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ARIES, the Ram: (marked [symbol for ARIES])--A northern constellation, usually named as the first sign in the zodiac, into which, when the sun enters at the vernal equinox in March, the days and nights are of equal length. Aries has been regarded by the devout during many ages as the celestial representative, visible in the heavens, of "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world."
TAURUS, the Bull:(marked thus, [symbol for TAURUS])--The second sign in the zodiac, which by the Arabians is called Ataur. This constellation was worshipped for ages by the idolatrous Egyptians as the heavenly representative of their god Osiris; and derives its name, according to Grecian fable, from the bull into which Jupiter transformed himself in order to carry Europa over into Crete; but the constellation was probably so named by the Egyptians to designate that period of the year, (April), in which cows mostly bring forth their young.
"The Rev. Mr. Maurice in his work on the antiquities of India, has shown that the May-day festival and the May-pole of Great Britain with its garlands, etc., are the remains of an ancient festival of Egypt and India, and probably of Phoenicia, when these nations, in countries very distant, and from times very remote, have all, with one consent, celebrated the entrance of the sun into the sign of Taurus at the vernal equinox."
GEMINI, the Twins: (marked thus, [symbol for GEMINI])--A zodiacal constellation, visible in May, containing the two bright stars Castor and Pollux, the fabled sons of Leda and Jupiter, who during their lives had cleared the Hellespont and neighboring seas of pirates, and were therefore deemed the protectors of navigators and sailors.
CANCER, the Crab: (marked thus, [symbol for CANCER])--Is the fourth sign of the zodiac, which the sun enters on the 21st day of June, and is thence called the summer solstice. According to Grecian fable, the crab was transported to heaven at the request of Juno, after it had been slain by Hercules during his battle with the serpent Python, but the evident design of the name is to represent the apparent backward motion of the sun in June, which is said to resemble the motions of a crab.
LEO, the Lion: ([symbol for LEO]).--Is the fifth sign in the zodiac, and contains one star of the first magiiitude, called Regulus, or Cor Leonis--the Lion's Heart. The fervid heat of July, when the sun has attained its greatest power, is now symbolized in our almanacs by the figure of an enraged lion; and the feasts or sacrifices formerly celebrated among the ancients during this month, in honor of the sun, (which they also represented under the form of a lion,) were called Leonitica. The priests who performed the sacred rites were called Leones. This feast was sometimes called Mithriaca, because Mithra was the name of the sun among the Persians. The sacred writings abound with references to the "king of beasts;" among the most interesting of which is the story of the battle between the lion and Samson, the Jewish Herculus; while the most wonderful example of animal evolution on record is found in the sixty-fifth chapter of Isaiah, where we are gravely informed that "the lion shall eat straw like the bullock."
VIRGO, Virgin Mother, Venus, Eve, Isis, &c.--([symbol for VIRGO]).-- Is the sixth sign of the zodiac, which the sun enters about the 21st of August. The myths and fables regarding the virgin which abound among all nations and all religions, are both various and voluminous, and we may add somewhat improbable. They all agree, however, in this, that the female, shown on the preceding diagram, holding in her right hand a branch of ripened fruit,--the apples of Paradise,--was intended to represent the reproductive powers of nature,--the abundance, satisfaction and contentment which mortals enjoy during the happy period of harvest.
LIBRA, the Balance.--The seventh sign of the zodiac, directly opposite to Aries, from which it is distant 180 degrees. It is marked thus [symbol for LIBRA], after the manner of a pair of scales; to denote, probably, that when the sun arrives at this part of the ecliptic, the days and nights are equal, as if weighed in a balance. Hence the period when the sun enters Libra, (about September 21st,) is called the Autumnal equinox. On the 25th of September was born John the Baptist, the forerunner of his cousin Jesus, who came to his exaltation of glory on the 25th of March, the Vernal equinox. "The equinoxes and solstices," says Higgins, "equally marked the births and deaths of John and Jesus." The one preceded and prepared the way for the other, who receded. One advanced, the other declined. Jesus ascended, John descended. Astrologically speaking, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John iii, 30.)
SCORPIO, the Scorpion.--The eighth sign of the zodiac, which the sun enters on the 23d of October, is marked thus [symbol for SCORPIO]. Scorpio is fabled to have killed the great hunter Orion, and for that exploit to have been placed among the constellations. For this reason it is also said that when Scorpio rises Orion sets.
SAGITTARIUS, the Archer: (marked thus, [symbol for SAGITTARIUS]) is the ninth zodiacal sign, and corresponds with the month of November. This sign is represented like a centaur and was fabled to be Crotus, the son of Eupheme, the nurse of the Muses.
CAPRICORNUS, the Goat.([symbol for CAPRICORNUS])--The tenth sign of the zodiac, which the sun enters the 21st of December, (the longest night in the year,) called the winter solstice. This sign is drawn to represent the horns of a goat, and is fabled to have been Pan, who in the war of the giants was taken to heaven in the shape of a goat. Others claim that it was the goat of Amalthaea, which fed Jupiter with her milk. Macrobius, who calls Cancer and Capricorn the gates of the sun, makes the latter sign to represent his motion, after the manner of a goat climbing the mountains.
AQUARIUS, the Water Bearer.--A constellation in the heavens so called, because during its rising there is usually an abundance of rain. It is the eleventh sign in the zodiac, reckoned from Aries, and is marked thus, [symbol for AQUARIUS]. It rises in January and sets in February, and is supposed by the poets to be Ganymede.
PISCES, the Fishes, [symbol for PISCES]).--The twelfth sign of the zodiac, rises in February and is represented by two fishes tied together by the tails. These fishes are fabled by the Greeks to be those into which Venus and Cupid were changed to escape from the giant Typhon. This fable may not be true, but that wonderful miracles were once performed with two small fishes is stated in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, where it is said that 5000 hungry mortals were cheaply, if not sumptuously regaled with two small fishes and five loaves of bread; while a large surplus of this piscatory diet, larger indeed than the original stock, still remained intact.
In the vestibule or approaches to catholic churches is usually found a vase filled with water, (called Piscina,) and this water is considered holy. The Fish-days are observed as holy days, or fast days, in which Fish may be eaten and meat is forbidden; and learned writers have asserted that in the worship of Pisces may be found the true secret of the origin of the rite of baptism. The Fish-god Oannes, is said to have come out of the Erythraean Sea and taught the Babylonians all kinds of useful knowledge. Ionnes or Jonas went headlong into the sea and into a fish, and has kindly recorded for our instruction his remarkable adventures. The miraculous draughts of fishes in the apostolic age still excite the emulation of modern fishermen, who cannot even hope to rival the wonders that have been recorded. St. Peter is said to have secured ready money from the mouth of a fish that he caught with a hook and line in the sea of Galilee. (Matthew xvii, 27.) His success was justly rewarded, and to him was delegated the power of ruling the infant church. Pisces thus displaced Aries. The fisherman succeeded the shepherd. The precession of the equinoxes produced a new avatar; a new sign arose in the heavens; and a new saviour was born to save mankind.
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