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The Mythological Archetypes of the Zodiac Cycle
by Semira & Vitaly Vetash

Archetype of Ceres and Proserpine (Virgo):

If the archetype of Libra regulates social relations, the archetype of Virgo consolidates the principles of economy and farming, closely connected with natural order of things. Iron tools and the invention of the plough secures the blossoming of agriculture and manifests an image of nourishing Mother-Earth, symbolizing abundance and fertility. So the Greek Demeter ('mother-earth'), goddess of the fertile Earth controls the sequence of crop cycles, insures the gathering of the harvest and it's wise use into the next spring. She is accompanied by gods of the changing seasons, that maintain the cyclic order of nature which serves as the foundation of the agricultural process. Dying and rising vegetation gods occupy the main positions between the seasonal cycles.

A seed must be buried in order grow, so first it must die. Each year the Mother-Earth Ceres sacrifices her daughter Proserpine ('proserpo' means 'grow up'), taken as a bride to the underworld by the subterranean sovereign. He allows his wife to visit her mother for half of the year, during which the earth become fertile and is covered with green. The other half of year Mother-Earth remains barren grieving for her daughter. The Egyptian mother figure Renenuteth (Thermutis in Greek) and her son Neperi ('seed') form a similary pair. It was usually said about Neperi that only after he died did he begin living.

The death and resurrection of Proserpine maintains the natural order as she properly fulfills the universal law of seasonal change in her own being. The executive power symbolized by the archetype of Virgo must be fair and accurate to insure life processes. And thus she is also associated with justice and purity, helping her husband to judge the souls of the dead. Gods belonging to this archetype display a righteousness exemplified by their self-sacrifice in the name of duty, and expressed by their virginity (which corresponds the name of the constellation, and to an alternate name for Proserpine, Core, which means 'girl'). The Indian Sita ('furrow') is also a goddess of this type: she was born of the earth in a furrow and pleaded with her mother Earth to take her back into the soil when a charge of unfaithfulness had been leveled at her.

Gods of the agricultural cycle, such as Nisaba of Sumeria whose name means 'seed', also manifest the skill of writing that helps to register the harvest. An economy suggests the hierarchical distribution of duties, so one can associate with the archetype the historical delineation of castes seen as the consolidation of economic principles of the division of labour. In the economic system the domesticated animal occupies a place junior to that of humans. An interesting image of an animal executing his duty is Russian Semargl, the winged dog who protects crops.

Solar archetype (Leo):

One can find a regularity in the images within a succession of signs of any element. The subterranean god is connected with the invisible sources of existence of Chaos, reflecting the potency of the water element. The divine Smith continues with the work of creation of the Sky god, and thus represents the air element. The sign of Virgo develops the notion of the abundant earth, as stated by Capricorn. Thusly, within the signs of fire element, Solar god, being a generous dispenser of benefit, borrows the functions of the Thunder god, the head of the pantheon.

The Sun moves across the Sky like a great wheel, which becomes his universal symbol. It appears in myths primarily as an eye of the omniscient god of the clear Sky, closely related to him through the notion of light, spreading infinitely and embracing all the Universe. The wheel also begins to symbolize celestial universality. The Solar god spends his days on the surface of the Earth, surveying his domain and dispensing gifts, and descends to the underground world at night, where he illuminates the dead and struggles with the forces of darkness, much as the solar god Ra of Egypt fought with the viper Apope each night. The daily path of the Sun manifests a unity of the celestial, terrestrial and subterranean. Solar image combines the highest justice of the archetype of Vulcan with the concrete life processes of Virgo. Like a wheel that touches the earth at one extremity and the sky at another, it personifies the wholeness and integrity of being.

There were even particular gods of the solar disk, such as Aton of Egypt, Koloksay ('wheel-tsar') of the Scythes or Khors of the Slavs. Like the Indian Savitar and the Greek Helios, Solar gods travel across the sky in chariots, pulled by horses that also become a symbol of the Sun. A historical invention of a wheel as well as use of wheeled carts is also associated with this archetype. The new speed of chariots permitted the control of wide expanses, which allowed the unification of separate reagions and the formation of empires, in whose light the smaller states faded. The idea of unified power is associated with the Sun: the Egyptian pharaoh Ehnaton even began to see in the solar disk an autocratic god. But his idea of monotheism was not disseminated: this idea was manifested only at the end of mythological development and is associated with the archetype of Mars and Aries, the third sign of fire element.

Great emperors were named after the Sun, but in the divine pantheon the place of main god was already occupied. So the Solar god, sending heat and benefit to the Earth with his hands the Sun rays, only succeded in rivaling the Thunder god, bringer of the fertilizing rains. The light of the Sun was so commonplace that it never stimulated the human imagination as did the thunderstorm, and humanity only gradually perceived the significance of solar energy. In distinction to the Thunder god who translates the higher forces of celestial fire, the Solar god personifies an inner power of his own. Leo, the king of beasts with the yellow mane, is associated with him as well as with the idea of personal force.

The Sun protects heroes and is himself in rivalry with the King of society, thus the Chinese Yan-di struggles with the god of Thunder Huang-di. But sometimes a cloud covers the Sun and the Solar god is defeated: because mere personal force and independence of action, even if strong cannot stand against an opposing global and social order, which is destined to maintain the eternal traditions. Understanding the transmission of traditions and reproduction of being is the subject of the next archetype.

Lunar archetype (Cancer):

The lunar gods continue the theme of birth and death, characteristic to the water element. The Moon is represented as a partner of the Sun, and in myths they are often depicted as brother and sister, or husband and wife. At night the Moon replaces the Sun in the sky, and during the day in the underground world. According the Indoeuropean tradition, the constant Sun was correlated with the feminine image and the changeable Moon with the masculine one: there were myths wherein the Moon proved unfaithful to the Sun, having fallen in love with the Morning Star (Venus). But in the patriarchal schema, the dim light of the Moon associates it with weakness, and so makes it an ideal of femininity. In this way, according a myth of the American Indians, the Creator, at the end of his work, transformed the most handsome man into the Sun, and the most beautiful woman into the Moon.

And as the Sun is an unfailing source of life energy, the Moon, which dies away and disappears, from the sky is connected with death and nonexistence. Its faded glow seems ephemeral and does not leave any hope for the continuation of being. But suddenly it appears again, begins growing and is restored, generating in the human mind the idea of illusion and at the same time the immortality of life. All over the world lunar myth is connected with the idea of immortality, that coincides with the astrological definition of the Moon as Psyche which is considered to be imperishable.

The full Moon dying and giving birth to the small Crescent was associated also with the idea of motherhood, securing the continuation of life. The notion of a taste of immortality, associated with the Moon, (for example, the Indian Soma which personifies simultaneously the Moon and the drink of immortal gods), goes back to mother's milk. Through mother's milk and fairy tales a human inherits traditional knowledge transmitted from generation to generation. The Moon preserves the integrity of being imparted by the Sun through the memory of knowledge of the past. Regarding the phases of the Moon, which became the raw material for the calculation of time, the act of fixing the present allowed humanity to memorize it's history based on the experience of the past. Then epics and legends arose, and were disseminated in the form of fairy tales which helped every new inhabitant of the Earth to orient himself in the world and recognize his destiny as a part of human history.

The Moon archetype is associated with the epoch during which for the first time mankind looks backward upon his path, evaluating his journey, and this links us back to the notion of Time that was considered in the mythologema of Capricorn. As was seen in the examples of the Sky and the Sun, associated through the idea of light expanding, signs which stand opposite to each other are bound by a single idea. For Pisces and Virgo it is the idea of self-sacrifice for the sake of regeneration, for Aquarius and Leo it is the idea of wholeness, and the planets of Time - the Moon and Saturn, which wield the most significant influence on human psyche, make conservative Cancer and Capricorn the keepers of the world's destiny.

Archetype of Mercury (Gemini):

The power of humanity based on the experiences of the past, and overcoming conservative traditions, is the archetype manifested by Gemini. It is the archetype of the hero who transcends taboos and the most sacred interdictions, and of the twins who committed original sin against the divine order and disturbed the schema of the unconscious soul's natural immortality, which brought about human life and death.

The pair of identical humans evoked a superstitious fear of the ancients: they thought of the bearing of twins as something supernatural. As a compromise between the ordinary and the wondrous, one of twins was often considered to be born of his human father and the other of a god, mythologically speaking, one mortal twin, the other immortal, as we see in the case of Castor and Pollux in the constellation of Gemini. Furthermore the duality of life and death was represented in the first pair of humans - or likewise in the first pair of gods who descended from the established realm of the Heavens to the deserted Earth so as to arrange and populate it, compare the Japanese Izanaki ('first man') and Izanami ('first woman').

Two brother-twins, also considered sometimes to be hermaphrodites, create the duality of the world (day and night, good and evil, man and woman etc.). Then one of the twins has to die in order to consolidate the ownership of the land by the created race of people; he becomes the king of the dead. Similarly, brother and sister commit ritual incest, necessary for the production of offspring, and in the process they become conscious not only of the phenomenon of birth, but also of death, which indicates a separate and independent human destiny existing within the world of immortal nature and gods. The Biblical story of Adam and Eve originated from this type of myths.

The idea of this archetype refers us to the opposite sign of Sagittarius which had broken the traditions of Genus, the natural order of Saturn, for a more progressive one of his own, and separated humanity from the animal world. But if Gemini presupposes the destruction of man's primary links with nature, then Sagittarius initiates the observance of religion as a reconstruction of these links to the primary order.

Taking center stage in myths, the human creates the world with all necessary and useful things. Like the Chinese Fu-Xi, he states the traditions and rituals, invents tools and writing, and transmits this inheritance to his descendants, after having inhabited the land and having fulfilled his mission according to the previous lunar archetype. In the typical image of a cultural hero the third sign of the air element completes the idea of creation, which takes on concrete form.

The transgressing of interdiction was originally a method of self-affirmation for the ancients, and hence appeared a god-deceiver, a fraud and a thief, called in mythological terminology a trickster. The mental activity of humans is under his rulership; he is a god of calculation, writing and language. Human mind itself appeared initially as a kind of malice. The newly born Greek Hermes stole away the cows of Apollo, and in spite of the Solar god's omniscience, Apollo could not obtain a truthful confession from the diaper wrapped deceiver who made up endless stories by way of excuse.

A god of communication and writing serves as a mediator between gods and humans; he serves as a messager of the chief god and accompanies the souls of the dead to the underground world, as Hermes or the Egyptian Thoth. As the Roman Mercury or the Phoenician Melkarth, he is the patron of interaction and protects the activities of exchange and trade. He is very inventive in the creation of his tricks and transgresses the most sacred interdictions; as the German Loki, who made fools of the gods and once in fun broke a peace treaty between gods and giants. All these factors permit us to consider the image of the god-trickster, as well as that of the ancestors-twins, as the most ancient self-portraits of humankind.

The archetype of the planet Mercury refers to the historical stage of invention of writing which permitted the fixing of myths and history. That lead to the arising of science as a separate cultural area, and signals the beginning of the intellectualisation of the world. Mercurian curiosity promoted wide contacts between peoples, through newly developed sea-going fleets and trade. In the period of European civilization it manifests as the age of city-states.

Archetype of Venus (Taurus):

At first the evolution of mankind was shaped through a refutation of the natural and wild world in favour of a civilization based on culture, whose borders would guarantee the future of humanity. With the development of agriculture this aim was achieved, and one can see it in the archetypes of Libra and Virgo. Then the process of self-realization began and after the development of mind that the archetype of Mercury demonstrates, humanity aspired to widen it's borders, again encompassing natural sources. The last two archetypes of the Zodiac work out the notions of the two fundamental principles of nature, the feminine and the masculine, stated by the image of Gemini. These archetypes appeared relatively late; as the goddesses of the Taurean and the gods of the Arien archetypes gradually win honourable places in the pantheon.

Taurus, the third sign of the earth element, demonstrates that the mankind is firmly established in the creative process and achieves prosperity, abundance and well-being on the Earth, when it begins to understand humanity as a part of nature. The human's integration with nature is tied to the feminine force, which is closer to natural sources. The essence of the human being is identical to that of the Cosmos. And so the astral cult of the celestial body of the star Venus was widespread all over the world, incorporating worship of her image of the goddess of love. The word 'aster' ('star') was itself borrowed by the most of European languages, originating from the Babylonian name for Venus, Ishtar, which means simply 'goddess'.

The Goddess of the Morning and Evening Star was often associated with the inimitable beauty of the dawn, symbolizing the power of the reproductive forces in nature which the archetype of Taurus manifests. In Mesopotamia these existed the image of two dawns, represented by the bulls, Hurri ('morning') and Serri ('evening') which express this basic idea. And the Greek Eos, the Indian Ushas and the Roman Aurora become the most typical personifications of love.

The goddesses of sexual love personifying blossoming and the abundance of nature are very ancient. So Aphrodite Urania, said to be born from sea foam and blood of the God of Heavens, is older than Zeus and coeval to the titans. But then her place was transformed, making her the daughter of Zeus, as the goddess of love and beauty must be eternally young. Her link with the Sea, similar to relationships shared by other beautiful female goddesses with the primary waters, points to the prototypical potency of fertility. Similarly, the Indian Laxmi ('happiness, beauty') was also born of the ocean, and the name of Ardvisura-Anahit of the Avesta means 'powerful source of eternal waters'.

The names of love goddesses often express force. Typically associated with the stars accompanying the Sun in the morning and in the evening, they were considered as the main goddesses of the pantheon. So the name of the Egyptian Isis means 'throne', the Semitic Uzza means 'omnipotent' and the Sumerian Inanna -- 'sovereign'. In ancient times the goddess of fertility and sexual love, cruel and rough, use this initial force to possess the world, gods and humans. She was both seductress and warrior. The arrows of Eros have not always been missles of love, they are the rudiments of true weapons. As an attribute of Ishtar these weapons were dangerous, and the goddess of war and love, battling for her rights and sovereignty engaged even with the most powerful god, the god of Thunder.

But times changed, and the goddess of love, ever young and as self-renewing as life, became graceful and benevolent. The names of the Roman Venus and Bona Dea mean 'kindness, grace'. In a civilized world that had overcome the passions and forced them to serve the needs of happiness and prosperity, it is beauty and charity, conjugal fidelity and motherly selflessness that embody the essence of the star goddesses. Having won her place and affirmed her position among the gods, the most powerful goddess, in force equal to the Chief of gods, calms her rage when she is recognized as his wife and entrusted with the protection of the establishment of wedlock. Thus arises the notion of love and family in the modern sense as an expression of the initial natural harmony in the framework of human society.

One may be astonished by the transformation of the image of the Star goddess Isis with the infant Horus, which became the prototype for the Blessed Virgin (this shows an example of the astrological exaltation of mother Moon in the sign of Taurus).

The fully realized archetype of the Star goddess coincides with the developmental stage involving emotional penetration into the nature of the world and the resultent cultural blossoming. Art, previously subjugated to the Jupiterian religious ritual, have by now attained an independent place in culture, much as the goddess of love secured her own significance in the Universe. The art of Venus, closely associated with natural sources, as it loses its very artificiality, is differentiated from the more rational mastery of Vulcan. The feminine principle of being manifests itself as a natural life deified.

Archetype of Mars (Aries):

The appreciation of emotional nature doesn't interfere with the framework of Jupiterian social law, as the goddess of love and beauty comes to an alliance agreement with the chief of the pantheon. But a new leader, a fierce and furious commander of the gods during the time of battle, embodying emotional force together merged with the wisdom of human mind, pretends to supersede him. The archetype of Mars is associated with the idea of going beyond the established society in search of new forces and means.

The gods of the forests and of the wild beasts as well as warriors and shepherds correlate with this archetype. A shepherd lives most of the time in wild nature, outside of society, he is personally responsible for his herd and has to defend it from alien invasions and in every type of unexpected and dangerous situation. He is isolated and so has to develop his own natural capacities. Outside the niceties of civilization he must overcome obstuctions by himself, and this is the foundation for his natural wisdom which he then brings back into society. That is why an image of the shepherd coincides with the one of defender and commander.

Roman Mars himself was originally a god of wild nature and the herds, with a wolf as his symbol. Boys offered up to him were banished beyond the borders of the settlement, and this made them closer to nature, and required the development of strength and audacity. In honor of Mars they were called mammertians.

The function of the shepherd and the association of War god with death liken the mythologema of Mars to that of Pluto, and originally they were the same archetype. The god-warrior was a destroyer and he not only successfully defended his herds and property but confiscated that of others. However this new type of invincible god has aquired the new quality of wisdom. Like the thunder gods they are patrons of just wars, struggle with evil, and awake natural fertility. The mastering of magic associated with the War gods, which characterizes the Greek Athena, is originally a Plutonian feature, but here it no longer serves the forces of destruction and death, instead reflecting a deep understanding of nature and the capacity to control natural forces and direct them to medical purposes. And so was formed a new mythological image of the ideal commander who borrows forces from nature but uses his mind as the tool of civilization. It is an image of a leader who is moral, as the Iranian Vishtasp or Hiawatha of the American Indians.

The unification of lands worshipping different gods became possible under the banner of such an ideal god. It was Mars that facilitated the unity of the Roman lands. And Egypt owed it's unity to Amun, whose symbol was a ram, displayed his shepherd's functions, and was originally identified with the War god Montu. His final identification with Solar god Ra, one may associate with the astrological exaltation of the Sun in Aries, as Aries reflects integral function of the Sun. It is Amon-Ra, personifying universal wisdom, who was depicted in the heavenly constellation of Aries.

Sometimes a wise young commander succeeded in superseding the old short-sighted chief of gods, to himself become leader and point to a new path of the world's development, as did the German Odin. This is but one step away from monotheism.

The idea of a god who attains leadership not only through force, but through his own ideal personal qualities, correlates with the affirmation of the individual's independence in society and the right to pursue one's own way of existence. The notion of inner law and the achievment of progress joins Aries with the opposite sign of Libra. The archetype of Aries lays the foundation for the establishment of spirit as the inner human god. The more recent religions such as Christianity and Islam borrowed to a considerable extent the images associated with this archetype.

Completing it's development, the mythological cycle creates a full circle of archetypical notions. It is unified urge to activity on the part of the fire element -- Greek Eros, Indian Agni -- that gives birth to new life in the sleeping abyss of Chaos.

That is the picture of development of mythological representations as a whole. Certainly we have mentioned only a few of the images, and the short space of an article does not permit a fully detailed analysis of mundane mythology proving the consistency of the overall picture. At the end of the article is given a summary table including more mythological characters. It also does not embrace all the manifestations and particular qualities of the archetypes, but could help to orientate one to the appreciation of the mythologycal elements.

Astrological archetypes were formed over period of time, and one can identify separate layers and particularities of perceptions of the world according to geographicallocation. But even a cursory glance towards the vivid richness of mythologies' characters shows that there is more the typical, then the occasional in it. And it permits astrology to rely on the most ancient experience of the human being's appreciation of the world.


Copyright © 1997, Semira & Vitaly Vetash
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