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The Nativity & the Macrocosm of the Stars

I am wishing you a beautiful Christmas if you celebrate and am sharing some astrological insights here regarding the nativity story. Here we will be looking at the story at the macrocosm level - the story as it appears in the stars.

As you may be aware the word solstice is Latin for the sun (sol) standing still (stice) and the solstice represents the time when the sun reaches the end of the ecliptic at the Tropic of Capricorn where is appears stationary for three days before moving back up in the direction of the equator and is born on the third day which is either the 24th or 25th of December. We can see the significance of this birth of the sun or son.

The 'Birthday of the Sun' in Ireland

In Ireland, the solstice was called grianstad, meaning 'sun-standstill' and in their mythology regarding Newgrange, at the solstice a sunbeam (the father figure Dagda) would enter the chamber of the womb of Boann and Aengus was conceived, who represented the birth of the sun.

"Though I am old with wandering

Through hollow lands and hilly lands,

I will find out where she has gone,

And kiss her lips and take her hands;

And walk among long dappled grass,

And pluck till time and times are done,

The silver apples of the moon,

The golden apples of the sun." From The Song of Wandering Aengus by Yeats.

An illustration of sunlight reaching the chamber of Newgrange on the winter solstice.

The following is taken from the Duchas folklore archives:

"There are many feasts celebrated by the Irish throughout the year. Of these, the one which is considered the greatest is Christmas. There was a pagan custom practised by Druids, hundreds of years before Our Lord was born. The feast they celebrated was called. "The birthday of our sun," and it fell on the 23rd of Dec. They held it on this day, because it was the day after the shortest day in the year, and they knew that the long dark days of winter were over...In ancient times a great log of wood called the "Yule Log" was burned on the hearth on the birthday of the sun. This old custom is still observed in some parts at Christmas. In olden times the people thought that those plants, which kept green all year had special blessings connected with them; consequently they were very fond of taking these plants into their houses. They thought that the plants that had berries on them, possessed still more blessings than the others." Recorded from County Longford in Ireland.

The date of the 25th of December for Jesus's birthday was adopted in the 4th century by the church on the traditional date of the winter solstice according to the Roman calendar - this date was known as Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, or the Birthday of the Invincible Sun. During the Christianisation of Europe, the old pagan celebrations were incorporated into the Christmas festivities. The solstice is a powerful three day window culminating in the 'birthday of the sun' on the 24th or 25th of December each year when the sun begins to move upwards from the Tropic of Capricorn along the ecliptic.

People gathering at sunrise at the winter solstice at Stonehenge. The stones were aligned to frame the midsummer sunrise at the summer solstice and the midwinter sunset at the winter solstice.

Our Sun, the Only Son

Jesus always reminded people of the eternal life - he taught about the values of sharing love and light with the world and said "I am the light of the world.” So often we take our sun for granted, yet we would not exist on this world without it - how strange it is that something so vital can get overlooked or even dismissed as a 'false god' by fundamentalists, when its energy is moving inside us in every moment - if the sun's energy is so false, then would 'true' Christian's prefer to live without it?

The sun's Source energy permeates everything - it gives to all freely and expects nothing in return, being completely unconditional with its love and light. This is the Christ consciousness - the divine masculine, 'yang' nature of the cosmos which is giving, active and radiant. The moon is receiving, reflective and magnetic - she represents the divine feminine, 'yin' nature of the universe. This is seen at the atomic level of the universe with positive protons and negative electrons. All beings carry both yin and yang energy within and both are equally vital and divine - yet our true nature is pure consciousness, we are pure awareness, experiencing different forms and energies at any given time.

When we get in touch with our solar radiance and light of consciousness, we recognise our higher self - we see the macrocosm and are no longer lost in a small and limited 'identity.' Jesus was the perfect example of a human being who lived in complete alignment with the cosmos and therefore moved in harmony with the stars, which are created of the divine. The nativity story is very significant and 'timeless' because it reaches something very deep and touches the macrocosm - his story is about the birth of the son or the sun - they are synonymous. Likewise, when we walk with our higher self and are in alignment with the stars, we may also find the mythical emerge in our own lives - we may notice symbols, synchronicity and life will be rich with meaning and significance. We may enter the flow state of interconnectedness and see the power and vitality in everything, no longer separating one singular thing as 'greater' - Jesus did not wish for us to put him on a pedestal - he wanted us to forgive and to give love to everyone (solar quality) and that is why he touched humanity so deeply.

Nativity by Meister von Raigern, 1425 - notice the star and an ass and ox eating from a manger.

Here we will look at some of the pertinent symbols of the nativity story - it is a huge and vast topic, but I will focus on some very vivid illustrations of the mythic, archetypal and astrological within this story. The first includes the significance of the donkeys and the manger.

The Manger (Beehive cluster)

The manger appears in the constellation of Cancer (on the back of the crab's shell) and is also known as Praesaepe (M44) or the Beehive cluster. It was often called the manger or 'crib' and connected with the nativity story.

Appearing also on the crab's shell are a group of stars called the Asses or the Aselli. The Northern Donkey (γ) was thought to be male and the Southern Donkey (δ) was considered female. The Arabians knew them as Al Himarain or the Two Asses. According to the Latin writer Hyginus, the two asses were placed in the heavens as a reward for helping Dionysus and Silenus who rode them in battle. The Ancient Greeks and Romans believed that the manger was placed there so that the two asses could feed.

One of the earliest depictions of the Nativity scene simply portrays Christ in a crib surrounded by an ass and an ox (a horned cow which can be either male or female) which is quite revealing. Many nativity paintings portray one ass and one ox instead of two asses.

From an Ancient Roman Christian sarcophagus, 4th century.

Crib set by architect Arnolfo di Cambio, Rome c. 1290, with one ass and one ox.

A 1403 panel by Conrad von Soest depicting Joseph cooking for Mary, with one ass and one ox.

Cancer - Celestial Atlas by Alexander Jamieson - 1822 - the map reveals the ecliptic (pathway of the sun) passing between the Southern Donkey and Northern Donkey and next to the manger! It's all there. Cancer also appears in the night sky in winter in the northern hemisphere.

The Three Kings or Three 'Magi'

The Three Kings were foreigners "from the east" who were said to follow a star to visit Jesus after his birth and brought him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh at the event known as the 'Adoration of the Magi.' In Ancient Egypt, the incense myrrh was burnt in offering to Ra, the sun god. Frankincense is considered to have properties of the sun amongst many herbalists and gold has an obvious connection with the sun. Interestingly, myrrh is now more attributed to the divine feminine moon amongst many herbal practitioners.

The Journey of the Magi by James Tissot, 1894.

Adoration of the Magi by Gentile da Fabriano, 1423 - note the star, ass and ox.

Over the centuries, three names prevailed for these three kings which were Gaspar (Caspar), Melchior and Balthasar. Caspar was derived from Aramaic meaning 'treasurer,' from the word Gaspar which came from Gizbar. Melchior was a Hebrew name meaning 'king of light.' Balthasar was an Akkadian name meaning 'Bel protects the king.'

Adoration of the Magi by Hieronymus Bosch, c.1485-1500. Balthasar is shown holding a spherical pix of myrrh upon which a small pink dragon has landed.

The Three Kings could be the three stars of Orion's belt - both Orion and Cancer (asses and manger) are visible in the night sky at winter in the northern hemisphere.

The Christmas Star or 'Star of Bethlehem'

I will leave the mystery of the Christmas Star or 'Star of Bethlehem' with you and include the passage from Matthew in the bible describing the Magi's sighting of this mysterious star which 'stopped' at one point, revealing the location of Jesus's birth.

"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way." Matthew 2:1-12

Adoration of the Magi by Florentine painter Giotto di Bondone (1267–1337.) At the top of the painting a comet can be seen and it is believed this may have been inspired by Giotto's sighting of the Halley's Comet in 1301. This comet has an orbit of 75-76 years and will next appear in 2062.

Stars also feature in some nativity scenes - the star could be a symbol to look up - it could be symbolic i.e. these stories are written in the stars. Or the star could represent something astrological for example a Saturn-Jupiter conjunction, a comet, or the bright light of Venus.

Symbolically, the riddle of the star could also represent our own 'star' - the sun - and its pathway of the ecliptic as it 'stops' or is "stood over" the Tropic of Capricorn before being born again on the third day.

Star of Bethlehem by Edward Burne-Jones, c.1885-1890 - here the star is portrayed as an angel who guided the Three Kings.

"The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world." John 1:9

Keep looking up.

Wishing you a merry Christmas.

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