This is Chapter Five of the book Jesus Potter, Harry Christ (2011), by Derek Murphy.
Jesus, the Lion King: Astrological
Foundations and the Journey of the Sun
“I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
IN THE FIRST SECTION OF THIS BOOK I challenged the traditional view of Jesus Christ, the historical figure, by noting the early historical debate over the physicality of his life and deeds. I’ve also tried to meet common criticisms and evidences that have been used to support the notion of a historical Jesus, and demonstrated that central themes in Christian folklore and practice relating to Jesus Christ are very similar to various older pagan deities, which may lead the impartial reader to the conclusion that Christianity extensively modeled on earlier organizations, customs and beliefs.
While all of this is necessary to even broach the topic, it does not go far enough. Enormous questions remain unanswered. Where did the shared symbols come from in the first place? Why didn’t Christianity choose completely different symbols? Why did vastly diverse cultures often maintain central motifs in the story of their mythical heroes: the miraculous childhood, the escape from an evil ruler, growing up in the wilderness, symbolized by a lion and fighting against a serpent, coming of age to avenge his father, being captured, tortured, and put to death before rising up and defeating his enemies?
If the communities who worshiped these similar gods gave their saviors a new name, altered rituals, and even changed the allegorical meaning of their customs, why did the biographical events of the story stay so rigorously exact? And why can we find traces of this same story from Asia to South America?
The answer, as we will explore in this chapter, is that the commonalities in the stories come from a very ancient drama, which humans have been watching play out in the skies since the dawn of time – it is the annual story of the sun’s passage through the heavens.
In modern society astrology is sometimes considered a fringe pseudo-science about as believable as the tooth fairy. However, humanity’s earliest spiritual sentiments were developed from watching the changing skies, and expressed through astrological symbols. Stories about the constellations and the moving planets developed into tales of gods and goddesses, which later became world religions. Understanding ancient conceptions of astrology helps us to decode many mythological and religious traditions. For the present study it is important to recognize that for the original myth-makers, these symbols and astronomical occurrences were observed with religious devotion. As New Testament Professor Clinton Arnold makes clear,
There can be no doubt about the existence of astrological beliefs in the first century. As with magic, astrology became an increasingly dominant spiritual force after the collapse of classical Greek religion in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. An awareness of the movements of the stars was believed to give one the key to unlocking the mysterious outworking of fate. In popular belief, the stars and planets were thought to bear a close association with angelic intermediaries. This opened up the possibility of altering one’s fate through manipulating the astral “powers.” In this respect, astrology is closely connected with magic which sought to harness and utilize the power of these so-called deities. Helios (sun) and Selene (moon), the planets, and the twelve animal-type images in the heavens (the zodiac) were regarded as most powerful. The rays of the sun and moon were also thought of as spirits, demons, or angels.[i]
While I will not claim that Jesus Christ is just a sun myth or solar deity, I hope to demonstrate that certain symbols and motifs found in Christianity can only be fully explained after exploring this ancient tale of the sun’s journey. I will also establish that at least some early Christian communities associated Jesus with the sun (or previous solar deities) and deliberately incorporated astrological symbolism into their texts, rituals and practices.
In order to deepen our understanding of and exploration into the literature of Jesus Christ, this chapter will provide the astronomical background to humanity’s oldest religious symbols and motifs, illustrate how the planets and constellations became anthropomorphized into gods and heroes, and affirm that certain elements found in Christianity can only be situated within the tradition of astronomical observation.
Astrology in Ancient Times
It should come as no surprise that Greeks and Romans thought of the planets as gods – the names we use for them today are the Roman names given to these deities. In the massive space of the sky, these celestial orbs are unique in having their own autonomous movements and actions. Unlike the great masses of stars, which appear to move together as the earth turns, the planets alone have their own unique trajectory; giving the impression that they are free to move as they like or have some urgent business to attend to. The various hues, size and speed of these planets inspired their humanistic features.
Messenger of the gods with winged feet; the fastest moving planet
Goddess of love and beauty; the brightest planet
God of war and bloodshed; the planet with a distinctive red hue
King of the gods; the largest planet
Oldest god, ruler of time and agriculture; slowest moving planet
There is also Neptune, god of the sea and Pluto, god of the underworld – but these planets are modern discoveries and were named using appropriate figures from mythology. Finally there is the Sun, whose life giving energy is the benefactor of all life on earth, and the Moon, whose cooling nocturnal influence reflects the sun’s light when he is away.
As ancient astronomers studied the skies, they found that the planets trace the same path annually. Every year, they pass through the same constellations, rise and fall on the same spots of the horizon, and routinely run into each other in small groups – easily leading people to wonder what they were up to.
Over the years, people began telling stories that explained their behavior and also allowed priests to forecast events and keep track of time. Elaborate myths were constructed, in considerable detail, chronicling the events, conflicts, reunions and challenges that the “gods” faced in their journeys.
At the same time, constellations were made by grouping nearby stars into recognizable figures, patterns and shapes, and held together in the tapestry of folklore. Great deeds and events, it was believed, merited “eternal life.” Hence, heroes and their accompanying items or companions were said to have “ascended into heaven” – or been preserved eternally in the night sky.
Different cultures would adapt existing myths to create their own cultural heroes, redefining existing constellations. The sign of “the snake bearer,” for example, which for a brief time was considered the 13th zodiac sign between Scorpio and Sagittarius, was originally viewed by the Sumerians as their god Enki. Later, Egyptians viewed him as Imhotep and the Greeks as Aesclepius. These diverse figures shared many of the same qualities, such as healing powers, and were all associated with the snake.
According to legend, both Imhotep and Aesclepius began their lives as mortals, accomplished great feats of healing and technological invention, and ascended into heaven (were immortalized by the gods as constellations).
Likewise, the heroic journey of Jason and the Argonauts, who sailed through many hardships to bring back the Golden Fleece, was commemorated by preserving their vessel in the stars – right, as it should be, on the horizon of the ocean:
More southern stars were visible to the ancient sailors of the Mediterranean than are visible today. Low on their horizon, in spring skies, there appeared the apparition of a great ship. This ship sailed ever westward skimming along the southern horizon. The ancient Greeks said it was Argo Navis, the ship sailed by Jason and his Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece.[ii]
The story of Perseus, Andromeda and Pegasus is also written in the stars; the three constellations spin around the night sky as the sea beast Cetus raises its monstrous head out of the ocean (the head of this constellation, more modernly viewed as a whale, rises above the horizon while its body remains out of sight). Cassiopeia, Andromeda’s proud mother, sits sternly in her throne above the drama.
In today’s night sky you can also find Lyra, the Lyre of Orpheus; and Crater, the cup of Dionysus – which later was interpreted as the Holy Grail. In the middle ages “Christianized” star maps were made reinterpreting these symbols into the current mythos.
All of these legends were considered to have begun with a real historical event; even in ancient times scholars attempted to attribute the myths to real kings or heroes (human figures) of the past. But let’s not forget that for earlier civilizations, these were living stories with miraculous implications: the “proof” that they were true lay in the stars. The constellations were a record of humanity’s greatest deeds and interactions with supernatural characters, and promised the possibility of eternal reward and glory for those who suffer or persevere in their pursuit of greatness.
And they were not simply bedtime stories: these planet-gods were the main objects of worship in ancient times. According to Iamblichus (c. AD 250-325) Egyptians believed in nothing else:
Egyptians know of no other gods “but the planets and those stars that fill up the zodiac… and Robust Princes, as they call them.” Eusebius says “that the very arcane theology of the Egyptians, deified nothing but stars and planets, and acknowledge no incorporeal principle or demiurgick reason as thecause of this universe, but only the visible sun… see now what is become of this arcane theology of the Egyptians, that defies nothing but senseless matter or dead inanimate bodies.[iii]
It was also believed that the stars and planets had a physical connection and interaction with humanity. Understanding the heavens was seen as a kind of esoteric wisdom that could give users special powers: since the planets and stars influenced the affairs of men, understanding these subtle influences gave one control over them. Assman writes,
A major part of the Egyptians’ astronomical knowledge served specifically to measure time, especially the lunar month, whose beginning rested on observation, not calculation, as well as the hours, whose length varied – for day and night, from sunrise to sunset and sunset to sunrise, were always each divided into twelve segments of equal length. Above all, however, this knowledge was related to the course of the sun, which was conceived of as a journey through the sky and the netherworld and described down to the last detail. The oldest and most widely used Book of the Netherworld enumerates the 900 deities and beings who come nightly into contact with the sun god, precisely specifies the length of each of the distances he covers in one hour (eg 745 miles) and cites verbatim the words he exchanges with those in the netherworld. All this elaborate store of knowledge, so oddly compounded of observations, speculations, and mythological interpretations, had a cultic function.[iv]
The Sun Myth
For many early cultures, the sun was seen as the source of all life, an idea which, although scientifically precise, is often taken for granted today. According to an ancient Egyptian hymn which scholars have compared with Psalm 104 of the Old Testament, death comes when the sun sets or “hides its face.”
The world becomes on your hand, as you made them; when you dawn, they live, when you set, they die; you yourself are lifetime, one lives by you. (Akhenaten’s hymn 111-114)
Thou hidest thy face: they are troubled; thou takest away thy breath: they die and return to their dust; Thou sendest forth thy breath: they are created and thou renewest the face of the earth. (Psalm 104)
Of all the stories told about constellations and planets, the most important was the epic struggle of the sun with the forces of darkness. Each year, the sun defeated his enemies in the spring, rose to power and strength in the summer, and was overcome by darkness again in the fall. In the winter he was at his weakest, but people knew that somehow he would come back and save the world again.
The sun was usually depicted as male and had a female counterpart, the moon. Many cultures saw them as lovers, or sometimes twins, separated tragically and trapped in the cycle of time. The relationship between these two, the delicate balance, created and maintained the world. During solar eclipses, the pair were re-united, and their encounters generated life on earth.
One of the earliest written characters, found in pre-historic cave paintings, is the solar cross. The equilateral cross meant many things to early cultures, but at the earliest it was a probably a pictograph for the sun’s rays. It is often found by a full circle, or a crescent, which stood for the moon. The solar cross is a composition of these two symbols. Another is the Egyptian Ankh.
Granted, these symbols have meant many things to many people. I will not suggest that people who use these symbols today are still worshiping the sun. At the same time, it is vital to notice how human spirituality developed and the astrological roots of the symbols used today.
In the fall of every year, the sun gets weaker and weaker. The seasons change, the crops die, the ground freezes. Then in the spring, the sun comes back and saves life as we know it. This celestial struggle was elaborated with constellation folklore. The sun’s enemy, the dark winter, was symbolized by a snake. This is because of the constellation Hydra, the primordial sea-serpent, which at one point spread all the way across the night sky and even today remains the largest constellation. With night came the Hydra chasing the sun away, and in the morning the sun returned to defeat the Hydra. It is a never-ending battle, being re-enacted even today. Thus, the serpent became a symbol of night, and was also considered the ruler of winter, darkness. In some cultures it represented evil; in others esoteric wisdom or knowledge.
Cultural myths about heroes defeating monstrous snakes stem from the sun’s conflict with darkness and winter, represented by the Hydra. Babylonian sun god Gizdhubar fought the dragon as Tiamat (as did Gilgamesh), Apollo slew the Python, and Zeus killed the Typhon. Even Yahweh in the Old Testament was given credit with defeating an ancient sea serpent, the Leviathan, although this story was probably taken from descriptions about Baal killing the serpent Lotan in Northern Canaan.
The story becomes a romance when we add in the figure of the moon. The moon was the sun’s lover, lost or trapped in darkness, guarded over by the Hydra. The sun was always trying to find and rescue her. There are numerous versions of this story in mythology – a young hero has to enter into “the kingdom of death,” or hell, or Somewhere Really Dangerous, and kill a big snake of some kind to save his love. The sun is usually defeated or killed before his journey is through, but escapes or resurrects in order to win the final battle.
Another important constellation is Leo, the Lion. Leo is the constellation of the sun, the constellation that the sun is exalted in (the sun is in Leo in the middle of summer, when it is strongest). For this reason, while winter and darkness are represented by a snake, summer, light and the sun are represented by a lion. As snakes slither underground, the sun is flying over our heads in the sky; his “kingdom of light” is above us, while the “kingdom of darkness” is below. This is why the personified sun is usually depicted with wings of some kind: a magical flying horse (Perseus saving Andromeda, above left), wings on his hat or feet (Hermes, Mercury), or a flying chariot (Appollo) so that he can get around more conveniently. In other versions, wings are presented in the form of a pet bird or winged sidekick. In the picture of Hercules killing the Hydra, (above right), he is shown both with a lion’s head mask and wings, just like the Griffin – a lion with the wings and the beak of an eagle – which is also a sun symbol.
Myths about the moon are sometimes blended with stories about the constellation Virgo, which is right next to Hydra and comes into the sky at the same time as it does. Virgo is the 2nd largest constellation, only a little smaller than Hydra, and the constellation was worshiped as a great goddess. Due to their close positions, myths about her always involved Hydra. Hydra is also a feminine constellation (the masculine form would be Hydrus), and sometimes these two great constellation were merged to create a larger symbol of night; a creature with the tail of a serpent and the upper body of a woman.
Meanwhile, the constellation Leo immediately precedes Virgo in the night sky and seems to be escorting her past the treachery of Hydra. This is why, invariably, mythological sun saviors slay great serpents to save virtuous maidens. Their weapon of choice is almost always a sword, probably because it takes the same shaped as a cross, the oldest known symbol of the sun.
The Jesus Zodiac
As we have seen, certain constellations (Leo, Virgo, Hydra) were often featured in the sun myth. However there were others. The most important were the 12 signs of the zodiac. The zodiac signs are the constellations of stars that mark the sun’s path and have been used for at least 6,000 years to keep track of time. The Western zodiac signs are often seen in churches, catacombs, and Greco-Roman temples. Ancient Chinese, Mayan, Babylonian and Sumerian zodiac wheels sometimes use different figures for the constellations.
The zodiac refers to the signs that lie behind the sun’s apparent path. Each month, the sun is passing in front of 1 of the 12 signs. It is from the word “Zodiac” – which literally means circle of animals – that we get the modern word “zoo.”
Stories about the sun often include zodiac animals in the course of the hero’s quest; as the sun carved its path through the twelve zodiac signs, the hero would encounter or challenge the symbols which represented each sign. Krishna, for example, was chased by a snake and kills both a bull and a lion.
In Ovid’s Phaethon, the Greek sun god Helios promises his mortal son a gift, because he feels guilty for never spending time with him. The boy begs for a chance to drive his father’s golden chariot, which races across the sky bringing light to the world. Helios, knowing that only he can control the powerful horses, tries to dissuade his son.
Are you fancying that there are all sorts of wonders up there, cities full of Gods and beautiful things? Nothing of the kind. You will have to pass beasts, fierce beasts of prey, and they are all that you will see. The Bull, the Lion, the Scorpion, and the great Crab, and all will try to harm you. (Ovid, Metamorphoses II, Phaethon)
Hercules, often portrayed wearing a lion skin, is most famous for his twelve labors, which correlate to the twelve signs of the zodiac (although the specific acts seem to refer only to summer and fall constellations).
- 1. Slay the Nemean Lion and bring back its skin
- 2. Slay the Lernaean Hydra
- 3. Capture the Ceryneian Hind
- 4. Capture the Erymanthian Boar
- 5. Clean the Augean stables in one day
- 6. Slay the Stymphalian Birds
- 7. Capture the Cretan Bull
- 8. Steal the Mares of Diomedes
- 9. Obtain the Girdle of Hippolyte
- 10. Obtain the Cows of Geryon
- 11. Steal the Apples of the Hesperides
- 12. Capture Cerberus
Many other figures face similar challenges. These constellations “come out” or are more visible in the dark winter months. The boar that killed Attis and Adonis (Osiris was also dismembered by Seth under a wild boar), and which Hercules must also capture is Khrysaor, son of Medusa, who often took the shape of a winged boar and presided over the summer months (the harvest season). Vegetation gods die or are cut down under this month, due to the harvest. You can still find this tusked, charging boar constellation in modern star maps. Taurus, the bull is visible in September and October along the eastern horizon, but the most favorable time to observe Taurus in the night sky is during the months of December and January. Heroes associated with the sun like Mithras, Dionysus, and Gilgamesh overcame or destroyed the bull, symbolically ending winter.
Birth of the Sun
Although the great triumph of the sun was during the spring, there are four turning points which held monumental significance for ancient cultures. These points are related to the apparent path the sun travels, called the ecliptic, and the line of the equator projected into space, or the celestial equator. If you imagine that the earth stands still, the sun seems to go around the earth following a set path. Astronomers would calculate dates by looking at the constellations behind this line, and so marking it on star charts and world maps was a common practice. This is the ecliptic.
The celestial equator is equally important. If the equator were projected into space, it would cross the ecliptic in two places. These spots are exactly the points where the transitions between spring and fall occur. During the spring equinox, the sun crosses the equator heading north, making the days longer than the nights. During the fall equinox, the sun crosses going south, making the days shorter than the nights.
In the winter, less and less light from the sun reaches the earth, causing cool weather. The sun is at its farthest away (south) from the celestial equator. Due to the earth’s tilt, the sun will appear to “stand still” here for three days before heading north again. This takes place on December 21st, the winter solstice. The opposite occurs six months later during the summer solstice on June 21st. The sun has reached its farthest point north of the celestial equator, and after a brief pause, begins moving south.
Sites of megalithic stone structures such as Stonehenge in England or the older L-Imnajdrasite in Malta (c. 3000 BC) are oriented astronomically, aligned with the rising sun during solstices and equinoxes. In 1998 scientists discovered the huge stones slabs of Nabta in the Sahara desert of Egypt, which have been dated to around 4000BC, making them the oldest astronomical megaliths in the world. These sites demonstrate that the sun’s movements were noted and deemed considerably important even in prehistory. Although the sun doesn’t actually move, it is possible to mark the changing seasons based on where it rises or sets on the horizon. This is how megalithic structures function: a little hole is drilled marking the spot of the horizon where the sun will rise on one specific day of the year. Imagine this point on the horizon like a giant pendulum. Every day, it will move a little to the left or right, approaching one of the solstices. When it reaches the end of its path, it has to “slow down” and go back the other way. It will be seen on the same spot of the horizon for three days, before beginning to move in the opposite direction. On December 22nd, the winter solstice, (midnight of the 21st), the sun appears to stop moving. Early civilizations mythologized this event as a “death” of the sun – darkness had triumphed. But only three days later, at midnight on December 24th, the sun appeared to begin moving again. This was a “birth” of the new sun (and also a “resurrection” of the old sun), which would someday challenge the rulers of darkness and re-create the kingdom of light. This victory comes on the spring equinox, when light returns to triumph over darkness.
The astronomical alignment of ancient monuments show that December 25th was marked as a special day for thousands of years before the advent of Christianity. In the face of a long winter, it was celebrated as a time for hope in the eventual return of life and light. That December 25th was originally a pagan holiday is generally well known, but not everyone realizes that it was a birthday celebration for the infant sun. On December 24th, the priests waited for a sign that the sun had returned, so that they could announce the birth of a divine child. The sign the priests saw was probably the star Sirius, one of the brightest stars in the winter sky, which rises just before dawn. Edward Carpenter confirms this in Pagan and Christian Creeds:
The coming of Sirius therefore to the Meridian at midnight became the sign and assurance of the sun having reached the very lowest point of his course, and therefore having arrived at the moment of his re-birth.[v]
If this name sounds familiar, you might recall that “Sirius” is also the name of Harry Potter’s godfather. As Hans Andréa from Harry Potter for Seekers points out,
When Jesus was born, a star appeared in the east. When Harry was born, Sirius became his God-Father! Both boys had a star rise at their birth. He who understands the language of symbols will see that these two things are identical![vi]
People in those days believed that every night, the sun rested in a vast subterranean cave before rising again in the East. Therefore this “birth” of the sun was pictured underground, in a cave, or sometimes a manger. Late to the birth were three wise men following a star. Many traditions have called the three stars of Orion’s belt the “kings” or “magi.” They form a direct line to Sirius and appear to follow him straight to the birthplace of the sun. Try to find them early on Christmas morning – they’ll be the brightest stars you see.
The Wicked Ruler
Although the sun had been born, winter was just beginning. On December 22nd, the winter solstice marks the moment when Saturn, the slow moving king of winter, assumes his thrown, for a three month rule of tyranny, cold and darkness. (The 22nd is the beginning of Capricorn. Just as Leo’s ruling planet is the sun, Capricorn’s ruling planet is Saturn.)
Saturn, or in Greek, Chronos, was the father of time – from him we get words like “Chronology.” In the picture below, Saturn is seen with his symbol, the scythe, and with a dragon biting its own tail; the symbol for infinity. The inevitable consequence of time, of course, is death. The modern day Grim Reaper, shown below holding an hourglass, is based on images of Saturn.
In the Greek version of the myth, Chronos began to eat all of his children after hearing a prophecy from Uranus that one of his children would overthrow him. After losing five children, his wife Rhea saved the 6th, Zeus, by feeding Chronos a stone wrapped in blankets. Zeus grew up in exile but came back in strength to challenge his father.
This event – the threat from an evil tyrant and escape of the infant hero – became a common literary motif; one especially shared by sun gods. Just three days after Saturn comes to power on December 22nd, the baby sun (who is predestined to overthrow his rule) is born on the 25th. Saturn gets nervous and “eats all his babies,” or “orders a massacre of infants.” Mythical stories that employ this attribute include Dionysus, Hercules, and even Moses. The infant son, however, is smuggled away safely, usually by his mother. This incident also begins the sun’s travels: he is always moving, and generally going “up” and “down.”
The sun grows up in exile, becoming stronger all the time. After Saturn has lost his power, the sun will return to challenge the ruler of winter and overthrow his kingdom. This happens on the spring equinox, when the day becomes longer than the night. The sun has been victorious, at least until the fall equinox, when darkness comes to power again. On December 22nd, the sun dies, is buried for three days, and “resurrects.” Like the birth, this is depicted underground, or buried in a tomb. Of course, there are many variations: sometimes he descends into Hades for three days, sometimes he sleeps, sometimes he is imprisoned, and sometimes people just think he’s dead. The clue is the length of time (3 days) and the date near one of the solstices or equinoxes.
Sun myth features are apparent in some of the stories we explored earlier. For example in the Egyptian version of the myth which was popular throughout the Roman Empire in the first two centuries AD, the moon goddess was Isis, while Osiris and Horus were both aspects of the sun. Isis was considered a “virgin” because her consort is also her son; originally she needs to somehow get pregnant by herself. Later, she gives birth to Horus on December 25th (although as we saw the 23rd might have been used much earlier) and he grew up to become Osiris, his mother’s lover. At this time Isis’ brother Set was in power. Set was a figure of darkness, and in later traditions became identified with Typhon, the giant serpent. Set killed Osiris and scattered his body parts down the banks of the Nile.
Set wanted to kill the child Horus also, fearing that he would someday usurp his throne. Luckily, Isis was warned in time to flee and conceal the child. At the Spring Equinox, while Horus was returning to defeat darkness, Osiris had already died and needed to be resurrected. Isis collected all of Osiris’ body parts (except the penis which she couldn’t find) and brought him back to life. At the same time, Horus grew into manhood and defeated Set to avenge his father, freeing Isis from Set’s tyranny. Horus took his father’s place, and became Osiris. He and Isis would give birth to a new Horus the next year, restarting the cycle.
The Lion King
It may seem very foreign to give human characteristics to the sun, but you are far more familiar with this story than you know. This is because for centuries, and increasingly in the past few decades, modern stories have revolved around solar mythology. (This is mostly because our greatest story-tellers, from Disney to Lewis to Tolkien, have been well-versed in classical studies). As mentioned previously, the sun rules the zodiac sign of Leo, the Lion. The yellow color of this animal, as well as his flowing mane, have made it an ideal symbol for the sun – although the real reason is that the sun is considered to be at the peak of its “rule” during the hot summer months of July and August, when the sun crosses the constellation Leo. Historical and mythological figures, in order to elevate them to a divine status, were often affiliated with lions for this reason. Modern-day heroes and popular re-tellings of classical literature sometimes include the same symbols: the lion for goodness and light and the snake for evil and darkness. In fact, the easiest way to spot a sun-myth is to look for snakes and lions. Because the sun flew through the sky, he was given wings, a winged chariot, or a flying companion that symbolized his dominion over the air.
Many figures in contemporary literature, including J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, continue to act out the ancient motif. Harry is marked as a sun god by his placement in Gryffindor, whose emblem is a lion (or rather, a Griffin – a winged lion). He also has his characteristic mark, the lightning bolt on his forehead; the symbol of Zeus. He can fly, with a broomstick, and is also sometimes helped by Dumbledore’s phoenix. Like the sun, an evil power threatens him at birth and he is hidden away in obscurity. He battles the basilisk, an enormous snake, with a magical sword, in order to save the lost but virtuous maiden, Ginny. Eventually he will defeat Lord Voldemort and end the threat of darkness altogether – although he has to pay for it with his own life.
If you saw the 2004 movie Alexander by Warner Brothers, you probably remember that Alexander’s mother, played by actress Angelina Jolie, kept poisonous snakes around her, and the young Alexander was surrounded with snakes as a child. But did you notice that Alexander’s helmet is a lion? Or the scene when, to be even more explicit, he is wearing an actual lion’s head? Alexander is also accompanied by a pet eagle, and seems to have some psychic connection with it. Alexander strays farther away from his kingdom, where he is strong, and grows weaker and weaker until his own followers betray him.
The newest Peter Pan movie (2003, live action version) is also full of sun symbolism. In the beginning of the movie, “Never Never Land” is frozen in a deep winter and the pirates’ ship is stuck in ice. Spring hits fast and hard, and the ice melts, letting the pirates know that Pan (the sun) has come back. Peter can also fly, of course, and instead of a phoenix is accompanied by Tink, a winged fairy. Peter battles Hook with a sword to save Wendy from the pirates, so she can be mother to the boys. And although the giant alligator is Hook’s enemy, the creature is an effective representation of Hydra, the water serpent. There is also a significant scene, where the weather gets nasty because Peter is sad over Tink’s death. The pirates think Pan is dead, and that they have won, only to have him reappear triumphantly.
In the first Narnia movie (2005), based on the original chronicles by C.S. Lewis, Aslan is an obvious sun-savior who has to battle with the queen of winter to restore life and spring to Narnia. He meekly allows himself to be captured and tortured only to be instantly resurrected and continue the fight. Although many Christians consider Narnia to be a wholesome family movie, and Aslan to be a portrayal of Christ, all of the ideas in Narnia stem from the sun myth, which predates Christianity by thousands of years. (Lewis’ contemporary, Tolkien, criticized Narnia for being an “irritating blend of different cultural traditions”[vii]).
The “discovery” of Aslan’s resurrection in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is actually the discovery of the empty rock where Aslan’s body had been – which is shown with the rising sun directly behind it; the rising sun is used as an allegory for the resurrection of Aslan (and, for those who wish to further interpret, for the resurrection of Jesus). However, in fact the converse may be true – that Jesus’ resurrection has always been a symbol of the rising sun.
When the sun reaches his highest point on the summer solstice, he is depicted as the king of kings, seated on a throne and wearing a purple robe and a crown of golden rays. At the time when these stories developed, the summer solstice was actually in the sign of Leo. The sun could easily be identified as a “lion king.”
Not surprisingly, Disney’s animated motion picture “The Lion King” (1994) captures the sun myth surprisingly well. Simba can’t fly himself, but he is always near his winged chaperone, the toucan Zazu. In the first five minutes, we are inundated with sun references. The infant king is anointed with the juice of a fruit that has been lifted up to the sun, the clouds part and a single beam of sunlight illuminates the child. The catchy opening song mentions “the sun rolling high in a sapphire sky.” Some viewers have argued that the Lion King plot is based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but Shakespeare most likely drew his ideas from Greek stories like Oedipus, whose tale also includes sun symbolism.
While Simba is still young and dreaming of being ruler, (“I just can’t wait to be king”), there is a quip about the king of kings having so little hair. Some sun gods, when they reached maturity, were shown with long flowing hair to symbolize their strong rays of light, and short hair when they were newborn or weak. This is the reason that Samson, a biblical sun figure, was defeated by the winter goddess Delilah when she cut off all his hair. This is also why, when Aslan had his mane cut off by his enemies, it instantly grew back once he resurrected. A fourth century writer records an Egyptian ritual with a similar motif:
In their desire to make a dedication specifically to the Sun himself the Egyptians have fashioned a figure whose head is shaven except for the hair remaining on the right side. The retention of these hairs teaches that in our world the Sun is never covered up. The hair which has been removed bears witness through the roots which stay that even when we do not see this heavenly body it still possesses the property of coming forth again like hair.’ (Macrobius, end of 4th century AD)[viii]
Soon after, Mufusa tells Simba, “A king’s time as ruler rises and falls like the sun. Someday, the sun will set on my time here and will rise with you as the new king.” Mufusa’s brother, Scar, is the ruler of death, or winter. He’s in league with evil hyenas, and plots with them in a fiery cave full of dancing skeletons. Scar succeeds in killing Mufasa, but Simba escapes into exile. The whole land falls into darkness and shadow when Scar takes over, but Simba grows up quickly outside of the kingdom. Simba runs into Nana, who thinks he’s back from the dead, and they have a brief spring love affair. (The sun and moon are necessarily lovers, in order for the new sun to be born each year). Simba is still struggling with the death of his father, but Rafiki the monkey-priest tells him, “He’s alive, and I’ll show him to you. You are your father. You are the same. He lies in you.”
Simba journeys home through the wilderness landscape that had once flourished under his father’s rule. The land is destroyed now and everyone is starving, on the brink of death. When Simba returns, they assume he is Mufasa back from the dead. There is a battle between Scar and Simba, now exactly the same size and strength. They exchange blows, and finally Simba grows a little bigger and wins. This fight demonstrates the spring equinox, when the hours of sunlight struggle with and then surpass the hours of darkness. “It is time,” says Rafiki. A cooling rain falls as the new king climbs majestically up to his place of power on the throne. A skull is washed away, signifying the end of winter, and the earth springs to life again. At the end of the movie, Simba and Nana have a new child and repeat the cycle.
You may have heard of another lion king, Jesus of Nazareth, also called the “Lion of Judah” and the “King of Jews.” Jesus has many symbols, one of which is the white dove; and, feathers or no, he has no trouble defying gravity. Like the sun, Jesus had to hide from an evil ruler soon after his birth, because King Herod heard a prophecy concerning a future king. Jesus refers to himself as the light of the world, and his enemy, Satan, is represented by the symbol of the serpent. Jesus comes to save his love, the Holy Mother Church (the earth-bound communities of those faithful to Jesus are always collectively feminine). He uses the symbol of an upright cross, which looks just like a sword, to defeat his enemies.
The question now is to explore how deeply these symbols go in the story of Jesus, and whether they came from the sun myth either unconsciously or deliberately. If inclusions were accidental, or later additions, then we should be able to take them away from the figure of Jesus Christ without any ill-effect; without changing the basic core structure of Christian belief. However, we will see that astrological symbolism permeates the gospel story in such a way that it is unlikely to be coincidental, and also impossible to extricate “the real Jesus” from it.
Astrological symbolism in Christianity
Before King Herod tried to find and kill the infant Christ, who was smuggled safely into Egypt, a Pharaoh tried to kill the infant Moses, who also survived. Both returned to triumph over their adversaries. Before either of them came Horus and many others, all based on the sun myth. In the most recent adaptation of this story, the infant Harry Potter survived an attack from his enemy Voldemort, went into hiding, and likewise came back to challenge his would-be murderer.
Only two of the four biblical gospels even include a birth story, and there are few scholars today who would deny that they were copied wholesale from pagan mythology. However, there is much more to say about Jesus than his miraculous birth. In this section, I’ll explain how the biographical details in the gospel account of Jesus Christ may be based on observations of the sun, and how specific symbols identified with the Christian movement like the crucifixion, the lamb and the fish also came from astrology.
What follows is an “astrological exegesis” of the life and ministry of Jesus. It may sound far-fetched at first. However the fact that the gospel story presents us with the exact figures, numbers, motifs and animals needed to construct this interpretation is, in itself, extremely telling. Moreover, as we will see, the interpretation of Jesus’ ministry as symbolizing the annual journey of the sun was confirmed and approved of by some very early Christian writers.
After the infant sun ran away from the powerful ruler (Saturn), we hear nothing about him until he is grown into adulthood. Jesus also leaps from a child to a 30 year old man in the gospels, apparently because there is nothing worth mentioning during the early part of his life. Many authors have written about where Jesus might have spent these years, failing to appreciate the nature of mythological literature. When specific numbers are used in mythology, they are rarely random; instead they help preserve astronomical trivia and are a way of passing on wisdom to those who could decode their meaning. In the sun myth, the number 30 has an astrological significance.
There are 360 degrees in the zodiac wheel, giving each of the 12 signs exactly 30 degrees (each section is called a Semisextile). Saturn’s reign is finished at the end of Capricorn, which means that after 30 degrees, the sun can come out of hiding. For a real man, 30 years is a long time, but for the sun myth, the number 30 only represents the degrees of Capricorn and is just 1/12th of the distance the sun will have to go. This is the reason why the first 30 years of the sun savior are only the very beginning of the story.
By the end of January, the sun has escaped the persecution of Saturn, but he is still weak and the weather is cold. Climbing up to the celestial equator, and defeating his enemies by crossing over it and ending winter, will be his final struggle and challenge. This process is often tied to the number forty, which like the years of the sun’s age, has an astrological significance. The winter solstice in the sign of Capricorn lies 16 degrees below the celestial equator. The spring equinox in the sign of Aries, where the sun will triumph over darkness, is 24 degrees above the celestial equator. Starting from his birth in Capricorn, the sun must climb a total of 40 degrees (16+24=40) before he escapes from the clutches of winter. According to Malik H. Jabbar in The Astrological Foundation of the Christ Myth,
This term forty represents the struggle of the sun in the wilderness, climbing toward salvation. With Israel, it was forty years in the wilderness, and with Noah, it was forty days of torrential rain, but regardless, the symbolism is the same; the plight of the young sun in the valley of Amenta, the Nether World, fighting his way to cross the forsaken territory between the zodiacal sign of the winter solstice and the spring equinox.[ix]
Jesus begins his ministry by spending forty days in the desert being tested by the devil. Like the sun, he then passes through Aquarius (baptism by St. John, portrayed with flowing hair and a jug of water) and Pisces (calling his first fishermen disciples to become “fishers of men”) before he can be exalted at the spring equinox in the beginning of Aries (as the crucified lamb of God.) After climbing these forty degrees, the sun is finally strong enough to defeat the darkness that has plagued him since birth. The length of days and nights on the spring equinox are exactly equal, but after the long battle that marks this day, the sun will be the victor. Crossing the celestial equator on the spring equinox was seen as the sun’s definitive triumph over evil, but it was also viewed as a kind of perpetual suffering.
Every year the sun had to face the same enemies, suffer defeat, and fight to regain his kingdom. Many myths illustrate the idea of the sun leading a life of toil for mankind, who brought light and life to the world at great personal cost. Tragic figures like Sisyphus, who was forced to push a boulder up a hill and then let it roll back again for eternity, or Prometheus, bound to a rock so his liver could be eaten every day, may represent the perpetual toil of the sun. Although climbing over the celestial equator is just one piece of the sun’s never-ending torment, it became a symbol for his great sacrifice.
As we already know from Justin Martyr, Jesus was not the first to be crucified; many sun saviors met their deaths on a cross of some kind, or else were hung from trees or nailed to boulders. (Osiris was locked in a coffin that got stuck inside the trunk of a tree that was later used as a temple pillar.) While these grim endings may appear dissimilar, drawings or representations of these saviors usually show them in an X or cross-shaped position.
The argument can be made that the motif of “crucifixion” comes from astronomy. The ecliptic, or path of the sun, crosses over the celestial equator at an angle, making the shape of an X. Plato, in his dialog, “Timaeus,” said that when the Creator of the universe first formed the cosmos, He shaped its substance in the form of the letter X: the intersection between the sun’s apparent path and the celestial equator.[x]
The massive event of critical importance, signifying the triumph of the sun and the end of winter, takes place on this cross. Many heroes met their fate with this cross, including the Greek King Sixion and St. Andrew, underscoring their divine status.
Here someone might interject that Jesus was crucified on a vertical cross, like the one worn by modern Christians; but there is no evidence for this. More likely, Romans would have used a T-bar shaped cross because they were easier to build. However, Jesus Christ may not have been crucified any more than Dionysus was actually ripped apart and eaten by his followers. The vertical cross is a spiritual symbol referring to a specific restorative salvation, not a historical fact.
The sun continues upwards until he reaches his northern-most peak at the beginning of summer. The summer solstice is the height of the sun’s glory and the beginning of his reign, but he has also reached the end of his path and will begin to regress. He may warn that his enemies will overthrow him, or that he has to leave but will return again. On the fall equinox, when the night is again longer than the day, the sun is weakened, captured, and taunted.
Just as the sun had to wait thirty degrees after his birth before beginning his mission, he also has to pass through the last thirty degrees that lead to his death. After passing through the twelve signs, he is delivered to his death at the beginning of Capricorn by the sign Sagittarius. For each degree that Sagittarius gains, the sun is closer to his death, leading to the idea of a betrayer who gets paid off to lure the sun to his death. In the gospels this is Judas, who sold Jesus to his enemies for thirty pieces of silver. Some scholars contend that Judas represented the sign of Scorpio, who is lord of the fall equinox. In this case, Judas leads Christ to his enemies at the beginning of the fall season, where he is tormented and afflicted for three months until his death at the hands of Sagittarius on the winter solstice. Either way, the motif of the thirty pieces of silver is most likely a reference to degrees of the zodiac.
When the sun reaches the winter solstice and holds still for three days, he has died and been buried in the tomb or cave where he began. He will remain in the underworld, in the land of the dead, or in the tomb, for three days, until he begins his return. While maintaining the three-day hiatus, some versions of the sun myth placed the death and resurrection together in the spring in order to tie it into the great victory reached when the sun crosses over the celestial equator.
The Lamb of God
Besides the lion, the animal most often associated with Jesus is the lamb. The choice of this animal, along with nearly all other Christian symbolism, comes from constellation mythology. As the sun passes through the twelve zodiac signs, the four signs that govern the four cardinal events in the sun’s journey are the most significant. Of supreme importance is the sign under which the sun crosses the celestial equator on the spring equinox. Astrological ages are named after this sign. For example, today we are somewhere at the end of the age of Pisces, because Pisces is the sign behind the sun when it crosses its midway point in the spring. Due to a slight imbalance in the earth’s wobble, these four signs change roughly every 2,200 years, in a gradual process called the precession of the equinoxes. It takes an entire 26,000 years for all twelve signs of the zodiac to pass behind the place where the sun crosses the celestial equator during the spring equinox. Every 72 years we slip backwards 1 degree of the zodiac, meaning that soon we will be entering the age of Aquarius.
Before the present age of Pisces was the age of Aries from about 2400BC to 200BC, and before that was the age of Taurus from 4600BC to 2400BC. During that period, the spring equinox was in Taurus, the summer solstice in Leo, the winter solstice in Aquarius, and the fall equinox in Scorpio. Although Scorpio is today represented by the Scorpion, that part of the sky used to be represented by another constellation, the Eagle or Phoenix. The symbols that represent these signs – the Lion, Eagle, Bull and Man – are often found in religious and mythological texts that were developed during the age of Taurus.
There are several references to these four animals in the Old Testament, which were later copied into the New Testament book of Revelation.
The first living creature was like a lion, the second like a bull, the third living creature had a human face, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. (Revelation 4:7)
These four symbols, which represented the four seasons and the four elements (fire, earth, water, air), were later assigned to four specific apostles whose names were given to the four books of the gospels.
- Matthew = Human
- Mark = Lion
- Luke = Ox
- John = Eagle
These animals are often put into the corners of religious iconography to represent “the whole world.” Among other things they correlate to the four houses at Hogwarts, the four children of Narnia, the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and the four suits of a deck of poker cards. The same four animals are shown in the esoteric Tarot tradition of A.E. Waite, a mystic who developed illustrations for his Tarot deck based on the writings of 19th century occultist, Eliphas Levi. In the “Wheel of Fortune” card, the Bull, Eagle, Man and Lion surround a wheel, which is ruled over by another lion with a sword that represents the sun controlling the universe. The dog-headed man is the constellation Orion, who has ties to the Egyptian god Osiris. The three stars of Orion’s belt point to and follow the bright star Sirius, which is found in Canis Major, or the “big dog” constellation. The snake is Hydra, which appears to chase Orion around the world. Early Christian art uses many of the same motifs.
During the age of Taurus, (4600BC to 2400BC), bulls were sacred animals that figured prominently in religious worship and mythology. Sumerians regarded a bull as the bringer of spring, and the bull cult of Minoan Crete arose during this time. For Egyptians this was the period of Montu, the Bull, and it was also the time of the biblical golden calf. Taurus is a feminine earth sign, ruled over by the planet Venus, and goddess-centered religions flourished during this period. The ancient megaliths on the island of Malta for example are fertility goddess temples which were built and used doing the age of Taurus. When the sun rose in Taurus during the spring equinox, the bull became a symbol for the sun and shared his fate. Both were crucified on the celestial cross, sacrificing themselves to renew the earth. The blood of the bull became a sacrificial atonement for sins.
Later, this motif would be transformed into many bull-slaying deities like Mithras, whose great victory during the spring equinox depended on him defeating or passing through the bull. Mithras was often depicted driving his sword deep into a bull, clenching it like a massive lever, surrounded by the zodiac wheel. It is possible that besides representing the sun meeting the celestial cross under the sign of Taurus, Mithras was also seen as the divine force causing the precession of the equinoxes. His great act of slaying the bull would then also include ending the age of Taurus and rotating the zodiac wheel into the next sign. This is the view taken by Professor Religion David Ulansey in an article on the Mithraic Mysteries published by Scientific American:
By killing the bull – causing the precession of the equinoxes – Mithras was in effect moving the entire universe. A god capable of performing such a tremendous deed would be eminently deserving of worship. Furthermore, the ability to move the cosmos would be seen as endowing Mithras with other powers as well, such as the ability to overcome the forces of fate residing in the stars and to guarantee the soul a safe passage through the planetary spheres after death.[xi]
Mithras slew the bull with a sword, and it was this symbol, identical to an upright cross, that his followers imprinted on the round buns they used for their communion. To further clarify matters, sometimes the sword symbol was combined with an X shaped figure to show the cross of the celestial equator and ecliptic. Symbolically, the act of slaying a bull with a sword is identical to crucifying it on a cross.
The astrological symbolism in Mithraism has been noted by several scholars. According to Burkert, “one literary text explains the killing of the bull in astrological terms as the sun passing through the sign of Taurus. This is the ‘esoteric philosophy’ of these mysteries, the author says, admitting that this is not the accepted meaning, but at the same time claiming that it comes from insiders of the cult.”[xii] Dowden affirms this view:
Mithras, as he kills the bull, usually looks up and away – apparently to the sun-god with whom he is closely associated and for whom, maybe, he performs this vital feat: the sun is, after all, in the constellation Taurus (‘Bull’) in spring as life begins again.[xiii]
The age of Taurus was followed by the age of Aries, the Ram. Most of the symbols used in bull cults were adapted to reflect this shift. The lamb became a holy animal, identified with the sun and his celestial triumph. Like the bull, it died on the cross with the sun, and was considered a restorative offering. In ancient Egypt, lambs were sacred during this period, and sacrificed to the sun during the spring equinox. Linked to the sun’s resurrection, the lamb was thought to have regenerative powers. In Egypt the lamb-sun god was called Amun, and many enormous temple complexes were built, with exact celestial precision, in honor of him. Pharaohs like Tut-ankh-Amun were named after this god to give them supernatural status. Amun, as the sun, is both the ram and the lion at the same time.
He is the bas of Amun-Re, lord of Karnak, chief of Ipet-Sut, the ram with sublime face, who dwells in Thebes, the great lion who generated by himself, the Great god of the beginning… of whose nose the air comes forth, in order to animate all noses, who rises as sun, in order to illuminate earth.[xiv]
Many of the psalms in the Old Testament bear uncanny resemblance to Egyptian prayers to Amun, and it is possible that Christians to this day invoke this Egyptian god’s name at the end of their prayers by saying “Amen.” This word is commonly associated with truth, and used to mean “truly” or “verily.” When the Old Testament was translated into English, the word “Amen” became “truth.”
That he who blesseth himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of truth, and he that sweareth in the earth shall swear by the God of truth, because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hid from mine eyes. (Isaiah 65:16)
The Jewish communities spent a long time in Egypt (although even this has been disputed), and some of their religious ideas may have been taken from Egyptian practices. If you replace the original “Amen” in this passage and read it as a name, it can be seen as a psalm to the God of Amun, the lamb-headed sun god of Egypt. Even the concept of Israel in the Old Testament, made up of 12 tribes, shares remarkable similarity with the sun myth. As Mircea Eliade points out, citing from Josephus,
We find a similar temporal symbolism as part of the cosmological symbolism of the Temple at Jerusalem. According to Flavius Josephus the twelve loaves of bread on the table signified the twelve months of the year and the candelabrum with seventy branches represented the decans (the zodiacal division of the seven planets into tens.) The Temple was the imago mundi; being at the Center of the World, at Jerusalem, it sanctified not only the entire cosmos but also cosmic life–that is, time.[xv]
The founder of the covenant, Abraham, was given a test to prove his obedience to God – he was asked to sacrifice his first and only son Isaac. At the last minute God intervened and provided a ram to use instead. This story may be an astrological myth about how Aries came to be stuck on the celestial cross (Genesis 22:1). In an interesting reversal of the Abraham tale, Yahweh later rescued Israel out of Egypt by killing all of the first-born sons among the Egyptians. Israelites were told to mark their doorways with the blood of a specifically prepared sacrificial lamb, so that Yahweh could take note of which homes to pass over during his ethnic cleansing (Exodus 12:1).
The Passover Lamb became an integral feature of Judaism until the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem; Exodus 12-13 gives careful instructions on how the lamb is to be prepared (roasted, without its head, feet, or inner organs being removed) and eaten (in haste: with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand). Orthodox Christians in Italy and Greece continue to slaughter a lamb every year. Muslims follow similar procedures to prepare lambs for their own festival of sacrifice, Eid-ul-Adha, which is a commemoration of Abraham and Ishmael.
Early Christians continued this practice, relating the Passover Lamb to Jesus’ suffering on the cross, because it was placed on a cross-shaped spit made by the intersection of two sticks:
The mystery, then, of the lamb which God enjoined to be sacrificed as the passover, was a type of Christ; with whose blood, in proportion to their faith in Him, they anoint their houses, i.e., themselves, who believe on Him… and that lamb which was commanded to be wholly roasted was a symbol of the suffering of the cross which Christ would undergo. For the lamb, which is roasted, is roasted and dressed up in the form of the cross. For one spit is transfixed right through from the lower parts up to the head, and one across the back, to which are attached the legs of the lamb. (Justin Martyr, Dialog with Trypho, 40)
This great wealth of symbolic background was readily available during the foundational periods of Christian history. Jesus would become the sacrificed son, and at the same time the ram God provided to save Isaac. He would also be identified with the sacrificial lamb of Passover. Like the sign of Aries on the ecliptic and the Passover Lamb on the spit, Jesus makes his great restoration on a cross. Like the lamb, his death was a great sacrifice, and his blood washed away sin. The details recorded in the gospels about his crucifixion were written deliberately in order to clearly bring out this identification.
Jesus had to die on the cross, for example, without having any of his bones broken, because God commanded that the Passover Lamb be without blemish or broken bones. However, it is difficult to crucify a man’s body to a cross in such a way that the nails support his weight without breaking his bones, and it isn’t likely that the Roman soldiers would have been extra careful with Jesus in order to fulfill Jewish prophecy. The gospel writers were more concerned with spiritual allegory than actual circumstances, and took liberties with their version of events.
Early Christian catacombs identify Jesus as the sun god tied to the precession of the equinoxes rather than a historical victim of crucifixion. One of the symbols used was the Chi-Rho, also called the “Monogram of Christ” because it is made up of the first two letters in the Greek word “Christos.” Although Christians claim that this symbol is unique to them, it was used for centuries before the Christian era as symbol for luck and fortune. It was also a solar symbol, and includes the X shaped cross as a symbol of the sun’s triumph at the Vernal Equinox.
Instead of a crucified savior, the image of Christ often found in the catacombs is that of the Good Shepherd, carrying a lamb over his shoulders, identifying him as a Lamb-God like Amun. Statues of other sun-saviors, carrying lambs to link them with the sign of Aries, have been found to predate Christianity by centuries. A contemporary of Jesus, the Gnostic god Abraxas, was drawn with the age of Aries at his head and the age of Pisces at his feet. Some statues, like the one below made in Athens around 570BC, show the Good Shepherd with a calf, a remnant of the age of Taurus.
Jesus became not only the Good Shepherd, but also the sacrificial lamb itself. As the sun, he shared the fate of Aries when it met the celestial cross. His suffering there was an act of restoration, and Christians refer to being washed in the blood of the lamb for the forgiveness of sins, just as Attis’ followers were washed in the blood of the bull. After the lamb, the next most popular symbol found in Christian catacombs is the fish – specifically, two fish swimming in opposite directions, or the zodiac glyph of Pisces. Early Christians identified themselves with this sign more than all others, calling each other “little fishes” and using symbols of fish to identify each other. As the mover of the equinoxes, it was Jesus’ role to end the Age of Aries and begin the Age of Pisces.
Persian dualism is a faith of the Age of Aries (second-first millennia BC), which is the sign of the Sun’s exaltation and Mars’ rulership; so Mithras, the solar warrior, is still re-enacting the close of the previous age of Taurus (fourth-third millennia BC) by slaying the cosmic bull. All the Arien leaders are fighters: the ram-horned Moses, Ammon and Mars/Ares himself. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, immolates the age of war in the only way possible: by sacrificing himself as the Ram or Lamb of God. In doing so he ushers in the Age of Pisces (second-first millennia AD), the era which cherishes in its heart an ideal of devotion and love[xvi]
Although Christianity has tried to separate itself from its pagan beginnings, some customs have proved difficult to suppress. After nearly 2,000 years, we still use trees and wreaths, and give gifts during the “Dies Natilis Invictus Solis,” the birthday of the unconquered sun. And while many profess to worship the birth of Jesus on December 25th, it is not hard to compare the most popular Christmas icon, Santa Claus, flying around the world in one night on a magical flying sled bringing presents and good cheer, with Sol Invictus and his golden Chariot; or, with his lamp and white beard, as “father time” – a direct descendant of Saturn and Chronos.
Jesus has been so far removed from his roots that identifying him with a pagan sun cult may seem offensive even for non-Christians. For the early church however, it was all too easy to assign qualities of the sun myth to the Jesus story. In fact, at least one of the four gospels included in the Bible’s New Testament was purposely structured to emulate the sun myth.
Jesus through the Zodiac in Matthew
Making these connections between Christianity and astrological symbolism may be intriguing – but is it true? How can we prove that it isn’t all a big coincidence, or that Christianity didn’t just blindly copy symbols from their contemporaries without also importing the esoteric meaning? While Christianity could have borrowed the symbolism and immediately reinterpreted everything as relating to their personal, historical savior and founder, devoid of any astrological associations, it appears that some early Christians deliberately identified Jesus with the sun. Problematically, the gospels themselves, upon which the paradigm and conception of the familiar, personal, human figure of Jesus Christ is based, may have been originally constructed with deliberate astrological associations.
Of the four gospels in the New Testament, Matthew, Mark and Luke largely share the same stories and parables, but the order varies with each one. In Matthew’s version of events, the parables and imagery appear to be arranged to match the progression of the sun through the zodiac.The following exegetical exercise is in no way given as proof; this is only a theoretical interpretation. Nevertheless, it is pertinent and interesting. Moreover, given the (already established) likelihood that gospel writers were familiar with similar pagan cults, who were openly associated with solar worship, and given the extent of astrological influence that pervaded Greek and Roman spirituality, it should not be surprising if the gospel writers recognized and expanded upon these parallels.
In Matthew, the parables of Jesus’ life are grouped into themes that match either the symbol or the influence of the zodiac signs. The imagery changes with the seasons and completes exactly a one year cycle, from December to December. Either the actual zodiac animal or the traits of the zodiac sign are used to keep the order. In some cases only a hint of the weather gives us an indication of the time of year, as if the author were trying to leave subtle clues. Notice the chronological order of the verse numbers.
Aquarius, the Water Bearer – Matthew 3:13 (January). Although modern astrology begins with Aries, the first sign the sun encounters after his birth in Capricorn is Aquarius. This constellation is shown as a solitary figure with long hair, living in the wilderness of winter, pouring water from a vase. Jesus begins his ministry with his baptism at the hands of John, who is often portrayed standing in a river with long hair, pouring water out of a vase. John also lives alone in the wilderness, like Aquarius.
Pisces, the Fish – Matthew 4:18 (February). Jesus calls his first disciples. They are fisherman, mending nets and fishing boats. Jesus tells them they will now be fishers of men.
Aries, the Ram – Matthew 5-11 (March). Aries is ruled by Mars, the Roman god of aggression and war. Jesus asserts his growing power and gives his first sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. He pities the crowd of people, calling them sheep without a shepherd. Jesus cautions against pride and anger, (both traits of Aries) but also admits that he came not to bring peace, but the sword. Jesus also asks us to look at the birds of the sky and think of the flowers in the field, demonstrating that it is spring.
Taurus, the Bull – Matthew 11:28 (April). “Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.” This curious metaphor is wedged into the story abruptly, and has no parallels in the other gospels, nor anywhere else in the Bible, although it is similar to bull-centered cults like that of Attis and Mithras. Its inclusion at just this point, rather than anywhere else, is necessary to preserve the zodiacal order.
Gemini, the Twins – Matthew 12:1 (May). This is a sign of restlessness, communication, and inconsistency. The Pharisees began to plot against Jesus, trying to trap him with loaded questions about Jewish law. Jesus says, “Everyone who is not with me is against me.” His disciples pick ears of corn from the stalks, showing it is early summer and the harvest has not yet begun.
Cancer, the Crab – Matthew 12:25 (June). Cancer is a water sign and represents domestic life. Jesus uses three parables here. The first is a reference to Jonah and the whale. The next two concern the home and family, both within the influence of Cancer.
Leo, the Lion – Matthew 13:1 (July). It is late summer now, and time for the harvest. Jesus speaks about “reaping the rewards of what you sow.” His parables are about the sower, the darnel, the mustard seed, and the yeast.
Virgo, the Virgin – Matthew 13:53 (August). Virgo is concerned with order, cleanliness and purity. Jesus quarrels with scribes over purity laws, saying, “What goes into the mouth does not make anyone unclean; it is what comes out of the mouth that makes someone unclean.” This section also begins a new chapter, called “First Fruits of the Kingdom.” The harvest is over and it’s time to prepare for winter. Two separate miracles of loaves are here. People are hungry and Jesus produces bread for them.
Libra, the Scales – Matthew 16:13 (September). Libra’s focus is on equality and justice. Jesus discusses heavenly rewards, rules and laws, judgment and financial matters. Topics include the danger of riches, the reward of renunciation, and the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. The themes of judgment and retribution come up frequently. This is also where Jesus casts the money changers, along with their fancy scales, out of the temple.
Scorpio, the Scorpion – Matthew 12:18 (October). This section begins with the story of a barren fig tree. Often used to demonstrate the power of faith, it is also another indication of the season. There is no fruit on the tree because it is fall. Scorpio is the sign of union and marriage, so it is not surprising we find the entire collection of wedding parables here. Jesus talks about the bride, the bridegroom and the Wedding Chamber. There is a feeling of urgency, as Jesus warns that the end is very near and we must be careful not to be locked out in the cold. He tells us that when he is gone, we need to help those who thirst, are hungry, sick or without clothes. Winter is coming.
Sagittarius, the Archer – Matthew 26:36 (November). Many sun gods, although crucified, were actually killed on the cross (or under a tree, like Krishna and Attis) by an arrow; symbolically combining the betrayer Sagittarius at the beginning of December with the cross of the celestial equator. Jesus is betrayed by one of the twelve disciples for thirty pieces of silver. When confronted by a group of armed men he asks, “Am I such a bandit that you had to set out to capture me with swords and clubs?” Jesus may not have been killed by the cross, but by the soldier who stuck a lance into his side. “Lance” (Greek belos or Latin telum) can refer to any sharp object such as a spear, sword tip, or arrow.
Capricorn, the Goat – Matthew 26:57 (December). Jesus is scourged, tried and crucified at “Calvary” (from the Latin Calvaria; original Golgotha) which means “place of the skull.” The sun has reached its farthest, weakest point. There is an emphasis on darkness. “From the sixth hour there was darkness all over the land until the ninth hour,” showing that it is December 21st, the darkest day of the year. Jesus is buried in a tomb, which is found empty three days later. He has been resurrected, and will come again in power.
Even if we ignore the astrological associations and only look at the seasonal clues, it is clear that the ministry of Jesus in this gospel lasted for one year and ended in December. But why, if Matthew shows his death in winter, do Christians celebrate Easter during the spring? Actually, many early Christians were also confused by this issue; enough of them, in fact, to make church fathers commit the heresy to ink and lasting memory:
They endeavor, for instance, to demonstrate that passion which, they say, happened in the case of the twelfth Aeon, from this fact, that the passion of the Savior was brought about by the twelfth apostle, and happened in the twelfth month. For they hold that He preached only for one year after His baptism. (Ireneaus, Against the Heresies, II, 20)[xvii]
According to the Pseudo-Clementine Writings Jesus had 12 disciples because the sun has 12 months; while John had 30 chief men symbolizing the days of a lunar month.
There was one John, a day-baptist, who was also, according to the method of combination, the forerunner of our Lord Jesus; and as the Lord had twelve apostles, bearing the number of the twelve months of the sun, so also he, John, had thirty chief men, fulfilling the monthly reckoning of the moon, in which number was a certain woman called Helena that not even this might be without a dispensational significance. (Clementine Homilies, 2.23)[xviii]
Although people soon began to see Jesus as a human figure, the sun symbolism nevertheless has influenced Christian art since its inception. In dozens of cathedrals across Europe and Africa, the center dome is decorated with a giant zodiac wheel, with Jesus in the center radiating light and his twelve apostles surrounding him in even sections. Even the “twelve stations of the cross,” which Christians believe represent twelve specific events during the Passion of Jesus, may be a residual influence of the beliefs of early Christian communities who saw Jesus as the sun of God passing through the twelve signs of the zodiac.
The similarities between Jesus and other religions and philosophies of the Greeks and Romans are much more difficult to ignore now that we’ve discovered that, rather than accidental coincidences, they are intentional astrological symbols. Further, there were at least some Christians who understood the symbols and viewed Jesus Christ in astrological terms. Do the basics of the gospel story come from the same source as the other sun-saviors? It would certainly help to explain a passage in the gospel of Luke that identifies Jesus’ herald, John the Baptist, as the prophet of the rising sun:
And you, little child, you shall be called Prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare a way for him, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the faithful love of our God in which the rising Sun has come from on high to visit us, to give light to those who live in darkness and shadow dark as death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:76)
If constellations and the movements of the sun are the foundation for the biographical framework of the sun myth, how can we explain the similarities between the gospel stories and myths about the other sun-saviors? Can we expand the idea of “diabolical mimicry” put forth by the church fathers, and claim that Satan put the sun and the planets in orbit in just such a way as to cast suspicion on the later ministry of Jesus Christ? Is Satan then, the real creator of the universe?
Conclusions and Summary
Although most people consider sun-worship to be a superstitious and primitive practice, the truth is that we still worship the sun. Sitting your kids down in front of Peter Pan, Narnia or the Lion King is no different from attending a re-enactment of the adventures of Horus or Hercules 2,000 years ago. Harry Potter defeats his enemies with magic spells, and Jesus Christ overcomes his foes with miracles, but the symbolism from both stories comes from an ancient sun myth. Most of the world now takes “Sun Day” off as a day of rest, although the Jewish Sabbath was Saturday. (The practice of closing business on Sunday was enacted by Constantine in 321 AD and forms the basis of subsequent Christian legislation in this area.)
Even if the similarities between Jesus and pagan gods were accidental, how can we reconcile the evidence that many early Christians themselves worshiped Jesus as the sun? As we’ve seen, besides the many passages found in the Bible, there is also non-biblical evidence that Jesus was originally considered a sun myth by his followers.
If these events in the life of Jesus were taken from solar mythology, was the sun used as a metaphor to enhance Jesus’ saving role? Or, conversely, was Jesus the metaphor – establishing a new current of sun-worship among the traditionally exclusivist Jews?
Some modern Christian communities, familiar with Christianity’s inclusion of pagan symbolism, simply cut those features out of their worship. December 25th was not Jesus real birthday, they counter, but that doesn’t change his role as spiritual guide and savior. If we let go of the biographical details of the historical Jesus that are similar to solar worship, can we maintain, at the very least, the spiritual image of Jesus? Jesus as the first born, pre-existing son of god; Jesus as the forgiver of sins, as our spiritual comfort and companion; Jesus as the Word of God – the creator and sustainer of the universe? To answer this question, we need to dig deeper into the roots of Christianity’s spiritual claims and those of external religious traditions so we can see just how tightly they are wound together.
[i]Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians: Power and Magic(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 28.
[ii]Pam Eastlick, “Argo Navis,”
[iii] Quoted in Jan Assmann, Moses the Egyptian, 84.
[iv]Jan Assmann, Moses the Egyptian, 64-65.
[v] Edward Carpenter, Pagan & Christian Creeds : Their Origin and Meaning (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920; NuVision Publications, digital rpt. 2007), 20.
[vi]Hans Andréa, http://www.harrypotterforseekers.com/.
[vii] John J. Miller, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Aslanmas?”,
[viii]As cited in R.E. Witt, Isis in the Ancient World, 220.
[ix] Malik H. Jabbar, The Astrological Foundation of the Christ Myth (Dayton, OH: Rare Books Distributor, 1995), 37.
[x] David Ulansey, The Mithraic Mysteries, http://www.well.com/~davidu/sciam.html
[xi] David Ulansey, The Mithraic Mysteries, http://www.well.com/~davidu/sciam.html
[xii]Walter Burkert, Ancient Mystery Cults, 84.
[xiii]Ken Dowden, Religion and the Romans, 78.
[xiv]Cited by Jan Assmann, Moses the Egyptian, 202.
[xv] Cited in Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion(Orlando: Harcourt, 1987), 75.
[xvi] Joscelyn Godwin,Mystery Religions, 99.
[xvii] Available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103220.htm.
[xviii]Available at http://www.compassionatespirit.com/Homilies/Book-2.htm.