Looking up into the western sky around five this morning with my little iPad star app, I came across the constellation Auriga. As you scan the heavens, this $3 app provides a cartoony-looking drawing of the mythical creatures and characters traditionally associated with the constellations, each fading in and out of view as you pass over them. Kind of fun.
As I passed over the western stars, Auriga’s drawing faded into view as that of a large bearded head. No body, nothing else. Just a head, like that of a 16th century peasant farmer. Kind of odd and somewhat unimaginative for a constellation, I thought.
So I went back inside and consulted the annals of the star books I own and did a bit of Internet research, admittedly knowing scant little about this particular arrangement of stars.
First off, I discovered it is one Ptolemy’s original 48 constellations from the second century and one of the 88 major constellations of today. It’s been around awhile.
There are two predominant interpretations of this ancient pattern of stars. The name Auriga is Latin for “charioteer” or “conductor of the reigns”; the name traditionally ascribed to it since Greek and Roman times in various and sundry myths too numerous to detail here.
Prior to the Greco-Roman era, however, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that this constellation was more commonly associated with a shepherd.
The chief star amidst this flock of stars is Capella, which means “she-goat”. Both Bedouin and ancient Peruvian cultures ascribed this constellation to things pertaining to shepherding. Capella is believed to represent the heart of this she-goat who is being held in the left hand of a seated herdsman. Just below Capella are two stars representing her kids, Hoedus I and Hoedus II, more commonly referred to as the Haedi, Latin for “kids” (young goats).
There is one faint star in the head of Auriga which remains unnamed by western astronomers (there is no Greek or Roman meaning or interpretation ascribed to it). Yet in Hindu culture, it is given the name Praja-pati which, interestingly enough, means “Lord of Created Beings.” Why the Hindus would have dedicated this interpretation to such a relatively dim star is not well-known.
But the interconnectedness of some of what appear to be disparate and contradictory interpretations from different cultures about this constellation are intriguingly fascinating from a biblical perspective.
Thus, the big, cartoony Mardi-Gras head of my iPad app does not do justice to the ancient details I’d uncovered this morning about Auriga.
In this charioteer/shepherd’s “right hand” are a series of stars commonly thought to be “reins” of the charioteer. In ancient Chaldean language, the star Menkalinan or Menkalinon in the right arm of this ancient shepherd means “the Band of the Goats or Ewes.”
Apparently folks over the millennia have considered these either to be “reins” or “goads”. In short, Auriga is either driving chariots or driving herds.
What’s also fascinating is that whatever this heavenly figure is driving, he’s right smack-dab in the middle of the celestial highway we know as the “Milky Way”.
In the center of Auriga is another star with an Arabic name “Al Hiba” which means “tent.” My iPad app names it “Al Hurr” meaning the fawn.
There are eight other fainter stars in this constellation, designated simply by Greek letters of the alphabet. There are three stars which together were called “Tseen Hwang” the “Heavenly Pool” and five other stars which together comprised a “Pillar.”
And here’s another little tidbit of info about Auriga which nicely coincides with Thanksgiving.
In the Greek and Roman legends, Capella the she-goat is believed to have been associated with the she-goat goddess Amalthea who is alleged to have nursed the infant Zeus/Jupiter in a cave. As the story goes, Zeus/Jupiter was playing around with the goat and unintentionally broke off one of her horns. To make amends, the supreme deity of Greco-Roman antiquity blessed this broken horn with the ability to be filled with any particular sumptuous fruit one desired.
In Latin this “horn of plenty” is called the “cornu” (horn) “copiae” (plenty), thus our English word “cornucopia.” This “horn of plenty” is also featured in the popular book/movie series The Hunger Games as a kind of fortress of necessary food and supplies.
Now, let’s step back and consider all the tales of this ancient constellation known as Auriga. Sweeping away the mythical chaff, let’s see what kernels we can glean from this harvest of stars.
• A shepherd (Isaiah 40:11; John 10:11-14) Arabic, Peruvian, Chaldean, and Bedouin.
• One who has the reins or goads (Acts 26:14; Ecc. 12:11) Chaldean, Greek, Roman.
• One who is Lord of Created Beings (John 1:1-4; 10:11-14) Hindu.
• A divine being as an infant nursed by a female goddess in a cave (Luke 2:7) Greek, Roman.
• A tent/fawn (Exodus 27:21; 28:43; 29:11) Arabic.
• A pillar (Exodus 13:21) Orient.
• A pool (Numbers 20:1-13; Isaiah 41:18; Ps. 107:35; John 4:7-15) Orient.
• Horns of plenty from brokenness (Psalm 16:11; 75:10; Psalm 37; Matthew 5:5; Luke 6:38; Ephesians 3:20) Greek, Roman.
From a multitude of tribes and tongues, the heavens do indeed seem to bespeak of the glory of God in Christ, do they not?
As the Psalm attests, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”
To simply step back and consider that this relatively inconspicuous group of luminaries should have such a rich history of narratives behind it further solidifies the truth of Scripture. These aren’t “just” stars. For millennia, man has tacitly known there is meaning behind and beyond the scientific spectral classifications of these massive orbs of light situated in the heavens above us. They tell a story of ancient peoples and of the Ancient of Days, “for signs and for seasons, and for days and years.” (Genesis 1:14)
So sometime this week, get up a bit early and look up into the western sky and find the constellation of Auriga and may it be a sign and a reminder to you of this Thanksgiving season!
“Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever; to Him who by understanding made the heavens, for His steadfast love endures forever; to Him who spread out the earth above the waters, for His steadfast love endures forever; to Him who made the great lights, for His steadfast love endures forever.”