On the grassy soil of Pelion lay Chiron, the aged centaur. Teacher of Achilles, friend and mentor of Heracles, this son of Kronos had suffered a wound which afflicted his immortal frame. Celebrated for skill in prophecy, he knew the causes of the titanic struggles of the gods and the reason why Prometheus had stolen the celestial fire. He knew that Heracles had shot the tormenting eagle that so cruelly punished the Titan and he prepared himself to fulfil the prophecy by sacrificing his own immortality, descending into Hades in exchange for the restoration of Prometheus to his Olympian home. Ancient myths and temple carvings convey this tale of selfless heroism and reveal that to reward the wise and courageous centaur, Jupiter placed him among the constellations where he became Sagittarius.
Though the stars in the celestial hemisphere designated as Sagittarius do not appear to depict the outlines of a centaur-like figure, it is in this zone that ancient astronomers located those cosmic influences that could be symbolized in the form of an archer with the body of a horse. He is a man-horse with drawn bow and arrow, sometimes depicted with wings, sometimes with two heads, one facing forward and one turned back. In Baby Ionian tradition this elaborate zodiacal symbol had the head of a human as well as that of an animal and, like its Egyptian counterpart, wore a crown upon the forward-looking human head. The Latin name Sagittarius is taken from Sagitta and refers to the arrow, while its Hindu name, Dhanus, refers to the bow. These implements are extremely meaningful: the upper and human portion of the body both directs the lower animal portion and draws the bow and arrow. The human torso and arms are always powerfully depicted in ancient as well as modern illustrations of the symbol, while the head is uplifted, its eyes steadily fixed upon a distant target. The glyph that represents Sagittarius is of even more ancient origin than the iconograph and, like the other glyphs of the zodiac, tells a complex story in one or two simple lines. The archetypal form suggests the essential aspirational character of Sagittarius by an arrow with a cross-member denoting a bow.
The attributes identified with Sagittarius are those of that celestial zone or house which has been linked up with an affinity for collective thought-structures. The ruling planet of Dhanus is Jupiter, which accounts for this universalist tendency, and involves both an aspiration to lofty and broad ideals and a desire to manifest them as systems of thought. Dhanus is a fiery sign. It is active, ardent and keen. People born under this sign burn with enthusiasm. They crackle and consume, give delight as well as pain. It is also a mutable sign, indicating an adaptability based upon a richness of experience garnered in the past. Sagittarians are lovers of abstract ideas who have the potential to place spiritual laws above the desires of the personality and who are straightforward and mentally quick in implementing plans of action once they have perceived a possible mode of manifesting the ideal socially. It is also true that Dhanus is a double sign, pointing to the development of a dual nature. It is incumbent upon those evidencing these masculine and optimistically assertive characteristics to advance in consciousness beyond the limited plane of common thought-forms. If the horse begins to control the archer, his idealism can become fanaticism, and his great organizational and leadership qualities can become tools for self-aggrandizement and totalitarianism. His native mental quickness can degenerate into a tendency to leap to conclusions.
The soul, circuiting like the sun through the twelve houses of the evolutionary wheel of life, passes through the first six and then doubles around through the second six, experiencing something of a recapitulation of the qualities existing on the opposite side of the zodiac. Thus the intelligence and versatility of Gemini can be developed at a more refined level in Sagittarius, or can be squandered like arrows lost among the wild wheat shafts on a hill. The multiples of three linked up with the quality of mutability indicate four points in the wheel where the elements of fire, earth, air and water condition the vibration, tone and colour of the energy typifying the three great gunas in nature. The fiery manifestation of the powers of Sagittarian adaptability can produce men of high creativity and aspiration, but their strength of vision is based upon the fruits of experience garnered in analogous situations in the past. The drive and energetic growth of Dhanus, correlating in the human body to the hips and thighs as well as the pituitary gland, derive their source from past accomplishments. The ancient Babylonians recognized this and referred to Sagittarius in terms of a 'gathering of the fruit.'
In the tropical system of Western astrology, Sagittarius is designated as presiding over the period of November 22nd to December 21st, while the older sidereal system reflects the celestial changes of precession that have occurred over the last two thousand years, indicating that Sagittarius governs the period from the Winter Solstice to January 19th. To understand how different time periods could relate to the same characteristics, one may reflect that man, in general and particularly in the West, has slipped away from his awareness of himself as a soul and of larger cycles relative to many lives. Thus he has tended to forget what the ancients saw as a natural relation, the analogy between the cycle of the soul and that of the sun. Instead, being focused upon the personal cycle linked up with a worldly, one-life view of existence, he tends to concentrate on the attributes of the social and physical self. It is thus not surprising that the Western astrological system should attach the characteristics of a particular sign to people who are now actually born in the next sign. In adhering to an exoteric and inflexible system, there has been a slipping back by failing to move ahead with the rest of the universe. Though there is a certain validity in the Western system, it is mainly in relation to the more superficial and tropically determined characteristics of personalities rather than to the sidereal force fields that operate at a more causal level.
In Greek mythology, Chiron was the child of Time, and the man-horse symbol beautifully suggests the nature of that which Time begat. Chiron, as Sagittarius, marks a transition phase, a change of consciousness from desire to the higher mind. The dual nature is fully manifest at this stage but the human aspect is clearly in ascendance. The Egyptian double symbol with its human and leonine heads suggests a transition from the fiery Leo centre to the refined crucible of Sagittarius. The fire moves to the head, a concept strongly indicated in the Sumero-Akkadian name for Sagittarius, Papilsak, which means 'the winged fire-head.' The ascendancy of the spiritual is further indicated in the description of the 'Scorpion Men' in the epic of Gilgamesh who were delineated as double-headed centaurs with scorpion tails and said to be two-thirds divine. The teacher of Chiron was Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and sister of Apollo who was linked with the Sun. Therefore, one aspect of Sagittarius is reflected in hunting itself, which involves a seeking out and gathering of the fruit, an assimilation of all lower forms of intelligence. This can be readily identified in the impulse which exists in the collective psyche of many cultures where men have used the horse to facilitate the 'gathering' process of the hunt. There are cultures such as those of England and the North American plains where the horse has been exalted as an aspect of man himself, and the ritual of the hunt clearly involved a perfect mastery of the animal as well as a shooting of the prey. It may be significant that on the day of the coronation of William the Conqueror the sun was sidereally in Sagittarius.
The arrow or Sagitta is a symbol of the light of supreme power. It has feathers and flies, as if with wings, straight to its goal. It is free to find its mark and it moves, like the intuitive mind, to its conclusion without explaining how it got there, much as Pindar intimated when he wrote: "I have many swift arrows in my quiver which speak to the wise, but for the crowd they need interpreters." To understand how the arrow hits the mark is to understand the power of Dhanus the Archer. To attempt to understand it mechanically is to have failed to arrive at that House in which the gathered fruit is synthesized. The mechanics of the process have been mastered on the lower planes of mind and body long ago. Now the analytical mind must open up like the lotus flower to release the shaft of pure intuition which alone can 'hit the mark. ' The hand must release the arrow but not under the duress of conscious thought. It must release it as the entire being releases its claim to separateness and becomes one with the whole.
The bow, full drawn and ready to let fly, is the emblem of divine power embodying the tension of spiritual force. It is the 'Dayspring,' called Pa and xut, related to the rising sun at that time of year when the sun begins to turn northward again. At places like Sippara in the Middle East, sculptures of Sagittarius appear in full glory, marking the solar nature of those cities which stood near the meridian point of the annual serpentine cycle of the sun as it completed the bow-like arch of its progress toward the Tropic of Capricorn during the Piscean Age.
The bow must be drawn effortlessly as a great and unconscious breathing in and breathing out. The light of supreme power must be released, as though it had never been held, to flow over the horizon and illuminate the earth. The star called by the Arabs A Wazl marks the junction where the arrow, the bow and the hand of the archer meet. It is the centre of all the potential power in Sagittarius which can become the perfect instrument of Logoic light. Through the hand of the fiery Kshatriya who grips the bow, the arrow will be released. He mirrors the power of the creative Logos and ever draws upon the source of spirit. At rest he does as did the Lord in the book of Genesis when he said, "I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a covenant between me and earth."
In the world the arrow of spirit has been repeatedly aimed at the breast of another, and so the exoteric description of Sagittarius is often bound up with war. But in the stars, the Archer ever aims his missile at the heart of the Scorpion. As the evolutionary experience of the human soul involves reactionary phases of expression, so each sign of the zodiac may be seen in part as a reaction to the extremes of the preceding sign. This is clearly indicated in the scorpion tail which clings to the Sagittarian man-horse in Babylonian sculpture. The extremes here alluded to would have to do with the antagonism resultant from a separation of the sexes and the warlike influence of the planet Mars in the sign of Scorpio. The scorpion thus pursues the horse as its tail, and in some pictograms it is shown curved under the belly of the horse in an attempt to clasp its penis. This symbolism conveys quite graphically the tenacious power of separative and materialized creative forces. The true Kshatriya, in mastering the horse, will emerge fully from the scorpion's claws and carry forth the spiritual fruit of its sting. It is the sting of the scorpion which electrifies the consciousness of the pilgrim soul, awakening it fully to the task that lies ahead. Fohat, which seems to expand and contract with alternating signs of the zodiac, was indrawn in Scorpio but now expands to rend the bonds of the separated soul.
Sagittarius has been described in terms of a vision wherein it was seen as a seven-knotted hollow rod with a pine cone at its end. It is through this narthex or 'Rod of Mysteries' that the divine fire of heaven is brought down to earth. Aeschylus described this in the words of Prometheus who said, "Yea, stored in a fennel stalk, I captured fire's stolen spring that hath proved the teacher of every art to mortals." The Fohatic power in man is conducted by this 'Rod of Mysteries,' the caduceus which guides the soul from life to death and back again, and which kindles the third fire of the ninth stage when a plateau of garnered experience is approached.
The soul gathers the fruits, and the results of strivings with trishna (thirst and desire) become evident. A chance arises now for a new beginning through organization and development of the vehicle for the potential man. Now the critical Nidana asserts itself and the will to achieve through expansion of this base becomes paramount. The evolving man is touching the hem of the material cause of Being, behind which resides the incognizable Causeless Cause. He is approaching from below a condition involving consciousness and matter, reflecting one of the earliest phases of that primordial manifestation which ages before commenced from above. The expansive manifesting power of Jupiter in Sagittarius and the fiery rod of Prometheus provide a bridge between the Divine that ever IS, and the man who will be divine.
One of the names of Jupiter is Heru-ap-sheta, the 'Revealer of Hidden or Secret Things.' In Orphic theogony he is the Demiurge, the creative power of the sensible world corresponding with the creative soul in man. In the human cycle this influence harmonizes, and establishes a link between, higher and lower consciousness. This role of manifesting agent is well portrayed in Hindu stories concerning Jupiter as Brihaspati, the personified Guru of the gods and the symbol of exoteric religion. In opposing Budda or Secret Wisdom, Brihaspati reveals the dangerous tendency that accompanies the urge to make the abstract concrete. He represents the Sagittarian power of tapping the highest wisdom and causing it to manifest through systemic thought, but he also demonstrates the dogmatic concretization of thought-forms that can result in worldly consciousness. A mode of safeguard against this trap is suggested in The Egyptian Book of the Dead where the Solar Bark, in passing through the deadly perils of the underworld, is protected from the attacks of the evil serpent Apep by the use of 'words of power' and magical ceremonies suggestive of the use of the 'Rod of Mysteries.' The fluidity of the intuitive mental quickness and the adaptability of Sagittarius can be brought to bear by the watchful soul in continually breaking up the tendency to concretize sacred ideas. This constant watchfulness is critical in resolving the tension in the dual nature of the Archer and placing the power of that tension at the disposal of the higher.
Dhanus is traditionally linked to the Nine Prajapatis who assisted the Demiurgos in constructing the material universe. These Holy Ones are the same as the Nine Kabalistic Sephiroth, the THREE TRINITIES which, together with the One, represent the Pythagorean mystic Decad. They are "THE VOICE OF THE LORD SVABHAVAT, THE NUMBERS, FOR HE IS ONE AND NINE." Thus the Nine, corresponding to the 'Ninth Creation,' are the totality of creators which blend in One and become the Ten. In The Secret Doctrine it is said that the Ninth Creation is that which took place in the 'Sea of Fire,' the radiant Mulaprakriti, or undifferentiated Cosmic Substance. This is the fire which generates Mahat, the sacred gift of Prometheus. First there is the One which becomes Two plus One, giving the Tetrad or Four. The number becomes Four and Three and Two. "TAKE THE FIRST TWO, AND THOU WILT OBTAIN SEVEN, THE SACRED NUMBER OF LIFE; BLEND WITH THE LATTER AND THOU WILT HAVE NINE, THE SACRED NUMBER OF BEING AND BECOMING." If seven is life, then nine is generative life and symbolizes masculine energy and cyclic existence. It is through the Nine Prajapatis that the potencies of Brahma are subsequently generated for the work of creation. The Invisible Point expands from within, producing its garment and, in turn, the brightness of this latter also expands. Thus, through a constant 'upheaving motion,' the world originated. The Spiritual Substance sent forth by the Infinite Light is the first Sephira or Shekinah. Sephira exoterically contains all the other Nine Sephiroths in her. This exoteric unfoldment describes the ninefold emergence of man.
Before the separation of the sexes in the mid-Third Root Race there was no sign of Libra, and Virgo and Scorpio were one. After the division there were thus two extra signs. The fruit gathered is that of the gestated man, plus the energy of the separation and union. This separation mirrors the cosmic division of the One and produces a tension symbolized by the balance of Libra, or the bow between the two, and marks the manifestation into the visible world of that which has developed on the unseen planes. Thus there is a new duality producing a trinity on earth, the energies of which must be raised up into the triangular point of the aspiring arrow of Sagittarius.
There is a striking analogy here with the fact that the human foetus is fully formed at seven months and yet remains unmanifest in the womb for two more months. During the last two months the foetus triples in weight, taking on a thick layer of adipose tissue It is taking on grosser sheaths in preparation for emergence into the world. There is a further refinement of sexual development during this stage which corresponds to the cosmic process whereby the seven became the nine. This is clearly linked up with the potencies (of Brahma) that are to be generated (through the Nine Prajapatis) for the work of creation. The mystery of the ten female gates and the nine male gates can only be solved by Buddhic intuition. H.P. Blavatsky declared, "When the Western Orientalists have mastered the real meaning of the Rig-Vedic divisions of the World - the two-fold, three-fold, six- and seven-fold, and especially the NINE-FOLD DIVISION, the mystery of the cyclic divisions applied to heaven and earth, gods and men, will become clearer than it is now."
The zodiacal sign of Sagittarius marks the rise of the soul to an Apollonian grasp of destiny. Well it may heed the courageous example of the selfless Chiron who sacrificed himself so readily in an effort to restore the fallen Prometheus to his rightful Olympian throne. A steady gaze, firm stance and complete openness to the heartbeat of the universe are required if the pilgrim soul would loose the arrow of its being from a perfectly balanced bow and strike the very centre of the Spiritual Sun.
Hermes, January 1977