Roughly between 2,500 and 5,00BC the “celestial cross” of equinoxes and solstices looked like this:
- The winter solstice was in Capricorn
- The spring equinox was in Aries
- The summer solstice was between Leo / Hydra and moving towards Cancer
- The fall equinox was in Libra
Since then, the constellations have shifted. The Sun now rises in Capricorn in the month of February, not January, while the winter solstice is in Aquarius. However, some of the old symbolism remains, most notably when it comes to Dionysus.
Capricorn, the goat of Dionysus – the winter solstice
On Feb 14th, we celebrate St. Valentine‘s day in the Western Church, St. Tryphon‘s in the Eastern. In both cases, these are the celebrations of “love” and “wine”. But, in fact, these are just softened versions of Dionysian Bacchanalia.
Dionysus was raised by a she-goat Amalthea. This goat nourished him with her milk, earning a place amongst the stars. Some believe that these stars form the Capra constellation, but in my opinion, it was the Capricorn. The below image shows the sunrise on this year’s Valentine’s day. Note that during the last two millennia BC Capricorn would have been the symbol of the winter solstice.
Since time immemorial, there was a mysterious winter ritual in Europe, particularly in the Balkans. People would dress as goat-men, and go around the village singing naughty songs, drinking wine, and dancing. The whole ritual is full of fertility-related symbolism. The traditional groups who still practice this ritual nowadays are Kukeri, Koledari, Poklade, Krampus etc. These are just some of the dozens of names on the European continent. A similar custom existed in all corners of the world and it is impossible to trace its origins with certainty. But even though the names and the symbols changed throughout millennia, in the Balkans, these are probably faithful representations of Bacchanalia.
Dionysus – a patron of tragedy
The parts of this ritual were even used as the foundations of the Greek tragedy. The word “tragedy” comes from the words trag(o)-aoidiā meaning “goat song”. And Dionysus was a patron god of tragedy. The “tragedy” lies in the fact that Dionysus / Orion was dismembered. In spring, the pieces of his body and his blood brought much-needed fertility to the earth. Then, just like Jesus, he would resurrect and the cycle would repeat itself.
An image on the left comes from Pompei. Dionysus stands in an “Orion pose”, with one arm raised. There is a dog next to him (Canis major). This part of the picture would represent the spring. Bellow, there is a giant snake – Hydra constellation. Hydra lies above the Cancer and marks the summer. The bird could represent autumn (Libra or Aquila) and the mountain stand for winter. It represents both, the Axis Mundi, and a “cave” from which the sun will be “reborn”, after the shortest day of the year. The two dragons around the mountain represent the Milky Way.
Dionysus from Pompei, Theoi.com
The ram of Dyonisus – spring equinox
During the last two millennia BC, the spring equinox was in the sign of Aries, the ram. And, as the ancient authors say: “The animal most commonly sacrificed to Dionysus was a ram. (Virg. Georg. ii. 380, 395; Ov. Fast. i. 357.)”. In an image below we see Thracian wine rhytons. Not surprisingly, they show a goat (Capricorn) and a ram (Aeries).
Thracian wine rhytons – a goat and a ram
The ancient myths claim that Dionysus created the constellation of Aries. You can read some of the examples here. Regardless of the version of the story, there is always the same reason behind it – he had to kill this ram or catch it, to release the water of the river. This theme of releasing of the “water” is a common light motif in virtually all the Indo-European myths related to the spring equinox, whether it is Mithra slaying the bull, St. George slaying the dragon, or Horus slaying the Apep snake. As for the last two, sometimes we also see Dyonisus with the same hand gesture as St. George or Horus holding their spears.
The panther of Dyonisus – the summer solstice
Moving on to the summer solstice, we see the Sun rising in Leo. Perhaps this is the reasoning behind all those images of Dionysus riding the leopard (or sometimes a tiger/panther). At other times we see the snake, Hydra, a constellation close to Leo. The presence of tigers and leopards points to the eastern origins of the myth. This was also the opinion of the ancient Greek authors. They saw the origins of the Dyonisus cult ‘in the far east’, from Anatolia to Arabia.
Dionysus riding a tiger and a leopard – Theoi.com
As for the constellation Cancer itself, some myths relate it to a donkey, rather than a crab. One of those myths is here. I believe that the “donkey” constellation is Leo minor, positioned right above the Cancer.
Dionysus – Liber – Autumn equinox
And finally, when the Sun reaches Libra, it was the time of the autumn equinox. Another name of Dyonisus was Liber. Scholars claim that he got it because during the Bacchanalia people were free to do whatever they wanted. And that could be a part of the answer. But the fact is also that Libra signified the end of the agricultural work marked by Virgo. This was the end of the war campaign season, and so the soldiers, the farmers (or the slaves) were free until the spring. Indeed, a very good reason for celebrations. In the Balkans, this word still exists as an archaism related to agriculture – “raspust” or “razpust” meaning “to let go”, “to be free”. This was also the season to pick up grapes and make wine, the drink of Dionysus.
And of course, the scales of Libra represented the equal day and night during the equinox.
The mystical symbolism of Libra can be traced to ancient Egypt, where god Thoth is holding the scales while measuring the weight of the soul against the feather. The same symbolism had entered Christianity through the figure of Archangel Michael.
On these representations, we see the end of the circle of life – entrance to the “underworld” which peaks at the winter solstice. The Eastern Orthodox Church still preserves some of the ancient pagan customs, and one of them is a feast for the souls of the deceased, called “Zadusnice” or “Zaduszki“.
There are a few such events during the year, usually around solstices and equinoxes. But the most important one is the St. Demetrius day. On this day the autumn equinox is no longer in Libra, as the constellations have shifted, and now it falls in Virgo-Demetra. It is interesting to note how the church has updated its calendar to Virgo, while still keeping the Libra symbolic through Archangel Michael. That is how strong is the power of these symbols.
The shift of the stellar ages
Somewhere at the beginning of our era, the celestial cross had changed its place, changing the star lore with it. The spring equinox is in now Pisces, and the fish is a symbol of Jesus Christ. The summer solstice is in Gemini, his baptism. The autumn solstice is in Virgo – Virgin Mary and the winter solstice is in Sagittarius – Pontius Pilate (pilate = spear).
Strangely, but most scholars seem to ignore astronomy when dealing with comparative mythologies, and it is clear that they are making a huge mistake, as not only that this approach helps us understand the myths, but it also helps us to date them! For example, it is also clear that Mithraism was originally practiced between 4,000-2,000BC when the equinoxes were in Taurus and Scorpio. The same goes for Sumerians, Minoans, and the other bull worshipers. Clearly, even when the celestial cross changes its position, the symbolism used for the past two millennia is not forgotten.
The similarities between Dionysus mythology and Christianity have been noted many times before, but it seems that nobody was willing or able to reconstruct the story properly. One typical mistake is to label everything as a “solar myth” because that is oversimplifying the facts.
Dionysus cannot be equated with Christ, as most of these authors are trying to do. The fact is that the sun-god of the Greeks was Helios and not Dionysus. Helios was in charge of the realm of the day. But the main acts of this tragedy took place during the night. And it is Orion – the Giant that rules the night skies. The word “deva” means “god”, but also a “giant” in Sanskrit, and it is cognate with “div” in Slavic. We see this form “div” in Linear B “diwo-nisu”. This “giant of the night” sometimes was seen as an archer, sometimes as a shepherd. In Christianity, he is probably St. John the Baptist. In the words of the New Testament:
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on BEFORE THE LORD TO PREPARE HIS WAYS;
To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins,
Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
TO SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Or in John’s own words, when speaking of Christ:
“He must increase, but I must decrease.”, John 3:30
More on John / Dionys: