I’m really enjoying the way that online planetarium apps such as that created by Paul Neave at neave.com can be used to illustrate the star myths of the world’s ancient sacred traditions.

Previously, we examined the well-known story of the love affair of Ares and Aphrodite, and the night that Hephaestus contrived a cunning net to descend upon them from the ceiling, catching them in the act for all the gods of Olympus to witness.  By observing the planets in motion among the background of stars, the unmistakeable celestial details of the myth become quite obvious, and it is very difficult to argue that such correlations between the story and the sky could be accidental or coincidental.

That examination of the celestial elements in the love of Ares and Aphrodite is only one of literally hundreds that could be presented in order to establish the theory that the world’s ancient mythology from around the globe is built almost entirely upon a common system of celestial metaphor. This assertion holds true for the stories in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as much as for the mythology of the so-called “pagans.”

For a list of links to previous posts examining over fifty other star-myths, see here.  

Those previous discussions, however, don’t all use the planetarium app, and so in this post we will examine together another Greek myth whose celestial details are particularly evident when discussed in conjunction with a planetarium’s ability to present the moving backdrop of the starry sky: the imprisonment of the god Ares in a brass jar by the giants Ephialtes and Otus, and the rescue of the hapless war-god by the trickster-god, Hermes.

To follow along at home, set your planetarium to 02/10/2013 (you can also go back to this previous post from early February of 2013, written when the conjunction was actually taking place in the sky over our heads). Turn your field of vision towards the west, where we will watch the setting sun sink down, and dial the time to about 16:43. You can set your location to somewhere between 30 and 35 degrees north latitude (I’m using the area of San Luis Obispo, California, along the California coast in between San Francisco and Los Angeles).

The above video shows the heavenly drama, in which the planet Mercury is actually in a “superior” position to the flagging red planet Mars as the two sink down towards the western horizon. This is a fairly unusual occurrence, because if you think about the location of Mercury relative to earth, we can only see it by looking towards the sun, and hence Mercury is always seen to be very close to the sun, visible either in front of the sun before sunrise or trailing the sun after sunset (as in the above video), while Mars is free to roam across the entire night sky (within the band of the ecliptic), since that planet’s orbit is outside that of earth.

In that previous post from February 2013, I argued that if the thesis of Hertha von Dechend and Giorgio de Santillana in Hamlet’s Mill is correct (a thesis they support with mountains of evidence, as well as quotations from ancients who put forward the same thesis, including Aristotle), then there should be a myth in which Mercury is somehow depicted in a “superior” position to Mars. And, in fact, after not too much thought, one suggested itself: the episode in which Ares was imprisoned in a brazen jar and had to be rescued by Hermes. 

I have never seen this particular myth linked to this particular heavenly conjunction, but I believe it can be amply demonstrated that the specific conjunction shown in the above video (and on your own planetarium app, if you go to 02/10/2013) does in fact correspond to the details of the ancient Greek myth to a remarkable degree.

The imprisonment of Ares in the jar is recounted by many ancient authors, but perhaps the highest authority we can consult in this regard is the Iliad itself, in which the myth is recounted by Dione as part of a speech she gives to Aphrodite, when Aphrodite visits the battlefield, only to be wounded by the Greek warrior Diomedes:

“Patience, oh my child,
Bear up now, despite your heartsick grief.
How many gods who hold the halls of Olympus
have had to endure such wounds from mortal men,
whenever we try to cause each other pain . . .
Ares had to endure it,  when giant Ephialtes and Otus,
sons of Aloeus, bound him in chains he could not burst,
trussed him up in a brazen cauldron, thirteen months.
And despite the god’s undying lust for battle
Ares might have wasted away there on the spot
if the monsters’ stepmother, beautiful Eriboea
had not sent for Hermes, and out of the cauldron
Hermes stole him away — the War-god breathing his last,
all but broken down by the ruthless iron chains.” V. 432 – 445.

Thus the translation by the late Professor Robert Fagles (1933 – 2008).

Below is a screen-shot of the situation from just after sunset on February 10, 2013, when a dim Mars is situated below a brighter Mercury — just as if the messenger-god is rescuing the fading war-god:

The fading corona of the sun can be seen disappearing below the western horizon. The large, star-like “dots” that are not part of constellations are planets. Just above the sun’s corona is Neptune, which is not visible to the naked eye, but above Neptune are two more bright planets close to one another: Mars (reddish in hue) and above him Mercury. Much farther up is Uranus (also not visible to the naked eye).

But, some readers may object that it seems to be a bit of a stretch to identify this particular conjunction with that particular myth about Ares being rescued from the brazen jar by Hermes. True, Mercury (Hermes) is seen above Mars (Ares), as if pulling the war-god from a jar or otherwise rescuing him from some sort of a trap, but what right do we have to confidently assert that this really corresponds to the myth being related in the Iliad’s Book 5?

Well, it just so happens that there are other clues within the myth itself which correspond to the details in the heavens. The constellation through which Mars and Mercury (and Neptune as well, even though that planet is not a “visible planet”) are passing in the above screen-shot may be difficult to recognize, but that is partly because the outlines used for the constellations on this and other free planetarium apps (including the excellent stellarium) leave something to be desired. I believe the outlines suggested by the beloved author H.A. Rey are much more useful, and are the outlines that everyone should study and learn in order to help locate the actual constellations when out star-gazing in person.

The constellation that is indicated by that zig-zag atrocity in the diagram above is none other than Aquarius, and if you want some tips on locating this important zodiac constellation in the sky, see this previous post. That post uses the outline of Aquarius as imagined by H.A. Rey and presented in The Stars: a New Way to See Them. Below is a screen-shot of the heavenly drama we are discussing (in which Hermes rescues Ares), from before sunset, in which I have labeled the constellations (which can be seen during daytime on the Paul Neave planetarium app) and drawn in the outlines for Aquarius and Capricorn based on the H.A. Rey method. The screen-shot is first presented without my additions, and then below that with labels and H.A. Rey-inspired outlines:

In the above diagram, you can see Capricorn the Goat, who would not have been visible back in February of 2013 but who is visible this time of year, although late at night along with Aquarius, rising in the east around ten in the evening beneath Cygnus and Aquila (who can be seen to the right side of the above screen-shot and who are very important and identifiable constellations, mentioned in many previous posts such as this one). 

Also identified in the above diagram is the Southern Fish, containing the bright star Fomalhaut, which is located rather low in the sky for viewers in most northern latitudes, but which is very bright and can be helpful in getting a fix on the location of Aquarius, who can be seen pouring streams of water down towards Fomalhaut and the Southern Fish. This previous post gives some tips on finding Fomalhaut.

But most important in the above diagram, of course, are Mars and Mercury themselves, indicated by two arrows. The lower, reddish arrow points to Mars, and the upper, white-outlined arrow points to Mercury. 

Please note what the two are directly next to in the sky: the mighty water-urn of Aquarius.

Could this have anything to do with the fact that Ares was described as being imprisoned in a brazen jar?

I maintain that it could. In fact, I would argue that the evidence is conclusive, and here is why. As explained in the Iliad passage cited above, Ares was stuffed into that brazen cauldron by two giants, Otus and Ephialtes, two preternaturally strong sons of Poseidon who were threatening to climb all the way to Olympus (and who were piling mountains on top of mountains in order to get there). This article on the web describes the adventures of the two giants, and cites some other ancient sources including Pindar and Apollodorus or Pseudo-Apollodorus who give further details about the two. 

Note carefully how some myths account for the death of these upstart giant rebels: Artemis turned herself into a stag and ran between them, whereupon the giants each hurled a spear towards the stag but missed, impaling one another and ending the threat to the order of the universe.

Now look again at the diagram of Aquarius above, and see if that giant figure does not seem to have what appears to be a spear impaling him as he runs forward. This detail should clinch it for even the most skeptical critic of the star-myth theory: the giant who captures Mars inside an enormous jar is one of those giants who met their end by being skewered with a spear.

But just for good measure, it is worth pointing out that the location of the zodiac sign of Aquarius would seem to give added confirmation to the identification of these upstart giants with that constellation. Below is the zodiac wheel which has been discussed in numerous previous posts about the ancient system of celestial metaphor which was in operation in the mythologies around the globe. Note carefully the location of Aquarius, after the “turn” at the bottom of the year, on the upswing towards the spring equinox and ultimately the summer solstice (Aquarius is in the lower-left quadrant of the circle below, and is depicted as a sort of “mer-man” holding a canteen-shaped urn or jar, from which are flowing two streams of water):

Previous posts have presented extensive evidence to support the assertion that the “upper half” of the zodiac wheel was allegorized in ancient myth as heaven, or a high mountain, or a “shining city upon a hill” (see for example here and here). We now see that that high-point of the year corresponded as well to Mount Olympus in ancient Greek myth, because the two young giants Ephialtes and Otus are described as trying to reach Olympus themselves (in order to wage war on the Olympians), and doing so by piling lesser mountains on top of one another in order to reach those heights.

If we look at the location of Aquarius, the constellation who has the characteristics described in the myths about Otus and Ephialtes, including a jar in which he can imprison Ares and a spear which played a role in the myth about the death of the two upstarts, we see that Aquarius is definitely in a position to be “heading up” the mountain, but is still nowhere close as yet. He may be “aiming” at the top of the zodiac wheel (and Olympus), but he is just an “upstart” — he is just at the start of the journey upwards for the annual cycle.

It is also worth pointing out that the “lower half” of the zodiac wheel corresponds in many ancient myth-systems as the “watery” half, or the “deep” — and that Poseidon (the father of these two particular upstart giants) is of course the god of the seas.

Based upon these details, I believe it is more than evident that the myth of Ares being rescued by Hermes from the giants Otus and Ephialtes and his imprisonment in the brazen jar is describing just such a heavenly convocation in the constellation Aquarius as the one depicted in the screen-shots above and in the movie of the planetary motions from February 10, 2013.

Note also that this myth, along with the details in many others, indicates a rather sophisticated understanding of astronomy and the heavens, especially when we realize (as pointed out in my previous examination of this particular myth) that the orbit of the planet Mars causes the planet to grow brighter for 13 months and then grow dimmer for 13 months (becoming brightest at the time of the planet’s opposition every 780 days, as discussed in this excellent website from Nick Anthony Fiorenza; 780 days is about 26 months, during half of which time Mars is growing fainter in brightness, and half of which time the planet grows brighter to observers on earth). This no doubt accounts for the mention of thirteen months in the passage from the Iliad cited above.

Finally, note that just as in the previous discussion of the myth of Ares and Aphrodite and their binding in the weblike net of Hephaestus, Hermes features prominently in discussions about binding and loosing, just as we would expect him to do based on the argument put forth in the powerful talk delivered by Jon Rappoport this year at the Secret Space Program conference in California.

This is because one of the profound messages that all these celestial myths were intended to convey was the message that each and every man and woman is connected to and embodies the infinite cosmos that we see over our heads each night, and ultimately cannot be contained, constrained, chained, or circumscribed against his or her will. This message was also brilliantly articulated by the philosopher Giordano Bruno, who wrote an entire treatise on “binding” and “loosing” and “of bonds in general,” available online here (in Latin). Because Bruno was a hermetic philosopher, we can assume that he understood the role of Hermes in the overcoming of bonds and binding.

Thus we see that an episode which seems to be just a minor and amusing myth, the imprisonment of Ares in a bronze jar, is actually full of profound import, and insight into the message which the world’s sacred traditions were intended to bring to men and women throughout the ages.