Category Archives: Twins
Pleiades Star Lore Around The World
For many tribes in the African continent, the Pleiades mark the beginning of the agricultural season.
East Africa – In the Swahili language, the Pleiades are called: “kilimia” which means to “dig” or “cultivate.” The Pleiades appearance in the heavens is seen as being time to start digging or the arrival of rain.
North Africa – The Tuareg Berbers call the Pleiades by the name of: Cat ihed, pronounced as: shatt ihedd or Cat ahăḍ, pronounced as: shat ahadd. The name means “daughters of the night” in the Berber language. Other Berber tribes have called the Pleiades star cluster by other names such as: Amanar “the guide” and Tagemmunt “the group.”
The Tuareg Berber have a proverb that translates into English as:
“When the Pleiades fall, I wake up looking for my goatskin bag to drink. When the Pleiades rise, I wake up looking for a cloth to wear.”
It is a proverb that takes note of the changing of the seasons to prepare for the heat of summer and the colder weather that the rainy season brings.
South Africa – The Basotho call the Pleiades “Seleme se setshehadi” meaning the “female planter.” When the Pleiades leave the night sky around April, the Basotho’s tenth month, along with the appearance of the star Achernar marks the beginning of their cold season. Like many South African cultures, the Pleiades are associated with agriculture and plenty. The Khoikhoi tribe call the Pleiades by the name of Khuseti, the stars of rain or rain bearers.
The Pleiades star cluster is known by several names among many tribes.
Karatgurk – In the stories told by the Wurundjeri of Victoria, Australia, the Pleiades represent a group of seven sisters known as the Karatgurk. They were the first to hold the secrets of fire and each of the sisters carried live coals on the end of their digging stick. The sisters refused to share the coals with anyone and eventually were tricked into giving up the secret of fire to Crow who in turn brought the gift of fire to the rest of humanity. As to the sisters, they were taken up into the night sky where their glowing fire sticks became the stars of the Pleiades cluster.
Kidili – A moon god of the Mandjindja from Western Australia, he had tried to rape some of the first women on Earth. In retaliation, the lizard men, Wati-kutjara attacked and castrated him using a boomerang before leaving him to die in a watering hole. As for the women, they became the Pleiades star cluster.
Kungkarungkara – They are the ancestral women in the lore of the Pitjantjatjara tribe.
Makara – According to the Adnyamathanha tribe, the Makara (The Pleiades) are the wives of stars within the Orion constellation.
Napaltjarri – From Central Australia, they were seven sisters being chased by Jilbi Tjakamarra. He had attempted to use love magic on one of the sisters. She refused Jilbi’s advances and she and her sisters fled from him. They fled all the way to Uluru where they searched for honey ants. While there, the sisters again saw Jilbi and they went to Kurlunyalimpa and the other spirits of Uluru who transformed the sisters into stars. In response, Jilbi transformed himself into the Morning Star seen in Orion’s Belt where he continues to chase after the seven sisters.
The Seven Sisters And The Faithful Lovers – In this story of the Koori’s Dreamtime, the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters were a group of seven beautiful ice maidens. Their parents were huge mountain whose peaks were hidden by the clouds and an ice-cold stream who flowed from some snow covered hills. The Seven Sisters would wander the land, their long hair flowing out behind them like storm clouds. Their beauty was so great, that many men loved them, but the sisters were always cold in returning any affections.
One day, a man by the name of Wurrunnah, caught two of the sisters and forced them to live with him while the others continued on their journey home to the sky. Wurrunnah soon found that the sisters he caught were ice-maidens and took them to his camp fire in order to try and melt the ice off of them. This only served to put out his fire and dimming the brightness of the two sisters.
The two sisters were very lonely and sad by their captivity and every night, they would look up to the night sky where they could see their sisters calling for them. One day, Wurrunnah told the two sisters to go out and gather some pine bark. After a short trip, the two came to a big pine tree where they began with stripping the bark off of it.
As they stripped bark off the pine, whose totem was the same totem as the sisters, it began to extend upward towards the sky. The two sisters saw their opportunity and climbed up the tree to their home in the sky with their sisters. The two sisters never did regain their full brightness in the heavens and is why two of the Pleiades are dimmer than the others. The journey of the seven sisters is remembered every time it snows.
The Berai Berai Brothers And The Seven Sisters – Another story told of the Seven Sisters is that when they were on earth, of all the men in love with their beauty, the Berai Berai or two brothers were the most devoted. They always brought all the choicest catches from their hunts to the Sisters as an offering and token of their love. This love was not returned and when the Sisters wandered away, up to the mountains, the Berai Berai followed after them.
After the Sisters left for their journey to the sky, the Berai Berai mourned. A grave depression fell upon them that they eventually died. The spirits of the Dreamtime took pity on the brothers and placed them up in the sky, up where they could hear the Sisters sing. On clear nights, the Berai Berai can be seen, represented by the stars that form Orion’s Sword and Belt.
The name for this constellation in Lithuanian is Sietynas and Sietiņš in Latvian. Both of which have a root word: sietas meaning “a sieve.” In both Latvian and Lithuanian folk talks, the Pleiades constellation is shown as an inanimate object, a sieve that is stolen by the devil from the god of thunder or it is used to bring light rain by the thunder god’s wife and children. In some Lithuanian folk songs, Sietynas is depicted as a benevolent brother who helps orphaned girls to marry or he helps walk soldiers across fields.
Ben Raji Mythology
Living in western Nepal and northern India, the semi-nomadic Ban Raji refer to the Pleiades as the “Seven Sisters-In-Law and One Brother-In-Law” or “Hatai halyou daa salla.” For the Ban Raji, when the Pleiades rise up over the mountains at night, they see their ancient kinfolk. The timing for the appearance of the Pleiades over the Nepali mountains along the Kali River, marks when it is 8 p.m. local time.
Bronze Age And Celtic Mythology
In Bronze Age Europe, the Celts and possibly others may have associated the Pleiades with grief, mourning and funerals. At this period of time and history, the time of the Autumn Equinox and Solstice would have occurred around the time that the Pleiades star cluster rose in the eastern skyline as the sun set. The precession of the constellations over the centuries and millennia would have since changed for the timing of the Equinox and Solstice celebrations. This Solstice celebration is possibly a predecessor to the modern Halloween, Samhain and All Souls Day celebrations. While a good many Pagan and Wiccan sites are quick to point out such a connection, more secular sites don’t necessarily see a connection. What seems more plausible is that it does have connections as a Harvest Festival and the end of the harvest season before winter comes.
An artifact discovered in 1999 called the Nebra Sky Disc, due to where it was found in Nebra, Saxony-Anhalt in Germany, shows the Pleiades star cluster on it along with the Sun and Moon. Two golden arcs on the disk mark the solstices. It has been dated to somewhere around 1600 B.C.E. and part of the Bronze Age Unetice culture. Unlike the megaliths of much of Europe, the Nebra Sky Disc is a portable astronomical instrument.
Aztecs – The Aztecs based the beginning of year on the appearance of the Pleiades asterism when it rises in the east before the sun’s morning light became too bright. They called this star cluster by the name of Tianquiztli, meaning “marketplace.”
The Aztecs were very good astronomers and kept careful track of the heavens. Their calendar was based on a 52-year cycle. The Pleiades were carefully watched to make sure the world wouldn’t end. At the end of each 52-year cycle, the Aztecs held a religious ceremony to ensure the rebirth of the sun and continued movement of the heavens. The Aztecs strongly believed their ceremony would prevent demons of darkness from coming to the Earth and devouring mankind. For this, they offered up to the gods human sacrifices.
Mayan – During colonial times, the Pleiades were used to track the time by diving up the night.
An epic legend tells the story of the Pleiades star cluster. There had been a long standing feud between the heavenly twins Hun-Apu and Xbalanque and a giant named Zipacna. With the help of several other youth, the twins pretended that they were building a house. They started with digging a large hole in the ground. As they were digging, Zipacna came along and asked what they were doing.
The twins told Zipacna they were building a house but were having trouble with digging a hole for the foundation deep enough. Zipacna was persuaded to help and he went down into the hole. Once he was at the bottom of the hole, the twins and their helpers began to throw stones, dirt and tree trunks down on him. When the hole was completely filled in and everyone was certain that Zipacna must be dead, they continued to build a house over the spot marking his grave.
Unknown to the twins, Zipacna was still alive. Yes he had been knocked out by the weight of everything piled and thrown on him. Once he had regained consciousness, he lay there and waited, pretending to be dead until the house was completed.
With the house completed and everyone inside celebrating, Zipacna made his move. Throwing up his shoulders, Zipacna’s great strength allowed him fling the house up into the sky towards the heavens. There, the twins and everyone with them became the Pleiades, unable to get back down to the earth.
Monte Alto Culture – This also includes other cultures such as Takalik Abaj and Ujuxte who are known to have made early observatories. They used the Pleiades stars and Eta Draconis as references in the night sky. The Pleiades are called “The Seven Sisters” and thought to be where they originated from.
To the Chinese, the Pleiades are known as Mao, the Hairy Head of the White Tiger of the West. The Pleiades seem to be the first stars mentioned in astronomical literature, appearing in the Annals of 2357 B.C.E. Aside from the name Mao, the Pleiades are also known as The Blossom Stars and Flower Stars.
The ancient Egyptians recorded seven stars within Pleiades. Some scholars believe that the seven chambers of the Great Pyramid represent the seven stars of Pleiades.
The goddess Hathor has an interesting take in her role and aspect as a Mother goddess for it was believed by the ancient Egyptians that “Seven Hathors” would appear at the birth of a new baby, foretelling his fate. The reason they’re mentioned is that during the Ptolemaic Period, when Egypt was under Greek rule, the Seven Hathors became identified with the Pleiades star cluster.
Aside from Hathor, the Pleiades also represented the goddess Net or Neith, the “Divine Mother and Lady of Heaven.”
French History And Literature
La Pléiade is a post-Renaissance literary movement that references the Pleiades constellation and seven poets from the Alexandrian period during the reign of Ptolemy II. The La Pléiade title has been used by two groups of poets from Toulouse during the beginning of the 14th century and another group founded by Pierre de Ronsard in 1553. Their goal was to promote the classical literature of Greek and Rome with translations rather a perceived, outdated use of Latin. While the group were not known for being innovators, they did provide the foundations of French Classicism.
The Pleiades were considered by some ancient Greek astronomers, such as Eudoxus of Cnidos to be a distinct constellation separate from Taurus. This asterism is mentioned of by Hesiod and Homer in the Iliad and Odyssey. The ancient Greek text Geoponica mentions the rising of the Pleiades cluster. The Greek temples of Hecatompedon, built in 550 B.C.E. and Parthenon, built in 438 B.C.E. are oriented to the rising of the Pleiades.
For the Greeks, the setting of the Pleiades around October and November was a time to bring their ships in to port and to plow and sow their lands. Hesiod makes mention of the Pleiades numerous times in his “Works and Days,” alluding to their importance as a time of stormy weather and planting. Greek sailors were known to consult the heavens for the appearance of the Pleiades before setting sail.
Orion And The Pleiades
The Greek story is perhaps the most well known to many Westerners about the Pleiades star cluster.
The Pleiades is a group of seven sisters whose father is the titan Atlas. As their story goes, the Pleiades were traveling with their mother Pleïone, through Boeotia when they encountered the Greek hero Orion. He expressed such a deep infatuation and interest in them that he relentlessly pursued the sisters and even their mother. And with their father Atlas now holding the earth up on his shoulders, this very likely encouraged Orion in his antics as he thought no one could stop him.
After running from Orion for seven years, the sisters became tired of such extreme harassment and pursuit. In their desperation, they appealed to Zeus who in response, placed them up in the heavens, specifically in the Taurus constellation where they would be protected by the mighty bull from Orion’s unwanted advances. In the accounts that include Pleïone being chased by Orion, she too is placed up in the heavens, this a further punishment for the titan Atlas to be separated from not only his wife, but daughters.
In the end, being placed up in the heavens doesn’t seem to have helped them much, for when Orion died, he too was immortalized up in the heavens as a constellation. He can be seen up there still chasing after the Pleiades.
Variations to this story say the Pleiades committed suicide after the death of their brother Hyas. Other versions say that when the sisters pleaded to the gods for mercy from Orion, they were changed first into doves and then later into stars.
If the Pleiades weren’t getting chased by Orion, then they became stars after committing suicide over the fate of their father Atlas. Or the loss of their siblings the Hyades and Hyas. After their death, the god Zeus placed the sisters up into the heavens to become the famous star cluster.
Companions Of Artemis
This version of the myth follows closely the more well-known story of the Pleiades being chased by Orion. The Pleiades were the companions of the virgin goddess Artemis. She wasn’t too happy with Orion when he came upon the Pleiades while playing. In his lust and infatuation, he chased the Pleiades. On their behalf, Artemis pleaded with Zeus to intervene and he did so by transforming the sisters into doves and then into stars, becoming out of reach of both Artemis and Orion. Zeus, not to be completely without compassion for his daughter, the path of the Moon passes between the Pleiades and Orion so that she has a chance to be reunited with her friends on a regular basis.
Contrarianism – Daughters Of An Amazon Queen
While many variations of the Greek myths regarding the Pleiades are similar, especially in regards to names and parentage; Theocritus’ Idylls, using references from Callimachus differs greatly from the more familiar myths. In the Idylls, the Pleiades are the daughters of an Amazon queen. Their names are: Coccymo, Glaucia, Lampado, Maia, Parthenia, Protis and Stonychia. The sisters are supposed to have created ritual dances and nighttime festivals.
Ancestors Of Dionysus
In Nonnus’ Dionysiaca, the Pleiades appeared as an omen of victory for Dionysus’ war against India. There is further mention that the pleiad Electra was the foster-mother of Harmonia, the grandmother of the Greek god Dionysus. And thus in a way, Electra can be seen as Dionysus’ ancestor.
Indian Astronomy And Mythology
The Pleiades are known by a number of different names such Karttikeya, Kṛttikā, Kārtikā, Kumara or Subrahmanya. In both Indian astronomy and Hindu astrology, the names Krttika and Kartika translate into English as: “the cutters.” Like the ancient Greeks, India has a number of different, varying and often conflicting stories of Kṛttikā.
Hindu Mythology – A story associated with this star cluster tells how the war-god Skanda was raised by six sisters known as Kṛttikā, making it so that one of his names he is known as is Kartikeya or “Son of the Kṛttikā.” Skanda or Kartikeya was born to Agni and Svāhā after the Kṛttikā had impersonated themselves as six of the seven wives of the Saptarshi in order to make love with Agni. When the Saptarshi learned of this incident, they began to doubt their wives’ chastity and divorced them. Since then, the wives were known as the Kṛttikā.
As the six Kṛttikā, they are seen as the mothers of Skanda, his six faces represent them. Slight variations to this say that Skanda developed his six faces in order to drink the milk from his six mothers.
Hindu Astrology – Kṛttikā is the third nakṣatras or lunar mansion out of twenty seven other naksatras. The Pleiades are known as the Star of Fire and one of the most prominent of nakshatras associated with anger and stubbornness. They are ruled by the Hindu god of war, Kartikeya. Another deity associated with Kṛttikā is Agni, a god of sacred fire. Additionally, it is ruled by the sun or Surya and has the symbols of a knife or spear. There is a Hindu tradition of naming children according to the naksatra they’re born under. Each naksatra will have four syllables associated with it that is used for that start of a child’s name.
Kumarasambhava – “The Birth of the War God”
In an epic poem written by Kalidasa from the 4th and 5th centuries C.E., the gods had wished for a god to born in order take on and kill the demon Taraka who had a geas or boon that he could only be killed by a son of Shiva.
The problem, is that Shiva was deep in his meditations and not at all interested to his wife Parvati. That is, at least not until Kama, the god of love struck Shiva with an arrow. Now, after having practice abstinence for so long, Shiva’s virility was incredibly potent and the other gods fear what would happen. So they took Shiva’s seed and dropped it into a fire. It is from this, that the god Skanda, whose name means: “Spurt of Semen.”
Tamil Mythology – The Pleiades are known as Karthigai, they were the six wives of six Rishis, represented by the stars of Ursa Major. The seventh was known as Arunthadhi, associated with the star Alcor. She is the wife of Vasistha, the seventh Rishi or Sage. He is associated with the star Alcyone. Another name of the Karthigai is Saptha Kanni, meaning the “Seven Virgins.”
A variation to this story is that the Krttika had all lived together up in the heavens. One day, Agni, the god of fire fell in love with the seven Karthigai or Krttika. In trying to forget his love for them, Agni wandered the forest until he met Svaha, the star Zeta Tauri.
Svaha was immediately infatuated with Agni and disguised herself as one of the Krttika in order to seduce him. Agni truly believed he had made love with one of the Krttika. Svaha became pregnant and gave birth to Skanda.
As soon as Skanda was born, rumors began to circulate that one of the wives of the Rishis was his mother. This caused the Rishis to divorce their wives. Of them all, only Arundhati remained married. The other Krttika went on to become the Pleiades.
The Pleiades are known as Lintang Kartika in Javanese, it is a name that is from the Sanskrit word Kṛttikā, one of the nakṣatras in Hindu astrology.
In Japan, the Pleiades star cluster is known as Subaru, meaning “coming together,” “cluster” or “united.” The name and image are also the same name for a car manufacturer, Subaru.
Another name for the Pleiades is Mutsuraboshi, meaning “six stars.” This name dates from the 8th century Kojiki and Manyosyu documents. The Pleiades have also been called the Hoki Boshi, meaning “dab of paint on the sky” or “brush stars.”
A story found among the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean, tells the story of Dümur, the eldest son of Ligedaner who is the mother of all the stars. Ligedaner is identified as being the star Capella in the Auriga constellation, Dümur is identified as the star Antares and the youngest son is identified as Pleiades.
Ligedaner’s sons came down from the vault of Heaven to visit with her where she lived on the atoll Alinablab. While there, a contest was proposed that who ever was the first to reach a certain island somewhere out in the East would be named the King of Stars.
The contest was agreed to and the sons prepared themselves to take off to claim the title of King. Ligedaner asked Dümur to take her with him in his canoe. Dümur refused as he saw that his mother wanted to take as many things with her as she could and thereby slow down the canoe with its weight.
Ligedaner asked each of her sons in turn to take her with them in their canoes and each in turned refused. Until she got to her youngest son, Pleiades who finally accepted her request to go with him. Ligedaner had seven objects she was taking with her and as she got into the canoe, she instructed Pleiades where to load and place each object.
When they were finally loaded up, Pleiades took his place to start rowing. He was surprised to find that instead of being weighed and slowed down by all the objects, that his canoe shot out into the water with great ease nor did he have to use his oars. The seven objects it turned out, had been previously unknown sail rigging and with his canoe driven by the wind, it took no time at all to catch up with his brothers.
As Pleiades’ canoe caught up with Dümur’s canoe, Dümur demanded, on his rights as the first-born son that his youngest brother hand over his canoe to him. Dismayed, Pleiades complied with the demands. Ligedaner proceeded to play a rather mean trick on Dümur by turning the canoe around and then when she jumped with Pleiades into the sea, she took with her the yardarm. Together, Ligedaner and Pleiades swam on towards the island to the East.
Dümur found that in order to sail Pleiades’ canoe, he had to fasten the sail to his shoulders, causing him to become bent over. By the time Dümur reached the island, he found that his youngest brother Pleiades and Ligedaner had beaten him there already and that Pleiades now claimed the title of King of the Stars. Angry, Dümur desired to never see his brother Pleiades again. This separation fo Dümur and Pleiades can be seen in the night sky of the Southern Hemisphere as when Pleiades rises in the East, Dümur (as the star Antares) sets in the West. The bent back of Dümur is also seen represented by the curved line formed by the stars outlining the bent body of Scorpius.
Ancient Greek Spelling: Νεφελη
Alternate Spellings: Nefeli
Etymology – From the Greek word: nephos, meaning “cloud” or “cloudy.” The latinized spelling is nubes.
Nephele is an interesting character found in Greek Mythology. We first hear of her in the story of Ixion. Yes, that Ixion who is the first murderer in Greek Myths; who also puts some unwanted moves on Zeus’ wife Hera. When Hera complained, Zeus fashioned a cloud in Hera’s likeness in order to catch Ixion in the act.
As previously mentioned in the story of Ixion, Nephele is the name of the cloud that Zeus fashions in Hera’s likeness in order to catch Ixion in the act of some unwanted moves.
Mother Of The Centaurs
Nephele is the mother of the Centaurs when she is raped by Ixion who thought she was the goddess Hera. She either gives birth to Centaurus, who is an ugly deformed child that goes on to be the progenitor of the centaurs or Nephele gives birth directly to the centaurs as a race. Either way, Ixion and Nephele do ultimately sire the centaur race.
In the version of the story where Ixion is bound to a flaming wheel in Tartarus, the resulting centaurs that are born were left on Mount Pelion where the Centaur-God Chiron and his daughters took them in to raise. In this lineage, the Centaurs are sometimes referred to as the Ixionidae or as Nubigenae, meaning cloud-born and connecting them to Nephele as their mother.
Hercules Versus The Centaurs
In one of many of Hercules adventures, he does battle against the Centaurs. Nephele is commented by a Diodorus Siculus in his Library of History, to have sent a heavy rain to make the ground more treacherous for those who relied on two legs to walk instead of four like her centaur children.
Goddess In Her Own Right
Nephele, when she is acknowledged as having a name in the Greek Myths, is mentioned as being a Cloud Nymph and like all Nymphs, they are minor goddesses. While being forces and personifications of nature, Nymphs were not as powerful as the other major Greek Deities. Given the story with how Nephele helped her centaur children and later two more children of hers, Phrixus and Helle, she has to have had some power and significance.
Because of her origins in the story of Ixion, Nephele is often seen as being a clone and copy of the goddess Hera.
It’s just possible, that like Chiron, as Greek culture and influence spread of the twelve major Olympian gods, that Nephele’s status and power as a goddess in her own right diminished to her being a Nymph and Clone of Hera.
The First Wife Of Athamas
After the incident involving her with Ixion, there becomes a problem over a matter of a lot of confusion not only with Nephele herself, but the other Olympian gods. In the stories where Nephele is a clone of Hera, there is a huge case of mistaken identity as she was constantly mistaken for Zeus’ wife. Adding to this, Nephele would hide in corners where she would constantly break out into tears. This didn’t work as any of the Gods passing by would keep asking her what the matter was, thinking she was Hera.
Fed up with this, Zeus eventually married Nephele off to the Boeotian King, Athamas in order to be rid of her. All went well until the birth of her two children, Phrixus and Helle when she falls into another state of depression and would turn into a raining cloud.
In turn, Athamas was fed up and started having an affair with Ino, the sister of Semele whom Zeus was also having a current affair with. Eventually Athamas divorced Nephele for Ino and the Cloud Nymph returned to Olympus.
Phrixus And Helle
With Athamas, Nephele is the mother of the twins, Phrixus and Helle. There is a third child, Makistos, though it is the twins who have more of a place in myth and legends.
Because Athamas had divorced and remarried, Phrixus and Helle found themselves with a stepmother who hated them and devised a plan in order to get rid of the two.
This plan of Ino’s involved roasting all of the town’s crop seeds so they wouldn’t grow. The resulting famine caused all of the farmers to go running scared, seeking out the help of a nearby oracle. Unknown to the Farmers and others, Ino had already bribed the men at the Oracle to tell the farmers that they needed to sacrifice Phrixus.
Before the farmers could follow through on the sacrifice, Phrixus and Helle were rescued by a flying golden ram sent by their mother Nephele.
The twins were told not to look down towards the Earth on their flight from Boeotia. Unfortunately, Helle did look down and fell off the ram into the Hellespont, a narrow strait near Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea with the Sea of Marmara. Helespont incidentally is named after Helle for this is where she is to have drowned.
Phrixus survived the flight and made it to Colchis where King Aeetes took him in and treated him fondly, even so far as to give his daughter Chalciope in marriage to him. By way of thanks, Phrixus gave Aeetes the Golden Fleece off the ram. Aeetess hung the Golden Fleece from a tree in his kingdom. This is the same Golden Fleece that Jason, leader of the Argonauts would later come and take.
Etymology – The Twins
The constellation known as Gemini is one of twelve constellations that form and make up the classical Greek Zodiac. It is associated with the myth of Castor and Pollux, also known as the Dioscuri. It is also one of the few constellations that actually look like its namesake and what it’s to represent.
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.
Gemini is one of the oldest recognized constellations and was one of 48 constellations that were identified by Ptolemy, an astronomer who lived during the second century. In modern times, it is one of 88 known or recognized constellations. It is the 30th largest constellation of the night sky. The constellation of Gemini is also unique as it’s not just named for two twin heros, but has two stars found within it named for those same heroes. The planets Uranus and Pluto were discovered in Gemini. Bordering constellations to Gemini are Auriga, Cancer, Canis Minor, Lynx, Monoceros, Orion and Taurus.
The constellation of Gemini is one that can be seen with the naked eye. The easiest way to locate the constellation in the night sky is to find its two brightest stars Castor and Pollux. These two stars lay in an easterly direction from the familiar “V” shaped asterism of Taurus and the three stars of Orion’s belt. Another method is to mentally draw a line from the Pleiades star cluster located within Taurus and the brightest star in Leo, Regulus.
Gemini is represented by a pair of peacocks.
In Babylonian astronomy, the stars Castor and Pollux were known as the Great Twins, MUL.MASH.TAB.BA.GAL.GAL. The Great Twins were minor gods and known as Meshlamtaea and Lugalirra, each meaning respectively: “The One who has arisen from the Underworld” and the “Mighty King.” Both of these names are titles of Nergal, the major Babylonian god of plague and pestilence, who was king of the Underworld.
In some sources, the constellation of the Great Twins is believed to commemorate the friendship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu who adventured together and fought the gods in twelve adventures and a quest for immortality.
Another point of interest is that the symbol for Gemini was a pile of bricks and referred to the first city built and not just the twins. The Sumerian name for the lunar month that fell between May and June is Araḫ Simanu.
In Chinese astronomy, the stars that correspond to Gemini are located in two areas: the White Tiger of the West and the Vermillion Bird of the South. The stars known as Castor and Pollux are seen as Yin and Yang, an important concept and principle in Buddhism on how all things are connected and related.
The largest part of Gemini forms a constellation in Chinese known as Jing, meaning “Well.” It is sometimes called the Eastern Well is comprise of eight stars: Lambda, Zeta, 36, Epsilon, Xi, Gamma, Nu and Mu Geminorum. Together, these stars form the shape that resembles the Chinese character for “well.” Tthe 22nd Chinese lunar mansion is also called Jing after this constellation and is the widest of the 28 lunar mansions. The star known as Eta Geminorum, which is next to the Well is called Yue and represents a battle axe used for decapitating the corrupt and immoral.
The actual stars called Castor and Pollux are not part of Jing. They, along with Rho Geminorum are part of another constellation called Beihe, the Northern River. The Chinese constellation Nanhe that’s the Southern River is found in Canis Minor. Both of these constellations lay on the north and south along the ecliptic and were seen as gates or sentries. To either end of Beihe were Jishui and Jixin, each represented by a single star and represent the supply of water needed for winemaking and brewing and a pile of firewood used for cooking. Sun and Kistemaker identified these stars as Omicron and Phi Geminorum, though Kappa is also a good candidate for the latter.
The star Alhena is known as “the Third Star of the Well.” Another five stars from Theta to Kappa Geminorum and possibly Phi Geminorum were part of a constellation known as Wuzhuhou and represented five feudal lords or princes that acted as the Emperor’s advisors and teachers. Delta Geminorum was one of a triangle of stars along the ecliptic that formed Tianzun, a wine cup or water jar with three feet.
The last Chinese constellation found in or makes up part of the western Gemini is Shuiwei, the “water level.” It is a curved line of four stars, often seen as extending out from Canis Minor into Cancer. In some older versions, Shuiwei will be shown as the stars 68 to 85 Geminorum. All of which shows that over time, the Chinese constellations have changed and been altered.
Egyptian Mythology & Astronomy
The twin stars of Castor and Pollux formed an important part of Egyptian astronomy. They were represented by a pair of goats made mention of in the Ramissede Hour Tables that were used to keep track of time at any point during the night as the two stars followed each other. These two stars were known to rise at the dawn. The constellation Gemini can also represent Horus the older and Horus the younger. Or sometimes just the “Two Stars.”
In Greek mythology, the constellation of Gemini represents the twin heroes Castor and Polydeuces. They are also sometimes called Iabal and Ivbal. Together, the two are also known as the Dioscuri. In Latin, the twins are known as Gemini or Castores. And finally, they are also sometimes called the Tyndaridae or Tyndarids, in reference to their father and stepfather Tyndareus.
The two were born from an egg laid by Leda after she had been seduced or raped by the god Zeus in the guise of a swan. Slight variations to this story state that Polydeuces was the son of Zeus and that Castor was the son of Tyndareus, the king of Sparta. This explanation of the twins’ parentage is used to explain why Polydeuces is immortal and Castor is mortal. Either way, the two brothers were good friends who became gods, patrons of athletes and the protectors of sea goers and sailors for whom they could appear as St. Elmo’s fire. The two brothers also had twin sisters Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra, working out that the two sets of twins are Polydeuces and Helen and then Castor and Clytemnestra.
As demigods, Castor and Polydeuces held power over the winds and waves. Castor became famous as a horsemanship and Polydeuces was equally skilled and famous at boxing and his fighting prowess in battles. The two were even the students of the centaur Chiron and were raised by him. They would later join Jason and the Argonauts in their search for the Golden Fleece. Other exploits of theirs are joining the hunt of the Calydonian Boar.
In time, the two took wives, two daughters of the King of Sparta. Strangely enough, these two women were already married to the twins’ cousins Idas and Lynceus who are also twins themselves. In some accounts they don’t seem bothered by the fact that Castor and Polydeuces simply take off with the two women and settle down with them else where. Though in other accounts, this does cause a problem and a few years later, the two cousins join the twins on a joint raid for some cattle in Arcadia. They take their revenge on the twins when it came time to divide up the stolen cattle.
Idas had a solution involving cutting one of the cows up into four equal parts and said that whichever two pairs could completely finish their parts first could divide up the spoils. This took the twins off guard as they watched their cousins completely wolf down their quarters of the cow. Once finished, Idas and Lynceus then drove off with the entire stolen herd of cattle.
Tricked by their cousins, Castor and Polydeuces vowed to get even. A few days later they set off after their cousins to claim their share of the cattle. In the fight that followed, Idas killed Castor with a spear. Enraged at the loss of his brother, Polydeuces pursued his cousins. He managed to kill Lynceus in a single blow. Just as Idas was about to hurl a tombstone at Polydeuces, Zeus interceded, hurling a a thunderbolt at Idas and killing him.
His twin dead, Polydeuces, being the immortal son of Zeus, begged for death so he wouldn’t be separated from his brother. Not able to do such a thing, Zeus did the next best thing that he could and placed them together up in the heavens to form the Gemini constellation. In another variation to this ending, Polydeuces was given a choice by Zeus of spending all of his time on Mount Olympus or giving up half of his immortality to his brother Castor. Polydeuces choose the latter and thus enabled the twins to alternate between being on Olympus or in Hades. As symbols of immortality and death, the twins, like Hercules are also said to have been initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries.
Apollo and Heracles – Alternate Identification
Of course, not everyone identified the constellation of Gemini with Castor and Polydeuces. The ancient writer Aratus does refer to the constellation of Gemini as the twins but he doesn’t say who they were. A century later, Eratosthenes named them Castor and Polydeuces. Some like Hyginus and Ptolemy identified the stars with Apollo and Heracles, both half-brothers and sons of Zeus, though they aren’t twins. Ptolemy referred to the stars Castor and Polydeuces as “the star of Apollo” and “the star of Heracles” respectively. A reference found in Ptolemy’s more obscure Tetrabiblos that is about astrology. Additionally, several ancient star maps portray the constellation of Gemini as Apollo and Heracles. One example is Bode’s Uranographia which shows Apollo carrying a lyre and arrow while Heracles is shown carrying a club.
Hindu Mythology – Rigveda
In the texts of the Rigveda, a Hindu text that dates back more than 6,000 years, the two main stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux are known as twin horsemen who appear at dawn. They were members of the Ashvins, known as Sahadeva and Nakula. Back during this time, the stars were only visible at during Spring. This in turn lead to linking the twins to the Spring Equinox. Mithuna is the Sanskrit name for this pair of twins and they nearly match the same meaning as the Gemini constellation in terms of the Zodiac.
In Norse mythology, Gemini is strongly associated with the god Loki.
A constellation called Þjazi’s eyes (augu Þjaza) is one of the few known Norse constellation. It’s not certain which stars in the sky made up this constellation. One idea put forth is that they are the stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini.
In Norse mythology, Þjazi is a giant who kidnapped Idun. When he didn’t return home after chasing Idun and her rescuer Loki, Þjazi’s daughter Skadi realized he must be dead and took up arms, swearing vengeance for her father’s death.
As she marched upon Ásgarð, Heimdall sounded the alarm and several of the gods went out to meet her. As they had no desire to continue the feud, the gods asked Skadi if she would accept wergild, basically gold as payment for her father’s death.
Skadi said she would only accept or settle instead for a husband of her choosing from among the gods. They agreed, saying in turn that she must choose her husband by looking only at his feet.
She agreed and Odin arranged for all the gods to gather. With her eyes shield so that she could only see their feet, Skadi made her choice of the most good looking feet, believing that they belonged to Baldur. To her surprise and horror, the feet belong to the god Njord an elderly god of the sea as well as fertility.
The next part to this bargain was for the gods to make Skadi laugh, something she thought that they would be unable to do. Odin called for Loki to come make her laugh. He came and told a story of taking a goat to market and how he had tied one end of rope to the goat’s beard and the other to his own testicles. The description of the tug-of-war that followed between Loki and the goat caused Skadi to laugh in spite of her self.
In an effort to try and please Skadi further, Odin brought out two liquid orbs that Skadi immediately recognized as her father’s eyes. Odin threw them up into the sky where they became two stars, presumably the stars Castor and Pollux that form part of Gemini.
The two gods Njord and Skadi decided to live for half of the year in Skadi’s frozen hall in the mountains of Þrymheim and the other half in Njord’s hall in the sea at Nóatún. Neither liked the other’s hall, Njord didn’t enjoy the cold or the howling wolves and Skadi couldn’t tolerate the motion of the sea and the noise of crashing waves. They eventually agreed that they would live apart.
For the Romans, the constellation Gemini can represent the twins Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.
As the Romans were famous for absorbing and taking many of the Greek myths and legends into their own mythology, the previous story of the two twin heroes mentioned under Greek mythology is still very much so the same, only the Romans refer to them as Castor and Pollux instead of Castor and Polydeuces.
Stars of Gemini
The two brightest stars found within Gemini are Castor and Pollux. Castor also holds another designation as Alpha Geminorum even though it is second brightest to Pollux or Beta Geminorum. The problem in their naming with brightness and designations is owed to a mistake made by Johann Bayer in 1603 when he was cataloging the stars.
Castor – Castor is also a sextuplet star system In Arabic culture, Castor is known as “The Head of the Foremost Twin,” or Al-Ras al-Taum al-Muqadim. To the Chinese, Castor represents Yin, one of two fundamental principles and concept on which all things depend, are connected and related to.
Pollux – This star is also known as “The Head of the Second Twin,” from the Arabic Al-Ras al-Tau’am al-Mu’akhar. To the Chinese, Pollux represents Yang, one of two dundamental principles and concepts on which all things depends, are connected and related to.
Geminga – Geminga is a neutron star found within the Gemini constellation. It is the decaying core of an old massive star that went supernova some 300,000 years ago. The name Geminga comes from the Italian gh’è minga, meaning “it’s not there.” At the same time, the name is also short for “Gemini gamma-ray source.” It has the distinction of being the first unidentified gamma-ray source to be discovered and the first example of a radio-quiet pulsar.
Mebsuta – Also known as Epsilon Geminorum, it marks Castor’s outstretched right leg. In Arabic, the name Mebsuta means “the outstretched paw.”
Mekbuda – The star known as Mekbuda is a super-giant star with a radius about 220,000 times the size of the Sun.
In Arabic culture, both Epsilon and Zeta Geminorum are called Melboula or Melucta as they represent a lion’s outstretched paws.
The Eskimo Nebula or Clown Face Nebula is a planetary nebula located about 4,000 light-years away from Earth. For those using amateur telescopes, its central star that’s 10th in magnitude can be seen and has a blue-green elliptical disk. The name comes from its resemblance to the head of a person wearing a parka. It was discovered in 1787 by the German-born British astronomer William Herschel.
The Jellyfish Nebula is the remnant of a Galactic supernova that can be found near the star Eta Geminorum. The supernova that created this Nebula is thought to have happened some 3,000 to 30,000 years ago.
The Medusa Nebula or Sharpless 2-274 and Abell 21 is a planetary nebula found within the Gemini constellation near the border with the Canis Minor constellation. It gets its name from the filaments of glowing gas that look like the snake hair of the monster Medusa. It was first discovered by the UCLA astronomer George O. Abell in 1955. Until the 1970’s it was thought to be the remnant of a supernova when Soviet astronomers stated it was more likely a planetary nebula. The Medusa Nebula is rather large and old, formed when a red giant turned in a hot white dwarf and shed its outer layers.
The Geminids are a bright meteor shower that peaks around December 13th to 14th with roughly 100 meteors per hour.
Another is the Epsilon Geminid that peaks around October 18 to October 29, they overlap with the Orionid meteor shower and are hard to distinguish from the Orionid. The difference though is that the Epsilon Geminid meteor shower has a greater velocity than the Orionid meteor shower.
As information on the exact Zodiacal calendars can change each year (and by sources) along with the precision of the equinoxes over the year, the Summer Solstice is falling more and more into Gemini. The Summer Solstice of course is when the days are at their longest and the nights at their shortest.
The constellation of Gemini is the third sign of twelve signs that form the Zodiac. For those who study and are into the classical Greek Zodiacs, this time is typically said to be from May 22 to June 22. Due to the changes of the earth’s orbit and tilt, the best time to see this constellation is during February around 9 p.m. The planet Mercury and the Moon are said to rule this Zodiacal sign and constellation. Its element is Air, an extroverted sign and is one of four mutable signs.
Gemini people are said to be lively, versatile, intellectuals, adaptable, communicative, observant, fickle, inconsistent, cunning, inquisitive, two-faced, gossipers, expressive, quick-witted, clever, changeable, ungrateful, scatterbrained, restless and scheming. Those born to this sign seem to need a lot of stimuli, they like doing and taking on a lot of projects and can move from one topic to another easily during conversations. A Gemini seems to have duality to their nature and can seem like yin and yang with how they appear to others as it can seem as if you’re not sure if you’re dealing with the good twin or the bad twin with how mercurial their natures are.
It’s easy for a Gemini to become a jack-of-trades person, learning a little bit about everything, but if they’re not careful, they’re not masters of a particular area, knowledge, trade or skill. A lack of focus can make a Gemini seem fickle, uninterested or have an uncaring attitude. A Gemini aware of their nature is more than capable of multi-tasking and taking care of multiple tasks and challenges. With their love for talking, a Gemini can also make a good diplomat when tensions are high and people need to communicate, to listen as much as say what needs to be said. As great communicators, a Gemini is able to see both sides of a situation. The Greek myth of Castor and Pollux explores the inherit duality of life – of mortality and immortality forever intertwined and perpetually in conflict.
The ancient writer Ptolemy has commented that the star Pollux, as it’s a fiery red star, has a nature similar to Mars and that Castor, a bright white star has a nature similar to Mercury. On more specific notes, Pollux is thought to denote a more spirited nature and encourages violence, rashness and a love for sports. Pollux is renowned for strength and ferocity. Castor though is then believed to be more intellectual and aids in the success of all studies. Castor is also thought to pass on a skill of natural horsemanship for those born under the sign of Gemini.