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Porphyry on the Cancer-Capricorn Star Gates

 
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Mark
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Posted: Fri May 02, 2008 6:02 pm    Post subject: Porphyry on the Cancer-Capricorn Star Gates Reply with quote

I am interested in the ancient associations/myths linking Cancer as the gate of men where souls reside before birth and Capricorn as the gate of the Gods where souls ascend after death. Such beliefs around rebirth in the stars or 'catasterism' seem to have been quite prevalent in the hellenistic era.

I first became aware of this myth reading Deb's article on the constellation of Cancer:

Quote:
This 'shore inhabiting' theme, when viewed as a symbol of the emergence of life from the ocean (physically) or primeval depths (philosophically), bears an interesting reflection upon ancient Chaldean and Platonist philosophy. As the sign of the Sun's greatest elevation, Cancer was considered nearest to the highest point of heaven - thus the constellation was recognised as 'the Gate of Men' through which souls descended to Earth from heaven. [1] The opposite constellation, Capricorn, represented the 'Gate of the Gods', where souls of the departed ascended back to heaven. This ties neatly with Hermetic Philosophy, which regards the sphere of the Moon, the planetary ruler of Cancer, as the final realm in which incarnating souls acquire shape and form in birth. Similarly, the sphere of Saturn, the planetary ruler of Capricorn, is seen as the final realm in which ascending souls free themselves from earthly trappings upon death. Whether this parallel in symbolism is coincidental or designed is open to question.


The main hellenistic source for this myth I have come across seems to be the astrologer and neo-platonist thinker Porphyry. He explicitly sets out the myth in his writing on the myth of the the Cave of the Nymphs.

http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/porphyry_cave_of_nymphs_02_translation.htm

Quote:
Theologists therefore assert, that_these two gates are Cancer and Capricorn; but Plato calls them entrances. And of these, theologists say, that Cancer is the gate through which souls descend; but Capricorn that through which they ascend. Cancer is indeed northern, and adapted to descent; but Capricorn is southern, and adapted to ascent (note 12). The northern parts, likewise, pertain to souls descending into generation. And the gates of the cavern which are turned to the north are rightly said to be pervious to the descent of men; but the southern gates are not the avenues of the Gods, but of souls ascending to the Gods. On this account, the poet does not say that they are the avenues of the Gods, but of immortals; this appellation being also common to our souls, which are per se, or essentially, immortal. It is said |28 that Parmenides mentions these two gates in his treatise "On the Nature of Things", as likewise that they are not unknown to the Romans and Egyptians. For the Romans celebrate their Saturnalia when the Sun is in Capricorn, and during this festivity, slaves wear the shoes of those that are free, and all things are distributed among them in common; the legislator obscurely signifying by this ceremony that through this gate of the heavens, those who are now born slaves will be liberated through the Saturnian festival, and the house attributed to Saturn, i.e., Capricorn, when they live again and return to the fountain of life. Since, however, the path from Capricorn is adapted to ascent, hence the Romans denominate that month in which the Sun, turning from Capricorn to the east, directs his course to the north, Januanus, or January, from janua, a gate. But with the Egyptians, the beginning of the year is not Aquarius, as with the Romans, but Cancer. For the star Sothis, which the Greeks call the Dog, is near to Cancer. And the rising of Sothis is the new moon with them, this being the principle of generation to the world. On this account, the gates of |29 the Homeric cavern are not dedicated to the east and west, nor to the equinoctial signs, Aries and Libra, but to the north and south, and to those celestial signs which towards the south are most southerly, and, towards the north are most northerly; because this cave was sacred to souis and aquatic nymphsT But these places are adapted to souls descending into generation, and afterwards separating themselves from it. Hence, a place near to the equinoctial circle was assigned to Mithra as an appropriate seat. And on this account he bears the sword of Aries, which is a martial sign. He is likewise carried in the Bull, which is the sign of Venus. For Mithra. as well as the Bull, is the Demiurgus and lord of generation (note 13). But he is placed near the equinoctial circle, having the northern parts on his right hand, and the southern on his left. They likewise arranged towards the south the southern hemisphere because it is hot; but the northern hemisphere towards the north, through the coldness of the north wind.


I was interested in finding whether this hermetic/neo-plantonist myth did indeed have a babylonian origin. Reading Gavin White's book 'Babylonian Starlore' it certainly appears the stars of Cancer (often represented as a Turtle to the Babylonians or Scarab Beetle to the Egyptians) was seen as a gateway to the underworld. However, I haven't found an obvious link to Caprcorn in the same way. Interestingly, this area of stars in Cancer is known to the Chinese as a lunar mansion called 'Ghosts' and has associations with the dead and life after death.

I was wondering how long this Cancer-Capricorn myth may have persisted? I have read that Fred Gettings book: ''The Secret Zodiac: The Hidden art in Mediaeval Astrology'' suggests medieval cathedrals were aligned across the Cancer/Capricorn axis. However, I haven't read the book myself and would be interested in hearing from anyone who has.

Its a interesting coincidence(?) that the galactic centre would have been close to the end of the tropical sign of Capricorn at the time Porphry was writing.

Any comments or ideas on this subject?
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Levente Laszlo



Joined: 03 Nov 2006
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Posted: Sat May 03, 2008 3:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

One of the source texts for this issue is Porphyry's On the cave indeed, but you can find some portions of its in Macrobius' commentary on Cicero's Dream of Scipio and Proclus' comments on Plato's Timaeus as well. Small wonder, because this theory about solstitial gates of souls seems to come from their common source, to say, from a Neopythagorean and so-called Middle Platonist philosopher of the late 2nd century CE, Numenius of Apamea. Unfortunately, his works are lost, all we know is a selection of fragments from numerous later authors. It was published by Édouard Des Places, Numénius: Fragments (Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 1973).
The more intriguing fact is that this theory seems to be derived from an exclusive Roman cult, namely, from Mysteries of Mithras which is likely to be founded in the late 1st century CE by certain not-yet-known people that had had a strong connection to the former royal family of Commagene. That later had a tie with several well-known astrologers, Thrasyllus, Balbillus and perhaps Antiochus of Athens himself. (In this later case, his floruit should be redated to the late 1st-early 2nd century CE.) On this see Roger Beck's The Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire: Mysteries of the Unconquered Sun (Oxford-New York, 2004).
While the origin of the Mysteries of Mithras and the soul-gate theory remains obscure, it is likely that older astrological and other kinds of issues were reused creating the Mysteries' arcane "star-talk" which was used as a vehicle for direct teaching of the soul's routes. The idea of gates itself, however, antedates the foundation of these Mysteries: for instance, there is some discussion in a work by the antiquarian Varro. Concerning this issue I can wholeheartedly recommend the excellent Ioan P. Culianu's book, Psychanodia: A Survey of the Evidence Concerning the Ascension of the Soul and Its Relevance (Leiden, Brill, 1983).
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Mark
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Posted: Tue May 06, 2008 4:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello Osthanes,

Thank you very much for taking the time to reply. You have given me some really useful references to explore this subject further.

Quote:
The more intriguing fact is that this theory seems to be derived from an exclusive Roman cult, namely, from Mysteries of Mithras which is likely to be founded in the late 1st century CE by certain not-yet-known people that had had a strong connection to the former royal family of Commagene. That later had a tie with several well-known astrologers, Thrasyllus, Balbillus and perhaps Antiochus of Athens himself.


Quote:
While the origin of the Mysteries of Mithras and the soul-gate theory remains obscure, it is likely that older astrological and other kinds of issues were reused creating the Mysteries' arcane "star-talk" which was used as a vehicle for direct teaching of the soul's routes. The idea of gates itself, however, antedates the foundation of these Mysteries: for instance, there is some discussion in a work by the antiquarian Varro


I am no authority in this area but some of my initial reading indicates the idea of two 'gates' to the underworld linked to solstices may in fact be Babylonian in origin not Roman or hellenistic.

For example in his recent book 'Babylonian Star Lore' Gavin White states:

[b]'In Babylonian tradition there were actually two entrances to the underworld, each of which is associated with one of the solstices. The wintertime entrance is used by discarnate souls journeying to the afterlife , but the summer entrance , located in the region of the crab, is used by the spirits of the ancestors when they return to earth to visit their family homes for the great ancestral festival celebrated in month 5; it is also the route that the souls of newborn babies use to enter in the world of men.' [/b]
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gavin



Joined: 16 Jul 2008
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Posted: Thu Jul 17, 2008 10:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

EVIDENCE OF ASTRAL GATES IN BABYLONIAN STARLORE
Symbolism concerning the Gates of Men can be found among the following Babylonian constellations: The Crab (Cancer), which has magical associations with raising the dead and making offerings to ghosts. The Serpent (Hydra), which is sacred to Ningishzida, a prominent god of the underworld. The Great Twins (Gemini), who seem to be posted, weapons at the ready, guarding the entrance to the underworld.
Symbolism concerning the Gates of the Gods is found in the lore surrounding Pabilsag (Sagittarius), who represents the 'Forefather' or 'Chief Ancestor'. The Eagle & Dead Man (Aquila & Sagita) which together either represent the soul spirited away into the ancestral realms or more specifically the soul of a tyrant being removed from the ancestral realm altogether. And the Panther (located among the stars of Cepheus & Cygnus) which is sacred to Nergal, the Mesopotamian Lord of the Dead. These winter time constellations seem to be purposefully placed along the course of the Milky Way - which according to Macrobius was the collective residing place of the souls of the dead.
If anything the Babylonian Tradition would have referred to these gates as the Gates of the Great Twins (Gemini) and Pabilsag (Sagittarius) as their observational system was based on rising stars rather than solar position.
A related theme can be found in non-stellar traditions. The god Dumuzi (biblical Tammuz), the archetypal dying god, dies at mid-summer and starts his long descent to the underworld. While the winter time entrance is implicit in the mythos surrounding Nergal (the Lord of the Dead) who 'rises in triumph' in the month leading up to the winter solstice.
There is a lot more information on this whole subject in the rather difficult and disorganised book 'Hamlet's Mill' by G. Santilana and H. von Dechend. Their basic thesis posits that the 'Astral Gates' are part of an imposing edifice of stellar mythology-cosmology created in the Near East sometime in the late Neolithic, and that this doctrine somehow disseminated around the globe where it appears in all manner of mythical traditions. I've read this book 3 or 4 times over and have studied various sections in greater detail and I still find it difficult but there are plenty of references and leads especially to material outside the Greco-Roman world.
Good luck, Gavin
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mattG



Joined: 21 Sep 2007
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Location: Greenwich UK

Posted: Fri Jul 18, 2008 8:51 am    Post subject: Secret Zodiac Reply with quote

Some of the definitions in Fred Getting's dictionary cross reference his book "The Secret Zodiac" but not the Gates of Birth and Death. The Secret Zodiac suggests that the San Miniato church in Florence was founded to coincide with a stellium of stars in Taurus on 28th May 1207. There are Zodiac symbols inside and a mysterious Latin inscription. At certain times of the year the Pisces sign is illuminated by the Sun's rays.

Whilst it may not be relevant to your original question the book is a fascinating piece of occult detective work and an insight into astrology at a time mid way between the Arab and renaissance eras
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SGFoxe



Joined: 13 Apr 2006
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Location: Chicago, IL

Posted: Fri Jul 18, 2008 8:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

the Mayans considered the two crossings of the galactic circle with the sideral zodiacal the gates of god (5 sidereal sagittarius) and gate of man at 5 sidereal gemini --

the cross cultural agreement of these areas astounds me
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Papretis



Joined: 27 Feb 2005
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Posted: Sat Jul 19, 2008 5:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

What's curious too is that the exaltation and fall points of the Lunar Nodes are considered to be in the 3th degree of Gemini and Sagittarius... and the Galactic Center is located in 2.06 Sagittarius when using the Fagan/Bradley ayanamsa.
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Mark
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Posted: Thu Aug 21, 2008 2:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello Gavin,

I take it you must be Gavin White himself? I really love your book and recommend it to anyone interested in ancient babylonian star beliefs and mythology.

There is also fascinating material relating to the earliest records of the the planetary exaltations which should fascinate any traditional astrologer. This challenges Cyril Fagan's rather romantic speculations regarding their origins.

Your beautiful illustrations of the constellations really add to the work and make it highly accessible for the non-specialist. The book is an excellent starting point before getting into more highly academic material.

I see you have brought out a new edition of your book? I got the original self published version myself. Have you made any revisions to the original text?
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