The Precession of the Equinoxes

This is the name that is given to a gradual change of place, which is constantly going on, as to the point where the sun does not cross at the same place each year; on the contrary, each time when the sun completes the circuit of the zodiac, he crosses the equator at a point a small distance back of the place where he did so the previous year—in consequence of which the equinoctial point is annually falling back at a uniform rate. If you will refer to the above diagram of the zodiacal points, and imagine the circle of the ecliptic being slowly turned around its center toward Cancer(23), within the circle of the equator, which remains fixed—the contact between the two circles being preserved, and no change made in the angle at which they intersect each other—you will be able to gain a 52

clear idea of the effect of this phenomenon. The point marked Aries would then slowly advance above the equator until the point marked )i was at the intersection of the two circles. The Fishes (H) would then be on the equinox, which is now the case. In time, this motion being continued, ^ would occupy that place, and so on.

The point where the sun crossed the equator was once in the constellation Aries, but in the long progress of centuries the place of the sun's crossing has fallen back 30° from the first degree of that constellation, so that the vernal equinox is now really in the constellation Pisces, the Fishes; or, in other words, the sun enters the stars of the constellation Pisces on the 21st of March, and not those of the constellation Aries, as it did twenty-two centuries ago, as we are informed by Hippar-chus. The place, however, where the sun crosses the celestial equator has continued to be, and still is, and will continue to be, marked by the sign W) Aries, so that the sign of Aries now marks the place in the zodiac of the constellation of the Fishes. The signs and the constellations are therefore no longer in the same place. Hence, in order to make our chart of the zodiac (page 42) strictly correct, the sign Aries (^P) should be placed against the constellation Pisces, the sign against the constellation Gemini, the sign H against the constellation Cancer, and so around the entire circle. It was only for the sake of simplicity and a greater ease of explanation that it was not so represented. When, therefore, it is said in astronomical language that the summer solstice is in Cancer, it is the sign (23) only which is intended for the sun at that period now really enters the stars of the constellation Gemini. In like manner the winter solstice is in the sign \)o, but in the constellation Sagittarius; the autumnal equinox in the sign —, but in the constellation Virgo.

This precession of the equinoxes is still going on, but the other four cardinal points of the zodiac will always continue to be marked by the signs S> and and fY> and —, without regard to the constellations which are the sun actually enters at those periods. It is by this means that astronomers are able to register upon the face of the heavens this apparent movement of the stars. This phenomenon is called the precession of the equinoxes, although it is really a falling back of the equinoxes, although it is really a falling back of the equinoctial point; however, as it causes the stars apparently to advance, it has been called a "precession."

The rate of this motion has been determined by long-continued observations, and is a little more than fifty and a quarter seconds (501/4") of a degree each year. It therefore takes the equinoctial point about 2,140 years to fall back an entire sign, or 30°. In 25,791 years it will make a complete revolution of the whole circle of the zodiac. This period is called the Great PLATONIC Year, because that philosopher taught that after it had elapsed the world would begin anew.

Hipparchus, who made the first catalogue of the stars known to us, and who is called the father of astronomy, was the first who observed the motion of the stars. He informs us time, twenty-two centuries ago, the equinoctial point was in the first degree of the constellation Aries.

The Hindoo astronomer, Varaha, says the southern solstice was certainly once in the middle of Aslcha (Leo); the northern in the first degree of Dhanishta (Aquarius). Since that time the solstitial as well as the equinoctial points have gone backward on the ecliptic 75°. This divided by 501/4" ', gives 5,373 years. Sir W. Jones says that Varaha lived when the solstices were in the first degrees of Cancer and Capricorn, or about four hundred years before Christ. (Burritt)

A brief description of the yearly progress of the sun will help much to the understanding of subsequent portions of this work. What follows will be better understood by again referring to the figure of the zodiac. The ancients began the year at the vernal equinox. If we start with the sun at that point and 54

follow his progress, it will be observed that, after leaving the sign Aries W), in March, he next enters the signs Taurus and Gemini (tf and H), and that, as he advances from the vernal equinox, the sun is daily increasing in light, heat, and magnetic power. On the 21st of June the summer solstice is reached, the summer begins. This is the longest day in the year, and the sun then attains his greatest brilliancy and dispenses the most light. All through the summer months his heat and power are at the greatest, but as he approaches the sign (—) Libra, at the autumnal equinox, the days gradually shorten, and as he leaves Libra they grow dark and short with great rapidity. In October and November the sun enters the signs Scorpio and Sagittarius (HI. and X^), and the cold and stormy winds begin to herald the approach of winter. The sun daily loses power, his rays grow rapidly more feeble and pallid until Capricorn (^o) is reached at the winter solstice. At this period occurs the shortest day of the year, and from that time forward the sun seems to lie dead in the cold embrace of win-

power. The snow and ice melt away beneath his reviving rays, and vegetation begins to show itself.

After the vernal equinox the sun rapidly regains his vitality, and all nature with him springs from the torpidity and death of winter. The earth and the heavens, clothed once more in light and beauty, rejoice in a new life. It was this succession of phenomena, marking the yearly progress of the sun in the zodiac, that led the ancients, in their poetical and allegorical language, to represent the sun as being slain in the autumn and winter, and being restored to life again in the spring and summer.

That part of the zodiac reaching from to fY), embracing the seasons of flowers and fruits, may well be described as the region of life, light, and beauty, while all that portion extending from the autumnal equinox through the signs IK^, x", to the last point of H, is in like manner the domain of darkness, winter, and death.

What the Ancients KnewAbout Astronomy

IT WILL BE NECESSARY to ascertain what the ancients knew about astronomy, as what is offered for consideration in the body of this work presupposes they had made great progress in that science, not, indeed, equal to ours, but far greater than was thought to be the case before recent discoveries in Asia Minor and Egypt, or than is even now generally supposed by those who have not particularly inquired into the matter.

Rawlinson, speaking of the Chaldeans, says,

We are formed by Simplicius that Callisthenes, who accompanied Alexander to Babylon, sent to Aristotle from that capital a series of astronomical observations, which he had found preserved there, extending back to a period of 1,903 years before Alexander's conquest of that city, or 2234 B.C.

This would be over four thousand years ago. Ideler, quoted and endorsed by Humboldt, says,

The Chaldeans knew the mean motions of the moon with an exactness which induced the Greek astronomers to use their calculations for the foundations of a lunar theory.

Ptolemy, also, used Chaldean observations which extended back 721 B.C. Diodorus Siculus says the Chaldeans attributed comets to natural causes, and could fortell their reappearance. He states that their recorded observations of the planets were very ancient and very exact. According to Seneca, their theory of comets was quite as intelligent and correct as that of the moderns. He says they classed them with the planets, or moving stars, that had fixed orbits. (Baldwin's "Prehistoric Nations.")

The Egyptians also made great progress in astronomy, geometry, and other sciences in the time that preceded the accession of Menes, their first king, which takes us back to a period now over five thousand years ago. (Wilkinson's "Ancient Egyptians.") Herodotus informs us (Book II, Chapter IV) that the Egyptians "were the first to discover the solar year, and to portion out its course into twelve parts." They "obtained this knowledge," he says, "from the stars." The Egyptians were inventors of what we call "leap year," for they made every fourth year to consist of three hundred and sixty-six days, so as to correct and keep the calendar in order. This must have been done at least 1322 B.C., according to Wilkinson. Caesar was indebted to an Egyptian astronomer, Sosi-genes, for his famous correction of the calendar. Plato ascribes the invention of geometry likewise to the Egyptians. Herodotus also says, "Geometry first came to be known in Egypt, whence it passed into Greece" (Book II, Chapter CIX). The Egyptians knew the true system of the universe. They were acquainted with the fact that the sun is the center of the solar system, and that the earth and other planets revolve about it, in fixed orbits. They knew that the earth is of a globular shape, and revolves on its own axis, thus producing day and 58

night. They also knew of the revolution of the moon about the earth, and that the moon shines by the reflected light of the sun. They understood the calculation of eclipses; they were aware of the obliquity of the ecliptic, and that the milky-way is a collection of stars. They also seem to have understood the power of gravitation, and that the heavenly bodies are attracted to a center. (Rawlinson's "Herodotus," Appendix to Chapter VII, Book II, and authorities there quoted.) Pythagoras, who introduced the true system of the universe into Greece, received it from Oenuphis, a priest of On, in Egypt.

This great proficiency alone in astronomy would make it a matter of certainty that the ancients possessed the telescope, long supposed to be one of the grandest inventions of modern times, as the discovery of many of these astronomical facts, known to the Chaldeans and Egyptians, would simply be impossible without it. A knowledge of the heliocentric system, long lost, and only rediscovered by Copernicus, was not considered actually demonstrated or credited by the moderns until the rediscovery of the telescope, which revealed the phases of Venus, and so put the matter beyond doubt. We, however, are not left to conjecture only on this point, for there is some positive testimony that the ancients possessed the telescope. I quote again from Baldwin's "Prehistoric Nations":

Much progress in astronomy requires the telescope, or something equivalent, and it seems necessary to believe that the ancients had such aids to eyesight. Layard and others report the discovery of a lens of considerable power among the ruins of Babylon. Layard says this lens was found with two glass bowls in a chamber of ruins called Nimroud. It is plano-convex, an inch and a half in diameter, and nine tenths of an inch thick. It gives a focus of four and a half inches from the plane side. Sir David Brewster says, "It was intended to be used as a lens, either for magnifying or condensing the rays of the sun."

(See Layard's Nineveh and Babylon," pp. 16-17, Chapter VIII)

This settles the fact that the ancients at a very remote period were familiar with all those laws of optics a knowledge of which is required to invent the telescope, and also with the manufacture of glass, so necessary for lenses designed for telescopic uses. That the art of making glass was known to the ancients—a fact once doubted—is proved also by discoveries in Egypt, where the whole process of blowing glass has been found depicted on the ancient monuments. So great was the skill of the ancient Egyptians in making vases of various colored glass, that our best European workmen of modern times cannot equal them. Glass was also one of the great exports of the Phoenicians. The Egyptians, however, surpassed all others, and some vases of brilliant colors, presented by an Egyptian priest to the Emperor Hadrian, were considered so valuable and curious that they were never used except on grand occasions. Some of the details of Egyptian glass in mosaic work (by a process common with that people more than three thousand years ago), such as the feathers of birds, so find as to be only made out with a lens, which means of magnifying must therefore have been known in Egypt at the remote period when this mosaic glasswork was made. This shows us that the use of the lens was not confined to Assyria at an early epoch, nor yet was a recent discovery there. (Wilkinson's "Ancient Egyptians")

Mr. Baldwin, in his work, continues as follows:

Even the Greeks and Romans, with lower attainments in astronomy, had aids to eyesight. They are mentioned in "De Placitus Phil.," lib. iii, c. v, attributed to Plutarch, also in his "Vita Marcelli," and by Pliny, "Hist. Natur.," lib. xxxvii, c. v, where he says that, in his time, artificers used emeralds, to assist the eye, and that they were concave, the better to collect the visual rays.

He adds that Nero used such glasses when he watched the fights of the gladiators.

There is frequent mention of concave and convex glasses used for optical purposes, and they evidently came from Egypt and the East. Iamblichus tells us, in his life of Pythagoras, that Pythagoras sought to contrive instruments that should aid hearing as effectively as optic glasses and other contrivances aided sight. Plutarch speaks of mathematical instruments used by Archimedes "to manifest to the eye the largeness of the sun." Pythagoras and Archimedes both studied in Egypt and Phoenicia, and probably in Chaldea. Pythagoras, who lived in the sixth century before Christ, is said to have "visited Egypt and many countries of the East" in pursuit of knowledge; and Archimedes, who lived after the time of Alexander, spent much time in Egypt, "and visited many other countries."

It appears that, in the time of Pythagoras, "optic glasses," contrived to increase the power of vision, were so common as not to be regarded as objects of curiosity, and there can be no reasonable doubts that they were first invented by the great men who created that profound science of astronomy for which people of Cushite origin were everywhere so preeminently distinguished, and which was so intimately connected with religion. (Baldwin's "Prehistoric Nations," pp. 178-179)

The authorities above quoted, and the considerations advanced, render it certain that the ancients not only possessed the telescope, or its full equivalent, but also had attained a proficiency in astronomy abundantly sufficient for them to have originated the philosophical astronomical allegories ascribed to them in the course of this work. Their religion, says Mr. Baldwin, was intimately connected with astronomy.

Having thus disposed of matters which were deemed to be necessary preliminaries to our subject, the consideration of the connection between the astronomical ideas of the ancients and their religion, and the origin and true meaning of the masonic traditions, legends, symbols, and emblems, will no longer be delayed. What we have to say will be embodied in a series of questions and answers. This is a mode of instruction made familiar to all brothers of the fraternity by the masonic lectures pertaining to the various degrees. It is therefore believed that this mode will be the most acceptable to masonic readers, and not displeasing to others. It has the additional merit of permitting a degree of condensation and brevity not inconsistent with clearness of explanation, which no other method possesses.

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