For the past couple of days, numerous news outlets have been reporting on a new scientific study that deals with the origins of money in Bronze age Europe. Two archaeologists from the Leiden University in the Netherlands investigated a possibility that neck rings, ribs, and ax blades – often found in hoards, were used as an early form of currency.
In short, the invention of bronze allowed for the objects to be cast from the same mold. The scientists compared the weights of more than 5,000 of these objects and found out that there are clear signs of standardization, especially when it comes to bronze rings. Roughly 70% of these rings were so close in mass, that the discrepancy would be hardly noticeable without a scale.
There is an ongoing debate whether the mass was relevant or they were simply counted, as we would do with modern coins. The ribs and axes were not as uniform in mass, but this study concludes that these objects clearly show “the earliest development of the commodity money in Central Europe.”
Distribution of the commodity money in Bronze age Europe
Rings and ribs were found in South-Central Europe: the Danubian region of Germany, Austria, Czech Republic. Ax blades appear in central and north-eastern Germany, roughly corresponding to the Únětice culture. In between is an area of overlap.
However, it is the bronze rings that make the backbone of this study, as they were the most standardized commodity. Their weight typically varies between 170-220 grams, but most of them fall within the range of 185-183 grams.
The study concludes that bronze rings were not only decorative ornaments but an early form of commodity money. They disappeared already at the beginning of the Iron age when they were exchanged for pieces of scrap metal of precise weight. This phase was followed by actual coins. However, the standardization of the bronze rings was the first and important step in this development.
Bronze rings as the commodity money of early Slavs
Reading this text, I could not help but wonder what was the connection between these bronze rings and the early Slavic tribes. This is something that went unnoticed by the authors of the study, so let me elaborate further in this article.
Ukrainian currency is called “Hryvnia“. This name comes from “Grivna” – the official currency of Kievan Rus and other Slavic states at least since the 11th century. The meaning of the “grivna” is “necklace, torque” or in other words “neck ring“.
Indeed, in Proto-Slavic “griva” meant “neck, mane”, therefore “grivna” would be an object worn around the neck. This word is archaic, and the proof for this claim lies in the fact that Sanskrit has a direct cognate. Sugriva (beautiful necked) is a famous hero from Ramayana, while grivasana is a neck pose in yoga.
This etymology is not being disputed by historians. However, they are still confused by the fact that the earliest currency of the Slavs somehow relates to the neck. Slavic Grivna from the middle ages was a piece of precious metal shaped like a rib or a rhomboid, not a neck ring. On Wikipedia we read the following:
“The word originally meant “a necklace” or “a torque”. The reason why it has taken the meaning of a unit of weight is unclear. The grivnas that have been found at various archaeological sites are not necklaces but bullions of precious metals, usually silver.
The weight of the Slavic Grivna
Just like in the case of the bronze rings, the weight of the Grivna was not uniform – it depended on the region. The Kievan grivna weighted around 140–165 grams, while the Novgorod grivna had 204 grams. The latter became the `basis for monetary systems of Northeastern Rus’ principalities as well as the Grand Duchy of Moscow.
Interestingly, this weight range of 140-204 grams is not that far from the weight range of the bronze age rings: 170-220 grams, with a peak of 185 grams.
So, the big question is: Was Slavic Grivna modeled on the European bronze age rings? Can we see some continuity here? The etymology of the word, as well as the weight surely point in this direction.
According to official history, Slavs arrived in Europe only around the 5-6th century AD. The early bronze age rings in question are 4-5,000 years old. Therefore, no contact between Slavs and these Bronze age tribes could have been possible, unless the official history is wrong.
As we have seen, there were two main groups in this part of Europe during the Bronze age. One group was identified by authors as the Únětice culture. They used the ax blades as their currency. The other one, which used the bronze rings, remained unidentified.
But interestingly, this other group dwelled around the Danube, in the region of the modern Slavic country of Czech Republic, East Germany, and Austria. This eastern part of Germany was Slavic since the recorded history of the 6th century. No historian would dispute that this region was gradually Germanized only later. The real question is who was there before the 6th century.
The same goes for Austria. Some of the most important cities still carry Germanized versions of the older, Slavic toponyms. For example, the name of Gratz comes from Slavic “Gradac” – hillfort, while the ancient name of Vienna was Vindibona – the white city, or in other words “Belgrade”.
In any case, the fact is that Slavic Grivna relate so perfectly to these Bronze age rings, in both, their name and their weight. And even though the current history of Europe might be tainted by various geopolitical ambitions, these unusual connections will still have to be explained by the official science, sooner or later.
Nha Trang is a picturesque coastal city of central Vietnam. Previously known as Kauthara, it was founded by Champa, the ancient civilization that practiced Hinduism and thrived in this region for almost 1000 years. Po Nagar, a 7th century Champa temple, still dominates the local landscape. It was dedicated to Lady Po Nagar, the legendary queen of the Cham people. Modern scholars believe that her cult was inspired by the Hindu goddess Bhagavati / Durga.
The Hong Chong rock formations
Another popular attraction are the unusual rocks of Hong Chong. As it usually happens with such places, the strange rocky formations have inspired numerous local legends of their origins. Today they are considered as a national relic of special status.
The Giant’s fingers
One of the most poular rock reliefs is called “The Giant’s fingers”. According to the local legend, a giant woodcutter stumbled upon a group of fairies bathing in a stream. While spying on them he lost his footing. The broken rocks in the area mark the place where he fell, while the imprints of his fingers can still be seen on the rock.
The language of this myth is interesting. From my experience, the “Giant woodcutter” is usually a reference to the constellation of Orion, in Asia as well as in Christianity. Take for example the famous Vietnamese myth of Chú Cuội, another woodcutter who eventually ended up on the Moon, together with the holy Banyan tree (the Milky Way).
Intrigued by the possible astronomical connections, I used the compass on my phone to check for any possible alignments with cardinal directions. And sure enough, if you stand in front of this rock, and you are looking towards the horizon, you are facing the true east, without a degree of error. Moreover, the three islands could serve as perfect markers for the yearly movement of the Sun. The small one in the middle marks the equinoxes, while the two larger islands mark the solstices.
The giant’s fingers or Naga rock?
I was surprised to hear the story of the giant woodcutter. I saw a couple of photos of the rock before going there, and there was no doubt in my mind that these were men-made imprints, representing the Naga rock. Naga rocks are rock carvings of multiheaded snakes, very similar to this one. The Naga motifs were very popular in Champa art, just like they were in neighboring Cambodia and all other places in Asia that were influenced by Hinduism.
Here is an example from Sri Lanka. On this Srilankan rock, there is an image of an unnamed goddess on the left. Could it be a representation of Durga / Bhagavati?
Hydra constellation as a celestial marker
There are other articles on this blog that deal with the star lore about the Hydra constellation in more detail. Here it will suffice to say that Hydra was the longest constellation known to ancients. The seven-headed water snake first appears in the nights of March, the month of the spring equinox, accending from the heavenly water of the eastern horizon. At the autumn equinox, it descends back into the “water”, marking the arrival of the winter.
Therefore, the ancient stargazer would have had two options here. The first one would be to observe the Hydra rising from the ocean, right after the sunset, sheltered by the very image of the constellation behind his back. In this version, he would be Vishnu-like (and later like Buddha) whose resting pose is nothing but a representation of the horizontal position of Orion during the equinoxes. In other words, an image reminiscent of a fallen giant from the local myth.
Of course, the second option would be to observe the Sun rising behind the natural markers consisting of the three islands on the horizon. The position of these islands, paired with the unusual rocky landscape was probably the reason that the observational spot was chosen in the first place.
Is this theory too far-fetched? Perhaps. But the fact is that giant’s fingers were not shaped by mother nature, which begs the question of why were they carved in the first place. Moreover, some of the other rocks in the area show clear signs of human intervention. For example, this one, looking like some sort of megalithic altar.
Unfortunately, it would be difficult to completely reconstruct this site, as before it has been protected by the state, many of the rocks were moved from their original location and used as building blocks.
Very little is known about the ancient history of Vietnam, but what is certain is that there are ancient megaliths and dolmens scattered all around the country. Some of them are known to archaeologists, but there could be many more such rocks that are still under the radar. For example, I also saw this interesting rock formation at the Ba ho waterfalls, not far from Nha Trang, but couldn’t find any information regarding its history.
Were the ancient people in this region stargazers? Without any doubt. In that case, we can expect to see some traces of their activities, as important activities such as agriculture and hunt depended on the change of seasons. These stargazing narratives were then shaped in myths and the most important dates became religious festivals.
I believe that the rocky landscape of Hon Chong is more fitting for the ancient megalithic culture that would have to predate even the Champa. Only after the 4th century AD, these newcomers and skilled sailors who were practicing Hinduism could have brought the Naga imagery and adapted the already sacred site.
Indeed, the ancient sailing route once connected Vietnam with Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Kerala in India. Kerala was not only the birthplace of the Naga worship but also the main hub for the ancient trade routes for pepper and other spices. These routes existed already from the times of ancient Phoenicians and Egyptians who had also ventured to Kerala to trade.
Needless to say, it would not be only the spices that were exchanged along these routes. Perhaps here lies the reason why the ancient Egyptian version of Orion – Osiris sometimes looks so similar to Vishnu and Buddha.
Illyrians were a group of Indo-European tribes inhabiting the western Balkans since time immemorial. Their name is first mentioned around the 4th century BC, but there is no consensus on how long before that they were present in the Balkans. Some scholars consider Illyrians as an autochthonous population, the others as the Bronze age immigrants. It is possible that the ancient Greeks named the city of Troy (Ilion) after them, and Troy had fallen in the second millennium BC.
Greeks described Illyrians as tall and strong warriors and dreadful pirates. This reputation of the sea-raiders and pirates had existed since the first records. Illyrians invented fast ships – liburna and lembus and used them to raid cities and islands across the Adriatic and Mediterranean for centuries. In the end, it was the Romans who managed to subdue them.
Labiatae – the last of the Illyrians
At the time of the Roman conquest, one of the most important Illyrian tribes was the tribe of Labeatans. They occupied the territory around the lake Skadar, today northern Albania, and southern Montenegro. Ancient writers call this lake Labeatis.
Labeatans minted their coins. The coin of their capital city, Skodra (Skodrinon) depicts a typical lembus warship. It had no sails and it could take up to 50 men. Its shape resembles a sea serpent, while an actual sea serpent lies underneath it.
The demise of the Labateans was carefully recorded by Roman historians. We know the names of the important figures of the last ruling dynasties, and we have records of the numerous battles. But their origin remains a mystery. Without a clear historical record, we can only guess who the Labeatans were.
Labiatae – people of the Labeatis lake
There is an obvious connection between the hydronym Labeatis and the Labiatae tribe. The question is which came first. Many ancient tribes were named after a geographical feature, such as a river, mountain, or forest; but even the opposite can be true.
In any case, it seems that the “lab” was a common Illyrian particle, found in many place names. Wikipedia claims that it is a metathesis from “Alb” simply meaning “white”, and a bit later, they claim that this could be the origin of the name of the Albanians.
But there is a problem with that theory. Modern Albanians were probably named after another Illyrian tribe – Albanoi. (Although this could be a more recent version of the name Labeatae). The Albanoi territory was a bit outside of the traditional Labeatean domain but in its proximity. Their name could also come from their capital, Albanopolis -“white city”.
However, “white city” is a common Slavic toponym. Serbian capital – Belgrade, means precisely that. Also, “white city” was also the ancient name of both Kyiv and Moscow, and there are many similar toponyms in Ukraine and Bulgaria and many other Slavic countries.
However, the metathesis “lab” – “alb” is still interesting, as we will soon see.
The story of the Lab river
Hydronyms often preserve the most ancient form of words, as changing the name of the river that flows through different cities (or even nations) is not as easy as changing the name of a city or a mountain. Numerous river names across the Indo-European area repeat, sometimes in the most unusual places. For example, scholars claim that Danube, Don, and Dnieper all share the same root. The same is true for the root “Lab”.
Lab river, Kosovo, Serbia
Not far from the territory of the ancient Labeateans, there is a river Lab. It flows in the northeast of Kosovo. Kosovo was the central area of the first Serbian states, before the Ottoman invasion. As for the river’s name, Wikipedia claims the following:
Derived from a pre-Slavic form Alb that underwent linguistic metathesis within Slavic, giving the final form as Lab.
Therefore, the ancient form was ALB, but with the (supposed) Slavic arrival in the Balkans in the 6th century, it became LAB? Well, this could only be logical if we ignore the existence of the Labateans in the Balkans since time immemorial. But wait, why would LAB be a Slavic form?
Perhaps because we see it in many Slavic words meaning “white”. For example, a common Slavic word for swan is “labud” – white bird. It exists in all Slavic lands, therefore the Southern Slavs couldn’t have acquired it from some unknown indigenous population of the Balkans.
Elbe river, Central Europe
River Elbe is the major river in Central Europe. It flows through the Czech Republic and Germany, a region shared between the Slavic and Germanic nations. Scholars are still debating which of these nations came first. But what is certain is that the large part of modern Germany around the Elbe was once inhabited by the Slavic Sorbs (now a minority).
In the 2nd century AD, Ptolemy calls this river “Albis”. Wikipedia now claims:
First attested in Latin as Albis, the name “Elbe” means “river” or “river-bed” and is nothing more than the High German version of a word (*albī) found elsewhere in Germanic; cf. Old Norse river name Elfr, Swedish älv “river”, Norwegian elv “river”, Old English river name elf, and Middle Low German elve “river-bed”.
However, the authors completely ignore the fact that the Czechs, Poles, Sorbs and other Slavic nations call this river “Laba“. The map below illustrates the gradual loss of the Sorbian territories since the year 1000. Originally, the river Elbe was in the center of their territory.
Laba river, Russia
River Laba is an important river, located in Krasnodar and Adygea regions of Russia. It flows around the Sea of Azov and the Black sea. Interestingly, this is the same region of Sarmatia Asiatica, in which Ptolemy places a “Sarmatian” tribe of Serboi (Serbi). Moreover, the name (Caucasian) Albania is just another inversion of the root “Lab”.
In short, we can draw the following conclusion. There are three important rivers, separated by a great distance, sharing the same root. And interestingly, these regions are always occupied by nations that call themselves Serbs. In all three cases, the original root “Lab” is changed to “alb” or “elb”, and not vice versa. Modern historians would say that these rivers and nations should not be confused. But this is hardly a coincidence.
SERBOI, SERBI, (modern) Russia
Back to Labiatae
According to mainstream history, there was only one noteworthy movement of the Southern Slavs – from the north (Elbe) to the south (Lab), in the 6th century AD. However, western historians also claim that Slavs arrived in the Elbe region around the same time, somewhere from the east. (not the Caucasus). That would simply mean that Slavs wandered aimlessly across the vast territory of Euro-Asia, which is a ridiculous theory. On the other hand, Slavic medieval texts were always explicit that Slavs occupied Balkans prior to the Roman invasion.
Anyhow, what is certain is that Labateans were present in the Balkans from the 4th century BC. But if we accept the connection between the terms “Illyrians” and “Ilion” (Troy), we can push this date back for another thousand years. This would bring us directly to the times of the bronze age migrations as well as the time when the notorious pirates known as sea peoples pillaged the Mediterranean region. This is a fact – Illyrians are the only candidates from recorded history that could truly fit this shoe. Their Modus Operandi and notorious reputation were virtually identical to those of sea peoples.
Sea peoples reached the shores of northern Africa, slightly before the time when Jews started to compile their sacred scriptures. In this light, it is interesting that the Jews called the sea serpent Leviathan. The etymology of this name is not clear, but it appears in the earliest Jewish scriptures. It could be a coincidence, but this sea serpent looks very similar to the depictions on the Labiatan coins.
On their way there, one of the first stops would be modern-day Lebanon. For its etymology, Wikipedia states:
The name of Mount Lebanon originates from the Phoenician root lbn meaning “white”, apparently from its snow-capped peaks.
Lebane is also a town in South Serbia, bordering Kosovo.
In the first part of this article, we saw a common thread, shared by many “magical sword” legends around the world. One of the obvious explanations would be that these myths share the same root, at least to some extent. It is possible that these ideas come from the Iron age.
Indeed, there was a time when iron swords were a rare commodity. In Anatolia, Hittites were the first masters of iron, but these objects were reserved only for royalty. Homer claims that iron is more valuable than gold. This is easy to understand. The bronze age swords did not have a long life-span. They would bend and break easily. Therefore, the hard, iron still would represent an object of magical power – the stuff of legends.
But even if this explains why so many cultures share the same myth, it still doesn’t tell us anything of the myth’s original meaning. To understand this, we will have to use some basic astronomy.
The legend of King Arthur – an ancient astronomical allegory
The knights of the round table
Besides Excalibur, the “round table” is one of the most famous elements of the Arthurian saga. Originally, there were twelve knights, although in later versions this number could go as high as 150 (that would be a really large table). The “round table” meant that everyone is equal, as normally the most important person would sit at the head of the table. However, the number twelve and the idea of a circle could also be a clear reference to the twelve constellations of the zodiac. Further support for this theory comes from the Winchester Round Table.
This table dates to the early 13th century. In 1522 Henry VII depicted himself in the place of King Arthur. Besides this, there are twelve green and twelve white fields. They could represent a 24-hour day, or in other words, the twelve hours of daylight, and the twelve hours of the night – the passage of Sun and Moon through the twelve constellations of the zodiac.
King Arthur and the Bootes constellation
The etymology of the name Arthur is not clear. For example, Wikipedia lists several different opinions. Most of them relate to the variation of the root that meant “bear” (Celtic “arto”, Welsh “arth”). In the end, the article mentions an alternative theory according to which the name is a borrowing from Latin Arcturus. Arcturus is the brightest star of the Bootes constellation. As this constellation stands very near to Ursa Major, the “big bear” constellation, the ancients called it “guardian of the bear”. In another article, I spoke of this in more detail, but here is an illustration. Note that Bootes also holds a spear, one of the three weapons of Arthur.
But there is more. King Arthur’s father was Pendragon (chief dragon), and above the Bootes constellation, there is a constellation Draco – dragon. Underneath Bootes, we see the constellation Crater – a cup, or a grail. This is another important element of the Arthurian myth, but its origin is much older – we can trace it from Christianity, all the way back to some of the oldest Greek myths. I wrote extensively about it in some of the previous articles.
Lady of the lake and the white swan – Cygnus constellation
It was the Lady of the lake, who according to the legend granted Excalibur to Arthur. Unfortunately, medieval legends are full of contradictions when it comes to this character. One story claims that she was the daughter of Pendragon, and as such, Arthur’s sister. According to the other, she was the daughter of Dionas (Dyonas). This name sounds like the name of the Thracian god Dionysus, or in other words, constellation Orion – perhaps hinting to the possible source of the myth.
In artwork, Lady of the lake often has a white swan in proximity, just like the constellation Virgo has Cygnus, the swan. The reason that the ancients saw this star cluster as a swan is that it stands in the middle of the Milky Way, a celestial river that flows down towards the constellation of Scorpius (not too clear on the above image).
Lady of the lake – Virgo constellation
The contradictions are many even when it comes to her real name. Various sources spell it as Nimuë, Ninianne/Viviane, Nimanne, Niviene/ Vivienne, Nimiane/Niniame, Nymenche, Niniane, Niviana, Nymanne, Nynyane, Niniane, Ninieve,Nynyve/Nenyve…
Interestingly, many of these variations sound similar to the names of the river Neman, an important river flowing from Belarus to Lithuania. The variants of its name include Nioman, Nyoman, Nemunas, Neman, Niemen… Another popular version, Nymenche, actually sounds like a Slavic diminutive, ending in “che”, often used as an endearment form of the name.
On the other hand, the forms Ninieve and Nynyve sound like the ancient Assyrian city Nineveh. I know that many readers will frown on this idea, and I could have easily taken it out of the article to make it easier to read and more “credible”. However, I find these connections very interesting, especially if we follow the idea that all of these myths share the same ancient root. Also, there is no other etymology for these names. The ancient city of Nineveh, whose origins go back to 3,000 BC, was dedicated to goddess Ishtar, its patron goddess. The cuneiform for the name of the city was Ninâ – a fish within a house, an obvious allusion to water.
And finally, some of the versions of the myth equate Lady of the lake with Morgan le Fay. The name Morgan comes from the Brittonic “Mori-gena” and means “sea-born”. She is an enchantress, but also the weaving goddess, just like Circe of the Odyssey. Her name is similar to the Christian Mary, which also comes from the word “sea”. Aphrodite, the Greek version of Ishtar also came out of the sea. These symbols are clear hints that we are dealing with the Virgo constellation, “house” of the planet Venus.
Carnwennan – the Pleiades
Arthur’s small dagger, Carnwennan, meant “little white hilt”. It is quite possible that it relates to the cluster of the Pleiades, which certain cultures saw as a little white dagger.
As the Pleiades are on the opposite side of the sky, this would also be in accordance with the Vietnamese myth where the main hero needs to assemble his sword out of two different pieces.
So where is the Excalibur?
By now, you may wonder why would this particular part of the sky be so important for the Arthurian myth. The answer is very simple. During the past two millennia BC, in other words during an Iron age, this was the night sky of the spring equinox. And the spring equinox was the most important event of the ancient calendar, marking the end of the winter and the cycle of New Year.
To be more precise, during the Iron age, the Sun rose on the background of Aries during the spring months. The constellation of Libra opened the night sky. In autumn, Sun was in Libra, on the other side of the zodiac. The scales of Libra symbolize the equinox when day and night are equal. Or perhaps, one of the scales is slightly tipped, to symbolize the change of pattern after the equinox.
But it is the spring equinox that is important for our story. Libra would appear on the eastern horizon just after sunset. From there, it would proceed to go up, followed by Scorpius, the next constellation in line. Both of the constellations would be visible around 9 PM, as you can see in the below image (a screenshot from Stellarium, a free astronomical software).
From here, these two constellations would proceed their travel across the night sky, until they reach the western horizon, just before the sunrise, around 5 AM.
Did you see it already? The constellation Scorpius looks like an arm. During sunset, it appears on the horizon right after the blue sky of the day. During sunrise, it looks as if it is going to dive towards it. In another article, I already compared the Scorpius constellation with the arm of Thor and found similar parallels even in Mayan mythology. It is only logical that those cultures that did not have scorpions in their habitat had different ideas of what this constellation represents. I believe that an arm is a good guess.
In this case, the Excalibur could be nothing else than the Libra constellation. Indeed, the modern idea of how the stars connect does not even look like the scales. But if we imagine different lines, those that made the ancients see the scales of Libra, the idea of a giant sword is not that far. (see the illustration of Libra above). In this case, we get the following parallel:
Do you see it? And during sunrise, these constellations will tilt on the western horizon. It will look as if a hand is throwing away the sword. Right after that, the sky will turn blue, just as the surface of water that swallowed the Excalibur.
Indeed, Beowulf fights Grendel’s mother in a cave. He manages to slay her just as the light of the day enters the cave. The sea then turns red, which could be another representation of the red sky during sunrise.
From Camael to Camelot
The court of King Arthur was in Camelot. There is no etymology for this toponym. However, in the Old Testament, an angel is holding the flaming sword, guarding the gates of heaven. His name is Camael. Camel holds a flaming sword in one hand, and in the other, he has a holy grail. Does the name Camelot relate to him?
In the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Rome, we see the following image. Enthroned Christ sits in the middle. On the left, there is an archangel Uriel (bright), holding a Sun-like shield – spring in Aries. On the right, we see Zophiel (from zophos, darkness) holding a Moon-like shield. Under him there is a Camael, holding the grail and staff instead of the usual flaming sword.
This image represents an astronomical allegory. And it is the Old Testament one – it made sense only for the two millennia BC. Eastern Orthodox tradition claims that after the resurrection of Jesus, the flaming sword was removed from the Garden of Eden, making it possible for humanity to re-enter Paradise. Christianity marks the shift of the equinox from Libra to Virgo. This is how Virgin Mary became an important character of the narrative, while the flaming sword was removed from heaven’s gate.
Interestingly, Arthurian myth stayed faithful to the older Pre-Christian narrative. As we saw, King Arthur lived during the 5th century AD, but in reality, the myth is probably even older than that. As some authors already noticed, it could have been brought to Brittain via Sarmatian mercenaries, which Romans brought on the island. Or perhaps its origins are even older and relate to some of the first settlers of the Iron age.
In any case, it seems that the Arthurian myth is an echo of a much older tradition.
Officially, the European Iron age started in the Aegean and Balkans, around the twelfth century BC. Scholars are undecided whether it came there from Anatolia or Caucasus. Iron was known in Assyrian Niniveh already around 3,000 BC. But if we add the similarities between the Asian myths and those of Europe, my two cents would go on the Caucasus. In this case, the Scythians and Sarmatians are truly the only people capable of spreading this influence.
However, it is possible that the iron age arrived in Balkans first, and from there reached the Aegean with the Dorian invasion. On the Serbian archaeological site of Hisar Hill, two needles were discovered, dated to the 14th century BC. The fascinating thing about these needles is their structure. They are made from 98,86% pure iron, which cannot rust. This is an impossible feat, even by modern standards. The only similar structure on earth is the famous Iron pillar of Delhi – another strange connection between Europe and Asia.
A needle and a pilar, symbolically marking the borders of the world’s first Iron age culture.
As the legend goes, sometime around the 5th century AD, King Arthur defended Britain from the Saxons. His legendary sword, Excalibur became a symbol of British sovereignty. However, it was only centuries later, that the legend became immortalized in several medieval manuscripts. Lacking the older sources, historians still argue whether King Arthur was a real, historical person or just a mythological hero.
Excalibur – the sword in the stone, or the sword in the lake?
To make things more complicated, medieval manuscripts often contradict each other. For example, the famous “sword in stone” motif dates to the 12-13th century. Immortalized in the modern media, this episode is probably the most common association with the Arthurian myth nowadays. But in reality, this element was foreign to most of the other sources of the legend. In the Middle Ages, the common agreement was that Arthur got his sword from the Lady of the lake.
In short, at the beginning of his reign, Arthur broke his sword. A nymph appeared from the lake, in the form of a young maiden, granting him Excalibur as a boon. Years later, fatally wounded Arthur asks one of his knights to throw the sword back to the enchanted lake.
Vietnamese legend of the sword in the lake
There are some striking parallels between the original Arthurian myth and some of the myths of South-East Asia. For example, one of the most popular Vietnamese legends is that of the sword Thuận Thiên (Heaven’s will).
Just like Excalibur, this sword is a symbol of Vietnamese sovereignty. It was proof of the legitimacy of the leader Lê Lợi, who fought against the Ming dynasty in the 15th century. But these are not the main similarities. In fact, the “Heaven’s will” sword also came from a lake. It was a fisherman who found its blade. Not knowing what to do with it, he threw it back in the lake, but the sword kept coming back in his net. When this happened for the third time, he took it as a sign and decided to take it home with him. The number three seems to be important here. In the Arthurian myth, the knights manage to throw Excalibur back in the lake only after three attempts.
Sometime later, general Lê Lợi visits the fisherman and the blade starts to shine in his presence. The fishermen allowed him to take the blade. But the blade was missing the hilt. Lê Lợi found it in the branches of a banyan tree. Putting the pieces together, he obtained a magical sword that granted many victories to the Vietnamese people.
Years later, Lê Lợi, now a king, took a boat ride on a lake in front of his palace. A golden turtle came out and asked for a sword in a human voice, claiming that it belongs to the dragon king, who wants it back. When the sword started to move on its own, Lê Lợi realized that it doesn’t belong to him. He was only allowed to have it to gain his victories. He then threw it back in the lake and the giant turtle took it underwater, never to be seen again.
For this reason, the name of the central lake in Hanoi, capital of Vietnam, is Hồ Hoàn Kiếm (Lake of the Returned Sword).
The parallels between these myths are obvious, and yet, I couldn’t find any other source connecting them. Both Excalibur and the “Heaven’s will” came out of a lake and were eventuallyreturned there, once they served their purpose. Both swords were the symbols of sovereignty, legitimacyof a king, and a magical tool to overcome enemies. Also, the Vietnamese sword belonged to a dragon-king, while King Arthur’s father was Pendragon (chief-dragon).
The idea of the sword being assembled of two pieces – a blade and a hilt, is also very interesting. King Arthur had the sword Excalibur, and a dagger Carnwennan (little white hilt). He used it to slay the witch Orddu, by slicing her in half. Similarly, the Gaetish hero Beowulf has two swords, Hrunting and Naegling. He tried to slay Grendel’s mother (a witch or a dragon) with Hrunting, but it was too small. He then saw the giant sword Naegling, a sword of immense power, and used it to finish the job.
Malaysia – the sword of the river (and the dragon slayer)
In Malaysian royal regalia, there is a sword “Cura Si Manjakini“. The name is Sanskrit and means “blade of the Mandakini river”. Tradition states that it belonged to a first king, a hero who used it to slay Saktimuna – a multi-headed dragon.
Thailand – the legend of the sword in the lake
An important part of the royal regalia of Thailand is a “sword of victory“. Here too, it represents the power and legitimacy of a king. And once again, it was the fisherman who found it in his net. Its hilt is made of gold and decorated with diamonds and precious stones. Also, there is a carving of the god Vishnu riding an eagle Garuda.
But the main difference is that this magical sword was never returned to a lake. It still stands as a part of the royal regalia, and the people of Thailand can see it on special occasions. However, during the Oath of Allegiance ceremony, the king dips this sword in a cup of sacred water and drinks from it. The rest of the court then follows his example.
Slavic legends of the sword in the lake
At first glance, the cultures of South-east Asia and England may seem too far to have any significant influence on each other, especially in the remote past. However, it seems that similar legends once thrived all across the ancient world. In Slavic mythology, the name of the magical sword is Kladenets or Samosek (self-wielding sword). Often, this sword lies hidden behind an ancient wall, tree, or even grave, waiting to be discovered by a hero, as only the true hero can use it.
The etymology of the name Kladenets is not clear in the Russian language. But in the South-Slavic languages, kladenac (a diminutive of “klad”) means “well”. It refers to both men-made, and the natural well, where the water is deep. Interestingly, this word sounds quite similar to the original name of the Excalibur. The name “Excalibur” is a corruption of the Welsh “Caledfwlch”. Scholars still debate if there is a connection with the Irish magical sword, Caladbolg. The word Caladbolg could be a compound of Calad (as in “klad”) and Bolg, as in Fir Bolg. They were the mythical settlers of Ireland, sometimes connected to the continental Belgae.
Anyhow, Slavic legends are abundant in magical swords. They too, are often taken from water or returned to it. In 2011, Ukrainian archaeologists discovered a sword in the river Dnieper. Its handle was made out of four metals, including gold and silver. As this is the general area in which the 10th-century king Sviatoslav I of Kyiv lost his life fighting the Pechenegs, the sword is labeled as his. Knowing that the battle is lost, the king threw it in the river. The idea was that the enemy must not acquire an object that represents the royal power. The sword of Sviatoslav is now a part of a collection of an archaeological museum in Kyiv.
In one of the songs of Serbian medieval epics, the main hero, Prince Marko, feels that he is going to die. He goes to his faithful horse and cuts his head off so that the enemy (Turks) wouldn’t ride him. Marko then buries the horse with the utmost respect, or as the poem says “better than his brother”. After this, he breaks his sword and spear into pieces. And finally, he throws his main weapon, the mace, into the sea. He threw it saying: “When my mace comes out of the sea, only then can the same hero be”.
And finally, in 2019 archaeologists of the Republic of Srpska, Bosnian Federation discovered a medieval sword in the river Vrbas, dubbed “Bosnian Excalibur”. For hundreds of years, rocky sedimentation was formed around it. The archaeologists literally had to “take it out of the stone”.
These are just some of the examples of the magical swords in myths and legends. Surprisingly, all of them share common symbolism. When Beowulf slays Grendel’s mother, the sea turns red from her blood. We see the same idea in the myth of Perseus. When he slays the dragon, the sea also turns red, becoming the Red sea. Therefore, the myth of the Perseus could be older, as it explains the natural phenomena we still see today. Similarly, one of the episodes of the Slavic sword Kladenets, relates it to Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzar. It is possible that all of these myths actually share the same origin, and that they were transmitted together with the advancement of metallurgy.
Indeed, the ancients saw the craft of the blacksmiths as something magical. And water is an important element in the process of smithing, as the metal needs to be cooled down constantly. Since the earliest days, the sword was a symbol of power, a living force, and in special cases even divine protection. It was one with his owner, containing some of his personal power. For this reason, many ancient cultures buried warriors with their swords. Often, they would ritually destroy them before the burial. One of the explanations for this practice was that they wanted to make sure that nobody else will be able to dig them out and use them. Another one states that in this way the power of the sword also left the earth, following its owner to the afterlife.
But there could be another reason for the popularity of this story. And as it is the case with most of the myths of the ancient world, this meaning is astronomical. Due to the limited space, this will be the topic of the second part of this article.
In aboriginal cultures, the role of the shaman and the tribal leader is often one and the same. Rishi (seer, sage, saint) was the name for the wise men of the Aryan culture of Vedic India and Iran. Scholars will disagree, but this could also be the meaning of the Celtic “rix/rixs” – (king, a tribal leader). Rix is, of course, a cognate with Latin “rex” (king, ruler). But since the Latin word does not have any other meaning than that, I believe that the original source was probably Sanskrit.
In any case, from the earliest of times to pharaohs and medieval kings, there was always the same connotation that a king is a holy person. Rulers were descendants of gods or demi-gods in the worst case. To reinforce this impression, rulers developed a language of symbols, in the form of common royal regalia that represents their power and wisdom. With slight variations, these symbols are almost identical and very often, astronomical in their essence.
Scepter, the royal staff
One of the oldest symbols of royal power is the scepter. It existed in virtually all ancient cultures, from Mesopotamia and Egypt to Greece and India, from Christianity to European Monarchs. Regardless of the variations in the general shape and size, the meaning is always the same.
The scepter is an upgraded version of the shepherd’s staff. It symbolizes the power to lead and protect the flock, but also to judge and punish it. In an astronomical sense, staff represents the Axis Mundi – an invisible pole around which the whole universe rotates.
Sword as the symbol of power
As we entered the ages of metal, the staff was not enough of a statement anymore. The sword became the new power symbol of the royal regalia. The role of the king also gravitated towards the warlord in this period.
When swords first appeared, they represented something truly mystical, holding great strength and power. The blacksmiths who made them were seen as magicians, and the skill with which they subdued the elements inspired numerous myths and superstitions. No wonder then, that all ancient cultures have stories of magical swords. What is strange, is how most of these myths tell similar stories. But this will be a topic of another article.
For now, let us say that the and upside down sword looks like a cross. In other words, just like the staff – it can both lead and punish.
The royal crown and the zodiac
Crown developed from the diadem. The oldest example of diadem comes from the Indus Valley Civilization, in 3,000 BC. The earliest crowns were probably made of flowers and leaves. We can conclude that from the earliest golden models, which were simply following the age-old tradition. With time, the golden crowns became more elaborate, including various animals, crosses, and other symbols. On top of that, precious jewels were added.
However, the original symbolism never changed. Crown represents the starry sky and the zodiac. The one wearing it is in the center of it. In other words, his mind understands the cosmic laws and brings them to Earth. His rule is divine.
The ring as the symbol of power
Similar to the crown, the ring was another important part of the royal insignia. Its place is on the finger which in palmistry belongs to the Sun, so we can say that the ring is just a miniature crown. The symbolism is the same. The practice of “kissing the ring” existed at least since the Middle Ages. It is adopted both by Papacy and the Italian Mafia, according to Mario Puzo. Kissing the ring, meant recognizing the supreme rule of its wearer.
Mantle as the symbol of power
Mantle, or the royal garment, has a very long history. Nowadays, the first association is that of the European kings and queens. But even the priestly mantle is just a more modest version of the same. In antiquity, the mantle represented the skies, as they were seen as a cover, a cape. It was a very popular motif in Greek representations of gods, where it served as a substitute for the wings of the angels. From the same symbolism comes the cape. Its function in the marriage is to add the holy, celestial element. For this reason, even the modern superheroes have it, especially those that can fly.
The earliest form of the mantle was probably an elaborate piece of garment, similar to an Indian sari. The roots of the sari, just like the crown, go back to the Indus Valley civilization. Another Asian royal symbol with the same meaning is the umbrella.
Throne as the symbol of power
Every ruler has to have a throne. The first thrones were megalithic and they were cut directly out of the bedrock. They were aligned towards cardinal directions so that the seer could observe the movement of the stars from them. In the later period, these priest-kings moved into palaces. The thrones became more elaborate, engraved with various symbols of power. But they were still carved out of huge rocks – a memory of their earliest meaning and purpose.
The word “throne” comes from the Greek “thrónos” – meaning “chair, throne”. Its root is the PIE “*dʰer- (“to hold”). This same root is in the Vedic “Dharma“, meaning “post, sacrificial pole, support of heavens”. But the other meaning of Dharma is “divine justice, the cosmic law”.
In other words, the throne was a symbol of the connection between the earth and the sky. And the one sitting on it was the supporter of divine justice, just like Vedic Vishnu, or Christ Pantocrator.
Globus cruciger as the symbol of power
Globus cruciger (cross-bearing orb) is another ancient symbol of power. Cross is a later addition, under the Christian influence. In ancient Greece, Zeus had an orb under its foot, symbolizing his rule over the Earth. Christianity adopted the symbol, adding the cross to mark the dominion of Christ. But even the Atlas, carrying the globe on his shoulder conveys the same symbolism. The idea is clearly ancient, as many Asian cultures also use the orb in their religious imagery.
Its meaning is obvious, and not very different from that of the throne. In other words, just like the crown and the ring, the throne and the orb are substitutes.
Shoes as the symbol of power
Shoes are not an important part of the western royal insignia, but they are in the east. In Ramayana, Rama goes to exile, and of all royal regalia, Bharata chooses his slippers. This could have been Bharata’s way of implying to Rama that he will lead the kingdom in the same manner, so he has nothing to worry about. In other words, he will literally step in his shoes. Whether for this reason or not, but the shoes are an important part of royal regalia in many Asian countries, Thailand for example.
More on the astronomical meaning of the royal regalia
By now, most of the associations with astronomy should be obvious. But perhaps there is even more than meets the eye. The crown can be the symbol of the zodiac, but also the planet Saturn, whose ring was not unknown to ancient cultures. The path of Saturn through the zodiac depicts the furthest boundaries of our solar system. The sword is, of course, a symbol of the war-god Mars. And the staff was a common attribute of Hermes/Mercury and its other equivalents. As we saw, both the throne and the orb are attributes of Zeus/Jupiter. And the cape, or a mantle, the only “female” attribute, would represent Venus.
Even the lunar nodes, an important element of ancient astronomy, could be represented by a pair of dragons, snakes, or other dual animals that usually adorn the thrones. The seated person, therefore, represents the union of the Moon (mind) Sun (soul), and the Earth (body). In this way, he is the true ruler of earth and sky, a manifestation of the cosmic order.
The royal (and priestly) regalia goes back to the dawn of human civilization. Its symbolism speaks volumes about the first leaders of our race. They were seers, astronomers, and masters of time and destiny. Like cape-wearing superman, they were more than human – enlightened beings. But as it usually happens, this golden age had to end. The greed and corruption took over the wheel, and only the symbolism remained.
Astrology was pushed aside centuries ago, to give way to modern science. But the leaders of western civilization did not move away from it. True, they do not wear mantles anymore (except the Pope) but they still use the same symbols, although more concealed. Fake nimbuses of saints that we often see behind the faces of politicians on our TV screens, made with the clever use of photography, are a good example. But astronomical symbolism goes much deeper. It exists even in the logos, sculptures, and architecture of the world’s most important organizations. In short, these archetypes still affect our subconscious mind, just as they affected the minds of our ancestors thousands of years ago. The only question is, does our elite care to truly understand what these symbols represent, or do they only care about holding the world in their hand.
Origins of the circular dances go back to the dawn of time. We see them in most of the native cultures, from Asia to the Americas. In its most primitive form, the dance happened around the sacred pole or a totem, usually placed in the central square of the village, or a remote sacred space. This type of dance is still very common in minorities of South-East Asia, Siberia, and South America.
The pole represents the Axis Mundi – an invisible line around which the universe rotates. Interestingly, Homer in the Iliad depicts a circular dance that took place around the spear of Achilles. Here, we will not focus on this ancient form of dance. We will discuss a more “recent” version, a traditional form of dance that survives mainly in the region between the Middle East and Southeast Europe.
Most of the countries from Greece to the Balkans share a common word for the traditional circular dance. This word is Hora and its variations Horo/Oro etc. In the 20th century, the Jewish diaspora picked it up and brought it to Israel, where it became Horah. The meaning of the word is simply “circle”. However, many other important words share this root. For example, Greek Horae – seasons, and even English “hour”.
Obviously, the original meaning of the dance was astronomical and related to time and the change of seasons. Indeed, most of the festivals that involve this kind of dance take place around the solstices and equinoxes. New Year, spring, and autumn (harvest) are typical dates. However, the dance also celebrates birthdays, weddings, and other important events in the life of an individual. Therefore, we can say that the dance brings the symbolism of a new cycle – a new beginning.
From Khoros to chorus
In the old days, this circular dance had ritualistic, religious significance. It was not only about dancing, but also singing. At first, there was a priest/shaman who would lead the ceremony. He would read the sacred stories of gods and their adventures, while dancers recreate them. With time, ceremonies became more complex, and dancers started to participate in singing.
From here we get the words “chorus” and “choir”. Both words relate to a group of dancers singing religious texts. Ancient Greek tragedies typically had these elements. But they are later additions, drawing inspiration directly from the older Thracian cults of Dionysus (inventor of tragedy). However, this practice is not exclusive to the Balkans. Even the Sakha people of Siberia have dancing choirs in their solstice celebrations.
From Khoros to Kolo
The Greek name χορός (khorós) exists already in Linear B – the first written form of Greek. However, rhotacism from L to R was a common trait of this early Greek. And if we apply it to the word ‘khoros” we get “kolo”. Kolo is an exclusively Serbian word, as most of the neighboring languages have oro/horo form.
Kolo or Khoros, and why does it matter
The Serbian word “kolo” also means “circle”. In the earliest days, it meant “wheel”, then “wagon” (kola), and finally car (kola). Interestingly, in Bulgaria, the word for bicycle is “kolelo” (“the wheel thingy”) but the name of the dance is Horo. However, in Slavic languages, there is a much more important meaning than “circle”. Koleda was an old Slavic name for the Sun (and Christmas). Slavs saw Sun as a wheel, not unlike some other Indo-European cultures. Two versions of the same god, North Slavic Rod and South Slavic Koliada hold a wheel, representing the Sun.
In this case, Serbian “kolo” makes more sense than “khoros” which means only “circle/season”, even though they clearly share the same root. Of course, this is another problem, as for the last two centuries, mainstream history had tried really hard to prove that Slavs came to the Balkans from some mysterious location, in the 6th century AD.
Indeed, most of the earliest, rock art depictions of circular dance often contain the wheel or a Sun symbol.
The origins of the Balkan dance
The origins of Kolo are so ancient that every culture considers them as their own. The earliest depiction of dancers in Greek art comes from the Minoan civilization (if we can call it “Greek”). But in general, there are no depictions older than the Bronze Age in the Greek world. Interestingly, the famous Minoan dancers of the 4th century BC, wear almost identical traditional clothes, as the Macedonian dancers of the early 20th century.
Of course, one can speculate that it was the Macedonians who inherited the ancient Greek tradition after the Slavs settled in the 6th century. However, the fact is that the Balkan depictions of dancers go all the way to the Neolithic period.
The following image comes from the article “Dance in Prehistoric Europe” by Yosef Garfinkel, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Their research grouped most of the Neolithic sites of Southeastern Europe that have depictions of dancers. Only three sites were in ancient Greece. The dominant area was by far around the Vinca-Cucuteni civilizations.
Moreover, many Vinca-Cucuteni figurines depict the same kind of traditional clothing that still exists in the Balkans, so it is highly unlikely that it was a Greek import of a later date.
Of all the Neolithic Balkan dancers, I found the Dumesti dancers most interesting. These are twelve figurines, that belonged to the Cucuteni culture and date to 4,200 BC. Scholas believe that they represent two separate groups of dancers – a male circle and a female one. Apparently, it is unlikely that in those days the male and female would mix (see the article by Yosef Garfinkel).
However, I strongly disagree with this notion. First of all, the number twelve is not an accidental choice. It obviously relates to the twelve signs of the zodiac. And the male/female dualism matches the ancient division of a year on light and dark part, not unlike the Yin Yang principle, or the later Pythagorean philosophy.
But besides this philosophical reason, there is another one, much more rational. For centuries back, Balkan dancing festivals were an opportunity for young people to fall in love. Each village had its own celebration, and these events were perfect opportunities to visit each other and maintain a healthy gene pool in an otherwise small community.
Even though in the Middle East the dancers were strictly separated, there is no such notion in the Balkans in any period of history.
Depictions of the dancers appear first in the Neolithic Anatolia and Balkans, then Greece. Mr. Yosef Garfinkel concluded his research with the statement that circular dance was a part of the “Neolithic package” which followed the spread of agriculture, from the Near East to Europe. He adds that the depictions of dancers from the Middle East are a few millennia older.
This is a sound argument. However, we must not forget that the roots of the circular dance are significantly older. A proof for this claim is that we see different variations on all continents of the world. And even in Europe, there are depictions of dancers dated to the Paleolithic period. Therefore, one must be careful whether we see the advance of the circular dance or the advance of pottery. Pottery developed in Europe only around 5500–4500 BC, later than the Near East. In other words, it was pottery that could have been the original context of the “Neolithic package”. As for the circular dance, I guess that we will never know for sure where it originated.
Here is my video of a circular dance of Ba Na people, one of the minorities in Vietnam.
Although Greek mythology had a long list of heroes, many constellations still carry names from the Perseus myth. The feats of Hercules for example, also relate to the twelve constellations. But Perseus was the great-grandfather of Hercules. In other words, his stories are probably older.
For ancient Greeks, the name Perseus simply meant “Persian”. Apparently, even the Persians were aware of this fact. Xerxes used it in his negotiations with the Argives. But modern scholars know better than the people who created the myth. Apparently, most of the characters around Perseus have Greek names, so his name must be Greek too. This assumption is also false, as we will soon see. Apart from Andromeda, most of the names of the Perseus myth were probably not Greek.
The birth of Perseus
Perseus was born in the city of Argos, on the Greek Peloponnese. This city has traces of continuous habitation for the last 7,000 years. There are a few etymologies of its name, but most probably it meant “white” ie “white-city”. The Argives were famous since antiquity, and even Alexandar the Great comes from this dynasty.
However, the story of Perseus is a myth, and as such it has many supernatural elements. For example, his mother was Danae. Her name is also not Greek and there is no etymology for it. She was impregnated by Zeus, in the form of the golden rain. The myth does not explicitly state that Danae was a virgin, but the similarities with the Christian story are probably not a coincidence.
His grandfather, Acrisius, knew of an old prophecy that said that he will die by the hand of his grandson. Therefore, he decided to banish Perseus and Danae from his kingdom. He put them in the wooden chest and sent them down the river. Here again, we see the familiar narrative – the birth of Egyptian Osiris, and later Moses, both found in a basket floating down the river.
The basket (or casket) with Perseus washed ashore on the island of Seriphos. A fishermen Dictys (meaning fishing net) rescued them. Perseus stayed on this island until he reached maturity.
The birth of Perseus as an astronomical allegory
The idea of an immaculate birth resonates in many Indo-European star myths. In all cases, they relate to the constellation of Virgo. Virgo dominated the night sky during the spring equinox of the last four millennia. As the spring marks the new cycle of seasons, the ancients saw it as the birth (or rebirth) of the new Sun.
But that Danae is really a representation of Virgo is also clear from ancient Greek art. Very often there is a cup next to her – just like constellation Crater stands next to Virgo.
Identifying Danae as Virgo helps us to determine the part of the sky that myth talks about. And really, the constellation Libra can look both, like a fisherman holding his fish on a stick, or simply as a fishing net. This is a very interesting discovery, as Libra marked the equinox only for the last two millennia BC, hence the ancients saw it as scales. It is quite possible that before this they saw it as a fishing net.
If we imagine that Hydra is a river and Crater a wooden chest, we can see how Danae (Virgo) and Perseus (Bootes) come out of it. At the time of the myth, the equinox was between Crater and Virgo. Next, the fisherman Dictys, as the Libra constellation, saves them. In Greek myth, Dictys was also the name of a centaur impaled on the ash tree (Ophiuchus) and a sailor whom Dionysus turned into a dolphin (Dolphinus).
The birth of Perseus story – and its Vedic origins
The motif of a child in the basket was also very popular in ancient India. Krishna himself had the same destiny. But even before Krishna, ancient texts mention other heroes who had a similar fate. Mahabharata for example, speaks of Karna, who was the son of Surya, the Sun. The name Karna means literally “ear of grain”. It is a clear reference to the “ear of grain” that Virgo holds in her hands. Therefore, Karna was the son of Virgo and the Sun.
Karna was conceived when the Sun god Surya came to his mother Pritha in the form of a “golden glow”. After that, he was abandoned by his mother. He floated down the river in a basket, until another family rescued him and raised him. Sounds familiar?
But there is more. The name of Danae, mother of Perseus, sounds similar to Danu. It was the name of a female deity, known in the earliest of Vedic times. She was the goddess of water, and her name meant “rain, liquid, river”. To this date, Dewi Danu, the goddess of water, is the most worshiped deity of Bali. Even the very name of Bali comes from the prince Bali, the offspring of the goddess Danu.
Her statues are very common all over the Indo-Asian region. And almost exclusively, Danu has the same body posture as the constellation Virgo in European art. Also, she often stands on the dragon. In Indo-European myth, the constellation Hydra was sometimes seen as a river (hence the water goddess) and sometimes as a multi-headed dragon.
Perseus and Andromeda story – and its Vedic origins
Perseus grew older and became a true hero. He first slew the Gorgon Medusa, by cutting her head off. From the neck of Medusa came out the flying horse, Pegasus. After that, Perseus saved Andromeda from the sea monster.
Andromeda was the daughter of Ethiopian King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. The word Ethiopia in Greek means “burned face”, relating to the darker skin of its inhabitants. Its true location was unknown and for most of the later Greek authors, it meant Africa. However, some saw it more to the east, perhaps even in India.
In the following image we can see how the Perseus myth influenced the naming of the constellations. We didn’t change them to this day.
Now, the name Cassiopeia (Kasiope) does not have a clear Greek etymology. Just like in the case of Perseus, there are many ridiculous attempts to explain it, but I will not waste time on them. In fact, this name sounds very close to Vedic Kashyapa – the husband of goddess Danu. His name simply means “turtle”. Its Avestan version was Kasiiapa. I believe that the “turtle” could be a reference to the lizard (Lacerta) on the staff of Cepheus, or perhaps even the Cepheus constellation itself.
The name Cepheus is also not Greek, and there is no etymology for it. I guess that it could relate to the star Beta Cassiopeiae – called Caph, and meaning “hand”. But my interpretations could only be true if the ancients Greeks mixed up the names of these two constellations. Originally, Cepheus would be the sage Kasiiapa, turtle, and Cassiopeia, looking like a zig-zag watery pattern – his consort Danu. (representing Virgo in the opposite part of the sky).
Dating of the myth
There was definitely some confusion in the naming of the constellations. Namely, the myth states that Pegasus came out of the neck of Medusa. And yet, we see it coming out of the neck of Andromeda.
During the spring equinox in Taurus (4,500-2,000 BC) the Sun would be positioned right where the Perseus holds the head of Medusa. Indeed, the head of Medusa is nothing but the Sun. This is clear from many ancient depictions, both in Europe and Asia. Therefore, Andromeda probably used to represent Medusa in the original myth. We will soon see where was the real Andromeda.
Draco and Cetus – Rahu and Keto of Vedic astronomy
Cetus constellation represents the dragon that Perseus slew in order to free Andromeda. Interestingly, his name sounds very similar to Ketu of Vedic astronomy. Vedic Ketu is also a dragon.
The story goes like this – sage Kashyapa’s daughter married a demon. They had a child Swarbhanu. This child drank the nectar of immortality using trickery. For this reason, god Shiva decapitated him, just like Perseus decapitated Medusa. His head and serpent tail, now immortal, continued to circle the sky, trying to swallow the Moon and Sun, and causing eclipses. These two parts are Rahu and Ketu.
For Hindus, Rahu and Ketu are not planets or constellations, but lunar modes. They relate to the specific moment when the paths of the Moon, Sun, and Earth aline. Moreover, Rahu and Ketu are separated for 180 degrees, just like Draco and Cetus constellations. (!)
The path of Rahu and Ketu is complex and it takes 18 years to complete the cycle. During this period, they change places, depicting a snake-like pattern (or more precisely double snake, as in DNA helix). However, the similarity of the names, as well as the position of these two constellations hints that the ancient astronomers did see a connection here.
In Hindu art, the decapitated body of Ketu has the same posture as that of Andromeda. It comes out of the fish mouth, just like Andromeda “comes out” of the Pisces. And the name Ketu is almost the same as that of Cetus. Coincidence?
I believe that this was the real meaning behind the Medusa myth, but already in ancient Greece, it was forgotten. Medusa became Andromeda. In reality, Andromeda probably represents the Ophiuchus constellation. Ophiuchus is a person tied to a pole, tree, or cross in various stellar myths. It stands next to the Draco constellation – sounding similar to Vedic Rahu. Shiva beheaded Svarbhānu with a very long weapon, like a spear. And Bootes holds a spear and stands right next to the dragon.
This theme was very popular in antiquity. In Egypt, Horus slays the Apep dragon with a long spear. In Christianity, St. George slays the dragon, and St. Demetrius stands above the body of a man. This is the same dualism that we see in the original, Vedic myth. Ketu represents the body and Rahu represents the head.
A summary of Vedic parallels in the Perseus myth
To clarify all the facts presented so far, here is a small chart:
Danae, mother of Perseus
Danu, river goddess
Zeus, as golden rain, father of Perseus
Surya, as golden fog, father of Karna
Casket floating in the river
Casket floating in the river
Cassiopeia/Cepheus, Ethiopian royal couple
Sage Kashyapa, husband of Danu
To these, clear similarities, I would like to add my interpretations:
Ketu (offspring of Danu goddess)
Rahu (offspring of Danu goddess)
Perseus (slaying dragon)
Tracing the source of the Perseus myth
The river Saraswati dried out between the third and second millennia BC. Many ancient civilizations of the area ceased to exist. The best example is the Indus Valley civilization. The river dried out due to climatic changes, and as we know, famine creates wars. For this reason, there were large migrations during the second millennia BC, and they are well documented in the archaeological record.
Danavas were a Vedic tribe. They considered themselves as offsprings of Danu, which could be another name for the Saraswati river. But regardless of their mythological origins, they really existed. Numerous Vedic texts speak of them, and many of their names are known. However, Vedas considered them as foreigners, and sometimes they labeled them as Kushanas or Tukharas (Turks). Kushans lived in Kashmir, and Kashmir is named after the sage Kashyapa. This is how strong was the myth in this part of the world.
The kingdom of Kush and Kashmir had very close relations with ancient Persia, and this is where the name “Perseus” may come from. Danavas probably migrated in all directions, as we see that they left traces as far as Bali. But a large group migrated westwards. Scholars agree that the main rivers of Europe – Don, Dnieper, and Danube, all have the root *danu – river.
We know that the Perseus myth arrived in Greece before Xerxes, or in other words before the 5th century BC. We also know that Greeks related Perseus to Egypt too. Based on this information, and the astronomical dating, I would guess that the Vedic Danavas are the same as the Denyen – people of the seas in the Egyptian records. They appeared out of nowhere, attacking Egypt in the 14th century BC.
A few centuries later, Homer calls them Danaans (Danaoi). They attack and destroy Troy. The Hebrews know them as Tribe of Dan, attested in the Old Testament. They might have influenced the Egyptian myth of the period, as some ideas like Horus and Apep did not exist previously. Or the story of the floating casket adopted first by Osiris, then Moses. And finally, a part of them might have sailed to Ireland, where they are remembered as Tuatha de Danann.
Indeed, this important episode of Greek mythology belongs to Homer’s Dananas. And it matches specifically that of the Vedic Danavas. Both astronomy and historical records point to the second millennium BC.
Vedic astronomy is extremely ancient and very sophisticated. Calculations of the positions of Rahu and Ketu are difficult even for the modern man. It is not surprising that the meaning was quickly distorted, and some of the key points were forgotten. However, the genius of the ancient rishis left us with enough symbols to reconstruct this sacred knowledge.
The National Gallery in London hosts one of Titian’s greatest works. It is an oil painting “Bacchus and Ariadne” made around the year 1522 for Alfonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara. Most art historians would describe this theme as mythological. It depicts the moment when Bacchus finds Ariadne on the island of Naxos. Theseus abandoned her here, and his ship disappears in the distance. Captured by her beauty, Bacchus leaps from his chariot. Ariadne faces the constellation Corona Borealis, in the top left corner. Apparently, this is the only astronomical reference in this painting.
However, like many Renaissance works of art, “Bacchus and Ariadne” is loaded with hidden astronomical symbolism. It clearly depicts the constellations of the western night sky.
The constellations of “Bacchus and Ariadne” painting
According to Greek myth, Corona Borealis represents the wedding crown that Bacchus gave to Ariadne. After his death, she threw it towards the sky and it became a constellation. But in Titian’s painting, there are a few more clear references to constellations. For example, the first of the Satyrs from the entourage of Bacchus has a snake wrapped around himself. Obviously, he represents Ophiuchus – the serpent bearer. On the ground, there is a golden cup. Titian signed his name on it. This is a reference to the constellation Crater – the Holy Grail of various stellar myths.
Behind Ophiuchus, we see the constellation Bootes – a man holding a spear. Behind the satyr with a snake, there is another one, holding a long staff. One of his arms is in the air, holding a giant leg. Bootes stands next to Ursa Major. The ancient Egyptians saw it as a giant leg.
The archer cupid, a young boy in the painting, represents the constellation Sagittarius. Between Ophiuchus and Sagittarius is the Milky Way, on the painting represented by tall trees in the background. And the horse head in front of the boy is the constellation Equuleus – horse head. The two bachata girls probably represent constellations Aquila and Cygnus (eagle and swan). In other Greek myths, they represent sirens – the bird-woman hybrids.
As for the Bacchus – his posture is similar to that of the constellation Hercules. In front of Hercules are two dogs – Canes Venatici. They probably represent the two cheetahs, pulling his chariot. A painting shows a black dog next to them.
However, the idea of cheetahs pulling the chariot is more appropriate for the Virgo constellation. Cybele, her Phrygian counterpart, has a chariot pulled by the lions – Leo constellation. Ariadne also sometimes sits on a lion in ancient art. At other times, she exits from the sea, like Aphrodite. In any case, Virgo is the only female constellation in this part of the sky. And Virgo usually represents an extremely beautiful young maiden.
On Virgo as Ariadne
The name Ariadne is actually only an epithet meaning “very holy” or “very pure”. The root is the Aegean word “hagno/hadno” meaning “holy, pure”. The word “Aegean” means the same. Ariadne was the daughter of Minos, king of Crete. Romans identified her as Libera/Proserpina – wife of Bacchus. In Roman mythology, Greek Dyonisus had two names – Bacchus and Liber. The name Liber related to autumn when the equinox was in the Libra constellation, next to Virgo.
But “Ariadne” is a name that comes from a local, Aegean cult of Crete and Cyprus. Plutarch cited the works of an older Hellenic author, who mentioned the ancient cult of Ariadne/Aphrodite in Cyprus. She had a sacred grove there, and on a certain holiday, men would fall on the ground, imitating the throes of labor. According to their beliefs, Ariadne died during childbirth.
All of these facts are clear indications that Ariadne of Greek mythology was just a local cult of Virgo – as a mother goddess. This fact was not missed by Titian, who based his artwork on the stories of Catullus and Ovid.
On the symbolism of the western sky
Sun’s position in the western sky marks the season of autumn. But in this season the constellations are invisible as they fall behind the realm of day. The western constellations dominate the night sky when the Sun is on the opposite, eastern side of the zodiac wheel – during spring.
The springtime brings the symbolism of the beautiful young maiden (earth in spring), and the Holy Grail (eternal life – resurrection). But there is more. The constellation Argo Navis – a large boat, is visible only during the springtime. It lies under the constellation of Crater, very low on the horizon. Numerous cultures saw this constellation as a boat, as far as ancient India. This is also the boat of Jason and the boat of Odysseus in other Greek myths. In the Ariadne myth, it is a boat of Theseus, leaving the island of Naxos.
Here is a depiction from “Atlas Coelestis” by Johannes Hevelius (1690).
A Syrian mosaic from the 3rd-4th century AD has the meeting of Dionysus/Bacchus and Ariadne as the central theme. But it also has four smaller scenes. The one on top depicts a man in the boat. This would be the same Argo Navis, symbolizing spring, while the rest of the scene happens in the central part. Dionysus has a Christ-like nimbus around his head and holds a grail (Crater constellation).
On the right side, we see a shepherd with a bull. (Orion and Taurus) and on the left a shepherd with goats (Capricornus). The lower image depicts the animal sacrifice, altar, fire, and a temple. These are the constellations of the southern sky, but the season they mark is the winter. The four figures in the corners are probably personifications of seasons/winds, while the swastika relief just emphasizes the division of a year into four seasons.
Dionysus and Ariadne – dating of the myth
I chose Titian’s painting simply because it is so abundant in astronomical symbolism. But the theme of Bacchus and Ariadne was a common light-motif of numerous ancient works of art, Renaissance, and later times. Very often, there will be only two of them together. Sometimes we also see Corona Borealis, as the symbol of their wedding. A good example is Jean-Pierre Granger’s 18th-century painting. This is just a neoclassical take on a very common depiction of Bacchus and Ariadne.
The reason that Dionysus very often has one arm in the air, is that in essence he represents the constellation Orion. However, in ancient times, Orion was invisible in spring, as the Sun was in the Taurus constellation. (4,500-2000 BC). For this reason, the ancients saw Hercules as a “substitute” for the main protagonist. This was a common template of ancient myths.
But most importantly, this fact can help us date the myth. Indeed, the myth of Ariadne must come from the Age of Taurus, as she is the one who helped Theseus escape from the labyrinth of Mino-taurus. This duality between Taurus and Virgo, marking spring and autumn, made sense only between 4,500-2,000 BC.
And as final proof, the constellation Argo Navis is nowadays barely visible above the horizon, even during spring. But in Neolithic period, all of its prominent stars were clearly visible.
Since then, the constellations have shifted, and around the second millennia BC we entered the Age of Aries. The Minoan civilization disappeared. Obviously, the myth was still popular in the Greek world, but already then, it was an ancient relic.
Locating the source of the myth
Roman Bacchus is a copy of Greek Dionysus. But the usual term “Greek” is in fact quite inaccurate. The fact is that just like Romans, the Greeks borrowed this god from Thracians – non-Greek people of the Balkans. Without the Greek suffix, his original name was probably Dion. The forms Dion and Dian are still very popular personal names in Bulgaria, ancient Thrace. They come from the common Indo-European root meaning “God” (or “little god”).
Dionysus was one of the favorite images in the art of the wine-making Thracians. But they also loved to portray goddess Diana. She typically has one arm raised, just like Dionysus. And sometimes they are depicted together, just like Bacchus and Ariadne. Historians see Diana as the Roman version of Greek Artemis. However, it is quite likely that she too was originally from Thrace. Dion/Diana would, therefore, be ancient representations of spring and autumn – two most important seasons of the year.
Phrygians, whose origins were in the Balkans, worshiped Cybele and Attis. These are just different names of the same characters. And as we saw, in the rest of the Mediterranean it was Dionysus and Ariadne. But Ariadne is not the real name, but an epithet of the goddess. In fact, these Greek islands were in the epicenter of ancient Thracian trade channels. Another island, Samothrace, for example, was Thracian in antiquity, as was most of the modern Greek territory around it.
Therefore, it could be plausible that this symbolism comes from ancient Thrace after all. A beautiful painting from Pompei depicts a sacrifice to Diana. The image is similar to the one from the Dionysian mosaic from Syria. Only there we see Ariadne instead of Diana.
Around the second millennium BC, the equinoxes shifted. Spring moved to Aries and the Autumn to Libra. Dionysus got the epithet Liber, and Diana becomes associated with Artemis – Sagittarius constellation.
Ancient Thrace, however, had a different destiny. It was overrun by Scythian and Samaritan horsemen from the eastern steppes. This invasion, combined with the new astronomical phenomena, dramatically affected the local pantheon. The symbols of the equinoxes became two Thracian horsemen – “Heros” in ancient inscriptions. With Christianity, they became St. George and St. Demetrius. They are the most revered saints in the Balkans, to this date.
A group of scholars of the early twentieth century argued that the tale of Odysseus could be an echo of an ancient Sun god cult. However, this theory was quickly abandoned and even ridiculed by scholars of a later date, who didn’t see enough evidence for such claims. The main argument was based on frequent use of number twelve in the book of Odyssey.
For example, once Odysseus finally returns from his adventures, he finds out that everyone took him for dead. His faithful wife is surrounded by suitors and unable to escape them. To buy time, she gave them an impossible challenge. The winner first had to string the bow of Odysseus – a feat that required super-human strength. Then, he had to shoot the arrow through twelve ax-heads. This, of course, required super-human precision and skill.
At first, Odysseus was in disguise and quietly observed the competition. In the end, he revealed himself, by completing the challenge and using his bow to kill the suitors.
The bow of Odysseus and the bow of Shiva
An image of a bow that requires super-human strength to bend echoes in the epic of Ramayana. Amazingly, even the general storyline is not so different. Rama wants to marry Sita, and to do so, he has to prove himself in front of her father, King Janaka. The challenge is to bend and string the bow of Shiva – something that nobody was able to do. However, Rama bends it so hard that the bow breaks.
Now, in astronomical terms, it is clear that the bow of Shiva is the same as the bow of Orion. Shiva represents Orion and his bull Nandi is the Taurus constellation.
Astronomical symbolism and the Scythian connection
As we saw, the wedding is the central theme in both cases, Odyssey and Ramayana. The spring equinox was around Orion and Taurus roughly between 4,500-2,000 BC. The equinox is a “wedding” of equal day and night – Sun and Moon. The fact that Rama breaks the bow, means that he is an avatar of a new age – when the solstice moved to Aries (last two millennia BC).
In short, there are obvious parallels between these two episodes. Also, both myths developed in the same period, even though they were separated by great distances. It is a shame that the scholars were oblivious to these connections, focusing only on the number twelve. But obviously, they were right about the twelve ax-heads. They do represent the twelve signs of the zodiac. And the arrows could be rays of the Sun, starting their journey from the spring in Orion/Taurus. Of course, this would mean that the axes of Oddysey were arranged in circular form. Indeed, that would be a challenge that only a god could complete.
Ramayana has another common motif with Homer’s epics – both Sita and Helen of Troy were abducted. These common places are hardly a coincidence and the question is who created the myth in the first place. From one side, Shiva rarely holds a bow in Indian art (although he certainly had it). From another, ancient Greeks were not really big fans of bows and arrows. They preferred long spears and hand to hand combat. Killing an enemy from afar was a cowardly act.
But this was not the case with the Scythians. The bow was their preferred weapon and ancient authors often label them as archers. Moreover, in the time of Ramayana and Oddysey, they were present in both India and Scythia. A golden vase from the 4th century BC shows a Scythian bending his bow. Unfortunately, we don’t know if he was a warrior as scholars suggest or some mythological hero whose name is forgotten in history.
Odyssey and the age of Aries
Rama broke the bow of Shiva, thus showing that his powers diminished. The Odyssey uses different symbols, but they are still quite clear. One of the most memorable episodes is the adventure in the cave of the giant Polyphemus. A popular image in ancient Greek art is that of Odysseus hiding underneath the ram while escaping the cave. This “ram” is the Aries constellation.
This image is in fact just a small scene of the larger Aries star-lore. Before escaping, Odysseus blinded the one-eyed Polyphemus with a spear. This was one of the most popular motives of the Aries age, from Perseus / St. George slaying dragon to Horus slaying Apep snake. It relates to the passage of the Sun between Perseus and Cetus (a dragon in Babylonian astronomy). The Odyssey keeps the recognizable image of a large spear. But it also adds a unique element – we have a giant instead of the dragon. Indeed, many works of ancient Greek art show Polyphemus in the general shape of the Cetus constellation. (See lower right corner on an image below)
Polyphemus always holds a cup of wine in Greek art. It is because Odysseus got him drunk before poking his eye out. But the real meaning is that this episode represents the autumn night sky.
In spring, when Sun is in Aries, Cetus is invisible, as it falls in the realm of day. In autumn, however, Aries and Cetus dominate the night sky. And autumn is the season of winemaking. During the autumn equinox, Cetus appeared on the east in the sunset. From there, it moved along the horizon towards the west during the night. In the dawn, the Sun rose on the background of the Crater constellation. And the last visible constellation on the west was Aries.
Odysseus and Circe
In another episode, Odysseys meets the sorceress Circe. She has different representations in ancient Greek art. Sometimes she is a beautiful young maiden, sometimes a grumpy old woman. At first glance, this may seem illogical, but it can be explained with astronomy. Obviously, both ideas relate to Virgo. The idea of a young, beautiful lady represents the constellation, while the old lady refers to earth in autumn, the season of Virgo.
Circe had a habit of turning humans into various wild animals. She did so by making them drink a magic potion from a cup (Crater constellation). Her favorite choices were lions (Leo constellation) and pigs (probably Canes Veneatici). There was also a woodpecker (Corvus constellation) – a king Picus who refused her advances. The only remaining human figure in the sky is Bootes constellation, therefore he represents Odysseus. Bootes holds a long spear, while Odysseus usually has a long sword.
Another interesting motif is Circe’s connection to weaving. The “wool” could be the constellation Coma Berenices. But it seems that the ancient Greeks were a bit confused about this motif. The typical representations from their art do not really match the constellations. More likely, the idea of weaving comes from nomadic people, who did not focus on agriculture. Therefore, instead of the shaft of wheat that Virgo typically holds, they saw a hand spindle.
Indeed, Virgo marked the season of the harvest, this is why she holds the shaft of wheat. People would collect the wool in spring – when Sun is in Aries. But autumn was the time for weaving, something that would be more interesting to nomads, living in the area where the winters are colder than in the Mediterranean. Slavic goddess Mokosh, for example, could also change her appearance from a young maiden to an old lady. And she too was the goddess of weaving. The spindle is one of her main attributes.
However, the Odyssey gives us a hint that this episode happens in spring, not autumn. In other words, not when the Sun is in Virgo, but right across it, in Aries/Cetus. This is when the Virgo constellation dominates the night sky. In the myth, Hermes advises Odysseys to use the moly flower in order to resist her. And moly is the symbol of spring.
Oddysseus and Sirens
Circe befriends Odysseus and advises him on how to visit the underworld. This is another allusion to the dark half of the year which starts after Virgo. Odysseus proceeds and meets the Sirens. They were dangerous half-woman and half-bird creatures, whose song drove men crazy. Odysseus still decides that he want to hear their song. As the rest of the crew seals their ears with wax, he asks them to tie him to the mast of the sheep.
The image of the tied men fits perfectly that of the constellation Ophiuchus. The snake would represent the rope. And on the following image you can see how the rest of the typical symbols perfectly match this part of the sky.
Odysseus and Boreas
Another popular episode is that of Odysseus running away from Boreas, the northern wind. We see him running on two amphorae, while Boreas blows towards him. Once again, this image fits perfectly that of the northern night sky. In this case, Odysseus would be Aquarius, and Boreas Capricornus – often seen as a monster with wide-open jaws. The “amphorae” are constellations Sculptor and Piscis Austrinus.
I used some of the key events of the Odyssey to prove my point. Beyond any doubt, the core layer of the story is an astronomical allegory. However, this does not mean that every single line of the Odyssey relates to the star lore. The ancients often used the zodiac as a template. They would then create a unique story that holds many philosophical and moral values, as well as important historical events. The Odyssey probably reflects the myths and legends of the first Mediterranean sailors. And there was hardly a bigger adventure than discovering new lands and nations in this period of history.