Equal Rights for Goddesses?

Saturday October 23rd 2010

As you know, there are seven heavenly bodies in traditional astrology. The boys – Sun, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The girls – Moon, Venus. Five against two. Now does that seem fair to you? Does that even seem like life?

Ceres, goddess of fertility,
is sometimes assigned to Virgo or Cancer.

So then there are the new boys: Neptune, Uranus and Pluto. Now that’s eight against two. Even more lopsided.

Thank goodness for the “dwarf” planet Ceres and her smaller sisters Juno, Vesta and Pallas. But do we hear astrologers talk much about them? No, it’s all Chiron this, Chiron that. (I have to admit Ceres does seem to be getting more press lately.)

Now this feminine deficit is strange, and not only because it does not reflect real life, but because the ancient pantheons – Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman – are evenly divided between male and female deities.

And these pantheons were intimately linked with the planets in particular. Planets were named after gods and in some ways were considered to be gods. Understanding the movement of the stars was seeing into the minds of the gods. Astrology, mythology and religion were all linked. So there ought to be an equal division in the sky, n’est pas?

More relevant to our times perhaps is this question: if we modern astrologers consider the planets to represent certain energies, then why are so many of these energies symbolized by male deities? 

Perhaps it’s a mistake to assign gender at all, since there certainly is no such thing as a man’s chart or a woman’s chart. Perhaps we should see all these energies as genderless – or else somewhere along the way, we’ve lost an important building block of astrology…

The Romans, who developed what we recognise as our astrology and wrote the first text books, had 12 major gods and goddesses plus a lot of minor godlets and demi-gods. Six male and six female. For every male, there was a female counterpart.

And now I’m getting to the point of today’s post.

A while back I posted about the Roman astrologer, Marcus Manilius, who wrote a book called Astronomica, which is essentially a long poem designed to teach astrology. He predates our friend Ptolemy by around a hundred years. In his poem, he lists the gods associated with each sign of the Zodiac. A list I’ve never seen in a modern astrology book.

This list comes as a bit of a surprise, since it does not correlate with the planets that traditionally rule each sign. In fact, aside from Taurus and Scorpio, it’s a whole new team.

The Moon in the Sforza family’s De Sphaera,
an astrological treatise from the Renaissnce.

The traditional team is:
Aries – Mars
Taurus – Venus
Gemini – Mercury
Cancer – Moon
Leo – Sun
Virgo – Mercury
Libra – Venus
Scorpio – Mars (modern also Pluto)
Sagittarius – Jupiter
Capricorn – Saturn
Aquarius – Saturn (modern also Uranus)
Pisces – Jupiter (modern also Neptune)

In old Tarot decks, the Sun card
has twins on it. Remember, that
Apollo, the Sun god, tutelary deity of
Gemini, is Diana’s twin.

But Manilius’ list is:

Aries – Pallas (Minerva)
Taurus – Venus
Gemini – Apollo (Phoebus)
Cancer – Mercury
Leo – Jupiter
Virgo – Ceres
Libra – Vulcan
Scorpio – Mars
Sagittarius – Diana
Capricorn – Vesta
Aquarius – Juno
Pisces – Neptune

This list is evenly divided between gods and goddesses, which I’ve labelled pink and blue so you can see at a glance that the balance of gender within the Zodiac is restored. (OK, so the planets are still a bit heavy on the old testosterone, but at least the signs get some female mentors.)

The first translation I looked at called these the rulers of the signs, but upon some investigation, I have found the relevant passage and according to my tame classicist a better translation is teacher or guardian, mentor. In the new translation I am using, they are called the “tutelary deities”.

The goddess Hera hangs out as Jason’s figurehead, telling him what
to do in the 1963 movie, Jason and the Argonauts. Perhaps your mentor
is the god or goddess who rules your strongest sign.

So in Roman times, each sign of the Zodiac would have had a ruling planet and a god who was looking after it. So can we think of the god for each sign as a counsellor – a kind of Zodiacal life coach?  

I intend to think about this question over the next 12 months and see how the signs and the gods match up. If you have any insights, please share them. 

The Sun is just slipping out of Libra now, leaving me with these questions: what advice would the lame-footed craftsman Vulcan give to those under his protection? And how does thinking about him change one’s understanding of Libra?

Mount Etna in Sicily, where Vulcan had his forge.

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  1. Christina says:

    I’ve noticed that a lot of people are reading this post. You might also be interested in my follow up posts on the same topic

    on Diana for Sag


    on Vesta for Cap