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.