Archetypal Heritage, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Stars

Originally published in Peacock Goat Review Vol. 1 No. 3

As occultist, magicians and even just as people living in a magical spirit-haunted world, it’s important we understand our cultural heritage. Just where do these things we have come from? If we know where we’ve been, we might have some idea of where we’re going. It’s been said before but much of our pagan mythology comes from star myth. If you’ve done much research into this sort of topic, you likely already know this. However, what you probably don’t realize is just how intrinsically this is connected to our ideas of story, spirits, place and identity.

If you want to understand the mystery of the oldest magical systems we have record of, we must ask ourselves “What is hidden behind the sky?”

My journey began when I was trying to work out what the underlying system was for the Sumerians. I kept trying in vain to map out something akin to the Kabbalah but nothing seemed to fit until I realized the answers were hidden in plain sight.

You see, the stars aren’t just a big game of connect-the-dots that our ancestors played out of boredom, they were a language in themselves. After all, Merlin’s hat wasn’t covered in stars just out of a misplaced fashion sense; they’re intrinsic to truly understanding magic. This goes beyond just astrology; it’s codified into the very nature of why we do things in magic the way we do. After all, what are some of the most basic symbols in magic? The hexagram, pentagram, octagram; they’re all ways to draw stars and have origins in the stars themselves.

The hexagram first appears as one of the variations on the sumerian symbol for a fixed star. At this point in time the number of points is irrelevant for drawing a fixed star. As long as it isn’t the 8-point star of Ishtar or the 4-point plus wavy lines sun glyph, then it’s a symbol for a fixed star.1

Cylinder seal VA 243

Beyond that, Sumerian deity names are always preceded by the Cuneiform sign dingir as an honorific which is also the Cuneiform sign for Star. The sign for constellation is 3 dingir signs in a triangle.

The Cuneiform sign dingir

So where does that leave us? Well Sumerian mythology is ultimately star lore, which is the practice of telling stories using the stars. The best example of this is Inanna and the huluppu tree. In the story, an anzu bird (which likely translates to Golden eagle), a snake and an owl take up residence in a tree that Inanna wishes to have made into a throne and a bed so she enlists the help of Gilgamesh to chase them away and cut the tree for her. If we look at the part of the sky where Scorpio sits, we see the milky way which forms the river, Scorpio’s tail forms the huluppu tree (which probably translates to Palm tree), the adjacent stars around the Western constellation formed a constellation of a man holding a tool in the Mesopotamian star charts, and directly above is the Mesopotamian constellations of the eagle and one of a serpent. To the right is another constellation which looks like a chair and a line which could easily be seen as a bed.

The relevant part of the sky with Western constellations

Not only do they tell the story of the myths visually, but it also connects us to the cycle of the year since different parts of the sky are visible during different seasons. This sort of pattern continues for almost all the world myths as well, not just Sumerian and Greco-Roman. David Warner Mathisen has a great series of books covering this topic in deal entitled Star Myths of the World which I highly recommend to anyone interested in this topic. Gordon White traces the history of this all the way back to the ice age in to book Star.Ships which is an amazing read if you haven’t already picked it up. If you layer those on top of the work of Bernie Taylor in Before Orion: Finding the Face of the Hero things really start getting interesting as we can begin to get a glimpse at some of humanity’s oldest surviving stories, many of which are still being told in some form today.

Add to this understanding the cardinal signs and the modern practice of the LBRP/Calling Quarters and the Sumerian four winds which are depicted as chimeric beings composed of those four signs (Leo, Aquarius, the Eagle form of Scorpio and Taurus) and your magic really starts playing jazz at a cosmic scale!

So where does this leave us? Well for one, it means that the root of the collective forest of stories that gave us the wonderfully spirit and story haunted world of the modern occult traditions has been right above us this entire time. Beyond that though it means that perhaps the most powerful untapped tool in the magicians arsenal has been with us since the dawn of civilization and every one of us has had it since we were children: the heavens themselves.

What am I on about? Well if you’ve kept up with me so far then there’s a major clue in Star.Ships which Gordon seems to gloss over: the pools of water meant to collect starlight. That’s a scrying surface!

Another clue comes from a Sumerian proverb:

“I looked into the water, my destiny was drifting passed.”

Think for a moment of the movement of the stars. As the Earth rotates, the stars do seem to drift passed as they make their way across the sky. So what is this talking about? Possibly the oldest form of magic humanity has ever had and our most direct way of interacting with the gods; scrying with the stars and the night sky! Divination with the cosmos itself!

What is hidden behind the sky?

The stars, the spirits, and us.