Egypt and the Zodiac Symbols, November 1953
In this article, Fagan discusses the true origin of the zodiac symbols. As you'll see below, he explains that the symbols and names of the twelve constellations were derived from monthly agricultural events that occurred in ancient Egypt. He also includes fascinating details about the trait characteristics of each sign.
Those who have followed the recent discoveries in Uranology [Fagan means astrology per se, not Uranian astrology, ed.] know that the symbols of the zodiacal constellations are ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic ideograms, which indicated the natural events that occurred in the valley of the Nile during the month* when each constellation rose at the beginning of the Egyptian day, namely at sunset: or when the moon became full
in them, which is tantamount to saying the same thing, for the full moon always rises at sunset, because it is then in opposition to the sun. Stars that appeared on the eastern horizon immediately after sunset are said to rise acronychally. Like the peoples of all the great nations of remote antiquity, the Egyptians were almost exclusively concerned with the gliding of the moon through the constellations, which could be clearly viewed at night by the naked eye. The sun's journey through the twelve constellations, being impossible to observe in broad daylight, had no influence whatsoever on the naming of the Egyptian serau (pentades) and constellations.
For example, the Egyptians knew that when the moon became full among the stars of the 10th zodiacal constellation, which happened about 1000 B.C. in June (Julian), the sun would attain its maximum altitude at noon, so they very aptly symbolized this constellation by the ideogram of a "Horned-Goat" (Capricorn) on the hill-top: and as the Nile would then begin to swell again with water and with fish, the goat was represented with the tail of a fish. When the full moon occurred among the stars of the 11th constellation, which happened about July, the Egyptians knew that the great Inundation would commence, when the Nile would overflow its banks and flood the lands. So this constellation was identified with Hap, the youthful god of the Nile, who is depicted on the monuments pouring the water of the Nile out of his two urns onto the two lands (Upper and Lower) of Egypt. When the Greeks adopted the Egyptian zodiac they identified this constellation with Ganymede, Zeus' Cup-bearer, while the Romans called it Aquarius, the "Waterbearer." They knew, too, that when the moon became full in the 12th constellation, which happened about August, the Inundation would be so extensive as to turn the whole of Egypt into a vast sea, abounding in fish and river life, so most appropriately they symbolized it by the ideogram of the "two fishes" (Khonuy) tied together (i.e. the kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt bound together under the one pharaoh).
When about October the moon became full in the 2nd constellation they expected that the waters of the Nile would have so far receded as to permit the oxen being yoked and the now enriched soil [enriched by silt via the inundation, ed.] ploughed, so they naturally symbolized this constellation by the ideogram of Ka (the Bull or the Phallus), especially as it was also the month when the cattle were coupled. With the rising of the 4th constellation at sunset, which occurred in December, the Egyptian astronomers knew it would be mid-winter when the sun would drop to its lowest altitude and then begin to scale the heavens again. This turning point was hailed as the rebirth of the Sun, so the ideogram of Kheprer, beetle-god of rebirth and reincarnation, was chosen as the ideogram for this constellation.
Mid-winter was also the season for the "sowing of seeds" and in the Babylonian zodiac the 4th constellation was represented by "al-lu" the "crab," one of the lowest form of animal life as it hides itself, like the seeds, under the sands. The constellation Cancer contains the remarkable star-cluster Praespe, the "crib," and the two Aselli "asses," which rose at sunset during this Christmas month recalling the crib and asses in the stable of Bethlehem. The rising of the 6th constellation after dusk, which occurred in February, found the Egyptian women-folk reaping the harvest, which was in full sway when the "Harvest moon" was in conjunction with Spica, the "Ear of Corn," so it was natural that this constellation should be symbolized by the ideogram of a maiden (Virgo) with a sheaf of corn in her hand. With the acronychal rising of the 7th constellation during the next month (March), the harvest was weighed and put in storage, so it was to be expected that the ideogram of a Scales (Libra) would be chosen as the most fitting for this constellation. The evening rising of the 8th zodiacal constellation during the next month, ushered in the deadly Khamsin bringing with its pestilential hot sand-storms from the Sahara desert, hordes of scorpions to infest the land. This was the most parched, oppressive and sickening month of the year and frequently brought the plague. Little wonder therefore that the symbol of Serket, the scorpion-goddess, was chosen as the ideogram for this constellation. With the abatement of the Khamsin, the Nile more easily fordable and the harvest secure, the vespertine rising of the 9th constellation, during the month of May, found the Egyptian army prepared to set out on foreign expeditions, so this constellation was symbolized by the ideogram of the mounted archer (Sagittarius).
Thus it will be seen that the symbols and names of the twelve constellations were derived from the natural events that occurred in Egypt (and in nowhere else in the world) when the moon was full in them. This method of naming the stars from the phenomena that attended their conjunction with the full moon was not unique to Egypt; the Indian months, for instance, are named after the nakshatras (asterisms) that rise at sunset, or when the moon is full in them. For example, the 1st of the Indian months, Chaitra, which at present commences on March 14th, is named after the nakshatra Chaitra which rises at sunset on this date. The yogatara (chief star) of Chaitra is Spica. This suggests that the pre-Vedic day also commenced at sunset.
It must be obvious to the intelligent reader that when a constellation rises at sunset, or when it holds the full moon, the sun must be in the opposite constellation. When the summer constellation Capricorn or Pan rises immediately after sundown, the sun will be in the winter constellation Cancer and vice versa. Again when the full moon in Aquarius heralds the arrival of the Inundation the sun will be passing through the opposite constellation Leo, and when the Nile Valley is plagued with hordes of scorpions at the vespertine rising of Scorpio, the relentless sun will glare from the constellation Taurus. The reader will now see the absurdity of describing those born with the Sun in Taurus as of "bull-like” character, and those with the Sun in Virgo as being "meek, timid and bashful as maidens." The symbols and names of the constellations afford no clue whatsoever to their astrological character, nor were they ever intended to do so. This was the blunder of the Greek and Roman writers of the late period, who never really understood Egyptian astronomy and who mistook the Egyptian pentades** for decans—blunders that have been slavishly parroted by many generations of astrologers and which unfortunately still disfigure most modern textbooks.
The Egyptian astrologers, of course, never made these mistakes. As early as the 1st dynasty, when Djer, its 3rd king, founded the Harakhte Era at the heliacal rising of Spica in Heliopolis on September 15, 3130 B.C., when Harakhte (Mars) had risen above the horizon in conjunction with Denebola (then a star of the 1st magnitude), in the end of the constellation Leo, the zodiac was rigorously divided into twelve equal*** constellations each containing six serau ("rams") or pentades, each "ram" having for its determinative the ideograms of a five-pointed star. The zodiac (Body of Nut, the sky-goddess), which remained fixed for all time, was so positioned as to place, as far as it was possible to do so, the principal fixed stars at the beginning of each pentade (see table below), with Menyet (Spica) the "Peg-star" the prime fiducial in Virgo 29°.
The following tabulation shows the dates in the current year (1953) when the sun entered each of the constellations of the Egypto-Babylonian zodiac. These advance by one full day in about every 72 years:
Cancer, July 17
Leo, August 17
Virgo, September 17
Libra, October 17
Scorpio, November 16
Sagittarius, December 16
Capricorn, January 14
Aquarius, February 13
Pisces, March 15
Aries, April 14
Taurus, May 15
Gemini, June 15
Just as the influence of the fixed star Regulus was likened to the effects of a conjunction of Jupiter and Mars, and of Denebola to a conjunction of Saturn and Venus, so the disciples of Imhotep, the founder of astrology, likened the astrological influences of each of the astrological constellations to those of one of the planets in their diurnal or nocturnal sects. Thus they likened the astrological influences of the constellation Leo to those of the sun, which was called its "ruler." Hence Leo was held to indicate those ambitious of kingly power, egotists, exhibitionists, and those given to splendor and sumptuous displays. If they could not shine by their own light they identified themselves with the "great" of all time, aping their lives or quoting their sayings. Typical examples were Alexander the Great, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Napoleon I, Louis XIV the "Sun King" (who built the palace of Versailles), Ludwig II (famous for his magnificent castles), Albert the Prince Consort (who built the Crystal Palace), Goethe, Count d'Orsay (the famous dandy), Ivan the Terrible, and Cardinal Richelieu, all of whom were born when the sun was passing through the constellation Leo.
The influence of the constellation Cancer were likened to that of the moon, which was deemed to be its "ruler," hence the natives of this constellation were highly emotional, sensitive and egocentric, living excessively in the imagination and only with difficulty differentiating between fact and fancy. Their plastic features are seldom seen in a state of repose for they seem always to be "pulling faces," enacting in their own person the fantasies of their own imagination and frequently they pose as the heroes of their own stories. Addicted to drama, romance and fiction, they play to the gallery and crave the applause of the crowd. Unlike the opposite constellation Capricorn, they are not particularly musical. The following people were born with the sun in the constellation Cancer: Lord Northcliffe, Thackery, Alexander Dumas (both father and son), George Bernard Shaw, Emile Jannings, Mussolini, Emily Bronte, Sir Harry Lauder, Guy de Maupassant, Shelley, Tennyson and H. P. Blavatsky.
The astrological influences of the constellations Gemini and Virgo were likened to those of Mercury and hence those born with the sun therein were as a group constitutionally intelligent, versatile, dexterous, high-strung, restless, easily startled, verbose and living almost exclusively in the mind. Those born under the influence of the Sun in Gemini excelled as journalists, editors, conversationalists and businessmen generally. They also made gifted entertainers, musicians and singers. They are interested in education and in the welfare of the young and for this reason shine as teachers. But despite their fine physiques, Gemini people are so high strung and masochistic by temperament that they frequently resort to excessive smoking, drinking or even drug taking to allay their nervous agitation. Typical Sun-in-Gemini people are Garibaldi, Stephen Foster, Cecil Rhodes, P. T. Barnum and Rockefeller. Incidentally natives of this constellation are not noted for their religious zeal, nor are they always over scrupulous in their business transactions.
Despite their sensitive dispositions and their tendency to jump at unexpected noises and the like, natives of the constellation Virgo can compare favorably with natives of Scorpio for indomitable courage and cool heroism. This, coupled with the fact that as a group they are the best strategists, tacticians and cartographists, makes them first class soldiers and sailors. Wallenstein, Lord Nelson, General Hindenburg, Marshal Foch and President Eisenhower were all born with the sun in this constellation. Scions of Virgo have a great love of minutiae, and display much skill in splitting hairs. They take as much pleasure in mending a child's toy or a wristwatch as in planning a military campaign. As is to be expected from the fact that Mercury is the "ruler," Virgo natives make some of the world's greatest orators, Annie Besant, Mahatma Gandhi and Aimee McPherson being cases in point. The fact that Lord Cavendish, the world's shyest scientist, and Greta Garbo were also born with the sun in this constellation illustrates the innate bashfulness traditionally associated with it; a tendency, however, that will be almost completely obliterated should the Moon be configurated with Mars, especially when the latter is angular. Other interesting examples of the Virgo temperament are Queen Elizabeth [the first Elizabeth, the great 16th century monarch, not the gracious present queen of England whose sun is in sidereal Aries, ed.] and Samuel Johnston.
Venus, the significator of love, was assigned as the "ruler" of Taurus and Libra because it was observed by the ancients that those born under their influence were amorous, much addicted to eroticism in all its manifestations, sociable, friendly as puppies, meek, gentle, courteous, peace-loving, adverse to all violence; hating war, not overly fond of sports, or noted for physical courage, but often highly skilled in all aesthetic pursuits. In particular, Taureans were noted for their warm affectionate natures, their brooding interest in natural philosophy and psychology, their remarkable powers of patience, application and endurance, their love for facts and truth for their own sake and their attraction to precision measuring instruments. Their preoccupation with the problems of sex is so pronounced as often to border on the unusual. Margaret de Valois, Marquis de Sade, Brigham Young and Neville Heath were born with the Sun in Taurus. Apart from a teasing tendency—even a streak of sadism—in many Taureans, they are the mildest and most unoffensive of the zodiacal children. Both sexes are, however, partial to large families. Among typical Taureans, mention may be made of Marcus Aurelius, Dante, Balzac, Mesmer, Wagner, Walt Whitman, Emerson, Queen Victoria, King George V and Queen Mary. Reg Park, who won the titles "Mr. America" and "Mr. Universe," and acclaimed as the most perfectly developed man, probably of all time, was also born with the Sun in Taurus. Incidentally, Randolf Turpin was also born on the same day as Reg Park, so they are "astrological twins."
Because Saturn is exalted in Libra the natives of this constellation often give the impression of a sullen reserve bordering on taciturnity. This is not due to perverseness or innate secrecy but to their phenomenally poor memories. As a group they may find the greatest difficulty to retain what they have so painfully committed to memory and they rarely recall the date, place and details of a conversation. Despite their obvious intelligence, they may not distinguish themselves especially at school or at the universities. But what they lack in book learning they make up in abundance in artistic skill, taking a keen delight in architecture, decorating, drawing and painting, in all of which they have no equals. They are the charming and polished denizens that frequent the gay [note that in 1953 the word "gay" had not assumed its present day homosexual connotation, ed.] salons, the music-halls, the ballrooms, the race-courses and the world of fashion generally. Libra is "par excellence" the constellation of peace and good will, and many famous peacemakers such as King Edward VIII the "Peacemaker," Will Rogers and Leopold III, whose only crime was that he made peace too soon, were born with the Sun in Libra. Among other notable Sun in Libra men, mention may be made of Vergil, Liszt, Samuel T. Coleridge, Canova, Marie Antoinette, Johann Strauss, Christopher Wren, Oscar Wilde, Paderewski, and the Agha Khan. As a type, Sun in Libra people are noted for their medium height, thick-set bodies, warm rich coloring and doll-like eyes.
Mars, the war-lord, was made the "ruler" of Aries and Scorpio because the natives of these constellations were, as a rule, found to be aggressive, often imperious and positive, with a desire to lead. In particular the natives of Aries, the exaltation of the Sun, were often irresistibly attracted to power politics and positions of authority and command. It is therefore not surprising to find that Charlemagne, Machiavelli, Catherine de Medici, Oliver Cromwell, the Earl of Strafford, Robespierre, Catherine II of Russia, the Duke of Wellington, Karl Marx, Lenin, Marshal Petain, and Dr. Benes were born with the Sun in Aries. The native of Scorpio loves a fight with pen, tongue or sword for its own sake and his courage is only equaled by his fighting prowess. Typical of those born with the Sun in Scorpio, mention may be made of Sir Winston Churchill, General Rommel, Lord Montgomery, General Franco and General de Gaulle, all of whom have figured so prominently in the recent war [i.e., World War II, ed.]. To these may be added the names of such redoubtable characters as Luther, Voltaire, William Pitt, Thomas Carlyle and Jonathan Swift.
Jupiter was made the "ruler" of Sagittarius and Pisces because it was noted that the natives of these constellations as aspired to the best in all things. It was observed that the natives of Sagittarius were as a class idealists, moralists, upholders of law and order, aspiring to the best in all phases of human endeavor and holding great reverence for all that was noble, dignified, respectable, distinguished, honorable and academic. In consequence they flocked to the professions, the churches and the diplomatic corps, taking a keen interest in spiritual and natural philosophy. Representative of this constellation were Johannes Kepler, Tycho Brahe, John Milton, Sir Isaac Newton, Disraeli, Gladstone, Pasteur, Thomas Grey, Kipling, Sir Isaac Pitman, Father Damien, St. Theresa of Lisieux and St. Bernadette of Lourdes. The constellation "ruled" by Jupiter in its nocturnal sect, namely Pisces, also aspired to the best, but in such sensate matters as art, luxury, food, wines and the like, often growing opulent and fat in easy, indolent and self indulgent living. Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine and Edgar Wallace were natives of this constellation. Of somewhat different temperament were Michelangelo, Sir Richard Burton, Livingstone, Swinburne and Emile Zola, but in their charts the sun was in powerful configuration to Pluto.
The leaden Saturn was assigned as the "ruler" of Capricorn and Aquarius because the natives of these constellations are famed for their solitary habits, their parsimony, their aloof, reserved and secretive dispositions and their addiction to the pursuit of the unusual, the unorthodox and the occult. The natives of Saturn's diurnal constellation, Capricorn, are noted for their brevity in words, their frugality and economy in all things generally. Essentially practical and logical, they are attracted by science, astrology, magic and the occult arts generally and they figure prominently in masonic and secret societies. They are, however, the most musically gifted of all the twelve constellations. Representative of this Saturnian constellation are Joan of Arc, Swedenborg, Frederick the Great, Mozart, Schubert, Benjamin Franklin, Lord Byron, Edgar Allen Poe, Louis Carroll, Bobby Burns, Charles Dickens, John Ruskin and Havelock Ellis.
Those born with the sun in Saturn's nocturnal sect, Aquarius, were noted for their remarkable inventive genius, their astronomical and mathematical ability, their understanding of human nature, and their unusual interests. They were, however, considered to be sensitive, plaintive, prone to self-pity and easily moved to tears—ever ready to lend an ear to any doleful tale. Unlike the crisp style of Capricornians, Aquarians are ponderous, weighty in words and noted for their forbidding miens. The Emperor Hadrian, Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, Henry Burton, Lord Baden Powell (founder of the "Boy Scouts"), Schopenhauer, Chopin, George Washington, Camille Flammarion, Victor Hugo, Longfellow, Rudolf Steiner, Karl Schoch, Galileo, Copernicus, Samuel Pepys and Simon Newcomb are names that bear witness to the varied but splendid genius of this constellation.
* Throughout antiquity Egypt was known as “the gift of the Nile.” The four seasons that we use today were not strictly observed everywhere in the ancient world. Ancient Egypt employed three seasons, each of approximately four months duration, based on the water level of the Nile. The season of the flood (Akhet) was from June through September; the season of sowing (Peret) was from October to mid-winter; and the harvest season, Shemu, was from mid-winter through May.
**The pentade versus decan issue was hotly debated sixty-five years ago when Fagan corresponded with Otto Neugebauer who was a professor at Brown University. Fagan insisted that what are now called the Egyptian decans [ten day star clocks] were actually pentades [five day star clocks]. Neither he nor Neugebauer gave an inch on the matter.
*** Fagan does not back up his assertion that the Egyptians used the zodiac in a manner essentially like modern astrologers do. I know of no definitive text that shows that any culture used equal length signs before the Babylonians in the first millennium B.C. It is not a point at issue however, that the Egyptians used the entire sky but favored the equator over the ecliptic. The definitive text on the matter is a four-volume folio set by Otto E. Neugebauer (1899-1990) and Richard A. Parker (1905-1993) entitled Egyptian Astronomical Texts (hereafter E.A.T.).
Volume I of E.A.T., The Early Decans, appeared in 1960. Neugebauer and Parker demonstrate that the decans were devised in the 3rd millennium B.C. to tell time at night, that they were sidereal, that they were reckoned from the equator, not the ecliptic and thus are in no way related to tropical signs, although they were co-opted by the Greeks during the Hellenistic or Roman Imperial Period to represent thirds of tropical signs. This is what Fagan was talking about regarding parts of the astronomy and astrology of earlier cultures that the Greeks misunderstood. If Auguste Bouché-Leclercq is correct (I haven't checked the matter for myself), Ptolemy judged decans essentially worthless and misleading (see Bouché-Leclercq's L'Astrologie Grecque, Culture et Civilisation, Paris, 1963 (reprint of the 1899 edition), pp. 215-16.) but by the fourth century A.D., Firmicus Maternus claimed that the decans have great power (see Firmicus Maternus, Jean Rhys Bram, trans. Ancient Astrology Theory and Practice, Noyes Press, Park Ridge, NJ, 1975, p. 34).
Volume II of E.A.T. entitled, The Ramesside Star Clocks appeared in 1964. Like volume I, it deals with star clocks and especially transits of stars; the material of volume II covers part of the 2nd millennium B.C. and these are reckoned as pentades.
Volume III of E.A.T. entitled, Decans, Planets, Constellations and Zodiacs, appeared in 1969. Neugebauer and Parker state explicitly in volume III (page 4) that zodiacs do not appear (among Egyptian astronomical materials) until the Ptolemaic period. The dates of the first Ptolemy (the pharaoh, not the astronomer/astrologer), Ptolemy I Soter (“savior”), are 305 B.C. to 283 B.C. Incidentally Cleopatra VII who reigned from 47 B.C. to 30 B.C. was the last of the Ptolomies. She is famed for her dalliances with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony which were both attempts to preserve the independence of Egypt, but which could not prevent Rome from making Egypt a province of Rome and the chief breadbasket for Rome herself.
Volume IV of E.A.T. is comprised of drawings and photographic plates mostly of coffin lids and funerary walls and ceilings. Percy Lund, Humphries and Company of London, England, printed only five hundred of the four volume sets. The originals are hard to find now and don't circulate if they can even be found at university libraries, because they have been regularly stolen for the past forty years. Complete sets still sell for well into four figures for books in good condition.
Some scholars have taken issue with some of Neugebauer's and Parker's conclusions particularly regarding volumes I and II. For more on this see, A Star's Year: The Annual Cycle in the Ancient Egyptian Sky by Sarah Symons (University of Leicester).
We would like to thank Derek Kinsolving for scanning the original article from his collection of American Astrology magazines.