Orion the Hunter and Heavenly Shepherd

Cosmos & Logos: Volume II, August 2016

Cosmos & Logos: Volume II, August 2016

This is an excerpt from the article The Heavenly Shepherd: Approaches to a Resurrection Story, in the 2016 edition of Cosmos & Logos.

The Greek Orion was known as the great hunter, and in the most popular Greek telling of this myth Orion boasted that he could slay any animal on earth. Ge (the earth-mother) was offended at Orion’s brash boast and sent up a giant scorpion that stung his foot. Orion died from the wound and was immortalized in the stars as a constellation. The scorpion is the constellation Scorpius, and the two constellations oppose each other in the sky so that as Orion sets below the horizon in the west Scorpius rises in the east. While adapted by the Greeks, this story did not originate in Greece. In China, Orion was a great warrior who was in constant conflict with his younger brother represented by the stars of Scorpius. In Egypt, Plutarch informs that when Osiris was buried in his coffer at sea the sun was passing through the Scorpion (On Isis and Osiris 13). The death of Osiris appears to be an allusion to the setting of Orion as the sun rises in Scorpius.

The myths of Orion are astronomical. The Greek Orion is constantly associated with Helios, Delos (the land of Sun), Eos (the Dawn), and Scorpius. Yet these astronomical associations are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In another Greek telling of the myth Orion served as the huntsman of King Oinopion of Chios. Orion raped the king’s daughter and as punishment the king blinded and exiled him. Orion traveled across the sea to the house of Hephaestus who gave him an assistant named Cedalion. This assistant climbed upon the back of Orion and served as his eyes as the pair traveled east towards the house of the sun. It was with the dawn that Orion regained his sight. Critically, Cedalion was one of the two Cabeiri (ancient underworld gods) who administered the secret rites of the Samothracian mysteries (Kabeiroi, theoi.com). These mystery rites promised initiates some form of blessed afterlife.

Orion and Cedalion

Orion is blinded and must find his way to the House of the Sun to regain his sight. Orion has a guide named Cedalion who aids him.

While not all ancient writers agree, one tradition definitely associated the Cabeiri with the Greek Dioskouroi, the guides of the dead represented in the two principal stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux. Diodorus Siculus relates in his Library of History that when the Argonauts were sailing to the underworld their ship was caught in a great storm. Orpheus was the only person aboard who had been initiated into the mysteries of the Cabeiri, and so he prayed to these gods to abate the storm. At that moment the stars of Gemini appeared overhead and the storm dissipated saving the ship. For this reason, the Caberi (and the Dioskouroi) were known as the gods of sailors and seamen who had power over the stormy sea (4.48.6). This pre-Christian account shows an anointed figure named Orpheus calming the seas from a boat. As is pointed out below, this anointed figure not only had power over the seas but was a savior figure of rebirth and was also analogized with the constellation Orion.

Oral and semi-literate people use the stars as a memory theater to encode their beliefs. In the days that these tales were written Orion rose in the east with the sun at summer solstice. Orion is not a zodiacal constellation. Gemini is, and the two stars Castor and Pollux were right above the horizon before sunrise and “received” the sun at summer solstice (see Figure 5). In ancient traditions around the Mediterranean, the place in the sky where the sun breached on the days of solstice represented a gate of the dead (Lundwall 310-12). Castor and Pollux become a stellar marker that on the one hand announces the summer sailing season, and on the other hand represents an esoteric theology. These stars become the celestial gate that leads to the netherworld. This motif is worth exploring.

Castor and Pollux the Greek Dioskouroi, savior figures associated with calming seas and guiding the dead.

Castor and Pollux are the Greek Dioskouroi, savior figures associated with calming seas and guiding the dead. They were the two stars that received the sun at summer solstice.

The Dioskouroi are the twins Castor and Pollux. One is mortal and the other immortal. They are the offspring of Zeus and are often associated with mystery initiation. Castor, the mortal, is slain while in a tree perhaps signifying the passage of the soul within the axis-mundi. Pollux weeps at his brothers’ death and promises to share his immortality with him. Thenceforth, Castor and Pollux alternate days in the underworld. These stars sit right above the Milky Way and Orion.

Walter Burkert, in his book Greek Religion, identifies these twins as preeminent saviors (213). In Sparta, the Dioskouroi were an integral part of initiations where an encounter with death was involved (213). Their special symbol was the dokana, “two upright supports connected by two crossbeams” (213). This symbol can be seen in the icon for the constellation Gemini. This symbol probably has reference to “a gate in a rite de passage” (213). Modern classicists look to prehistoric tribal initiations as the source for this rite de passage, but the truth is the ultimate initiation is through the celestial gate. The Dioskouroi were the guides that led to one of these gates. It is no coincidence that Gemini is placed in the sky where the ecliptic meets the Milky Way.

The symbol of Castor and Pollux representing a gate. This gate is the gate of heaven.

The Greek Dokana The symbol of Castor and Pollux representing a gate. This gate is the gate of heaven.

The ecliptic is the path of the planets, and anciently the Milky Way was the blessed path of souls. If one’s soul were to rise in the afterlife to the Milky Way it had to pass through a gate. Scorpio and Gemini/Taurus are the two gates in the sky that link the ecliptic with the Milky Way. They thus become associated with the Twin Mountains in Babylonian astrology and the two dominant motifs in the Orion myth.

The dokana of the Dioskouroi may in fact be the very image of the celestial gate. While the symbol is generally shown complete, at times each twin carried one half of this sign when they were separated (O’Neill 245). This is an exact parallel to the Roman tablet called tessera hospitalits. The tablet was parted in two and rejoined when their possessors were reunited. It is a type of symbolon employed by the Greeks where one can verify the veracity of another by matching the token that has been parted. Indeed, John O’Neill suggests that the Greek dokana may relate etymologically to the word token (245). More interestingly, O’Neil points out that in the Chinese stellar charts, at the location of Taurus and Orion in the Greek scheme, resides two constellations called T’ien-tsieh meaning Heaven-tally. The two star groupings are mirror images of each other and in the shape, ironically, of the divided Greek dokana. Their name is related to the Chinese character tsieh meaning a stamp:

“This character and its signification must come from the ancient practice of stamping a knot of bamboo, and then splitting bamboo and stamp down the middle, in order to give one half to an envoy or traveler, as a token, which verified itself on subsequent comparison with the other half, which had been retained. Thus were passports given at the Chinese frontier barriers.” (247)

It is well known that the Dioskouroi were not only initiates at Eleusis but astral guides: “[they] were seen as guiding lights for those hoping to break out of the mortal sphere into the realm of the gods” ( Burkert 213). This is why one was mortal (Castor) and one was immortal (Pollux). They reveal the twin aspects of every human soul doomed to mortal flesh but destined for a new astral garment of immortality. It is the same theme that keeps popping up with other mystery heroes who generally have one mortal and one immortal parent. This aspect must also explain the dokana which is a symbol of the twin natures of humankind. Indeed, when mystery initiates approached the gate of initiation they had to give a proper exchange of information, provide the proper spells, words, dances, and tokens with the gate keeper and guardian. This ritual action was nothing more than uniting two halves of the dokana in an analogical process of reuniting the mortal twin with his immortal half.

Orion and Cedalion become a personified dokana, where Cedalion leads the mortal Orion to the immortal realm of the sun. Indeed, the Dioskouroi were linked with Orion at the celestial gate where the ecliptic meets the Milky Way and where souls had access to the heavens. This explains the presence of Scorpio in the Orion myth, for Scorpio was also a gate of the dead (Gottschalk 99, Beke 17-27). The dead descended into the dark regions of the underworld from the Scorpion gate, just as we see Gilgamesh entering the netherworld guarded by scorpion men (EG 9.32-43). Orion loses his mortal life at Scorpio but regains his immortal heritage on the other side of the Milky Way where his constellation dwells at the cosmic sea from which the dead could arise anew.

Meanwhile, the savior figure Orpheus appears to have represented Orion himself. The Orphic rites promised the initiated a blessed existence in the afterlife. Dionysus was the god of the Orphic rites, and Orpheus-Dionysus are homologous underworld gods who guide the dead in the netherworld. In a vase painting held at Basel, Orpheus is shown playing his lyre and holding a scroll signifying the rites of the mysteries within a tomb of an old man. “What must be called the Orphic hope for the afterlife could hardly be expressed more clearly” writes Walter Burkert, “it is the song of Orpheus, contained in a book, which guarantees quiet happiness for the dead” (Burkert 85-86). Meanwhile, Dionysus repeatedly appears in the Orphic gold plates found buried with the initiated dead. Here, Dionysus presides over the journey of the dead (Cole 200) and is both gatekeeper and judge of the deceased (Cole 211).

More important, in Robert Eisler’s Orpheus the Fisher, Eisler shows that the mythic figure of Orpheus originated as a hunting and fishing figure. Eisler notes that the sacred fish housed in the sanctuaries of Apollo in Lycia were called orphoi, meaning fish, and that the name Orpheus means fisher (14-15). Dionysus himself was called Halieus, the Fisher, and Zagreus, a name not only signifying a Great Fisher but also a Great Hunter (15). Orpheus caught game in his fishing nets. Additionally, Orpheus is often portrayed surrounded by animals who he not only catches with his nets but entices with his music. In this context, as Eisler notes, Orpheus is Eunomos or Euphorbos, the “herdsman” or “good shepherd” (18). Eisler cannot help but to explain, “Orion corresponds mythically to Nimrod, the ‘mighty hunter before the Lord’ of the Bible. Around this constellation we find—and this can hardly be a casual coincidence—all the requisites of Orphic mythology” (25).

Orpheus the Fisher

Orpheus was a god who promised a blessed afterlife if one had been initiated and knew the way through the next world. Orpheus was both the Fisher and Good Shepherd.


What food do the Gods of Olympus eat in Greek mythology?

Dionysus, the God of wine, is surrounded by his lion robed and ecstatic dancers.

Dionysus, the God of wine, is surrounded by his lion robed and ecstatic dancers.

The Greek gods partake of nectar and ambrosia. The two words are sometimes used interchangeably. Some Greek authors say the nectar was the drink and ambrosia the food. Some reverse it, so that ambrosia is the drink and nectar the food.

Despite the homologous nature of the divine substances, both nectar and ambrosia were known to imbue longevity or even immortality upon the consumer. They were the mediums of eternal life. In truth, nectar and ambrosia were really one consumed by the gods, and when mortals received it it was at the hands of the gods.

One great scene in the Illiad shows Thetis filling Patroclus’s nostrils with nectar as a way to transform him with strength and life (19.38–49). Curiously enough, this scene has led a few scholars to suggest that the Greek nektar descended from the Egyptian natron, or salt substance inserted through the nostrils and into the body as a way to preserve eternal life in the Egyptian tradition.

Supporting this idea is the fact that when Greeks opened their barrels of wine the liquor had to be consumed or it would spoil (no corks had been invented). There was a way, however, to prolong the life of the opened wine, and that was by salting it. Wine, seen as a substance of transformation given mortals by the gods, was itself given life by natron or salts which preserved the wine from turning into vinegar. This fact may have led to the idea that the wine of the gods was the giver of long lasting life, called nectar, a loan word from the Egyptian natron.

According to R. Drew Griffith in his book Mummy Wheat, the word nektar originally signified the ability to be “carried across death” and may have originally meant “song” (67). That may be a strange connection, but I have shown in my book Mythos and Cosmos, song and dance were an essential part of the funerary rites in both the Egyptian tradition and in the Greco-Roman mysteries. The song itself was a token or symbol that allowed one to make the passage through death.
Written 1m ago · Answer request

Why did Zeus sleep with Persephone?

Zeus seduces Persephone in a cave by turning himself into a dragon or serpent.

Zeus seduces Persephone in a cave by turning himself into a dragon or serpent.

This is a great question. And it leads us to the problems of ancient myth. Persephone is a vegetation and underworld goddess that hails from several different strands of traditions. Some scholars believe that she is Mycenaean in origin, but her appearance in the Orphic mystery rites probably descends from an Egyptian source. The cross cultural ties between Mycenae and Egypt are probably more prolific than understood. So once again when looking at the various stories of Persephone be aware that they are an accretion of several different forms and sources.

In the Orphic tradition Persephone was seduced by Zeus in a cave guarded by dragons and gave birth to Zagreus, who is often compared with Dionysus. Orpheus and Dionysus are often homologous in their functions, and Dionysus repeatedly shows up on the Orphic gold plates found buried with the initiated dead.

According to the story, Zeus impregnates Persephone before Hades abducts her. She gives birth to Zagreus/Dionysus, who is then torn into pieces by the Titans and his body parts are thrown into the river. Athena retrieved his heart from the river and gave it to Zeus. Notice how similar this is to Osiris being killed and his body being cut up into pieces and thrown into the river where Isis retrieves his phallus. While the retrieved body parts are different, their functions in the separate cultures are similar, as the heart/phallus was a symbol of life and birth.

Furthermore, the name Zagreus refers to a hunter, and this god-hunter held keys to life and death. This may correspond to the constellation Orion, the great hunter, who was Osiris in Egyptian tradition, Dumuzi in Babylonian tradition, and probably represented Orpheus and Mithras as well. The hunter catches wild animals, which is symbolic of the crude mortal human who has not received apotheosis or divine blessings. Lucius is turned into an ass and can only return into human form by being initiated into the mysteries of Isis. Gilgamesh, Heracles, and Orion all rape or destroy and must go through a series of labors which always ends with the secrets of rebirth. This is a strong theme of hero cults associated with some form of rebirth.

It may be that Zeus impregnates Persephone as a way for the Greeks to acquire the funerary aspect of this goddess. Zeus, through the rape of Persephone, makes an Egyptian source turn into a Greek custom.

Again this is speculative, but it is these kind of connections that inform the origins of the myth.

Is Hercules part of Roman or Greek Mythology?

The greatest Greek Hero was Heracles, who performed twelve labors to obtain immortality.

The greatest Greek Hero was Heracles, who performed twelve labors to obtain immortality.

Heracles was not invented by the Greeks. He was inherited by the Greeks. Half of his labors descend from Mycenaean or Minoan times, implicating a Heracles like figure with a series of labors in the days before Greece was founded. Gilgamesh is a Near Eastern Heracles.

The Greeks adopted the Hero/Labor cycle and transformed it into something substantively Greek. So in that sense Heracles is Greek. Hercules is the Roman adaptation of the Greek Heracles. Though I suppose you could argue that the earliest Romans also had a Heracles like figure in their history, though nothing is known about it if there was. (Or maybe it is right in front of us.)

Quote from my book Mythos and Cosmos:(pages 300–01)

Heracles was the greatest of Greek heroes, and depictions of his exploits are repeatedly found on Greek vase paintings and art. He was known from the earliest times in Greece, and the numerous mythic motifs about our hero inform us that there lies a far greater context behind his story. There were also numerous and sometimes competing traditions about this Greek figure. Diodorus Siculus identified three separate heroes named Heracles. Servius claimed that there were four separate Heracles, Cicero counted six, and Varro identified forty-four (Smith 401). Herodotus tells us that the original Heracles hailed from Egypt and says that according to the Egyptian tradition, Heracles was one of twelve deities descended from the original eight gods who created the universe (2.43-5). Diodorus claimed that when Osiris went to accomplish his labors he left the government of Egypt in the hands of this primordial Heracles (Smith 401). Remarkably, Pausanias, Tacitus, and Macrobius all confirm that Heracles hailed from Egypt (Smith 401).

To say the original Heracles is Egyptian entirely misses the point. Herodotus also travels to Phoenicia, where he discovers a temple dedicated to the Phoenician Heracles and inside which were two curious pillars, one made of gold and the other of emerald (2.44). Herodotus discovered a similar temple in Tyre dedicated to the Thasian Heracles (2.44). Different sources show that there was a Heracles figure hailing from Crete, Carthage, Libya, India, and even from amongst the Germanic Celts (Smith 401). Several Greek myths derive from the famous labors of Heracles. Theseus performs a series of labors in order to inherit kingship and was known as the Athenian Heracles, Bellerophon was the Corinthian Heracles, and Alcathous was the Megarian Heracles (Nilsson 211-3). Even the Israelites had a Heracles figure in the Biblical Samson.

Details within the myth show the Greeks did not create the story of Heracles—they inherited it. Heracles’ mortal mother’s name is they inherited it. Heracles’ mortal mother’s name is they Mycenaean. King Eurystheus is also Mycenaean, and the kingdom to which he belongs is a Mycenaean city. The localized traditions of our hero in Tiryns descend from Mycenaean times, and the first five labors Heracles performs all take place in the northeastern Peloponnese. The seventh labor, capturing the Cretan Bull, originates in either Mycenaean or even Minoan times (Nilsson 217). In other words, the entire cycle attributed to Heracles is not Greek. Martin P. Nilsson writes, “This idea is pre-Greek. The inference to be drawn from this fact is that a cycle of Labors was already formed and provided with its natural and logical end in the Mycenaean age” (214).



Wonders in the Heavens

I serve on the board to the Utah Valley Astronomy Club (UVAC). We do outreach programs, teaching astronomy and science to schools and community organizations. I am pleased to know a couple professional astro-photographers. Clarence Spencer has a business making cameras and filters for astro-photography. He even has one of his cameras aboard the International Space Station. Richard Keele has made his own tripods and mounts for his work.

There is something about the sky that calls one outside of the Self. In a dark sky under the Milky Way one senses a presence and connection far greater than one’s self. At least for most people this is the case. I have borrowed a few of their pictures and have put them together in a little video. It is well worth sitting back and watching what our universe really looks like. Perhaps we should sit back and reflect what we ourselves might really look like in the big picture. An insignificant speck of dust may not be the right frame of mind to interpret the eternal.

Independence Day in the U. S. is Worth Celebrating

And here is why:

About the Declaration [of Independence] there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

— Calvin Coolidge, July 5, 1926

Fairy Tales and the Gospels: Ethos of the Eternal



If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. —Albert Einstein


The most underused "gif of the Spirit" is the imagination.

Fantasy is not the rejection of reality. It is the exploration of reality. The most underused “gift of the Spirit” is the imagination.

Traditional fairy tales were the old center of a child’s learning. Before television or radio, it was the bed time story, the fireside story, or the front porch story that entertained and educated the rising generation. With the advent of modern technology the telling of stories has lost the intimate and human touch (the bedside, the fireplace, and the front porch). Stories have become digital. While tall tales can now reach the masses, the inverse is also true, stories are mass produced, mass marketed, and mass formulated.  There is something about the mass that dilutes the power of story.

This is nowhere better seen than in the movies. Action movies are formulaic. The oral fairy tale was told as an interweaving between the emotional attunement of teller and hearer. Movies are not; they seek the maximum amount of entertainment dollars by formulating a spectacle for the masses. The fairy tale was the stage of the individual imagination. The modern action movie has become the mechanical pageantry of the coliseum. The first stage opened the imagination. The latter arena simply dulls the senses.

Conservative religious culture often swings counter the mass media culture by teaching its rising generation only Bible stories. The fantastic of the fairy tale is replaced by the morally pure pronouncements of the ethical tale. While there are folklore and fairytale elements to some biblical narratives, Noah, Jonah, and Samson are now taught as historical episodes whose imaginative resources have often been reduced to simple notions of “what does it mean to be obedient to god?”

It is good every once in a while to recalibrate our idea of what a good story is. Must a story be “true” in order to be moral? Or worthwhile? Or proper? Must a story be historical in order to be true? Must a story