First published in the International Planetarium Society Journal Volume 14, #3, 3rd quarter, 1985
Researching possible explanations for a more
accurate telling of the "Star of Bethlehem" has led to a rediscovery of the "method" used by Johannes Kepler to determine important dates in world history. Kepler argued that great events in history occurred every 800 years using multiples of Jupiter/Saturn conjunctions.
Johannes Kepler's Method
The "method" plots geocentrically the consecutive conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn (See Table 1). Each conjunction occurs on the average every 19.85 years and they are approximately 117 degrees apart. The figures used in the diagram below are from Bryant Tuckerman's, Planetary Lunar and Solar Positions, Volumes I & II, Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society , Philadelphia.
The diagram leads me to ask the following questions:
- Did the Magi use or know about this "method"?
- If they knew about this "method," how did they interpret it?
- 3) Are "triple" conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn really significant?
- 4) Do written records of this "method" exist in
ancient literature or mythology?
The answer is now YES! The Antikythera Mechanism
- 5) How does one interpret seven consecutive conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn, in Pisces, approaching the vernal equinox?
THE ROLE OF JUPITER/SATURN CONJUNCTIONS IN MYTHOLOGY
The heart of this thesis, originated by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend in their book, Hamlet's Mill (l977), and supported by Harald A. T. Reiche of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, holds that "myths were vehicles for memorizing and transmitting certain kinds of astronomical and cosmological information!" The mythological formula identified by the authors is really a mechanism to precisely explain the slowest of all observable motions of the heavens, the precession of the equinoxes. According to de Santillana and von Dechend, "Number gave the key. Way back in time, before writing was even invented, it was measures and counting that provided the armature, the frame on which the rich texture of real myth was to grow!"
The mythological framework is splendid indeed, for it is the celestial sphere. Within the celestial sphere, we find the "Mythical Earth." This Mythical Earth is not the physical planet but instead the implied plane through the four points of the year, marked by the equinoxes and solstices . In other words The Mythical Earth is the Celestial Ecliptic plane! Von Dechend and de Santillana explain that the zodiacal constellations that rise helically are the points that locate the "Mythical Earth!" However, the framework is not fixed but constantly changing due to precession of the equinoxes. That, they argue, is what prehistoric, preliterate man was trying to tell us or preserve knowledge of, by using his scientific language, mythology.
But the most important aspect of the Jupiter/Saturn mythological relationship is seen with the realization that Saturn and Jupiter can be used as a clock for keeping track of "cosmological" periods of time, particularly, precession of the equinoxes.
According to von Dechend and de Santillana, there
is no doubt
that the Greek Kronos (Saturn) is the same as Chronos (Father Time).
In dialogue between Kronos (Chronos) and Jupiter (Zeus), we learn:
"kai panta ta metrates holes demiourgias endidosin"
which translates as, "Saturn gives Jupiter all the measures of creation." With this act of Jupiter overthrowing his father, the sun, moon and planets are set in motion. During each successive conjunction, Saturn gives Jupiter "all the measures of creation!" Furthermore, successive Jupiter/Saturn conjunctions can be used to keep track of even longer periods of time.
Successive conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn are one of the easiest-to-observe, long-period astronomical cycles. That this cycle repeats in almost twenty year intervals (more precisely (19.85 years on the average) is less important than the fact that it is a re-occurring, measurable period of time.
Johannes Kepler was the last of the great "Mythographers". In De Stella Nova. Kepler applied observational data (i.e." successive conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn) to reconstruct the history of the world. His chosen method was borrowed from the "lingua franca" of astrology. This method has nothing to do with astrology per se, but Kepler found in it a simple, "bookkeeping" style for tabulating large quantities of time.
- Any conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn is called a "great conjunction."
- Three successive "great conjunctions" form a triangle called a "Trigon".
- A Trigon is equivalent to a passage of approximately 60 years. (59.55 years)
- Twelve 'great conjunctions' equal a 'middle conjunction'. (238 Years)
- Four 'middle conjunctions' equal a 'big conjunction'. (952.8 years)
- Three 'big conjunctions' equal a 'mighty conjunction'. (2858.4 Years)
The diagram shows that in every 60 year period (59.55 years to be more exact), a "great conjunction" occurs near or slightly displaced from the point of origin. While successive "great conjunctions" are about 117 degrees apart, the vertices of successive trigons move approximately 360 - (117 x 3) = 9 degrees farther eastward in this same period. We can see that it takes 40 "great conjunctions" to return to our initial starting point (9 degrees times 40 = 360 degrees).
The elapsed time counted by proceeding from
conjunction to conjunction and back to the origin is thus 40 times 20 years = 800 years, or more precisely, 794.25 years. This represents one-third of a "rotation" of the initial trigon. Similarly, the elapsed time counted by proceeding from trigon to trigon, continuing around the zodiacal circle and back to the original starting point is 40 x 60 years = 2,400 years. A more accurate value for the actual elapsed time is 2,382 years.
What we see here is a very neat method for keeping track of cosmological periods of time. The amount of elapsed time observed by the ancients would be incredibly close to the amount of time necessary for the vernal equinox to actually move through one zodiacal constellation (25,800 years divided by 12 equals 2,150 years). Now let us return to Kepler and his method for determining great moments in history, using this "lingua franca" of astrology.
Astrology had grouped the 12 zodiacal constellations into four collections called "triplicities!" or Trigons. These triplicities, and their associated "elements" are:
Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius………….......Fire
Taurus, Virgo and Capricornus…………Earth
Gemini, Libra and Aquarius……………..Air
Cancer, Scorpius and Pisces …………..Water
Successive great conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn will remain in one triplicity about 200 years (10 successive conjunctions). In other words, it will take 800 years or 40 successive great conjunctions to pass through the four triplicities once. However, in order for all the great conjunctions to return, the cycle must be repeated two more times, for a total of 2400 years.
According to Kepler, great worldly events thus
took place in
this manner every 800 years when great conjunctions entered a Fiery
4000 BC Adam Creato mundi
3200 Enoch Latrocinia, urbes, artes, tyrannis
2400 Noah Diluvium
1600 Moses Exitus es Aegypto, Lex
800 Isaiah Aera, Graecorum, Babyloniorum, Romanorum
0 Christ Monarchia Romana Reformatio orbis
800 AD Carolus Magnus Imperium Occidentis et Saracenorum
1600 Rudolfus II Vita, facta et vota nostra qui haec disserimus
Using this bookkeeping method, it is possible to predict when and where succeeding great conjunctions will occur every 59.55 years. In following this line of reasoning, it becomes imperative to see the great conjunctions as they occurred during the centuries preceding the Christian Era. (Refer back to Figure 1.) The diagram contains plots of successive great conjunctions from 185 B.C. to 114 A.D. and see diagram below plotted using Starry Night Pro V 5
Assuming that the constellation of Pisces covers some 45 degrees of sky, 7 Great Conjunctions took place in Pisces in from 185 BC to 54 AD. Each succeeding conjunction occurred closer and closer to the vernal equinox.
This fact, combined with a knowledge that the vernal equinox itself was moving from Aries into Pisces during this era symbolically marking the end of a "World-Age" may thus be the key to understanding the nature of the Star of Bethlehem. It is certainly the theory favored by von Dechend and de Santillana.
The Great Conjunctions of 7 B.C. is unusual in that it was a "triple conjunction". Triple Great Conjunctions are rare and do not happen in a predictable pattern. However there was a "triple" Great Conjunction in 146 B.C., so it was probably known that triples do occur.
Also note that on February 9th and March 4th of 6 BC Mars joined Jupiter and Saturn forming what Kepler called a Grand Conjunction. Kepler saw a similar massing of the planets (a Grand Conjunction) of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars in in 1604 AD. Co-incidentally Kepler saw a Super Nova in the same year (1604). Those events got Kepler thinking about an explanation for the Star of Bethlehem. But, what did the Magi know, and who were they and why were they looking for a "king"?
A Persian Myth
Consider the following: Santillana and von Dechend in Hamlet's Mill, interprets the Persian word used for the constellation of “Aries” as meaning the established title for supreme power, in other words “Ruler of Aries”
Also in “Hamlet’s Mill,” we learn of a marvelous Persian myth featuring a Hamlet-like figure called Kai Khusrau. This figure was not a real person, but the “supreme power of Iran,” a mythical person who existed only in the celestial realm. Upon his crowning, Kai Khusrau states:
“The whole world is my kingdom all is mine
From Pisces downward to the Bull’s head.”
Professor von Dechend characterizes Kai Khusrau’s kingship as “a reign not only of heaven, it is essentially of time.” Kai Khusrau was a “world age leader. The story, as quoted from “Hamlet’s Mill,” goes on to say of the great holy leader that he:
“prepares his departure, takes leave of his paladins,
leaving aside their supplications and those of his whole army.”
A cry arose from the army of Iran:
The sun hath wandered from its way in heaven!
The chieftains’ heads were heavy at the news.
The warriors slept in pain, and when the sun
Rose over the hills the Shah had disappeared...
...The five paladins were lost and buried in a snowstorm...
This poem concludes that the vernal equinox and the equinoctial sun no longer belonged to Aries. The Supreme Power of the Equinoctial Sun is being passed to someone else, The Supreme Ruler of Pisces!
The planetary conjunctions of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars (Jupiter and Saturn in a "Great Conjunction" in 7 and 6 BC) and becoming a "Grand Conjunction" when Mars joined the group in the constellation of Pisces in 6 B.C. must have certainly signaled the beginning of the end of a an era. And, finally in 54 A.D. when Jupiter, Saturn and the Sun were in conjunction on the first day of spring in the constellation PISCES must have been the final sign that closed the Supreme Rule of Aries! Is this the real story of why the Magi were searching for a new “king.” They were looking for the new bearer of the power of equinoctial sun, which had been passed' to Pisces the Fish? But, they knew that one day, the Supreme Power would eventually return?
“And, lo, the star which they had seen in the East
went before them, till it came to rest
over the place where the young child lay.”
I am writing a "book" about the Magi's StarThere are many other connections and puzzles to this seemingly simple story. Questions include:
- How did Dionysius Exiguus determine when the Anno Mundi calendar, (Anno Domini) was to begin?
- What was the mythology of the "Planets/Celestial Sphere" in the middle east, during the Greek and Roman era?
- What were the dominant religion(s) before Christianity?
Details about the book will be posted here shortly. Thanks!
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