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20. The Ongoing Battle between Ophiuchus and Scorpio

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

The constellations Ophiuchus and Scorpio are two sides of an everlasting battle, or balance. Ophiuchus is located just above Scorpio. In art, this is often represented as a man, angel or deity, with a foot on a snake, dragon or devil's head, and holding a lance, spear or sceptre, which is often seen to be going through the creature's mouth or head. One important example of this duel is the image of the Archangel Michael slaying the dragon. Judging by the way this battle is represented in art usually, with both attacker and attacked looking serene, bemused, tired, or even slightly bored, it can perhaps be inferred that the spearing of the Scorpio figure by the Ophiuchus figure represents an attempt to control chaos, to limit the powers of the forces of darkness, of evil, of destruction. The look on the two protagonists' faces in a Michael - Devil painting perhaps conveys a sort of Buddhist detachment from suffering, an understanding that bad things can happen, and that you might as well be prepared. There is no drama in these images, no anguish, no fretting, no rage, no chance of escape either. The relationship between Ophiuchus and Scorpio is mostly used as an allegory, whereby the forces that shape the world, that create order and chaos, are locked together, and both need and repel each other. These images become an acceptance of evil and chaos, and in that there the passing down through generations of a great wisdom.

Ophiuchus and Scorpio, drawings by H.A. Rey in The Stars
Set spearing Apep on the solar boat, Wikimedia Commons

Saint George and the Dragon 16th century. From Radishchev State Art Museum, Saratov, Russia.

The Archangel Michael, 16th century, anonymous, from the church of San Miguel de Otal, an abandoned village in Aragon, Spain. Photo by stavlokratz on Flikr.

Saint Michael and the dragon, by B van den Bossche

Mosaic uncovered at Pompei. David Warner Mathisen's interpretation of this image is that the top figure is Hercules, the one below is Ophiuchus, then Scorpio and finally Hydra. See David's post:

Crowned Hermaphrodite (Androgyne or Rebis) (c. 1400) Perhaps even this goes back to Ophiuchus and Scorpio.

Generally the figure corresponding to the constellation Ophiuchus is dominating, or attempting to dominate the figure corresponding to the constellation Scorpio. Sometimes the constellation Virgo is the force that dominates Scorpio.

The constellation Virgo. If you replace the scales at her feet with scorpion's claws, which is the way Scorpio would have looked up until the first century B.C.E., she is standing on Scorpio just as Ophiuchus does.

If the virgin, depicted below, corresponds to the constellation Virgo, here she is dominating the constellation Scorpio, depicted as a dragon, and perhaps the child she is holding is the star Spica, the brightest star in Virgo.

The Glorification of the Virgin (c. 1490–1495) by Geertgen tot Sint Jans, Wikimedia Commons

Ophiuchus, or Virgo, is the dominant figure. Scorpio is always prone, receiving or about to receive a wound, and slightly smaller. Constellations change over time, in terms of their outlines and associations, and perhaps what were once the claws of the Scorpio have at some time become a separate constellation, the weighing scales in the Michael depictions, Libra. The struggle between Ophiuchus and Scorpio is not a face to face battle, between equals. The Scorpio figure is however a force to be reckoned with. In some Christian depictions of Michael and the devil, the devil is sometimes seen snatching the souls that the Archangel Michael (Ophiuchus) is supposed to be guiding to the after life, and this underlines the importance of the Archangel Michael, and perhaps other Ophiuchus derived figures, as a psychopomp. The dragon, the snake, the devil - as Scorpio is depicted in Christian imagery - is what the Ophiuchus character needs to be and stay a hero, both divine, and relevant to us here on earth.

St Patrick is another figure associated with taming - or eradicating altogether - reptiles. When St Patrick drives the snakes out of Ireland, in popular legend, the Ophiuchus-Scorpio relationship is again working behind the scenes. It is unusual perhaps in that the snakes are vanquished completely, and the proof of St Patrick's victory is the lack of snakes in Ireland to this day. (Never mind the Irish climate being inhospitable to reptiles.)

Perhaps the story of St Patrick was meant to undermine a local pre-Christian imagining of the Ophiuchus-Scorpio power struggle, which understood Scorpio as a necessary part of the universe which can never be truly controlled, and perhaps even made sacrifices to a corresponding deity in order to appease it. This might have seemed unacceptable to a Christian. Banishing the Scorpio character from the divine duel left St Patrick, the Ophiuchus character, without a role. Perhaps the tellers of the St Patrick story had forgotten that Ophiuchus needs Scorpio, that order and chaos are simply two aspects of the universe. However there was no shortage of monsters to slay in st Patrick's time, and it is said he slayed the Caoránach, the mother of demons, before banishing her to Lough Derg in Donegal, and also he is said to have slayed other monsters, such as the one living in the waters at Lough Derg. The legendary Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Fianna were also asked to slay a woman or monster near Loch Derg. This provides a link to a pre-Christian world in which heroes killed monsters, many of which were associated with water. St Patrick is also said to have assisted St Michael in slaying a dragon at Skellig Michael, according to a text at Regensburg in Germany. Like Michael, many of Patrick's sanctuaries are associated with rock and water. Indeed, the Milky Way flows at Ophiuchus's feet like a great river of stars. David Warner Mathisen has observed that in some paintings, were figures within the framweork can each be assigned a constellation, a rock takes Ophiuchus's place. It is possible that the constellation Ophiuchus was associated with rock, be it caves, high places, or the living rock that is mother earth.   In the painting by Titian below, the arrangement of the figures could be understood as constellations: Sagittarius to the left, the Milky Way through the centre, symbolised by the trickling water and the stream, Virgo the main figure to the right, with arm outstretched, just like the constellation, and perhaps Scorpio is the dog. This would mean that the central pillar in all this, with the mysterious carvings on its side, is Ophiuchus.

Diana and Callisto, 1556-1559, Titian, Wikimedia Commons

Anonymous after Hendrick Goltzius (Dutch, 1558 - 1617). Apollo Killing Python, ca. 1589. From Metamorphoses. Engraving. This image is used as an example by David Warner Mathisen to show the Apollo corresponds to the constellation Sagittarius, the dragon to Scorpio, and the mountain in the background to Ophiuchus.

Possibly, some hills and rocks considered sacred correspond to the constellation Ophiuchus.

Chapel of St Michel, Le Puy-en-Velay, France. Wikimedia Commons

   In some aspects of the Christian world-view, the battle between order and chaos, or good and evil was well preserved in the Ophiuchus-Scorpio dialectic. This can be seen in the many images of Saints Michael and George, also in some images of the Virgin Mary standing on a snake. It can also be seen in the stage that was created for the Pope when not appearing our of a window in the Vatican.

The Paul VI Audience Hall, from the dome of St. Peter's, showing the photovoltaic panel roof (2011) Photo by TeeBee, Wikimedia Commons

This is an aerial shot of the pope's audience hall in the Vatican city. It's also called the Paul VI Audience Hall, and Hall of the Pontifical Audiences, completed in 1971. Part of the building is in Italy,and it is used by the pope for his general audiences, as an alternative to St Peter's Square. The outside of the building is like the head of a snake. It seems the pope is being cast into the role of demon or devil slayer, standing both in the holy grounds of the Vatican city, and the more worldly city of Rome, where the people, mired as they are in worldly affairs, can meet their earthly protector. Immersing himself briefly in the world of people, the pope represents the link between the world of the living and the dead, between chaos and order. Inside the building, the snake similarities continue. The windows are the eyes of the snake.  

Does the building represent the star Antares? In the constellation Scorpio, Antares is the brightest star, and corresponds roughly to the mouth or heart of the beast slayed by St Michael, through which the spear goes. The name Antares means anti-Ares, or anti-Mars, and like Mars, Antares has a reddish hue. The Babylonian name actually refers to the breast, not the head of the scorpion: GABA GIR.TAB, "the Breast of the Scorpion", and in Arabic, Calbalakrab from قَلْبُ ٱلْعَقْرَبِ Qalb al-Άqrab, means the heart of the scorpion. In Ancient Egypt, one of its names was called tms n hntt "the red one of the prow", an allusion to the solar boat, though it also corresponded to the scorpion goddess Serket. The ancient Chinese called Antares 心宿二 (Xīnxiù'èr, "second star of the Heart"), and the Maori of New Zealand call Antares Rēhua, and regard it as the chief of all the stars, father of Rigel, Orion's knee. Antares seems to have been an important star all around the world. It may be that when Scorpio included what is now Libra in its contours, Antares corresponded to the heart, but after the break away new constellation of the scales was formed, the outline of the scorpion was shortened so as to place Antares in the head.

St Peter's Basilica is the burial site of Saint Peter. Like St Peter, the Pope has two keys, at least symbolically, on the papal coat of arms. The pope is considered to be the living embodiment of St Peter on earth, who's name means rock, and perhaps also has Ophiuchus connections. Perhaps at times the Pope also takes on the role of St Michael.

Looking down into the confessio near the tomb of Apostle Peter, St. Peter's Basilica, Rome, photo by Tieum512, Wikimedia Commons

Christ Handing the Keys to St Peter, by Pietro Perugino (1481–82), Wikimedia Commons

St Peter by Francesco del Cossa, 1473, Wikimedia Commons

There are many examples of rock hewn churches and chapels and churches built on the tops of rocks. There is good reason to believe the worship of rock is ancient, and links the traditions of St Peter, St Michael, St George and many others with the constellation Ophiuchus. Both saints Michael and Peter are figures that are supposed to help people, either in life or after, to provide a link to the divine realm, and protect them. The Ophiuchus - Scorpio battle endures.

Antares, in the constellation Scorpio, from

If Scorpio were extended, to incorporate Libra, as below, it would be much closer in size to Ophiuchus.

If Scorpio were extended all the way to Virgo, it could explain images of Mary standing on a snake, or even the scorpion could be incorporated to the constellation Virgo, which could correspond to the scorpion goddess figure in the Pompeii mosaic.

This would be an interesting twist on the relationship between the constellations Scorpio, Virgo and Ophiuchus. With Virgo and Ophiuchus standing on Scorpio, however, the relationship could be symbolic of the tension between order and chaos, light and dark, good and evil, or even master and slave.

On approaching the other it has lost its own self, since it finds itself as another being; secondly, it has thereby sublated that other, for this primitive consciousness does not regard the other as essentially real but sees its own self in the other.

G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, translated by A.V. Miller with analysis of the text and foreword by J. N. Findlay (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977); Paragraph 179, Pg. 111.

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Melissa Campbell
Melissa Campbell
Dec 15, 2023

Hi Wayne, thank you so much for your comments. Thank you also for the video and book recommendations, which I will follow up on. I didn't go into much of the serpent and dragon imagery, and focused mostly on St Michael, and St Patrick here, as well as the pope and St Peter. But I'm am sure they are all connected, and all come from earlier, much older myths, beliefs, legends and religions, that we have no name for. As you say the connection between some of the figures associated with Ophiuchus and rock, as well as snakes, is very interesting. It allows us to make comparisons between different traditions, and perhaps even to associate other figures associated with rock,…

Melissa Campbell
Melissa Campbell
Dec 31, 2023
Replying to

Hi Wayne,

Yes, that's very intriguing, especially with the course of the moon dying and being reborn, and the associations with travel, with human gestation, with food and drink. I think you could still say that a deity representing the seasons, such as Adonis or Attis for example, disappearing into the underworld over the winter period, and re-merging in spring, can be compared to the figure of Jesus, in which case the association would be solar also. We had a full moon this Christmas! I can't remember where I read this, or if I imagined it, but I think there may have been some tradition whereby couples long ago would try and conceive in the spring to try and aim…


Dec 15, 2023

Hello Melissa,

This is good work. Both the text and illustrations are interesting and informative. Did you know that there is a small school of astrologers that use Ophiuchus along with the other 12 zodiacal constellations? Athen Chimenti's "Mastering the Zodiac" website and YouTube channel are very well done, though I use a different, more traditional system based on the work of the brilliant Irish astrologer Cyril Fagan. The mounted dragon slayer probably references the constellations of Centaurus and Lupus, as this is a traditional iconography found in various examples. The spear used by most other figures may relate to the bright stars Spica and Arcturus, which have the same ecliptic longitude, as you can see in the star chart…

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