Orion worship – part 2 – Dyonisus, St. Valentine, and Archangel Michael
Roughly between 2500 and 500BC (approximations) the “celestial cross” of equinoxes and solstices looked like this:
- Winter solstice was in Capricorn
- Spring equinox was in Aries
- Summer solstice was in Cancer
- Fall equinox was in Libra
But the constellations have shifted since then, and now the Sun rises in Capricorn in the month of February instead of January. However, some of the star-lore of the old days still remains, and in the western world, most notably when it comes to Dionysus.
For example, today on the Feb 14th, we celebrate St. Valentine (Valentine’s day) in the Western Church, or St. Tryphon in the Eastern Church. As everyone knows, in both cases these are the celebrations of “love” and wine – but in fact, these are just modern, mild versions of Dionysian Bacchanalia. Let me explain.
Ancients believed that Dionysus was raised by a she-goat Amalthea who nourished him with her milk until he reached maturity. She was then placed amongst the stars. Some believe that these stars now form the Capra constellation, but more likely it was the Capricorn. Here is the illustration of sunrise on this year’s Valentine. But note that during the last two millennia BC Capricorn would have been the symbol of the winter solstice.
- Sunrise on the Valentine’s of 2017. 2. Satyr and a goat, Wikipedia commons (Note how this image mirrors the constellations from the first picture)
Now, since the time immemorial, the winter solstice has been related to the mysterious ritual in which people would dress as goat-men, and circulate the village singing naughty songs, drinking wine, dancing to the music and doing other fertility related rites. The individuals who still practice this ritual as a tradition are nowadays known as Kukeri, Koledari, Poklade, Krampus etc. These are just some of the dozens of names on the European continent, but since a similar custom exists in almost all corners of the world it is impossible to trace it with certainty. And even though the names and the symbols may have changed to some extent throughout millennia, when it comes to the ancient Thracians and Greeks, these are probably very faithful representations of Bacchanalia. (again in the mild form)
Moreover, it is precisely the parts of this ritual that were used as the foundations of the Greek tragedy. The word “tragedy” comes from the words trag(o)-aoidiā meaning “goat song”, and Dionysus was a patron god of tragedy.
I believe that the name Dionysus could be related to the winter solstice. The ancients saw the northern part of the sky sometimes as a tree, sometimes as a mountain peak. According to the myth, Dionysus was born on mountain Nysa, so his name would mean “God of the mountain Nysa”. But “nisha” means “night” in Sanskrit, while in the earliest mention of this name we see the Sanskrit word for god – deva, written in Linear B as “di-wo-nu-so”. Therefore, we can maybe also translate this word as “the god of the night”.
According to one legend, when Alexander the Great reached a city called Nysa near the Indus river, the locals told him that their city was founded by Dionysus in the distant past and that their city was dedicated to the god Dionysus. Nish is also the name of a Serbian city, in which emperor Constantine was born. If this connection is valid, it would be interesting to determine how the Slavs of the 6th century managed to reconstruct the original name, from what the Romans called “Naissus”.
But back to Dyonisus. Besides the “mountain” imagery of the axis-mundi, Dyonisus possessed the staff called thyrsus, with a pine cone on its top – another representation of the axis mundi, and for some also a symbol of a human spine and the pineal gland on its top. It was worth a mention but we will not go further into mysticism in this article.
Dyonisus from Pompei, Theoi.com
The spring equinox was in the sign of Aries, the ram. And as the ancient authors would say: “The animal most commonly sacrificed to Dionysus was a ram. (Virg. Georg. ii. 380, 395; Ov. Fast. i. 357.)”
Thracian wine rhytons – a goat and a ram
Many different myths explain how Dionysus created the constellation of Aries. You can read some of the examples here. But whatever the version is, there is always the same reasoning behind it – he had to kill the ram or catch it, in order to release the water of the river. This theme of releasing of the “water” is a common light motif in virtually all the Indo-European myths related to the spring equinox, whether it is Mithra slaying the bull, St. George slaying the dragon, or Horus slaying the Apep snake. As for the last two, sometimes we also see Dyonisus with the same hand gesture as the St. George or Horus holding their spears.
Dyonisus fighting in India, Theoi.com, Horus slaying Apep, Wikipedia commons
Moving on to the summer solstice where we see the Sun rising in Cancer. Cancer is followed by Leo, and perhaps this is the reasoning behind all those images of Dionysus riding the leopard (or sometimes a tiger / panther). It is really interesting that these animals are not lions – a fact that clearly points to the eastern origins of the myth. Indeed, as Wikipedia states:
Dionysus in Greek mythology is a god of foreign origin, and while Mount Nysa is a mythological location, it is invariably set far away to the east or to the south. The Homeric hymn to Dionysus places it “far from Phoenicia, near to the Egyptian stream”. Others placed it in Anatolia, or in Libya (“away in the west beside a great ocean”), in Ethiopia (Herodotus), or Arabia (Diodorus Siculus).
Dionysus riding a tiger and a leopard – Theoi.com
As for the constellation Cancer itself, some myths relate it to a donkey, rather than a crab. One of those myths can be found here. I believe that the constellation in question is Leo minor, positioned right above the Cancer.
And finally, when the Sun reaches Libra, it was the time of the autumn equinox. Another name of Dyonisus was Liber. Scholars claim that he got it because during the Bacchanalia people were free to do whatever they wanted. And that could be a part of the answer. But the fact is also that Libra marked the end of the agricultural work done during Virgo, as well as the end of the war campaign season, and so the soldiers, as well as the farmers (or the slaves) were free until the spring. Indeed, a very good reason for celebrations. In Balkans, this word still exists as an archaism related to the agriculture – “raspust” or “razpust” meaning “to let go”, “to be free”.
The mystical symbolic of Libra can be traced to ancient Egypt, where god Thoth is holding the scales while measuring the weight of the soul against the feather. The same symbolic had entered the Christianity trough the figure of Archangel Michael.
Constellation Libra – Thoth and Archangel Michael holding the scales
On these representations we see the end of the circle of life which will rejuvenate on the following winter solstice. The Eastern Orthodox Church still preserves some of the ancient pagan customs, and one of them is a feast for the soul of the deceased called “Zadusnice” or “Zaduszki“. It is being held on different dates during the year, but the most important one is the St. Demetrius day, not when the Sun is in Libra, (as the constellations have shifted), but when the Sun AND the autumn equinox are in Virgo-Demetra, which is the case in our era. It is interesting to note how the church has updated its calendar to Virgo, while still keeping the Libra symbolic trough Archangel Michael. That is how strong is the power of these symbols.
Somewhere at the beginning of our era, the celestial cross had changed its place, changing the star lore with it. The spring equinox is in now Pisces, and the fish is a symbol of Jesus Christ. The summer solstice is in Gemini, his baptism. The autumn solstice is in Virgo – Virgin Mary and the winter solstice is in Sagittarius – Pontius Pilate (pilate = spear).
Strangely, but most of the scholars seem to ignore astronomy when dealing with comparative mythologies, and it is clear that they are making a huge mistake, as not only that this approach helps us to better understand the myths, but it also helps us to date them! For example, it is also clear that Mithraism was originally practiced between 4000-2000BC when the equinoxes were in Taurus and Scorpio. The same goes for Sumerians, Minoans, and the other bull worshipers. But even when the celestial cross changes its position, all the constellations still remain in their place, so it is normal that their main symbolic is not forgotten.
The similarities between Dionysus mythology and Christianity have been noted many times before, but it seems that nobody was willing or able to reconstruct the story properly. One typical mistake is to label everything as a “solar myth” because that is oversimplifying the facts. Dyonisus cannot be equated with Christ, as most of these authors are trying to do. The fact is that the sun-god of the Greeks was Helios and not Dyonisus. Helios was in charge of the realm of the day. But the main acts of this tragedy (with a happy ending) are played during the night. And make no mistake, it is Orion – the Giant that rules the night skies. The word “deva” means “god”, but also a “giant” in Sanskrit, and it is a cognate with “div” in Slavic. We see this form “div” in Linear B “diwo-nisu”. This “giant of the night” sometimes was seen as an archer, sometimes as a shepherd, and in Christianity probably as St. John the Baptist. In the words of the New Testament:
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on BEFORE THE LORD TO PREPARE HIS WAYS; To give to His people the knowledge of salvation By the forgiveness of their sins, Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
TO SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Or in John’s own words, when speaking of Christ:
“He must increase, but I must decrease.”, John 3:30
You can read more about it in my article ORION WORSHIP – PART 1 – CHRISTIANITY
(to be continued)