And round about the Sun, and dependent on the Sun, are the eight spheres, namely, the sphere of the fixed stars, and the six planet-spheres, and the sphere which surrounds the earth.
(Corpus Hermetica, Libellus XVI)
Whether the ancients believed the sun to be the physical center of our solar system as in the heliocentric notion of modern astronomy is irrelevant, for those initiated into the esoteric mysteries Sol was beyond the fiery orb in the heavens, it was a representation of the Divine Central Principle, the Philosophic ignis centrum, that reigns ablaze in the center of all creation. It was through Sol, in one of its physical manifestation as the Sun of astronomy that those initiated into the mysteries came to comprehend the workings of Cosmos. Through observing the basic rise and set patterns of the Sun and its yearly oscillation across the horizon and its path across the zodiac the early Philosophers armed themselves with the base geometries and principles by which to probe at the sacred nature of our heavens. These geometries and principles exhibited by the Sun (or rather the Earth’s position to the Sun) stood as the standard by which early astronomers began to examine the cycles and nature of all other celestial bodies. As such, the Sun in the context of Sacred Astronomy cannot be examined without first outlining the basic empirical methods by which the ancients divided, measured, and understood the sky.
Domification, The Celestial Sphere, and The Great Circles:
The circle, the dome, and the sphere are the basic geometric models of the heavens. As we watch the rise and set of the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars we see that each celestial body follows an arched trajectory overhead. Called the Celestial Sphere, this dome is essentially a projection of the Earth’s sphere out towards the Cosmos. Onto this sphere are mapped three Great Circles of importance:
- The Celestial Equator: A projection of the Earth’s own equator onto the Celestial Sphere, it divides the sky into a northern and southern hemisphere. As seen from Earth, all celestial bodies traverse the sky on arched trajectories parallel to the Celestial Equator.
- The Meridian: The Great Circle that connects the north and south celestial poles (NCP and SCP) to the point directly above (zenith) and the point below (nadir) the terrestrial observer. The Meridian divides the sky into an eastern and western hemisphere.
- The Ecliptic: This is the plane of the earth’s orbit around the Sun. In the Celestial Sphere it is the Great Circle that lies at an inclined angle relative to the Celestial Equator. This angle is the Obliquity of the Ecliptic, which at present day is approximately 23.4°. All the Planets in our solar system stay relatively close to the ecliptic, thus this Great Circle has been used to chart the movement of the Sun, Moon, and Planets relative to a band of distant stars. These distant stars became the zodiac of 12 constellations as a result of the ecliptic being divided into 12 segments of 30 degrees to represent the 12 months of the year.
The Great Circle of the Celestial Equator intersects the Ecliptic at two points. These points are called Vernal Equinox (VE) and Autumnal Equinox (AE) as they mark the location of the Sun on the mid cross-quarters. Vernal Equinox is the traditional beginning of the solar cycle…it is the Astrological New Year, heralding the transition when the Sun begins to stay longer and higher in the sky bringing extended periods of warmth and light.
Ecliptic Astronomy is purely two-dimensional and geometric. It entered the Western traditions through the Assyro-Babylonian tablets of the Chaldean Magi. Today it is mainly used in mundane astrology for creating horoscopes, and modern astronomers continue to use it to chart planetary orbits.
The underlying principle is that the motion of the Sun, Moon, and planets projected onto a distant background of fixed stars (the Zodiac) is circular around the Earth. Indeed, due to the vast distances involved this geometric model holds true even though the planetary orbits are more elliptical than circular and our solar system is heliocentric. In Ecliptic Astronomy, the four solar stations (solstices and equinoxes) occur at right angles from each other as a result of the Earth’s position in its slightly elliptical orbit.
Winter solstice in the northern hemisphere occurs when the north end of the Earth’s polar axis points away from the Sun and we experience colder months and longer nights. Summer solstice occurs when the north end is pointing towards the Sun bringing warmer and longer days. The Equinoxes are the mid-points in the cycle when there is equal night and day.
All variations of the Solar Wheel symbol are a manifestation of the geometry of Ecliptic Astronomy. The number of prongs relate to the cross-quarters plus additional divisions of the cycle (i.e. intervals of time or divisions of space). Note, that despite the naming convention, this family of symbols does not constitute direct representation of the celestial body ‘Sun’ , but rather represent the Divine Central Principle and principial orientation to the cycles of the universe. Consequently, they can be associated with the universe as a whole or any number of planets or stars including, but not limited to, our Sun. The Egyptian hieroglyph Re and astrological glyph for Sun also used to denote the ‘Gold’ of Hermetic Alchemy directly relates to this notion of Sol- the Central Principle as derived from Ecliptic Astronomy.
Based on terrestrial observations against the local horizon, Positional Astronomy is the oldest system for measuring the movement of celestial bodies. Neolithic monuments such as Stonehenge stand as a testament to our ancestors marking the position of the Sun and Moon rise and set in the local horizon on dates of seasonal importance. This method of astronomy can also be used to cast shadows with an upright pillar, obelisk, or stick in order to divide the day into hours. Such practices were adopted by the Greeks from the Horary Priests of Ancient Egypt.
In Positional Astronomy the solar cycle orchestrates a slightly different geometry than in the two-dimensional ecliptic. This is because the Sun will never rise or set due north or due south as a result of the Obliquity of the Ecliptic. Thus, all solar movement is constrained to an arc that extends 23.4° north and south of the east-west axis. Observing the sunrise and sunsets against the local horizon, we see that the Sun oscillates back and forth from a northern extreme (summer solstice in the northern hemisphere) to a southern extreme (winter solstice). A curious thing happens on the solstices. After six months the sunrise or set positions begin to creep along the horizon at shorter intervals until the motion literally stops (hence the term ‘solstice’, Latin for “sun standstill”). After a few days (~3days) of rising and setting in the same location the sun reverses its movement and begins to backtrack against the horizon as it moves towards the opposite solstice. In Positional Astronomy the four cross-quarters are measured as three spatial positions whereby the vernal equinox Sun rises and sets in the same positions as the autumnal equinox.
The twelve months as observed in Positional Astronomy constitute seven positions. Thus, the integers 3,7, and of course, 12 are intrinsically related to the solar cycle. When sunsets are considered along sunrises, the four solar stations constitute a six-pointed geometry; thus as we move from two-dimensional zodiacal/ecliptic space to three-dimensional terrestrial space 4=6. This should also be examined alongside the two most popular forms of the Tree in Traditional Kabbalistic philosophy and the inherent 3,7,12 structure there within(see Concerning the Tree), the perceptive reader will notice that Tifferet – the sefirah traditionally associated to the Sun – emanates as the fourth sefirah in the Gra Tree and the sixth in the Ari version.
The Solar year is the 365.25 day period it takes the earth to circle around the Sun. Because there is an average of .25 days (or 6hrs) remainder to the solar year, the solar cycle amounts to one extra day every four years . If this subtlety in the cycle is not accounted for after 30 years the months will be completely out of sync with the solar cycle and Chaos will ensue. Several cultures using the geometric Ecliptic form of Astronomy kept 360 day calendars adding 5 intercalary days to total 365 (this was the basis of the Babylonian calendar). Then, every four years an extra day was inserted into the year totaling 366, this maintained the calendar in sync with the celestial rhythms of the Sun. These extra 6hrs of the solar cycle is also the reason that the modern Gregorian calendar has leap years.
32 Year Equinoctial Cycle:
A curious thing happens around equinox in Positional Astronomy. As a result of the Earth’s proximity to the Sun, the sunrises and sets moves at the greatest intervals across the horizon during the weeks nearest equinox. Though the Sun rises near due east each year on Vernal Equinox, a careful observer will notice minor fluctuations. These fluctuations occur for 32 years whereby different portions of the solar disc align to true east. On the 33rd year, the Vernal Equinox Sun rises and sets in the exact position it did 33 years earlier. Thus, we find a greater “solar year” cycle related to the Traditional New Year and “rebirth” of the sun in Positional Astronomy. This likely influenced the myths of the Solar Hero who after 32 years of physical life is reborn to eternity on his 33rd year (i.e. Christ, Mithras, etc.). In Hebrew Gematria, 32 yields בל (‘heart’) indicative of the center of the subtle body (the central heart chakra ) and Sol principle as the practitioner’s orientation to his own Center.
A tiny wobble in the earth’s axis shifts the solar position of Vernal Equinox to a new zodiacal constellation every 2,160 years, taking the Vernal Equinox Sun 25,950 years to complete one full cycle around the zodiac. This means that Vernal Equinox, the supposedly “fixed” reference point used to measure the movement of the Sun across the zodiac and initiate ‘time’ as the traditional New Year, is not fixed at all but rather subject to the precession of the equinoxes. From an initiatic standpoint these astrological Ages- known by the constellation in which the Vernal Equinox Sun rises – reflect shifts in mass consciousness as evident in the prevailing philosophical and spiritual thought of the Age.
Many authors have pointed out that during the Age of Taurus bovine cults predominated the ancient world (i.e. the Apis Bull of Egypt, the Ba’al worship of the Canaanites, the Minotaur of the Crete, etc.). The practices involving the sacrifice of the bull or the tauroctony were the means by which those initiated into the mysteries expressed the precessional cycle, the slaying of the bull being a direct allusion to the Sun moving out of Taurus and into the constellation of Ares. Following the Age of Taurus we see a global shift over to the ram-headed deity, the symbol of fecundity and creation became associated with the ram (goat or lamb) of Ares; the ram-headed Egyptian Amun, the goat of Mendes, Pan, and a plethora of others became the cult focus across the ancient world. Around the 1st Century C.E the middle east saw the development of a new apocalyptic Jewish sect that symbolized their hero and savior as the fish. The rise of Christianity coincided with the precessional shift from Ares to Pisces (the ‘fish’), and consequently Christ came to represent slain lamb of Ares and in resurrection he became the fish of our current Age. As we approach the next precessional age, that of Aquarius the water bearer, religious thought is once again going through a major transformation – we are now at the helms of our own spiritual vessels able to navigate the divine waters without the need of mediating institution. The flood gates are opening and that which was once esoteric is becoming exoteric- consequently, more people today have access to doctrines and practices to unveil transcendent truths than ever before.
Knowledge of this precession cycle was instrumental in esoteric religious philosophy as it articulates a power greater than the Sun and alluded to the invisible omnipresent and omnipotent God that turns the wheel of Time. Moreover, evidence of this Precessional Cycle could be observed at a much smaller scale – every 72 years the Sun and all other stars are seen to shift 1 degree across the sky. This integer 72 along with 32 (as the number of years it takes the Sun to complete its Equinoctial Cycle) are of primal importance to the esoteric traditions following the unseen and unknowable God. This is primarily evident in the 72 names of God and the 32 paths of wisdom in traditional Kabbalah. Both 72 and 32 articulate solar cycles that are for the most part beyond the confines of human experience and turn the initiatic Mind away from the solar orb and towards the greater transcendent principles of our universe.
We discuss the importance of the Preccesional Cycle and in-particular its manifestation in the Aeon Chronos and the Gnostic interpretation of Christ through analyzing the inherent geometry of the Chi-Rho symbol in The Eternal Chronos.
23, 666, and the Obliquity of the Ecliptic:
The integers 23 and 666 have a long history of association with the Sun and the Solar principle. As we will demonstrate, these integers among their various interpretations were also the venue through which knowledge of the Obliquity of the Ecliptic was transmitted to initiates of the mysteries. Throughout the life of our planet this angle has ranged from about 22° to 24° ; however, in human history the angle has been bound closely to the numeral 23 ranging from 23.9° to 23.4°. Throughout the Biblical and later Classical periods of our history, the obliquity of the ecliptic was around 23.6°, or in fractional form 23 and 2/3 .It is during this time period where we find a rather curious correspondence between the numbers:
2 x 3 = 6 (the emanation of the Kabbalistic sefirot Tiferet in the Ari sequence, and the number of spokes formed by the geometry of the solar cycle in Positional Astronomy)
2 / 3 = .666 (the fractional approximation of the obliquity angle in antiquity,a reference to the Biblical number of Man or the Beast )
We can further elaborate on this by examining a variation of a family of symbol commonly used by early Christians, the chrismon. These six-pronged symbols had various manifestation, the two most popular being: 1) The simple chrismon formed by the crossed Greek letters Iota(I) and Chi (X) as a monogram for Ιησους Хριστος(‘Jesus Christ’) and also shorthand for Iχθυς (‘fish’) and, 2)The Chi-Rho or Cross of Constantine formed by the crossed Greek letters Chi (X) and Rho(P) as the monogram of Christos (Χριστός). We examine both these forms in relation to the solar cycles in the post The Eternal Chronos; however, here we present another variant formed by the Chi (X) and an inverse numeral 4.
This rather enigmatic form of the chrismon may have been intended to be comprehended outside the Greek alphabet and instead through the Sinatic form of the Hebrew alphabet. As such it yields a cross of the Sinatic letters Aleph and Tav – thus representing the first and last letters of the Sinatic alphabet, the Alpha – Omega principle whereby the beginning is the end, a fitting symbol for the eternal Christ. Needless to say, the six-points of the geometry echoes the six-pronged geometry of the solar cross-quarters in Positional Astronomy.
Aleph is the central axis and thus corresponds to the east-west Equinoctial Axis, Tav represents the Solstitial Axis – the northern and southern limits of the Sun as seen from earth (the angle bound by the Obliquity of the Ecliptic). Considering that Vernal Equinox is the traditional New Year, Aleph = Beginning = Equinoctial Axis is a rather seamless correspondence. Similarly, the solstices are the limits and thus the ends of the solar cycle where the Sun at either extreme represents the completion of a polarity (i.e. the longest day of the year, or the shortest day of the year,etc.) giving us the Tav= End = Solstitial Axis correspondence.
Moreover, Aleph is the first letter of the Sinatic alphabet and Tav is the 22nd and last letter. Together their alphabetical positions give us 23 (1 + 22) the very numeral at the heart of this discussion. 23 is the numerical inverse of 32 – a number discussed above in the Equinoctial Cycle and representative of the 32 paths of wisdom and liberation in Kabbalah doctrine. In Hebrew Gematria 23 yields הוט (‘to bind’) indicative its role as the bounding principle of the solar extremes (versus the “liberating” role of 32).
Other pertinent recurrence of 23 and 666 include the 6×6 Magic Square of Sol, a variation of which was first published in the Arabic astro-magical text Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa. The actual workings of the Magic Square of Sol are beyond the scope of this post; however, it should be noted that the sum of all the digits in the square totals 666. Also, in the grid of the Magical Square the number at the coordinate 2,3 (second horizontal number, third vertical number) is 23. In terms of music and the science of harmonics .666 or 2/3 is the ratio of the perfect fifth, considered by the Pythagoreans as the most powerful harmonic interval – naturally the ratio of the perfect fifth was to be understood as the harmonia of Sol.
Sun and Moon:
The ancients went to great depths to synchronize the lunar and solar cycles. These two celestial orbs being the manifest reminders of the transcendent male/+ and female/- polarities of the universe. The Sun is a direct symbol of the central, combustive, and active agent (Δ), while the Moon in her nature as the luminary reflecting the light of the Sun reminds us of the passive, liquid, and mutable agent (∇). In their celestial union- what we may term the celestial Bridal Chamber– we find a symbolic allusion to the creation of the macrocosmic universe (via the combined triangles of the hexagram).
We address the Moon, her various cycles, and her role as “mother” of Sacred Astronomy in the post Moon:The Hook of Consciousness.
Sun and Mercury:
Traditionally Mercury is the planet associated with initiation, magic, and the various paths of Sacred Science. In its relation to the Sun we find that Mercury’s cycle alongside the solar year is represented by the fraction 22/7. This fraction being the approximation of the irrational transcendent number Pi, the underlying ‘circle’ principle through which the heavens can be measured and interpreted. In ecliptic astronomy Mercury’s rhythms within the context of the solar year traces out the geometry of the two primordial polarities (Δ,∇) and of course, when two cycles are plotted together, the union of those polarities in the Hexagram.
Mercury’s patterns present us with the manifestation of many universal truths, he/she/it is truly to be understood as the initiator into Sacred Astronomy. We barely scratch the surface of Mercury initiatic meaning in the post Mercury:Gateway to the Heavens.
Sun and Venus:
With Venus, the second of the internal planets, we find yet another venue into transcendent universal principles. Her conjunction cycles with the Sun are represented by the ratio 8/5 – a fraction that yields an approximation of yet another transcendent and irrational number, Phi. Like Mercury, Venus not only yields a fundamental principle in her relation to an irrational number, but her very geometry in Ecliptic Astronomy transmits one of the perennial symbols of the initiatic tradition. In her 5 conjunctions every 8 solar years, Venus hands us the symbol of the Pentagram.
We treat Venus in more depth in the post Venus:The Divine Feminine.
Sun and Mars:
Mars is the first of the outer planets. Traditionally attributed to the god of war it is a planet symbolic of action in all its martial, intellectual, and sexual manifestations. In its opposition cycle with the sun Mars is exemplified by the ratio 7/15, forming 7 conjunctions every 15 solar years. This opposition cycle plotted in Ecliptic Astronomy yields heptagonal geometry, more specifically the seven-pointed star or Heptagram. In this symbol the initiate finds the operating active powers of all the planets in the solar system, in Kabbalah the Heptagram points are representative of the seven planets in ascending or descending order. By drawing the Heptagram the practitioner recreates the order of days in a week thereby putting the planets in action in terms of their temporal manifestation.
Sun and Jupiter:
It takes Jupiter approximately 12 years (11.9years) to complete one cycle around the zodiac ;therefore, the annual patterns of the Sun’s 12 months around the zodiac are reflected at a higher magnitude of 12 years by Jupiter. Jupiter’s orbit around the Sun takes 399 days yielding a Sun:Jupiter ratio of 12/11. This means that, as measured from Earth, every 12 Solar Years Jupiter completes 11 opposition cycles with the Sun. The geometry traced by this cycle is that of a eleven-pointed star, or the Hendecogram.
The Hendecogram is symbolic of the Man-God (union of the Pentagram of the Microcosm with the Hexagram of the Macrocosm).In Pythagorean number theory 11 is seen as the attempt to better perfection (10); it is thus symbolic of the initiate who retains his sense of Self in the face of perfection(10 + 1), in it there as also an implied duality (11 = 1+1 = 2) since this Man-God now exists separate – having overthrown the confines of demiurgic creator. Of course, we may look at this in terms of the Greco-Roman myths attributed to Zeus or Jupiter as the One who slays his own father (Titan Kronos) in order to bring forth a new Age. This is not to be interpreted as complete dominion and liberation over the universe, mainly due to the implied duality , but is instead representative of the realization of Macroanthropos, where the initiate is now poised to break free of all bonds.
Furthermore, throughout Jupiter’s astronomical cycle the planet disappears from the night sky for 32 days reflecting the Sun’s Equinoctial Cycle. As the equinox Sun is “reborn” into the Greater Solar Year on the 33rd year; Jupiter is reborn into the night sky on the 33rd day after 32 days of living in darkness. The same mathematical rhythm, but at different magnitudes.
Sun and Saturn:
Saturn takes 29.5 years to orbit around the Sun, thus the Sun:Saturn ratio gives us 29.5/30. Based on its periodicities, Saturn can be said to be more closely aligned to the Moon that the Sun considering it mimics the Moon’s synodic cycle of 29.5 days at a higher magnitude. However, the relationship between Sun and Saturn is fundamental in Hermetic alchemical workings as Saturn represents the dual nature of Man, the potential for spiritual eternity locked in the tellurian tomb of matter. It is through transcending Saturn that the initiate can surpass the limits of the universe and leave behind the dual nature of our terminal existence. In the words of Isaac the Hollander :
From Saturn proceeds, and from Saturn is made, the Philosopher’s Stone….There is no greater secret that this: that is found is Saturn, since in the Sun [the vulgar Sun, that is to say in the intellectual faculties of external consciousness] we do not find the perfection that we find in Saturn. In its interior, and in this all the Philosophers agree, it is a most excellent Sun…In truth, Saturn is the stone that the ancient philosophers did not want to name.
Unlike the other classical planets, Saturn’s synodic cycle does not produce a coherent geometric form- it is always in fractional state continuing for 360 years at which point the 360-pronged geometry of the Saturn:Sun cycles completely engulfs the ecliptic circle into a black mass of connecting lines – an act that can be described as the Philosophic “squaring of the circle”. This perfection of Saturn in one sense represents the bindings and restrictions of the karmic universe and the human condition of being entombed in the life-death cycles, and in another sense is equated with the Philosopher’s stone as hiding the principle by which the initiate can unshackle the bonds of terminal existence and obtain true spiritual immortality.