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Let's start from the basics once again. We've talked about three separate motions of the Earth and the symbols that relate to these motions. In each
case, the symbols ultimately flow from the actual appearance of these motions from the ground, that is, from the point of view of people on the
surface of the Earth living, watching and imagining as they stare at the sky.
First of all, there was the daily rotation. The experience we all have of rotation is not that we are moving. Instead, we see stars and planets rise
in the east and set in the west. In particular, the risings and settings of the Sun define our experience of day and night. The only exceptions are
the stars near to the pole, which circle the pole in endless circles, never touching the horizon. The "pole star" is unique: it appears to be the
still point at the center around which all other stars rotate. This role of "the center" of rotation makes the pole star a natural candidate for a
mythological symbol as the axis mundi, especially in older, shamanic cultures. The number of examples of this symbolism are simply too numerous to
Some of the spatial symbolism associated with rotation includes the four cardinal directions. The north is where the still center lives, the east is
the point where the light arises, the south shows the light in its glory (it's also the direction of the "underworld"), the west is where it dies.
These four directions on the circle of the horizon create the powerful image of the quartered circle, one of the most universal symbols of the center.
Astrologically, rotation is represented by the house positions of the planets in a horoscope chart.
The phenomena associated with the Earth's orbital motion around the Sun are quite unmistakeable. Combined with the tilt between this orbital plane
and the Earth's poles (the obliquity of the ecliptic), this orbital motion creates the climatic cycles we call the seasons. The circle of life, of
spring, summer, fall and winter, is so basic an experience, it's hard to imagine life without it. Since the seasons are driven by how much heat we
receive from the Sun, attention is drawn to the Sun in order to understand this pattern. We observe the Sun moving against the stars along a circle
that we came to know as the ecliptic. Due to the obliquity, this pathway takes the Sun higher and lower in the sky each year. The key points in this
cycle are the equinoxes and solstices, which bear an undeniable relationship to the seasons. Once again, the circle is quartered. A new center is
Actually, four possible centers are defined, each with their own unique characteristics. We seem to be especially drawn towards the spring equinox,
since it is a time when the world is reborn. However, in the ancient world, many cultures were drawn towards the winter solstice as the time of
rebirth. To the mythic mind, as the Sun/God sank lower and lower in the sky, it seemed inevitable that the light would disappear completely and all
beings would die in the process. What a relief it was to see it slow down, stand still a few days, then slowly start to head higher in the sky again,
the promise of new life to come. It is no coincidence that religions around the world all have festivals of light and birth in December, including
Christianity's Christmas. The winter solstice is when gods are born.
This framework of equinoxes, solstices and the ecliptic poles forms an extremely valuable scaffolding for comprehending the motions of the Sun, Moon
and planets. It draws us out of our terrestrial concerns, bringing us into contact with the entire solar system, the realm of the classical gods. It
widens our perspectives. It introduces us to a new center, the Sun which stands in the middle of this system. Astrologically, this symbolism evolved
into the tropical zodiac.
The phenomena related to precession are slow and subtle, not anything that the average person would even notice. Yet in the grand scheme of things
(which is what myth inevitably tries to come to grips with), precession is a cataclysmic force. The most obvious observation is that the pole star
changes. The star at the still center, the "immutable" axle of the world that holds it together, becomes unhinged and wobbles off its pedestal. The
circumpolar stars and constellations, such as the Big and Little Dippers, lose their place in the heavens and drop to Earth, falling below the
horizon. The polar center is seen to be a false god, or at the very least, an extremely temporary god (a concept that offends our sense of eternity).
Less obvious, but still observable over time, is the movement of the stars near the zodiac. Just like planets, though much slower, the stars and
constellations move through the framework of the equinoxes and solstices. The stars that are near these seasonal quarter points took on extra
importance in each era, because those constellations became the controlling myths of that time. When one group of constellations left these quarter
points and were replaced by another group, the world changed. The old gods became demons, to be replaced by new gods, a new order, a new creation.
Symbolically, precession became associated with the creation and destruction of world ages.
(Curiously, the phrase "four corners of the world" had nothing to do with our planet in ancient times. The real world, the perfect ideal that was
the model for all creation, was the zodiac. The four corners of the world were the equinoxes and solstices.)
So the basic phenomenon of precession is that the stars move around the tropical zodiac, meaning that myths change with time. It has nothing to do
with whether the tropical or sidereal zodiac is "more real" or valid. Precession is the slow movement of the sidereal world through the tropical
zodiac. Our attention is drawn out of the solar system and towards the stars, and not just towards the stars in our immediate neighborhood. In fact,
there is little that distinguishes the nearby stars in our neighborhood from stars farther away. The next cosmic organizational level (what scientists
might call the next dynamical system) is actually the entire Milky Way galaxy. We are not drawn just to the few stars we can see in the sky. We become
connected to the giant pinwheel of some hundred billion stars that form our galaxy. And the central point that is unique to the galactic system is the
Galactic Center, the still point around which all the stars orbit.
The Galactic Center may seem like a grand abstraction, a figment of gravity and our imagination. Yet astronomers have found something remarkable
there. They believe it's a massive black hole millions of times heavier than our Sun, a literal rip in the fabric of spacetime in our galaxy.
Astrologers are slowly becoming aware of this point (again). In my experience, it is an incredibly powerful center, though many people may not be
aware of its effects.
Precessional symbolism thus has two faces to consider. First is the movement of the stars and the evolution of myth. The other is our relationship to
The Precessional Ages
Precession is like a giant clock for humanity, defining a relationship between our immediate world and the realm of the gods in the stars. As stars
slowly precess through the zodiac every 26000 years, certain stars are brought to prominence by their proximity to the equinoxes, solstices and poles.
Since stars, like planets, are bodies that have astrological influences on us, the entire world and every person on it are being subjected to
powerful, slowly shifting subliminal energies that affect us on a global scale. Also of great importance, the constellations near these points (and
not just the stars) also receive prominence. Thus the myths in the sky that most affect us change with time, influencing the directions of entire
cultures. This in the basis of what are commonly called precessional ages.
Modern astrology takes a very limited notion of what these precessional ages are about. In particular, we simplify the picture by looking only at the
vernal equinox, ignoring the other five points in our tropical framework, not to mention the circles that connect these points. Thus we focus on only
one constellation at a time. Our time is known as the Age of Pisces, because the vernal equinox is firmly in the constellation of Pisces still.
Roughly every 2148 years on average, the equinox shifts from one constellation to the next, causing a change of ages to occur. The constellation
describing an age is thought to describe the broad outlines of the cultures in ascendency during that time. Astrologers that argue for this kind of
symbolism usually point to the religious symbolism and imagery used in various cultural periods. For instance, in the age of Taurus, much of the
iconography involved bull or cow images. This was followed by the age of Aries, represented by sheep-like symbols: the "lamb of god", the scapegoat
sacrifices, the "good shepherd", etc. Many paintings and sculptures of the prophet Moses picture him with little goat horns on his head. Curiously,
Aries also has potent military symbolism and many of the great military empires came to power during this age: the Persian, Greek and finally the
Roman empires, among others. The age of Pisces probably started around 100 BCE, bringing about numerous new mystical movements. The most enduring
religions of this period are Christianity and Islam, currently locked in a battle for the world mind. Metaphorically speaking, these twin religions,
in conflict but joined at the hip through their common patriarch Abraham, could well be viewed as the two fishes joined by a cord that we envision as
the constellation Pisces. Further, the themes of sacrifice, faith and self-abnegation, all Pisces themes, are the cornerstones of these religions. And
let's not forget how the fish has emerged as an important Christian symbol. As for the myths of the coming age of Aquarius, those symbols haven't
arisen from the collective unconscious yet. We haven't dreamed those dreams and must await their time.
Which leads to the question: When does the age of Aquarius begin? I've heard dates for the "dawning of Aquarius" ranging from 1844 to about 2600
AD, so it's pretty obvious we don't really know what indicates the start of an age. I've been saying it's when the equinox is "in a
constellation", but by now you must realize that could mean any of a number of interpretations. The most sensible interpretation is to consider the
equinox being in the territory of a constellation, relying on the boundaries that the astronomers laid down. Or you could say the equinox is in the
picture or star pattern. More precisely, that the longitudes ("zodiac position") of the stars overlap the equinox. Of course, there's nothing to
keep two pictures from overlapping in longitude, or to have big gaps between adjacent pictures, meaning we could potentially be in two ages at once or
in transition between them or even in no age at all. Either of these definitions leads to unequal ages, some longer and some shorter. It seems most
writers on the issue assume the ages are all the same length, about 2148 years. That would indicate they were using sidereal signs, not the
constellations, to determine the precessional ages. In that case, all you need to do is check the ayanamsa: new ages start when the ayanamsa is a
multiple of 30 degrees. Of course, that gets back to the problem of different ayanamsas, spread out over a 400 year range. Interestingly enough, all
these various definitions indicate we've got 200 to 500 years to go before Aquarius starts, despite having a theme song ready to go. Another
definition I've read about checks to see when the stars in the picture of the next constellation cross the equator from the southern hemisphere
(mythically "the underworld") to the northern hemisphere ("emerging into awareness"). By this standard, we are already in Aquarius. In short,
nobody really knows how to answer this question of when the new age starts, because we don't know what the question means. Maybe we need to simply
wait until a new mythology emerges and becomes a dominant force in society. We may be seeing the first inklings of this process, but I doubt it has
The ancient people had a much more robust view of these ages than we do now. They were more adept at thinking mythologically than we are and capable
of responding to several myths at once. They didn't focus only on the vernal equinox, but examined the entire framework of the world. For instance,
in our present Piscean Age, the summer solstice is in Gemini, the fall equinox in Virgo, and the winter solstice in Sagittarius. The equinox may
describe how our culture expresses itself, but the winter solstice is the underlying "root cause" of our behavior. Does the Sagittarian myth of
freedom, unbridled expansion and a search for higher wisdom describe the motivations of our age? I think a strong case could be argued for this. The
summer solstice is the highpoint or outcome of this cultural process. The Gemini traits of duality, increased communication, superficial knowledge of
the world, etc. seem to describe the world we've actually built, regardless of our original intentions. The fall equinox is the "other", the
"underworld", the things we are estranged from or disown, the way we treat others. There's no better gauge of this point than our views of the
physical world and our own bodies in particular. The last age had Libra, the sensual and aesthetic appreciation of the world, on this point. We have
Virgo. At the risk of perpetuating a very limited and demeaning image of Virgo, I think our "practical" view of the material world as something to
be exploited and our disembodied "puritanical" view of our own bodies are typical symptoms of our age. As the ancients knew, when the constellations
at the four corners of the world changed, our world (which is simply "in the image" of the celestial realm) would radically change. Religions, art,
mythology, culture, the gods themselves, everything was overhauled at the change of the age. We see this in our own past over and over again.
Further, the north and south pole were also important for the ancients. The region around the north pole (and I'm being a northern hemisphere
chauvanist here) is "the heavens", the part of the sky that never touches the earth. These "circumpolar" constellations are remote and distant
gods for us, somehow set apart from our affairs on earth. In particular, the north pole itself (and whatever star it's near at any given time) is the
"sacred center" around which the entire heavens rotate, the axis mundi of creation. The constellations near the pole are indicators of the kind of
god(s) we envision as standing in the center of creation. In recent millennia, the pole has been moving from Ursa Major to Ursa Minor (the great and
lesser bears), passing through Draco the dragon. The bears are symbols of the Mother Goddess in many old mythologies. The next polar constellation (in
about two to four thousand years) is the unassuming Cepheus the King, a masculine symbol. While our symbolism of these northern constellations is
nowhere as advanced and detailed as the zodiac symbols along the ecliptic, I think there's much food for thought going on at the north pole. And
finally, the circumpolar stars near the south pole never rise above the horizon. They are unseen, beyond our awareness, in the underworld or the
unconscious. There are currently no bright stars (such as Polaris) near the south pole. In fact, the south pole is in the constellation Octans the
octant, one of the "modern" constellations invented in the 16th century to take up empty space. However, the old star pattern called Eridanus
reaches from Orion's foot (near the equator) to very near the south pole. Eridanus is a great mythic river, simultaneously a kind of moat around the
world and a river leading to the underworld that plays an important role in myths around the world. Perhaps this river is a symbol of our need to
fathom our own darker nature.
While the poles change with time, moving from star to star, there are two points in the sky that "never" move because of precession. The north and
south ecliptic poles are the still points of precession, the axle on which the great wheel of precession turns. The northern point is near the head of
Draco, unmarked by any bright stars. It seems to point towards empty space, sometimes known as the Open Hole in the Heavens. The southern ecliptic
pole is curiously next to the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small galaxy that is a close neighbor of the Milky Way. As such, it literally points us away
from our own galaxy and towards the first stepping stones of intergalactic space. I'm not certain what to make of this "coincidence", but it feels
highly significant to me. The SEP is also frequently associated with the bright southern star Canopus nearby, a star with many connections to the
underworld. However, even these sacred centers move (due to planetary precession) to a small degree. All still points can be transcended, our
awareness drawn to a greater level.
The Whirlpool and the Millstone
While modern science expresses its understanding of the world in the poetry of mathematics, ancient knowledge was expressed in the language of myth.
This includes not only the stories of heros and gods, but the mathematical myths that number and geometry are the basis of reality. "Myth" is a
dirty word to the modern mind (as in the dismissive "it's merely a myth!"). We think of it as nothing but vague and misguided metaphors that don't
resemble "the real world" we believe in. ("The real world" is our modern myth. However, a ruling myth is always invisible and never recognized as
a myth, because it is "obviously true".) Our acquaintance with the great myths of old are often little more than a few paragraphs of disembowelled
synopsis, not the full blooded and lengthy narratives full of juicy detail that was in the original. Mythic language is neither vague nor
wooly-minded. When faced with a myth, we are conversing with people as capable of deep, perceptive thought as ourselves, except that we are talking in
a language they understood and we no longer do. These stories often "encode" profound technical information that we would normally call science, if
only we understood what we were reading. Contrary to our modern preconceptions of the past, it is we who are the "ignorant savages", not our
Two very common mythic motifs concerning precession are the Whirlpool and the Millstone. The daily rotation of the Earth was viewed as the entire
cosmos rotating about our heads, much like the rotating millstones used to grind grain. These cosmic millstones were not only a symbol of regularity
and order in the universe, but were revered as the mills that ground out the fates of men and gods. The axis of this mill was the north pole itself,
the creative center that represented divine power. Unfortunately, due to precession, the cosmic millstone sometimes broke its axle and fell into
disrepair. Quite often, this broken mill fell into the ocean (a metaphor of the underworld), disappearing into a giant whirlpool to the center of the
earth. The whirlpool could be either pre-existing or caused by the falling millstone itself.
While these stories often sound as though the whirlpool was in some terrestrial sea someplace, the content of these stories is thoroughly astronomical
and the whirlpool must be placed in the sky. The movement of constellations through the tropical zodiac was frequently described as "emerging from
the sea" and "disappearing into the whirlpool", so the language of precession is completely tied up with the whirlpool. In typical mythic fashion,
however, there is no one "place" for the whirlpool (or any other mythic element), but a multitude of places that reinforce a common symbolism, a
mode of thinking that currently baffles our modern, overly concrete way of understanding. In fact, there are various ways to fall into the whirlpool
and it will save us much confusion if we understand some of these ways.
First of all, there is literally a place in the sky known as the whirlpool. In the myth of Phaethon, the son of Apollo, he asked his father to let him
drive the chariot of the sun across the sky. To make a long story short, Phaethon lost control of the chariot and was endangering the earth with
incineration. To save the world, Zeus blasted the boy with a thunderbolt and his body plunged into the ocean and down the whirlpool. Phaethon was
immortalized by being placed in the sky as the constellation Auriga the charioteer, just above the head of Orion. With the exactitude of detail you
find in "technical mythology", Auriga is placed in the Milky Way, just north of where it crosses the ecliptic. The Sun was formerly considered to
move along the Milky Way in "olden times", and this white streak across the sky became known as the scorched path left behind by Phaeton's joy
ride, while the ecliptic is the "new" path of the Sun. At the foot of Orion, at the start of the river Eridanus that leads to the underworld is the
"Zalos" or whirlpool, below the equator. At one level, this myth is the story of a changing of the ages and their gods because the path of the Sun
had changed and a new order of the world had been established.
Alternatively, the northern hemisphere was the dry land and the southern hemisphere was the ocean or the underworld, making the equator the mythic
equivalent of sea level. When a star would precess past the vernal equinox and cross the equator, it was said to emerge onto dry land. When it headed
south past the fall equinox, it fell into the whirlpool. Many mythological references can be understood in this context.
More commonly, however, the whirlpool was associated with the phenomenon of the heliacal rise. A star or planet was in heliacal rise when it appeared
above the eastern horizon just before the Sun rose and blotted out the night sky. Particularly important were the stars and constellations that rose
heliacally when the Sun was at the equinoxes or solstices. Over time, as those stars precessed, they rose nearer and nearer to the Sun, eventually
disappearing into the early dawn light and then moving below the horizon. This process was also known as falling into the whirlpool. In fact, it is
one of the easiest observations for naked eye astronomers to make in order to verify the reality of precession and was most likely one of the ways
precession was originally discovered.
(I'm reminded of a talk I heard as a kid by an astronomer from the University of Minnesota on the Star of Bethlehem, the "star" that the Magi "saw
in the east" and followed to the Christ child. He traced the star to a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, known as "the King Star" to ancient
astrologers, in the constellation Pisces, which was associated with the Jewish nation. The phrase "in the east" that appears in the Biblical story
is a bad English translation of a dubious Greek translation from the original Aramaic text. The Aramaic word that was used was a technical
astronomical term meaning heliacal rise, not the vague "in the east". With all this technical information the astronomer was able to precisely
calculate what astronomical phenomena contributed to the Star of Bethlehem.)
The Mythology of the Milky Way
Astronomers only discovered the nature of our galaxy, our place in it, and the fact that innumerable other galaxies exist in the universe in the early
decades of the 20th century. The "discovery" of the Milky Way is still a vital, ongoing project for astronomers, with new insights emerging every
year. (I just read an article last night in Scientific American describing new research on how the Milky Way is "cannibalizing" or consuming some of
the dwarf galaxies that are our immediate neighbors, including the Magellanic Clouds.) In particular, it was sometime in the 1980's that I first read
about the theory that a giant black hole, millions of times more massive than our Sun, is at the gravitational center of our galaxy. This black hole
has been named Sagittarius A*; astrologers refer to this point as the Galactic Center (or "GC" for short). It is located in our southern sky where
the constellations Sagittarius, Scorpio and Ophiuchus come together and is currently very near and precessing towards the winter solstice point.
Considering how recent our scientific knowledge of the galaxy is, it may come as a shock that mythology the world over is loaded with references to
the Milky Way and its importance in defining the world ages. It may seem unreasonable that "mere primitives" could know about something that western
science has discovered only in the last century. However, in the ancient sky free from modern light pollution, all you need to do is look up. The
Milky Way is one of the most distinctive and breathtaking features of the night sky; the area around the GC is especially thick and bright. For a
person attuned to the subtle energies of the GC, which presumably would have included many of the old astronomer-priests, this is a power center that
is quite unmistakable. It would surprise me more if mythology had nothing to say about our galaxy than it does to see how much material exists.
The Milky Way appears as a bright circle of light in the sky, inclined at a steep angle to the equator. Granted the circle is somewhat patchy and
irregular in places, especially where clouds of interstellar gas and dust blot out the light of stars behind them. There's a quite prominent area of
gas clouds near the GC known as the Great Dark Rift which appears to divide the band of light into two paths for a ways. It doesn't take much
imagination to put the Milky Way circle of light on a par with the invisible Great Circles such as the ecliptic and the equator. (I'm using "Great
Circle" both in the mathematical sense of a circle on the surface of a sphere whose center is at the center of the sphere, and in a mythic sense that
stresses the importance of these circles.) There are two spots where the Milky Way and the ecliptic cross, one between the constellations Scorpio and
Sagittarius (near the GC) and the other between Taurus and Gemini (the "Anti-center"). These crossing points were often considered to be crossroads
or gates. Like the constellations, these crossroad points are subject to precession.
Since the Great Circles of the equator, ecliptic and Milky Way were all considered "roads" in the sky for planets, gods and the souls of the dead,
parts of a grand celestial landscape, the metaphor of a "crossroads" is perfectly natural and may well be the origin of the cross symbolism in many
cultures. The crossroads of the equator and ecliptic are of course the two equinoxes, with their buddies the solstices. However, the crossings of the
ecliptic and the Milky Way were the crossroads in mythology, with many stories in their honor. Quite frequently, they are considered entrance and exit
points between the terrestrial world of space and time and the celestial world of eternity. These points were viewed as the regions in the sky for
souls to enter into human incarnation or to leave for the afterworld upon dying. In other traditions, souls passed through these crossroads at some
point on their way to another cosmic center, such as the north pole. The position of these crossroads in the zodiac had a big effect on the ease of
attaining the afterlife for many cultures. In particular, the moments in history when they lined up with the equinoxes or solstices were especially
auspicious. Too bad these alignments only happen every 6400+ years.
Since the Milky Way is a broad band of light instead of a thin, crisp geometric circle (like the equator or ecliptic), the position of these
crossroads is somewhat fuzzy and ill-defined. This hasn't deterred the astronomers, however, who merrily calculated the precise position of the
Galactic Plane, a plane that cuts the galaxy into two mirror halves similar to the way one slices a bagel in half. This galactic plane, which appears
as an imaginary circle in the sky bisecting the visible Milky Way, does have a pair of precise intersection points with the ecliptic, which can be
called the Galactic Nodes (in analogy to the Moon's Lunar Nodes). If you're doing precise astrological calculations, it's probably the galactic
nodes that you want to track. The node in the Scorpio-Sagittarius region is about 5 degrees north of the GC and about 3 degrees ahead, so they can
often be used interchangeably.
As the galactic plane precesses around the zodiac, it's inclination to the equator changes markedly. Another way of saying the same thing is the
closest distance from the Milky Way to the north pole and the current pole star changes. In our times, this distance is 30 to 35 degrees. Back in the
Age of Gemini (c. 3000-4000 BCE), around the "dawn of civilization" in the Old World, the crossroads lined up with the equinoxes, but the Milky Way
would have been more like 50 to 55 degrees away from the north pole. Having the crossroads line up like this would be excellent for when your soul
left Earth, but if your ultimate destination was the north pole, that still left you with quite a leap at some point. The really impressive line up
occurs in the Age of Sagittarius (c. 16000-17000 BCE, about the time of the Lascaux cave paintings in France; coming again about 6000 AD), when the
north pole is in the constellation Cepheus the king. Since part of Cepheus is right on the Milky Way, the pole and the galactic plane nearly coincide
at these times. In fact, the Milky Way would be a dead ringer for a Great Circle called the "equinoctial colure". This circle, which passes through
both equinoxes and poles, is part of the basic geometrical framework of our cosmos, a major cog in the machinery of precession and planetary movement.
(There's also a solstical colure, that passes through the poles and the solstices, to complete this framework.) Having all the Great Circles in
alignment and the crossroads all open is truly the highpoint of the Great Year, the precessional cycle. As astrological cycles go, I find this cycle
of galactic inclination most intriguing.
Of course, any star could serve as a crossroad, but the stars are seemingly scattered at random all over the sky. There's nothing unique or
spectacular to single out one star over another. The galactic nodes are another story entirely. Because the Milky Way is a relatively thin and
well-defined band of light, and further because there is no other structure in the night sky like it, it naturally draws your attention to the
galactic nodes. The precession of these nodes through the tropical zodiac is probably the most "obvious" way to define the Great Year and the great
precessional clock. Apparently many of the "Golden Age" myths around the world can be traced to the alignments of the crossroads with the tropical
The Current Alignment
Miraculously (or is it just a "coincidence"?), we living through one of these great alignments right now. The galactic center is currently (2003) at
26Sa53 and the north galactic node is 0Cp03, right on the winter solstice point (0Cp00). The best estimates I've heard of placed the exact alignment
around 1999-2000, but I'd easily apply a plus or minus 20 year orb for the effectiveness of this connection. Your soul picked an incredible time for
your current earth-trip!
One of my favorite reading topics concerns the Mayan culture, especially the mythology and mechanics of their intricate calendar. Part of this
calendar, known as the "Long Count", is a long cycle of 5125+ years that tracks a cycle of creation and destruction of the world. Curiously, 5 of
these Long Count cycles is approximately equal to one Great Year, so it already sounds like they were onto something. Given that the Mayans were
master astronomers, we shouldn't be surprised to find their mythology reflected in the skies.
In one of their few surviving texts, a powerful creation story of the Mayan world is told. In this tale, the creator god known as One Hunahpu is
killed by denizens of the underworld, which goes by the name of Xibalba. He needs to be rescued and resurrected by his twin sons, Hunahpu and
Xbalanque, who go through many fantastic adventures in Xibalba to outwit the forces of the underworld and bring back their father. Upon his return,
One Hunahpu stretches out his arms, measures out the four directions with a measuring cord, and the new world is born. Incidentally, this "earth
measuring" motif is quite common in myths about the change of a world age. It's assumed that the form and structure of the old world disappears back
into the underworld (often symbolized by the region of the sky around the south pole, the star Canopus in particular) and the hero of the myth must
bring forth the plan of the new world from this same place and establish the four corners of the world for the new age. Remember that this is a symbol
for establishing new constellations at the equinoxes and solstices.
Like all advanced civilizations, the Mayans placed their underworld in the sky. Only primitive and overly literal people like ourselves put it
underground. In fact, Xibalba Be, the road to the underworld, was a very specific place in their mythology. The Great Dark Rift looks like a giant
dark gash in the Milky Way. The Maya imagined this rift to be the entrance of a cave or a goddess' vagina (curiously the same word in one Mayan
dialect), all metaphors for the entrance to Xibalba. The rift ends right at the southern crossroads, the crossing point between the ecliptic and the
Milky Way. This crossroad is where the Twins entered Xibalba to search for their father and it's also where One Hanahpu emerges with the plans for
the new world and establishes the directions. One Hanahpu is usually depicted as a solar god, but more precisely he is the winter solstice Sun, the
time when gods are reborn. (A confusing issue with Mayan planetary symbolism is that a single planet can have many iconographic representations,
depending upon which part of its cycle is being referred to. A planet like Venus can have 20 different gods and goddesses associated with it.) The
myth tells us to look for when the winter solstice Sun is reborn from the depths of the Xibalba, that is, at the crossroads and the Great Dark Rift.
That's when the world is created.
The origins of the myth, its astronomical symbolism and the calendar that encodes this story can be traced back to the town of Izapa, which was at its
heyday between 300 BCE and 50 AD. Interestingly enough, the time of creation was not in the past for them, but far in the future. The Izapan
astronomer-priests observed the Galactic Center region and the nearby crossroads in heliacal rise before the winter solstice Sun. Each year, it moved
closer and closer to the rising Sun and it became obvious that someday they would rise together. In an amazing feat of astronomical observation and
prediction, they estimated when the solstice Sun would emerge from Xibalba Be and set their Long Count calendar to end on this future date. Every
stone, every carving at the observatory-temple site of Izapa tells this myth and points to the parts of the sky where it will happen. Their calendar
says when the story comes to its fateful climax. When their calendar is compared to ours, the end of our current world and the birth of the new world
is scheduled for December 21, 2012.
Granted, using modern values of the galactic node, they were 12 years off. But 12 years out of roughly 2100 years is an incredible act of celestial
marksmanship, an error of about half a percent. This was just about the same time when Hipparchus was "discovering" precession in the Old World and
his estimate of the length of the Great Year (36000 years instead of 25800 years) was widely off the mark. Further, we don't understand enough of
Mayan astronomy to know exactly what they were aiming for, so the error could be conceivably less. A further source of inaccuracy is that the rate of
precession is accelerating, while the old priests would most likely have treated this rate as constant. If the rate of precession is speeding up, the
crossroads would have arrived at the solstice ahead of schedule, so to speak. While I hesitate to push our current formulas to work over such long
periods of time (they are really only useful for a few centuries), I figure this acceleration adds about 8 minutes of arc to the crossroad's
position, shaving an additional 8 to 10 years off their "error". And since all astrological contacts have an orb or fudge-factor, I'd say they
effectively hit their mark. We are in the transition period between world ages, according to their ancient myth, a time of chaos and dissolution
before a new order emerges.
So, what will you be doing at the creation of the world? This myth was powerful enough that the Mayas based their entire culture upon it. Shouldn't
we be listening?
Resolving the Problem of Precession
I'm being optimistic here, because I don't expect I'll convince everyone with this new symbolism. What I've been attempting is not to win the war
between the zodiacs, but to transcend the war. There's no contradiction between the constellations and the tropical signs, one is no more "real"
than the other. The solution is simply that the relationship between the constellations and the signs constitutes the phenomenon of precession, the
grand cycles of rebirth for humanity. We need both the tropical and sidereal realms to define the parade of myths. To every age there is a myth, if
only we know how to read the omens. These truths are never eternal, gods aren't forever. How could we grow otherwise?
Astrology yanks us out of our small worlds and shows us new horizons. It brought us in contact with the Earth as a whole (Gaia consciousness, in
modern terminology), then expanded our vision to include the entire solar system. With precession, we are told to become good galactic citizens. This
is a spiritual perspective we can only glimpse for now.
If astrology is to take a galactic perspective seriously, we might want to start thinking of the next big motion of the Earth, namely the way the
entire solar system orbits around the galaxy. Observationally, this could be experienced in the following way. Instead of looking at the sky relative
to the ecliptic and the equinoxes, use the galactic plane as your reference circle and the Galactic Center as your zero point on this circle. In order
to observe this rotation, you need to watch the movements of some bodies that don't share this orbital motion, something outside of our own galaxy
entirely. That means looking at the transits of other galaxies in deep space around the galactic circle. It's not something you can do with naked eye
astronomy, but we've got telescopes now.
If precession was a Great Year, then our galactic orbital period is like a Great Millenium. It takes us roughly 230 million years to make one orbit,
the equivalent of about 8850 precessional cycles. One orbit ago, mankind didn't even exist as a species. Even the dinosaurs were just getting
started. In the hundred thousand years or so that Homo Sapiens has been on the planet, our species has only experienced about 10 minutes of arc of
this rotation. We haven't seen enough of this cycle to even have a clue about it.
Maybe this is such a broad perspective that it's meaningless for us in our current understanding. But it never hurts to start thinking about the next