lost father of Hamlet -- Orvandil or Erendel -- is very close to the name of Earendil in the saga of The Lord of the Rings. In fact, there is abundant evidence that Tolkien imported this name directly from Old English, where it is found in a poem by Cynewulf, and a poem that Tolkien the premier scholar of Old English had commented upon as a personal favorite as early as 1913, forty years before the publication of the Ring story.

Specifically, Earendil is the spelling that Tolkien used for the very similar name Earendel, which is found in line 104 of Cynewulf's Christ part I (it is a poem which, like The Lord of the Rings itself, is broken into three parts). You can see it for yourself in the Old English on page 5 of the "poem" portion (after the lengthy "Introduction" portion) of this online version of Cynewulf's poem, which is actually page 115 of the online file (use the "slider" at the bottom of the "two-up" version and go to page 114 out of 421, which shows you pages 114 and 115 of the file). 

There, we read:

104 Eala Earendel, engla beorhtast
105 Ofer middengeard monnum sended

which is translated in Hamlet's Mill as follows:

"Hail, Earendel, brightest of angels, thou
sent unto men upon this Middle Earth . . ." (355).

and which is actually part of an extended section of the poem praising the Christ using many epithets. What is most interesting is that the Old English poet Cynewulf (who lived in either the 8th, 9th, or 10th century AD, depending on which scholarly argument you accept) is here clearly associating the Christ with the celestial figure of Orion, whether Cynewulf knew it or not (and one should not assume that poets of previous centuries knew less about these esoteric subjects than is known today -- in all likelihood, they knew much more).

Cynewulf is thus associating the Christ with a figure who is cast down and who rises again, and we have already seen from previous discussions, including some of those linked in the second paragraph from the start of this essay, that the Christ of the New Testament can be shown to have very clear Osirian parallels.

That Earendel in the poem is also a starry figure is fairly clear from the context -- and in fact this portion of the poem is translated by Charles W. Kennedy on the top of page 4 of the year 2000 translation available online here in unmistakably celestial terms, as follows:

Hail Day-Star! Brightest angel sent to man throughout the earth, and Thou steadfast splendor of the sun, bright above stars! Ever Thou dost illumine with Thy light the time of every season.

In The Lord of the Rings, Earendil is the ancient High Elven king who carried the light of the morning star on his brow to Middle Earth in the high and far-off times. This star is the most beloved star of the Elves, and a portion of its light is given to Frodo to help him in his quest, in the Phial of Galadriel. 

Earendil is also the father of Elrond the Half-Elven, which is extremely intriguing, and makes Elrond something of a Hamlet figure. And indeed, in the story, Elrond is a figure who is often shown as somewhat conflicted, able to see the future but in a way that nearly drives him to despair. He is also shown as bringing his daughter to tears by his harsh words, in much the same way that Hamlet in the Hamlet story drives Ophelia to tears (and worse).

Eventually, Elrond declares that the time of his people is over, and they must disappear into the west (which is exactly what Orion the celestial Earendil does as he sinks down into the western horizon).

So, we see that The Lord of the Rings appears to contain a reflection of the great Osirian cycle of the god who comes down to dwell among humanity (Osiris and other Osirian figures throughout mythology including Saturn, Prometheus, Quetzlcoatl, Kon-Tiki, and others are usually benevolent, civilizing figures credited with teaching men and women how to cultivate grain and in some cases how to stop eating one another) and who then disappears, often into the sea or into a cave beneath the ocean.

And, as has been argued in numerous previous posts, this moving story -- which is found in various forms in myths literally around the globe -- has an incredibly hopeful and uplifting message for us as human beings, in that it speaks not only of our "casting down" but also of our eventual "standing up again," and that it also conveys to us the message that within this life we should be going about the business of remembering who we are, and of recognizing that the visible and physical and material realities with which we are daily confronted are not the only reality or even the highest reality, that there is an invisible and spiritual reality within each and every one of us and that in fact interpenetrates every single molecule and sub-atomic particle of the universe around us, and that we can and should be actively engaged in "raising up" and bringing forward that positive spiritual reality within ourselves and within the rest of creation.

There are many, many ways that we can do this every day -- some of which involve the ecstatic state, and others which may not.

Previous posts have mentioned the practice of blessing and not cursing, the practice of aligning with and not contending with the flow of the universe (or the Tao), the practice of nonviolence on the many levels upon which that concept can be applied, and many more which each can be incorporated into daily life -- all of them related to the concept of "raising back up" as opposed to "casting down" (as opposed, that is, to degrading, debasing, objectifying, cursing, dehumanizing, and brutalizing).

Clearly, Tolkien was aware of this concept on some very deep level, and incorporated it into his beloved literary masterpiece.

Perhaps seeing these connections will cast additional light on the subject for all of us, and help us as well, in our own journey through this Middle Earth.


Below is a short video I made showing the path of Orion across the sky and the connection to Osiris and the Djed, as a supplement to the illustrations included in this post. 

Also, here is a link to a previous post from all the way back in 2011 that discusses Tolkien, Orion, and Earendil.