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of the Neolithic monuments and stone temples, as well as the Hypogeum, now a World Heritage site. What interests me about these monuments is that they are thought to be older (circa 3600 BCE1) than those in the British Isles which is now thought to date to circa 26002400 BCE2, and, somewhat more remarkably, pre-date the building of the Egyptian pyramids. Despite much speculation by archaeologists, no one is quite sure who built them and why. What is clear is that they were built for ritual purposes. Even more interesting is the idea that their siting and orientations may have been tied up with astronomical factors. As an astrologer and someone interested in archaeoastronomy, I was naturally intrigued. Two reasons are given for an astronomical connection. Firstly, several stone carvings apparently depicting astrological phenomena have been found, either within the structure of the temples themselves, or dug up on the actual site of the temple complex. Secondly, archaeoastronomers including Michael Hoskin, as well as Maltese scholars, George Agius and Frank Ventura3, have found that the overwhelming majority of these monuments appear to face in a similar direction – along a North - South axis.4 In my dissertation (for which got a distinction – phew! So much for all that angst!) I discuss the symbolic importance of the stations of the sun - the solstices and equinoxes, in the development of astrology, particularly in the cultures of the ancient Near East, including Mesopotamia, the birthplace of the stellar art; and, of course, Egypt, the epitome of solar worship, where archaeologists are beginning to uncover the significance of temple and pyramid alignments in relation to stellar and solar phases, and especially the winter solstice.5 Central to my thesis is the assertion that an early four-fold system of classifying omens and important calendar events existed in Mesopotamia, and that part of that group of omens classified as astral (which would later become astrology) included the four main solar tropics. These were used not only as a way of measuring time (seasons, agricultural year, festivals etc) but also as a way of determining space because of the relationship between the positions of sun at the solstices & equinoxes, and the four cardinal directions. For example, sunrise and sunset at the spring & autumnal equinoxes occurs almost exactly due east and west (and this is true anywhere you are on the globe. And unlike the stars, these positions have only moved by 1 degree in the last five millennia.) Of course this solar measurement can only be used during daylight – so, at night certain star groups were also used for navigation and orientation. Wayne Horowitz has shown, for example, that in ancient Mesopotamian cosmic geography, the four winds (emanating from the four corners of the earth) marked out the cardinal directions, but were also associated with certain star groups and constellations, These, in turn, became linked to certain sets of astrological and religious phenomena, including planets and eclipses etc. In a ritualistic sense, orientation therefore has a symbolic function and becomes a way of personalising a particular landscape or temple siting, as well as situating it within a larger cosmological context – one in which everything is symbolically connected and where a type of sacred order prevails. Michael Hoskin calls this archaetopography (which he sees as the terrestrial twin of archaeoastronomy whereby buildings are oriented not to earthly but celestial phenomena) whilst Wayne Horowitz refers to both heavenly and terrestrial orientation under the blanket term of cosmic geography.6 Whilst sacred orientation does appear to have been used in Mesopotamia, it is most apparent in Egypt, where Jeremy Naydler has shown that the north-south alignment of the Nile, and the east-west movement of the sun over the course of a day, provided the primary means of orientation for ancient Egyptians. Such divisions of space also appear to have held deeply religious significance for the Egyptians: East and west are thus not simply physical directions, they are mythical and metaphysical orientations. The symbolism of the sun’s diurnal cycle deeply impresses itself upon the Egyptian landscape. The western side of the Nile has to be the side of the funerary complexes and mortuary temples, for it is there, beyond the western desert, that Ra descends into the Underworld. The east has to be the side of rebirth, of new life, for every morning the whole country turns east as it awakens to the rays of the newborn sun. A similar worldview also existed in Mesopotamia, and possibly also in ancient Greece, as I have elaborated in more detail elsewhere.7 In astrology, whilst we do tend to focus mainly on celestial phenomena, we do so from a geocentric orientation and are interested in the RELATIONSHIP between the signs in heaven and events here on earth. The sky-earth connection dates back thousands of years and is fundamental to the thinking that lies behind not only astrology but the ritual temple sites of many civilisations, including monuments such as the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge. Take this quote from a Babylonian diviner’s manual to see what I mean: The signs on earth, just as those in heaven give us signals. Sky and earth both produce portents; though appearing separately, they are not separate, (because) sky and earth are related.8
Astrology is so often thought of as sky-based but it is actually true to say that an astrological chart is geocentric – a picture of the sky as seen from the perspective of the earth. It therefore, like these ancient monuments, incorporates both. That the symbolism of the solar stations, particularly the winter solstice, could be bound up with the siting and orientation of monuments, as well as early man’s religious impulses, is not difficult to imagine. Many archaeoastronomers such as Robin Heath, think, for example, that Stonehenge (Wiltshire, England) and Newgrange (Ireland) were designed to align with solar and lunar phases: To build a monument that identifies and incorporates the motions of the Sun and Moon is taking the two main archetypal gods or goddesses in the sky, and hence within human culture, and attempting to integrate them on earth. This quest to be able to arrange the apparently random orbital periods of the sun and moon into alignment or balance was a major endeavour throughout recorded history. In the same article, Heath provides a drawing which shows how Stonehenge may have included a rectangular alignment which marked the most northerly and southerly sun and moon risings and settings; as well as the solstices. Other theorists have suggested that the Aubrey Holes were used to hold markers which tracked solar and lunar eclipses.9 Michael Hoskin suggests that the winter solstice, in particular, seems to have been important to the Neolithic temple-building cultures throughout Europe10, an assertion backed up by the Royal Astronomical Society11 However, in his survey of all the major temple, tomb and monument sitings in Europe and the Mediterranean, Hoskin has shown that orientations do vary somewhat from culture to culture, but that: Four patterns occur again and again. The overwhelming majority of orientations of tombs in the west Medittereanean face the eastern half of the horizon, while a minority – in Mediterranean France , and adjacent Cataluna, and in the Balearics – face the western half.12
An illustration from a pamphlet produced by the Royal Astronomical Society, showing the rectangle created by the station stones and their alignments to the solar and lunar phases – sunrise and moon sets at their most southerly and northerly points. Contrary to popular belief, the generally-accepted view is that the monument was actually oriented towards sunset at the winter solstice sunrise when the sun can be seen to move through the hole in the centre of the main trilithon.
But what evidence is there that the stone temples of Malta have any connection with celestial phenomena? Two things: firstly, the discovery of the ‘Tal-Qadi stone’ – a limestone slab dissected by radial lines into five segments and carved with symbols that appear to represent stars and a lunar crescent (see photo); and secondly, the fact that many of the axes of these temples point in a similar direction – mainly towards the south.13
The German writer, Klaus Albrecht, suggests that the ancient builders of the megalith temples aligned many of their monuments to solar movements, including the solstices and equinoxes. At Mnajdra temple, for example, the rising sun at the spring equinox directly enters the main entrance of the south temple, whilst, at the summer and winter solstices, the dawn sun touches the left and right door jambs on either side of the entrance, whilst at the nearby Hagar Qim, the winter solstice morning sun appears to shine in the main entrance before landing on the main altar at corner of the main throughpassage, whilst the opposite end of the passage is thought to align with sunset at the summer solstice, given that this through-passage lies on a north-west – south-east axis. Albrecht asserts that of the 33 temples on the island studied by Joachim von Freeden14, 17 appear to have alignments centred around sunrise and sunset at the winter solstice (that is, are where the structure or parts of it face either south-east or south-west.)15 Michael Hoskin, however, takes the archaeoastronomical theories one step further, suggesting that whilst solilunar alignments can’t be ruled out altogether, it is more likely that many of these monuments are aligned with stellar constellations. For example, he suggests that the so-called ‘Tally Stone’ in Mnadjra temple, may in fact, be a way of tracking the timing of the heliacal rising of certain stars in the constellations of Taurus and the Pleiades – what he calls the ‘Cross-Centarus star group’.16 Of course, we may never know whether any of these is the real reason for placing the temples where they did or why these mysterious people seemed to stop building their temples quite suddenly after 2500 BCE. But of course, it doesn’t stop us from speculating! In conclusion, I will quote Albrecht, who appears to suggest that the builders of these Maltese monuments held a similar cosmic geography and worldview to those cultures I have studied in the Near East: Using the main structure of the temples which refers to circular sites, it can be shown that the temple builders belonged in the tradition of megalithic cultures where circular enclosures were used for determining the seasons and for performing annual rituals. Such monuments are found all over Europe. The sun played a central role in this. The temple itself is an image of the earth, a symbolic fusion of the human figure with the globe. It is the decorated stones and those female figures which additionally symbolise their religious ideas. Court and temple represented the opposing pair of sky and earth. With the relationship between Mother Earth Goddess on the one hand, and Father Sky God on the other, we have in the ancient Maltese religion a dual conception of the world which is complete in itself and archetypal, and which in its basic structure has lived on today in the various religions.17 And I would argue, in astrology!
Mining by early humans seems to date back at least 300,000 years  and is therefore even older than farming, which is thought to have originated in the Middle East about 7000 years ago. The act of removing precious metals from the ground may well have been considered a sacred act, judging by the votive offerings found in many ancient mining sites, including Egypt. Could some ancient cultural ideas concerning the sacred qualities and magical properties of certain minerals have been passed into alchemy. I wonder? Again, I have been at pains to point out the connection between alchemy and astrology, plants and minerals, particularly in the hermetic tradition Naturally, one cannot make sweeping generalisations and universalizing statements that apply to all cultures everywhere, but is interesting that many similar, dare I say archetypal themes, do pop up in religions and cultures all over the globe. The common denominator - humans. Although I refuse to accept arguments based solely in biology as the reason for this cultural cross-over, though no doubt it does play a part. It is the current opinion of most British archaeologists that both the Newgrange passage grave and Stonehenge were oriented towards the winter solstice – Newgrange at sunrise and Stonehenge at sunset.18 Very often these barrows and monuments formed part of a larger complex of sacred stone temples and graves set in the landscape and so should not be viewed completely in isolation.19 That even prehistoric British domestic dwellings may have been demarcated into different symbolic regions based on the diurnal cycle of the sun has been suggested recently by Dr Mike Parker-Pearson in his excavation of several roundhouses which formed part of the Bronze Age settlement of Clad Hallan on the island of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. Here, one of the floorplans of the roundhouses shows that the entrance to the house was aligned towards sunrise, and artifacts collected from the interior of the house suggests that it was divided into waking and sleeping areas based on the amount of light that the house received by the sun during the course of a day. 20 That buried skeletons, possibly ancestors were found buried underneath the floor of the darkest north-eastern section of the house, which would alignment with midnight to dawn section of the diurnal solar cycle, further seems to strengthen the idea of a symbolic association between different phases of the solar cycle and that of the natural cycle of birth, death and renewal. (Drawing is from: As I have written elsewhere, this closely matches with New Kingdom Egyptian religious ideas about death and rebirth symbolically being represented by the daily solar cycle.21 It is therefore intriguing that Parker-Pearson’s excavations at Cladh Hallan also revealed evidence of mummification in the human remains found buried in the foundations of the these very same roundhouses. These bodies, considered to be Europe's earliest prehistoric mummies - became the subject of a BBC2/Discovery documentary, first screened in March 2003, and entitled, The Mummies of Cladh Hallan. More recent research by the same team is revealing that these burials may not have been isolated. According to the University of Sheffield, similar 'mummy bundle' type burials, dated to the same period (circa. 1500 BC) have also been found in other parts of Britain.22
Notes and References:
Hoskins, 2001, Tombs Temples & their Orientation, p. 24
2 3 4
See Parker Pearson et al, 2007, 'The age of Stonehenge', Antiquity., Vol. 81, No. 313, pp. 617-639. Agius & Ventura, 1992, The Orientations of the Temples of Malta, JHA, Vol 23, pp. 102-119
Many temple entrances appear to face either south east or south west with the exception of Mnajdra temple which appears to align quite closely with sunrise at the Spring Equinox – ie. East. See Agius & Ventura, 1992, p. 109
See Belmont & Shaltout, 2005, On the orientation of ancient Egyptian Temples I: upper Egypt and lower Nubia, p. 5 (Pre-print of article in Journal of the History of Astronomy (JHA), Vol. 36 (2005), pp. 274-98) 6 Hoskins, 2001, pp. 13-14 and Horowitz, 1998 Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography
See p. 3 of my essay, Astrology, Cosmology & Geosophy (hereafter referred to as Mendes, 2009) at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/17748061/Astrology-Cosmology-Geosophy on the centrifugal worldview that appears to have dominated the Near East and the eastern Mediterranean in ancient times. See also the Times article by Mark Henderson, posted on this blog on 8 December 2009.
A.L.Oppenheim, ‘A Babylonian Diviner’s Manual,’ Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 33 (1974), 197-220
See for example, this newspaper report of Dr Sharon Challener’s updated take on the theory first proposed by Fred Hoyle that the 56 Aubrey Holes were used to hold markers which were moved to track the phases of the moon and predict eclipses. Chellner’s theory suggests that the horsehoe-shaped semi-circle of 19 bluestones were instead used a lunar eclipse calculator. See: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/stonehenge-was--used-to-predict-lunar-eclipses-726381.html
Michael Hoskins, Tombs, Temples and Orientations, 2001, p. 17, where he states that: ‘Noone doubts the great significance for prehistoric Mediterranean peoples of the winter solstice. As the solstice approached, the sun’s rising point had for almost six months been moving south along the horizon, and of late days had been getting alarmingly short and gloomy. Unless the sun called a halt and reversed the movement of sunrise, darkness and cold would take over, and human life would cease. Happily at the solstice, and no doubt in response to ritual appeals, the sun did stop its alarming southwards progress and begin its return with the promise of the new year.’
RAS Pamphlet Stonehenge and Ancient Astronomy, p. 5 from: http://kev.mercurymoon.co.uk/stonehenge/merlin/ehstone/Stonehenge.LowRes.pdf
12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
Hoskins, 2001, p. 19 Hoskins, 2001, p. 27 Von Freeden, J., Malta und die Baukunst seiner Megalith-Tempel, 1993, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft Albrecht, 2007, p. 14 Hoskins, 2001, p. 27-29 Albrecht, 2007, p. 57 See for example, p. 5 of the RAS pamphlet, as well as Ruggles, Archaeoastronomy, Vol 20, 2006, p. 3
See RAS pamphlet on Stonehenge in its landscape, p. 3 as well as the report by the team who most recently excavated in the area of Stonehenge, especially, p. 12 which discusses the midsummer alignment of the Avenue leading up to Stonehenge, at: http://www.shef.ac.uk/content/1/c6/02/21/27/summary-interimreport-2006.pdf and p. 3 of the 2005 Interim Summary report at: http://www.shef.ac.uk/content/1/c6/02/21/27/PDF-Interim-Report-2005-summary.pdf
This has been the subject of my recently-submitted dissertation for the University of Kent entitled, ‘The Midnight Sun - in Search of Astrology’s Dark Roots’ (2009)
See Parker-Pearson’s summary of his current research projects at: http://www.shef.ac.uk/archaeology/staff/parker.html
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