THE SPIN OF THE WHEEL
“From the summit of the sky the stars speak. They know everything but compel no one. The wheel of time, formed with twelve spokes spins in the heavens maintaining order. Built into this wheel are 360 pairs” Rigveda 1
The Anomaly of the Dendera Zodiac
One day, while looking at a drawing of the Dendera zodiac, I noticed that the signs run clockwise round the wheel. Being used to signs running anticlockwise, I was puzzled. Had the nineteenth century artist who made the copy been careless? I checked his version against photos of the original zodiac, which confirmed that the signs indeed run clockwise, which means that the zodiac wheel is depicted as turning anticlockwise.
My curiosity roused, I went on to investigate a sample of graphic zodiac representations from different centuries and different cultures and discovered the following:
the older the representation the more likely the signs would run clockwise
the latest western clockwise zodiac found dated from the 16th century
the zodiacs in contemporary horoscope diagrams from north India run anticlockwise, whereas in south India they run clockwise
A list of the clockwise zodiacs found is given in the appendix at the end of this article.
Presuming that the direction in which a zodiac is drawn corresponds to current astrological practice, and is not the error of an astrology-ignorant artisan or artist, these results have interesting implications. For example clockwise zodiacs are drawn facing north, with the east and the Ascendant on the right instead of on the left ((Fig. 1). This affects the geographical orientation of the houses and could also affect their signification. Secondly the greater antiquity of clockwise zodiacs implies that this was the consensus direction at a time in the past. If this is the case, it is likely that a switchover occurred in the late Hellenistic period when Greek horoscopes begin to be drawn anticlockwise. An exception to my claim that the clockwise zodiacs are older is the Glastonbury zodiac whose anticlockwise direction reflects the order of the signs as moving across the sky from the latitude of Glastonbury.
The Turning Wheel
In the ancient quotation heading this article the zodiac is pictured as a spinning wheel. Now there is another image of a turning wheel, whose earliest extant representations date back to the same culture that produced the Rigveda– the swastika. The swastika has come to be associated with the Arians, the ancient inhabitants of north-eastern Europe who migrated eastwards through the Middle East to north India around 4000 BCE. However, older representations of swastikas have been found pre-dating the Arian migration, for example on boundary stones excavated from the sites of the Indus valley cities. Wikipedia dates the earliest Indus valley settlements of the first Mehrgarh period at around 5300 BCE and claims 3.500 - 1.500 BCE to be the period when this culture flowered2.
Hinduism, the oldest world religion still practised today, could have roots that go back to the Indus Valley civilisation. It was therefore to Hinduism that I looked for the meaning of the swastika symbol, where I found that its equilateral cross symbolises the four directions of the sky - north, east, south and west - and is said to create order and stability.3 Astrologers will immediately associate it with the central cross in the horoscope, formed by the horizon and meridian. With the four arms of the swastika bent at right angles, pointing either right or left, the impression is created of a turning wheel, like the celestial “wheel of time” in the above quote which is also said to maintain order.
Representations of both clockwise and anticlockwise pointing swastikas can be found throughout India, although clockwise is the most common. To Hindus the two directions stand for complementary forms of the creator god Brahma - right-facing representing the evolution of the universe and left-facing representing its devolution. The right-facing swastika also represents Surya, the sun god, which explains why the origins of its name have to do with good fortune and well-being, whereas the left-facing swastika has an evil reputation, presumably because it represents the destructive side of Brahma.
The zodiac wheel is like the swastika in that it can be represented as turning in either direction. It revolves anticlockwise when north-facing, and clockwise when south-facing. If the zodiac wheel has come down to us from a civilisation living near the equator, where a low latitude minimised the difference between the two orientations, then the direction chosen in a graphic representation could have symbolic importance. I began to consider the associations with right and left that are deeply engrained in such ancient cultures as the Hindu, the Egyptian and the Pythagorean. East was associated with the right, with light, day, life and masculine qualities, while West was associated with the left, with darkness, night, death and the feminine.
A similar signification of right and left crops up in the Mesopotamian divination technique using the liver of a sacrificed animal. The liver was divided into four quarters by a central cross. East, on the right, had a friendly and good signification, while West on the left was seen as hostile and associated with enemies. “What is right is mine, what is left is of the enemy” was the saying,4 which echoes the meanings given to the Ascendant in the east and Descendant in present-day western astrology. The seventh house on the western side of the chart is still the place of open enemies. In the liver map printed by Deborah Houlding in her book The Houses: Temples of the Sky.5 The parallel between the areas on the map and the astrological quadrants and houses is obvious. If the map given here is typical, then liver maps were orientated northwards, which also gave the correct east/right, west/left correspondences. These are lost when a map is orientated southwards as in present-day horoscopes.
Houlding comments that the Mesopotamians believed different gods ruled over the compass directions, and accordingly different subject matter was associated with each of them. She also states that these people possessed a strongly developed system of heaven-earth correspondences, which was the basis of their astrology. The gods of earth and nature were associated with the south, and the infernal gods with the north, whereby the direction north-west was seen as the most inauspicious direction of all”6. Could this be the origin of our dark and sinister 8th house associations? Note that the eighth house that lies northwest in a north-facing horoscope moves to the southwest when we draw the chart facing south (Fig 3).
Fig. 3 Houses and Planetary Joys in clockwise Zodiacs
What are the Houses?
Although there are no extant records of houses being graphically entered in horoscope diagrams before the late Hellenistic period, at least the angles must have been taken into account and used before then. Astrology evolved as a divinatory method based on reading signs in the sky, and interpreting the stars and planets in relation to horizon and meridian has always been integral to it. It is therefore highly likely that horoscope readings down the ages have been informed by an awareness of the directions and the different gods ruling them.
I considered charts drawn in the south Indian manner in which only one wheel is depicted, represented in the form of a square – the wheel of the signs- and yet the houses are also implicitly present. In these charts there seems to be no orientation to the compass directions7 as the Ascendant appears randomly in any one of the boxes of the square. However, although the houses are not entered in the diagram, they are central to the interpretation of the chart, because signs are also houses. They are identical. Once the rising sign has been identified this functions as the first house. Then using whole-sign houses the other houses are counted round the square in a clockwise direction as the chart is turned to answer questions.
I suggest that this type of map could have been prevalent in the ancient world with whole-sign houses being used. In fact the form may have originally spread from south India to Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece, where astrologers also adopted the clockwise zodiac that came with it. When a chart is drawn in this way, the impression is given that the houses revolve with the signs– in other words that they are part of the spinning wheel of time. This view even creeps into Houlding’s description of the houses in one place in her book, creating a contradiction in her argument. She explains succedent houses as follows: ‘(They are) so called because they are rising up and therefore succeeding to the positions of the angular houses by the diurnal revolution of the heavenly sphere.’8
However, in other places she seems to agree with Manilius, the Roman stoic who clearly saw the houses as static in the way we see them today. She quotes him as saying, ‘Mark the power of the temples: through them revolves the entire procession of the zodiac, which draws from them their laws and lends to them its own; the planets too, modify the various influences of the temples whenever they occupy realms not their own and sojourn in an alien place’. 9 So do the houses revolve or are they static? If horoscope diagrams were still being drawn in the late Hellenistic period in the style we have identified as south Indian, then both views could have existed side by side.
The richness of our house symbolism has grown out of the custom in such ancient cultures such as the Hindu, the Egyptian and the Mesopotamian of associating different gods and myths with the different directions of the sky. In Egypt, for example, where the diurnal cycle of the sun was imagined as the voyage of the bark of the sun god, the different energies at the cardinal points of the sun’s journey were expressed through the sun’s changing names. As Khepri at dawn, Ra at noon and Atum at sunset, the sun died each evening and entered the underworld where, at the midnight nadir, he was transformed into an infant ready to be born as Khepri again at sunrise. The Egyptian association of areas of the sky with time periods was rooted in the custom of their astronomers of keeping two-hourly watches, from which the meaning of the word “horo-scope”– watcher of the hour– is said to derive. Therefore myths associated with the times of the day and year, as well as with the corresponding geographical directions, all contributed to what became the astrological symbolism of the houses.
During the centuries spanning the millennium around Christ’s birth a massive paradigm shift occurred as the rational Greek mind increasingly imposed its way of seeing the world on philosophy, science, religion and astrology. As a result the devotional and divinational astrology practised in the ancient cultures gave way to a more ‘scientific’ approach. Therefore it is likely that, as astrologers became more geo-physically and astronomically informed they switched over to erecting south-facing charts during this era. However, it is feasible that there was a transition period during which both chart orientations, northwards and southwards, were in use. In fact, as both clockwise and anticlockwise zodiacs can be found in the west up to the Renaissance, the switch-over period lasted a long time. In India today both orientations co-exist side by side - south Indian charts being drawn clockwise, and the zodiacs in north Indian charts, also square in form, being drawn anticlockwise. No doubt this can result in some confusion.
Some examples of Hellenistic Greek horoscopes have come down to us, roughly drawn show the wheel of the zodiac with the cross of the horizon and meridian and the four quadrants indicated (Fig. 2). Unlike the south Indian charts these diagrams ground the zodiac in reference to the horizon, meridian and the areas of the sky seen from a particular locality, and we can presume that the meanings traditionally associated with these areas flowed into the chart interpretation. In these charts the zodiacs run anticlockwise, so they are drawn facing south. They therefore, reflect the new practice, although zodiacs found engraved on Greek coins of this period still runs clockwise.
Is it possible that when astrologers, exhorted by Ptolemy, changed to south-facing, anticlockwise zodiacs they kept unchanged the signification of the quadrants and areas of the sky they were accustomed to use, and simply switched the zodiac wheel round to the opposite direction? Old habits die hard, and it is likely that most astrologers were not scientifically well versed enough to understand the implications of the change of direction for house signification. So they could have clung to the meanings assigned to the areas of the sky seen from their accustomed locality after they had switched to drawing their wheels anticlockwise. In other words they may have kept a northerly orientation for their houses after changing to a southerly orientation for their wheel of signs.
In Fig. 3 we see the effect this would then have on the signification of the houses. The third and fourth and the ninth and tenth houses exchange places, which could lead to a confusion of their natural rulers and a possible merging of their meaning. This also applies to the following pairs of houses: 1st and 6th, 2nd and 5th, 3rd and 4th, 7th and 12th, 11th and 8th, 9th and 10th. To prove the feasibility of what I am suggesting, I would like to take the case of the “planetary joys” as described by Houlding10. The seven visible planets were traditionally linked to certain houses in which they were said to rejoice and therefore were strong. The allocation of the joys has been incorporated into Fig. 3 with the planets entered in their allocated houses in a south-facing chart. I am going on to suggest that this system of signification, which is behind some of the more puzzling meanings assigned to the houses in traditional astrology, could have been passed down uncritically from the time when charts were drawn north-facing.
According to the ancient system of planetary joys the moon rejoices in the 3rd. This would have been the 4th in a north-facing chart, and would have corresponded to Cancer where the moon is dignified. Mars rejoices in the 6th, which would have been the 1st, corresponding to Aries, in a north-facing chart - the sign of his rulership. Mercury rejoices in the 1st, which was the 6th, corresponding to Virgo, where Mercury is indeed ruler. Venus rejoices in the 5th, which would have been the 2nd where Venus is strong as ruler of Taurus. Also, it should be pointed out that in Hindu astrology Venus rules in the south-east, which applies when the chart is orientated northwards and the 2nd house lies south-east. Thus the joys of the four planets entered below the horizon in Fig. 3 can be explained if a north-facing chart direction is taken.
Above the horizon we find Saturn rejoicing in the 12th house. This would have been the 7th in a north-facing chart, which also makes more sense as Saturn is the ruler of the West in Hindu astrology (which is where I am suggesting Greek astrology originated) and is traditionally exalted in Libra– the sign corresponding to the 7th. The Sun rejoices in the 9th, which would have been the angular 10th house previously. Capricorn is not the sign of the Sun’s dignity, but when in the 10th he is in his full mid-day strength. That leaves only Jupiter, and I admit I can find no reason for Jupiter rejoicing in the 11th.
So, although Deborah Houlding makes a strong case for the houses developing their meanings separately from the signs, if we accept the hypothesis that there was a switch-over from north-facing to south-facing charts in the Hellenistic period which confused house signification, a case can be made for a closer parallel between sign and house meanings than classical astrology admits. At least then the planetary joys would make sense to astrologers like myself who work with a close correspondence between the signs and the houses, a correspondence advocated with some authority by Howard Sasportas in his book The Twelve Houses11.
It also explains some of the puzzling house rulerships that have been passed down from the ancients to present-day horary astrology. For example, older sources note an influence of the 1st house on intellect, the way the mind works and on speech - all Mercury matters that must have landed in the 1st at the time of the switch-over when Mercury was assigned to the 1st house in the system of planetary joys.
When the chart is drawn facing north there is greater symmetry between signs and houses, because both the signs and the houses then progress in the same clockwise direction (Fig. 2). This means that in their cycles Sun, Moon and planets run through the same series of energies on both the levels - that of the signs and that of the houses, which strengthens the correspondences between them. This, I believe, lay behind the close identification of houses with signs in the practice of south Indian astrology. However, this correspondence is lost when the zodiac is oriented southwards. Then the houses progress in clockwise and the signs in anticlockwise order.
The Relevance to the History of Astrology
I believe these findings can be used as part of a proof that Greek and Mesopotamian astrology derived from India, which contradicts the accepted view in the west. We have been taught that it was the Babylonians who ‘invented’ astrology and taught it to the Greeks, who rationalised it and passed it on to the Egyptians and Indians, who until then had had no astrology of their own. The Indians themselves, however, have always disagreed with this view, maintaining that their astrology is more ancient than the Greek, and goes back to the great astrologer Parasara who lived more than 5000 years ago12. This would place him in the Vedic period, but it is possible that Indian astrology is even older than that.
The earliest Neolithic settlements of the Indus Valley civilisation go back beyond 7000 BCE, and the sophisticated knowledge of geometry and alignments with the heavens possessed by this ancient culture is proved by the lay-out of their cities. The artefacts so far found prove that long-distance trade routes existed even at this earliest period, linking south India to north India and running westwards through Mesopotamia to Egypt. On their boundary stones animal figures are carved that we can link with the constellations, such as the scorpion, and the gods portrayed on their seals are represented with stars above their heads suggesting the practice of a devotional form of astronomy13. More knowledge about this will be obtained when their script has been deciphered. Seeing this civilisation as a focal point, I suggest that astrology passed to the Indus Valley from south India, and spread to Mesopotamia and Egypt along the ancient trade routes before the birth of the Mesopotamian and Greek civilisations.
I am now going to mention a theory that supports this view but which may sound far-fetched. However, it could have a bearing on the question of why the oldest zodiacs are drawn north-facing. Using geomagnetic and carbon-dating evidence, John Hapgood in his book The Earth’s Shifting Crust proved that before the last polar shift the equator ran through Egypt. This means that the whole of the Indian subcontinent lay in the southern hemisphere14. In his view this last polar shift, which thank heavens was gradual and took place over several thousand years, was completed at the end of the Pleistocene age - the epoch before our own - by around 12.000 BCE. So, if there had been a civilisation living in India before that date, and if they had practised astrology, their southern latitude would have required them to erect their horoscopes north-facing.
To conclude, I see the Dendera zodiac as a relic of the ancient way of drawing the zodiac running clockwise, which could have derived from south India where it is still drawn in this manner today. A search for the origins of astrology therefore leads us back along the ancient trade routes south-eastwards to the Indian subcontinent where a lost civilisation, living in what was then the southern hemisphere, could have preserved its wisdom for us throughout the last polar shift. There is no proof that this is the case, but there is also no proof that it is not.
Phoebe Wyss September 2006
Appendix: Examples of clockwise zodiacs
Boundary stone from Babylon:Kenton15 38
Greek CoinKenton 39
Planisphere Geruvius 9-10CKenton 103
Old IndianLexikon16 147
Medieval, 1162Lexikon 162
Marble floor basilica 13CKenton 115
Renaissance diagramLexikon 98
French woodcut, 1504Lexikon 279
Woodcut 1559Kenton 34
Persian plate 1563Kenton 19
German 16th century woodcutLexikon 24
India, 1618Kenton 104
1 Rigveda quoted by Linda Johnsen ‘Twelve Ancient Houses’, The Mountain Astrologer April/May 2003 2 Indus Valley Civilisationwww.Wikipedia.com 3 Swastika www.Wikipedia.com 4 D. Houlding The Houses: Temples of the Sky (Bournemouth 2006) p 2 5 Ibid. p 3 6 Ibid. p 2 7 B.V Raman Hindu Predictive Astrology (Delhi 1992) p 67-9 8 D Houlding The Houses: Temples of the Sky (Bournemouth 2006) p xxiii. 9 Quoted by Houlding Ibid. p 1 10 Ibid. p xxiv 11 H. Sasportas The Twelve Houses (Wellingborough 1985) p 32 12 B.V.Raman Hindu Predictive Astrology (Delhi 1992) 13 J. McIntosh A Peaceful Dream: the Rise and Fall of the Indus Civilisation (Boulder 2002) 14 Charles Hapgood The Earth’s Shifting Crust as discussed by Dan Eden in his article The Polar Shift www.viewzone.com/changingpoles.html 15 Warren Kenton Astrology (London 1974) 16 U. Becker Lexikon der Astrologie (Freiburg 1981)