So much is written about the zodiac signs, the constellations on which the year-long path of the Sun passes. Symbolism of these celestial brethren is probably the most popular in the world! But let's try to figure out: what do these icons mean, what astrological and astronomical discoveries, myths and legends are hidden behind this star menagerie?
Aries: perseverance and bravery
The outdated word "aries" means "adult ram", i.e. male of the species ovis aries ("domestic sheep"). To be more precise, the constellation was named after a steep horned flying lamb from Greek mythology, whose skin became the famous Golden Fleece, and the curved horns are easily visible in the symbol of this sign. However, there are a number of other guesses in this regard. In this sign, some see the Latin letter V, decoding it as a symbol of victory – from the word victoria, others see an explosion or fountain, which quite complies with the dynamic, persistent nature of people born under this sign. Since Aries is the first of the zodiacal signs, some astrologers see the sunrise in his symbol. And others ironically claim that the Aries wear their symbol literally on their face – allegedly among them it is common to have unibrows.
Taurus: strong spirit
The symbol of Taurus sign is very recognizable: it looks like a bull's head with horns. Meanwhile, astrologers see more than that. Some believe that the circle symbolizes the human spirit, and the arc of the horns represents the soul; others see this sign as a schematic representation of the human larynx. Let's note that in medical astrology this sign presents neck and throat. The mythological roots of this constellation go back to deep antiquity – to the primitive cults of fertility and prehistoric myths, the most famous of which is the myth of the abduction of Europa, the Phoenician Princess by Zeus. As you know, this loving chairman of the antique pantheon, in order to seduce beauties – goddesses, princesses, ordinary women – was able to take a variety of appearances. One of them was the snow-white bull, which took the Phoenician Princess to the island of Crete.
The symbol of this sign resembles the Roman digit "two" II and depicts a couple of brothers united by infinite friendship. Different people named them differently, but they were always two brothers separated and seeking to reconnect. Arcs at the top and bottom of the sign – reaching hands, and the sign of Twins itself, according to medical astrology, "indicates" the upper limbs. This sign is associated with the legend about the Dioscuri – Castor and Pollux, sons of Leda (twins, from different fathers, though in myths crazier things happen!). When Castor, born of the mortal – Leda's husband, king Tyndareus – died in battle, Pollux, the son of Zeus, asked his father to deprive him of immortality not wanting to survive his brother. And then Zeus allowed them to live alternately in the kingdom of the dead, then in Olympus. The legend of separated brothers could also be based on an astronomical fact: one of the two brightest stars of the constellation of Gemini – Castor – is visible in the morning, and the other, Pollux, in the evening.
Cancer: Yin and Yang
The Cancer symbol is very similar to the Chinese "yin-yang", that is the compound of male and female beginnings. These two "commas" are also similar to six and nine. And this is also about the man and woman beginning: 6 is the number of Venus, and 9 is the number of Mars. For a reason, this sign leads the motherhood. By the way, some researchers claim that Maiden Tower of Baku was part of a pair of temples dedicated to these planets. It resembles nine in layout, and on the other side of the Caspian Sea, as they think, once was a temple paired to it, unfortunately, not preserved, but resembling number six. And the symbol of the Cancer sign looks like claws, which brings us to the legends explaining the name of this constellation. Ancient astrologers linked it to the fact that as cancer moves tail forward, so the Sun, entering this sign, begins to "back away": days go down. Cancer also appears in the legend of Heracles's second labor – the slay of the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra. Goddess Hera could not tolerate this hero and sent a giant Cancer on him, which was then brought to heaven.
Leo: kingly beast
Ancient Assyrians called him the Great Fire. The lion as a symbol of this constellation first appeared among ancient Egyptians, and for a reason: during summer drought whole packs of lions gathered around the pouring Nile. The Greeks believed that the star Lion was the same Nemean lion that Heracles had to strangle with his bare hands because his skin was impenetrable for arrows, sword and spear. The hero took his skin off him and has since worn on his shoulders instead of a cloak. The symbol of the Leo sign is very multi-meaning. It may mean both a schematic image of this animal (however, as concise as possible – just mane and tail), and the Greek letter "lambda" and even... a spermatozoon as a symbol of the birth of a new life, as the Lion is related to paternity.
Virgo: holding ears
The symbol of Virgin's sign (Virgo in Latin) is one of the most complex and mysterious in the whole zodiac circle. Astrologers of the Christian world saw in it a monogram of Our Lady – MV, i.e. Maria Virgo, Virgin Mary. In pre-Christian times, this constellation was dedicated to Zeus's mother, the goddess Rhea, or the fertility goddess Demeter, or Astarea the goddess of justice, and Themis: because of the scales this goddess of justice holds in her hand. But the most common version is that Virgo is the Greek goddess of the world Eirene, or Irene. From here comes another feature of the symbol – sheaf of ears in the hands of the Virgin. And the brightest star of this constellation is called Spica, which means "an ear".
Libra: attribute of justice
The symbol of Libra visually fully corresponds to the subsumed: it very much resembles ancient scales with two cups. In antiquity, it was believed that on these very scales, the goddess of justice, Themis, weighed human sins and transgressions. The first to mark this constellation as independent were ancient Romans. They did not immediately recognize the scales in its outline: it managed to be both the Altar and the Lamp... And the ancient Greeks at first denied the independence of this constellation at all, seeing in it only a continuation of the neighboring constellation, Scorpio, – its claws. Well, let's face it, if you use your imagination, the Libra symbol really looks like claws. Interesting detail: sometimes the icon of Libra is interpreted as an image of the sunset.
Scorpio: arrows or sting?
This constellation is closely related to another, non-zodiacal one, Orion. The legendary hunter Orion led a violent personal life, which, in fact, led to his death, pierced through... And with what exactly and why – there's a lot of versions. According to one of them, the smitten Orion chased the Pleiades sisters, after all seven of them, and so the gods slandered a giant Scorpion on him, who stung him in the leg (the star demonstrated Orion painted with his feet towards him). Another version is related to the goddess of the hunt, the virgin Artemis: Orion allegedly tried to hit on her too, but died from her arrow. Thus, the "tail" of the arrow symbol depicts either Scorpion's sting, or the arrow of Artemis, but in any case, something deadly. The rest of the sing, resembling the Latin letter m, was presented to many astrologers of antiquity as nothing other than Orion's feet, to which Scorpion gets closer to sting.
Sagittarius: the wisest of the centaurs
The symbol of Sagittarius is very simple: it is an arrow embedded in the bow and ready to fly off the bowstring. But whose arrow is that? Sumerians saw in this constellation the hero of their epic, the warrior of the underworld Pabilsag. In ancient Greek mythology, his history is associated with Chiron, the wisest of the centaurs. It was him who made the first celestial globe for the Argonauts and is believed to have reserved a place on it for himself too. But, according to one version, the evil and tricky centaur Krotos managed to take this place earlier, so Chiron had to be located in another constellation – Centauri (so it is called in Latin manner). According to another version, the place in the zodiac was finally returned to its rightful owner – Chiron after he was accidentally injured by Heracles's poisoned arrow and, suffering from this poison, chose to leave this world himself. Apparently, this arrow became a sign of the symbol.
Capricorn: no need to panic!
As in the case of Leo, in the symbol of Capricorn many see an image of the creature whose name bears this sign. It's true that this icon is trickier, so the creature is much more bizarre. According to the ancient legend, the god of forests, goat-legged Pan once played on a pipe on the bank of the river, and just at this time Zeus and Typhon, a monster with a hundred dragon heads and snakes instead of feet, decided to have there the duel. The giant Typhon was very scary. After seeing him, Pan screamed with terror and threw himself into the river: he knew how to turn into fish and hoped to sneak away. But for some reason, the poor guy was stuck in an intermediate state – the upper half of his body remained goat-like, although the lower half managed to turn into a fish tail. However, his scream distracted Typhon for a while, giving Zeus the opportunity to grab his formidable weapon – lightning to smear the enemy. In gratitude for this Zeus brought the modified Pan to heaven.
Aquarius: wind and waves
It is believed that the symbol of Aquarius's sign – two wavy lines – was invented in ancient Egypt. The flows of rivers at the time when the Sun is visiting this constellation was familiar to many civilizations, but it was the Egyptians who immortalized in the symbol of Aquarius two deep inflows of their great river – the White and Blue Nile. Practically all the peoples of the ancient world: Sumerians, Romans, Arabs, etc. called the constellation roughly the same, something like "pouring water". However, the specific character was different – from Deucalion, the ancient Greek analogue of the biblical Noah, who survived with his wife Pyrrha a terrible flood, to the beautiful young man Ganymede, by the will of Zeus ascended to Olympus to become a cupbearer of gods – here pours not water, but something stronger. However, this does not change the essence of the sign. It is interesting that the sign of Aquarius is referred not to the water element, but to the air element. This element was reflected in a symbol in the form of wavy lines depicting rivers: where do waves come from if there is no wind?
Pisces: two in single
The symbol of this sign schematically depicts two fish connected by some "umbilical cord". This is interpreted as the confrontation and relationship between the earthly and divine in human soul. The Sumerians marked this sign with word "tails" and, apparently, for a reason: after all Pisces complete the zodiacal circle, and with it the calendar year. Legends about the origin of this constellation in many ancient civilizations are similar, as the Sun's entry into the Pisces sign gave rise to the fishing season. Many myths refer to a man and a woman in fear of being thrown into the water and turned into fish. The Greeks had as many as two such myths. One is about the goddess of love Aphrodite and her son Eros, scared of Typhon, the same one who was scared by Pan. Another story tells about a couple of lovers: Nereid (the nymph of sea waters) Galatea and son of Pan Aegipan threw themselves into the water, fleeing from the violent cyclops Polyphemus, who was obsessed with Galatea.
Ophiuchus: soaring upwards
In the zodiacal circle there is also the thirteenth, hidden sign – it is the Ophiuchus. Its force lasts from about the end of November to mid-December. It is associated with the ancient legend of the divine physician Asclepius (at the Romans Esculap), the son of Apollo, who was able to revive the dead (according to another version – only trying to revive the murdered Orion). Zeus was angry at such audacity and crushed him with lightning, but then he showed compassion and brought Asclepius to heaven, and Centaurus Chiron gave him his immortality. The snake in Asclepius's hands – a symbol of physician – is reflected in the symbol of this constellation depicting a man with a snake in his hands. Priests of Maya saw this constellation as a bat, and in Iranian mythology it is associated with the three-headed snake king Zahhak described in "Avesta". It is believed that in the days of the Ophiuchus a person can break out of the vicious circle of usual problems and take-off, transforming this circle into a spiral, soaring up.
Text by Naila Bannayeva
Photo: press-materials, pictures by Johannes Hevel
The material was published in the 67th issue.