Etymology – Latin “Fishes”
The constellation of Pisces, while familiar to many as part of the Greek or Western Zodiac is also one of the earliest known signs. This constellation lies between Aquarius to the west and Aries to the east. While fairly large, Pisces is a faint constellation that can be difficult to spot in the night sky. Pisces is often seen as a pair of fish swimming in opposite directions and connected either at the tails or by a piece of cord or rope. Despite being a constellation that heralds the Spring, Pisces is a constellation best seen during Autumn and as such, it has the nickname of the Autumn Dipper.
Astronomy & Astrology
Much of the foundations of Western knowledge regarding the fields of Astronomy and Astrology owe its roots to Ancient Mesopotamian cultures. Many ancient cultures studied the stars, seeing in them patterns that are called constellations. These ancient astronomers were able to make predictable, annual turnings of the heavens that they could divide and mark for the passing of the Seasons and time. For the ancients, Astrology served as a precursor to Astronomy and they believed that by studying the heavens, they could foretell future events and even a person’s life path.
These ancient cultures would also meet and exchange ideas frequently and in this fashion, when the Greeks encountered the Persians, there was an exchange of knowledge regarding Astronomy that becomes the constellations and zodiacs so many know today. Eventually, there is no clear distinction between what ancient Mesopotamian Astronomers and Greeks Philosophers knew. Or who influenced who regarding the stories and myths behind the constellations. Even in current, modern times, the influence of these ancients is still known.
The Pisces constellation is Latin for “fish,” referring to the plural form of the word. This constellation is one of 48 constellations that were identified by Ptolemy, an astronomer who lived during the second century. In modern times, Pisces is one of 88 known constellations and it lies between the constellations of Triangulum, Andromeda, Pegasus, Aquarius, Cetus and Aries. It is used to mark the end of the zodiac calendar and the Vernal or Spring Equinox. Many of the constellations bordering with Pisces are water-related and are located in an area of the sky known as the Sea or Water.
The constellation we know as Pisces is made up of two Babylonian constellations Zibatti-meš (or Šinunutu4 “the great swallow”) that’s the eastern part of Pisces and KU6 (“the fish, Ea,” Piscis Austrinus), presumably the western part. In the first Millennium B.C.E. texts known as the Astronomical Diaries, part of the Pisces constellation was called DU.NU.NU (Rikis-nu.mi, “the fish cord or ribbon”). There’s some speculation on the part of others that this constellation may have been misinterpreted and turned around so that the northern fish borders with Andromeda instead of being part of Piscis Austrinus.
There’s some thought that this constellation may have represented the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, major landmarks of Mesopotamian maps.
In Chinese Astrology, the constellation of Pisces is actually “broken up” to be part of several constellations. There is Wai-ping, the “Outer Enclosure” that is seen as a fence that keeps a pig farmer from falling into some marshes or cesspit and kept the pigs where they belong. This constellation is represented by the line of stars: Alpha, Delta, Epsilon, Zeta, Mu, Nu, and Xi Piscium. Five stars which include Eta Piscium formed Yougeng, representing the farmer. The marshes or cesspit are represented by the four stars designated Phi Ceti found in the constellation Cetus.
Another constellation called Pili, representing a thunderbolt is formed from a zig-zagging chain of stars from Beta to Iota to Omega Piscium. To the south of this is the constellation Yunyu, formed of four stars representing a cloud and rain. These are just over the western constellation of Pegasus.
In the north part of Pisces, the seven stars that include: Chi, Phi, Upsilon and Tau Piscium the bottom part of a loop-shaped figure known as Kui, after the 15th lunar mansion, the House of the Sandal or Koui-siou. The majority of Kui rests and is found in what westerners know as Andromeda.
Another series of stars, 27, 29, 30 and 33 Piscium, mark the end of another constellation known as Leibizehn, representing a series of fortifications that cross through the Aquarius and Capricornus constellations.
Other names for the Pisces constellation or the ones it is part of are the Dark Warrior, the Northern Emperor and the Pig. After Christian Missionaries made their way to China, the constellation has been known by its western name and called the Two Fishes.
The ancient Egyptian knew of Pisces, seeing in it a creation story and the “fish of the Nile.” The symbol of Pisces’ two fish has been found on the lid to an Egyptian sarcophagi dating back to 2300 BCE.
A story from Germany tells the story of greedy humans and a wealth-giving fish. It’s a story I remember reading back in grade school. In this story, a man named Antenteh, who was very poor and his wife lived in a small cabin by the sea. Their only possessions they had were the cabin and a tub that they filled with feathers to at least have somewhere to rest and sleep.
One day, Antenteh caught a fish that struggled to get free as he pulled it up in his fishing nets. To Antenteh’s amazement, the fish spoke to him, telling Antenteh that he is actually an enchanted prince. The fish told Antenteh that if he released him, he could have anything that he wanted. In the story I read back in school, the fish gives Antenteh three wishes.
Antenteh whose needs are simple and feeling honored at having rescued such an important person, refused to accept anything from the enchanted prince. On getting home, Antenteh found that wasn’t to be the case. His wife became very angry for not taking advantage of the opportunity and Antenteh found himself returning to the sea shore and called for the fish.
Luckily for Antenteh, the fish came and an embarrassed Antenteh told the fish how the wife wanted a house and furniture for it. The fish told him not to worry and that he would take care of everything. Returning home, Antenteh found that his cabin was now a fine house. Now if Antenteh’s wife hadn’t been so greedy, everything probably would have been fine.
As time progressed, Antenteh’s wife demanded more. She wanted to be a queen and to have a palace and this wish was granted. Still not satisfied, she demanded to become a goddess. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back in this case and the fish now angry at the increasing demands, made everything that Antenteh had been given and wished for vanish and he and his wife were back to having their old cabin and tub full of feathers to sleep in.
In the version of the story that I had read, everything vanishes when the wife makes a fourth wish beyond the third one. It’s still a good cautionary tale about not being too greedy and to learn to be happy with what you’ve got.
The Grecian story of Pisces has some relation to the story of Capricorn.
Typhon, a monstrous god attacked the Gods when they were down by the Nile River. In some tellings of the story, the Gods where there in exile or that just happens to be where they were at for one of their many battles with Typhon. In either eventuality, Aphrodite and her son Eros were among the gods along the Nile River’s banks when Typhon appeared to do battle. While Zeus and a couple of other gods fought it out with Typhon, Aphrodite and Eros had leapt into the river, changing into a pair of fish so they could make their escape. In other accounts of the story, Aphrodite and Eros tied themselves together with a rope so they wouldn’t get separated.
Another account of this story places the riverbank that the gods were walking along as being the Euphrates River and not the Nile River. There is also a very similar story found in a Manilius’ five-volume poetic work Astronomica in which the fish that become the constellation of Pisces carried Aphrodite and Eros away to safety.
Keeping with the Euphrates River connection, when an egg fell into this river, a pair of fish pushed it to the shore where doves then sat on the egg to hatch it. When it hatched, Aphrodite came out of the egg. In a show of gratitude, the goddess placed the fish up into the sky to become the constellation Pisces. Through these connections of the myth, Pisces is also known as “Venus et Cupido,” “Venus Syria cum Cupidine,” Venus cum Adone,” “Dione,” and “Veneris Mater.”
Where the constellation of Capricorn was set in the sky to commemorate the humorous half goat, half fish form of Pan when he tried to escape; the constellation that has come to be known as Pisces also commemorates this event of Aphrodite and Eros’ forms as the now familiar Pisces. Also, for those keeping track of the different stories and legends, the Greek story of Pisces came about a hundred years before the Christian account and use of the Pisces constellation.
Judeo-Christian Mythology & Religion
The Jewish holiday of Purim happens around this time. By the Jewish Calendar, Purim happens at the full moon in Adar. For those following the Gregorian Calendars, this is sometime around February and March and the exact date can vary from year to year.
Among Christians, the story of the birth of Christ is said to have happened at the Spring Equinox entering into Pisces and why the “Savior of the World” is known as the Fisher of Men. And this is to parallel the entering into the Age of Pisces.
For those who study astrology, the astrological age is a period of time that is indicative of the kinds of major events of history on the Earth, showing the level of progression or development overall of cultures, politics and people. You determine the astrological ages by the progression of the equinoxes and one complete cycle of processions is called a Great Year or Platonic Year which takes about 25,920. If you remember the so called Mayan End Times and date of December 21st, 2012, that was merely the end of their long count Calendar. There can also be a lot of confusion as to just when an Astrological Age is to begin or end as a few different people such as Neil Mann, Heindel Rosicrucian and Shephard Simpson who all have different interpretations to when they begin or end.
This gains significance when you look at the age of Pisces as beginning in 1 C.E. and that it will end in 2150 C.E. The story of Christ’s birth coincides with this time and there are a number of early Christian symbols that use the Pisces symbol of fish. For some, they will point out how Christ is said to have the traits of a Pisces. Then you have the twelve apostles who were told, “Come with me and I will make ye fishers of men.” Early Christians are said to have called themselves “little fishes” and even either the name of the early church or a code name for Jesus was the Greek word for fish, “Ikhthues.” Even Saint Peter is seen as the apostle of the Piscean sign.
Pisces has also been referred to as the “dying god.” Its opposite sign on the Zodiac is Virgo and among Christians, this is the Virgin Mary. Some scholars have gone further with making a connection of Pisces and Christ in scripture, citing Luke 22:10 in which Jesus tells his disciples: “Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you bearing a pitcher of water… follow him into the house where he entereth in.” that the age to come after Pisces is the Age of Aquarius as the constellation of Aquarius is a man carrying a vase or pitcher of water.
The connection of Pisces to the early Christian religion and symbolism has a stronger tie with the famous story for the “Loaves and Fishes Miracles” where Christ was able to feed the large group of people who followed him.
It’s an interesting look and view point of matching Christianity to the Zodiac.
Many scholars believe that the Greek and Roman versions of the story regarding Pisces come to us from Syria. Here, fish were seen as divine beings and the reports differ if they refused to eat fish altogether or just the ones from Chalos River.
In the Syrian myths, two fish known as Ikhthyes are the ones who rescue Aphrodite and her son Eros. Another myth tells how a large, mysterious egg appeared on the Euphrates River and two fish or half-fish, half-men named Aphros and Bythos brought the egg ashore and hatched it. Once it hatched, out came Ataratheh, whom the ancient Romans and Greeks would have identified with their respective goddess of Venus and Aphrodite.
Ataratheh is the Syrian goddess of love and fertility. She was often portray and known as the mermaid goddess. Looking at her origin story and that of Aphrodite’s, they are very similar and it could have been easy for the myths of this goddess to move northward into Greece and then Roman where those two cultures adapted her to their pantheons.
A Fish By Any Other Name Is Still A Fish
Pisces was known by the Babylonians as Nunu, by the Persians as Mahik, and the Turks as Balik, all of which mean “Fish” in their respective languages.
The Arabs also knew of Pisces as Al Samakatain, or “the Two Fishes.”
The Syrians viewed fish as sacred animals and refused to eat them.
Originally, only one fish was referred to by many of the older languages for this sign.
The Pisces constellation was also known by the Mayans who saw in it’s shape a bat instead of fish.
Alpha Piscium is the name of one star found within the Pisces constellation. In Arabic, it is known as “Al-Rischa,” meaning “the well rope” or “the cord.” The astrologer Ptolemy described Alpha Piscium as the point where the cords holding the two fish were knotted together. The astrological symbol of Pisces shows the two fish as being caught on string either by the mouth or tails. The fish are often shown as swimming in opposite directions and for those who look as Astrology and the Zodiac, this is seen to represent a duality with Piscean personalities.
Beta Piscium is known as Fum al Samakah, an Arabic phrase meaning: “mouth of the fish.”
The star or asterism known as Omicron Piscium is also called Torcularis septentrionalis. This name is Latin, meaning “the northern press.” There is some suggestion that this press is to be a grape or olive press. If that were the case, it is no longer certain.
In Chinese astronomy, this star is part of a group of stars known as Yòu Gèng, meaning “Official in Charge of Pasturing.”
There are two annual meteor showers that happens every year between the end of Augst and mid-October. The Piscid meteor shower has about 15 meteors per hour and they have been clocked up to 28 kilometers per hour. The other is the Gamma Piscid meteor shower. Of course, successful watching of these meteor showers depends on having a dark night sky.
The constellation of Pisces is considered in the heavens during the Vernal Equinox which is generally around March 21st. The Equinox is the time of year when day and night are at equal lengths of time.
In the Northern Hemisphere, with the Spring Equinox, we see the days begin to get longer and longer until the Summer Solstice before the yearly rotation around the sun and axel tilt makes them appear to grow shorter again.
For the Southern Hemisphere, it is the opposite for them, it is the Autumn Equinox and the days will be getting shorter and shorter until the Winter Solstice and the Earth’s rotation and Axel tilt changes.
In the Greek Zodiac, Pisces marks the first spot of the Zodiac Calendar of which there are twelve Zodiac signs in all. Though many Zodiac Calendars that place Pisces as the twelfth and last sign of the Zodiac. For those who study and are into the classical Greek Zodiacs, this time is typically said to be from February 20 to March 21, right about the time that many Pagans celebrate Ostara. Under the old Roman calendar, March 21 marked the beginning of the New Year. The best time of year to see this constellation is during November about 9 p.m.
Before the discovery of the planet Neptune in 1846, the planet Venus had been the ruling planet. Neptune is now the ruler due to the association of it’s name with the Roman god of the sea, Neptune. In current, modern times, the planets Jupiter and Neptune are said to rule this Zodiacal sign and constellation. Its element is Water, an introverted sign and is one of four mutable signs.
Pisces people can be seen as having a duality to their lives. This duality is due the perception or belief that Pisces people are seekers of enlightenment and tend to pursue matters of an intellectual and spiritual nature. They are generally viewed as being perceptive, emotional and reasonable. While they can be sensitive and sympathetic, they can also become over sensitive towards others or be very self indulged in the pursuit of their own pleasures. A Pisces person is thought to be someone who likes to sit on the edge of social gatherings and not get in the middle of things. They can be viewed as being indecisive, passive, weak-willed as they don’t want to offend anybody, over-talkative, possibly confused about issues and this is just due to their flexible natures as they like to hear both sides of an issue and at the same time, they don’t want to offend anyone by taking “too harsh of a stance.” A good point about Pisces is their artistic natures, which again can get them into trouble if they seem to be drift-less and not well grounded.