Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of March 14th - March 20th,  2003

Myths of the Mediterranean

Columns Archive

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   Over the last decade Athena has been weaving a tapestry of time for us, showing how the civilizations surrounding the Mediterranean passed on a legacy of stellar wisdom, each crafting its own tale and trademark, working with the stars of heaven.

   The philosophy is an eminently simple one. Each of these cultures were carefully watching the position of the Vernal Equinox (VE), the first day of Spring, tracing its progress across the sky.

   The logic is obvious. The first day of Spring is the beginning of the agricultural year, the backbone of the economy of the river valley civilizations. Farming was their life. Coordinating timing on a 'national' scale was critically important, both for the sowing and reaping of crops.

Marduk's Net

 

Caught in the center of the Net

  The implications are extensive. This suggests a much earlier awareness of astronomical principles than traditional academic sources have been willing to admit, especially with regard to precessional motion; but it also weaves a continuity of understanding, respect, and veneration of these cultures with regard to each other. They all believed in the power of the stars (the gods) to influence life on Earth. Their creation myths are often based on the constellational position of the VE. For the Babylonians, Marduk's net, in which he catches the dragon in the center, is a metaphor for a grid systems of coordinates in which the early Sumerians 'mapped' the motions of heaven. Once Marduk defeated the dragon, he establishes the calendar and 'appoints' the seven lords of 'destinies' or 'decrees', the seven visible planets, using the 'map' of heaven, just as we might anticipate he (or Sumerian culture) would.

   Some of our earliest clues in archaeological evidence show themes of eggs, birds, and twins from the 6th and 5th millennium BC, precisely when Gemini, our 'Air' sign ruling the twins claimed the spring time mark. Eggs continue to be associated with our Spring-time rituals, even today.

Age of Gemini

 

Eggs, birds and twins
predominated during the Age of Gemini

   During the earliest Egyptian representations, the Sun falls between the horns of the Apis Bull, when the VE fell between the constellational horns circa 3100 BC. Gilgamesh is told to strike the fatal blow on the bull of heaven between the head and the horns, earmarking a myth from 2900-2700 BC. Cultural influences spread through the Phoenicians to the Minoan civilization (and later the Greeks) as Europa rides the back of the bull (continuing to follow the VE) from 1900 to 1700 BC, precisely as Minoan culture is reaching its first social flowering. The bull leaping (onto the back) rituals from Crete illustrate this culture at its height, from 1700 to 1380 BC. Jason harnesses the 'fire breathing' bulls, and makes the cut behind them with the plough, following the precessional path and moving even further from the shoulders of the bull, circa 1300 BC. Phrixus and Helle ride the back of the Ram at approximately the same time, and the Chlaldeans of the 6th and 7th centuries cut off the head of a Ram at their New Year's festival, just as the VE falls below the head of the constellational Ram.

   Finally, the Book of Revelation stands at the beginning of a new epoch, using this same tradition, together with the same vocabulary and imagery which had been passed from culture to culture like the baton of an Olympian marathon race which had been passed for literally thousands of years.

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