Orion as a Goddess: Peeling the Layers of Ancient Star Lore

Throughout history, the constellation Orion has been a steadfast celestial marker. This iconic group of stars has captured the imagination of numerous cultures, embodying various mythological and spiritual symbols.

The Earliest Evidence: Lascaux Cave Art

Orion’s significance dates back to at least 18 – 14,000 BC, with what might be its earliest representation found in the Lascaux caves in France. The artwork in these caves includes a male figure that some researchers believe depict Orion. This suggests that even in prehistoric times, humans were mapping the night sky and attributing meaning to its patterns.

Orion as the Hunter

Across various cultures, Orion has been consistently depicted as a hunter. This image typically includes a club, sword, or bow and arrow. For the ancient Egyptians, Orion represented Osiris, the god of the afterlife. In Thracian mythology, Orion was linked to Dionysus, and the Vedic Aryans saw it as Shiva, just to name a few examples. All of these deities share common themes of renewal of life and triumph over death, symbolized by Orion’s disappearance and reappearance in the sky.

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And in all of these cases, Orion is exclusively male.

orion-shiva-taurus-nandi-vedic-yoga
orion-shiva-taurus-nandi-vedic-yoga

Reclining Orion

In the distant past, there was a time when ancient Egyptians and Vedic Indians not only traded goods but also exchanged ideas. This cultural interaction is evident in the depiction of the Reclining Buddha, now widely recognized symbol all across Asia.

The Reclining Buddha represents the Buddha during his final moments of illness, before entering Parinirvana, the state of complete nirvana after death. This pose symbolizes the Buddha’s peaceful and serene transition from life to death, embodying the ultimate release from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (samsara). It also highlights his teaching on the impermanence of life and the importance of enlightenment. The image conveys a message of tranquility, detachment, and the transcendence of worldly suffering.

However, this representation of Buddha has its roots in much older depictions of both Vedic Shiva and Egyptian Osiris, which share a striking resemblance. All of these images were clearly inspired by the shape of the Orion constellation.

The Sleeping Lady of Malta: A Female Orion?

The primary motivation for writing this article stems from an idea that has been brewing in my mind for almost two decades. If we delve deeper into the layers of mythology, reaching back to times when humans produced scarcely any images other than that of the Mother Goddess, could Orion have been perceived as female?

A fascinating parallel to the masculine imagery of Orion can be found in the Neolithic figurine known as the Sleeping Lady of Malta. Discovered in the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum and dated to between 3600 and 2500 BC, this clay figure depicts a woman in a resting pose. This position is strikingly similar to the above-mentioned depictions of Osiris, Shiva, and the Reclining Buddha.

Archaeologists and scholars still debate the figurine’s significance. Was she a representation of a real woman, a priestess, or perhaps, as suggested by Maria Gimbutas, a goddess? If the Sleeping Lady is indeed a goddess, her resting pose might not be coincidental. It could be the oldest identifiable female representation of Orion!

Diana and Artemis: The Night Goddesses or simply Orion?

Further evidence for a female Orion may come from Greco-Thracian and Roman mythology. Goddess Diana, a central figure in Roman mythology, is renowned as the goddess of the hunt, the moon, and night, often equated with the Greek Artemis.

Depicted as a huntress with a bow and quiver, accompanied by a deer or hunting dogs, she symbolizes dominion over wildlife and forests. Often seen as a lunar deity, she is connected to the moon’s phases, representing cyclical time, and is a protector of women, particularly during childbirth. Diana was venerated in various forms, with significant worship sites like the Sanctuary at Lake Nemi and the Temple of Diana at Ephesus.

However, Diana is usually depicted in a pose similar to Orion’s – with one arm raised. She also holds a bow, and she is followed by her dogs, just as Orion is followed by two dog constellations. In front of her, we see a stag, not a bull, but in any case there is a horned animal.

Her cult is so ancient, and while there is little definitive proof linking her directly to the moon, her name and representation bear a striking resemblance to the male version of the Thracian god Dionysus. This suggests a possible female counterpart, embodying the same celestial and mythological traits associated with Orion.

Indeed, Diana was very popular in Thracia, the homeland of Dionysus. I have personaly taken the photos of below reliefs in the Archaeological museum of Sofia, Bulgaria. The same museum hosts many reliefs of Dionysus, also known as Dian, in a similar pose – always with one arm raised.

Conclusion

Orion’s representation across different cultures underscores its universal significance. Whether as a hunter, a god, or a goddess, this constellation symbolizes themes of life, death, and renewal. The intriguing possibility of a female Orion, suggested by the Sleeping Lady of Malta and the Thracian goddess Diana, adds depth to our understanding of ancient star lore. It is the last echo of those ancient times when the most supreme being wasn’t exclusively male, and perhaps not even exclusively female, but both: a divine couple, encompassing both male and female aspects, reflecting a natural balance of our universe.

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