The Serpent and the Tree,
Pole Myths and the Four Seasons
Due to precession, or the effect of gravity on our planet's spin, the stars of the sky appear to shift with respect to the person viewing them from Earth. The ancient skies were not the same as they are now. The constellations were the same, and there was so little movement of the stars in relation to each other that the stars appeared to be in the same places, but the viewer's horizon was altered. One of the problems noted by our ancestors was the problem of the precession of the equinoxes. This meant that if the Sun appeared in Aries on March 21 in the year 100 CE, now it appears in Pisces and 2000 years before that time, it was almost into the constellation of Taurus the Bull.
This image is of the contellation, Draco. The red point was the Pole Star about 3000 BCE. This star was so important that the pyramids of Egypt had siting holes oriented so that a person inside the pyramid could see Thuban, which is the name of this star. In the image, you will see Draco rotating around Thuban. This happens during the night, but it also happens during the year. So, instead of our image of the Little Dipper swinging around its handle, the ancient saw the dragon chasing his tail.
The image on the top right is ancient Viking, below it ancient Egyptian. The name for this serpent was Ouroboros and if you look up pictures of Ouroboros you will find thousands of them. The Vikings called the serpent Nithhogr and Jormungr and it ate at the roots of the world tree, Miggard, or the Axis Mundi. This myth was so prevalent and so powerful that it made its way into Grecian and Jewish myth as the serpent in the apple tree, the tree of knowledge of good and evil or the tree of immortality. The powerful image of the spiral dominated so much of ancient art that a plethora of legends have arisen to explain the image. Robert Graves in his book, The White Goddess is obsessed with this image as that of the goddess. He, like most moderns, overlook the obvious explanation which was stellar in nature.
Because of the spiraling nature of the constellation, it can clearly be seen to be associated with time. The spiral is associated with time as is the tree. The tree of the immortal apples of eternal youth, the tree of the world with the serpent eating away at its roots, the serpent eating its own tail, how these legends are like time or the nature of time as we experience it. To point up at the sky at the spinning dragon, twisting away the hours is the very root of an image of the passage of time.
Look closely at the Egyptian scrap of papyrus. You see the serpent, but note how the "world" is upheld by two lions and a bull. Here again are the ancient constellations that served as the east, west, north, south, or the boundaries of the world. Taurus, Leo, the Water Bearer (which we will discuss) and the Scorpion. In most astrology texts, Scorpio is also represented by snakes and eagles. The Water Bearer was newly made a man, being before the Classical Age, a woman. Think of images of the world that bear wings, hooves, lion heads, faces, bull bodies and hooves, lion haunches; yes, you're right, the Sphinx or a cherub, a mythical beast made up of the parts of four beings, again our man/woman, eagle, (Scorpio) lion and bull. On most sculpture the body is either a bull or a lion, not both.
In the north, the bull became the horse. Some fascinating speculation has been done by John North in his book about Stonehenge on the chalk figures cut into the turf in Britain. Of the few that survived, the White Horse at Uffington is probably the most famous. It marks the rising of the star Aldebaran and the constellation of Taurus.
The prevalence of centaurs, winged horses, winged lions, angels, sphinxes, cherubim, white bulls, white horses, talking lions, eagles and merpeople in European mythology need not be mentioned. It is my belief that such universal images that show up very early in Crete and Egypt were celebrations of calendar events and tied to astronomy.