Virgo, the Virgin
Coma, the Desired
Centaurus, the Centaur
Boötes, the Coming One
The Desire of Nations
Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
The learned George Stanley Faber, rector of Long-Newton, concedes to the showings of certain French sceptics what has often been noticed and remarked by the students of antiquity, that an extraordinary and very particular resemblance exists between the facts and doctrines of the Christian faith and the various theologies and mythologies of ancient paganism.
THE ETHNIC MYTHS
Gathering up and combining in one view what appears in the various modifications of ancient heathenism, we find it taught and believed, in one system or another, that eternal Godhead, or some direct emanation of eternal Godhead, was to become incarnate, to be born of a virgin mother, to spend his infancy and childhood between herds and flocks, whose life should be sought by a huge serpent or dragon, which was even to slay him, but which he was destined to conquer and crush; that he came, or was to come, from heaven for the purpose of reforming and delivering mankind; that he was mild, contemplative, and good, but still the god of vengeance, with power to destroy his enemies; that he was a priest, a prophet, and a king, the sacrificer of himself, and the parent, husband, and son of the great Mother, denoted often by a floating ark; that he was the creator of worlds and æons, previous to which he moved on boundless waters; that when slain he was entombed, descended into the hidden world, but rose to life again, ascended the top of a lofty mountain, and thence was translated to heaven.
The likeness of these particulars to the scriptural teachings concerning Christ is obvious. How to account for them among heathen peoples who never possessed our Scriptures, and lived before our Scriptures were written, is a very interesting and important question.
AN INFIDEL ARGUMENT
That the correspondence is not accidental must be admitted. Volney has attempted to draw an argument from it to prove that Christ never existed, and is only a mythic character, embodying the various old fancies afloat in the imaginations of mankind long before the time in which the Gospel records allege that He was born. The argument is, that, of the two presentations, one must necessarily be borrowed from the other; that the old myths could not be borrowed from Christianity, as they antedate the Christian times; and hence that Christianity must needs be borrowed from these old myths and traditions, which it has arrayed in a Jewish dress and palmed upon the world for the founding of a new religious sect.
But this alleged borrowing and accommodation is mere assumption, incapable of proof. Faber has shown that the antediluvian histories, including particularly that of Noah, furnished so many types of Christian facts that from them alone could have been deduced many of the ideas in the ethnic theologies which so remarkably accord with the doctrines of Christianity. Volney himself, and others of his school, with much labour and erudition have further shown that there is an astronomic record, dating back to the times of Noah and beyond, which really gives the story of the incarnation and history of Christ, just as Christianity attests. It accordingly devolves upon these men adequately to account for that record before they can justly use it against Christianity. To account for Christianity by means of that record, which they rightfully claim to be universal, and yet to leave that record itself unaccounted for, is really a mere begging of the question.
From the nature of the showings on the subject we claim that the substance of that record must needs have been a matter of divine revelation, a thing of inspiration, fixed in the earliest ages of the race. If we are right in this, it would fully account for all the old fables, notions, myths, and ideas so near akin to Christianity, and at the same time do away with all need, occasion, or right to infer that it must have been borrowed and accommodated from them. Tracing this record back to the first ages, as these men do, and finding in it the story of the Serpent and the Cross as contained in the Gospel, we thus have a demonstration of the early existence of what the Bible gives as a divine promise and prophesy, and the same dating from the time to which the Bible assigns it. That story, thus embodied and set afloat from the beginning, would necessarily descend with the multiplication and division of the race into all nations, and give rise and support to just such sacred myths and anticipations as we find confusedly given in the traditions and beliefs of all the ancient peoples. The strong presumption, therefore, the rather is, that Christianity, instead of having been borrowed and accommodated from those myths, was in contemplation in that which gave rise to them, and was the real spring of them, as it is the fulfilment and realization of them.
THE INTENTION TRACEABLE
Of course this record has been much distorted, perverted, misused, and overlaid by the superstitions, apostasies, and idolatries of men; but the showings of Bailly, Dupuis, Volney, and more modern antiquarians are that it can still be traced, and its main features unmistakably identified.
Some years ago I was in the great church of St. Sophia in Constantinople, built by the first Christian emperor, but now possessed by the Mohammedan Turks. Among the rest of its wonderful mosaics is a gigantic figure of the Saviour on the wall over the altar-place. That picture was of course very distasteful to the followers of the Prophet of Arabia; but, not willing to spoil the glorious edifice by digging it out of the wall, they covered it over with whitewash and paint. Nevertheless, in spite of all attempted obliterations, the original picture still shone through the covering, and could be distinctly perceived and identified. And just so it is with these mosaics upon the stars. With all the obscurations which the ages of apostasy and heathenism have imposed upon them, they still shine through, to tell of the faith which put them there, and to declare that very glory of God which received its sublimest expression in the imperishable truths of our Gospel. Even astrology, Sabaism, the abominations of idolatry, and scepticism itself, have been overruled to preserve to us what God, by His Spirit, thus caused to be recorded on the face of the sky from the very beginning of the world. And to the analysis and interpretation of this record we now come.
THE SIGN OF VIRGO
I begin with VIRGO, which I take to be the first sign in the Zodiac, according to its original intent and reading. The Zodiac of Esne begins with this sign. The story has no right starting-point, continuity, or end except as we commence with this constellation. I also have the statement from the best authorities that the custom was universal among the ancients to reckon from Virgo round to Leo. And in this sign of Virgo, if anywhere among the starry groups, we find the primary idea in the evangelic presentations.
The foundation-doctrine of all religion – the existence of an eternal and almighty God, the Originator, Preserver, and great Father of all things – is assumed as belonging to the natural intuitions of a right man.
The presence of the universe is the invincible demonstration of eternal power and Godhead, so that those are without excuse who fail to see that there is a God or do not glorify Him as God. Revelation is something superadded to Nature, which Nature itself cannot reach. Assuming the majesty of God and the sinfulness of man as things evident to natural reason and observation, its main subject is the way of salvation through Jesus Christ, the Gospel of the grace of God through His only-begotten Son. This is the one great theme of the Bible and of the primeval astronomy.
As Christians, we believe in a virgin-born Saviour. We confess and hold that our Lord Jesus Christ “was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.” So He was preannounced in the text, and so the evangelists testify of the facts concerning Him. To deny this is to deny the fundamental features of the whole Christian system and to disable the whole doctrine of human salvation. It stands in the front of all the Gospel presentations. It is the foundation and beginning of the whole structure on which our redemption hangs.
It is therefore not a little striking that the very first sign that comes before us as we enter the grand gallery of the ancient constellations is the form and figure of a virgin.
The initiative sign of the Zodiac is called Virgo, THE VIRGIN. All the traditions, names, and mythologies connected with it recognize and emphasize the virginity of this woman. Astrea* and Athene of Greek story identify with her. In Hebrew and Syriac she is Bethulah, the maiden. In Arabic she is Adarah, the pure virgin. In Greek she is Parthenos, the maid of virgin pureness. Nor is there any authority in the world for regarding her as anything but a virgin.
*Astrea was regarded as the star-bright, good, and just goddess, the last to leave the earth as the Golden Age faded out, and then took her place among the stars. The four ages of Gold, Silver, Brass, and Iron were the periods of time in which the equinoctial point successively passed through so many signs of the Zodiac, each sign requiring about twenty-one hundred and forty-six years to pass. If the summer solstice was in Virgo in the first or Golden Age, her withdrawal over that point as the equinoxes proceeded would have been very slow, and everything else characteristic of that age would have passed away before she passed. The myth would hence well fit to the astronomical facts. Since passing that point she has never returned to her former place, and cannot until about twenty-five thousand years from the time she left it.
THE VIRGIN’S SON
But the greater wonder is, that motherhood attends this virginity, in the sign the same as in the text, and in the whole teaching of the Scriptures respecting the maternity of our Saviour. Krishna, the divine incarnation of the Hindoo mythology, was born of a virgin. A hundred years before Christ an altar was found in Gaul with this inscription: “To the virgin who is to bring forth.” And this maiden in the sign is the holder and bringer of an illustrious Seed. In her hand is the spica, the ear of wheat, the best of seed, and that spica, indicated by the brightest star in the whole constellation. He who was to bruise the Serpent’s head was to be peculiarly “the Seed of the woman,” involving virgin-motherhood, and hence one born of miracle, one begotten of divine power, the Son of God. And such is the exhibit in this first sign of the Zodiac. She is a virgin, and yet she produces and holds forth a Seed contemplated as far greater than herself. That seed of wheat Christ appropriates as a symbol of himself. When certain Greeks came to Philip wishing to see Jesus, He referred to Himself as the corn, or seed, of wheat, which needed to fall and die in order to its proper fruitfulness (John 12:21-24)**. Thus, according to the starry sign, as according to the Gospel, out of the seed of wheat, the good seed of the Virgin, the blessed harvest of salvation comes. A very significant figure of Christ, much employed by the prophets, was the branch, bough, or sprout of a plant or root. Hence He is described as the Rod from the stem of Jesse and the Branch out of his roots (Isa. 11:1)**, the Branch of Righteousness, the Branch of the Lord, God’s servant THE BRANCH (Isa. 4:2; Jer. 23:5; Zech. 3:8; 6:12)**.
And so this sign holds forth the Virgin’s Seed as The Branch. In addition to the spica in one hand, she bears a branch in the other. The ancient names of the stars in this constellation emphasize this showing, along with that of the Seed. Al Zimach, Al Azal, and Subilon mean the shoot, the branch, the ear of wheat. The language of the prophesies is thus identical with the symbols in this sign.
It is believed that without Christ, and the redemption wrought by Him, all humanity would be fallen and helpless in sin. There is none other name given among men whereby we can be saved. Even Mary herself needed the mediatorial achievements of her more glorious Son to lift her up to hope and standing before God. And this, too, is here signified. This woman of the Zodiac lies prostrate. She is fallen, and cannot of herself stand upright. Christ alone can lift up to spiritual life and standing. This woman accordingly holds forth the goodly Seed, the illustrious Branch, as the great embodiment of her hope and trust, the only adequate hope and trust of prostrate and fallen humanity.
And what is thus vividly signified in this constellation is still further expressed and defined by the Decans, or side-pieces, which go along with it.
So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. -John 12:21-24
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
And a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. -Isaiah 11:1
In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel. -Isaiah 4:2
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. -Jeremiah 23:5
Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. -Zechariah 3:8
And say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD. -Zechariah 6:12
Albumazer, who was not a Christian, says: “There arises in the first Decan, as the Persians, Chaldeans, and Egyptians, and the two Hermes and Ascalius, teach, a young woman, whose Persian name denotes a pure virgin, sitting on a throne, nourishing an infant boy, said boy having a Hebrew name, by some nations call Ihesu, with the signification Ieza, which in Greek is called Christ.” The celebrated Zodiac of Dendera, brought by the French savants to Paris under the older Napoleon, contains a Decan of Virgo, which also gives the picture of a woman holding an infant, which she is contemplating and admiring. The woman in Virgo and the woman in this first Decan of Virgo are one and the same; and the infant here is everywhere identified with the Seed and the Branch there.
It is said of the infant Christ that “the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40); so here He is pictured as supported and nourished by what the Greeks made the virgin-goddess of wisdom, righteousness, and all good arts and human thrift.
The prophets are also very emphatic in describing the promised Saviour as the Desired One, “the Desire of women,” “the Desire of all nations.” So the name of this first Decan of Virgo is Coma, which in Hebrew and Oriental dialects means the desired, the longed-for – the very word which Haggai uses where he speaks of Christ as “the Desire of all nations.” The ancient Egyptians called it Shes-nu, the desired son. The Greeks knew not how to translate it, and hence took Coma in the sense of their own language, and called it hair – Berenice’s Hair. The story is, that that princess gave her hair, the colour of gold, as a votive offering for the safety of her brother: which hair disappeared. The matter was explained by the assurance that it was taken to heaven to shine in the constellation of Coma. Hence we have a bundle of woman’s hair in the place of “the Desire of all nations.”
Shakespeare understood the matter better, for he speaks of the shooting of an arrow up “to the good boy in Virgo’s lap.” Isis and other Egyptian goddesses figured holding the divine Infant, the Coming One, refer to this constellation of Coma, and hence unwittingly to Christ, born of a woman and nurtured on a virgin-mother’s breast.
The next Decan of Virgo explains more fully concerning the Virgin’s Seed.
THE DOUBLE NATURE
It is part of the faith, and a very vital part, that the Seed of the woman is the true and only-begotten Son of God, true God and true man in one and the same person. “For the right faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man; God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds, and man, of the substance of His mother, born in the world: perfect God and perfect man.” It is a great mystery, but so the Scriptures teach. In other words, we teach and hold that Christ, our Saviour, possessed a double nature, “not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God,” in the unity of one Person, who accordingly is Immanuel, God with us, the Christ, who suffered for our salvation. And all this is signified in the constellation of Centaurus.
Very curious are the pagan myths concerning the centaurs. Fable represents them as the great bull-killers. They are said to have been heaven-begotten, born of the clouds, sons of God, but hated and abhorred by both gods and men, combated, driven to the mountains, and finally exterminated. Their form in the most ancient art is a composite of man and horse – a man from the head down to the front feet, and the rest horse. There was no beauty or comeliness, that any should desire them. Some classical scholars have tried to account for the grotesque conception by imagining a race of Thessalian mountaineers who rode on horses, whom the neighbouring tribes viewed with horror, supposing each horse and his rider to be one being. The conceit is without the slightest foundation in fact. The ancient Egyptians had the figure of the centaur long before the times of the Greeks.
The most noted of the centaurs of classic fable is Cheiron. To him are ascribed great wisdom and righteousness. “He was renowned for his skill in hunting, medicine, music, gymnastics, and the art of prophecy. All the most distinguished heroes in Grecian story are, like Achilles, described as his pupils in these arts.” He was the friend of the Argonauts on their voyage, and the friend of Hercules, though he died from one of the poisoned arrows of this divine hero whilst engaged in a struggle with the Erymanthean boar. He was immortal, but he voluntarily agreed to die, and transferred his immortality to Prometheus; whereupon the great God took him up and placed him among the stars.
It is easy to see how this whole idea of the centaurs, particularly of Cheiron, connects with the primeval astronomy and related traditions. Strikingly also does it set forth the nature and earthly career of the divine Seed of the woman, as narrated in the Scriptures. Christ had two natures in one person; and such was the figure of the centaur. Christ was a wise, just, good, and powerful Healer, Instructor, and Prophet; and such is the character everywhere ascribed to the chief centaur. Christ came to destroy the works of the Devil, and spent His energies in relieving men’s ills, combating the powers of evil, teaching the ways of truth and righteousness, and driving away afflictions, as the centaurs hunted and destroyed the wild bulls and the wild boars, and as Cheiron helped and taught the Grecian heroes, minstrels, and sages. Nevertheless, He was despised and rejected of men, hated, persecuted, and deemed unfit to live, just as fabled of the centaurs. Cheiron was fatally wounded whilst engaged in his good word – wounded by a poisoned arrow from heaven not intended for him. And, though immortal in himself, he chose to die from that wound, that another might live. And so it was with Christ in His conflict with the Destroyer. And a vivid picture of the same appears in the figure of this constellation.
Here is a double-natured being, to men repulsive and hateful, yet really great, powerful, and beneficent, pushing with his lance at the heart of some victim, and moving the while right over the constellation of the Cross.
The name of this Decan in Arabic and Hebrew means the despised. The brightest star in it the Greeks called Cheiron, a word which has a Hebrew root signifying the pierced; also Pholas, likewise from a Hebrew root signifying the making of prayer, the mediation. Sir John Herscel has observed that this star is growing brighter, and so belongs to the class of changeable stars. Ulugh Beigh gives its name as Toliman, which means the heretofore and the hereafter – brighter once, and to be brighter again, as the divine glory of Christ was much hidden during His earthly life, in which He made Himself of no reputation, even lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, but was again glorified with the glory which He had with the Father before the world was. Thus, this sign, and the traditions and names connected with it, strikingly accord with the facts of Christ’s earthly life and fate, and set forth some of the highest mysteries of His Person, character, and mediatorial work.
The third Decan of this sign still further expresses and defines the marvellous story. One of the most common, constant, and expressive figures under which Christ is presented in the Scriptures is that of the Oriental shepherd. Isaiah fore-announced Him as He who “shall feed His flock like a shepherd.” Peter describes Him as the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. He says of Himself, “I am the good Shepherd that giveth His life for the sheep;” “I am the good Shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine;” “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” And this feature of what pertains to the Virgin’s Son is the particular topic of this Decan.
We here have the figure of a strong man, whom the Greeks named Boötes, the ploughman. But he and the so-called plough are set in opposite directions. Neither does a man plough with uplifted hand in the attitude of this figure. The name thus transformed into Greek has in it a Hebrew and Oriental root, Bo, which means coming; hence, the coming One or the One that was to come. The Greeks, failing to hold on consistently to their idea of a ploughman, also called this man Arcturus, the watcher, guardian, or keeper of Arktos, the adjoining constellation, which in all the more ancient representations is the flock, the sheepfold. Boötes is not a ploughman at all, but the guardian and shepherd of the flocks represented by what are now ordinarily called the Great and Lesser Bears; though they both have long tails, which bears never have. The brightest star in the constellation of Boötes, is also called Arcturus, the guardian or keeper of Arktos, a word which in its Oriental elements connects with the idea of enclosure, the ascending, the happy, the going up upon the mountains. According to Ulugh Beigh, the ancient Egyptians called Boötes Smat, who rules, subdues, governs; and sometimes Bau, or Bo, the coming One. Al Katurops, the star on the sight side or arm of Boötes, means the Branch, the Rod, and is often connected with the figure of a staff, the shepherd’s crook, the traditional emblem of the pastoral office.
There can, therefore, be no doubt that we have here not a Greek ploughman, but the far more ancient Oriental shepherd, the keeper, guardian, ruler, and protector of the flocks; and that shepherd identical with the Seed of the Virgin, the Promised One, He who was to come, even “the Desire of all nations,” “that great Shepherd of the sheep” whom the God of peace brought up again from the dead (Heb 13:20)***. He also bears a sickle, which shows Him as the great Harvester; and the harvest He gathers is the harvest of souls, as where He directs his disciples to pray God to send forth labourers into His harvest. And the harvesting of souls is the gathering and keeping of the Lord’s flock. The sickle and the crook thus go together as significant of one and the same idea, and show that Boötes is not the keeper of dogs and hunter of bears, but that promised Saviour who was to come to gather in the harvest of souls and “feed His flock like a shepherd.”
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, -Hebrews 13:20
SUMMARY ON VIRGO
It is no part of my design in these Lectures to enter upon the exposition of all that is implied and expressed in the various symbols applied to Christ, except so far as necessary to show that what is written in the Scriptures is likewise written on the stars. And in so far as this first sign and its Decans are concerned, I think it must be admitted that the result is very marvellous. Ill must be the mind and dull the apprehension which cannot detect identity between God’s sign in the text and this sign in the heavens. Are they not of a piece with each other, and hence from one and the same divine source? Here is the woman whose Seed was to bruise the Serpent’s head. Here is the great Virgin-born, the divine Child, whose name is Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace, of the increase of whose government and peace there is to be no end. Here is the prostrate one, deceived by Satan into sin and condemnation, but holding hopefully to the promised Seed, the most illustrious in the sphere of humanity, the vigorous, beautiful, and goodly Branch, as the particular joy and consolation of fallen man. Here is the Desire of all nations, the great Coming One, reseating the fallen who cherish and joy in Him. Here is His double nature in singleness of person, the “God with us” held forth in holy prophecy, the Seed of the woman, who is the Son of God. Here is the Rod, the Branch, on whom was to rest the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord, who should judge the poor with righteousness and reprove with equity, and smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and slay the wicked with the breath of His lips. Here is the God-begotten Healer, Teacher, Prophet, the heroic Destroyer of the destroyers, yet despised and rejected of men, stricken, smitten, and afflicted, consenting to yield up His life that others might have immortality, and thereupon reappearing on high, clad in power and majesty, as the strong and everlasting Ruler, Guardian, and Shepherd of his flocks. These are among the most essential and most precious things of our faith. The Gospel is nothing without them. Yet this is but one of twelve such signs, each equally full, vivid, and to the point. God never does things by halves. What He once begins He always completes. We have seen the first of these signs. It bears with it the internal as well as the external evidences of what Maimonides says the ancient Fathers affirmed, to wit: that it has come from the Spirit of prophecy. And if God inspired the framing of these signs, we may expect to find the rest as rich and telling as this opening of the series, each amplifying the other, till all the sublime wonders of redemption stand revealed upon the sky.
Meanwhile, let us believe and hold fast to the fact, so joyously fore-announced by the prophet, and so vividly inscribed upon the stars as the hope and trust of man, that a virgin has conceived and brought forth a Son, who verily is what Eve supposed she had when she embraced her first-born – even “a man, the Lord,” Immanuel, God with us. Let us rejoice and be glad that unto us a Child is given, even that Seed of the woman appointed to bruise the Serpent’s head and be the everlasting Shepherd and Guardian of His people. Let us see in Jesus the great Healer, Teacher, and Prophet, even God in humanity, who was to come, and who, though despised and rejected of men, hated, condemned, and pierced, still lives in immortal glory and power as the true Arcturus, to give repentance, remission of sins, and eternal life to as many as accept Him as their Lord and Saviour. And, in this faith established, let us be all the more quickened in our interest and attention in tracing the whole story as it shines upon us in our darkness from God’s everlasting stars. Even the heathen bard, contemplating what was thus fore-signified, and deeming the time of fulfilment come, broke forth in the song:
Roll round again, and mighty years, begun
From their first orb, in radiant circles run.
The base, degenerate iron offspring ends;
A golden progeny from heaven descends.
O chaste Lucinda! speed the mother’s pains,
And haste the glorious birth! thy own Apollo reigns!
The lovely boy, with his auspicious face,
Shall Pollo’s consulship and triumph grace;
Majestic months set out with him to their appointed race.
The father banished virtue shall restore,
And crimes shall threat the guilty world no more.
The son shall lead the life of gods, and be
By gods and heroes seen, and gods and heroes see.
The jarring nations he in peace shall bind,
And with paternal virtues rule mankind.”