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Pagan and Christian Creeds
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3. The Symbolism Of The Zodiac
The Vernal Equinox has all over the ancient world, and from the earliest times,
been a period of rejoicing and of festivals in honor of the Sungod. It is needless
to labor a point which is so well known. Everyone understands and appreciates
the joy of finding that the long darkness is giving way, that the Sun is growing in
strength, and that the days are winning a victory over the nights. The birds and
flowers reappear, and the promise of Spring is in the air. But it may be worth
while to give an elementary explanation of the ASTRONOMICAL meaning of this
period, because this is not always understood, and yet it is very important in its
bearing on the rites and creeds of the early religions. The priests who were, as I
have said, the early students and inquirers, had worked out this astronomical
side, and in that way were able to fix dates and to frame for the benefit of the
populace myths and legends, which were in a certain sense explanations of the
order of Nature, and a kind of "popular science."
The Equator, as everyone knows, is an imaginary line or circle girdling the Earth
half-way between the North and South poles. If you imagine a transparent Earth
with a light at its very centre, and also imagine the SHADOW of this equatorial
line to be thrown on the vast concave of the Sky, this shadow would in
astronomical parlance coincide with the Equator of the Sky--forming an imaginary
circle half-way between the North and South celestial poles.
The Equator, then, may be pictured as cutting across the sky either by day or by
night, and always at the same elevation--that is, as seen from any one place. But
the Ecliptic (the other important great circle of the heavens) can only be thought
of as a line traversing the constellations as they are seen at NIGHT. It is in fact
the Sun's path among the fixed stars. For (really owing to the Earth's motion in its
orbit) the Sun appears to move round the heavens once a year--travelling,
always to the left, from constellation to constellation. The exact path of the sun is
called the Ecliptic; and the band of sky on either side of the Ecliptic which may be
supposed to include the said constellations is called the Zodiac. How then-- it will
of course be asked--seeing that the Sun and the Stars can never be seen
together--were the Priests ABLE to map out the path of the former among the
latter? Into that question we need not go. Sufficient to say that they succeeded;
and their success--even with the very primitive instruments they had--shows that
their astronomical knowledge and acuteness of reasoning were of no mean
To return to our Vernal Equinox. Let us suppose that the Equator and Ecliptic of
the sky, at the Spring season, are represented by two lines Eq. and Ecl. crossing
each other at the point P. The Sun, represented by the small circle, is moving
slowly and in its annual course along the Ecliptic to the left. When it reaches the
point P (the dotted circle) it stands on the Equator of the sky, and then for a day