The Babylonian zodiac, for better or worse, has exerted enormous influence over New Agers, alternative historians, and ancient astronaut theorists. One of the more popular “alternative” conceptions is the idea that world mythology is influenced by the “World Age,” defined by the constellation of the zodiac against which the sun rises on the spring equinox. This constellation changes every 2,160 years (more or less) as the earth wobbles on its axis.
In Fingerprints of the Gods (1995), Graham Hancock described his half-cocked theory (derived from Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend's Hamlet's Mill ) whereby myths associated with bulls, like those of the Apis bull in Egypt or the bull cult of the Minoans, represent the Age of Taurus (c. 4300 – 2150 BCE); myths about rams, like the Biblical story of Isaac or the Greek myth of the Golden Fleece, symbolize the Age of Aries (c. 2150 BCE – 1 CE); myths about fish, like that of Jesus Christ and his “fishers of men,” represent the Age of Pisces (c. 1 CE – today); etc. Hancock projected these ages back to the Age of Leo (c. 10,500 BCE – 8,000 BCE), when, he thought, the leonine Great Sphinx of Egypt had been built (pp. 455-456).
But this was no new idea, not when Hancock wrote about it, not when Santillana and von Dechend wrote about it, and not today when entire websites are devoted to championing it.
In the August 10, 1882 edition of Nature, in the very same issue that savaged Ignatius Donnelly’s wildly speculative Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, the scientific journal shredded the “Astrological Age” concept of mythology in a few brief lines savaging the work of the Austrian scholar Anton Krichenbauer. (Note, however, that modern scholarship puts the fixing of the zodiac to around 500 BCE and perhaps as early as 900 BCE, not 2000 BCE.) Too bad alternative historians never learn…
Read on the for the full text from Nature.
OUR BOOK SHELF
Theogonie und Astronomie. By A. Krichenbauer.
(Vienna: Carl Konegen, 1881.)
DR. KRICHENBAUER believes that he has discovered a new key to ancient mythology. With the help of the Iliad and Odyssey, the gods of Greece are resolved into stars and constellations, and the facts of astronomy are made to explain their nature and attributes, as well as the myths that were told of them. In the deities of Egypt, of Babylonia, of India, and of Iran, Dr. Krichenbauer finds fresh confirmations of his views. The development of this early astronomical theogony falls into two periods, the first period being one of creation and growth, the second of fixity and nationalisation. The first period has its "climacteric" in B.C. 2110, when the Ram already ushered in the year. But its real history belongs to that earlier age when the Bull took the place of the Ram, and it is the Bull, accordingly, which stands at the head of the religious system, and breaks in sunder the egg of the universe. The second period begins with the change of the summer solstice from the Lion to the Crab in consequence of the precession of the equinoxes, and thus falls about 1462 B.C., when the commencement of the year was transferred from the summer solstice to the vernal equinox. The equal division of the path of the sun into the twelve signs of the Zodiac took place about seven centuries later. This, briefly put, is the substance of Dr. Krichenbauer's work. His interpretation, however, of the passages of Homer upon which his theory is based, is purely subjective, and is not likely to commend itself to others. Homeric scholars, at any rate, will not admit that any portion of the Iliad or Odyssey is anything like so old as he would make them, or can contain traditions of anything like so old a period. His acquaintance, again, with the facts that modern research has recovered from the monuments of Egypt and Babylonia, is of the most meagre kind. Hence he is quite unaware that we happen to know a good deal about ancient Babylonian astronomy, and the history of the Zodiacal signs, as has lately been pointed out in NATURE, and that what we know is altogether inconsistent with his statements and conclusions. Thus the year began with the vernal equinox, and the heaven was divided into twelve equal portions at least as early as B.C. 2000, and probably much earlier, while it was in Babylonia that the constellations and Zodiacal signs were first named. On the other hand, there was not the remotest connection between the theology and mythology of Babylonia and Egypt. Before Dr. Krichenbauer again writes on this subject it would be advisable for him to be better acquainted with the results of modern Oriental research.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.