The Zodiac and Precession of the Equinox
- The circle of twelve constellations through which the sun goes in one year is called the zodiac, a Greek word meaning the "circle of animals." However, not all the twelve are named after animals....
This "circle of animals" or zodiac is not merely circle but a circular belt. The reason it is important in astronomy is that not only the sun, but also the planets all move along this belt. There are many constellations in the sky, but sun, moon and planets move only within the narrow belt of these 12 constellations of the zodiac.
As well as sun, moon and planets moving through the zodiac, something else also moves through the zodiac, though we cannot see it at all because it is only a mathematical point. It moves so slowly that it takes hundreds of years to notice that it has moved at all. Yet, this movement is very important for the whole of humanity. What is this strange mathematical point?
There are two days of the year when day and night are equal, when there are 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness: one in the spring and one in the autumn. They are called equinox (from the Latin, equi, equal and nox, night). The equator of the earth has its name because it is the circle where day and night are always equal.
The spring equinox is... the beginning of spring. And in Egypt a sacred white bull, the Apis-Bull, was led through the streets to celebrate this occasion. Why a bull? Because at the time of ancient Egypt on the day of the spring equinox, March 20, the sun stood in the constellation of Taurus, the Bull. [The sun being "in" a constellation means that if you could see the sun shining AND see the stars which are behind it, usually rendered invisible by the sunlight, the sun would be standing in front of a constellation.]
About two thousand years later, in the time of ancient Greece and Rome, people no longer celebrated March 20, the spring equinox. But if they had, it would not have been a bull that was led through the streets, it would have been a ram, because at that time the sun shone from the constellation Aries, the Ram, on March 20. And if we had such a custom today, we would have to carry two fishes through the streets, because now the sun stands in the constellation of Pisces, the Fishes, on March 20.
The position of the sun at the spring equinox, or the vernal point has moved through three constellations since the time of ancient Egypt: Taurus, Aries, Pisces. This movement is called the precession of the equinox. But why should it matter to us where the sun stands on March 20?
Around AD 1400 a number of great things began to be discovered or invented. About this time the European voyages of discovery began; these led to the discovery of America and culminated in the circumnavigation of the world. New inventions were made, such as book printing, which made it possible for many people to have books and learn about the world. There was also the invention of gun-powder which made knights' armour useless. From that time onwards the flow of discoveries and inventions never stopped. In the 600 years since 1400 more things have been discovered and invented than in all the thousands of years of human history before 1400.
This is not, as one might think, because the Greeks or Romans were not clever enough. For instance, Heron, a clever Greek in Alexandria made a little contraption which used the steam of boiling water to turn a wheel, but this was only a toy to amuse and no one thought that there could be a practical use for this idea. The Greeks and Romans were as clever as we are, but they were not interested in techincal inventions. What has changed is human interest.
The interest of the Egyptians and Babylonians were different from those of the Greeks, just as the interests of the Greeks were not the same as ours. Whenever the spring equinox passes from one constellation to another there is such a change of human interest. There are people who say that when the next change comes, when the spring equinox will pass from the constellation Pisces, the Fishes, into the constellation Aquarius, the Water-Carrier, then humanity will become more interested in spiritual matters that in material things, and will have a much stronger feeling that all people are brothers and sisters, and must help each other. So the movement of this mathematical point of the vernal equinox means something for humanity.
The Cosmic or Platonic Year
- The spring equinox, the point where the sun stands on March 20, moves through the zodiac. While the sun moves round the whole zodiac in 12 months, astronomers have calculated that it takes about 25,920 years for the spring equinox to move around the zodiac. That is a long time, but it is a figure which is interesting for another reason. We breathe at an average about 18 times a minute, and that makes 25,920 times in a day.
The Greek astronomers, who worked out this figure of 25,920 years, called this movement of the spring equinox around the zodiac a Cosmic Year, or a Platonic Year, after the great Greek philosopher Plato.... For 2,160 years [a cosmic year divided by 12; i.e. a cosmic month] the spring equinox is in the same constellation, slowly moving through it. And then it passes on to the next constellation....
An ordinary month has 30 days. Dividing the cosmic month of 2,160 years by 30 we get a "cosmic day" of 72 years. A cosmic day is 72 years long which consists of 25,920 ordinary days, which means one ordinary day is one "cosmic breath." Or, in other words, one cosmic breath takes as long as 25,920 human breaths.
Our own breathing and even our life is "tuned in" to the great rhythm of the cosmos. But our breathing is not something separate from our whole organization: our heartbeat is "tuned in" to our breathing. There are four heartbeats to one breath. And as our heart beats, so the blood flows through our body. The most important rhythms of our life are in tune or in harmony with the rhythms of the cosmos. And it is therefore not so strange that a change in the cosmos -- for instance, when the spring equinox passes over from the constellation Ram to the constellation Fishes -- is accompanied by a change in the way human beings feel and where their interests lie....
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