Athena's Web Weekly Column

  Week of August 13th - August 19th,  2010

The Glory of Heaven

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  Long, long ago in a land far, far away...

Heracles and the Serpent

Heracles and Serpent
contesting for the
celestial summit

  While studying myth, a process I have committed my entire adult life to, it has become increasingly evident that the indigenous peoples of antiquity were following the major cornerstones of Creation by observing their alignments to the stars of heaven. East and West were observed along their respective horizons of course, while South was monitored as the stars culminated high overhead. Since these traditions were based in the Northern Hemisphere, you had to rotate one hundred and eighty degrees to monitor North, around which turned all the 'divine fires' of heaven, the stars.

  The more I listen to and observe these stories, the more I am convinced that many of them had their origin during the Age of Gemini, a time when oral storytelling would have had a more powerful impact on the populace. As the Vernal Equinox (Spring) passed through the constellation of the Twins, stories emerged that 'explained' not only the motions of heaven, but also their resulting impact on those of us here on the Earth. Because Gemini is associated with the element AIR (the oldest texts tell us), artistic images of birds, eggs, and of course twins are found to predominate during this period. Myths that speak of 'being born of the Egg' refer to Creation (life) at that time.

  Because duality was seen as emanating from heaven, it was thought to be divinely sanctioned and the number 'two' was held to be sacred.

Heracles and the Milky Way

Hercules relationship to the Milky Way

  During this period (circa 6300 BC to 4800 BC), a new theological construct was put into place, and the year was divided in two. Not only was Spring important, but so was its right ascension 12 hour mark, the Autumnal Equinox and Fall, marked by the constellation Heracles (Roman Hercules). Of course, he was not known as Heracles during the 5th, 6th and 7th millennia BC, as the Golden Age of Greek culture still lay many centuries in the future. In addition to being the 'half-way mark' of heaven, Heracles, together with the constellation Draco, vied as the stellar markers of the North Celestial Pole. Because the club wielder was circumpolar, he was visible throughout the year, a very handy asset for anyone seeking to understand seasonal motion and monitor its passage.

  If we return to the stories of Heracles birth, we learn that he was one of two twins, a 'given' for celestial myths born of this time. While an infant, Zeus placed Heracles at Hera's breast as she slept. Because his nursing was rather rough, she awoke and pushed the child away, spilling her milk across heaven in what has since come to be known as the Milky Way.

Heracles and the two serpents

Serpent to his right
serpent to his left

  The Milky Way runs immediately adjacent to the constellation Heracles, where the infant lay.

  While lying in his crib, two serpents came slithering in, and while his mortal twin, lying in the opposite corner, cringed and cried in fear, Heracles grabbed each in a tiny fist and throttled them on the spot.

  On one side of Heracles lies Draco, as we have already noted. On the other lies the head of the constellation Serpens.

  Two snakes, during the time of his infancy, while the alignments of the Autumnal Equinox (the 12 hour mark) celestially kissed the individual stars of the young child.

  The opposite corner, where his mortal twin lies is the Vernal Equinox, where Spring kept the celestial Twins entertained.

Heracles and the two sky serpents

Heracles in his crib confronting the two celestial serpents
sent by Hera, the Queen of Heaven

  Much later, both Judaic and Celtic tradition would split their year into two. But this is a Greek myth you say?

  Not so.

  When Aratus (315?-240 BC), our oldest recorder of constellational data first speaks of Heracles, he is simply called 'the Kneeling One', whose name was known only to himself. Aratus is telling us that in his day the name of this constellation was unknown. By that time the Kneeling One had passed his prime, was no longer a contender as guardian of the North Celestial Pole, and no longer marked the Autumnal Equinox of heaven. His heavenly advantage had moved on and long been forgotten. As Greek mathematics elevated and advanced the interests of celestial knowledge, this motif came back into play, breathing new life into a constellational grouping for Greek and Roman stargazers, but the astronomical incentives that had engendered these myths were born of far older cultures, in distant lands, and under different divine names.

  But in his day, he truly lived up to his name. Heracles means 'the glory of Hera', the Queen of Heaven. It was because of her that he was made to suffer through his twelve labors, the twelve months of the year and constellational framework of heaven.

  Thus, through the successful passage of the twelve labors on this mortal realm, he was given leave to enter the kingdom of heaven as divinity following his death.

  For those that knew the constellation's secrets, the year was successfully observed, calibrated and mapped by a cat named Hercules.

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