Scorpio, the Scorpion
Serpens, the Serpent; and Ophiuchus, the Serpent Holder
Hercules, the Mighty One
THE TOILING DELIVERER
“Thou shalt tread upon the lion and the adder; the young lion and the dragon shalt Thou trample under foot.”
It is generally accepted by the old interpreters that the word “lion” in this text should be taken as denoting some venomous thing, either reptile or insect, of a class with serpents. Bochart thinks it means “the black serpent.” Patrick takes the description as meaning “serpents, asps, and dragons, with all the rest of those venomous sorts of creatures.” The Saviour recurs to this passage where He says, “I give you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19). Accordingly, we find both the Psalmist and the Saviour using the precise imagery of the sign of the Zodiac and its Decans which we are now to consider. A gigantic scorpion, serpent, and dragon, with a mighty man in conflict with them, mastering them and treading them under foot, is the figure before us.
Some have attempted to explain the origin and meaning of these signs of the Zodiac as gradual formations for season-marks, of sowing, reaping, fishing, hunting, cattle-culture, and the like. Abbé Pluche, in his History of the Heavens, thinks to exhaust the whole matter after this manner, though it is hard to see the need for such high and elaborate memorials of what was otherwise far more obvious to the senses. And although some of these signs apply, and have been used, in this way, the abbé is obliged to admit that the scheme does not fit to Egypt, where many say these signs originated; neither does it fit anywhere else; whilst it leaves all the Decans of these signs wholly unexplained. And, however well the theory may here or there fall in with some of the signs, it is much perplexed and disabled when it comes to such as Scorpio, since the scorpion is nowhere a thing of game or cultivation, and has no particular season. The best the abbé can do with it on this theory is, to expound it as a sign of autumnal diseases, to tell the people when they were most likely to be sick! Had the abbé taken the very significant hints given in some of his quotations, telling how these signs were explained to those initiated into the more famous ancient mysteries, he would have saved himself such puerilities, and found what he so trifled with to be the records of truths relating to the highest spiritual and eternal interests of man.
THE ANCIENT MYSTERIES
Pluche quotes from Isocrates, Epictetus, and Tully on the subject, who unequivocally testify that there these signs were explained throughout in a manner indicating most important truths of a sort to give peace in life and hope in death. “Those who are acquainted with the mysteries,” says the first, “insure to themselves very pleasing hopes against the hour of their death, as well as for the whole course of their lives.” “All these mysteries,” adds Epictetus, “have been established by the ancients to regulate the life of men and to banish disorders therefrom.” Tully says: “When these mysteries are explained and brought again to their true meaning, we prove not to have learned so much the nature of the gods [heathen deities] as that of the things themselves or of the truth we stand in need of… The instructions given there have taught men not only how to live in peace and gentleness, but how to die in the hopes of a better state to come.” But what had the raising of good crops, the production of calves, lambs, and goats, and the timing of the fishing and hunting seasons to do with the hopes and prospects of the soul sinking away from earth into the mysterious eternity? And if these signs and asterisms, in “their true meaning,” had reference to the soul and its immortal hopes, and were so explained in the noblest of the mysteries, it only shows that among the pagans, notwithstanding all their idolatry and darkness, the true prophetic light still feebly lingered by means of these primeval writings on the stars. And, with the rest of these comforting and hopeful records on the sky, this sign of the Scorpion has equal place and significance.
THE SIGN OF SCORPIO
The name of this sign in Arabic and Syriac is Al Akrab, which, as a name, means the scorpion, but also wounding, conflict, war. David uses the root of this word (Ps. 144:1)* where he blesses God for teaching his hands to war. In Coptic the name is Isidis, attack of the enemy – a word from the same root which occurs in Hebrew (Ps. 17:9)** in the sense of oppression from deadly foes. The word scorpion itself is formed from a root which means to cleave in conflict or battle, and this sign in the Zodiac is the house of Mars, the god of war and justice. The principal star in this sign is called Antares, wounding, cutting, tearing.
The scorpion, as a living thing, is a spider-like insect, formed something like a small lobster, with an extended chain-like tail ending in a crooked horny sting loaded with irritant poison. To be struck by a scorpion is often fatal, though not necessarily so; but the pain from it is the intensest that can be inflicted on the human body. It is the most irascible and malignant insect that lives, and its poison is like itself. And in this sign we have the figure of a mammoth scorpion, with its tail uplifted in anger as in the act of striking. The figure, the names, and all the indications agree in telling us that we here have the story of a most malignant conflict, and of a deadly wounding in that conflict.
THE SUFFERING SAVIOUR
How clearly and fully all this corresponds to the great conflict of Christ, and His dear-bought victory in achieving our redemption, any one can easily trace. The text exhibits Him as victor in just such a conflict. Though it refers to the success of God’s people in general, and their security under the shadow of the Almighty, the New Testament applies the passage to Christ, who is always the kernel of everything pertaining to the powers and triumphs of His people. What they get, they get in and through His going before them in the matter. He is to His Church what the head is to the body – the chief of the whole thing, without which all the rest is powerless and nothing. Therefore we must understand the declaration as including Him and as referring pre-eminently to Him. It accordingly represents Him as in conflict with serpents, scorpions, asps, dragons, and all deadly and venomous things, just as in this sign and its Decans.
In the Egyptian Zodiac this sign is represented by a monster serpent, Typhon, or Python, the hundred-headed son of a malignant, envious, and intractable shrew, the father of the many-headed dog of hell, of the Lernæan Hydra, and of the three-headed, fire-breathing Chimæra. In the Hebrew Zodiac this sign was counted to Dan; and Dan is described as “a serpent by the way, and an adder in the path.” Scorpio certainly ranks with the Serpent, and stands in close affinity with the Dragon.
The Serpent’s seed is everywhere and always the enemy of the woman’s Seed; and the conflict is above all between Christ and the devil, until all evil is finally subdued and crushed. The great office of the divine Son of the woman, and his experience in it, were sketched from the beginning, as the bruising of the Serpent’s head and the bruising of His heel. No sooner did Christ come into the world than the Dragon sought to devour Him through Herod’s executioners. No sooner had He come up from the waters of baptism, attested from the open heavens as the Messiah, the Son of God, than the Devil made attack upon Him. And as He came to the final act of discharging the debt of a condemned world, the most terrible of all the assaults of the powers of darkness had to be encountered.
We know something of the wrestling and agony which our Saviour suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane. We know how sorrowful was His soul, as though His immortal being were about to be broken up. We know how He was inwardly wrung with anguish until every pore issued sweat of blood, clotting on His body and falling in great drops to the ground. It was “the hour of the powers of darkness,” as He himself explained. It was an experience of agony the like of which never had been, and never could be again. It was the sting and poison of the great Scorpion struck into the Son of God, making all His glorious nature vibrate as if in dissolution. It was the prophetic sign of the Zodiac fulfilled in the Seed of the virgin.
A further confirmation that we are on the right track in thus interpreting this sign is the fact that the first Decan, or illustrative side-piece, presents us with a picture of the Serpent itself in all its giant proportions.
It was the particular admonition to the Church in Philadelphia: “Hold fast that thou hast, that no one take thy crown.” We have likewise seen in the preceding sign that there was held forth a celestial crown for Him who was to suffer on the cross. It was for the joy thus set before Him that the apostle says He “endured the cross, despising the shame.” On the other hand, mythology represents Python as aiming to acquire the sovereignty of gods and men, and only prevented from gaining it by the struggle which ensued between him and the greatest of the Olympian gods. That myth was simply the story of this constellation, for here the Serpent is stretching after the celestial Crown, has almost reached it, and is only kept from taking it by being held fast by a manly figure grasping him firmly with both hands.
This serpent in the Decan is, of course, to be construed with the Scorpion in the sign, as the one is expository of the other; just as Spica in Virgo is to be construed with the Infant in Coma. The conflict in both cases is the same, only the images are changed to give a somewhat further impression of it. In the first instance it is the Evil One attacking and inflicting the intensest of anguish; in the other, it is a fierce contest for the Crown. I will not here discuss the question whether it was a literal serpent that tempted Eve. I suppose some earthly serpentine form in the case, but whether it had wings or organs of speech matters not to the integrity of the record or of the ideas meant to be conveyed. The simple narrative, as it strikes the common mind, is as clear and satisfactory as any learned expositions can make it. The physical creature was not the real enactor of the temptation but was the image associated with a dark and subtle intelligence operating in that form to deceive and ruin our first parents. And from that, for ever afterward, the figure of a serpent became the universal symbol and representative of that Evil Spirit, hence called the Dragon, that old Serpent, the Devil, and Satan, who is the arch-enemy of all good, the opponent of God and the deceiver of men. And it is as the symbol of this evil power that these serpentine figures appear in the constellations.
The Bible everywhere assures us of the existence of a personal Devil and Destroyer, just as it everywhere describes a personal God and Redeemer. It tells us plainly whence he came, what he is, what power he wields, and what is to be his fate, just as it tells whence Christ is, who He is, for what purpose He came into the world, and what is to be the result of His marvellous and complex administrations.
The doctrine of a Saviour necessarily implies the doctrine of a destroyer. The one is the counterpart of the other, and belief in both is fundamental to the right explanation of things, as well as to our proper safety. Men may doubt and question, and treat the idea of a personal Devil as a foolish myth, but their language nevertheless bewrayeth the unfittingness of their scepticism. The doctrine is in the oldest, worthiest, and divinest records ever made for human enlightenment, and in the common belief of all nations and peoples from the beginning of the world. And here we have it pictured and repeated at every turn of the starry configurations, precisely as we find it presented in the sacred Scriptures. Nor can we be on the safe side without honestly receiving and believing it. People may make a jest of it if they will, but they will find out some day that this story of the Serpent is a terrible reality.
Any attentive reader of the Scriptures will observe how constantly the Redeemer of the world is represented in the attitude and character of a Physician, a Healer, a Mollifier of wounds, a Deliverer from the power of disease and death. Before He was born the prophets fore-announced Him as “the Sun of Righteousness” who should “arise with healing in His wings” – as He “with whose stripes we are healed” – as He who “healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds” – as He who saith, “O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction.” So the record of Him in the New Testament is that He “went about all Galilee, preaching the Gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people,” and giving every demonstration of power to make good His word, that if any one would receive His teachings and believe on Him that sent Him, the same should never see death, and be raised to life eternal at the last day. His great complaint against men ever was, and is, that they come not unto Him that they might have life. And this again is accurately and most strikingly presented in the second Decan of Scorpio and the myths connected to it.
We have here the figure of a mighty man wrestling until he is bald with a gigantic serpent, grasping the same with both hands, disabling the monster by his superior power, and effectually holding him fast so that he cannot get the crown. With one foot lifted from the scorpion’s tail as stung and hurt, he is in the act of crushing that scorpion’s head with the other. He thus appears as the one who hath power over the Serpent and over death, holding, disabling, and destroying them, though himself wounded in His conflict with them. Such is also the representation of Krishna in two sculptured figures in one of the oldest existing pagodas of Hindostan.
In one of the old Egyptian spheres the picture is that of a man enthroned, wearing the head of an eagle or a hawk, the enemy and slayer of the serpent, and assigned a Coptic name which means the chief who cometh.
But the more common figure is that which appears on our modern atlases, whom the Greeks in their own language called Ophiuchus, the Serpent-holder, otherwise, from two Arabic words signifying the same thing, Cheleb Afei or Æsculapius, who figures so illustriously in the mythologies and worships of Greece and Rome.
THE GREAT PHYSICIAN
This Æsculapius was held to be one of the worthiest of the gods. It was to him that the great Socrates in his last hours sacrificed a cock. His temples were everywhere, and everywhere frequented and honoured. But, though regarded as a god, the son of Apollo, or the Sun, Homer applies epithets to him never applied to a god, and the greatest of his achievements are mostly ascribed to him in the sphere and activities of a man. He therefore comes to view as both god and man, after the same style as the Seed of the woman in the Scriptures. He is assigned seven children, who were simply personifications of his own qualities and powers, their names further describing him as the Healer, the Physician, the Desired One, the Health-giver, the Beautifier with good health, the One who brings cure, the Universal Remedy. The story is, that he not only cured all the sick, but called the dead to life again by means of blood from the side of the goddess of justice and from the slain Gorgon, and finally himself suffered death from the lightnings of heaven because of the complaints against him by the god of hell, but was nevertheless raised to glory through the influence of Apollo. In all the representations he is invariably accompanied with the symbol of the serpent.
Many hypotheses have been broached to account for the origin of the story and illustrious worship of Æsculapius; and I cannot but wonder that no one has ever thought of tracing it to the primeval astronomy and to this conspicuous constellation of Serpentarius, to which it most certainly belongs. Taking these signs, as I hold them to be, the pictorial records of the primitive revelation concerning the Seed of the woman, we at once strike the heart of a complete explanation of every feature of the myth, which at the same time very wonderfully confirms the correctness of so accepting these signs. Here is the man with the serpent, as was Æsculapius. Here is the Seed of the woman, the Son of God. Here is the Serpent-holder and the Death-vanquisher, hence the matchless Physician and Healer.
It may seem strange to identify Æsculapius with Christ, nor do we say that Æsculapius was Christ; but we do say that the constellation out of which came the heathen legend concerning Æsculapius was the picture and sign of the promised Sun of Righteousness, the Healer and Saviour of mankind. As truly as Spica denotes the Seed of the virgin, Serpentarius denotes that same Seed; and the whole story of Æsculapius thus found its hero, its features, and its names from the primitive prophecies and promises concerning the Virgin’s Son, as pictured in this constellation.
Everything characteristic in the myth was in some sense prophetic of what should be, and was, fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. Christ is the true Sun of Righteousness, the great Healer, the heavenly Physician, the Desired One, the sublime Restorer of soul and body, the Beautifier with health and salvation, the Bringer of cure for suffering and perishing humanity, the Universal Remedy for all the ills which sin has wrought. He is the potent Holder of the Serpent, the Vanquisher of death. He is the Resurrection and the Life, who raiseth up the dead by virtue of the blood taken from the virgin in taking her nature, and the blood of the Gorgon vanquished by His power. And He it was who died from the divine thunderbolts as a Sin-bearer to silence the clamors of perdition, and yet, on the plea of His merit and divinity, was raised up and enthroned in highest heaven as the very God of salvation.
His identity with what the myth represented appears also very strikingly in a certain ancient prophetic hymn to Æsculapius, fabled as inspired and sung at the time of his birth – a hymn with these remarkable lines, which the angles might be supposed to sing over the manger of Bethlehem:
“Hail, great Physician of the world! all hail!
Hail, mighty Infant, who, in years to come,
Shall heal the nations and defraud the tomb!
Swift be Thy growth! Thy triumphs unconfined!
Make kingdoms thicker and increase mankind:
Thy daring art shall animate the dead,
And draw the thunder on Thy guilty head;
For Thou shalt die, but from the dark abode
Rise up victorious, and be twice a God!”
The whole showing of the constellation, and of the mythic story connected with it, thus wonderfully accords with what the prophets anticipated and the New Testament teaches concerning the divine Son of the virgin.
And still more fully is the Messianic work of the bruising of the Serpent’s head set forth in the third constellation belonging to this sign. Here is the figure of a mighty man, down on one knee, with his heel uplifted as if wounded, having a great club in one hand and a fierce three-headed monster held fast in the other, whilst his left foot is set directly on the head of the great Dragon. Take this figure according to the name given it in the Egyptian hieroglyphics, and you have a picture of Him who cometh to bruise the Serpent and “destroy the works of the Devil.” In the head of this figure is a bright star, the brightest in this constellation, which bears the name of Ras al Gethi, which means the Head of him who bruises; whilst the name of the second star means The Branch kneeling. The Phœnicians worshipped this man five generations before the times of the Greeks, and honoured him as representing a saviour. Smith and Sayce trace the legend of him in Chaldea four thousand years ago. On the atlases he is called Hercules. So the Romans called him, but the Greeks called him Herakles, whom they worshipped and honoured as the greatest of all their hero-gods, principally on account of his twelve great labors.
According to the mythic accounts, Herakles or Hercules was the god-begotten man, to whose tasks there was scarce an end. From his cradle to his death he was employed accomplishing the most difficult and wonderful of feats laid upon him to perform, and all in the line of vanquishing great evil powers, such as the lion begotten from Typhon, the many-headed Hydra sprung from the same parentage, the brazen-footed and golden-horned stag, the Erymanthean boar, the vast filth of the Augean stables, the swarms of life-destroying Stymphalian birds, the mad bull of Crete which no mortal dared look upon, the flesh-eating mares of Diomedes, the queen of the devastating Amazons, the triple-bodied Geryones and his dog, the Dragon which guarded the apples of the Hesperides, and the three-headed snaky monster which kept the gates of hell.
Some have argued that the story of Herakles is a purely Greek invention, but it certainly dates back in all its essential features, in Egypt, Phœnicia, and India, to a time long anterior to the Greeks. By their own confession the Greeks did not even understand who or what Herakles was, or what was meant by all his great labors. They took him for the sublimest of the hero-gods, as the accounts came to them, and here and there, as in so many other things, appropriated all to their own country and people; but Aratus, who sung the song of the ancient constellations, and from whose song the Apostle Paul makes a quotation, speaks of Herakles as
“An image none knows certainly to name,
Nor what he labors for,”
and, again, as
“The inexplicable image.”
Ptolemy and Manilius refer to him in corresponding terms. They could not make out their greatest hero, or any meaning to his works! Not with them, therefore, did the mythic story of the powerful labourer originate. Its true original is in the ancient constellations of the primeval astronomy, which, like the Scriptures, pointed to the coming Seed of the woman to bruise, vanquish, and destroy the Serpent, and everything of the Serpent born or belonging to the Serpent’s kingdom.
A PICTURE OF CHRIST
Stripped of its heathenisms and admixtures, we can easily trace throughout the myth all the outlines of the astronomic picture, and that picture anticipating the sublime work of the Virgin’s Son, as depicted by the prophets and recorded in the Gospel, even the battering and vanquishing of Satan and all the powers of darkness. Christ is the God-begotten man. He it is that comes against the roaring satanic “lion” who “goeth about seeking whom he may devour.” He it is that came into the world to strike off the heads of the great Serpent, lurking in the bogs to ravage and destroy. He it is who comes forth to free the world of all its monsters and hellish pests, and purge it of its vast uncleanness. He it is who had it laid upon Him to fight and slay the Dragon, and thus recover access to the fruits of the Tree of Life, though having to bear the whole weight of a guilty world in making the grand achievement. And He it is who “descended into hell,” before whom the spirits of the under-world cowered; to whose power the king of perdition yielded; and who grasped the struggling triple-headed dragon-dog in charge of the infernal gates, and bore him off, “leading captivity captive.” Wounded He was in the dreadful encounter – wounded in His heel, wounded unto death, yet living still; suffering also from the poisoned garment of others’ sins, mounting the funeral-pyre to die of His own accord amid fires undue to Him, and thence ascending amid the clouds to immortal honour in heaven, with his foot for ever on the head of the foe.
The heathen could not understand the story, and knew not what to make of the foreshowing; but in the light of God’s fuller revelation, and of the facts attested by the Gospel, we read the origin and meaning of it all, and see how God has been all these ages proclaiming from the starry sky the glories, labors, sufferings, and triumphs of His only-begotten Son, our Saviour.
There is no character in mythology around which great and wondrous incidents crowd so thickly as around Herakles, and there is no character in the history of the world upon whom so much of interest and sublime achievement centres as upon Jesus Christ, the true Deliverer. With Him was the wielding of power unknown to any other man. To kill Him and to be rid of Him has ever been the intensest wish of all the Dragon brood, from the time Herod sought the young child’s life even unto this present. With all sorts of ill and wrong was He smitten while He lived, and plotted against in all the ages by the jealous, obstinate, and quarrelsome goddess of false wisdom and serpentine intrigue against the will and word of Heaven. Even the sensual and disgusting loves of Herakles were but heathen and carnal perversions of the devotion to the interest and redemption of man which ever glows in the Saviour’s breast and shines in all His varied works. And as Herakles and all his tremendous labors were totally inexplicable on any motives perceptible to ordinary reason, so is Christ the everlasting mystery, incomprehensible and unconstruable, in His life, deeds, or institutes, to all who fail to accept and believe in Him as verily the God-man, come, and still coming, to work the works given Him to do, through suffering, toil, and sacrifice to deliver an afflicted world – come, and still coming, to beat down Satan and spoil all the principalities and powers of evil.
Thus, then, in this sign and its constellations, and in the myths founded on and associated with them, we have the precise picture presented in the text – the picture of the promised Seed of the woman treading on serpents, asps, dragons, and the whole brood of venomous powers – suffering and dying in the conflict, but in the end trampling all enemies in glorious triumph beneath His feet.
We wonder betimes what is to come of this unceasing conflict between right and wrong, good and bad, which we see raging around us in all things – this creeping in everywhere of scorpions and adders to sting and hurt – this twining and hissing of serpents and all horrid things – this everlasting toil, expenditure, and suffering for the better, which never seems to come. A glance at these constellations may serve to tell us, the same as promised in the Holy Book. There can be no deliverance without it, and long and oppressive must the struggle be. Many a serpent must first be strangled, many a hydra attacked, many a wild passion caught and slain, many a pang endured, many a sore reverse experienced. But the cause is secure. The victory must come at last. God and truth and right and good must triumph in the end. The Ophiuchus who holds fast will not lose his crown. The scorpion may sting the heel, but the foot will crush its head. The faithful wielder of the club of righteousness may be brought to his knee, but he shall yet lift up the instrument of his power in glorious success, strangle Cerberus, and bear off in triumph the apples of gold, whilst the great Dragon writhes through all his length with his head under the heel of the Conqueror. For from of old it stands written, “Thou shalt tread upon the serpent and adder; the young lion and the dragon shalt Thou trample under foot.”