Bulls, Bears, Even Cars Are Seen in Taurus
+ Von Del Chamberlain +
Automobile manufacturers seem to delight in naming their creations after features of the sky. Aurora, Comet, Mercury, Saturn, Nova, Subaru, Galaxy, and Taurus are all examples. Considering the fact that Taurus lies along the zodiac, the highway of racing planets, I am surprised that we have not yet seen a Taurus-the-car commercial that transports the automobile onto this celestial roadway. At least I haven't. In keeping with the series I started last month, Taurus is the zodiacal constellation we consider this time, one of the oldest of them all going back some 6,000 years.
The exact origins of constellations are difficult to establish. The oldest ones filtered through Mediterranean lands, appearing in the earliest literature. It is known that the bull was one of the early animal gods of Chaldeans, Egyptians, and other nearby lands. Such bull worship might have descended from the sky, for the Sumerians visualized a star-bull that ushered in the springtime. From about 4,000 B.C. until 1,700 B.C. the vernal equinox was in Taurus and at that time in that part of the world, spring was considered to be the beginning of the year. When the Sun crossed the equator in the sky and days started getting longer than nights, everything seemed to take on new life. Fields were plowed and planted and all living things were part of the celebration of victory of light over darkness, warmth over cold, summer over winter and life over death.
All of these things can be associated with the constellation that contains the vernal equinox. Perhaps it was for that reason that the image of the bull was so common on temple walls, boundary stones, coins and jewelry in ancient Greece and Egypt. Of all the constellations, Taurus reigned supreme in the band that contained the planetary gods circulating the heavens while otherluminaries maintained fixed patterns.
According to an old Greek story, Zeus looked down one day, from lofty Olympian peaks, and his eyes fell upon beautiful Europa, daughter of a Phoenician king. Determined to have her, he took the form of a golden-horned snow-white bull. Unafraid, Europa approached him, rubbed his wonderful fur, then climbed upon his back. With his prize clinging tightly, the Bull lumbered to the shore, plunged into the sea and swam directly to Crete. Once on the island, Zeus revealed his true identity and won the maiden's heart. It is said that this is the origin of the title for the continent that has Crete as its southern outpost, named after the beautiful maiden carried away by the king of the gods.
Spring festivals have always been filled with symbols of fertility, life and light. Throughout most of the world the celebration of New Years has changed from springtime, when days overpower nights, to around the winter solstice, when days begin to lengthen. Since those ancient times the spring equinox has shifted two constellations west of Taurus, into Pisces, but we can still have a heavenly bull in our New Year, for this is the time that Taurus stands high as darkness comes. You can easily find the great celestial bull, containing two of the most distinctive features of the sky: the tiny closely-packed cluster known as the Pleiades is followed by the V-shaped Hyades. Look to the east, well up in the sky, and you should be able to see them on clear dark December nights. The bull moves westward, pursued by the great hunter Orion, rising next behind Taurus, directly east.
The Hyades outlines the face of the bull, with ruddy Aldebaron, brightest star of Taurus, marking one of the bull's glaring eyes. The eye at the other end of the "V" is dimmer, and the tips of the horns can be found by following the two lines of the "V" upward to the north.
Looking at these beautiful stars, we might well wonder how many other ways people in various parts of the world at different times have pictured them. The standard patterns that most people know have come down to us through literature, but most human ideas of earth and sky were never written down. Indeed, the majority of them have disappeared with those who knew them, but we can still discover remarkable examples, now and then. Not many months ago afriend at Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico introduced me to another way of looking at the stars of Taurus. Instead of forming the face of a bull, Jemez people see the Hyades as the face of a great sky bear, looking down at us. The body of the bear, formed by other stars of Taurus, can be discerned on dark clear nights from out in the country, away from city lights. After looking at the stars of Taurus this way for a few months, I find it much easier to see a bear than a bull. I wonder how old that bear might be in human thought? Whereas the bull is incompletely shown in the sky (some say only his front part is there to show him partly submerged, the way he looked as he swam away with Europa), I can easily imagine seeing the outline of the entire Jemez bear. Old Mediterranean constellations are great, but so are those that originated here in America, and I believe we should know them better.
Go out, look around, and find these stars. Attempt to see the bull and the bear, or invent your own design to fit the stars. Pay attention to the subtle colors of the lights of heaven in this star-jeweled region. Consider the many other eyes, and minds, that have stood, as you do, taking in the wonder, the grandeur, the immensity of this "microscopic" part of the universe. Consider the ideas that spring out of moments like these when humans engage the cosmos and ponder what might lie out there. Taurus, the sturdy Bull of Heaven, drawn from ancient Mesopotamia! The gleaming eyes of a noble black Bear, envisioned by American Pueblo people! What stories, and what realities, lie buried among those glittering stars?