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The ‘Fixed’ Sky

Kind of a cool book, The Fated Sky: Astrology in History by Benson Bobrick (Simon & Schuster, 2005), is proving to be a useful resource for fascinating historical details about astrology.

For example, prior to the 12-month calendar, the changing seasons were marked by the sun’s proximity to certain bright stars. In 3000 BC, around when the constellations began to be named, the brightest star in the spring sky was Aldeberan, in the constellation Taurus.

At the summer solstice, the sun was closest to Regulus, the brightest star of Leo; at the autumnal equinox, Antares, the brightest star of Scorpio, and at the winter solstice, near Formalhaut, the brightest star of Aquarius.  These four stars eventually came to be thought of as “royal,” and “fixed,” because they were “close to the four fixed points of the Sun’s seeming path among the stars” (17).

Eventually the Assyrians were able to draw up an accurate calendar that could reliably predict solar and lunar eclipses, and they had determined the path of ecliptic, made much easier by following these four, unchanging and ‘fixed’ points in their night sky. The earliest calendars were lunar, which evolved into an zodiacal calendar that allowed for 28 “mansions” or divisions, tracing the path the moon moved each day.

These mansions were thought of as the place where the planet, moon, or sun dwelled during their movement across the sky, and if you followed the trace of the moon’s path over the course of a month, you could easily see from its location whether it was touching the Ram’s horn or the Scorpion’s tail. The full moons divided the circle into twelve parts. Neat and tidy.

By the 6th century BC, the constellations were mapped and formed, and the signs (distinct from the constellations) were established as twelve 3o-degree arcs over the course of the following two hundred years (17). Now, the human desire to fix something in place should be noted here.

Predictability has to be a wonderful thing when you live at the mercy of the elements, and I can tell you that what this process reminds me of is when my daughter was first born, and the hourly notations I made marking her every behavior, seeking signs, omens and portents of future squalls, tempests, and nights with no sleep.

I suspect the ancients were as terrified by the sheer unpredictability of the cosmos as I was of my tiny little child, and to regain some measure of control, they watched the world around them with the same obsessive interest and concern I watched that 9 lb. bundle.

I was hoping to discern patterns amongst the chaos of unbridled, untamed nature, and so were they. Hence the desirability of knowing precisely where those four fixed points in the sky were located, because once found, they could not be easily lost, and they remained true and known for a very long time. Yet… all things change. It is the nature of nature.

6 thoughts on “The ‘Fixed’ Sky

  1. I found you on the Lilith thread on astro.com. What a great blog! I shall put it in my Blog roll. I have only recently started looking at the history of astrology due to my sudden infatuation with the fixed stars and the constellations. The 4 royal stars are fascinating and keep popping up for me recently. I always wondered why the fixed signs featured in the tarot cards The World and The Heirophant. Also four beasts feature at the gates of Hampton Court. The Lion, Bull, Eagle and the Unicorn ( I don’t know if the Unicorn is supposed to be Aquarius)
    Anyway, you asked about Lilith…..Hi:))

    • Oh my god! Thank you SO MUCH!! I am so glad your blog exists, and i wish I knew about it before now!! But, we were destined to find one another… ;-)) As soon as I figure out how to add your blog here, I will do so. I am going to include information on the history of tarot at some point, and I was thinking the way to do that is to incorporate aspects like, how we get astrological symbols in tarot. You have given me inspiration–thank you very much! There is nothing more precious to a writer than inspiration, I think. ;-)

    • oh, wow, totally cool… you guys are GREAT. Okay, as soon as I get over this cold, I will figure out more of my buttons jiggers and knobs on this machine and see if i can make the jump into hyperspace. ;-) Don’t give up on me… I am slow to make changes, but that doesn’t mean I have forgotten you … ;-))

  2. so it was because of the equinoctial points that they were called royal stars so what will be the ‘royal’ stars in todays age

    • So far, these ‘fixed’ stars have not changed in terms of their importance to astrology; they have, of course, moved position in the sky, since they are not ‘fixed’ at all. The idea of fixity is a comforting metaphor, but it is not actually, literally true… and so we are left to wander the night sky, wondering what to do with ourselves. But the astrological chart is a “photograph” of the night sky at the moment we are born, and although we change, the photograph does not. What does it reveal to us now, is the question? What hidden person lies within that sense of ‘fixity’? What internal changes belie the face shown in that original photograph? It’s a Picture of Dorian Grey question. This is why I prefer using progressions, because people change, and so must the metaphor we use to describe them.

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