or, The Constellations
by Frances Rolleston

Philologos Religious Online Books


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"Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season?" — Job xxxviii. 32.



Most persons have been taught the names and figures of the signs of the zodiac. Many have been repelled by the explanations usually given of these and the other constellations; other have considered them not only useless, but burdensome to the astronomer; and it has been proposed to substitute a kind of survey of the heavens, where lines and angles should take the place of traditional figures. Should this alteration be adopted, the message these figures were intended to transmit will not be less impressive when the types in which it was conveyed are no longer made subservient to the purposes of practical astronomy; especially as through being thus used the forms of the emblems are already disguised and modernized, and new figures, the most incongruous and absurd, have been intruded among them, while the names of the stars are becoming continually more corrupted.

* Mazzaroth, though sometimes in modern lexicons differently interpreted, is here used as meaning the constellations. In Job xxxviii. 32, it stands in the text of the English Bible untranslated: in the margin it is rendered "the twelve signs." Mazzaroth is a feminine or neuter plural noun, applied to separate chambers of divisions, such as the constellations. Mazaloth, a word with which it is sometimes identified, means a way through which any thing goes, as the sun through the zodiac, and the moon through the lunar mansions, or Manzil al Kamar, the Arabic appellation of the lunar zodiac still used in the East. It occurs in the sacred Scriptures only in 2 Kings xxiii. 5, probably in the same sense.

The object of this work is to show, by the combined testimony of tradition and of ancient writers, and from the meaning of the yet extant ancient names of stars and emblems, that they were invented to transmit the earliest and most important knowledge possessed by the first fathers of mankind. Such records were supposed to exist in the hieroglyphics of Egypt, but among them have only been discovered the names and dates, the conquests and the praises of sovereigns. It is intended in this work to prove that far higher and more important records, those of the only true wisdom of man, are contained in the emblems of the constellations. The agreement of the figures will be shown, with the types used by "the holy prophets who have been since the world began," in their predictions of Him, first promised to Adam as the seed of the woman and the conqueror of the serpent; also that in the names the very words in which their prophecies were delivered are frequently to be recognized; and that the primitive roots (by which the Assyrian and Babylonish records are now interpreted) exist alike in the names of the stars and in the dialects used by the prophets. These names, and the ideas conveyed by the figures, are traced in the mythology of the nations; and it will be shown, from the confused and incongruous use there made of them, that the fables were invented from the constellations, and not the constellations from the fables.* It has been attempted by means of these coincidences** to derive the origin of all religions from the constellations; but no reasons have been given why the constellations should be thus figured and thus named. In this work such reasons will be brought forward, and adequate cause assigned, in the revelation made to Adam and recorded by the subsequent prophets, for the invention of these names and figures; their origin being sought in the religion given by God, and in their perversion being found the origin of the false religions set up by man.

* The evidences by which these statements are supported will be found in the Second Part.

** Dupuis, L'Origine des Cultes.



The ancients divided the heavens by forty-eight constellations, imaginary and arbitrary divisions, sometimes, but not always, comprising remarkable stars. Among the twelve signs, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Scorpio, and Virgo, have bright stars, leading the eye to fix on them as constellations, but the others have not; and would not be naturally distinguished as such. It is therefore evident that the distinction of the starry heavens into constellations, like the division of the earth into districts, is the world of man's imagination for his own purposes. In this case the purpose was to declare the glory of God. Orion, the Great Bear, Cassiopea, Lyra, the Southern Cross, and perhaps some others, have bright stars pointing them out, but the records of ancient astronomy only determine what minor stars are reckoned as belonging to them; for instance the serpentine emblems are so mingled with the others as to be complained of as causing confusion by those who did not see in them an intentional type of the works of the enemy as intricately interwoven with the destinies of man.


To Which It Is Generally Believed That There Is No Certain Answer 
To Be Given, Tradition or Conjecture Being All That Is Ever Alleged.


Traditional Answers

Answers given by 
this Explanation

Who was the inventor of astronomy?

Seth or Thoth, or Hermes; Enoch or Edris, Oannes or Noah.

Seth, the son of Adam, with Adam and Enoch.*

When was it invented?

Very early.

In the first age of mankind.*


In the East: some say Chaldea; some, Egypt or India.

In their first habitations, in or near the land of Eden, said to have been between Chaldea and India.*

When, where, and by whom were the yet extant names and emblems invented?

Unknown, as to the signs; Necepsos, king of Egypt (B.C. 900), is said to have introduced the decans into Egypt.

At the same time, by the same persons, and in the same locality.*

What is the meaning of those names and those emblems?

Unknown, but the subject of various conjectures.

They express the promises and prophecies revealed to Adam, Seth, and Enoch.**

Why chosen?

Wholly unknown.

Because they conveyed that meaning, and to keep that early revelation in mind.**

Why were the thirty-six decans or constellations allotted three to each sign, and why so figured and so allotted?


The decans, as far as ascertained from Oriental traditions, accord with the signs in which they were found, and for this reason were so formed and allotted.**

* Part II. p. 5, &c.

** Part II. pp. 60, 61.

Jewish, Persian, and Arabian ancient writers preserve the tradition, that "the family of Seth," Adam, Seth, and Enoch, "invented astronomy," the Egyptians attributing it to Seth or Thoth, said to be the same as Hermes Trismegistus, the thrice-great.

Plutarch mentions Seth, "to whom the third day of the five of the epact was dedicated," as worshipped in Egypt. He was said to be the third son of Set and Netpthe, the father and mother of the gods, whose names are given by Bunsen as Seb and Nutpe.

Bunsen says that Thoth or Hermes was called the scribe of truth, the twice-great; and that they held Set to be the name of the god of Asiatic people. In the "Book of the Dead," it is said, "Tet, which is Set," thus confirming the identification of Seth and Thoth.


Sometimes Urged As To The Origin And Meaning 
Of The Names And Figures Of The Ancient Constellations.

Objection I. That the signs typify the seasons, and their accompanying events, such as we now see them.

Answer I. If they did so in Italy in the time of Macrobius (A.D. 400), who first gave this explanation, they could not have done so in the East, where he allows they were invented, and in the ancient times to which he himself refers them, as does all ancient tradition.*

II. That they were invented by the Egyptians to show the seasons of their climate;

II. The Egyptians have no where said so, neither can the analogy be carried out. The inundation of the Nile must have been there; and if it took place under Aquarius, as has been conjectured, it must have been more than 12,000 years before the time when the monuments of Egypt show the signs depicted on them, and when geology assures us man did not exist on the earth.**

III. Or by the Egyptians, to express their mythology;

III. That mythology has sufficient resemblance with the signs to have been borrowed from them, but not to have originated them. Isis may be traced, perhaps Horus, but not Osiris; and Apis is not like any other name of the bull of the zodiac, neither had he, like Apis, an eagle connected with his figure.***

IV. By the Greeks, to express the twelve labours of Hercules;

IV. The order of the twelve signs is invariable. Authorities differ as to that of the twelve labours, which yet sufficiently allude to the signs to show that they were derived from the zodiac.|*

V. By Chiron, for the events of the Argonautic expedition.

V. The signs are known to have been borne on the banners of the tribes of Israel long before the time of the Argonauts.|**

VI. According to Olaus Rudbeck the Swede, they typify the seasons of Scandinavia.

VI. The merits of this explanation may be judged by that of the twins, as showing when infants may be bathed in the rivers. It however proves that the Scandinavian tribes preserved the twelve signs.

VII. That the names have no meaning.

VII. Aben Ezra records the meaning of some of them as they were understood by the ancient Jews. Every name has a clear meaning, to be found in Hebrew, and generally in Arabic, applicable to the emblem in which it occurs.||*

VIII. That in Arabic the names sometimes have strange and incongruous meanings.

VIII. If a forced and modern usage of the root be taken, this may be so; as, for instance, in placing a company of virgins in the throat of the dog, where the epithet clear, pure, from the root Adar, glorious, is applied to the emblem of the coming of the promised seed, as it has also been applied to a clear, pure virgin. By referring to the ancient Arabic, particularly the two-lettered roots, these absurdities are got rid of, and the Arabic will corroborate the Hebrew.||**

* Part I. p. 18.

** Part I. ch. 1.

*** Part II., on Egypt.

|* Part II. p. 88.

|** Part II. p. 37, &c.

||* Part II., Tables of the Signs, pp. 9-25

||** Part II., Tables, pp. 9-25; p. 16. Virgo.


Note On Answer I.— In those ancient times the solstices and equinoxes did not occur in the signs to which Macrobius would refer them. The sun did not then begin to recede under the Crab, nor to ascend under the Goat. By the precession of the equinoxes, the solstices, earlier in Leo and Aquarius, had in his time passed into Cancer and Capricorn, as they have now into Gemini and Sagittarius. Those who in later times have tried to explain the signs by the seasons of modern Europe have these and yet greater difficulties to encounter.

On Answer II. — Some writers have fancied an allusion to the inundation in Aquarius: a small stream issuing from an urn in the hand of a human figure, and received in the mouth of a fish, does not, however, seem to suit it.* Arago, acknowledged to be as deficient in languages as he was accomplished in astronomy, has ventured, in his popular lectures, on explanations of the emblems of the signs with very forced applications to the climate of Egypt; doing this from what he supposes may be the derivation of their Coptic names, or those of the Egyptian months to which he would adapt them. That on this point he is no authority may be seen from his assertion that "the Hebrew verb fafa signifies obtenebrescere:" that the letter F does not exist in the Hebrew Alphabet is but a trifling objection, for the sound does, and would be written phapha; but not one word with that root in it has any connexion with the idea of darkness, while the numerous words in which it appears have all some relation to splendour, light, beauty; the Greek derivatives having that meaning, as phaino, will at once occur to the Greek scholar. The Egyptian Pa-pa according to Bunsen means to bear, to bring forth; if it was an Egyptian name of any sign, it would probably be of Virgo; he says the Egyptian harvest begins in February, where he would place Leo, and sowing in November, where he would place Taurus. Aquarius he gives to "the second month of summer," and says, "during this month or thereabouts the sources of the Nile give forth their full complement of water." According to the place of the sun in the signs about the time of the Christian era, and for 2000 years before it, the harvest of Egypt could not take place under Virgo, nor the inundation under Aquarius.

* Part II. p. 22.

On Answer V. — This conjecture, though adopted by Sir I. Newton, is also confuted by Sir W. Jones and others, who have found the signs used in Oriental astronomy long before the Argonautic expedition.*

* Part II. pp. 6-8.

On Answer VII. — On the meanings early attributed to the signs the very ancient science of astrology is founded.

The evidence by which these answers and those on p. 3 are supported, will be found in the Second Part, especially in the pages referred to.

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