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1. The zodiac and precession

In a footnote to the first part of her article 'The Esoteric Character of the Gospels', published in November 1887, H.P. Blavatsky wrote:

There are several remarkable cycles that come to a close at the end of this century. First, the 5,000 years of the Kaliyuga cycle; again the Messianic cycle of the Samaritan (also Kabalistic) Jews of the man connected with Pisces (Ichthys or 'Fish-man' Dag). It is a cycle, historic and not very long, but very occult, lasting about 2,155 solar years, but having a true significance only when computed by lunar months. It occurred 2410 and 255 BC, or when the equinox entered into the sign of the Ram, and again into that of Pisces. When it enters, in a few years, the sign of Aquarius, psychologists will have some extra work to do, and the psychic idiosyncrasies of humanity will enter on a great change.

According to the average, occult figures for the precession of the equinoxes, the vernal equinox falls back 50 seconds of arc a year, and therefore takes 2160 years to move through one constellation of the zodiac (30°), and 25,920 years for a complete circuit of the zodiac. In reality, the rate of precession varies. Blavatsky used the figure of 50.10 seconds of arc per year, equivalent to 25,868 years for a complete precessional cycle. Dividing the latter figure by 12, gives (in round figures) 2155 years as the length of a messianic cycle. The rate of precession for the epoch J2000.0 is 50.288 arc-seconds per year, and the rate is said to be increasing by 0.0002 arc-seconds per year. It should be noted that the constellations of the zodiac do not really extend over exactly 30° of the ecliptic; they are of varying sizes, and some of them overlap in the sense that some lines of ecliptic longitude pass through two constellations. In addition, there is a gap between Scorpio and Sagittarius, where the ecliptic passes through the southern part of a thirteenth constellation, Ophiucus, the Serpent Bearer.

The kali-yuga began in February 3102 BC, and the first 5000 years therefore came to an end in February 1899 (= 5000 - 3102 + 1) Blavatsky suggests that the Piscean Age also came to a close at the end of the 19th century. She indicates that 2155 years elapsed between the start of the Age of Aries in 2410 BC and the start of the Piscean Age in 255 BC. If the Piscean Age also lasted 2155 years, the Aquarian Age would have begun in 1901 (= 2155 - 255 + 1) if 255 BC is a chronological date, or 1900 if it is an astronomical date. On the basis of the current rate of increase in precession, the Piscean Age would have lasted 2157 years (assuming that Pisces covers 30° of arc).

The dates of 2410 BC and 255 BC are also given by Gerald Massey and quoted by Blavatsky in her article 'Esotericism of Christian Dogma', published in December 1887. Elsewhere Blavatsky quotes slightly different figures. In The Secret Doctrine she makes two references to C.F. de Volney's remark that Aries was in its 15th degree in 1447 BC. This is just over 100 years earlier than the date of 1333 BC that we would expect on the basis of her own/Massey's figures. She also quotes on several occasions from A.H. Sayce, who says that the Age of Taurus began around 4700 BC and the Age of Aries in 2540 BC.These dates are about 130 years earlier than those given by Blavatsky.

According to one modern book on astronomy, the Age of Aries began around 2100 BC, the Age of Pisces around the start of the Christian era, and the Age of Aquarius will begin around the year 2200.7 These dates are about 300 years later than those given by Blavatsky. The astronomical date given for the beginning of the Age of Aquarius by the French Institut Géographique National is AD 2010. Schwaller de Lubicz gives a date of AD 2100. Clearly there is no consensus on where to place the boundary between Pisces and Aquarius and thus on how best to divide the zodiac into 12 equal segments of 30°. Taking the position of the equinox in 2410 BC as the boundary between Taurus and Aries (as Blavatsky does) may well be one of the best ways of fitting an artificial zodiac of 12 equal constellations to the actual zodiac.

Blavatsky says that at the beginning of the kali-yuga, in 3102 BC, the vernal equinox fell within the constellation Taurus.A more precise reference is provided in The Secret Doctrine, where J.S. Bailly is quoted as saying that at the beginning of the kali-yuga the vernal equinox approximately coincided with the Eye of the Bull (Aldebaran).10 Blavatsky supports this view when she says that Aldebaran was also in conjunction with the vernal equinoctial point about 31,000 years ago, and she adds: 'It is from this point of the ecliptic that the calculations of the new cycle were commenced.'The figure of 31,000 years is approximately equivalent to 3102 BC plus a complete precessional cycle (3102 + 1888 + 25,920 - 1 = 30,910). Calculations based on a rate of precession of 50" per year and a shift in the axis of 4° every 25,920 years indicate that Aldebaran was about 1° from the equinox in 3102 BC, and would have coincided with the equinox around 3025 BC and 30,920 BP (counting from J.2000.0).

In 255 BC, the date given by Blavatsky for the start of the Piscean Age, the vernal equinoctial point lay 2.5° west of Beta Arietis. Pisces extends over a total of about 40°, and only if we regard it as covering 30° would the Aquarian Age have begun around 1900. Geoffrey Cornelius and Paul Devereux write:

In recent decades precession has taken root in the popular imagination of the 'New Age'. However, the assumption that we are at the dawning of this Great Age owes very little to observation of the sky. Since around 100 BC the equinox point has been slowly making its way through the constellation Pisces and is only now beginning its progress through the second fish of the Pisces pair: it will not reach the same degree of longitude as the star Beta Piscium at the head of this fish until AD 2813; even stretching the case we barely brush the edge of Aquarius much before AD 2300.

We do, however, appear to be entering an age of transition, and the influence of Aquarius is likely to become progressively stronger with each passing year.

2. The zodiac and cataclysms

Cataclysms are said to occur at every renewal of the precessional cycle. The point in the zodiac from which a precessional cycle is measured can apparently vary; at present it appears to be measured from 6.4° Cancer . Some of the catastrophes on which data are available are mentioned below. It appears that earth changes can take place at any point in the precessional cycle, and the data are not sufficient to identify any overall patterns. For instance, different constellations may favour different types of catastrophe. Also, the circle of the zodiac could be divided into four quarters (corresponding to the four seasons), with the boundaries being marked by Aries (vernal equinox), Capricorn (summer solstice), Libra (autumnal equinox) and Cancer (winter solstice), and it is possible that cataclysms accompanying the equinox's entry into each quarter are severer than normal.

A large island, Ruta, in the Pacific Ocean is said to have sunk 859,000 years ago.2 At that time the vernal equinoctial point would have been at 19° Aries. The smaller island of Daitya in the Indian Ocean is said to have sunk 270,000 years ago, when the equinox would have been at 28.5° Cancer.

The approximate dates on which the last nine zodiacal ages began are as follows: Libra 17,380 BP (before present, i.e. 2000), Virgo 15,220 BP, Leo 13,060 BP, Cancer 10,900 BP, Gemini 8740 BP, Taurus 6580 BP, Aries 4420 BP (2420 BC), Pisces 255 BC, Aquarius 1900.

The melting of the ice sheets at the end of the last ice age led to a significant rise in world sea levels. This was not a gradual process; three sudden ice-melts and the collapse of glacial lakes resulted in three episodes of rapid flooding, as tens of cubic kilometres of water rushed off the polar ice caps generating earthquakes and superwaves. The three floods began about 14,000, 11,500 and 8000 years ago, and the resulting 120-metre rise in sea level destroyed many coastal settlements.

Blavatsky refers to a deluge in Central Asia 10-12,000 BP, which changed the whole face of Central Asia, and transformed the present Gobi Desert into a sea for the last time.5 Poseidonis, an island about the size of Ireland situated in the mid-Atlantic (one of the last major remnants of Atlantis), sank 'in a single day and night' in 9565 BC when the equinox was at about 9° Leo. Cro-Magnon man started to appear on the western coasts of Europe and around the shores of the Mediterranean about 40,000 years ago, and arrived in large numbers between 15,000 and 10,000 BP. One theory is that they were migrants from Poseidonis and other islands in the Atlantic, who emigrated in several waves as their homelands showed increasing signs of sinking.

One Sumerian text seems to say that the Deluge occurred in the Age of Leo. The Egyptian Pyramid Texts, too, associated a period of terrible destruction, including a flood, with the Age of Leo. Immense floods swept repeatedly down the Nile valley between 15,000 and 11,500 BP, reaching a climax around 12,500 BP.

Turning to more recent times, there was a major flood in Sumer around 5000-4800 BP, probably resulting from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers drastically changing their courses and overflowing their banks. This was towards the end of the Age of Taurus. However, according to another interpretation, the very thick silt deposit at Ur may have been laid down during a marine incursion 7500-5500 BP due to the rising sea level.

Noah's Flood is dated by Ussher's biblical chronology at 2349 BC, but there was certainly no worldwide flood at that time. Blavatsky says that Noah's flood is 'a purely mythical rendering of old traditions', and that 'as described in its dead letter and within the period of Biblical chronology', it 'never existed' but is 'a fiction based upon geological and geographical ignorance'.13 She says that the Biblical deluge relates to the partial flood which changed the whole face of Central Asia about 10,000 BC.14 The Age of Aries did, however, witness numerous natural disasters.

According to Chinese chronology, disastrous floods occurred in China in 2953 BC, 2357-2205 BC, and 1766 BC. There was a great inundation in China in 2297 BC, in the 61st year of the reign of Yao. There were major floods in Babylon in 2379 BC and Palestine in 2355 BC.17 Volcanic eruptions followed by radical climatic changes are thought to have precipitated the collapse of the Mesopotamian empire of Akkad, sometime after 2290 BC.

The vast Thar or Great Indian Desert to the east of the Indus river was once traversed by a great river, known in Vedic writings as the Sarasvati (an extension of the present-day Ghaggar or Hakra river). This once fertile region was a key centre of early Indic civilization. Around 1900 BC, in the Age of Aries, a series of tectonic upheavals caused several rivers to change their courses, leading to devastating floods and the drying up of the Sarasvati and other rivers. As a result, Indic civilization was temporarily eclipsed, and its centre shifted eastward to the Ganges and Yamuna valleys.

The Minoan civilization in the Aegean was devastated by fire, flooding, and ash, following a series of volcanic eruptions on the island of Thera (Santorini), 125 km to the north of Crete, the final explosion being dated at 1628 BC. Manetho's king list dates the flood of Deucalion to the reign of the sixth king of the 18th dynasty, or about 1500 BC.21 (Plato, however, says that it followed the sinking of Poseidonis.) Around 1250 BC, extensive flooding seems to have occurred in Anatolia (modern Turkey), burying the Bronze Age city of Tiryns, and at about the same time the rich merchant city of Troy (archaeological level VI) was destroyed by an earthquake.

The tree-ring record for the past 5000 years points to global environmental traumas between 2354 and 2345 BC, 1628 and 1623 BC, 1159 and 1141 BC, 208 and 204 BC, and AD 536 and 545. The first three fall within Blavatsky's dates for the Age of Aries. These five episodes coincide with the onset of 'dark ages' for society. They involved earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, and ocean floor outgassing. According to one school of thought, they may have been triggered by a series of cometary impacts about the size of the 20-megaton explosion at Tunguska in Siberia in 1908.

Natural disasters have of course continued into more recent times. The most devastating earthquakes in terms of human fatalities were: 526 AD, Antioch, Syria, 250,000 deaths; 1201, Upper Egypt or Syria, 1,100,000 deaths; 1556, Shensi province, China, 830,000 deaths; 1737, Calcutta, India, 300,000 deaths; 1976, T'ang-shan, China, 240,000 deaths. The eruption of Vesuvius, Italy, in AD 79 buried the cities of Pompeii and Stabiae under ashes and Iapilli and Herculaneum under a mudflow. An eruption of Kelud, Java, Indonesia, in 1586 killed 10,000 people. The eruption of Etna, Italy, in 1669 left 20,000 people dead. An eruption of Unzen, Kyushu, Japan, in 1792 killed more than 10,000 people. A tidal wave (tsunami) following an eruption of Tambora, Sumbawa, Indonesia, in 1815 killed 56,000 people. The most destructive known tsunami occurred in 1703 at Awa, Japan, killing more than 100,000 people. The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, Krakatau, Indonesia, was one of the most catastrophic in history. A series of tremendous explosions occurred, the largest being heard at a distance of 4670 km. Most of the 36,000 people killed on Java and Sumatra were drowned by tidal waves as high as 35 metres. An eruption of Pelée, Martinique, in 1902 killed 26,000 people. In 1985 mudflows triggered by explosions of Ruiz, Colombia, killed more than 22,000 people.

G. de Purucker says that the great tidal waves and earthquakes occurring in the last few thousand years are premonitions of what in a few more thousand years will occur with augmented force.25 Major cataclysms are forecast in about 16,000 years, when the equinox will lie in the middle of Cancer.27 The European cataclysm will see the submersion of the British Isles, most of France, Holland, some of Spain, and a good deal of Italy. It will not take place in a night, but will be preceded by slow sinkings of the coast and major earthquakes.

3. Herodotus and the Egyptians

In The Secret Doctrine we find four different versions of certain remarks -- possibly relating to poleshifts -- that the Egyptian priests made to Herodotus in the 5th century BC. Only one of these versions is strictly accurate.

On one occasion Blavatsky states that the Egyptian priests told Herodotus that the sun had not always risen where it now rises and that in former times the ecliptic had cut the equator at right angles.At that time the earth would have been lying on its side with its poles in the plane of the ecliptic. She refers in a footnote to Bailly's Histoire de l'astronomie ancienne, where the statement is attributed to Herodotus' History, Book II (Euterpe), 142. But if we look up this reference, we find that what Herodotus actually said was the following: 'The sun, however, had within this period of time [341 generations], on four several occasions, moved from his wonted course, twice rising where he now sets, and twice setting where now he rises.' There is no reference here to either the equator or the ecliptic, though obviously to become inverted the poles would have to pass through the plane of the ecliptic, at which time the ecliptic would cut the equator at right angles. Herodotus converts the figure of 341 generations into a period of 11,340 years.

On another occasion Blavatsky says that the Egyptian priests told Herodotus that the pole of the earth and the pole of the ecliptic had formerly coincided, i.e. that the poles had been perpendicular to the ecliptic. She does not give a source for this remark, but it is probably S.A. Mackey.

Elsewhere Blavatsky states that the Egyptian priests told Herodotus that 'even since their first Zodiacal records were commenced, the Poles have been three times within the plane of the Ecliptic, as the Initiates taught.' She also says that 'even since the time of the regular establishment of the Zodiacal calculations in Egypt, the poles have been thrice inverted.' If three 360° inversions of the axis are being referred to, 'within the plane of the ecliptic' would have to mean 'below the plane of the ecliptic' (i.e. a tilt of between 90° and 270°) for the two statements to be consistent; if it means that the poles lay in the plane of the ecliptic (i.e. that the tilt was either 90° or 270°), they would not be consistent as the north pole would pass twice through the ecliptic in each 360° inversion of the axis. If three 180° inversions are being referred to, 'three times within the plane of the ecliptic' can be interpreted quite literally to mean that the poles have passed through the ecliptic three times.

Another (accurate!) reference to Herodotus is quoted by Blavatsky from Gerald Massey, who wrote: 'The priests informed the Greek inquirer that time had been reckoned by them for so long that the sun had twice risen where it then set, and twice set where it then arose.' According to Massey, 'This . . . can only be realized as a fact in nature by means of two cycles of Precession, or a period of 51,736 years [= 2 x 25,868].' For Massey, then, this change is not the result of an inversion of the poles, but is purely an effect of the precession of the equinoxes.

R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz gives a similar interpretation to Massey, but says that only one and a half precessional cycles would be required to produce the effect referred to: Herodotus's remarks mean that 'the vernal point had twice been located in the same constellation of Aries, and that it also passed twice in the opposing constellation of Libra. This would grant the duration of one and a half precessional cycles to the entire historic and prehistoric periods, or approximately 39,000 years.

In Herodotus's time the vernal sunrise occurred in Aries, with Libra in opposition (due west). 13,000 years before that (half a precessional cycle), the vernal sunrise occurred in Libra, with Aries in opposition. Counting back another 13,000 years, the vernal sunrise would have occurred in Aries, and 13,000 years before that in Libra. Thus, in the preceding 39,000 years the vernal sunrise has occurred twice in Libra and twice in Aries. The figure of 39,000 years accords closely with the testimony of the Turin Papyrus, which shows that the ancient Egyptians considered their prehistory to go back 36,620 years before Menes (c. 4240 BC), or about 40,000 years before our era. Diodorus of Sicily reports that according to several chroniclers, gods and heroes ruled Egypt for 18,000 years, following which the land was governed by mortal kings for 15,000 years, bringing the time span of history and prehistory to a total of 33,000 years. Manetho grants 15,150 years to the divine dynasties and 9777 years to all kings who had reigned before Menes, giving a total of 24,927 years to prehistory. George the Syncellus states that the Egyptians had an ancient chronicle that mentioned 30 royal dynasties preceded by the reign of the gods, comprising a period of 36,525 years (25 sothic cycles of 1461 years).

W. Marsham Adams, following Rawlinson, gives yet another interpretation of the remarks reported by Herodotus. In his view, they refer to the sothic cycle and the heliacal risings and settings of the star Sirius (Greek: Sothis; Egyptian: Sopdit). (The heliacal rising of a star means that it rises just before the dawn, so that it is visible very briefly before being lost in the solar rays.) The Egyptians had a civil or vague year of 365 days, and a fixed or sothic year of 365.25 days based on the heliacal rising of Sirius, which approximately coincided with the summer solstice and the rise of the Nile. A sothic cycle commences when the civil and sothic years begin on the same day. The first day of the civil year then falls back in relation to the sothic year by a quarter of a day each year, or one day every four years. The first day of the civil and sothic years will therefore again coincide after 365 x 4 = 1460 sothic years (or 365.25 x 4 = 1461 civil years) -- this being the length of the sothic cycle. Adams writes:

Since in the course of the cycle, the heliacal risings take place on each day of the entire year, they will run during the first half of the cycle in one direction (relatively to the earth's orbit) and in the latter half in the opposite. And since there is also a corresponding series of settings, subject to a similar change of direction, the two series would in each cycle make up a double reversal, interchanging positions not once but twice. . . . We learn [from Herodotus], therefore, that two Sothiac cycles (four reversals) had been completed since the institution of the scientific Kalendar; so that the cycle then current in the time of Herodotus would be the third. And as there is evidence that that cycle was completed in A.D. 139, and therefore commenced in 1322 B.C.; at which epoch Sothis rose heliacally at Memphis about a week before the solstice, and the Rising of the river was heralded by the Orient of the star. Hence, therefore, we conclude that the commencement of the first Sothiac cycle and the institution of the scientific Kalendar took place (2 x 1,461 years previously, i.e.) at the summer solstice of 4244 B.C. . . .

4. Three axial inversions?

H.P. Blavatsky writes:

The astronomical records of Universal History . . . are said to have had their beginnings with the Third Sub-race of the Fourth Root-race or the Atlanteans. When was it? Occult data show that even since the time of the regular establishment of the zodiacal calculations in Egypt, the poles have been thrice inverted

There are three possible interpretations of this passage (these interpretations are not mutually exclusive).

(1) Simplicius, in the 6th century AD, wrote that he had heard that the Egyptians had kept records of astronomical observations for a period of 630,000 years. However, this only allows enough time for the angle of inclination to change by about 100°. Blavatsky says that the zodiacs in the Egyptian Temple of Dendera show the passage of over three precessional cycles, but during this time the inclination of the axis would have changed by only 12°. Perhaps the word 'invert' is not meant literally, and Blavatsky means that the axis has shifted (by four degrees) in each of the last three precessional cycles.

(2) The ancient Egyptians are said to have obtained their zodiac from the Atlanteans of Ruta. As for the Atlanteans, we are told that 'their zodiacal records cannot err, as they were compiled under the guidance of those who first taught astronomy, among other things, to mankind'.Perhaps, then, the reference to Egypt is a blind and the three inversions actually refer to the period that has elapsed since the Atlantean zodiac was established in their third subrace. If our fifth root-race originated at the start of the fifth subrace of the fourth root-race, the period since the beginning of the third subrace of the Atlanteans would have covered nearly 5 1/2 subraces; each subrace lasts 49 precessional cycles,6 so that the total period would have spanned approximately 260 precessional cycles. Since the earth's axis takes 90 precessional cycles to invert 360°, it would take 270 precessional cycles for it to undergo three complete inversions.

In the Dendera zodiacs, the constellation Virgo is said to appear three times. One interpretation is that this means that the equinox has precessed through these constellations (and in fact all the others too) three times, and that the zodiacs indicate (among other things) the passage of three precessional cycles. This interpretation corresponds to the first interpretation given above. But Blavatsky gives another interpretation:

the three 'Virgins,' or Virgo in three different positions, meant, with both [the Hindus and the Egyptians] the record of the first three 'divine or astronomical Dynasties,' who taught the Third Root-Race; and after having abandoned the Atlanteans to their doom, returned (or redescended, rather) during the third Sub-Race of the Fifth, in order to reveal to saved humanity the mysteries of their birth-place -- the sidereal Heavens.

Did the Atlanteans (and in a sense, therefore, the later Egyptians) obtain their zodiac from divine instructors during their third subrace, just as the fifth race did? In view of the fact that Blavatsky also refers to the third root-race in the above quotation, it should be borne in mind that, since the root-races overlap, with each root-race beginning around the midpoint of its predecessor, the third subrace of the Atlanteans would have coincided with one of the later subraces (perhaps the sixth) of the third, Lemurian root-race. We are told that during their last two subraces, the Lemurians (or Lemuro-Atlanteans) established the first civilizations under the guidance of their divine instructors, who taught them the arts and sciences, including astronomy.

(3) The passage may refer to three 180° inversions of the axis rather than three 360° inversions. In the fifth century BC Herodotus was told by the Egyptian priests that during the past 341 generations, the sun had twice risen where it now sets and twice set where it now rises. This does not necessarily mean that the sun used to rise in the west and set in the east, because as long as the earth rotates on its axis from west to east, as it does at present, the sun will always rise in the east and set in the west, even when the poles are inverted -- unless, of course, what we now call the earth's north pole is renamed the south pole when its inclination exceeds 90°, so that the earth could then be said to rotate from east to west. S.A. Mackey suggests that Herodotus is actually referring to the constellations in which the sun rises and sets: at any given time, the constellations in which the sun rises and sets would be reversed if the earth were to be suddenly inverted.
Herodotus converts the figure of 341 generations into a period of 11,340 years.

However, this is only enough time for the tilt of the axis to change by about 1.7°. Herodotus explains that the figure of 11,340 years is based on a conversion factor of 100 years for every three generations. Curiously, this conversion factor would actually give a period of nearer 11,367 years. Perhaps Herodotus knew more than he was prepared to reveal, and by 'generation' he meant a cycle or period with a length of 11,340 years. Multiplying 11,340 by 341 gives a period of 3,866,940 years, during which time the axis would have moved about 597° (3 x 180° = 540°). This period began not long after the start of the satya-yuga, during the first subrace of the nascent Aryan race. At this time, the axis would have been inclined at an angle of about 100°. It would have been in the plane of the ecliptic when it reached an angle of 270°, and, after returning to 0° (360°), again at 90° and 270°, before reaching its present angle of 336.6° (23.4°). This is in agreement with Blavatsky's statement (taken from Mackey12) that the Egyptian priests told Herodotus that 'even since their first Zodiacal records were commenced, the Poles have been three times within the plane of the Ecliptic, as the Initiates taught'.13 This is also sufficient time for the sun to have twice risen where it now sets and twice set where it now rises, in the sense indicated by Mackey. n Mackey's view, the Dendera zodiacs record a period of about 3.5 million years, or three 180° inversions of the poles.

The above speculations are based on the assumption that the inclination of the axis changes at an average rate of 4° every 25,920 years, and no account is taken of the influence of sudden disturbances of the axis, on which no definite information has been given.

5. The Dendera zodiacs

The Egyptian Temple of Dendera, dedicated to the goddess Hathor, is thought to have been constructed by the Ptolemies in the first century BC, but on the site of an earlier temple. It contains two zodiacs: a rectangular zodiac, carved in the ceiling of the hypostyle hall, and a circular zodiac, about 8 feet across, found on the ceiling of a chapel on the temple roof.

The zodiacs have been the subject of great controversy and have been interpreted in many different ways. They were probably intended to record more than one important date.

Some early French writers assigned the zodiacs an age of 15,000 years or more on the grounds that certain of the constellations were repeated at an interval of six signs. This applies, for example, to Aquarius in both the circular zodiac and the rectangular zodiac . Sampson Arnold Mackey pointed out that the Goat is found at the top of the rectangular zodiac, while the Crab/Scarab is divided into two separate figures at the bottom. He argued that this indicated that the winter solstice then occurred in the 15th degree of Cancer -- which it did just over 16,000 years ago. The Ram was then an autumn constellation, while Virgo was a March constellation -- this was the Egyptian month of harvest, and Virgo appropriately holds an ear of corn.

On the basis of a detailed analysis, John Bentley rejected such an antiquity for the zodiacs and concluded that they were 'nothing more nor less than the Roman Calendar for the year 708 of Rome, translated into hieroglyphics'. Whether they represent this date or not, some of the features of the zodiacs were not explained by Bentley or were interpreted wrongly.

R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz argued that the circular zodiac of Dendera marked three important dates, associated with the last three zodiacal ages :

1. A line drawn perpendicular to the temple's axis runs between the end of the Ram and the beginning of Pisces, indicating the position of the equinox around 100 BC, the date of the construction of the temple and the sculpting of the zodiac. The celestial pole for that time is located in one of the paws of the jackal, Anubis (Ursa Minor). The ecliptic pole is located in the breast of the female hippopotamus, Apet (Draco).

2. The true east-west line traverses Aries, indicating the position of the equinox in about 1200 BC, at the height of the cult of Amun the Ram. This equinoctial line passes through the two points where circles (of equal radius) drawn around the celestial and ecliptic poles intersect.

3. A third equinoctial line, indicated by the hieroglyphs of east and west drawn on the exterior of the disk, passes between Gemini and Taurus, indicating the date of the foundation of the empire, the beginning of the cult of the sacred Bull, Apis, and the adoption of the new calendar, in about 4240 BC.

S.A. Mackey believed that, as well as representing an antiquity of about 16,000 years, the Dendera zodiacs also represented a far greater antiquity. He argued that the rectangular zodiac represents the earth's poles in the plane of the ecliptic (i.e. a tilt of 90°), which last occurred over 400,000 years ago, and that the circular zodiac represents the earth's poles coinciding with the ecliptic poles (i.e. a tilt of 180° or 0°), which last occurred over 540,000 years earlier, when the earth's axis was inverted. He also says that the zodiacs have features indicating that these positions of the poles had been repeated three times -- a reference to the depictions of Leo and Virgo. The zodiacs therefore represented an antiquity of some 3.5 million years, during which time the earth's poles had been 'three times within the plane of the ecliptic'. It is interesting to note that, as well as referring to Mackey as the Oedipus who had understood the riddle of the zodiacs, H.P. Blavatsky also commented: 'On the Dendera Zodiac as preserved by the modern Egyptian Coptic and Greek adepts, and explained a little differently by Mackey . . .

The circular zodiac contains two Lions. In one of them the Lion's tail is turned up over its back (no. 65, but shown more clearly in figure 1, which is more accurate), indicating according to Mackey that the Lion (and every other constellation) had become inverted. In the other, the Lion's tail curves downward . In the rectangular zodiac, the Lion's tail likewise curves downward at an angle of 40 to 50° .

Mackey writes that in the rectangular zodiac 'we see three Virgins between the Lion and the Scales; the last of which holds, in her hand, an ear of wheat'.The figure of Virgo holding an ear of wheat is clearly recognizable. But where are the other two Virgos that Mackey refers to?

Mackey's belief that the two female figures standing directly to the right of the Virgo holding a wheat ear are also Virgos is almost certainly wrong; such figures can be seen standing before many of the constellations in the rectangular zodiac, usually beside a tablet. There are actually a total of 19 such figures: nos. 10, 11, 15, 26, 27, 34, 35, 43, 45, 59, 65, 66, 72, 73, 79, 88, 89, 93, 99 -- and it's rather unlikely that they are all Virgos, or that just two of them are Virgos!

According to Mackey, in the circular zodiac, too, 'there are three virgins, which represent the three Decans, into which each sign of the Zodiac was divided. But, here, the first virgin is represented with a Child on her knee . . .' The Virgo holding a child and the Virgo holding a wheat stalk are clearly recognizable (nos. 53 and 56 ). But where is the third Virgo? The figure holding a scythe (, no. 59), standing between the Virgo with a child and the Lion is said by Mackey to represent Bootes, so the only remaining candidate for the third Virgin appears to be the figure to the left of the Virgin holding a wheat ear (, no. 60). But it is an odd-looking and rather unconvincing Virgin!

Returning to the rectangular zodiac, there are two figures standing just to the left of Leo, in the damaged part of the zodiac. However, it is difficult to make out exactly what they represent. If the figure (holding a whip) standing immediately behind the Lion represents Virgo, then the same would presumably apply to the female figure standing behind one of the Lion's in the circular zodiac . If this is the case, then the circular zodiac would indeed contain three Virgos, just as the rectangular zodiac may conceivably do. Taking the two Dendera zodiacs together, even if we ignore the more doubtful Virgos, there are still a total of three.

Virgo and Leo are not the only constellations that appear more than once in either of the Dendera zodiacs, as the following table (which is far from definitive) shows:

Circular Zodiac Rectangular Zodiac
Virgo 2? (nos. 56, 53) 1? (no. 67)
Leo 2 (nos. 46, 65) 1 (no. 61)
Cancer 1 (no. 39) 2 (near the feet of Nut)
Gemini 2 (nos. 35, 82) 1 (no. 48)
Aries 2 (nos. 25, 36, seated on Thigh/Ursa Major) 1 (no. 29)
Pisces 2? (nos. 18, 64) 1 (no. 17)
Aquarius 2 or 3? (nos. 10, 50, 64) 2 (nos. 12, 56)

The Secret Doctrine contains three references to the 'three Virgos'. One of these is the quotation of Mackey's remark that in the rectangular zodiac 'we see three Virgins between the Lion and the Scales' In the SD, the three Virgos appear to be linked to three different dates:

(a) They represent three precessional cycles:

'Isis-Osiris' reigned in Egypt before the Dendera Zodiac was painted on the ceiling of that temple, and that is over 75,000 years ago!

since the Dendera Zodiac shows the passage of three sidereal years, the great Pyramid must have been built 78,000 years ago . . .
the Egyptians have on their Zodiacs irrefutable proofs of records having embraced more than three-and-a-half sidereal years -- or about 87,000 years . . .

(b) They represent three 180° inversions of the axis:

the Dendera zodiac . . . , with its mysterious three Virgos between the Lion and Libra, has found its Oedipus [Mackey], who understood the riddle of these signs, and justified the truthfulness of those priests who told Herodotus that . . . even since their first Zodiacal records were commenced, the Poles have been three times within the plane of the Ecliptic.

(c) They represent three 360° inversions of the axis:

The three 'Virgins,' or Virgo in three different positions, meant, with both, the record of the first three 'divine or astronomical Dynasties,' who taught the Third Root-Race; and after having abandoned the Atlanteans to their doom, returned (or redescended, rather) during the third Sub-Race of the Fifth, in order to reveal to saved humanity the mysteries of their birth-place -- the sidereal Heavens.

In short, the Dendera zodiacs are open to multiple interpretations!


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